February 22, 2003


THE IRAQ DEBATE CONTINUES: Some doves are actually interested in having a real conversation about war, as commenter Sahrn proves in his fair and sensible response to my Iraq debate answers. Sahrn writes:

Just a comment on question one, as I'm still moseying through the many answers. Yes, the attacker in any war is, ultimately, aggressive. But I don't think there is an aggressive-defensive dichotomy, you can certainly aggressively defend yourself. And you can aggressively defend others, and I agree that is a truly positive goal. But _are_ we fighting in defense? Most pro-war types seem to imply that a war fought to 'pre-empt' an enemy really qualifies more as a defensive war. Is there a clear set of guidelines that justify that claim? Like, for instance, credibility of the threat, imminence, our intentions, possible material gains for us? To put it another way, we could claim that just about any nation, say, France, presents a future danger to us, justifying a military strike on Paris and the deposing (deposition?) of Chirac. Obviously an absurdist exaggeration, although not to hear some views... So what factors clearly delineate the difference?
If the question is what makes us decide to attack Iraq but not other countries, I think I at least began to answer it in Question 4 (which Sahrn had perhaps not read yet when he commented). Question 1 was specifically about the concept of pre-emption, presumably because the implications of "pre-emptive defense" troubles a lot of people; Sahrn's example is a good illustration of the worry that pre-emption could justify an attack on any country that looks at us funny.

I'm not so troubled by the concept of pre-emption, because I don't think anyone is suggesting that it's applicable in a vacuum. In my answer to Question 4, I briefly outlined my cost-benefit framework; perhaps I'll expand on that some other time. For now, I'll simply say that I'm not inclined to try to develop a one-size-fits-all theory of pre-emptive defense, as some of the pro-war participants in this debate have begun to do, because I don't think that a potential threat justifies war by itself; it's only one part of a larger calculus.

Posted by John Tabin at February 22, 2003 11:59 PM