Skip to main content
Social Sci LibreTexts

10.7: Bush’s Preventive War Doctrine

  • Page ID
  • \( \newcommand{\vecs}[1]{\overset { \scriptstyle \rightharpoonup} {\mathbf{#1}} } \) \( \newcommand{\vecd}[1]{\overset{-\!-\!\rightharpoonup}{\vphantom{a}\smash {#1}}} \)\(\newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\) \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\) \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \(\newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\) \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\) \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\)\(\newcommand{\AA}{\unicode[.8,0]{x212B}}\)

    International law has always allowed a preemptive attack if aggression is imminent. For example, Israel successfully struck first in 1967, when the Arab nations were building up their forces for an attack.

    However, the Bush 2 administration took the idea another step forward, claiming the right to attack against ‘emerging dangers,’ with ‘anticipatory self defense.’ In 2003, Bush and Cheney claimed that Saddam Hussein had developed WMDs (Weapons of Mass Destruction) and had to be stopped before he used them. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice proclaimed that the U.S. could not wait for the mushroom-shaped cloud and Vice-President Dick Cheney said that they should attack if there was even a 1% chance of Saddam having nukes. Critics pointed out that UN inspectors had found no WMDs in Iraq. Nor were any found after the U.S. invaded.

    More generally, critics point out that this concept of prevention is highly elastic and could be used to justify almost any attack. However, advocates of preventive war say that in the age of WMDs and stateless terrorist organizations no one can wait for an actual attack, since it would be catastrophic.

    For instance, in 1981 the Israelis bombed Saddam’s nuclear reactor at Osirak before he could develop a bomb.

    This page titled 10.7: Bush’s Preventive War Doctrine is shared under a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Lawrence Meacham.

    • Was this article helpful?