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Linguistic Collateral Damage

February 13th, 2003 · No Comments

In response to this story about Japan’s announcement that they would attack North Korea unilaterally if they discovered that Pyongyang were preparing to launch its own attack on Japan. Instaman asks: “Where are the condemnations of ‘unilateralism’ and ‘preemption’?” Well, the thing is, that actually would be preemptive. Y’see, despite the promulgation of the “Bush Doctrine” as one of “preemptive war” or “preemptive strikes,” that’s not actually the strictly correct term for what we’re contemplating with respect to Iraq. Preemptive war is what Israel waged against some of its Arab neighbors in 1967: it discovered plans for an imminent attack, and so attacked first to get the edge. That’s perfectly justifiable. Show me that Iraq has some arrangement wherein they hand bioweapons to al-Qaeda, which then releases them in an American city, and I’ll become a hawk faster than you can blink — no need to wait for the smallpox to start showing up on my fellow D.C. residents. What Bush is actually going for here is a preventative war, one intended not to counter an imminent threat but the nebulous possibility of some future threat. They’re not calling it that, I have to assume, because if they call attention to the fact that they’re not really advocating the sort of obviously defensive strike that comes only when an enemy is known to be on the verge of striking, it becomes clear how unrestrained and contrary to the rule of law the principle Bush supports really is.

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