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Preventive War and the Corruption of Language

Lindsey Graham is warmongering [1] as usual, this time on North Korea:

The administration’s policy, he said, is “to deny North Korea the capability to hit America with a nuclear-tipped missile. Not to contain it.”

Denial means preemptive war as a last resort [bold mine-DL]. That preemption is becoming more likely as their technology matures. Every missile test, every underground test of a nuclear weapon, means the marriage is more likely.”

Graham has never seen an unnecessary war he didn’t want to start, and he has been among the loudest advocates for starting one in Korea, but that is not all that interests me here. It’s his abuse of language that I want to consider. Graham talks about waging a “preemptive war,” but says that it should be waged in order to “deny” North Korea the capability to launch a nuclear-armed ICBM, and then says that it will be fought as a “last resort.” This is gibberish. If the U.S. is waging a war to deny another state the capability to launch an attack, that is preventive war pure and simple. Preventive war is not preemption, since preemption requires that there is an imminent threat to be preempted. It cannot be waged as a last resort since it is the most obvious example of using force as a first resort.

When Graham or anyone else talks about attacking North Korea in the hope of eliminating a North Korean capability, they are talking about preventive war, but they are usually careful not to call it that. Preventive war is both unjust and illegal. This has nothing to do with self-defense, and it certainly isn’t being done as a last resort. Warmongers muddle these concepts and confuse the meanings of these words in order to make the unnecessary war they want to start seem less reckless and insane to the public than it is. That is why it is important that the right names be used to describe the policy that Graham et al. want the U.S. to have, so that it is as clear as possible that a U.S. attack on North Korea wouldn’t be preempting any threat and would actually trigger a nightmare scenario in which hundreds of thousands and possibly millions could die. The danger in this case is that the North Korean government will take this rhetoric about getting ready to attack them as proof of Trump’s intentions and decide that they need to strike first.

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6 Comments To "Preventive War and the Corruption of Language"

#1 Comment By SteveM On December 4, 2017 @ 7:44 am

Right. Moreover, Kim Jong-un can’t attack the U.S. with a nuclear missile on his own. The assumption for a preventive war is that Kim and the entire North Korean chain of command required to launch an attack are insanely suicidal.

Human nature is universal. Like in all dictatorships, you can be sure that the military elites and their families in North Korea are living comfortably with access to superior housing and imported goods. To think that they would happily surrender themselves and their families to certain obliteration on Kim’s command is ludicrous.

BTW, repulsive Republican Graham’s specious arguments are completely extensible from his warped, war-mongering PoV. E.g. pointing out an existential threat from Russia when Russia would realize absolutely no strategic value by invading Eastern Europe.

BTW II, and the sanctified Pentagon Brass are wind-up dolls of concurrence for the political hacks like Graham. It’s a shame that those clowns with stars on their shoulders are afforded the deference they don’t deserve for their too much militarism is never enough foreign policy pronouncements.

It’s about time that rational actors in the foreign policy sphere look those generals right in the eye and call out their their myopic idiocy for what it actually is.

#2 Comment By SC’s favorite bachelor On December 4, 2017 @ 11:20 am

Graham: “Uh, well, even though it’s my fooking job to know such things, I didn’t even know we had troops in Niger. But now that I know, I think it’s great that they’re there!”

Apparently he has decided to take a break from helping turn the Middle East and N. Africa into flaming hellholes, long enough to convey his thoughts as to how E. Asia might also be destabilized and wrecked.

#3 Comment By Fran Macadam On December 4, 2017 @ 1:53 pm

The Empire will only be safe when the entire rest of the world is a satrapy.

#4 Comment By Dr. Bill Wedin On December 4, 2017 @ 3:32 pm

After North Korea (NK) lost 25% of its population during Hiroshima Harry’s genocidal phase (1950-53)of the never-ended Korean War (which is like the US losing 80,000,000 people in a war on American soil today)–NK just wants to be left alone. And that means having nukes that can hit the US if attacked as a deterrent. But NK is not going to attack the US first “because they hate us for our [totally corrupted] values.” Or whatever bit of pre-Iraq-War propaganda one wants to drag out. Saddam and Gaddafi were not “madmen” (except when they gave up their nuclear programs; and the US then destroyed both them and their countries). And Kim is not a “madman” either. He and his father and grandfather, Kim Sung Il (a Ho Chi Minh figure to the whole Korean people at one time in fighting Imperial Japan’s occupation of Korea even before WW2)has kept NK out of war with the US since 1953. That’s 67 years. It’s Lindsey Graham and Trump and Kelley and Mattis and McMaster and Pompero who want war with NK because they think they can WIN the Korean War at last if they just kill enough NKs. That’s what Truman’s generals thought too. “Kill all life!” Gen. Ridgeway declared in 1950. It didn’t work. The NKs dug (still existing)caves that covered more miles than all the miles from NYC to LA to Anchorage Alaska and moved all their cities and factories inside. Today our nukes CAN destroy all life in NK before NK can get its people into caves. But that will bring on a nuclear winter that will kill us all. But no one wants to believe that’s even possible, let alone LIKELY. As Lenny Bruce once said: “Denial is not just a river in Egypt.”

#5 Comment By b. On December 4, 2017 @ 6:59 pm

“Warmongers muddle these concepts and confuse the meanings of these words in order to make the unnecessary war they want to start seem less reckless and insane to the public than it is.”

Let us not forget, this is a recent sleight of the tongue, introduced in the 2002 National Security Strategy and reinforced in the 2006 National Security Strategy as defined by George W. Bush. The so-called “Doctrine of Preemption” in fact committed to Bush administration to wage aggressive preventive war against both other nations that might reach peer status with the US with respect to military capabilities, and against nations of any size that threaten to acquire, to borrow a phrase from China, “minimum means of reprisal”.

In 2003, the entire foreign policy establishment, the entirety of the mainstream media, and the bipartisan neo-con-lib Congress of the US became complicit in this deception. In 2004, only Howard Dean ran in explicit disavowal of the Bush Doctrine – no other candidate, and certainly not John Kerry, to a public stance against in any manner that mattered.

From 2003 onwards, Rep. Barbara Lee submitted a House Resolution to “Disavow the Doctrine of Preemption” to every Congress in session. The Resolution did not make explicit the misrepresentation of preventive war as “preemption”, but it did at least refer to the inclusion of preventive war in Bush’s National Security Strategy. Unfortunately, Rep. Lee did not resubmit her resolution following the election of Obama.

Obama, in turn, never disavowed the Bush Doctrine, or preventive war, and in fact justified US use of force against individuals and groups with no conceivable means of attacking the US with the same need to “prevent” even the possibility of attacks.

Furthermore, Obama committed his administration and the US to preventive war against Iran to prevent them from getting any closer to where North Korea is now. It is highly questionable that his rhetoric, or his actions, would have been substantially different from Trumps – to this point – if other powers had not brokered an agreement that is now considered Obama’s legacy.

Neither Graham nor McMasters can claim credit for inventing this deceit. Worse, even those that claimed to disavow the notion of US preventive war – like Biden and Clinton, or even Lee and the co-sponsors of her resolutions – have in some manner become part of another “abnormalization” of the bipartisan US foreign policy “consensus”.

Preventive R US. A nation, alone under God, in willing embrace of the “supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole”, demolishing the bedrock on which we built an international order just 70 years ago.

We can’t just pin this on hollow men like Graham or McCain, or even criminals like Bush or Obama – more eloquently or less, they are just the mouthpieces of the American id.

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#6 Comment By EliteCommInc. On December 5, 2017 @ 10:01 pm

“It is highly questionable that his rhetoric, or his actions, would have been substantially different from Trumps – to this point – if other powers had not brokered an agreement that is now considered Obama’s legacy.”

Uhhhh, maybe I missed something. I am not a fan of the Iran agreement. But I was under the impression that the previous admin preferred that arrangement to either preventive or pre-emptive engagement.