Anderson writes guest column for Times-News

Bob Anderson, associate professor of political science, wrote a column about U.S. military action in Iraq which appeared in the March 27 edition of the Burlington (N.C.) Times-News. The text of that column appears below:

America Can Learn From Criticism

Since the United States preemptively attacked Iraq in the name of its national security, domestic support for the war has grown significantly. Nationally syndicated columnists – such as Peter Brown of The Orlando Sentinel – have applauded the Bush administration as clearly acting in our national foreign policy interests by rejecting world opinion and decisively, preemptively deciding to “wage war on our own terms” against Iraq.

In his editorial, Brown implied that such actions by the Bush administration are a positive precedent, a proper interpretation of history, and an inevitable example of what is demanded by our basic human nature. He scolded those who would seek answers to our toughest global problems through mutual decision-making as being naïve and unrealistic. He pointed to the surge in public support for war as vindication that the American people embrace and support the concept of preemptive war without clear global consensus.

With due respect to Mr. Brown, I find his analysis unpersuasive, historically inaccurate and affirming processes and values that are not in the national interests of the United States nor affirmative of basic democratic ideals.

Mr. Brown is correct that world opinion has loudly opposed America’s war against Iraq. But such opposition is not limited to France, Germany, Russia and China; it exists in most countries of the Middle East (where we will need citizen support in accomplishing our objectives) and in the streets of all of our strongest allies – Great Britain, Spain, Italy and Australia. While we may not understand or agree with these voices of dissent, it seems somewhat irresponsible and unwise to dismiss BOTH the volume and substance of this opposition to war as without merit and legitimacy.

Whether international or domestic, the Bush Administration has rejected serious debate over the real merits of this war –if one assumes that serious debate implies willingness to compromise and an agenda not set in stone. The strategy for dealing with different points of view on this issue is clear — offer only simplistic “black and white” choices to the opposition; undermine their credibility by deliberately enflaming the unhealed national fears and wounds of 9/11; and resurrect non-comparable examples form WWI, WWII or the unfinished business of Gulf War I as reasons not to take alternatives to preemptive war seriously.

In pursuing such an approach to opponents, the administration effectively has employed a “kill the messenger tactic.” Designed deliberately to demean the personal credibility and sincerity of dissenting voices as irrelevant, frivolous, unrealistic, appeasing, not loyal or appreciative, this tactic also has legitimized the administration’s refusal to answer annoying questions of substantive public concern. These concerns range from questionable evidence supporting the assertion of an “imminent threat to our national security” (the only defensible position in international law justifying preemptive aggression), the long term human or monetary costs of this war, or the precedent this war establishes for use of preemptive action by an extended definition of imminent threat – by the United States or any nation — to justify otherwise legally unacceptable aggression to accomplish national goals.

With 250,000+ American soldiers engaged in battle, it is understandable – as Mr. Brown asserts — that most citizens support the President. But this public support should not be read as a blank check affirming the wisdom and necessity of this war – or the acceptance – in the name of realism – of a public willingness to incorporate preemptive war as a permanent cornerstone in American foreign policy. More than likely, current support of war is the natural national expression of respect for the lives of those whose duty it is to undertake – not question – the order to fight. What this public support means for future conduct of U.S. foreign policy is yet to be determined and should not be taken for granted.

Finally, Mr. Brown sarcastically portrays “cooperative mutual decision making” as the option of the naïve – a demonstration of lack of decisiveness – a sacrifice of national self-interest to international control of our destiny – and something we best avoid as a nation. I would advise Mr. Brown to reconsider his harsh assessment – remembering that while our current status in world affairs might seem militarily and economically unchallengeable, all great empires eventually decline if they overextend their global reach or ignore advise of others – especially their friends.

Historically, our national interests have never been divorced from cooperation with the interests of the larger international community (we were the primary force behind the founding of a “democratic” United Nations.) In an era of increasing globalization, our national destiny will be even more closely intertwined with the interests of other nations. But – as our government’s reaction to global criticism of this war indicates, we simply have not matured as a nation to the point where we take very kindly to not having our preferred choices of action challenged – or even dealing positively with well-meaning global criticism.

While it might be true that some nations are trying to undermine our national security interests by their objections to war in Iraq, I would suggest that such is not the case for most nations who disagree with us. In fact, I would say that most of the dissent is voiced with American security interests – and that of the world — at heart. It might be helpful for us to remember that the most vocally dissenting nations are those with people who know far better than us the horrors and death that terror and war can bring to their homeland, who have experienced “first hand” the oppression of dictators and the denial of human rights, who admire and seek to copy our way of life – but who want us to avoid the unknown repercussions of “making right through might” when other alternatives might promote more effectively our national interests and security as well as enhance future respect and support for American global leadership.