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Preemption: war with Iran next?

By Jan De Pauw - posted Tuesday, 24 April 2007

"Some worry that it is somehow undiplomatic or impolite to speak the language of right and wrong. I disagree. (Applause.) Different circumstances require different methods, but not different moralities. (Applause.) Moral truth is the same in every culture, in every time, and in every place. Targeting innocent civilians for murder is always and everywhere wrong. (Applause.)

"Brutality against women is always and everywhere wrong. (Applause.) There can be no neutrality between justice and cruelty, between the innocent and the guilty. We are in a conflict between good and evil, and America will call evil by its name. (Applause.) By confronting evil and lawless regimes, we do not create a problem, we reveal a problem. And we will lead the world in opposing it." (Applause.)George W. Bush Graduation Speech at West Point, June 1, 2002.

Only six months after the “axis of evil” speech, and showing no reservations about his moral take on world events, President Bush called on the graduates of the West Point Military Academy to "face a threat with no precedent".

September 11 had exposed this threat as "a few hundred thousand dollars in the hands of a few dozen evil and deluded men", he maintained, and the old Cold War doctrines of deterrence and containment were inadequate against it.


"We must take the battle to the enemy, disrupt his plans, and confront the worst threats before they emerge. (Applause.) In the world we have entered, the only path to safety is the path of action. And this nation will act. (Applause.)"

And with that, we have the doctrine of preemption. It must be stressed that this new doctrine is not intended to replace the old ones, but rather to complement them. It widens America's range of strategies, to the point where it permits unilateral action against a threat that is not truly imminent.

At the same time, we cannot escape the fact the Bush administration was quite happy to put that new complement into practice quickly. Not even ten months after his speech at West Point, the president launched the war against Iraq, on the basis of a rationale that would appear to have chameleon-like qualities.

It has done much to discredit the possible merits of preemption per se. Growing crowds worldwide see it as a lame excuse for America to still its imperial hunger. And now Iran is the next one up. Or so they say.

Debating the illusions and realities of American empire with Bradley A.Thayer, scholar Christopher Layne holds that "the same architects of illusion who fulminated for war with Iraq now are agitating for war with Iran" (American Empire - a debate).

To him it is "hardly coincidental that the administration's policy toward Tehran bears a striking similarity to its policy during the run-up to the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, not only on the nuclear weapons issue but - ominously - with respect to regime change and democratization".


He is joined by other, even more vocal observers such as investigative journalist Seymour Hersh and former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter (see for example here) who claim that America is on the verge of invading Iran.

It is true that the Bush administration has always kept all available options open, including a military one. It has repeated its position in public on several occasions.

Vice-president Cheney summed it up quite succinctly:

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About the Author

Jan De Pauw is a Belgian Federal Diplomat, posted in Berlin. He holds an M.A. in Philosophy and an M.A. in International Politics. He is an independent writer, and you can find more of his work at his blog Trabecular Meshwork.

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