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Preemption or Prevention?

June 05, 2004

Re "Shooting First," Opinion, May 30: Neither the piece by Ivo H. Daalder and James Lindsay nor the one by Gary Schmitt mentioned what is surely one of the most important questions the preemptive war doctrine raises, that of the potentiality of this doctrine to be used for covert purposes.

Necessarily, the justification for such a war is based on information in possession only of the government -- which can exaggerate imputed threats or manufacture them altogether. In particular, imperialistic ambitions can be implemented when a few individuals at the center of government come to see a particular country as important to their interests. They then declare that this country is a threat and must be subject to "regime change." Once this has been carried out and the country turns out not to have been a threat, the deed is done and the unfortunate country is under U.S. control. American corporations are able to exploit its natural resources and the financial opportunities that occupation offers, and the military has gained a new power base. Subsequent criticism of the government's deception cannot change a de facto situation.

This doctrine is inherently anti-democratic and lends itself to deception and manipulation, not to mention unnecessary destruction and loss of life. Its dangers are fully exhibited in Iraq, a complete disaster that must not be repeated.

Charles Crittenden

Lake View Terrace

The view that the Bush doctrine of preemptive war has met an early death in Iraq is based on the optimistic assumption that the Bush administration has learned from the mistakes it made. To learn from mistakes, however, requires that you admit that they are mistakes. Nothing that President Bush, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld or the others in charge of this disaster have said suggests that they think that they have made any mistakes. What they have learned is to be less clear, less straightforward and less consistent in what they say. The only way to give the doctrine of preemptive war the early death it deserves is to replace those who adopted it in the first place.

James M. Dunn-Smith

Los Angeles

Schmitt, in justifying preemptive strikes, never mentions that if it is OK to attack nations on the basis of their being a "perceived threat," the United States might be a likely victim. Nearly every nation in the world perceives the U.S. as a threat these days. What's to prevent them from ganging up and going for it?

Sorry, Gary. War is war is war, and considering the capabilities of modern and guerrilla tactics, it's high time to save all our skins by trying more constructive alternatives sooner, such as fairness and an effort to understand others. How about preventive strikes instead?

Jean Gerard

Los Osos

The more important point is that using force to redefine societies, systems and values never has worked and never will, whether preemptive or reactive. How that fact could have been lost, missed or ignored by the current U.S. and Israeli leadership is completely beyond my imagination. To address terrorism as a target, itself and alone, rather than as a symptom equally in need of attention, is also unimaginable.

Randal L. Cruikshanks

San Luis Obispo

In your pro and con pieces about the war in Iraq, the author of the pro side was Schmitt, the head of Project for the New American Century. That organization sent a letter to President Clinton in 1998, and later to George W. Bush, that gave detailed plans for invading Iraq and unseating Saddam Hussein. Among the signers were nine individuals who are now members of the Bush administration. In other words, the war was planned as far back as 1998 by the people who are now running it. In seven years they didn't have enough brains to consider what had to be done when the war was over. Is this a way to run a government?

Howard Niederman

San Juan Capistrano

Steve Lopez's May 30 column, "Figuring Out the Price of Death," prompts me to write this letter regarding food shortage in the military in Iraq.

My granddaughter, who is in an engineer brigade, also sent us and her other relatives an e-mail asking for food because she was hungry. At the time she sent the message, she said there was insufficient food for the troops at the base where she is stationed in northern Iraq. Besides myself, two of our friends mailed food.

Why can't the Pentagon properly supply our men and women who are risking their lives 7,000 miles away to defend this nation?

Hazrat Adam

Culver City

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