michael kinsley explains it all
Slate's Michael Kinsley deconstructs Bush's doctrine of "preventative war" and expresses a number of my own objections in the process.
George W. Bush defied embarrassment and slew it with a series of Orwellian flourishes. If the United Nations wants to be "relevant," he said, it must do exactly as I say. In other words, in order to be relevant, it must become irrelevant. When that didn't work, he said: I am ignoring the wishes of the Security Council and violating the U.N. Charter in order to enforce a U.N. Security Council resolution. No, no, don't thank me! My pleasure!!
...What is wrong with Bush's case? Sovereign nations do have the right to act in their own self defense, and they will use that right no matter what the U.N. Charter says or how the Security Council votes. Waiting for an enemy to strike first can indeed be suicidal. So?
So first of all, the right Bush is asserting really has no limits because the special circumstances he claims aren't really special. Striking first in order to pre-empt an enemy that has troops massing along your border is one thing. Striking first against a nation that has never even explicitly threatened your sovereign territory, except in response to your own threats, because you believe that this nation may have weapons that could threaten you in five years, is something very different.
Bush's suggestion that the furtive nature of war in this new century somehow changes the equation is also dubious, and it contradicts his assertion that the threat from Iraq is "clear." Even in traditional warfare, striking first has often been considered an advantage. And even before this century, nations rarely counted on receiving an enemy's official notice of intention to attack five years in advance. Bush may be right that the threat from Iraq is real, but he is obviously wrong that it is "clear," or other nations as interested in self-preservation as we are (and almost as self-interested in the preservation of the United States as we are) would see it as we do, which most do not.
Putting all this together, Bush is asserting the right of the United States to attack any country that may be a threat to it in five years. And the right of the United States to evaluate that risk and respond in its sole discretion. And the right of the president to make that decision on behalf of the United States in his sole discretion. In short, the president can start a war against anyone at any time, and no one has the right to stop him. And presumably other nations and future presidents have that same right. All formal constraints on war-making are officially defunct.
One of the things that perplexes me about the support for this doctrine among . Many on the Right may trust Bush with this kind of power, but I think there's a deliberate blindness to the fact that this power does not rest with Bush personally, but the Presidency. By trusting Bush, they're also trusting every subsequent President with the power to wage war more or less on their say-so. The Founders almost certainly trusted George Washington with that power, but they wisely denied it to him--and all subsequent Presidents--in the Constitution.
And at the very least, the notion of launching a preventative war demands the highest level of accountability from the Administration. As I've pointed out repeatedly, I feel many of the Administration's rationales fail to pass the sniff test, while some appear to be flat-out lies. Whatever threat Iraq may have posed, I feel this assertion of personal power by the President is, in the long run, much more disturbing.