Until now, the preparation of a “pre-emptive strike” was strictly forbidden under international law, unless an immediately impending enemy attack had to be averted. Paradoxically, in the present situation only Iraq would have the unquestionable right of preventively attacking the American military build-up.
The novel factor in the alleged or real threat to the US posed by Iraq is the possibility that the latter is producing biological weapons with great destructive power in hidden laboratories. But the anthrax spores that created such fear in America in late 2001 came from within the US; and it is conceivable that a new Timothy McVeigh in a new Oklahoma could employ such material to cause a gigantic catastrophe. Countering this kind of terrorism with war is equivalent to employing an old, even ancient strategy in response to a new situation.
Even if a pre-emptive strike of the US is illegal under international law, it may herald a new historical era, one that establishes the hegemony of American global civilisation. Saddam Hussein is without any doubt a bloodstained despot, and there is no legitimate place for him in such a civilisation. This implies a higher justification for a one-sided American attack.
The logic of this approach, however, may lead to unusual perspectives: the US interventions in the two world wars of the first half of the twentieth century would have to be judged as morally objectionable and only, in a very broad sense, historically legitimate. Considering the large number of despots in the world, the old American pacifist saying “perpetual war for perpetual peace” would gain in credibility.
“Islamism” may be perceived as the third significant reaction to the “Americanisation” of the world - after the anti-capitalist reaction of Russian Bolshevism, and the simultaneously anti-Bolshevist and anti-capitalist reaction of German Nazism. The first two reactions left their imprint on the US. It is possible that Islamism will suffer a defeat as well. However, it could yet also make a significant contribution to a global civilisation of the future, which would not be solely “American”.
© Ernst Nolte 2003
Originally published as part of a debate on 6th February 2003 Writers, artists and civic leaders on the War: Pt. II