Doctrine of Pre-emption? Not so Fast.

One more popular misconception: the Iraq war was launched with the purpose to pre-empt Hussein’s use of Weapons of Mass Destruction. Again, such notion is not accurate. Even if we did think that Saddam possessed WMDs, the war still cannot be called preemptive; instead, it should be called preventive. The distinction is not simply semantical: preventive attack violates norms of international behavior, while preemptive strike doesn’t.

The difference lies in the nature of threat. If threat is imminent (adversary poses imminent threat of attack), think Syrian and Egyptian forces mobilized on Israel’s borders in 1967, then a country is justified to launch an attack. If threat is not imminent (adversary is developing capabilities that some day might become threatening), think the early days of Cold War and Soviet’s attempts to develop nuclear weapons, then an attack is not justified.

By all accounts, the war in Iraq was launched preventively and the Bush Administration, by calling it preemptive, attempted to blur this very important distinction. Unfortunately, they succeeded.

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