The Last Time We Fought A Preemptive War In The Middle East

tags: Middle East, Trump

Jane Dailey is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Chicago. She writes extensively about the American South. Her books include Before Jim Crow, The Politics of Race, In Post-Emancipation Virginia, and Building the Republic: A Narrative History of the United States from 1877 to the Present, which will be published later this year.

The question of a preemptive war in the Middle East seems to be on the table again.  The president says that Iran is “the chief sponsor of terrorism,” and links this to Iranian development of ballistic missiles. A former State Department official says that the Trump administration is obsessed with Iran, and that Iran, ISIS, and Al Qaeda “are all mentioned in the same breath, as a menacing threat.” An editorial by John Glaser of the Cato Institute worries about a tendency to generalize the threat posed by Iran, as Sen. Tom Cotton, who is reportedly on deck as the next Director of the CIA, did when he said that “I don’t see how anyone can say America can be safe as long as you have in power a theocratic despotism” [sic]. These claims of existential threat and alliance between a Middle Eastern sovereign state and Al Qaeda are familiar.  Before we turn our sights on Iran, we owe it to our children and to the veterans we celebrate every day to recall what happened the last time the United States went down this path.

The terrorist attack of September 11, 2001 was the deadliest foreign act of destruction on U.S. soil since Pearl Harbor in 1941. The terrorists’ targets—Congress, the Pentagon, and the World Trade Center—symbolized the foundations of American power: democratic governance, military might, and the global economic influence of Wall Street.

All three institutions faced tremendous challenges in the years to come. At first, the catastrophic events of 9/11 and the heroic responses of government officials, first responders, and ordinary citizens unified the nation. But two wars, in Afghanistan and Iraq, strained the military capacity of the United States and reversed the financial stability that had been achieved under the administration of President Bill Clinton. An aggrandizement of executive power under President George W. Bush resulted in secret policy-making, serious breaches of civil liberties, and human rights violations. Worst of all, the Bush administration’s misrepresentations about the threat posed by Iraq resulted in a U.S. invasion that triggered a civil war there and destabilized the entire Middle East.

When Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Roosevelt asked Congress to declare a state of war between the two nations. Because the 9/11 attacks were carried out by non-state actors, it was not clear what the correct response was. Who was the enemy? 

The CIA and the counterterrorism experts in the Office of National Intelligence (ONI) were unanimous that al Qaeda, and therefore Ussama bin Laden, was behind the 9/11 attacks. Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and Under-Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz agreed, but insisted that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq stood behind al Qaeda.  All three men had been architects of the 1990 Gulf War, which repelled the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq but left Saddam Hussein, whom Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Wolfowitz considered a continuing threat to regional stability in the Middle East, in power.  Now they insisted that Iraq had played a role in the September 11 attacks, and maintained that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMD) that either Iraq or al Qaeda might use against America. ...

Read entire article at Huffington Post

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