America the Hated
December 12, 2002
The Bush administrations threat to use
nuclear weapons against Iraq, though thinly veiled in circumlocutions,
should tell us all we need to know about the American image in the world
today. The United States, once so admired over most of the earth, is now
seen as a nuclear bully. No wonder its called the great
Satan by Muslims and arrogant even by its European
friends. And President Bush thinks they hate us for our freedom,
The warning is
supposed to deter Iraq from using weapons of mass destruction against
American forces and allies, even though (1) we dont know that Iraq
has such weapons, and (2) the administration has told us repeatedly that
deterrence doesnt work against Iraq.
threatened the United States, in spite of Bushs raving on the
subject. The United States definitely threatens Iraq. And it has forfeited
the right to describe Iraqs or any other regime as
Even possessing these
terrible weapons amounts to a threat to use them. But until now, most
nuclear-armed states have at least been discreet about brandishing them.
Bush has crossed a fateful line. He claims the right to use nukes, as well
as conventional warfare, preemptively.
For decades Americans
have worried about nukes falling into the wrong hands, as if
there were right hands for weapons of mass murder. Well,
those weapons are in the wrong hands now: Bushs hands.
Washington is in an
uproar about Trent Lotts offhand compliment at Strom
Thurmonds birthday party, but it has taken Bushs mad-dog
threat in stride. What sort of war on terrorism is this,
which terrorizes the whole world?
we should distinguish microterrorism, the terrorism of scattered groups
of stateless, relatively helpless people with few other options, from the
macroterrorism used by powerful states to back up their huge
conventional military forces. When there were two superpowers, each had
the plausible excuse of deterrence for amassing nuclear arsenals. Now
that excuse is gone: the United States is the only superpower left. And
its still using its nukes.
Maybe it will be said
that Bush doesnt really intend to use them. But he is already using
them. When a bank robber points a pistol at the teller, hes using it,
even if he doesnt fire it. Hes also terrifying the bystanders,
as Bush is doing.
In fact, I suspect that
Bush is bluffing. His tough talk may be a prelude to backing off from war,
as opposition to war mounts and the possible costs of war sink in.
Still, how did it come
to this? Immediately after 9/11, everyone realized that a war on
terrorism would be a new kind of war. Nuclear
weapons and conventional forces alike would be useless against small,
elusive cells of terrorists hitting soft targets.
Now, by converting the
war on terrorism into war on a sovereign state, Bush is able to bring
nukes and conventional forces back into play. An unwinnable new kind of
war becomes an old-fashioned winnable one.
But by threatening to
go nuclear and preemptively at that against a weak
opponent, Bush has set a perilous precedent. Why shouldnt China,
seeing the United States as a growing global threat, launch a preemptive nuclear
strike against this country when it has the means to do so? Thats
only one of many dark possibilities Bushs recklessness is making
allegedly ended over a decade ago, we should notice that the U.S.
Government is out of control, and it continues to make enemies frequently
and unpredictably. Who imagined, when its army was bogged down in
Vietnam, that it would go on to wage war (or keep peace),
not long afterward, from Lebanon to Panama to Iraq to Serbia to
Afghanistan and back to Iraq? Does anyone care to place a bet on where it
will make future enemies?
China is as good a bet
as any. Huge, prosperous, and militarily formidable thanks in part
to the assistance of our Israeli allies it has rulers
who, unlike our own, have an old habit of thinking ahead. While the United
States, innocent of long-term strategy, wages its impulsive wars of
indignation, they watch and wait, quietly gathering strength.
If the day ever comes
when China decides it is finally ready to take on the most hated country on
earth, it will have no trouble finding allies around the world.