The Global Test
According to the United Nations Charter (Chapter VII, Article 51) a nation has a right to act in legitimate self-defense, even without UN permission, when seriously threatened. In the opinion of international legal experts, it only needs to prove that what has now become known as a "preemptive strike" was to eliminate a danger or threat that was truly grave, certain and immanent.
Unfortunately, for the USA, we seem to have failed the test when it comes to Iraq. As subsequent investigations have proved, the danger, even if certain (certainly Saddam wanted to have his WMDs -- just like the rest of us had) it was, due to continuing UN sanctions, hardly immanent. Instead, what is becoming increasingly clear is that American public opinion was deliberately manipulated by using highly questionable intelligence in order to justify not just a "preemptive strike", but a "preventive war" or invasion of Iraq that had already long been advocated by such groups as "The Project for the New American Century". Whether the President was equally a partner in this plan or simply duped remains to be seen. But in any case, the issue is extremely serious and something that far transcends politics or even international law. It is, instead, a matter of fundamental ethics or morality.
How so? In a sense, it goes back to "the Golden Rule" of Jesus to "do to others what you would have done to you." Another way of stating it (this time attributed to Confucius) is "not to treat others the way you would not want to be treated." And still another way, as articulated by the great philosopher Immanuel Kant, is that to judge the morality of any act one must first be able to answer the basic question: what would be the likely result on society in general if everyone acted the way that is being considered?
Failing this test, Saddam Hussein (if he had known what we now know) would have been fully justified in hitting us first -- if he could gotten away with it. So might have had the Soviet Union during the long "cold war", absent any US guarantee that we would not use nuclear weapons in a first preemptive strike, something the Soviets vowed they'd never do and (thank God!) didn't.
The invasion and occupation of Iraq has already cost between 10,000 to 30,000 Iraqi lives -- depending on who is doing the counting. The US government only counts its own dead, something that, along with the flagrant violation of the Geneva Conventions at Abu Graib and elsewhere, raises the question as to whether or not America can be any longer trusted. If America is not to be considered "a rogue nation" -- which most of the world seems to have concluded that we already are -- we have to win back the world's confidence.
It would be nice to believe that this test could be effectively met in this year's presidential election. But it is evident that both major parties are unwilling to effectively lead when it comes to settling what has been called "the Mother of All Conflict" in the Middle East -- the Palestinian-Israel (the latter with its own hidden nuclear arsenal) situation. If we fail to pass this "global test" to the rest of the world's satisfaction, then, I'm afraid, we should not be surprised if some day we find ourselves "pre-empted" by any nation that feels that it too, because it is a "super-power" (like China, with a billion more people than the USA), is somehow exempted from the rules that govern other nations. Meanwhile, it should be no surprise if smaller countries, like North Korea or Iran, are in a haste to get themselves a few nukes of their own before they find themselves "pre-empted".
R W Kropf 10/6/04File:GlobTest.doc 04-10-06