Is that not the classic case of a “preventive” war (as opposed to a “preemptive” war), once unanimously scorned by progressives as “radical” and immoral when the Bush administration and its leading supporters formally adopted it as official national security doctrine in 2002? Back in 2010, Newsweek‘s Michael Hirsh documented the stark, fundamental similarities between the war theories formally adopted by both administrations in their national security strategies, but here we have the Bush administration’s most controversial war theory explicitly embraced: that the U.S. has the right not only to attack another country in order to preempt an imminent attack (pre-emptive war), but even to prevent some future, speculative threat (preventive war). Indeed, this was precisely the formulation George Bush invoked for years when asked about Iran. This theory of preventive war continues to be viewed around the world as patently illegal — Brazil’s Foreign Affairs Minister last week said of the “all-options-on-the-table” formulation for Iran: some of those options “are contrary to international law” — and before 2009, the notion of “preventive war” was universally scorned by progressives.
Again, one can find justifications, even rational ones, for President Obama’s inflexible commitment of a military attack on Iran: particularly, that this vow is necessary to stop the Israelis from attacking now (though it certainly seems that the U.S. would have ample leverage to prevent an Israeli attack if it really wanted to without commiting itself to a future attack on Iran). And I’ve noted many times that I believe that the Obama administration — whether for political and/or strategic reasons — does seem genuinely to want to avoid a war with Iran, at least for now.
But what this really shows, as was true for the run-up to the Iraq War, is how suffocatingly narrow the permissive debate has become. The so-called “gulf” between Israel and the U.S. — the two viable sides of the debate — consists of these views: (1) Iran should be attacked when it develops the capacity to develop nuclear weapons (Israel) or (2) Iran should be attacked only once it decides to actually develop a nuclear weapon (the U.S.). Those are the two permissible options, both grounded in the right and even duty to attack Iran even if they’re threatening to attack nobody — i.e., a preventive war. That it’s unjustified to attack Iran in the absence of an actual or imminent threat of attack by Iran, or that international law (as expressed by the U.N. Charter) bars the use of threats of military attack, or that Iran could be contained even if it acquired a nuclear weapon, has been removed from the realm of mainstream debate (meaning: the debate shaped by the two political parties). Obama yesterday:
Iran’s leaders should understand that I do not have a policy of containment; I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. And as I have made clear time and again during the course of my presidency, I will not hesitate to use force when it is necessary to defend the United States and its interests.
Just as was true in 2002 and early 2003, everyone agrees that a preventive war would be justifiable and may be necessary, and the only permitted debate is whether it should happen now or a bit later (where should the “red lines” be?).
Whatever else is true, by having President Obama issue these clear and inflexible threats against Iran to which the nation is now bound, the once-controversial notion of “preventive war” just became much more normalized and bipartisan. Witness the virtually complete lack of objections to President Obama’s threats from either party to see how true that is.
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Several other items of note:
(1) I have a contribution to the New York Times this morning on the question of whether the GOP faces its “last gasp”;
(2) Politico‘s Josh Gerstein has an excellent article on President Obama’s hideous record on transparency, including this quote from a long-time Washington lawyer: “Obama is the sixth administration that’s been in office since I’ve been doing Freedom of Information Act work. … It’s kind of shocking to me to say this, but of the six, this administration is the worst on FOIA issues. The worst. There’s just no question about it.” The obsequious “transparency groups” which gave Obama a transparency award in 2011 (one he revealingly accepted in secret) should feel about as proud of themselves as the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize committee;
(3) The National Iranian American Council has a full-page ad in today’s Washington Post urging Obama away from a military confrontation with Iran, and notably not only relies on quotes from numerous top military officials, but also includes a statement signed by multiple military leaders;
(4) Juan Cole has an excellent analysis of how the sanctions regime the U.S. is imposing on Iran in order to forestall an Israeli attack is harmful to U.S. national interests; and,
(5) Attorney General Eric Holder is scheduled today to deliver a speech in which he will reportedly “explain how the U.S. can legally kill U.S. citizens on foreign soil.” Apparently, he will also, in the very same speech, trumpet how the U.S. Government has “successfully used civilian courts to convict and sentence terrorists.” Perhaps he’ll try to reconcile those two thoughts. One also wonders if his speech will contain a justification for this. I’ll likely write about Holder’s assassination-justifying speech later today.