Bush Preemptive Strike Doctrine Under Review, May Be Discarded

From Bloomberg:

Oct. 15 (Bloomberg) — The Pentagon is reviewing the Bush administration’s doctrine of preemptive military strikes with an eye to modifying or possibly ending it.

The international environment is “more complex” than when President George W. Bush announced the policy in 2002, Kathleen Hicks, the Defense Department’s deputy undersecretary for strategy, said in an interview. “We’d really like to update our use-of-force doctrine to start to take account for that.”

The Sept. 11 terrorist strikes prompted Bush to alter U.S. policy by stressing the option of preemptive military action against groups or countries that threaten the U.S. Critics said that breached international norms and set a dangerous precedent for other nations to adopt a similar policy.

The doctrine is being reassessed as part of the Pentagon’s Quadrennial Defense Review of strategy, force structure and weapons programs. Hicks is overseeing the review.

“We are looking very explicitly at use of force and use of forces,” she said. “We are looking at how to articulate the use of the U.S. military instrument — how we use military force to achieve national objectives.”

President Barack Obama was elected last year on a platform that included promises to undo many Bush policies. He pledged to extract U.S. forces from Iraq, close the terror detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and give greater U.S. support to the UN.

Norway’s Nobel committee, in awarding Obama the Peace Prize last week, cited a “new climate” in world politics and the restoration of “multilateral diplomacy.” The prize also was widely seen as a repudiation of Bush’s policies.

Report to Congress

Congress requires the administration to report its national security strategy annually, and it requires the Pentagon to reassess its policies and war-fighting doctrine every four years.

The Obama administration will state its security doctrine for the first time as part of the Pentagon’s review, which will be given to Congress in February along with the fiscal 2011 budget.

Bush outlined his doctrine of preemptive strike in a speech at West Point in June 2002. He elevated it to a formal strategy that September. For the first time in a doctrine, the U.S. expressed the right to attack a threat that was gathering, not just imminent.

The doctrine was issued as the U.S. was working to build global support for military action against Iraq to enforce United Nations resolutions requiring Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to allow unfettered inspections for suspected chemical, biological and nuclear arms and to destroy any such weapons of mass destruction.

‘Will Not Hesitate’

The doctrine says the U.S. “will not hesitate to act alone, if necessary, to exercise our right of self-defense by acting preemptively.

“In an age where enemies of civilization openly and actively seek the world’s most destructive technologies, the United States cannot remain idle while dangers gather,” the doctrine says.

Some defense policy analysts say the doctrine should be amended or minimized.

“That doctrine was always at odds with international law and norms,” said James Lindsay, director of studies at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. The doctrine is now “dead” after the invasion of Iraq, when the U.S. in March 2003 launched a “preventive war” to eradicate “the threat of weapons of mass destruction that did not exist,” he said.

‘New Strategy’

James Mann, an author in residence at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, said the doctrine “was presented as not just the ‘right’” to strike “before you are about to be attacked, but as an entirely new strategy for dealing with the world.”

“I don’t think the Obama people believe preemption should be defined in this incredibly broad sense — and I think they feel — with some reason — the broad definition really lost American support in the rest of the world,” said Mann, author of “Rise of the Vulcans,” a 2004 history of Bush’s war cabinet.

Michael O’Hanlon, a defense analyst at the non-partisan Brookings Institution in Washington, said “the clear challenge for this administration is to find a balance between retaining the right, in extremis, to preempt, while avoiding association with the Bush administration.”

“The only solution is to try to downplay this option and say it will be reserved for the most extreme cases and even then pursued only with as much international backing and legitimacy as possible,” O’Hanlon said.


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