Kilroy Was Here
July 18, 2004
The Rise of Pre-emption
"Pre-emption is dead," cries convetional wisdom. "The one good thing that's come out of the failures of intelligence, planning, and nation building in Iraq is our leadership will no longer look to lone adventurism to futher the cause of democracy."

If only this were so. Unfortunately, the seeds of the Bush doctrine are already taking root in the minds of Americans, and, paradoxically, the arguments against the Iraq fiasco provide some of the most potent sustenance for this new doctrine.

The left has provided two main critiques of Bush's Iraq strategy: incompetence and deception.

The Incompetence Maneuver stresses that the Bush administration did not spend enough time planning the post-war occupation and did not have the intelligence infrastructure necessary to accurately assess the threat from Iraq.

While the Deception Offensive claims that the Bush administration willfully mislead the American people by pressuring our intelligence agencies to modify intelligence, and that the Bush administration hid its true agenda for invading Iraq under dubious claims of Weapons of Mass Destruction.

Unfortunately, neither of these two arguments put a stake in the heart of the so-called Bush Doctrine of Pre-emption. In fact, these arguments provide cover for some future neo-conservative administration to resurrect pre-emption, with the “We’ve Got It Right This Time” gambit.

Since the two main critiques are Critiques of Execution, rather than Critiques on Moral Grounds, or Critiques of Impossibility, future administrations (or even this administration) can claim to have learned the lessons of Iraq, point to supposed improvements in intelligence or better planning, and before we know it, we are off again on another wild ride. This time, it could be Iran or Syria, or North Korea.

Those against the Bush Doctrine need to attack it from moral grounds and from the grounds of impossibility. Moral grounds would include that pre-emption is against our character as Americans, that we cannot justify militaristic empire and all the restrictions to liberty that implies for security. As Ben Franklin was reported to have said, “He who sacrifices liberty for security shall have neither liberty nor security.”

Similarly, we need to begin to make arguments on whether pre-emptive nation building is even possible. With the rise in efficacy of asymmetric warfare, can any nation, no matter how powerful, occupy another country and enforce a new friendly regime. My own personal guess is that it might be possible, but that asymmetric warfare makes the risks of an unfriendly unstable regime are so great and the potential of a friendly, stable regime so small that this particular strategy is never a good one.

We who have opposed this war need to begin to elevate our arguments away from refuting the Bush Doctrine in execution and towards the refutation of the Bush Doctrine in principle.

I think you're exactly right. Here's a quote from an interview that Joe Biden gave to Josh Marshall a few weeks ago:

I believe countries forfeit their sovereignty when they engage in certain activities --- genocide being one of those activities, harboring terrorist organizations with the knowledge that they are doing damage to other nations.Biden went on to stress that once a nation has forfeited its sovereignty it's okay for the U.S. to use military force whether or not we've got the approval of the international community.

Not exactly a searing indictment of the doctrine of preemption, is it?
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