One bright afternoon in June 1981, Israeli F-16 jets streaked low
across the Iraqi desert. Spotting the gleaming domes of the
unfinished Osiraq nuclear reactor, the pilots decimated it with
bombs - a bold preemptive strike in the name of self-preservation.
The world reaction to the strike was swift and critical, with the
United States and the rest of the UN Security Council unanimously
But now, two decades later, the Bush administration - warning of
time-bomb terrorists and the spread of deadly mass weapons -
proposes a far more open-ended, sweeping use of preemptive force
In a controversial expansion of the Bush doctrine - the
unilateralist "with us or with the terrorists" foreign policy that
followed Sept. 11 - the administration is making a stark argument
for striking first.
"Defending against terrorism and other emerging 21st century
threats may well require that we take the war to the enemy," Defense
Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said last week in a speech at the National
In one extreme scenario - one nevertheless under consideration by
US officials - the Bush administration could claim the right to
overthrow the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein preemptively. The goal:
to prevent Hussein - alone or through terrorists - from threatening
the United States or its allies with weapons of mass destruction
"This is absolutely a new wrinkle," says Kurt Campbell, of the
International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and
International Studies. "There has been no presidential doctrine on
terrorism before now."
I contrast, over the past 20 years, American military strikes
against terrorist targets have been limited and for the most part
* In April 1986, the US struck military sites in Libya in
response to the bombing 10 days earlier of a Berlin discotheque
frequented by US troops.
* In June 1993, in retaliation for Iraq's alleged plot to
assassinate former President George Bush in April, US forces fired
Tomahawk cruise missiles at the Iraqi intelligence service
headquarters in Baghdad.
* In August 1998, 13 days after the bombings of the US embassies
in Kenya and Tanzania, the US fired cruise missiles at training
camps in Afghanistan and a pharmaceutical plant in Sudan suspected
of making chemical weapons.
Yet today, many terrorism experts view such "action-reaction"
strikes as ineffective.
"We learned by experience that bombing installations and
institutions does not work in terms of pressing the regime to do
something," says Matthew Levitt, a former FBI counterterrorism
expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy here. …