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The Bush Doctrine: Pre-empting Tragedy
October 1, 2002

The "Bush Doctrine" is the first coherent strategy to confront the dangers of the post-Cold War world. Breaking from the American tradition to strike only if attacked first, the Bush Doctrine advocates pre-emptive military action against terrorists and their networks--including overthrowing governments that support them. It redefines self-defense, in light of a shadowy, international, terrorist threat.

At a West Point graduation ceremony in June, Bush talked directly about how the United States would approach enemies in the war on terror, which now could include Iraq: "The war on terror will not be won on the defensive. We must take the battle to the enemy, disrupt his plans, and confront the worst threats before they emerge."

Bush's speech signaled a major shift in the doctrine of U.S. military intervention. Bush's actions several months earlier launched the new policy. Troops were sent into Afghanistan after Sept. 11 to prevent another attack on the United States. U.S. officials insist that the Bush Doctrine is not just a justification for an America attack on Iraq. "Any state that has a weapons-of-mass-destruction program and has an irresponsible dictator falls within the president's paradigm shift," says one Bush administration official. "This is a historic moment." The pentagon is drawing up plans to send special operations forces into states like Yemen that are harboring senior al Qaeda leaders.

Legal scholars say the United States could attack Iraq out of self-defense, even before Iraq fires a single shot at U.S. troops, citing a pre-Civil War military definition. American politician Daniel Webster defined "anticipatory self-defense" more than 150 years ago when he wrote that self-defense before an attack was justified if the danger was "instant, overwhelming, leaving no choice of means and no moment of deliberation." Webster's definition followed a 1837 naval incident called the Caroline incident, in which a U.S. ship called the Caroline was attacked by the British, just above Niagara Falls. The British claimed the ship's passengers supported a rebellion in Canada. Webster responded with a letter that laid out his definition.

The major precedent for pre-emptive military action is Israel's Six-Day War in 1967, fought against Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Iraq. Israel invaded its neighbors, citing the need to pre-empt an enemy invasion. The rest of the world - led by the United Nations - largely condemned Israel for the attacks. Israel also faced criticism again in 1981 - including from the United States - when it destroyed an Iraqi nuclear facility, claiming it needed to defend itself from the plant's capabilities.

The need for a pre-emptive strike against Iraq arises from the failure of United Nation's inspections to root out the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. The U.N. Special Commission (UNSCOM) conducted 260 inspections in Iraq over its seven years there. Many were surprise visits with no advance notice. Even so, Iraq's intelligence operatives defeated it more often than not. Only a half dozen of the surprise inspections actually succeeded. Saddam Hussein's agents were active in hotel rooms in both New York and Baghdad as well as at the United Nations' building in New York. Rarely did the Iraqis not know what the inspectors were looking for before they arrived at the site scheduled to be searched.

Compounding the advantage held by Iraq is its success in making its secret weapon efforts mobile. Laboratories, components, and materials are ready to hit the road at a moment's notice. During the days when UNSCOM was conducting inspections, this mobility was revealed graphically in U-2 photos of a suspect site. The pictures were taken in sequence as soon as an inspection team left its headquarters. The first photos show no activity at the site; a slightly later sequence reveals a large number of vehicles leaving the site.

America emerged from a successful Cold War strategy as the world's economic and military superpower. It was attacked by terrorists and their state sponsors for that very reason. The Bush Doctrine is the logical and the only response to the new threat.


Award-winning TV producer, talk show host, and Republican leader Arthur Bruzzone has written over 150 political articles for national and regional media, and has commented on political issues for American and European television and radio networks.  His articles and columns have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Examiner, Campaign & Elections Magazine, among other publications.

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