AUSTIN, Texas -- "Jaw, jaw," said Winston Churchill, "is better than war, war."

I bring up the not-often-contested notion that peace is better than war only because it seems the Bush administration is incapable of grasping the self-evident. According to The New York Times, President Bush has directed his top security people -- a happy nest of neo-con hawks -- "to make a doctrine of pre-emptive action against states and terrorist groups trying to develop weapons of mass destruction." This means, we declare war first. This dogma "will be the foundation of a new national security strategy."

Let's see, we already have our military in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Georgia and the Philippines. We are also deeply into Colombia as part of the Drug War and have fairly regular deployment by special ops in Somalia, Iraq, Syria and Yemen.

Good thing for India and Pakistan they made it into the Nuclear Club before the deadline, eh? Let's see, add Iran, North Korea and some of the nuttier princes, kings, sheiks, presidents-for-life -- I make that between 20 and 30 wars we'll have to fight under the new doctrine.

Then you have to add in all the "failed states." The administration says it is "fine-tuning" the doctrine to include joint operations with other powers: "Potential targets include weak states that have become, in the words of one official, 'petri dishes' for terrorist groups." You can't exactly have a war between, say, Sierra Leone and the United States. When there's no actual government, we end up trying to control a bunch of warlords -- and, as we have learned in Somalia and Afghanistan, it ain't easy. The trouble with such non-wars is that there's no exit strategy; we're in for indefinite occupation.

Do we really think this is a good idea?

OK, what we're really trying to do here is set up some policy rationale for attacking Iraq and possibly the other Axes of Evil, as well. It's not that easy to argue against taking out Saddam. But as Joshua Marshall points out in the current issue of The Washington Monthly, the people who are urging us to attack Iraq are either dishonest or simplistic, or both, in their arguments.

They are failing to ask, much less answer, some basic questions about the risks. Their cheerful premise that it will relatively easy to take out Saddam is based on their equally cheerful ignorance.

Ken Adelman was recently asked on television one of those major "what if" questions and actually replied, "Don't worry about that."

That is not an answer. As Jonathan Kwitny once observed, "Anyone who has ever been in a war knows nothing goes according to plan from the moment the first shot is fired." Or as they say in the military, "Hope is not a plan."

What the hawks hope is that the Iraqi people hate Saddam Hussein and will be delighted to see us show up and liberate them. Unfortunately, we'll have to bomb them first. In case you hadn't noticed, this tends to make us unpopular.

Marshall reports, "When asked what would happen if America encountered an embittered civilian population after fighting a grisly battle for Baghdad, Perle replied with a question, 'Suppose the Iraqis are dancing in the streets after Saddam is gone?'" That non-answer is based on the false premise that if the Iraqis hate Saddam, they're bound to love us, which is nonsense.

Asked about the possibility that an attack on Iraq would so upset Arab peoples they would overthrow now-friendly governments in Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, the neo-cons dismiss the question. "All the better if you ask me," Adelman told Marshall. What's better about having Islamist fanatics running Egypt and Saudi Arabia?

If we're going to do this, I suggest the administration prepare the country for exactly how big the risks are. Unfortunately, it seems more inclined to question the patriotism of anyone who asks questions.

As for the longer menu of war and near-war under the Bush Doctrine, why not try peace instead? The hope of the world has been the slow growth and development of international law. Announcing that we will declare war "pre-emptively" whenever we feel like it does nothing to promote peace. What makes us think our intelligence is good enough to learn if and where such weapons are being developed? When Clinton tried to go after Al Qaeda, he missed Osama bin Ladin by an hour and destroyed a harmless pharmaceutical factory in Sudan. The FBI, the CIA and the rest of them managed to ignore the warning signs on 9-11. We're not competent enough to go around declaring "pre-emptive war."

Why not announce in advance that we plan to work with other countries on solving the problem of terrorism. Why not try waging peace first?

A.J. Muste said, "There is no way to peace: Peace is the way." What can this doctrine possibly achieve except creating more hatred of the United States?

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