Monday, October 04, 2004

Another case of "The dog that didn't bark"

A new case of blog versus blog skirmishing back and forth across the Right/Left border has broken out over John Kerry's "global test" statement from the first presidential debate. Here's the statement at the center of the controversy (taken from the
debate transcript at The Washington Post:
The president always has the right, and always has had the right, for preemptive strike. That was a great doctrine throughout the Cold War. And it was always one of the things we argued about with respect to arms control.

No president, though all of American history, has ever ceded, and nor would I, the right to preempt in any way necessary to protect the United States of America.

But if and when you do it, Jim, you have to do it in a way that passes the test, that passes the global test where your countrymen, your people understand fully why you're doing what you're doing and you can prove to the world that you did it for legitimate reasons.
The George W. Bush Campaign Blog has already started attacking Kerry over it, with some bloggers generally concurring in one way or another, either on "flip-flopper" or "wimpy Frenchman" lines. On the other hand, the Left-wing bloggers are alleging another Republican dirty smear campaign has been launched and are even citing the Declaration of Independence to defend Senator Kerry's statements. Compare JustOneMinute's and Brad DeLong's opinions on the subject, for example.

I think there is one slight detail (i.e. the dog that should have barked, but didn't) that Kerry and the liberal bloggers have overlooked that discredits their arguments. Simply put, military necessity alone already provides legitimacy for military action. Of course, military necessity is not always a clear-cut thing to establish in advance of a preemptive strike, and it is definately not a blanket justification for any and all military actions. On the other hand, a nation's determination of the level of risk necessary before a preemptive strike is legitimized is not something that some other nation can accurately determine. The sheer fact of the uncertainity of conflict should give a nation some independence in determining the need for preemption of a credible threat.

The fact that Senator Kerry emphasizes that a global test of legitimacy as a further precondition for preemptive action weakens his earlier commitment to preemption as a presidential right. Suppose that Saddam Hussein's Iraq had posed an imminent threat to the United States in early 2003. Would Senator Kerry have supported preemptive action against that threat or would he have argued that some other global test had not been satisfied? If President Bush determined that an indisputably imminent threat from Iraq had made military preemption necessary but world opinion decided that deterrance or appeasement was the more legitimate action, what policy would Senator Kerry have adopted?

Actually, if you'd like an even better example of when the "global test" can lead to disastrous consequences, examine what happened to Czechoslovakia in 1938.

2 Comments:

Blogger Marie's Two Cents said...

http://mariestwocents.blogspot.com/

7:49 PM  
Blogger Emily Watkins said...

This "global test" quote was the topic of a couple of letters to the editor of The Daily Yomiuri. The first is from a man who says that it is an excellent English lesson for those learning the language. He likens Kerry's quote to the statement, "The SATs are a national test of high school students' scholastic abilities." This doesn't mean that American high school students must stand before the nation in taking the SATs, but that it is a test applied uniformly across the country. Likewise, the "global test" is not one that must pass global criticism, but one that should apply to every nation.

The second letter is from a woman who agrees that the above interpretation is valid, but that it isn't the one that even most of her Democratic friends hold. The problem she finds with Kerry is that many of his statements can be taken in more than one way.

Me? I almost want Kerry to win, just for curiosity's sake.

10:20 PM  

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