From: (unknown)
Subject: [azpeace] I Need Provocation Now
Date: Thu, 21 Nov 2002 18:41:35 EST

I Need Provocation Now
by Sheldon Richman

It's shocking how the quality of America's leaders has declined over the
decades. Do you believe that the U.S. government is actually contemplating
an unprovoked war against Iraq? Think about that: Iraq has staged no attack
on the United States. You can't count the firing on American military
aircraft. That's occurring over Iraqi territory. Besides, those planes have
been bombing Iraqis, and killing civilians, for more than a decade. Iraq's
response is hardly unreasonable.

What President Bush is planning to do is highly unbecoming to a Great Power.
It is virtually unprecedented. This is not what Great Powers do. On the
contrary, when Great Powers want to go to war, they fabricate a provocation.
Are Mr. Bush and his brilliantly talented advisors so unimaginative that
they cannot come up with an incident? If that's the case, then as I said,
the quality of American leadership has deteriorated to an embarrassing
degree. We really must do something about this. Where do these people learn
their trade?

It is not as though this government has no role models to emulate. When
President William McKinley and newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst
wanted war with Spain (and a little foreign real estate), they seized on a
mundane event -- probably a boiler explosion on the Maine -- as a casus
belli. Voil! America was an empire. Piece of cake.

Woodrow Wilson was equally adroit at this sort of thing. After the German
Kaiser unleashed his submarines in response to Britain's cruel and illegal
starvation blockade in 1917, Wilson armed and gave protection to American
merchant ships carrying munitions to Germany's enemy. When ships were
torpedoed while in the announced submarine area, that was all the
provocation Wilson needed to get into the war to end war, the war for
democracy, the war that turned much of Europe and Asia into a

Nor was the ever-imaginative Franklin Delano Roosevelt any slouch at
maneuvering the other guy into "firing the first shot," as one of his people
put it. The Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor may or may not have been a
complete surprise to him. Maybe he expected the target to be the
Philippines. But there is no question that he did his utmost to get the
Japanese do to something. Attempts to goad the German U-boats to attack
Americans ships had failed. But a couple years of economic warfare aimed at
strangling the rival Japanese empire did the trick.

Lyndon Johnson learned well. Years of ghastly war and the deaths of 58,000
Americans and two million Vietnamese followed the Gulf of Tonkin "incident."
What was that? As far as we know, there were some blips on a radar screen
aboard an American military ship that shouldn't have been anywhere near
Vietnam anyway. But, hey, it worked. President Johnson got his war, which we
had to pursue for so long because, well, it's bad for an empire to lose
credibility. We had to cut off our nose to save our face. Politics is like

Since then, the wars have been smaller, almost routine. But some kind of
provocation has been needed. Something about the American character still
would not let us accept an unprovoked war. It didn't have to be much. But we
needed something. We went to Grenada because our medical students were
threatened. We went to Panama because our old friend Noriega was really a
drug kingpin. We fought Iraq the first time when Saddam Hussein invaded
Kuwait after the American ambassador winked her eye while telling him that
his border dispute with Kuwait was their affair alone. We went to Kosovo
because Milosevic wanted to kick out the Albanian nationals seeking a
Greater Albania -- which he did just as soon as the American bombing
started. (When the bombing stopped, the Albanians themselves got into the
ethnic laundry business.) When we bombed an aspirin factory in the Sudan it
was because -- what was the reason for that one again?

I'm sure I've missed some, but you get the point. We need provocation. And
if we are going to war against Iraq, we need it now. I don't know about you,
but I'm not going until I get one.

Sheldon Richman is senior fellow at The Future of Freedom Foundation
( in Fairfax, Va., author of Tethered Citizens: Time to Repeal
the Welfare State, and editor of Ideas on Liberty magazine.

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