Hubris and Bush’s War Strategy
It gives me no pleasure to say it, but it appears that our President has thrown all semblance of humility out the window. Hubris is the watchword of the day, with arrogance and pride running a close second and third.
Hubris is one of those wonderful Greek words that captures a thought better than any English counterpart ever could. According to the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, it means: “Overbearing pride or presumption; arrogance: ‘There is no safety in unlimited technological hubris’ (McGeorge Bundy); excessive pride, wanton violence.”
While I could cite numerous examples of this debility on the part of the President, I will mention but three. The first is his dismissive attitude vis-à-vis the international community, which, despite the administration’s vigorous efforts to convince it otherwise, continues to raise serious questions about a military operation against Iraq in terms of its legality, its justification, its political implications, and its costs both militarily and politically. Just yesterday, the British Parliament revolted against Prime Minister Tony Blair, telling him that the case for war against Iraq has not been made, according to the Guardian Unlimited. Is the Empire worth it? Our allies say no.
Iraq is currently in violation of UN Security Council Resolution 687 (as well as a number of subsequent resolutions relating to it) requiring full cooperation with UN inspectors ensuring that Iraq’s WMD are destroyed. However, the Security Council did not specify military enforcement mechanisms in Resolution 687, nor has it done so in any of its subsequent resolutions. Although the Security Council warned Iraq that noncompliance would have “severest consequences” (Resolution 1154), it declared that it alone had the authority to “ensure implementation of this resolution and peace and security in the area.”
The President is aware that Articles 41 and 42 of the UN Charter declare that no member state has the right to enforce any resolution militarily unless the UN Security Council has determined that there has been a material breach of its resolution and decides that all nonmilitary means of enforcement have been exhausted. At that point—and only at that point—can the Security Council specifically authorize the use of military force, which is precisely what it did in November 1900 with Resolution 678 in response to Iraq’s invasion and continued occupation of Kuwait. The fact that the UN has not currently taken such a step with respect to Iraq seems to make no difference to Bush. Moreover, not one of Iraq’s neighbors has called on the United States to help it defend itself. This is because none of them has felt threatened by Saddam Hussein. Bush seems to little think—and care even less—that the world community would likely view the US and not Iraq as the aggressor nation in the event of war, in contrast to the Persian Gulf War of 1990-91. Am I the only one that sees a small contradiction here?
Even more disturbing is the President’s refusal to submit his case against Iraq to the Congress of the United States, which alone is constitutionally empowered to issue a declaration of war. Article 1, Section 8, of the US Constitution states that “The Congress shall have power…To declare war….” Here the language is simple, intentionally so. Our Founding Fathers insisted that the decision to go to war was to be made by the legislative branch of government, and not by the executive. The reasoning of the Founders was simple: it is far too dangerous to place the power to wage war in the hands of a single individual.
The October 2002 resolution passed by Congress is often cited as proof that the President has congressional authority to attack Iraq. Nothing could be further from the truth. The resolution declared war against no nation but simply stated that the President “has authority under the Constitution to take action in order to deter and prevent acts of international terrorism against the United States….” The resolution by Congress could not, in fact, grant the President authority to declare war because the Congress cannot alter the express language of the Constitution. Only a constitutional amendment can overrule Article 1, Section 8. For these reasons, Bush’s stance on a war with Iraq, absent a congressional declaration, raises serious questions about his willingness to submit to the law of the land, as I have pointed out elsewhere.
Finally, I cite the President’s remarks in his speech last night to the American Enterprise Institute. Had I not known who made these remarks I might have thought a petty tyrant was speaking, not the leader of the Free World. Read them and decide for yourself whether these are the words of an empire-builder or a public servant:
“We meet here during a crucial period in the history of our nation, and of the civilized world. Part of that history was written by others; the rest will be written by us.”
[“The rest will be written by us”? That’s an absurdity.]
“And we set a goal: we will not allow the triumph of hatred and violence in the affairs of men.”
[Bush clearly believes that government can solve the greatest ills of mankind, and that political coercion will triumph.]
“In Iraq, a dictator is building and hiding weapons that could enable him to dominate the Middle East and intimidate the civilized world—and we will not allow it. This same tyrant has close ties to terrorist organizations, and could supply them with the terrible means to strike this country—and America will not permit it. The danger posed by Saddam Hussein and his weapons cannot be ignored or wished away. The danger must be confronted.”
[An even greater threat to international stability is posed by North Korea led by a dictator and tyrant, but Bush knows when he’s met his match.]
“The United States has no intention of determining the precise form of Iraq’s new government. That choice belongs to the Iraqi people. Yet, we will ensure that one brutal dictator is not replaced by another. All Iraqis must have a voice in the new government, and all citizens must have their rights protected.”
[Read: America knows what’s best for the Iraqi people. They’ll get a democracy—even if they have to eat Tomahawk missiles in the process.]
“The world has a clear interest in the spread of democratic values, because stable and free nations do not breed the ideologies of murder. They encourage the peaceful pursuit of a better life.”
[Has Bush forgotten what the US government did to sister states that had peacefully seceded and sought a better life out of the Union? It burned their cities and left their civilian populations to die from hunger and cold.]
“The United States and other nations are working on a road map for peace.”
[Apparently Bush has forgotten his eschatology: only the Prince of Peace can bring freedom from strife to the world.]
“We are setting out the necessary conditions for progress toward the goal of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.”
[Are we to forget issues of truth and justice when it comes to Middle Eastern policy?]
“We are a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. We helped to create the Security Council. We believe in the Security Council—so much that we want its words to have meaning.”
[Bush forgot to mention his adamant refusal to allow the Security Council to fulfill its mandated role in terms of legitimizing military operations.]
“Yet, the security of our nation and the hope of millions depend on us, and Americans do not turn away from duties because they are hard. We have met great tests in other times, and we will meet the tests of our time.”
[The lack of secure borders and a failed immigration policy were largely responsible for the terrorist acts of 9-11, and our borders remain as porous as ever.]
“We go forward with confidence, because we trust in the power of human freedom to change lives and nations. By the resolve and purpose of America, and of our friends and allies, we will make this an age of progress and liberty. Free people will set the course of history, and free people will keep the peace of the world.”
[Bush says “we trust in the power of human freedom to change lives and nations”? What about “In God We Trust”? He speaks of “an age of progress and liberty.” This is liberal humanism, pure and simple. As I have said elsewhere, “Most politicians…believe that social change is the result almost exclusively of politics and state coercion. They believe that society can be radically altered by means of state-financed public education, health education, welfare programs, speech codes, etc. Conservative Christians, on the other hand, believe in regeneration (John 3:3). Men are not changed by politics but by God.”]
All this is unbelievable hubris. Until now, Bush has tried to convince the American public that the Iraqi people are not the enemy, only Saddam Hussein. But how will Iraqi citizens feel when they are confronted by an American military government running their own country? I imagine they will feel like a conquered, subjugated, people.
The resolution by Congress to give the President a semblance of legitimacy in pursuing a unilateral aggressive war will surely be remembered as one of the worst abdications of Congressional responsibility in our history, comparable to such colossal failures of government as the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. Years from now, with Americans pinned down in a pan-Arab war, the neocons will be regretful, and the liberals in Congress who allowed themselves to be duped will feel like fools.
Such is the price of hubris. In 1999 Candidate Bush said, “Let us not dominate others with our power. ... Let us have an American foreign policy that reflects American character. The modesty of true strength. The humility of real greatness. This is the strong heart of America. And this will be the spirit of my administration.” Later, in the presidential debates, he expanded on the theme: “The United States must be humble. ... We must be proud and confident of our values, but humble in how we treat nations that are figuring out how to chart their own course.”
My question: Where was all that humility, that statesmanlike restraint, in Bush’s address last night?
Our first parents desired the one thing forbidden them—autonomy. And so Hubris entered the human race, and the plague of pride has been with us ever since. Today I grieve over our national hubris, and wonder if God will ever grant us the willingness to repent.
February 27, 2003
David Alan Black is the editor of www.daveblackonline.com.