Back in the Nixon days we often heard about “the silent majority”, people fidgeting in the shadows until they could make a difference by electing, well, the kind of administration they eventually put in office, twice. A one-term President Carter then gave way to Ronald Reagan who won big with a conservative agenda that pleased the base along with a nice smile and jovial demeanor that claimed allegiance from cross-over Democrats and independents, giving him huge margins of victory. Today, our country is led by a vociferous minority and a president whose narrow win in the last election provided what he likes to call his “political capital,” dubious as that claim was and fleeting as it has been.
If Bush II’s doctrine of pre-emptive strikes is seen to be an entirely new phenomenon it is useful to recall that both Reagan and Bush I indulged in their own versions of pre-emption and that the American people seemed comfortable with their actions. In Reagan’s case, he invaded the tiny island of Granada on the pretext of protecting medical students enrolled at an American-run school there. However, Stephen Zunes in his “Retrospective” on the invasion written in 2003 says the students were never in danger, most did not want to be evacuated and that basically Reagan’s goal was to effect “regime change” from Marxist-leaning rule to a form of government more beholden to the U.S.
The first President Bush invaded Panama after the shooting of a U. S. soldier and, purportedly, “to free the country from a brutal dictator”. Despite the fact that Panama’s leader, Noriega, had been our flunky for years it seems he had become too independent for our taste. Less publicized was the fact that our bombs and other military actions caused tremendous civilian casualties; the big news was that we captured the dictator, tried and convicted him on charges that included drug trafficking. If this all seems a bit tenuous as a reason for invading another country, that’s because there were other underlying motives which included maintaining bases in Panama and hanging on to the Canal.
Oh well, things are never as they seem, and if those invasions were like shooting fish in a barrel or perhaps like filling the air with buckshot to bring down small, farm-raised quail, the reasons given by the leadership at the time were accepted by most Americans; besides it simply couldn’t have been easier. And so it goes, the public wants to believe its leaders, being rather more idealistic than those in charge and being forgetful of the past and rather slow to come to the unwelcome realization that they’ve been had.
Only Iraq hasn’t been a snap except in its earliest stages. And it may be worth noting that when most of the world backs away from your country’s position it might be time to rethink your premise. The national interests of others may not mirror your own, and for that matter century’s-old experience based on broad historical perspectives could give other nations pause about wading into sovereign lands on dubious, unproven grounds and just our word.
Curiously, for all the criticism of President Carter during the terrible ordeal of the American hostages in Iran during his term, one said recently said he was grateful to Carter because they all came out alive; a military assault might have caused their deaths. Sometimes discretion really is the better part of valor.
This president’s pre-emptive actions are a distasteful reminder of past similar interludes but with more difficult targets and a mindless insistence on theories rather than reality. Even in Afghanistan, often cited as a measure of successful U.S. policy, the country is threatened by a resurgence of the Taliban and the possible execution, under consideration by a restrictive Muslim court, of a citizen who converted to Christianity – – some victory.
What Bush pre-emption has meant for this country is the pre-empting of programs that benefit ordinary Americans, enormous casualties to Iraqis and to our troops, tremendous debt and the prospect of endless war.

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