Written November 9, 2004
Published in a national military journal
Your editorial in the November issue, concerning pre-emptive military strike as an element of US power, focuses on the risk of inaction and the difficulty of recognizing and striking the right target at the right time. On the other side of the equation, seemingly absent from recent debate, are the risks inherent in taking action without compelling and independently-verifiable justification.
The only thing that makes pre-emption an easy doctrine for Americans to accept is the implicit assumption that it happens to someone else, somewhere else. If the FBI pre-emptively and violently invaded our homes because they thought we might be up to no good, but then could produce no compelling evidence and discovered the warrant had been based on bad intelligence, there'd be a public uproar and lawsuits and Congressional inquiries. If it happened often enough or in serious enough ways, we'd stand on the Constitution and pursue justice, no matter how long it took or how well-intended the initial action may have been.
We pride ourselves on our history of defeating the unjust use of power, both abroad and at home. Any assumption that we are the only people who are powerfully motivated by injustice, or that our perception of justice is the only one that matters, is short-sighted and dangerous. The long-term risk of pre-emptive action without compelling, independently-verifiable justification must be part of the debate.