The Pentagon is reviewing the Bush administration’s doctrine of preemptive military strikes with an eye to modifying or possibly ending it.The review is required to be presented to Congress, as its name implies, every four years. President Obama will do that in February.
The international environment is “more complex” than when President George W. Bush announced the policy in 2002, Kathleen Hicks, the Defense Department’s deputy undersecretary for strategy, said in an interview. “We’d really like to update our use-of-force doctrine to start to take account for that.”
The doctrine is being reassessed as part of the Pentagon’s Quadrennial Defense Review of strategy, force structure and weapons programs.
The possible changes Hicks hints at could be substantial. The President has already sent back the Pentagon's draft version of its Nuclear Posture Review for not being an ambitious enough rethinking of U.S. nuclear doctrine - with an eye toward a significant additional reduction in the nuclear arsenal, which still includes more than 5500 active weapons. Given the opposition to the President's stated nuclear goals at the Pentagon, weapons labs, in Congress and elsewhere, these efforts could falter. Merely getting the necessary two-thirds vote in the Senate for the long-delayed ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty will be a tough enough job, another one of those that is not only hampered by the Party of No, but also by hawks within the President's own party.
The Bush Doctrine, first announced in September 2002, adopted an approach in conflict with long-standing international norms. It wasn't the idea of "pre-emptive" military strikes that rankled the administration's critics, but rather the doctrine's justification of "preventive" war.
Preemption, that is, initiating a first strike against another nation that appears to be preparing an imminent attack or is already in the process of launching one is not particularly controversial. It's self-defense. And every nation has the right to it. Supporters of preventive war, on the other hand, argue for strategically attacking nations which may, someday, pose a military threat. Preventive war cannot, therefore, be distinguished from a war of aggression, a violation of the most fundamental international law.
Advocates of preventive war and the Bush Doctrine declare that we live in a new world since September 11. In fact, however, some of the members of the Committee on the Present Danger that supplied more than 30 high-level officials to the Reagan administration had more than two decades before 2001 made the argument for a preventive first strike against the Soviet Union. So the concept is hardly new.
It's this kind of thinking which says it's not only OK but downright prudent to bomb Iran's nuclear facilities to prevent that country from ever building its own nuclear weapons. Moral issues aside, from a strictly utilitarian point of view, such thinking is no different from saying that torturing an enemy soldier is OK: It lets that enemy or a future enemy justify the torture of one's own soldiers. If it's all right for the U.S. to strike preventively at Iran, why isn't it all right for the same to be done by Iran - which during the Cheney-Bush administration had good reason to believe it was under threat of attack?
Despite all the theoretical justifications of preventive war, the neoconservative Cheney-Bush administration made every effort to present the Iraq war as pre-emptive. That was what all those exaggerations and fabrications were about in the run-up to March 2003. Just days before the Bush Doctrine itself was made public, Bush at the United Nations told the lie that the Iraq "regime is a grave and gathering danger."
Ending the Bush Doctrine and the associated policy spin-offs, would not, of course, mean an end to all the perniciousness of American exceptionalism. But it would be a major step in the right direction. Although it would elicit an extended round of shrieks against Obama from the crowd which claims no war America fights can be called aggression, taking that step would improve our national security instead of weakening it as the Bush Doctrine has done.