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Preemption

Our government's infatuation with military preemption is one of the worst consequences of the Bush presidency. Even if George W. Bush was being honest when he said that his invasion of Iraq was part of the "war on terror," the aftermath of the invasion has certainly been a monumental setback for the United States. The Washington Post's Dana Priest provides a juicy overview of a new report by the National Intelligence Council, which describes how Iraq has eclipsed Afghanistan as a breeding ground for terrorists.

Low's comments came during a rare briefing by the council on its new report on long-term global trends. It took a year to produce and includes the analysis of 1,000 U.S. and foreign experts. Within the 119-page report is an evaluation of Iraq's new role as a breeding ground for Islamic terrorists.

President Bush has frequently described the Iraq war as an integral part of U.S. efforts to combat terrorism. But the council's report suggests the conflict has also helped terrorists by creating a haven for them in the chaos of war.

"At the moment," NIC Chairman Robert L. Hutchings said, Iraq "is a magnet for international terrorist activity."

Bush's little adventure in Iraq has hurt the United States in the "war on terror." It's also been a disastrous demonstration of the kind of preemptive strike that Bush embraced in his post 9-11 National Security Strategy. The United States has sunk itself in a quagmire of its own making, for the sake of preemptively striking a nation with no WMDs and which did not ever constitute an "imminent threat." In exchange for all this, we've created the world's most fertile breeding ground for the Islamic terrorists who do constitute an imminent threat.

I'm glad George W. Bush recognizes the value of "resolve," because it's about the only thing his policies have left us. Unfortunately, resolve won't do us any good until we pick the right things to be resolved about.

Bush still wants to spread "democracy" and "freedom" at gunpoint--which is not surprising given his simplistic belief that "freedom is the non-negotiable demand of human dignity; the birthright of every person—in every civilization." This language warms the heart and stirs the soul, but it doesn't tell us anything. What kinds of freedom are non-negotiable? Is war the only alternative to negotiation? Bush hasn't troubled himself with these questions, and our soldiers are paying the price for their president's lack of curiosity.

In some ways this report put out by the National Intelligence Council is an antidote to the naivete of Bush's National Security Strategy. It describes the real effects of some real acts inspired by that strategy, and shows how the U.S. has suffered because of them. In other ways, though, the report isn't very helpful. For example, it remains too uncritical of preemption as a security strategy. From the report's Section 4:

Until strategic defenses become as strong as strategic offenses, there will be great premiums associated with the ability to expand conflicts geographically in order to deny an attacker sanctuary. Moreover, a number of recent high-technology conflicts have demonstrated that the outcomes of early battles of major conflicts most often determine the success of entire campaigns. Under these circumstances, military experts believe preemption is likely to appear necessary for strategic success.
This language is entirely useless. It doesn't explain why it might be so important to be the attacker in an "early battle," and it ignores the lessons of Iraq that preemptive attack is often based on false beliefs of imminent danger and may leave the attacker in a worse strategic position.

But enough of this. The fact is that Bush decided to invade Iraq, and the American people have decided that Bush should deal with the consequences of his decision. The important thing now is what Bush does next. Mere "resolve" is not an answer. The status quo is unsustainable.