The Watada Doctrine

An important foreign policy statement is being made this week. It’s even more than that. It’s a dramatic reinterpretation of history and the United States Constitution. Officially, it’s called the court martial of Lt. Ehren Watada. In fact, it is the enactment of the Watada Doctrine.


Here’s the back story.

United States Army Lt. Ehren Watada didn’t want to obey an order to deploy to Iraq, where he’d be participating in what he considers an illegal war. The Army says an order to deploy is not the kind of order that can be legally disobeyed. Then, Lt. Watada publicly denounced the president of the United States several times.

It will be truly astonishing if Lt. Watada, now on trial at Fort Lewis with hosts of demonstrators for and against him outside the gates, is found not guilty. But legal technicalities and the actual charges are not what this is about, and are not the reason why Lt. Watada is a darling of the anti-war movement.

A military judge has ruled that Lt. Watada’s notions about the illegality of the Iraq war are beside the point, and he cannot raise them in his defense. This is too bad. Lt. Watada’s argument is full of holes and it would be fun to see it picked apart in a court of law. But if Lt. Watada can’t raise it, that doesn’t mean we can’t:

The Watada Doctrine states “War is not legal unless it is in self-defense, declared by Congress and/or approved by the United Nations Security Council.”

By Lt. Watada’s definition, we are a nation of war criminals. Every war the United States has engaged in since World War II was an illegal war.


Not one of them was declared by Congress. In no case was an army storming our beaches. In each case, forces were at play that posed a serious threat to our national security, but the point at which that rises to a self-defense issue, as Lt. Watada demonstrates, is extremely debatable. Even by lieutenants.

Most of our wars, from Korea to Vietnam to the Gulf War, injected the United States into regional and national conflicts in which our enemy, often proxies for larger oppressive powers, claimed to be acting on the will of the people to reunify illegally divided lands and remove illegal governments.

Those claims were complicated by the fact that in most cases, we were invited by legitimate, sovereign, embattled governments. One very interesting exception: In Kosovo, Bill Clinton’s war, we had no UN approval and were acting against a sovereign government that was combating a violent insurgency. That government was employing mass murder and a mass ejection of the civilian population, and had an extremely bad track record. But lacking UN approval or a declaration of war, under the Watada Doctrine … what were we thinking going to the rescue of those grandmothers in their wheelbarrows?

We were acting morally against mass murderers. Just as we are in Iraq.


But in Iraq, we don’t need to fall back on the morality dodge. In Iraq, the use of force was approved not only by overwhelming vote of Congress, but also by the UN Security Council. Resolution 1441, among others.


That’s where the Watada Doctrine’s “Bush lied” part comes in.

It would also be fun to see this one argued in court. “Congressional and Security Council resolutions are meaningless, because Bush lied.” Just one problem. The Left’s line on this is … a lie. Debunked in brief: Yes, Saddam Hussein had WMD and WMD programs. Every major intelligence agency and major world power believed this, along with many of Saddam’s military commanders. The size of the stockpiles found to date were not what we expected, and the programs were suspended, awaiting the collapse of the corrupt UN sanctions regime. Yes, Saddam’s agents attempted to buy uranium in Africa. And yes … never mind.

Never mind the hundreds of thousands of bodies we knew in advance we would find in mass graves. Never mind the use of repeated use of poison gas on civilian populations as well as military targets. Never mind the repeated invasions of Iraq’s neighbors.

Never mind, under US occupation, the establishment of a freely elected government, that wants us to stay and help it fight the threats to its security, which, coming from al Qaeda, Iran and Syria, are also threats to our own security.

Under the “Bush Lied” codicil of the Watada Doctrine, if you believe your commander-in-chief lied, you don’t have to obey his orders.


The Watada Doctrine allows lieutenants not only to decide whether an order to kill in some terrible set of combat circumstances is legal or not, but allows them to decide whether an order to set foot in country A or B is legal, it allows them to rule on the foreign policy of their nation.

This is a major expansion of the powers normally granted lieutenants, so let’s follow it through.

Iran’s efforts to destabilize and dominate Iraq, Lebanon, the Palestinian areas, Israel and Afghanistan, those are really are internal affairs of those countries. The Iranian nuclear program … it’s for peaceful purposes, because this is what Iran has said, and the opposition to the Iraq war has shown us we must take murderous regimes at their word. Iran … none of our business.

The next Balkan or Africa genocidal murderfest, like the one now underway in Darfur … also none of our business.

North Korea … not our problem. No one has demonstrated Kim Jong Il’s multi-stage missiles can reach Los Angeles yet. The saber-rattling and decades of incursions into South Korea and Japan are not a big deal.

Taiwan, to be joyfully restored to the People’s Republic of China in short order following the adoption of the Watada Doctrine, also not our problem.

Afghanistan, where we are defying the will of the Afghan people to be ruled by the Taliban, also not our problem. Islamic terrorism, after all, can be dealt with by Interpol.


There is the troubling principle of military officers dictating policy to our civilian leadership. This is a somewhat novel one in US history. Some might say there are constitutional issues here. Some might say, beyond the threat of a breakdown in military discipline, there is a threat of military dictatorship in adopting these principles, no matter how pacifistic the intent of Lt. Watada.

The Watada Doctrine easily resolves that. Under the Watada Doctrine, law and history and all their ramifications are what you say they are.

Jules Crittenden is an editor and columnist for the Boston Herald.

Crittenden’s web page is at Forward Movement.


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