Justifying Preemptive War

|

The Wash Post reports that President Bush is set to release "a new national security strategy today reaffirming his doctrine of preemptive war against terrorists and hostile states with chemical, biological or nuclear weapons, despite the troubled experience in Iraq." In "the long-overdue document, an articulation of U.S. strategic priorities that is required by law,"

Bush offers no second thoughts about the preemption policy, saying it "remains the same" and defending it as necessary for a country in the "early years of a long struggle" akin to the Cold War. In a nod to critics in Europe, the document places a greater emphasis on working with allies and declares diplomacy to be "our strong preference" in tackling the threat of weapons of mass destruction.

"If necessary, however, under long-standing principles of self defense, we do not rule out use of force before attacks occur, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy's attack," the document continues. "When the consequences of an attack with WMD are potentially so devastating, we cannot afford to stand idly by as grave dangers materialize."

Whole thing here.

Back in October 2002, Ohio State political scientist John Mueller and Cato Institute stalwart Brink Lindsey debated preemptive war and the then-pending invasion of Iraq. That's online here.

Reason's Brian Doherty muses on waging perpetual war for perpetual peace here.

Dark, barely-discussed origins of preemptive war policy from Hill Street Blues Sgt. Stan Jablonski here (third quote).

NEXT: Artists—Want To Improve Your Sales? Here's How!

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Reason’s Brian Doherty muses on waging perpetual war for perpetual peace here.

    Let me be the first to say “we’ve always been at war with Eastasia.”

    I like to simplify these complicated, international-style questions, so my feeble mind can understand them, by considering the various countries/orgs/whatevers as smaller groups of people: neighbors, clubs and such. My conclusion is almost always: “Mind your own business (and keep your hands in your own pockets).”

    If you have two neighbors who’re in a dispute and you help one of them but not the other, the other is pissed off, and the one you helped probably doesn’t appreciate it and/or expects more help in the future.

  2. “”If necessary, however, under long-standing principles of self defense, we do not rule out use of force before attacks occur, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy’s attack,” the document continues.”

    This makes a lot of sense to me. Flame on, I suppose.

  3. Preemptive war, huh? And what of preemptive war fought with NATIONAL FRIGGIN’ GAURDSMEN???

    We’re no better than the empire we faught to get our independence. The Founders would spit on today’s Bushiphiles.

    JMJ

  4. Does this mean a murderer can successfully use as his defense: “Hey, I had a vague feeling that this guy was going to try to murder me at some point in the future. So it was self-defense”?

  5. Actually, Dan, I’m pretty sure a state or two are considering laws to that effect right now…

    JMJ

  6. We’re no better than the empire we faught to get our independence. The Founders would spit on today’s Bushiphiles.

    Maybe not. You might Google “the shores of Tripoli” to find out how at least some of the Founders responded to stateless Middle East-based attacks on American “interests.”

  7. Jason, there’s always uncertainty. Hell, Canada could decide to attack us at some point in the future. Should we then go ahead and bomb Montreal and Toronto, just in case? And where’s the line between, “Well, we were uncertain about the time and place, but doggone it, we knew it was coming sometime!” and “Er, yeah, we just pretty much made the whole thing up?”

  8. We don’t want the smoking gun to come in the form of a highly counterproductive, terrorist-producing war that will cost $1 trillion and kill tens of thousands of people needlessly, after all.

  9. R.C. Dean,

    North Africa isn’t the middle east. Switzerland isn’t in the E.U. either. Oh, and it was the British and Dutch who ended the attacks of the Barbary pirates, not the U.S. The attacks by Jefferson are not a good example of the President exercising independent war powers either (despite myths to the contrary). Finally, attacking the Barbary Pirates was not an instance of pre-emptive war.

  10. According to the Wiki, both the 1st and 2d Barbary wars were triggered by US refusal of formal demands of tribute by foreign governments in exchange for keeping their pirates at bay. In other words, the pirates were not stateless — rather they were being actively used in an extortion racket by foreign governments qua foreign governments.

    If Sadaam Hussein or Iran made a tribute demand in exchange for not attacking US interests, I don’t think anybody would call what happened next “preemptive war.” Nice try tho.

  11. “we do not rule out use of force before attacks occur, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy’s attack,”

    should continue “or whether they intend to attack, or whether they have the weapons we say they have, or whether our troops are adequately armed and armored, or whether we have enough troops, or whether we can afford the cost, or whether we’ve spent any time planning for the post-war government, etc. etc. etc.”

    “Indeed, we may attack for no good reason whatsoever, and do so with historic incompetence.”

  12. Of course all this assumes high levels of knowledge, judgement, capability, and trustworthiness that have never been present in most arenas of government activity let alone foreign policy.

  13. What’s the point of doing this? I realize there’s an election coming up and the usual outlets are making all the noises about Iran they made about Iraq 3-4 years ago, and Dub’s approval ratings look poised to break into the 20s but still, we’re not going to be invading anybody.

  14. I like to think of the analogy of someone pulling a gun on you. If someone has a gun and you think he might use it on you, you keep your eye on him. If he reaches for it, you reach for your and try to reach it first. If you don’t like those rules, if you shoot someone JUST becasuse you think he’s going to shoot you without him showing credible evidence that he’s about to, you may feel justified because you knew he was going to shoot you, but tough shit. No civilized nation would allow such a defense. And no civilized nation should try justifying similar behavior by its governmetn.

    Now, I like to say that I’m a libertarian second and an existentialist first. On a certain level, everything is permitted. Laws are just the best means we have to get along with each other. In extreme cases, when push comes to shove, breaking a law might be the best choice among bad alternatives. But you still have laws to cover the normal situations. I would not claim that I would absolutely never support a so-called ‘pre-emptive’ war. But justifying such a doctrine as normal policy is barbaric. Now, that may seem hypocritical, like I’m saying you should do it but just not admit to it. But saying something is okay makes it easier to do. And ‘pre-emptive war’ should be limited to cases so extreme you could never codify or fully anticipate them. As we all know, extreme cases make bad law.

  15. You might Google “the shores of Tripoli” to find out how at least some of the Founders responded to stateless Middle East-based attacks on American “interests.”

    I know Ghost has already said this, but I want to reiterate it: the Barbary States were not stateless. That’s why they called them the Barbary “States.”

  16. OK, Hak, I stretched the analogy a tad by calling North Africa the Middle East and the Barbary States “stateless”.

    My point was that one of the ur-Founders – Jefferson himself – took action in a way that is startling similar on many points to that taken by Bush. The notion that the Founders would be appalled doesn’t hold water.

    In other words, the pirates were not stateless — rather they were being actively used in an extortion racket by foreign governments qua foreign governments.

    In contrast to what, exactly? The pirates were proxies of their state sponsors. Are you telling me that various Islamist terrorist groups aren’t being used by various ME governments to fight a proxy war in Iraq? Pull the other one.

    Non sequitur of the day:

    Switzerland isn’t in the E.U. either.

  17. Libertarians are not supposed to initiate force or threat of force to achieve social or political goals. We would like to see others recognize that same principle. If it’s wrong to initiate a threat of force to accomplish something, what should the response be to someone who does? It seems to me that defensive force is legitimate in that situation. Maybe not when a nation engages in non-specific sabre-rattling, or just because it possesses WMDs, but if a government issues an explicit threat against the U.S., or declares that aggrression against the U.S. is to be encouraged at every opportunity, why would some sort of retaliation be wrong? Do we wait for the first attack? How would you feel about the government’s role as protector of rights if you were one of those wounded in that attack?

    It sounds like the squabble is one of degree, not principle: How much of a threat is a threat?

    CrackerBarrel

  18. If Sadaam Hussein had said in 2002: “Give me x dollars and I will make the terrorist attacks stop,” then he would be acting as the leaders of the Barbary States did during the time Jefferson was so angry about the tributes (1783-1800).

    If the leader of Syria said in 2006: “Give me x dollars and I will make the terrorist attacks stop,” then he would be acting as the leaders of the Barbary States did during the time Jefferson was so angry about the tributes (1783-1800).

    That ain’t what what Hussein said in 2002. That ain’t what the leader of Syria is saying in 2006.

    That is where your analogy . . .

  19. RC Dean, there’s a huge differnce between having privateers hunt pirates in the Med and having NATIONAL GAURDSMEN FIGHTING IN A COLONIAL OIL WAR.

    JMJ

  20. R.C. Dean,

    My point was that one of the ur-Founders – Jefferson himself – took action in a way that is startling similar on many points to that taken by Bush.

    Actually he didn’t. Jefferson justified the action after they had been taken. Jefferson didn’t send the Captain in question out with orders to pre-emptively attack anyone. His statement to Congress was a post-facto justification for the attack that he never ordered but which was undertaken by the folks on the ground – and Congress roundly howled at him for his statement. You need to get your facts straight before you try to start to use this story for the purposes you wish to use it for.

    As to the issue of Switzerland, that’s just me making fun of you for a past comment of yours.

  21. fyodor,

    OK, maybe I overstated things a bit. They say, “We don’t like you.” We say, “Don’t try anything.” They crank up their weapons factories, we crank up ours, and announce it. They move troops, we move troops. At every stage we hope that they back down. But if we think that there’s evidence that an outright attack is imminent, then before one life is harmed, a preemptive strike is in order. Or what do rights mean? Somebody please educate me?

    CrackerBarrel

  22. Why not Blood for Oil? Blood doesn’t work (yet) in internal combustion engines.

    We’re just supplying what the people want, whether they are liberal or conservative, rich or poor, young or old. Many brave young men and women are making sure everyone’s car works for a reasonable price.

  23. Thats the most honest thing I’ve ever heard from a Rumsfeld. Disgusting – but honest.

    JMJ

  24. Disgusting? Mr. McJones, do you drive a car? Do you eat or wear items that were transported by truck? If so, you are part of the cause of our war for resources.

    Do you consider yourself disgusting?

  25. Rumsfeld, the very “freedom” and “liberty” that lying sleazy cowardly cons continuously wrap around themselves are only possible if they are mutually respected. I need money – shall I kill someone for it? No. We need oil – should we kill for it? No. Your values as expressed here are sociopathic at best.

    Get with the Golden Rule, man.

    JMJ

  26. Get with the Golden Rule, man.

    Which one, the crappy one from Jesus H. Christ or the really smart one from Hillel?

  27. Both work. And I’m an atheist! 🙂

    JMJ

  28. Is is sociopathic to insure a vital part of our economy doesn’t shoot up in price, increasing the costs to lower income citizens? Let me remind you, sir, that I have my millions safely stocked away and could easily afford to pay 10 dollars per gallon of gasoline. Can you? Could a majority of Americans? Of course not.

    Would you kill to insure your socioeconomic status? How about the status of everyone you know? If your answer is still no than I respect your religious beliefs but you are craven.

  29. But if we think that there’s evidence that an outright attack is imminent,

    I absolutely agree that a credibly imminent outright attack is actionable. But then, hasn’t it always been? Seems that when they talk about attacking despite the uncertainty of the when and where of an attack, they’re going a lot further than what you just described.

  30. This makes a lot of sense to me. Flame on, I suppose.

    No flame here, I don’t have a problem with preemptive war per se, but I remain unconvinced that the Iraq War was a preemptive war. If another Iraq War is what the President means by preemption, then I’m against it. …but that’s not what I’m talkin’ about when I talk about preemption.

    I remain a committed believer in the idea that the only just wars are wars of self-defense, that is. …and while knowledge of an imminent attack is more than sufficient justification for me, mere justification isn’t enough. Regardless, we should also ask ourselves whether the war is sufficiently beneficial or likely to be so. (The answer to that question if it’s a war of self-defense is always yes.)

    I don’t think the Iraq war was a war of self-defense, not even under the guise of preemption. I don’t think the War was a net benefit to the United States either, and I don’t think it was ever likely to be. …and while I might support an invasion of Iran if Iran presented a clear and present threat to the United States, I wouldn’t support an occupation of Iran based solely on the President’s idea of preemption if, by preemption, the President means what we did in Iraq.

    By the way, to what extent, if any, does Iran’s nuclear flaunting have to do with Sadr and others holding a gun to our heads in Iraq?

  31. Both work.

    Not true – only one does. That’s the point.

  32. I seem to recall that during the Cold War the Soviet Union had a stated policy that it would never be the first to use nuclear weapons in a war, while the United States specifically refused to adopt such a policy. Although the “pre-emptive war” doctrine sounds new, I’m not sure that it is. I suppose one could argue that the U.S. was only reserving the right to use nuclear weapons if the Soviet Union actually attacked with conventional forces, but I think our position was deliberately more ambiguous than that. I do think the notion of pre-emption is something that developed after World War II, though–probably a result of the development of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons; I am hard pressed to think of a U.S. example before that time.

  33. On further reflection I should say that credible evidence that an attack is being planned and could be imminent is militarily actionable. Knowing the time and place are not necessarily key to knowing, or having damn good reason to strongly suspect, that it’s going to happen. So not being inclinded to read the whole document, I’m not sure if that’s what they’re talking about or not. Knowing the time and place are sure helpful to really knowing it’s going to happen. And of course, none of this was the case with Iraq. It was purely speculative. Speculation fueled of course by his having attacked a non-belligerent nation previously and by not convincingly (I guess) honoring the terms of a previous cease-fire. But beyond that, there was no evidence whatsoever that an attack was really imminent. So if that’s what this is about, then it goes further than even not knowing the exact time and place.

  34. Ron,

    I’m pretty sure the US said it would not initiate an attack on the USSR or its allies. You are correct that we did not rule out what tactics we would use, but that is clearly a different issue from whether we would actually start a war.

  35. Do we wait for the first attack?

    Yes. Then we obliterate them, possibly including innocent citizens of Themland. The next “them” is thereby more cautious.

    Now, I like to say that I’m a libertarian second and an existentialist first.

    “There is only one basic human right, the right to do as you damn well please. And with it comes the only basic human duty, the duty to take the consequences.” – P.J. O’Rourke

  36. Rumsfeld, you are advocating theft and murder for profit. That’s sociopathic and evil. Craven is the man who acts like that. The brave man finds another way to get to work.

    JMJ

  37. “Is is sociopathic to insure a vital part of our economy doesn’t shoot up in price…?”

    Good point, Mr. Rumsfeld! Oil prices are too important to be left to unreliable and arbitrary market forces. They should be safely under the enlightened stewardship of knowledgeable, capable, well-intentioned political leaders.

  38. RC Dean, there’s a huge differnce between having privateers hunt pirates in the Med and having NATIONAL GAURDSMEN FIGHTING IN A COLONIAL OIL WAR.

    Who said anything about privateers? Those were US Marines and Navy ships.

    Anyone who uses terms like “colonial oil war” (especially in all caps) has just about burned their credibility with me. Iraq is not and will not be a US colony. We are not confiscating Iraqi oil or making them sell it to us below market. Get a clue. Just one. I’m beggin ya.

    Jefferson justified the action after they had been taken. Jefferson didn’t send the Captain in question out with orders to pre-emptively attack anyone.

    Bullshit. From Wikipedia:

    In response, Jefferson sent a group of frigates to defend American interests in the Mediterranean, and informed Congress. Although Congress never voted on a formal declaration of war, they did authorize the President to instruct the commanders of armed vessels of the United States to seize all vessels and goods of the Bay of Tripoli “and also to cause to be done all such other acts of precaution or hostility as the state of war will justify.”

    You need to get your facts straight before you try to start to use this story for the purposes you wish to use it for.

    Back atcha, Hak.

    The idea that the absolutely crucial element was the demand for tribute is, well, the graspings of someone desperate to explain away the more material parallels between the Barbary expedition and the current unpleasantness.

    I repeat – the idea that the Founders would be averse to the use of military force to rid foreign parts of hostile “rulers” is difficult to sustain in the face of what Jefferson did in response to the Barbary pirates. That’s the only “purpose” I have in mind.

  39. JS, no, both do work just fine.

    JMJ

  40. Le Mur,

    That’s one of my favorite O’Rourke quotes!

  41. RC Dean,

    Barbary pirates had been attacking American ships for some time when Jefferson sent his fleet. Responding to ongoing attacks cannot be called pre-emption. It’s the “pre-” part, dontcha know.

    Jason Ligon, I don’t have a problem with “long-standing principles of self defense,” which allow us the “use of force before attacks occur, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy’s attack.”

    The problem comes in the next bit, when we assert that we’re going to start blowing stuff up before “…grave dangers materialize…”

    Not knowing where, when, and how an attack will occur is one thing. But when the dangers haven’t even materialized, that isn’t pre-emption, because there is nothing to pre-empt. Before Big Brother shrunk the language by dumping it down the memory hole, the term “preventive war” was used to refer to a situation of atttacking someone not because he is about to attack you, but because he might develop the capability of doing so. This isn’t part of our longstanding doctrine of self defense – it’s a novel assertion of the right to wage war against “enemies” when we have no reason to believe they intend to attack us.

    In 1973, the Egyptians used high pressure hoses to erode the sand barriers the Israelis had built on “their” side of the Suez, and had ranks of tanks waiting to cross. So the Israeli Air Force bombed the hell out of the tanks, and the planes on the airfields behind them. THAT was pre-emption.

    What Bush is proposing is the equivalent of Israel attacking Jordan today, because hey, the Jordanians have hoses.

  42. This restatement on Bush’s part of sticking to his guns on preemption doctrine after Iraq is truly the triumph of the dope over experience.

  43. OK, not Jordan. Bush isn’t talking about friendly countries with whom we have peace treaties.

    Replace “Jordan” and “Jordanians” with “Syria” and “Syrians.”

  44. The idea that the absolutely crucial element was the demand for tribute is, well, the graspings . . .

    The point remains: if Iraq or Iran or Syria were requesting tribute as the Barbary States did: (1) the US would go to war on that basis; (2) nobody would object; and (3) nobody would consider it as “pre-emptive war.” Whatever parallels there may be, they have nothing to do with the controversial pre-emptive aspect of pre-emptive war.

  45. R.C. Dean,

    Nothing in the wikipedia statement undermines what I wrote – that Captain Dale’s actions weren’t pre-emptive in nature.

    In response, Jefferson sent a group of frigates to defend American interests in the Mediterranean, and informed Congress.

    Robert Dale was dispatched, and was given instructions to blockade the Bey of Tripoli only if the the Bey of Tripoli had actually declared war on the U.S. Again, this has nothing to do with pre-emption. He was also instructed to attack any other power in the region only if they had first declared war on the U.S.

    Your problem is that you are confusing pre-emption with the real issue at hand in the case of the Barbary Pirates; whether the President can step beyond the “repel attack” power into a less defensive stance. The Barbary Pirates episode does nothing to bolster the pre-emption argument. Remember that Switzerland is not part of the E.U.

  46. ghost,

    For some reason R.C. Dean can’t seem to get that through his head. That the war against the Barbary Pirates was not pre-emptive in nature; the Bey of Tripoli had indeed declared war on the U.S. and when Dale attack a ship from Tripoli he was doing so in response to that declaration of war.

  47. R.C. Dean,

    BTW, just to put one more nail in your coffin, let’s note that at the time Hamilton argued that the President did not need authorization from the Congress because the Bey of Tripoli had already declared war on the U.S. How does Hamilton’s comment square with your apparent claim that this was somehow pre-emptive in nature?

  48. RC Dean,

    You’ve made your point about Jefferson’s willingness to use military force in distant parts of the globe but I fail to see the material parallels between that and the current situation.

    I see declarations of war by the Barbary States, confiscation of American ships, capture of their crews and demands for ransom before military action. Unless I misread, the demands for tribute were answered with a “no” rather than military action.

    What are you refering to as parallels?

  49. By the way, to what extent, if any, does Iran’s nuclear flaunting have to do with Sadr and others holding a gun to our heads in Iraq?

    Ya’ll get where I was headin’ with that, right? …not that the relationship is entirely clear, but as I was watching Sadr urge restraint the other day, it occurred to me, once again, that if the threat of someone like him bringing the civil war into full swing, even amid our troops, if that threat is giving Iran some sense of assurance as they develop a nuclear arsenal, then, by that measure alone, not only did the Iraq War not preempt what it intended, it actually helped manufacture a massive security threat.

    If we invaded Iran right now–assume it was legitimately for self-defense–is there any question but that Iran would do everything in its power to ignite an all-out Iraqi civil war?

  50. R.C. Dean,

    Of course in this instance we are also not talking about the Constitutional founders. Jefferson wasn’t at the convention after all and most of the members of Congress at the time weren’t at the convention either. This is the period of the “early republic” as most historians like to call it, not the period of the “founders.”

  51. Patrick D,

    The real issue at hand in the case concerns the proper demarcation of war powers between the Congress and the President, not pre-emption. Why pre-emption advocates like to use the case given the nature of the facts surrounding is unclear (unless of course they are simply arguing that the Constitution is elastic in time of military conflict, and this is one example of such elasticity).

  52. Iran has already called our bluff. We are just making ourselves look silly.

  53. This pre-emptive war doctrine is madness. Bush has basically threatened the entire world that he might attack any nation at any time if he feels that they might threaten or attack the US in the future. This is the insane rantings of a madman like Kim Jong-Il, not the words of the supposed leader of the free world. What would the US do if the world joined together to pre-empt our pre-emption.

  54. >Does this mean a murderer can successfully use as his
    >defense: “Hey, I had a vague feeling that this guy was going
    >to try to murder me at some point in the future. So it was
    >self-defense”?

    Yes, if the murderer is female and the victim male. Just allege that, despite the lack of evidence, he was battering you. He, conveniently, is no longer around to dispute it. Acquittal isn’t guaranteed, mind you, but it’s worked often enough that most women who murder spouses or boyfriends use the defense.

  55. Scott, I don’t know what the US would do, but I do know what it could do, which is kill everyone in the world and there’s nothing that any nation could do to stop that.

    Maybe if that 24 dude was working for the other nations they could stop us, but he’s currently a US agent.

  56. “”If necessary, however, under long-standing principles of self defense, we do not rule out use of force before attacks occur, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy’s attack,” the document continues.”

    This makes a lot of sense to me. Flame on, I suppose.”

    Jason,

    So I guess if Iran infiltrates agents into the US and, using our own justifications for preemptive war against us in response to our increasing belligerence and threats against them, launches preemptive attacks against us, then you would still have this same attitude? Setting aside understandable feelings of anger and desire for vengeance, of course. Or would you become part of the hypocritical crowd who support our right to preemptive war but attacks others who claim this right as theirs as well? And I’m not “flaming”, I’m seriously asking for your honest answers.

  57. kill everyone in the world and there’s nothing that any nation could do to stop that

    Wouldn’t be very good for our economy, but Randy Newman would at least be proud.

  58. “Wouldn’t be very good for our economy, but Randy Newman would at least be proud.”

    Why, because it would eliminate a lot of competition for the Grammys?

  59. Getting killed at work, which is really cutting into my H&R post productivity …

    Anyway, concerning preemption and my comment in support thereof waaay up there, I offer the following.

    1) Coercive action to remove a tyrant can be taken at any time without violating the non initiation of force principle.

    2) It is wholly inadvisable to allow all tyrannical governments to use their people as impenetrable shields. You can’t sanction a dictator enough to make him care. He will own whatever wealth the country has internally, and that will be enough for just him. He may only respond to CREDIBLE threats to his continued existence.

    3) That which is permissible is not always cost effective. For me to say that preemption can’t be taken off the table is not the same as me saying that we must always preempt.

    4) Taken down to the individual level, the law in most states indicates that one only need fear for one’s life to employ lethal self defense. The jury must decide if such fear were credible. If you shoot a man who threatened you with a realistic water pistol, you are going to walk 99% of the time. Bluffing with deadly weapons is dangerous.

    5) I don’t view international relations along the lines Taiko suggests. As far as nations have ‘rights’, I would say that democratic nations have rights that tyrants don’t. Tyrants aren’t justified when they draw their next breath, nevermind when they feel threatened. A moral state of the universe is that tyrants should feel threatened all the time. That is the rights question. Once we are talking about two democratic countries in which the people as a whole are represented by their government, each party in the dispute can potentially be on equal moral footing, in which case we move into the world of the practical. If I feel threatened, I will tell them that I feel threatened. If they feel threatened, they can tell me the same. If I feel sufficiently threatened, I will preempt their ability to harm me, with the expectation that they are thinking the same thing. This sort of mutual understanding would tend to help rather than hinder diplomatic solutions.

  60. Jason,

    What are the rights of democratic states that prop up tyrants?

  61. Jason Ligon,

    I’m still not sure exactly what to think about the argument that our government has the authority to assert jurisdiction outside our borders if it deems the foreign government to be undemocratic (to rephrase what you’ve just said), but regardless, that’s a very different argument from the one I understand the administration to be making. Am I misunderstanding the administration’s doctrine or are you simply taking the discussion here in a tangential direction?

  62. fyodor:

    I don’t think I’m making a tangential argument, but I’m tired so who knows?

    The argument the government is making, at least the part I cut and pasted, indicates that it is not necessary to wait until an attack has occurred. What I listed above are a number of reasons I think it is foolish to take that option off of the table. In the first point, I note there is nothing immoral about action taken against a dictator at any arbitrary time of your choosing. In the second, I’m saying that removing this kind of action from the realm of possibility provides a tremendous shield for tyrants and incents bad behavior. In the third, I’m trying to head of the silly claim that I must therefore support every preemptive action anyone can think of. In the fourth, I draw parallels to individual conceptions of self defense that we find acceptable. In the fifth, I tried to address Taiko’s question about what level of symmetry there is between nations in the exercise of this broader understanding of self defence.

  63. “I’m still not sure exactly what to think about the argument that our government has the authority to assert jurisdiction outside our borders if it deems the foreign government to be undemocratic”

    Just to answer this, the problem with your restatement from my point of view is that you are talking about authority. There is no such thing as legitimate international authority. The derivation of internal legitimacy from each nation does not cross borders. Power does not flow from me to Iran’s government.

    Each country has interests and not all of those interests are aligned. When interests differ, don’t look for legitimacy on one side or the other. The map looks like it does because of the costs of changing it. There is value in stability, but not infinite value.

  64. Jason Ligon,

    My point is that the administration is claiming that for “self-defense” (as you quote them yourself) we can act on a perceived threat to our security even if it is not imminent. Presumably this would apply to democracies as well as tyrants. This is simply an entirely different issue than determining when a nation’s claim to sovereignty is or is not valid.

  65. Another way to think about it is as an information problem.

    A man that controls an entire nation’s resources can hide a lot of crap in there. If the man is trying to obfuscate, you will never know for certain what his arms situation is until you go in and look without him around. That usually means you have to make him leave.

    If the information problem can be resolved within an acceptable timeframe peacefully, that is the way to go for sure. I am not opposed to military force being used to resolve the combination of threat and obfuscation.

  66. There is a lot of sematic argument around the ideas of “threat” and “imminent threat”. I don’t see the difference as significant. Imminence is to some degree baked in to the idea of any threat, otherwise you wouldn’t feel it.

    There are reasons that one might feel threatened by a nuclear Iran while one might not feel threatenened by a nuclear France. If my buddy of years tells me he’s going to kick my ass in a bar, I have a certain reaction. If a known killer says he wants me dead, that is a whole different story.

  67. Jason,

    I would say that democratic nations have rights that tyrants don’t.

    I’d qualify that a little different. Nations have rights that respect the individual rights of their citizens. Democracy by itself isn’t a good measure.

    Democracy, by itself, isn’t worth a dog turd.

  68. Jason Ligon,

    As long as you get into a volunteer, non-state military I say go for it. But don’t expect me to pay for your statist fantasies.

  69. fyodor,

    Ligon’s problem is that he violates much of what is important in Hayak’s theory of knowledge; he assumes that he knows much more than he really knows and he assumes that a centrally planned approach to societal change is best. His philosophy will be both disasterous for the people wishes to help and for us as well. Honestly, someone needs to write a “A New Road to Serfdom” dedicated to all neo-cons, hawks, etc.

  70. Hak,

    You may be missing the main point. The only reason I bring up the tyrant / non tyrant distinction is to demonstrate why I believe that at the most basic level it is perfectly moral to remove a tyrant by force at any time.

    That is not to say that I think we should remove every tyrant on earth and that is not to say that I have a grand plan to spread democracy at gunpoint throughout the world. All I’m saying is that the non initiation of force principle is not violated.

    From where I’m sitting, any argument that preemptive war is wrong because sovereignity is violated or because the opposing government hasn’t actually done anything wrong evaporates immediately when we are talking about dictators.

    As for the all volunteer non state military point, well, I see defence of the nation as a role for the national military. I have a broader conception of defence than you do.

    I am actually sympathetic to the idea that democracy building is expensive and difficult to the point of being impossible. Once the preemptive military action has resolved the threat it was designed to resolve, I’m not married to the plan of let’s stay around and build America Junior. The problem is, there are only so many choices for withdrawal. So, yes, the decision about whether to engage in military action must involve a weiging of the costs of withdrawal. I’m not a PNAC guy.

  71. Jason Ligon,

    Premises lead to ends; you apparently wish to deny that.

  72. From where I’m sitting, any argument that preemptive war is wrong because sovereignity is violated or because the opposing government hasn’t actually done anything wrong evaporates immediately when we are talking about dictators.

    Dictators are sometimes popular.

  73. One dimension I?m not sure anyone has touched on =
    If we argue that we have a legitimate basis to wage war pre-emptively based on our own immiediate security concerns, wouldn?t that also grant any OTHER nations the same right to do so on their own behalf?

    I?m just suggesting that we consider the reflexive aspect of this reasoning. What?s the logical response from other nations when presented with this line of reasoning? Clearly, they would (in their OWN self interest, confronted with a superpower claiming the right to smack down any threat prior to actual ?act of war?) claim the same right for themselves.

    By that logic, Iran would have a perfectly defensible reason for setting off a nuclear weapon in D.C. We?re threating immediate attack against them, despite no overt existing threat or action taken against us. So, following Bush doctrine, they?d be encouraged to hit us prior to any action we are increasingly likely to take.

    ?Laws of War? have always been somewhat oxymoronic. They are laws insofar we all agree they are useful for limiting collateral damage and preventing unecessary escalations of conflicts. WWI helped us learn that having some limits on the potential scope of a war was in everyone?s collective interests.

    So, all I?m saying is, the Bush logic, once extended as a justifiable approach to international conflicts, leaves us hoist in our own petard. As far as I understand it. On that angle alone I think it?s entirely unteneble.

  74. Hak:

    I’m actually making a weak statement – that preemptive war shouldn’t be taken off the table outright. I’m aware that the ends are there. Those ends would be there in a war you deemed justified as well. Exit strategy is still exit strategy.

    The claim that no preemption can EVER be worth it is much stronger and much less supportable.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.