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The Left's Strange Opposition to Preemptive War By: Tibor R. Machan
Yuma Sun | Tuesday, March 04, 2003


It is a puzzle, is it not, that so many people from the Left are opposed to a preemptive, preventive war against Iraq.  After all, from the point of view of most Leftists it is perfectly justified to send in government thugs to prevent various evils in a society. Consider that all government regulations are preemptive measures.  When government threatens to fine or jail someone for producing, say, pajamas that might catch of fire, this is preemptive.  There are no immediate, imminent dangers at hand.  The pajamas may never catch on fire, they simply might - or there is some evidence that they could, under circumstances thought to be frequent enough. 

All the bans on smoking now being enacted across the country are similarly preventive measures - when the individual smokes, he or she may risk seriously adverse health conditions.  But that is not imminent at all, and yet thousands of politicians, especially those with left-wing leanings, insist that such measures must be implemented. In the law these measures are also referred to as prior restraint - acting against persons or organizations (like companies) before any harm has been done to anyone, prior to anyone's rights having been violated.  In a bona fide free society such legal measures are usually forbidden. That is the essence of limited government - it may not just impose its force without acting defensively, in protection of the rights of the citizenry.

But statists of both the Left and Right Wings do not want government to be so limited.  They want it to act aggressively so as to prevent evils.

Just think of the war on drugs or vice squads arresting and jailing people who engage in various peaceful activities, merely on the grounds that something bad could arise from these.  When defenders of the war on drugs say, but even a little bit of indulgence can lead to bad things, so we need to ban such indulgence; or when supporters of mandated affirmative action policies claim that unless they force institutions to deal with people in ways deemed by them to be socially proper, people may be disadvantaged - in all such cases, of which there are hundreds of thousands, the state is being urged to act preemptively, to prevent possible but by no means imminent evils.  Statist environmentalists, too, want to limit our liberty out of precaution, not because there are immediate harmful consequences but because if we don't preserve endangered species or conserve resources, we may be in trouble many years from now.

That, too, involves the preemptive use of force.

Yet, when the current administration in Washington, D.C., calls for preemptive war against Iraq, the very same folks who find the previous type preventive aggression perfectly OK claim to be outraged.  It reminds me of the hundreds of thousands of who opposed the war in Vietnam and refused to pay their taxes because they disagreed with that government policy yet saw absolutely nothing wrong with taxing millions of people for other government projects that they eagerly championed but those millions would not fund voluntarily.

The very idea that such statists on the Left consider it wrong to undertake a preemptive war must, therefore, be questioned.  Is that really what they oppose?  Or perhaps what they oppose is the US going to war against Iraq?  There wasn't a great deal of opposition to US involvement in the Balkans not so long ago, for example.  In that instance the enemy was not even so dangerous to the rest of the world - only to the people in its own region - as Iraq is today. Something is amiss with the current peace movement - perhaps what irks so many on the Left is that the US may benefit from being the country to get rid of yet another dictator in the world. 

My own opposition to the war with Iraq is straightforward: unless it is demonstrated to me that there is a clear and present danger that Iraq is about to be aggressive toward the USA, there is no justification for any kind of preemptive war against the country.  It makes no difference whether Iraq is in defiance of the UN resolution that followed its defeat after the Gulf War.  The issue is what justifies aggression against it by the US military and that would be either direct or the clear and present danger of its aggression against the USA, period. 

But those who favor aggression against free people everywhere on the mere grounds that they might possibly do harm to someone, sometime, perhaps, have no rational grounds for opposing the current American administration's willingness to do the same kind of thing to Iraq, which certainly has demonstrated not only harming millions of its own people but sustained preparation for the ability to do harm to neighboring countries and the US, as well.

Indeed, conservative Republicans, who do not mind prior restraint - some even favor censorship - are more consistent here than are those on the Left who protest against President Bush's preemptive war plans.  Most of them have never pretended to be against preventive aggression in principle, only if it doesn't work!




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