Iraq Occupation Erodes Bush Doctrine
The Preemptive Strike
The most controversial tenet of Bush doctrine was also the primary justification for launching the Iraq war. In the president's June 2002 address to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Bush said deterrence and containment were no longer enough to defend America's borders. The United States, he said, had the right to take preemptive action to prevent attacks against the United States.
"We must take the battle to the enemy, disrupt his plans and confront the worst threats before they emerge. In the world we have entered, the only path to safety is the path of action. And this nation will act," Bush told cadets.
In the policy's early days, its supporters hinted that preemption could eventually justify forcible government change in Iran, Syria and North Korea as well as in Iraq. But that sentiment is evaporating, because Iraq showed the "pitfalls of the doctrine in graphic detail," said Ted Galen Carpenter, vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute.
Preemption has been "damaged, if not totally discredited," and the outcome in Iraq may prove to be "an inoculation against rash action" by the United States in the future, Carpenter said.
The administration is working overtime to reduce the sense of alarm that Washington is posed "on a hair trigger" to launch a new offensive against governments it does not like, said James F. Hoge Jr., editor of Foreign Affairs magazine. White House officials are relying on diplomacy to defuse confrontations over nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea, the two other countries with Iraq that Bush labeled the "axis of evil."
The administration now contends its decision was discretionary, not preemptive, because Saddam Hussein had a decade to meet several U.N. resolutions. U.S. officials also say that after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, they had to learn to deal with threats faster -- and proactively.
"The notion that preemption has been discredited is entirely mistaken," said Robert Kagan, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace who has argued for a muscular approach to international affairs.
"It's a fact of life in the international system, because of the reality of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction," Kagan said. "The normal lead time that a nation has to protect itself is not what it used to be, so preemption will have to be part of the international arsenal."
Bush has repeatedly made clear his intent to act alone or with a U.S.-led coalition when the international community balks at confronting perceived threats.
"I will not wait on events while dangers gather. I will not stand by as peril draws closer and closer. The United States of America will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons," he said in his 2002 State of the Union address.
Later that year, he told the U.N. General Assembly that Washington would work with the world body to deal with the "common challenge in Iraq" but stressed that action would be "unavoidable" if Hussein did not comply. "The purposes of the United States should not be doubted," he warned.
Yet Washington has made a grudging retreat after its limited coalition could not cope with all the problems in Iraq, analysts say. The shift was evident when the administration turned to a U.N. envoy to form an interim Iraqi government after two failed U.S. attempts. It has also deferred to the United Nations to oversee elections and to help Iraq write a constitution.
"Going it alone doesn't really work in the world as it exists today," said Mark Schneider, senior vice president of International Crisis Group, a nonpartisan Brussels-based group that tracks global hot spots. "We need allies. We become more vulnerable and exposed when we don't have them."
The administration counters that its coalition included more than 30 countries, including the majority of NATO members, and that the idea is far from new. "Every administration reserves the right with respect to protecting vital American interests to act alone, but every administration seeks to avoid it," said a senior administration official involved in Iraq policy.
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