Issues analysis
Preemptive war against evil

April 27, 2005
Fred Hutchison
RenewAmerica analyst


One of the most contentious issues during the election of 2004 was the war in Iraq. The question of whether it was right to go to war, whether it was done in the right way, and whether the outcome was likely to be favorable was fiercely debated.

President Bush's mode of leading the nation to war included an unmistakable assertion of national sovereignty and exhibited the forceful resolve of executive decision directed against a vicious evil abroad. The incensed opponents of this policy at home and abroad did not like several things about this war: 1) executive decision and leadership from the seat of power in Washington, 2) the assertion of national sovereignty in defiance of the U.N. Security Council, 3) the preemptive nature of the attack, and 4) the recognition of a supranormal evil in the person of a dictator and his totalitarian, genocidal, and militarized regime.

The opponents of the Iraq War could not openly oppose the president on these four grounds, knowing that a majority of the public were likely to see them as points in his favor. They exhausted their arguments on whether weapons of mass destruction were likely to exist, whether the weapons inspectors had been given enough time, and whether adequate attention had been given to the intricate processes of diplomacy at the U.N.

The highly-politicalized debate deteriorated into a question of whether the administration had been candid and forthcoming about weapons of mass destruction. Bush's election victory and the perspective of time, sweetened by good news from Iraq, has caused these secondary questions to fade in importance since the November election. In political fights, as in domestic quarrels, the subject in debate is often different from the true causes of contention. The bitterness of the attacks on Bush clearly had reasons other than the ostensible subjects of the quarrel.

It is more important to understand the reasons for the personal ad hominem attacks on the president than to return to the futile polemical debates of last fall. We must look to the four points of executive decision, national sovereignty, preemptive attack, and supranormal evil to find the answer. These are the grounds upon which opposing world views are clashing. As we consider each of these four points in turn, the question of cosmic evil will prove to be the most important, because it is the lynchpin of all the issues of the culture war.

Executive decision


Executive decision, followed by resolute action, is an exercise of power. The use of executive authority to dispatch the military is a most vivid and dramatic display of executive power and the manly vitality of the leader. When the president acts as Commander in Chief of the military, as well as the leader of the majority party in the legislature, his decisive use of military power can be breathtaking. This is precisely what some people loved and other people hated about the way President Bush led us to war.

In normal times, a successful outcome from a decisive use of power will turn a president from a political figure into a national hero. But these are not normal times. Unexpectedly good secondary results from the war are not accompanied by great praises for President Bush.

Consider the positives: Democracy is beginning to bloom in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Ukraine, while unlikely places like Palestine and Lebanon are having pro-democracy demonstrations, and Syria is withdrawing from Lebanon. Evidence is abundant that we turned a corner in the war in Iraq with the battle of Fallujah. The Iraqi people defied terrorist threats and voted in massive numbers. American fatalities are down, Iraqi security forces are maturing, the terrorists are on the run. Our troops are tightening the noose around terrorist leader Zarqawi and have killed his leading henchmen.

Perhaps most important in the turning of the tide in Iraq is that ordinary Iraqis are giving the Americans information about the whereabouts of terrorists. In the Comanche, Sioux, and Apache wars, the federal and state forces were at a disadvantage against the Indian strike-and-hide guerilla tactics. In each case, the tide turned when friendly tribes who were bitter enemies of the Comanche, Sioux, or Apache guided the federal and state forces to the enemy hideaway camps or tracked the fleeing warriors. During the Vietnam War, the American failure to recruit enough reliable guides and informers from the populace had dire consequences in a jungle guerilla war.

Four factors are now working to bring indigenous aid to the Americans in Iraq: a) the overwhelming evil of Saddam Hussein and his policy of genocide, b) rage against the terrorists who kill Iraqis, c) shiites who associate the terror attacks with the Baathist Sunnis, and d) democracy, new institutions, and a new national pride.

Many of these encouraging developments are played down by the mainstream media. Some of the encouraging battlefield outcomes have been virtually ignored by liberal newspapers. It is not that they don't want the Iraqis to have peace and democracy. They simply don't want President Bush to have his ticker tape parade or his face carved in Mount Rushmore.


When Caesar crossed the Rubicon, he said, "The die is cast." In similar fashion, Bush took a gamble on a bold military move in the Middle East. He is winning his gamble as Caesar won his dice throw, but Bush has been denied the accolades Caesar enjoyed as he marched into Rome.

President Bush is still a controversial figure, and hero status has been withheld by a cautious public. The way he used executive power still thrills some Americans and rankles others. Ever since King George III, Americans have been ambivalent about power--ambivalence that intensified during the Vietnam War.

The most vivid metaphor of Bush's executive power was his descent from a plane to the deck of an aircraft carrier in a cool flight suit. It was an image that excited millions and shocked millions. A president as hero and military leader. Ah, the power and the glory! It reminds me of the ancient Greek theater when an actor portraying a god was carried by stage machinery from artificial smoke to create the illusion of a god descending from the clouds to earth. The Greeks called it deux ex machine (the god of the machine).

Unfortunately, Bush's descent from the clouds to the aircraft carrier enraged the very people who do not like his war. We are living in abnormal times when the aversion to power, authority, and masculine strength is exceptionally strong among a large minority of Americans. Journalist Maureen Dowd is painfully frank about her feminist aversion to anything in political power that might imply overactive testosterone. However, the election results of 2004 signal that the electorate still is

fond of a leader who demonstrates masculine decisiveness against evil. The mainstream media is suspicious of executive power, but red state America is not. Red state folks enjoyed Bush's stunt on the aircraft carrier.

Bush's use of executive power displays the manly virtues of courage, fortitude, tenacity, and self confidence which stand out in a feminist age when powerful institutional forces are hostile to manliness. The display of virtues unpopular with elite opinion requires courage. Bush has a mindset that is not prone to self-doubt and waffling, in contrast to his 2004 opponent Senator John Kerry, whose flip-flopping on issues did more than anything else to send him to defeat. Bush is not a man to use executive power with waffling and indecision. The voters got their fill of that during the soft presidency of Jimmy Carter.

From a list of 15 Roman Virtues, on the Nova Roma web site, George W. Bush rates high in most of them, and stands out from his rivals in Firmitas and Pietas. Firmitas is tenacity or strength of mind, the ability to stick to one's purpose. Pietas is dutifulness to the natural order socially, politically, and religiously. Pietas includes the ideas of patriotism and devotion to others.

The Roman virtues, once commonly referred to as the manly virtues, are politically incorrect to the liberal establishment. Bush compounds the offense to the feminist elites by being a born again Christian, and a male, family-oriented, white Anglo-Saxon Protestant and Texan, complete with ranch and strut. He comes from an old political family dynasty and has a background in the oil business. Power seems to radiate from every syllable of this resume. He acts the part of anointed leader to the joy of some and the horror of others. Acting this part involves three Roman virtues, Auctoritas, Dignitas, and Gravitas. There is no embarrassment about being in charge for this man of Roman virtue as there was for the strangely effeminate Jimmy Carter.

National sovereignty

Bush's decisive executive action in Iraq was a vigorous expression of American national sovereignty. Reminders of American sovereignty are infuriating to the francophiles, One Worlders, U.N. lovers, and the left wing of the Democratic party. They had hoped to tie up American power in endless debates and negotiations and to bind America, like a giant Gulliver, with the threads of consensus with the world community.

Jacques Chirac

However, President Bush came to lead, not to follow the world community. The French--who excel in diplomacy, intrigue, and games of factions--intended to draw Bush into the United Nations tar baby and bog down this man of action. Columnist Tony Blankley said the price of winning the approval of the French was to give up a chunk of American national sovereignty. Blankley predicted that President Bush would refuse such a bargain, but that a prospective President Kerry would negotiate away pieces of national sovereignty to please the French. This brings to mind Jimmy Carter's giving away of the Panama Canal in order to please Latin America.

The European and American liberals claim they want America to renounce all resort to unilateral action and embrace international consensus for the idealistic vision of world government that is driving the European nations towards a federation. But there is nothing idealistic or altruistic in the Europeans' plans for union. They are doing it to enhance their economic, political, and military capability, and to become a superpower that is the equal of America.

Unfortunately for Europe, America alone has a greater gross domestic product than all of Europe combined and a vastly greater military power. Europe can never be the equal of America as a superpower, unless America can be weakened by getting stuck in the U.N. tar baby, and negotiating away parts of its sovereignty. Interestingly, the incompetence and corruption of the United Nations administration is currently a world scandal. It would be irrational and self-destructive for America to forfeit elements of national sovereignty to such a body.

Consider the grand opportunity that would be lost, were America to contemplate the forfeiture of its national sovereignty as the world's only superpower. History supplies examples of sole superpowers that enjoyed years of relative peace and prosperity.

According to historian Edward Gibbons, during the Pax Romania (Roman peace) of the second century, "The Empire of the Romans comprehended the fairest part of mankind. The frontiers of that extensive monarchy were guarded by ancient renown and disciplined valour. The gentle but powerful influence of laws and manners had gradually cemented the union of the provinces. Their peaceful inhabitants enjoyed and abused the advantages of wealth and luxury...." Similarly, the Pax Britannia of the nineteenth century--during which Britain ruled the waves and one third of the world's land and inhabitants--was another period of relative peace and prosperity, if one does not look too closely at revolutions in Europe and several wars between the French, Austrians, and Prussians. A third era of Pax Americana may be beginning--now that America, as the sole superpower, insists that rogue nations behave themselves and that terrorists desist from their horrors of infamy. However, there shall be no Pax Americana without men with Roman virtues in the seat of power.

Preemptive attack


Preemptive attacks contradict the ancient doctrine of the just war, in that a war must be defensive to be just. That doctrine was appropriate during much of Western history. However, we are now living in extraordinary times involving the proliferation of terrorism and the breeding of genocidal rogue states.

The extraordinary evil of terrorism and genocide makes the traditional just war theory obsolete. There are times when atrocities are so vile and so widespread that no just men or just nation can stand by and wash their hands in complacency. Furthermore, certain kinds of evil are virulent like cancer or contagious like the plague. They must be stamped out before they spread. When the World Trade Center was destroyed, we found out that as long as terrorism is tolerated, no one in the world is safe.

However, careful thought is required to determine when preemptive attack is legitimate and when it is not. The Roman virtue of Prudentia counsels that the evils and burdens of the world are conceptually infinite from the vantage point of a single nation. Two careful distinctions must be drawn. We must define what is to be America's sphere of influence and what is outside that influence. When Hadrian built a wall between England and Scotland, it was a policy statement that Roman power must of necessity have limits. We must also very carefully define which foreign evils are supranormal and intolerable, and which evils are limited to a small scope, outside the reach of American influence and power.

"Prudentia" also suggests we put a lid on expansive Wilsonian utopian talk about changing the world through democracy. Democracy in Iraq, Afghanistan, Ukraine, and perhaps Palestine and Lebanon is marvelous and surprising. However, democracy in such places is no panacea, and it does not stick in places like Russia. France is a democracy and yet is a corrupt and obstreperous opponent of the United States. It is naive to think we shall see the universal triumph of democracy outside the American sphere of influence. Just as sinless perfection is impossible for individual man in this life, so collective utopia is impossible for the world during this age.


Cosmic evil

Almost everyone agrees that numerous evils vex this mortal life. However, not everyone believes that there is such a thing as cosmic evil--a metaphysical evil consisting of dark powers in the heavens that transcend ordinary human experience. Genocide, terrorism, serial killing, and child molestation are examples of such preternatural evil. They belong to a higher order of evil than the seven deadly sins that every person must be on guard against. Almost everyone has been tempted with envy, sloth, gluttony, wrath, pride, lust, and greed, but few have been tempted to place a bomb in a restaurant, fly a plane into a skyscraper, or go on a serial killing spree.

Both Afghanistan and Iraq routinely sponsored cosmic evil of this sort in recent years. Afghanistan sponsored camps to train terrorists. Saddam's Iraq was internally genocidal and externally aggressive. Saddam sought military conquest in order to build an empire for the greater glory of Saddam. These regimes were preternaturally evil, and President Bush legitimately waged preemptive war against them. Those who believe in cosmic evil tend to have a bias in favor of these wars. Those who do not tend to have a bias against this kind of war.

Theologians speak of the mystery of evil, not referring to ordinary sin but to cosmic evil. Cosmic evil is mysterious. Envy, lust, and sloth are not mysterious to the rational mind. However, the rational mind cannot wrap itself around the protean monster of cosmic evil.

A Star Trek episode depicted a shape-shifting evil like a giant black amoeba of fluid shape, filled with hate and self-absorbed with bitterness and self-pity. About the most we can say with assurance about inflated evil is that it is narcissistic almost to the point of solipsism and others are reduced to the importance of insects. However, cosmic evil cannot be reduced to a personality disorder that psychologists can understand and treat. Hitler and Stalin were evil in ways that transcend the boundaries of psychology. The giant black amoeba must be energized with paranormal evil powers, or it wallows helplessly in self-pity and bitterness like a beached whale.

Serial killers and serial child molesters are driven by evil paranormal powers. Somehow they derive extraordinary energy and evil inspiration from a dark spiritual realm. Hitler had extraordinary energy, zeal, and efficiency in attempting to exterminate the Jews and conquer the world. He was a dynamic force for evil energized by satanic power. If we fail to understand the source of his power, we shall misunderstand the holocaust and World War II. "For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this wicked world, against spiritual wickedness in high places" (Ephesians 6:12).

Interestingly, the clergy who have training in these concepts are often naive about supranormal evil in political dress or in foreign abominations. The American Council of Catholic Bishops has been seduced by pacifists and has radically revised the just war theory so as to make it a pacifists' creed. This ought not to be surprising, because God has given men of a pastoral and evangelical calling a different wisdom than he gives to rulers. By contrast, he has given the political magistrate a calling to battle against evil, using the police and the military.

Along with the calling of the sword, God imparts a special intuitive wisdom about the nature of supranormal evil to the ruler. "For rulers are not a terror to good works but to the evil. Wilt thou then, not be afraid of the power? Do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same. For he (a ruler) is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do evil, be afraid; for he bearest not the sword in vain; for he is the minister of God, an avenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil...they are God's ministers, continually attending to this very thing" (Romans 13:3-6).

An understanding of this vital issue makes all the difference in foreign wars and issues like capital punishment. The nature of cosmic evil and the divine calling of the ruler to fight evil is an indispensable truth, although the concept enrages the liberal elites of our day. Presidents at home with the sword, and comfortable walking upon aircraft carriers, are not welcome in the snug liberal campuses and newsrooms.

The theologians tell us that cosmic evil is mysterious. The existence of an exotic, shape-shifting, and irrational evil confounds the human intellect. This makes it difficult for those with a skeptical turn of mind and souls of naive goodness to believe in evil.


One of the finest pastors I have known was a man of conservative theology who could not bring himself to believe that Palestinian terrorists are evil. The man was wonderful in dealing with the seven deadly sins and healing souls, but was a childish naif when it comes to cosmic evil. I have noticed that my late mother, as a leader of women's groups, was sometimes merciful blind to the cruel things which happened all around her, a protection of God from things that her tender spirit did not need to know about.

Some do not believe in cosmic evil, not because their hearts are too soft but because their hearts are too hard. The hardened skeptic scoffs about a mysterious cosmic evil. Their arguments against it are not entirely wrong. If we let ourselves become obsessed with cosmic evil, we risk falling into paranoid conspiracy theories, which is a one-way ticket to delusion and darkness. The rage against preemptive war by skeptics who scoff at ideas of cosmic evil is not without reason. But if they win the political debate, cosmic evil may be triumphant and usher us into another time of darkness.

When I was a college student, a teammate and I from the Conservative Club debated a leftist team from the Student Mobilization Committee about the Vietnam War in front of a large excitable campus audience. I said to the crowd that if the Communists triumph in Vietnam, a curtain of darkness would descend in Indochina with a news blackout, and "the night of the long knives would begin." There was indeed a gigantic blood purge in both Cambodia and Vietnam, which those who deny cosmic evil do not want to think about. This kind of thing happens when cosmic evil prevails. We must not lose the culture war, lest there be more "nights of the long knives."

RenewAmerica analyst Fred Hutchison also writes a column for RenewAmerica.

© 2005 Fred Hutchison


The views expressed by RenewAmerica analysts are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.



They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. —Isaiah 40:31