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The Reagan Doctrine

by Michael R. Burch

George Bush (Senior) spoke of the action to protect Kuwait from Saddam Hussein as the beginning of a new worldwide movement in which coalitions of nations would act in concert to prevent Hussein-style "get rich quick" invasions of other countries. Even non-hawks like George McGovern called the Gulf War necessary and just.

President Bush might have been proven correct, if only our government had not launched its own Hussein-style "get rich quick" invasion of Iraq. We should have abided by international law, which makes it illegal for nations to use military force for any purpose other than self-defense. But men like Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney had seen how easily our military had defeated the Iraqi military during the Gulf War, so they used 9-11 as an excuse to invade Iraq on false premises, planning to "secure" Iraq's oilfields. According to international law, that was illegal because Iraq had not attacked Americans. Iraq did not have WMDs, but even if it did, many nations have WMDs, including the United States. Would it be a legitimate use of force for Russia to invade us, simply because we have WMDs that might possibly be used against Russians, someday?

In any case, when American soldiers were not unanimously acclaimed as saviors by Iraqis, the "get rich quick" scheme failed, because it's hard to prosper in the middle of a war zone (unless you're a defense contractor). The price of oil went up, not down, and this probably contributed to the BP oil spill, as higher oil prices lured oil drillers further and further offshore. And the soaring price of oil may have caused or greatly exacerbated the worst worldwide recession since the Great Depression.

Before the invasion of Iraq, Robert Byrd pointed out that winning the war might be easy, but that winning the peace would take decades and cost a fortune. He was proven correct. Other American politicians agreed with him, including Ted Kennedy and Barack Obama. Why did we listen to warmongers rather than the voices of reason? The invasion of Iraq was a fool's gambit; wise men pointed this out, but we didn't listen to them.

If we want peace, we must realize that we can't subdue nations like Afghanistan by force, much less the entire Muslim world. There is a better option: international law, which makes war unprofitable by denying aggressors any possibility of economic gain. If we understood the wisdom of international law, and chose to abide by it, we could implement a "Reagan Doctrine," saying the U.S. will never invade another nation in the effort to "democratize it," but that if we are attacked, we have the right to retaliate with force, destroying the military capabilities of our enemies until they abide by international law. But first we need to stop acting like outlaws ourselves.

After Reagan bombed Tripoli, Quadaffi never did anything but bluster. We need to understand what works, and what doesn't work. Our enemies cannot afford to have their militaries destroyed, but we cannot afford to "democratize" them. Reagan and Bush Senior acted wisely, but Rumsfeld, Cheney and Bush Junior acted foolishly. The cost of their monumental folly has been enormous in human lives, suffering and tax dollars flushed down a bottomless drain.

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