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Dangers of Pre-Emptive War Doctrine


And now to someone who's long raised questions about the preemptive war doctrine. Ivo Daalder is senior fellow of foreign policy at the Brookings Institution. Mr. Daalder joins us now from Princeton, New Jersey, where he happened to be attending a conference on the preemptive doctrine. Mr. Daalder, thanks for being with us.

Mr. IVO DAALDER (Brookings Institution): Glad to be there.

NORRIS: Now, I want to put to you the same question that I put to Father Richard John Neuhaus. Were you surprised that the president gave this full throttle defense of this doctrine given his early rationale for war and the facts on the ground today?

Mr. DAALDER: No, not really. This is not an administration that is in the habit of admitting that it has made mistakes, so it's not surprising that, in this case, it is, in fact, moving ahead in the same way it has always done so. It is, in fact, in the document. It spends more time justifying the Iraq war than reiterating the preemption doctrine, and I think that's actually interesting.

If you look at the language being used this time around, it is a little different than it was last time around in 2002. I think while the administration is pretending that nothing has changed, it is signaling that preemption is no longer a doctrine, which is what it was in 2002. It's now a tool, it's an option that a president should have available to deal with weapons of mass destruction, but it is an option only after diplomacy has failed, which it now emphasizes at the undertake, only after we have tried concerted action together with our allies to resolve these issues peacefully.

So there is a realization, seems to me, that the reality of what we've confronted in the last four years, both in Iraq and in the difficulties in confronting North Korea and Iran, that military force really is only an option and truly only an option of last resort to deal with these kinds of threats.

NORRIS: Now, you've maintained that the preemptive doctrine quickly lost wind after the U.S. invaded Iraq. How and why did that argument or that doctrine or that option collapse?

MR. DAALDER: Well, the essence of the argument was there is a threat out there that we may not be able to see as clearly as it would be the case if, in fact, we were attacked by Iraq, but if we launch a preemptive war, a preemptive strike, we will demonstrate to the world and indeed to the American people that there is a real threat out there. That was the argument. We wouldn't want to be -- the phrase was that we wouldn't want the warning of an attack to be a mushroom cloud, so the argument was we had to attack because the threat was real, but it turned out the threat wasn't real.

There were no weapons of mass destruction, and, as a result, the ability to garner public support in the United States for an action of this kind in the future will depend on greater clarity of a threat, on the actual existence of weapons that are clearly visible to people in the world, either because they have been tested, or, in some other way, the intelligence is far more definitive than the intelligence we had in the case of Iraq, so gaining public support, let alone gaining international support, is far more difficult now that we have launched a war that, in fact, produced, not the weapons that we thought that were there, but by a calamity when it comes to our strategic interests.

NORRIS: Now, another part of the president's argument, though perhaps not stated as vigorously, was that a preemptive strike would give the U.S. military a technological edge and that it might reign in the cost of going to war. Is that an argument that the president could likely make again, based on what's happened in Iraq?

MR. DAALDER: Well, yes, and you see it happening with regard to Iran. There are voices, certainly, outside of the administration, but one surmises also inside the administration that says, listen, Iran with a nuclear weapon is unacceptable. If we were to launch an attack now against the Iranian nuclear facilities, we could at least delay the Iranian program for many, many years, and the cost of our intervention would, therefore, be far less than if we had to face a nuclear adversary, which is the option we now face with regard to North Korea, so, yes, you will see those kinds of arguments. Whether they are convincing enough to persuade the president or, indeed, the Congress or the American people is highly doubtful.

NORRIS: Mr. Daalder, thanks so much.

Mr. DAALDER: Thank you.

NORRIS: Ivo Daalder is senior fellow of Foreign Policy at the Brookings Institution. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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