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U.S. Criticized for Nuclear 1st-Strike Doctrine

From the radio newsmagazine
Between The Lines

Between the Lines Q&A
A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints on national and international issues under-reported in mainstream media
for release July 1, 2002

U.S. First Strike Military Doctrine Draws Criticism That Washington Believes Itself Exempt from International Law

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(In RealAudio, needs RealPlayer)


* Interview with Matthew Rothschild, editor of The Progressive magazine

Interview by Scott Harris

Speaking at commencement exercises at the West Point Military Academy on June 1, President Bush dismissed the Cold War doctrine of containment and deterrence as irrelevant and instead called for the U.S. to adopt a new first-strike military policy. Many observers regarded this pronouncement as part of a White House strategy to prepare the American public for a future U.S. war against Iraq, which is widely expected to be launched in the coming months. These changes are necessary, White House and Pentagon officials say, to destroy weapons of mass destruction held by nations which may in the future transfer them to terrorist groups.

This newly announced doctrine of pre-emptive armed intervention combined with Washington's unilateral abandonment of a number of important global treaties and conventions, has many diplomats from around the world persuaded that the U.S. has taken on the role of an arrogant empire to whom international law no longer applies. In recent years, the U.S. has rejected or abrogated agreements that include the Kyoto convention on climate change, the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty and the establishment of an International Criminal Court.

Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with Matthew Rothschild, editor of the Progressive Magazine, who assesses the Bush administration's first strike military doctrine and how the rest of the world now perceives the U.S. in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Matthew Rothschild: I think we are entering a whole new and very dangerous period where the United States views itself as unrestrained and unconstrained by international treaties, by constitutional law and by any other government around the world that could act as a counterbalance. So now, you have the Bush administration talking about this doctrine of pre-emption whereby it arrogates unto itself the power and the authority to go attack any country, anywhere in the world that may be acquiring weapons of mass destruction. That country may not necessarily be threatening the United States with an attack, but the Bush administration thinks it can go attack it anyway. This is the arrogance that Western diplomats -- and I've got to believe that millions upon millions, even billions of people around the world -- view properly as U.S. arrogance. What scares me the most is not even the illegality of the doctrine, though that I find appalling. The thing scares me most is the number of human beings that are likely to be killed. Innocent human beings destroyed by a U.S. preemptive attack that may very well include the use of nuclear weapons.

Really for the first time since Ronald Reagan's first term, the United States is contemplating the use of nuclear weapons first. Not in a big massive assault on the Soviet Union as was the case during the Reagan years and also the Cold War, but now against a Third World country or against terrorists. But most likely, against Iraq. And what is the logic of it? Iraq does not have nuclear weapons of mass destruction that can reach the United States certainly by intercontinental ballistic missiles. Iraq was not involved in the acts of Sept. 11. For the United States to threaten to overthrow the regime of Saddam Hussein or to act in some so-called pre-emptive effort -- either with the CIA or with the full force of the Pentagon -- that is going to end up killing tens of thousands, maybe more Iraqis on top of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis that were killed by the U.S. during the Persian Gulf War and the sanctions that followed.

I am really kind of appalled at the arrogance of empire, of the hubris of the Bush administration. It makes me uncomfortable, the hubris of those of us here in the empire who can contemplate or even discuss which country we should or should not attack next. No other country in the world has that disgusting luxury. No other people in the world can sit down and say, well, maybe our country should attack this other country tomorrow and not feel any risk of punishment or corresponding damage.

Between The Lines: There are many in the executive branch, in Congress and certainly the public at large that feel that this kind of aggressive stand on the part of our country and our military is necessary to prevent a repeat of the Sept. 11 attacks and make sure that weapons of mass destruction don't wind up in the hands of terrorists. How do you respond to that argument, which is pretty much the whole rationale for this doctrine?

Matthew Rothschild: If the U.S. government knew that Mohammed Atta and Osama bin Laden were planning an imminent attack on the United States, then the U.S. government would be justified under international law to go attack Osama bin Laden and go attack Mohammed Atta. My problem is, I think it should be done constitutionally -- there should be a declaration of war and they should go get them.

But leaving that aside, I don't think that really is the issue now, attacking terrorists. If the U.S. government finds terrorists that pose an imminent threat of attacking the United States, they're justified. The U.S. is justified already under existing law, without this whole pre-emption doctrine of going after them. So I don't think it's necessary. In a way, it's kind of covering up for the huge intelligence failure that the government is embarrassed about and should be embarrassed about. I don't think that's the issue. The issue is blatant U.S. projection of power around the world unchecked. That's what Bush wants. He doesn't want to be constrained by Congress or by the U.N. or by any big power. Russia is already along for the ride.

Between The Lines: Do you think this new U.S. attitude will backfire and that coalitions of nations will gather to oppose and resist U.S. hegemony?

Matthew Rothschild: My biggest concern is that it's not going to backfire until there's another nuclear holocaust, not of the scale of a nuclear winter, but on the scale of Nagasaki or Hiroshima. At this point, I don't see a force on earth that can contain or confine or talk reason to Washington. George W. Bush, an immensely powerful man, with a middling mind and lazy intellect can do just about anything he wants because the United States has the power, and that's the bottom line. It doesn't matter whether Britain, France and Russia got together and said, "Don't do this, we don't want you to do this," because ultimately Bush doesn't really give a rip. He will do what he wants to do and what his advisors tell him to do. My fear is that this recklessness will end with a mushroom cloud over Baghdad and the world will recoil in horror and I hope it doesn't come to that.

There are ways to stop it. The way is for U.S. citizens to stop it. We alone have the power to resist this kind of dangerous recklessness. We do so in the ways we know how to here in the social justice movement. We do so nonviolently, but militantly, to oppose through letters, phone calls, protests and demonstrations, this heedless march to war.

Contact The Progressive by calling (608) 257-4626 or visit their Web site at

Find more related interviews and listen to an excerpt of this interview in a RealAudio segment or in MP3 on our Web site at ( for week ending June 28, 2002.


Scott Harris is the executive producer of Between The Lines. This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines, for the week ending June 28, 2002.

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