Globe Column Against Preventive War Drags Butter Home on a Rope

Ever heard of the Wise Men of Chelm? They are the well-intentioned but foolish residents of an imaginary Jewish village, and the object of humor that stretches back 500 years. Here's one story. One of the "wise men" is sent to a neighboring village to bring back a horse. On the way home the horse wanders off and is lost. "Schlemiel!" remonstrate the townspeople with him. "Don't you know you have to lead the horse back on a rope?"

A week later the same man is sent off to bring back a slab of butter. Learning from his mistake and taking the advice to heart, he drags the butter all the way home along the dusty road on a rope.

The Wise Men are still with us. They might be gone from Chelm, but continue to populate academia and the MSM. One resident popped up on the pages of the Boston Globe this morning. Andrew Bacevich is professor of history and international relations at Boston University. In Rescinding the Bush Doctrine, Bacevich calls for Congress to learn from the errors of President Bush's ways in Iraq, and "focus on averting any recurrence of this misadventure." And just how would the well-intentioned professor rope in our foreign policy and prevent it from wandering off, so to speak? By formally and legislatively renouncing the use of preventive war. Specifically, Bacevich calls on Democratic leaders to "offer a binding resolution that makes the following three points":

  • First, the United States categorically renounces preventive war.
  • Second, the United States will henceforth consider armed force to be an instrument of last resort.
  • Third, except in response to a direct attack on the United States, any future use of force will require prior Congressional authorization, as required by the Constitution.

Let's imagine how this might work in the future. Many on the left -- from Newsweek to Hillary Clinton -- are raising alarums about the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan. What if, perchance, they are right? There are indications, after all, that Al-Qaeda has re-established training camps in the Waziristan area along the Afghan/Pakistan border. Let's imagine that a couple years or so down the road, we learn that OBL or his successors have rebuilt their networks and resources to the point they are once again capable of carrying out a major attack on the United States. As quoted by Bacevich, President Bush explained the preventive policy in these terms: "if we wait for threats to fully materialize, we will have waited too long."

Surely any Commander-in-Chief, aware of such threats from a resurgent Al-Qaeda, would want to take military action to prevent them . . . except that if the Bacevich recommendation were taken to heart, the next president could not do so. He would have to await "a direct attack on the United States" before having the right to respond. That's right, rather than acting to prevent the next 9/11, we would have to wait for it happen here before we could respond.

That is dragging the butter of the lesson of Iraq home on a rope. America cannot afford to follow the advice of our new breed of Wise Men.

Mark was in Iraq in November. Contact him at

Mark Finkelstein
Mark Finkelstein
Mark Finkelstein is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.