One Last Bush Doctrine

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Tuesday, October 28, 2008; 11:43 AM

Belittled domestically, President Bush is flexing his last working muscle: His control over the nation's military. And in so doing, he is adding one last addendum to the ever-changing Bush Doctrine, establishing yet another de facto U.S. policy on his way out the door, and leaving his successor with yet another controversial precedent to wrestle with.

By approving a U.S. military raid across the Iraqi border into Syria, Bush has changed the rules once again. On Sunday about two dozen special forces soldiers entered the country by helicopter and killed a suspected Iraqi insurgent leader, without the permission or cooperation of the Syrian government. Call it an October surprise -- if not, at least so far, the October surprise.

Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker write in the New York Times: "[I]n justifying the attack, American officials said the Bush administration was determined to operate under an expansive definition of self-defense that provided a rationale for strikes on militant targets in sovereign nations without those countries' consent.

"Together with a similar American commando raid into Pakistan more than seven weeks ago, the operation on Sunday appeared to reflect an intensifying effort by the Bush administration to find a way during its waning months to attack militants even beyond the borders of Iraq and Afghanistan, where the United States is at war.

"Administration officials declined to say whether the emerging application of self-defense could lead to strikes against camps inside Iran that have been used to train Shiite 'special groups' that have fought with the American military and Iraqi security forces. . . .

"[A]dministration officials said Monday that the strikes in Pakistan and Syria were carried out on the basis of a legal argument that has been refined in recent months to justify strikes by troops and by rockets on militants in countries with which the United States is not at war.

"The justification is different from the concept of pre-emption the administration articulated immediately after the Sept. 11 attacks, and which was used as the rationale for the invasion of Iraq. While pre-emption was used to justify attacks against governments and their armies, the self-defense argument would justify attacks on insurgents operating on foreign soil that threatened the forces, allies or interests of the United States.

"Administration officials pointed Monday to a passage in President Bush's speech to the United Nations General Assembly last month as the clearest articulation of this position to date.

"'As sovereign states, we have an obligation to govern responsibly, and solve problems before they spill across borders,' Mr. Bush said. 'We have an obligation to prevent our territory from being used as a sanctuary for terrorism and proliferation and human trafficking and organized crime.' . . .

"It is not clear how far-reaching the White House may be in seeking to apply the rationale, but several senior American officials expressed hope that it would be embraced by the next president as well."

Pamela Hess writes for the Associated Press: "Selective U.S. military action across the borders of nations friendly and unfriendly reflects increasing willingness to embrace what U.S. commanders consider a last resort: violating the sovereignty of a nation with whom the U.S. is not at war.

"It's a demonstration of overt military strength that the U.S. has been reluctant to display in public for fear it would backfire on U.S. forces or supporters within the governments of the nations whose borders were breached.

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