Gangway! We're Going Preemptive! (Devil in the Details)

Article excerpt

"PRE-EMPTIVE ACTION HAS a place in U.S. history," proclaimed a recent New York Times op-ed column by conservative journalist Max Boot. As if precedent were all, Boot reviewed a long list of nations into which the United States has barged either without a precipitating incident or with the slimmest of pretexts: Mexico (1846), Cuba (1898), Haiti (1915), the Dominican Republic (1916), the Dominican Republic again (1965--1916, apparently, didn't stick) and Grenada (1983). "The president's pre-emption doctrine--and its first application in Iraq," Boot concluded, "is firmly rooted in centuries of tradition."

It was inevitable, we suppose, that within a few short weeks of the White House proclaiming preemption as the policy of the land, someone would write the first might-makes-right op-ed. Boot wins the prize. In the process, he also dredged up a veritable rogues' gallery of American interventions. There's the Mexican War, which Abe Lincoln voted against authorizing during his one term in Congress and over which a young Ulysses Grant, who served with distinction during that conflict, always regretted that he had lacked the "moral courage" to quit the army. …