Here is President Bush, speaking through The National Security Strategy of the United States on the doctrine of pre-emptive war:
Given the goals of rogue states and terrorists, the United States can no longer solely rely on a reactive posture as we have in the past. The inability to deter a potential attacker, the immediacy of today’s threats, and the magnitude of potential harm that could be caused by our adversaries’ choice of weapons, do not permit that option.We cannot let our enemies strike first.
In the Cold War, especially following the Cuban missile crisis, we faced a generally status quo, risk-averse adversary. Deterrence was an effective defense. But deterrence based only upon the threat of retaliation is less likely to work against leaders of rogue states more willing to take risks, gambling with the lives of their people, and the wealth of their nations.
Now, here's Senator Barack Obama on the same subject:
Of course, how we use our armed forces matters just as much as how they are prepared.
No President should ever hesitate to use force - unilaterally if necessary - to protect ourselves and our vital interests when we are attacked or imminently threatened.
Notice that Senator Obama does not and has never repudiated that essential piece of the Bush Doctrine: pre-emptive war. Arguing that he reserves the right to use force unilaterally not just when we are attacked, but when we are "imminently threatened," is almost the exact foreign policy the Bush administration used to underpin its national security strategy. Nor is this an isolated case for Obama, a potential mis-speaking. I have already pointed out that in the last Democratic debate, regardless of whether or not he liked fielding so many questions about bitter people clinging to guns and religion, Obama also declined to rule out unilateral pre-emptive military action against an Iran with nuclear weapons.
Moreover, far from being willing to reduce our defense budget and our overseas commitments, with the exception of Iraq, Senator Obama favors significantly increasing the size of the US military and has never even addressed the issue of reducing our world-wide posture of maintaining hundreds of strategic bases of foreign soil.
Most amazing about all this is that (much as I do not love her and do not want her for President), Senator Hillary Clinton has drawn a clear and unequivocal distinction on this point (although the MSM has consistently failed to report it):
On my first day in office, I will announce, as I have repeatedly in this campaign, that the era of cowboy diplomacy is over. That includes the doctrine of pre-emptive war. I have been against that for many years. I believe it led us into a blind alley and I don’t think I need to remind the retired flag officers here today how difficult the choices made by the president have been for American military. We need a new national military strategy that employs military power wisely instead of squandering it.
McCain, of course, is fully on the record supporting the Bush Doctrine.
Why is this so important? Aside from all the foreign policy implications, there is a domestic consequence to changing America's military doctrine from one of deterrence and retaliation to one of unilateral pre-emption. That consequence is this: there is no slippery slope required to see the doctrine of pre-emption abroad linked to a doctrine of pre-emption (and the destruction of civil rights) at home.
The government, to take but the smallest example, has asserted its right or responsibility to keep me safe (whether I desire that service or not), by mandating that before I--a private citizen--can get onto a privately owned and operated airline, I must take off my shoes and my belt, drain out all but three ounces of shampoo, limit the number of lithium batteries I carry, and not be wearing any body jewelry under my clothes.
All because, out of decades of commercial air travel, with literally billions of customers, one carefully planned and executed plot (in which far more went right by pure random chance than anybody had the right to expect), 19 guys managed to smuggle box-cutters on board such planes and carry out their suicide missions.
And Democrats and Republicans alike have pandered to the creation of what is increasingly a police state in order to keep us safe.
The reason that most of them do not have the courage to raise the issue of pre-emptive war (because even Nancy Pelosi or Harry Reid has opined a time or two that if we had found WMDs in Iraq it would have been an OK war), is that they cannot take issue with pre-emptive war as a foreign policy while they are supporting draconian pre-emptive measures against their own constituents and fellow citizens.
I'm not confident that Hillary wouldn't engage in pre-emptive wars, given the right temptation. But for now at least she is saying the right thing, and for that she deserves a second look.