Saturday, May 10, 2008

"Lessons on Iraq from a Founding Father:" George Washington's Rules for One Preemptive War

America's invasion of Canada, perhaps our first preemptive war, was effectively over before we declared independence from Britain. Our objective was to confront and defeat the few British forces in Quebec, without antagonizing the local population, whether Indian, English or French.

In his orders to Colonel Benedict Arnold, September 14, 1775, George Washington emphasized the need for American forces to "conciliate the affections" of the settlers and Indians of Canada. Washington wanted Arnold to convince the soldiers and officers under his command "that not only the Good of their Country and their Honour, but their Safety depends upon the Treatment of these People."

George Washington made the kind treatment of prisoners part of his invasion plans. In the treatment of prisoners, Washington wanted Arnold to restrain both the Continental Troops and their Indian allies "from all Acts of Cruelty and Insult, which will disgrace the American Arms, and irritate our Fellow Subjects against us."

Sadly, not all American officers and soldiers in Canada respected the liberty, property and religion of the Canadians. On April 19, 1776, Washington wrote to General Philip Schuyler, "I am afraid proper measures have not been taken to conciliate their affections; but rather that they have been insulted and injured, than which nothing could have a greater tendency to ruin our Cause in that Country. For human nature is such that it will adhere to the side from whence the best treatment if received."

Most American forces withdrew from Quebec by the end of June 1776, mere days before Congress ratified the Declaration of Independence.

Read my Washington Post Op-Ed column, also published by the Middle East's leading English-language daily, Arab News:

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