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Jewish World Review April 16, 2003 / 14 Nisan 5763

David Horowitz

David Horowitz
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The Doctrine Pre-Emption, a Strategy Under Attack | Even as American forces complete their liberation of Iraq and the world celebrates their victory, domestic opponents of the Bush Administration have stepped up their attacks on the national security policy that led to the result. In particular, they have challenged the doctrine of military "pre-emption," which is the policy of readiness to initiate action, in order to quell an imminent threat. In short, to take the battle to the enemy camp.

Opponents argue that pre-emption is a radical departure from previous American foreign policies; that it is an immoral doctrine; and that it sets a dangerous example for other nations. These objections are held to be so grave as to justify fracturing the traditional bi-partisan consensus on national defense and dividing the home front -- even in the face of enemies who are supporters of terror, armed with weapons of mass destruction, and motivated by religious fanaticisms that appear impervious to rational dissuasion and traditional military deterrence.

At the very outset, there is a problem in taking these arguments as seriously as their proponents intend them. The same voices raised no similar complaint during the eight foreign policy years of the Clinton Administration. Yet every use of military force by the Clinton administration can be reasonably said to have been an act of pre-emption according to the standards invoked in the present liberal attack. These actions include the missile strikes on the Sudan, Afghanistan and Iraq, and the air attacks of the Kosovo War whose goal was a regime change in Belgrade.

The 1998 missile strike on the Sudan was an unannounced, unprovoked attack that destroyed that Third World nation's only medicine factory. Yet it provoked no opposition outcry on the left. The Clinton air strike violated every principle of the current liberal critique of Bush foreign policy. The target of the attack was an alleged chemical weapons factory (which the Administration subsequently was forced to concede contained no chemical weapons facility). Yet, there were no inspections, UN or otherwise, preceding the attack to determine whether the factory was actually producing chemical weapons, as the Clinton White House claimed. There was not even a presidential phone call to the head of a state with whom the United States had diplomatic relations to request such an inspection.

The strike in the Sudan was ordered without a UN resolution, without a congressional authorization and without approval from the Joint Chiefs of Staff (who actually opposed it). Yet no critic of the current Bush foreign policy on Iraq expressed concern over the aggression. This is in dramatic contrast to the present critique of a war policy that is based on 12 years of disregarded UN resolutions and thwarted UN inspections, and two congressional resolutions (under two Presidents) supporting a regime change by force.

The 1998 decisions by the Clinton Administration to fire 450 cruise missiles into Iraq (and 72 into Afghanistan) were also justified by no attack on the United States on the part of Afghanistan or Iraq, and were not authorized by either Congress or the United Nations. The Clinton air war against Iraq was initiated in response to the expulsion of UN inspectors by Saddam Hussein. But no act of Congress nor UN Security Council resolution legitimized this military assault.

Clinton's attack on Afghanistan was justified by Administration officials as a response to the blowing up of two U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania by unknown terrorists. But the Clinton Administration provided no more evidence of a connection between Afghanistan and those attacks than was provided by the Bush Administration of the connection between the World Trade Center bombing and Iraq. In both cases, the judgment to launch a military response was made by those charged with responsibility for America's national security. But in only one case did the absence of a proven connection become the basis for a critique of the action.

The Clinton-led attack on Yugoslavia was a pre-emptive war that was not even justified as "national defense." Slobodan Milosevic and the government of Yugoslavia did not threaten, let alone attack the United States. There were no Serbian terrorist organizations linked to attacks on the United States or American citizens, nor was Yugoslavia accused of harboring such organizations.

Slobodan Milosevic and the government of Yugoslavia were never regarded by anyone as constituting a national security threat to the United States or the NATO alliance. Yet, without provocation, the Clinton Administration organized a coalition attack on Yugoslavia from the air and proceeded to bomb targets in that country until a regime change was achieved. The targets included the capital city of Belgrade, with as large a civilian population as Baghdad. Yet there was no UN resolution authorizing this attack, nor did liberal critics of the present Bush policy complain about the lack of one. Nor was there a congressional declaration of war or authorization (as there was in Iraq) for the use of force. The attack on Yugoslavia was a pre-emptive war to save the lives of Albanian Muslims. There was no other rationale for conducting it, nor did anyone in the United States or Europe ask for one.

Nor is there anything new in the doctrine of pre-emption itself. The First World War, in fact, was a pre-emptive war from the American point of view. America did not enter the war because it was attacked (it wasn't), nor did Germany declare war on the United States. For three years Americans had watched the war from the sidelines. It was a European conflict in which America had had no national stake. Then, in 1917, the United States decided to go to war to prevent a German victory, claiming that its goal was "to make the world safe for democracy."

The second war with Germany was different, but only slightly. The very same people who now claim to oppose pre-emption have long faulted the United States for remaining neutral during the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s. If fascism had been defeated in Spain, they argue, there might not have been a Second World War at all. It's an interesting point. But it is also an argument for a pre-emptive policy. Lives could have been saved (in fact tens of millions of lives) if the United States and the Western powers had taken the initiative and used force to stop Hitler early -- in the Rhineland, in Austria and in Czechoslovakia, before he was able to amass the military strength that made the Second World War inevitable.

The war against Hitler was itself pre-emptive. It is true that Hitler declared war on the United States after the attack on Pearl Harbor. But Hitler did not attack the United States. The United States went to war with Hitler to pre-empt the possibility of a German attack on the United States.

Thus, pre-emptive war has made sense in the past. Why should not the same prudent defense policy make sense now? In fact, it has. The pre-emptive war against Iraq, actually began a dozen years ago at the end of the Gulf War when the United States and Britain instituted the "no-fly zones" to protect the Kurds from potential poison gas attacks. This was an invasion of Iraqi air space. But no one besides Iraq and its allies objected, and the Kurds thrived under the protection. The present victory over Saddam Hussein has removed the threat of his weapons of mass destruction as well as the terrorism he has for so long sponsored.

The threat of pre-emptive war is a form of protection. It tells Iran and Syria -- the sponsors of Hizbollah and Hamas and al-Qaeda terrorists who have killed American citizens -- that the consequences of their covert aggressions can be deadly, to them. Syria and Iran have already done no less than the Taliban regime in Afghanistan when we attacked it. Should the United States tie its hands and force its citizens to wait for another World Center scale attack before allowing them a response?

Critics of the war in Iraq, claimed that the Administration should have allowed Saddam Hussein more time to continue his evasion of the UN resolutions and focused on the nuclear threat from North Korea instead. What credibility would American demands to North Korea have had, however, if we had continued to appease Saddam and ignore his defiance of UN resolutions? Far from being a distraction, the pre-emptive war against Saddam Hussein has enhanced the ability of the United States to deter North Korea from its sinister plans.

In sum, the arguments against the doctrine of pre-emption are historically baseless and logically incoherent. On the other hand, they present obstacles to a national consensus that can prove dangerous. Division at home on matters of national security is the surest way to undermine the credibility of an American deterrent and create the possibility of an enemy assault. Critics should think twice before encouraging such outcomes.

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JWR contributor David Horowitz is editor of Front Page Magazine and the author of several books, including, The Art of Political War and Other Radical Pursuits, Hating Whitey, Art of Political War, Radical Son : A Generational Odyssey . To comment, please click here.


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04/03/03: The war refutes the opposition
03/31/03: Moment of Truth (for the anti-American Left)
03/24/03: The Second Front
03/17/03: The Fifth Column Left Declares War
02/18/03: The march to save Saddam
02/10/03: Secessionists against the war
01/21/03: They want to place America under siege
01/15/03: Another political lynching
12/31/02: As we look towards a future filled with the clouds of war
12/17/02: Trent Lott must go
09/04/02: The problem with America's colleges --- and the solution
08/26/02: Ted Koppel's Spin Zone: How Nightline Controls What You See
08/19/02: Reparations buffoons on the Washington Mall
07/30/02: The Destructive Romance of the Intellectuals
07/24/02: Port Huron and the War On Terror
07/08/02: Disturbing holiday thoughts
06/24/02: Know The Enemy (And What He Believes)
06/18/02: Missing diversity
06/06/02: Free the FBI: A plea from a former 'radical'
04/10/02: A Middle East history primer
03/12/02: Appreciating the Commander-in-Chief
02/14/02: Bill Clinton's State of the World
01/17/02: Why Israel Is The Victim And The Arabs Are The Indefensible Aggressors In the Middle East
10/01/01: I know a thing or two about college protest --- and this time the students are dead wrong
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07/03/00: Hillary and "The Third Way": How America's First Lady of the Left Has Bamboozled Liberals and Conservatives Alike
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05/08/00: The Mind of the Left From an Amazon Perspective
05/01/00: America's Totalitarian Shame
04/19/00: Political child molesting
04/04/00: What Hillary won't 'fess up to --- and why
03/29/00: No reason To Glorify the Left's Legacy of Violence
03/27/00: Smoke and Mirrors
03/20/00: Deafening Silence
03/15/00: The Lead Investigator Strikes Back
03/08/00: Racial Killings & Gun Control
02/28/00: Primary Lessons
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01/25/00: Intellectual Class War
01/03/00: A faith that ruined whole continents and destroyed a world of human lives
12/28/99: Brain Dead Till the End
12/14/99: Letter to the past
12/07/99: Why Republicans Lose
11/23/99: MLK is no doubt spinning in his grave
11/10/99: Finding the American Center
11/02/99: Reflections on The Road Taken and Not

© 2000, David Horowitz