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Is War With Iran Or North Korea Inevitable?

In his Tuesday, October 17, 2017 column our old friend Pat Buchanan asked the question, in light of President Trump’s decision not to certify that the Islamic Republic of Iran is in compliance with their nuclear weapons deal with Obama, is war with Iran now inevitable?

Today, our conservative libertarian friend and regular CHQ contributor Doug Bandow explores the same question in a column about North Korea and concludes that war with North Korea is not an option.

Military OptionsAs President Trump weighs the appropriate response to the nuclear ambitions of North Korea and Iran, Democrats have, for their own political purposes, made President Trump out to be a warmonger in much the same way that they tried to make Ronald Reagan out to be a warmonger who was pushing the world toward nuclear destruction when he refused to accept Soviet nuclear superiority.

No less than the four then-wise men of establishment foreign policy; George Kennan, former ambassador to the Soviet Union; Robert S. McNamara, a former Defense Secretary who was then World Bank president; McGeorge Bundy, a former Presidential adviser; and Gerard C. Smith, a former director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency co-authored an article in Foreign Affairs urging a United States declaration of “No First Use” of nuclear weapons.

Kennan, McNamara, Bundy and Smith wrote the article even though they were well aware the Soviet Union had consistently proposed, and the West rejected, a joint pledge that neither side would be the first to use nuclear weapons.

Today, we see narratives similar to the one used against Reagan being developed and used against President Trump; for example, an October 16, 2017 op-ed in The Washington Post by New York University Professor Steven J. Brams advocated a “No First Use” of nuclear weapons declaration by the United States as way of defusing tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

Even though much of the pushback against Reagan turned out to be Soviet-inspired propaganda and information warfare, the image of Reagan as a warmonger stuck in the minds of the Left-leaning media and it has been all too easy to transfer the idea and apply it to Donald Trump.

However, there is a vast difference between being a warmonger and being prepared to use what one might call “active deterrence” or preemptive war to prevent a nuclear attack on the United States.

British-American strategic thinker and professor of International Relations and Strategic Studies at the University of Reading, Dr. Colin S. Gray explained the differences in a July 2007 monograph for the Strategic Studies Institute of the Army War College, THE IMPLICATIONS OF PREEMPTIVE AND PREVENTIVE WAR DOCTRINES: A RECONSIDERATION.

Wrote Dr. Gray:

Preemption is not controversial; legally, morally, or strategically. To preempt means to strike first (or attempt to do so) in the face of an attack that is either already underway or is very credibly imminent. The decision for war has been taken by the enemy. The victim or target state can try to disrupt the unfolding assault, or may elect to receive the attack before reacting. In truth, military preemption will not always be feasible.

By way of the sharpest contrast, a preventive war is a war of discretion. It differs from preemptive war both in its timing and in its motivation. The preemptor has no choice other than to strike back rapidly; it will probably be too late even to surrender. The preventor, however, chooses to wage war, at least to launch military action, because of its fears for the future should it fail to act now. In other words, the preventor strikes in order to prevent a predicted enemy from changing the balance of power or otherwise behaving in a manner that the preventor would judge to be intolerable.

Naturally, the more distant the anticipated menace, the greater the degree of guesswork as to the severity and timing of the danger. A precautionary war is one waged not out of strong conviction that a dangerous threat is brewing in the target state, but rather because it is suspected that such a threat might one day emerge, and it is better to be safe than sorry.

When asked what the lesson of the first Gulf War was General S.F.Rodrigues, formerly Chief of Staff of the Indian Army said, "Don't fight the Americans without nuclear weapons." The George Rasley corollary to that observation is “You don’t seek nuclear weapons unless you plan to fight the United States.”

This is very much the situation before President Trump today as he considers his options with regard to North Korea and Iran: Is it better to be safe than sorry? Should we strike now or in the near future in order to prevent a predicted (actually known in the case of both North Korea and Iran) enemy from obtaining nuclear weapons and changing the balance of power or otherwise behaving in a manner that we would judge to be intolerable.
Certainly, a nuclear-armed ICBM-equipped North Korea or Iran is intolerable to our interests and to the future of western civilization.

The question for President Trump is at what point do the other options available to stop the threat be judged failures and the tipping point of our tolerance be judged to have been reached?

When Iran makes Israel a sea of fire, as it has so often threatened?

When North Korea “tames the United States with fire” as it has threatened?

Throughout the 20th and 21st centuries conservative thought swung like a pendulum between the notion that the United States must be the principal guardian of a world order based on constitutional liberty advocated by Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan, and the non-interventionism propounded by Senator Bob Taft, Congressman Ron Paul and Senator Rand Paul.

President Trump’s statements implying that both Iran and North Korea are fast reaching the tipping point where preemption would be justified do not make him a warmonger, rather they mean that Donald Trump has come down on the side of Reagan and Goldwater and embraced the United States’ global role as the principal guardian of world order, and that he has concluded that role requires America to maintain the capability to behave preventively, and to be willing to use it.

George Rasley is editor of Richard Viguerie's A veteran of over 300 political campaigns, he served on the staff of Vice President Dan Quayle, as Director of Policy and Communication for Congressman Adam Putnam (FL-12) then Vice Chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee's Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs, and as spokesman for Rep. Mac Thornberry now-Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.

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