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Speaking Personally

Is the US About to Launch a War of Aggression?

by Paul Kurtz


The following article is from Free Inquiry magazine, Volume 23, Number 1.


Paul KurtzWhat is the difference between a preemptive first strike and a war of aggression? The latter is defined in Webster’s as “a forceful action... intended to dominate... (an) unprovoked violation by one country of the territorial integrity of another.” Is the impending war on Iraq a war of aggression? 

The United States is arguably the most awesome superpower in the history of the world, able to transport massive military forces anywhere on the globe to enforce the rule of pax Americana. It is essential that it use its power responsibly and with restraint. 

The efforts of the Bush administration—now supported by the Congress—to impose its will unilaterally in its foreign policy raises fears among our allies about our misuse of our great power. 

President Bush insists that Iraq is “a threat to the peace” and “security of the United States,” for it possesses “weapons of mass destruction,” and that thus a preemptive strike is justified. But Iraq is a small impoverished country of 25 million people, virtually landlocked, with limited technological-industrial resources. It is difficult to see what kind of threat it poses realistically to the United States, in spite of the repetition of the mantra designed to raise fears in the American public. 

Many countries of the world now possess weapons of mass destruction; and an estimated forty-four countries have the know-how to build nuclear weapons. (In this regard Iran is a far greater threat than Iraq.) This is why so many are skeptical of the intensified war drums now being beaten so loudly by the Bush administration—on the eve of the national elections for control of the Congress! Many wonder whether there are not deeper geo-political-economic interests at stake, such as the control and exploitation of the vast untapped oil fields of Iraq (also coveted by France and Russia).

To insist that a regime be toppled is a familiar ploy of those who wish to embark on a war of aggression to achieve its national interests, but it is a violation of recognized international law. To threaten the UN that the US will act if it does not undermines the entire concept of collective security introduced to stem wars of aggression after World War II. 

The no-first-strike principle has been the centerpiece of the moral case for US wars in the past. There is no imminent threat of a direct attack by Iraq today. If the President barges ahead with his preemptive strike, it would seriously undermine, perhaps irreparably, the international framework of world peace and order so laboriously developed in the last half a century.

The United States should be patient and allow the inspection process administered by the UN to proceed. To do otherwise is to endanger the moral authority that America has had since the Wilsonian era as a stalwart defender of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. To insist that the US has a divine right to invade Iraq, if others do not follow our bidding, would define us in the eyes of the world as an aggressor nation.


Paul Kurtz is Chairman of the Council for Secular Humanism and Professor Emeritus at SUNY at Buffalo.


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