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The Unintended Consequences of War

Rarely do wars, once begun, work out as anticipated. As 1898 began, William McKinley could not have dreamed the year would end with America annexing the Philippines. Yet, by December, the United States, having routed Spain, had launched a three-year war to crush Filipino resistance to U.S. imperial rule.

By 1900, with his “Open Door” policy, McKinley had embroiled us for a century in the politics of Asia. All this was a consequence of a war begun because a U.S. battleship blew up in Havana harbor, almost certainly an accident for which Spain bore no responsibility.

When Wilson took us into the Great War “to make the world safe for democracy,” he could not have known America’s victory would lead to a Communist Russia, a Fascist Italy, a Nazi Germany, a bloated British Empire, and a second war far bloodier and more destructive than the first.

When he hailed Neville Chamberlain for risking war with Nazi Germany over Poland in 1939, Churchill could not have known that Poland and nine other Christian countries—as well as China—would end up in Stalin’s grip as a result of the war he had urged on the British people. “We killed the wrong pig,” he is said to have muttered in belated regret.

But if wars won can leave nations with ashes in their mouths, the opposite is also true. America fought to a draw in Korea. Yet, because of our resistance to Stalinist aggression, South Korea became a pillar of Free Asia, and Japan stayed in the Western camp until victory in the Cold War.

South Vietnam fell in 1975, a defeat for U.S. policy if not American arms. But that heroic struggle in which 58,000 Americans died bought for Southeast Asia ten years of time in which freedom took root.

When President Bush’s father was about to launch his war to liberate Kuwait, this writer predicted it would be the first, but not the last, Arab-American war. The second is at hand.

No one knows for certain how it will play out. Europeans, Arabs, and many Americans fear a U.S.-led invasion of Iraq will lead to a Middle East upheaval in which Islamists, hell-bent on a war of civilizations with the West, could come to power.

Neoconservatives, wild for war, predict a “cakewalk” that liberates the people of Iraq from a bloody tyrant and begins the democratization of the Islamic world.

Militarily, Iraq does not appear formidable. An Iraqi air defense, unable to shoot down a single U.S. plane in 40,000 sorties in ten years, cannot long withstand U.S. air power that can deliver 1,000 smart bombs and cruise missiles on target each day. And Iraqi ground forces cannot long resist Abrams tanks that can guarantee the kill of an Iraqi armored vehicle with every shell fired. Thus the great question: What comes next?

The War Party sees the occupation of Iraq, like the occupation of Germany and Japan, as an opportunity to convert hostile Arab nations into peace-loving, pro-Western societies. Faced with U.S. military supremacy, the Arabs, they believe, will, at last, accept our benevolent hegemony and the permanent presence of Sharonist Israel in the heart of the Middle East.

The antiwar camp fears that the result of a U.S. invasion of Iraq could be a Middle East that more resembles the Europe of the 1930s than the Eur-ope of the 1950s. Impose democracy on the Arab world, and what is to prevent the new regimes from reflecting the resentment and hatred of U.S. power and Israel now pandemic among these peoples.

In the final analysis, the divide is over how best to prevent another 9/11, how to keep America secure in a world where we are not loved, and, by some, no longer feared.

Was 9/11 the result of non-intervention in the Islamic world? Or did terrorists come over here to massacre us in our homeland because we were over there intruding massively in their part of the world?

One camp, call it the Wilsonians, believes that only when the world recognizes the United States is the preeminent world power, and that any who defy us will be crushed, can we be truly secure.

The other camp believes the way to keep America free and secure is to stay out of quarrels that do not affect vital U.S. interests and let alien societies work out their own destinies.

As time was our ally in the war against communism, which did not work, so, time is our ally in the war against Islamism, which also does not work.

But Bush has decided to go with the Wilsonians, and he is taking us with him.

about the author

Patrick J. Buchanan is a founding editor of The American Conservative and the author of Nixon's White House Wars: The Battles That Made and Broke a President and Divided America Forever.

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