How to legalize a war on Iraq.

Science, evolution, and politics explained.
Feb. 7 2002 11:44 AM

Legalizing War Against Iraq

(Continued from Page 1)

Early on in my dialogue with Kaplan I challenged him to provide a long-term plan for dealing with terrorism and vowed to retaliate with my own plan. He never entirely complied, so I'm off the hook, but I'll nonetheless graciously unveil part of my plan: We have to carry the international policing of weapons of mass destruction well beyond Iraq and make it routine. For example: Put teeth in the toothless biological weapons convention, which theoretically bans the possession of bioweapons.


As I've argued elsewhere, policing bioweapons is so hard that doing it right would set a new record for infringing on national sovereignty. America—like all nations—would have to accept short-notice inspections, of unprecedented intrusiveness, by an international agency. That is presumably one reason Bush has punted on this issue and refused to think seriously about designing a tough bioweapons policing regime, even though Europe is begging for one.

What the Bush administration seems not to appreciate is that retaining our national sovereignty is not an option anyway. Technological evolution—in this case biotechnological evolution—ensures that, in the absence of some such global policing regime, small groups of people will increasingly have the power to wreak slaughter on a scale that would make 9/11 look minor. That threat is itself a violation of America's sovereignty. So the question isn't whether to sacrifice sovereignty, but how. I prefer the form of sacrificed sovereignty that doesn't involve the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans.

OK, that about wraps this column up, except for the aforementioned sniping at Kaplan.

1) Kaplan writes, "Terrorism now tends to be nihilistic rather than oriented toward specific, achievable goals." I guess we can argue about how achievable Osama Bin Laden's goals are, but if there's one label you can't apply to people who willingly die in the name of a God that represents supreme moral truth, it's "nihilistic."

2) Kaplan seems to say that there's no point in trying to reduce the number of people who hate America. "As with all great powers in the past, we will be resented for the very fact of our power, no matter how we use it." I've argued against this sort of logic in the past, and I won't repeat the entire exercise here. The obvious point is just that being hated by a bunch of people isn't a binary phenomenon. There are degrees. There's a difference between, say, a million people hating you intensely and 10 million people hating you intensely. It's the difference—roughly speaking—between creating x new terrorists and creating 10x new terrorists. Kaplan writes, "The terrorists of Sept. 11 would not have called off their plan had we ... forced Israel to concede an extra few miles of the West Bank." Obviously. But if you think that the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict isn't stoking hatred of America in the Islamic world, you must be in some kind of media blackout. That a lasting solution to the Palestinian problem would make at least a small contribution to future American security seems to me beyond serious dispute.

3) Finally, Kaplan seems to paint me as a Wilsonian idealist. I don't take that as an insult, but the fact is that I'm not the kind of one worlder who makes a fundamentally idealistic argument for world governance. My argument stresses American self-interest almost to the point of cynicism. I'll flesh out that point in a column very soon.


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