PROVIDENCE, R.I. — The Bush administration likes to use analogies to describe the threats the US faces and to explain the new US strategy of preemption. They raise Pearl Harbor and the Cuban missile crisis frequently to emphasize the dangers of waiting and the wisdom of taking confrontation to adversaries before they move first.
But the administration's favorite analogy may be the equation of Saddam Hussein and Hitler. Iraq, like Nazi Germany, is supposed to be a dangerous rogue nation, bent on acquiring and using weapons of mass destruction. Iraq has repressed its own people, and is certainly far from democratic.
But there are other analogies. Indeed, we have seen the kind of threat that Iraq is said to pose before. Yet, preemption was not the international reaction.
In the late 1970s and through the 1980s, there was widespread suspicion that a very militarily aggressive state, one that had occupied two of its neighbors, was acquiring weapons of mass destruction.
That resource-rich state was run by a small minority of its population, which denied the majority the right to vote. That state used terror bombing of its neighbors, and assassinations abroad, and was known to torture and kill its own citizens.
Further, it was feared that this state was violating international agreements about nuclear technology, and evading the sanctions imposed to constrain its acquisition of nuclear and conventional weapons technology. And indeed, intelligence reports eventually showed this rogue state was trying to get nuclear weapons and might already have had chemical and biological weapons.
Even more alarming, this country also had a large domestic conventional arms industry - eventually one of the largest in the world - which was exporting weapons to trouble spots all over the globe.
No one expected that regime to change peacefully. The term blood bath was widely used. Millions were expected to die before the regime would be removed.
How did the story end? It turns out that this country had built six nuclear weapons and was building more. It had crude delivery vehicles of medium range and a plan to use nuclear weapons. Yet in 1990, that government - South Africa - started on a halting path to democratization, withdrew from the two countries it occupied, and dismantled its nuclear weapons.
How did regime change occur? There was a strong domestic reform and democratization movement supported by the international community - though not by the US. There was strong regional pressure. There were tough international sanctions. And there was eventually a fracture of South African elites - many eventually wanted South Africa to stop being an international pariah and join the rest of the world, politically and economically.
War with rogue states isn't necessary or inevitable. Other strategies of influence can and do work.
The Bush administration would be wise to read a little more history before it trundles off to war.
• Neta C. Crawford is an associate professor at the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University. Her latest book is 'Argument and Change in World Politics: Ethics, Decolonization and Humanitarian Intervention.'