The Cheney Doctrine: War Without End

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by Patrick J. Buchanan – September 2, 2002

Vice President Dick Cheney has just made the most powerful case yet for the Bush Doctrine of Pre-emptive War.

There is “no doubt,” said Cheney to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, that Saddam “is amassing [weapons of mass destruction] to use against our friends, against our allies and against us.” And when Saddam gets a nuclear weapon, he “can be expected to seek domination of the entire Middle East and subject the United States to nuclear blackmail.”

Dick Cheney is a serious man, and he may be right about Saddam’s intent. And if we fail to kill this snake we may pay a hellish price. But Cheney’s arguments do appear to contradict Cold War history and common sense.


If Saddam is a “mortal threat” to the United States, 6,000 miles away, is he not a mortal threat to Israel next door? Yet tiny Israel seems less alarmed than Cheney and has not launched a pre-emptive war. What does Ariel Sharon know that we do not?

And if Saddam intends to use nuclear weapons to “dominate the entire Middle East,” why has Iran not launched a pre-emptive war, before being made a satellite by Saddam? Is Iran perhaps far ahead of Iraq in the nuclear arms race, and delighted the Americans are about to emasculate their Arab rival in the Gulf?

Turks, Kurds, Iranians, Saudis, Kuwaitis, Jordanians, Israelis – none of these people appear as frightened of Saddam Hussein as the vice president of the most powerful nation on earth. Why?

Should Saddam get nuclear weapons, says Cheney, he “will subject the United States to nuclear blackmail.”

Pardon me, but there is serious doubt Saddam is close to a nuclear weapon and serious doubt he would ever dare try to blackmail us. Stalin acquired nuclear weapons in 1949, but did not blackmail us out of Berlin. Mao acquired nuclear weapons in 1964, but did not blackmail us out of Taiwan. Khrushchev, with a thousand times as many weapons of mass destruction as Saddam is ever likely to have, tried to intimidate us in the Cuban missile crisis. How did that work out?

History suggests that nations build nuclear weapons not to go on the warpath, but as deterrents to adversaries. North Korea has used its nuclear arsenal not to attack us but to extort from us nuclear power plants, foreign aid and diplomatic recognition.

Even should Saddam acquire a crude nuclear device, for him to threaten us with it would invite annihilation. To use it would ensure annihilation. Why would Saddam, who sleeps in a different bed every night to stay alive, risk the utter destruction of himself, his family, his dynasty, his monuments, his legacy?

Saddam could give a nuclear weapon to terrorists, Cheney warns. But why would this ultimate survivor put his fate in the hands of an Osama bin Laden, who might set the bomb off, then tell the Americans Saddam gave it to him – to ignite the U.S.-Islamic war Osama ardently desires?

Saddam’s behavior over the years suggests that he wishes to avoid an all-out war with the United States. Why did he not use chemical weapons on invading Americans in 1991? Because Jim Baker told Tarik Aziz what Saddam could expect in return. Instead, Saddam accepted the most one-sided defeat in modern history.

Yet, let us concede that Cheney may be right, that there is a risk that Saddam, should he acquire a nuclear weapon, may commit suicide and use it. But what this administration does not seem to see is that the risks of its own bellicose war rhetoric may be far greater.

With President Bush daily threatening war on any “axis of evil” nation that seeks a weapon of mass destruction, every rogue regime from Libya eastward must be in the market for one, if only to gain the measure of security North Korea seems to have achieved.

The president and his War Cabinet are today giving our enemies the most powerful of incentives, i.e., survival, for seeking the very weapons whose proliferation we wish to prevent.

In making his case for pre-emptive war, Cheney quoted Kissinger: “The imminence of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the huge danger it involves, the rejection of a viable inspection system, and the demonstrated hostility of Saddam Hussein combine to produce an imperative for pre-emptive action.”

But this description applies not only to Saddam Hussein. It applies to Khadafi, Assad, the ayatollahs and Kim Jong-Il, all of whom might well conclude that, after Saddam goes down, their turn comes next. By the Kissinger formula, they should all be targeted “for pre-emptive action.” For America, the logic of the Bush Doctrine of Pre-emptive War points to war without end.

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