David Ray Griffin: Bush Doctrine enters American vocabulary (San Francisco Gate)
David Ray Griffin
Friday, September 26, 2008
Thanks to the Sept. 11 interview of Sarah Palin by Charles Gibson of ABC News, the Bush Doctrine has become part of the American vocabulary. Although it has been a fateful doctrine - it was used to justify the attack on Iraq - many Americans reported that they were as clueless about it as Gov. Palin.
So what is the Bush Doctrine? According to international law as generally understood since the creation of the United Nations, a pre-emptive attack is legal only if a country has certain knowledge that an attack on it is imminent - too imminent for the matter to be taken to the U.N. Security Council.
Pre-emptive war is different from preventive war, in which a country, fearing that another country may become strong enough to threaten it at some time in the future, attacks it to prevent this possibility. Preventive wars are illegal under international law.
This distinction, however, creates a terminological problem: Although preventive war is worse than pre-emptive war, to most ears preemption sounds worse. Many people, therefore, speak of pre-emptive war when they mean preventive war. To avoid confusion, we can use the term pre-emptive-preventive war.
Neoconservatives, the most powerful of whom is Vice President Dick Cheney, had long disliked the idea that America's use of military power could be constrained by the prohibition against preemptive-preventive war. In 1992, his last year as secretary of defense, Cheney produced a draft of the Defense Planning Guidance that said the United States should use force to "pre-empt" and "preclude threats." In 1998, the Project for the New American Century, a neocon think tank, urged President Bill Clinton to "undertake military action" to eliminate "the possibility that Iraq will be able to use or threaten to use weapons of mass destruction."
After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the neocons were able to turn their wish into U.S. policy. In "The New American Militarism," Andrew Bacevich wrote: "The events of 9/11 provided the tailor-made opportunity to break free of the fetters restricting the exercise of American power."
The right to launch pre-emptive-preventive attacks, which came to be known as the Bush Doctrine, was suggested in the president's address at West Point in June 2002, when the administration began preparing citizens for the attack on Iraq. Having stated that deterrence "means nothing" in relation to "new threats," Bush declared: "If we wait for threats to fully materialize, we will have waited too long."
This new doctrine was then fully articulated that September in "The National Security Strategy of the United States." Speaking of "our enemies' efforts to acquire dangerous technologies," this document declared that America will "act against such emerging threats before they are fully formed."
In justifying this change, the document suggested that the United States was merely adapting the traditional doctrine of preemption, long recognized as a right, to the new situation: "For centuries, international law recognized [the right of self-defense] against forces that present an imminent danger of attack. ... We must adapt the concept of imminent threat to the capabilities and objectives of today's adversaries. ... [We must take] anticipatory action to defend ourselves, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy's attack."
Although the strategy document thereby tried to suggest that this adaptation brought about no great change, it did. "Never before," pointed out Reagan conservatives Stefan Halper and Jonathan Clarke in "America Alone," "had any president set out a formal national strategy doctrine that included [preventive] preemption."
David Ray Griffin, professor emeritus at Claremont School of Theology, co-authored "The American Empire and the Commonwealth of God."