Preemptive Strike Out

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Thursday, March 16, 2006; 1:03 PM

This morning's news that President Bush is reasserting his doctrine of preemptive war is a bit of a surprise because, well, I think most people thought the Bush Doctrine was dead.

How can Bush still argue for attacking another country based on his suspicions about their intentions -- when the first time he tried it, his public case turned out to be so utterly specious?

The idea that the American public or the international community would tolerate such behavior once again seems highly unlikely at this point in time. The American people, for one, won't be keen on putting troops in harm's way again on spec anytime soon.

Winning support for the application of a doctrine of preemption requires enormous credibility. It requires public trust in intelligence and motives. And that trust isn't there.

The rearranging of the intelligence community's deck-chairs has not resulted in any great surge of confidence in the nation's intelligence gathering or, more importantly, any assurance that policymakers will not abuse that intelligence.

In fact, the more we know about the run-up to war in Iraq, the more evidence there is that the doctrine of preemption (and the cherry-picking and manipulation of intelligence used to make the case for it) was just a pretext for an invasion that Bush and his top aides had already decided on for other reasons.

See, for instance, the recent Foreign Affairs article by Paul R. Pillar, the former CIA official who coordinated U.S. intelligence on the Middle East until last year.

He wrote: "It has become clear that official intelligence was not relied on in making even the most significant national security decisions, that intelligence was misused publicly to justify decisions already made, that damaging ill will developed between policymakers and intelligence officers, and that the intelligence community's own work was politicized."

At a recent talk to the Council on Foreign Relations , Pillar said, "I really believe this: that the main motivation for Operation Iraqi Freedom was to stir up the politics and economics of the Middle East and use regime change in Iraq as a stimulus for regime change and other kinds of changes elsewhere in the region, leading to more open political and economic structures."

Others, of course, suggest that Bush's primary motivation was revenge against Saddam for the indignities suffered by his father, or simply a desire to kick someone's butt after the September 11 terrorist attacks.

But in either case, few people in Washington now believe that pre-emption of Saddam's alleged WMD threat was anything more than a post-decision rationalization for the invasion.

And then there's the fact that close watchers of Bush's ever-evolving foreign policy have seen no recent indication that the doctrine of preemption or, in fact, any of the other elements of what has become known as the Bush Doctrine, were still operative.

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