[ OUR OPINION ]
America justified in striking
enemies before they strike us
The president's plan to attack America's enemies before they attack us is justified and reasonable. At the same time, it could be dangerous and should be executed with caution.
President Bush renews the possibility of preemptive strikes against those who threaten the United States.
For most of the history of the Republic, Americans have reacted to foreign attack rather than to attack first. We in Hawaii, who live with the daily reminder of Pearl Harbor, are perhaps the nation's best witnesses to that tradition. But the world has changed, particularly since the stunning terrorist assault of Sept. 11, which has taken its place alongside Dec. 7 as a date of infamy.
President Bush first enunciated this change when he addressed the graduating cadets at West Point in June, saying: "Our security will require all Americans to be forward-looking and resolute, to be ready for preemptive action when necessary to defend our liberty and to defend our lives." The applause then and the polls later have shown widespread American approval of that stance.
The president reiterated what some have called the Bush Doctrine on Friday when he addressed the 10th Mountain Division in Fort Drum, N.Y. Those soldiers were among the first to serve in Afghanistan in the campaign against Taliban extremists and al-Qaida terrorists.
"We fight against a shadowy network that hides in many nations, and has revealed its intention to gain, and use, weapons of mass destruction," the president said. Therefore, he continued, "To ignore this mounting danger is to invite it. America must act against these terrible threats before they're fully formed."
The United States has every right, morally and pragmatically, to strike an enemy preemptively in self-defense. Even so, prudence dictates that this dangerous path should be trod only in accord with well-defined principles. Among them:
>> There is a clear and present danger to the United States. An abstract, distant threat should not qualify. It must be here and now.
>> If a potential attack is being prepared in another nation, every effort should be made to get that government to deal with it, or at least to support U.S. action. Only a clear refusal would justify a U.S. strike.
>> Undeniable proof of the clear and present danger should be presented, as President Kennedy did during the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 and President Bush failed to do before the attacks on Afghanistan began in 2001.
On this last point, the proof should be made public even at the risk of compromising intelligence sources. Kennedy made public intelligence photographs to prove that the Soviet Union had deployed missiles to Cuba. President Bush relied on Britain to make an uncertain case against the Taliban and al-Qaida.
Among the myriad lessons of the war in Vietnam is that only with the ungrudging support of the American people can the U.S. government sustain a military operation against a foreign enemy. Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon failed to maintain public support in that war, with disastrous consequences.
It is equally important that America take and hold the high moral ground in world opinion when launching a preemptive strike. Here the Declaration of Independence proclaimed 226 years ago this month provides a steady beacon.
To paraphrase our forefathers: "A decent respect for the opinions of mankind requires that Americans should declare the causes that impel them to drastic action."
Or, to quote directly: "Let facts be submitted to a candid world." Mr. President, please take heed.
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