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Saturday, October 02, 2004

The post-debate spin

President George W. Bush on the campaign trail yesterday, October 1:
Let me say one other thing, one more thing I want to share with you about last night's debate. Perhaps it was the most disturbing aspect of the debate. Senator Kerry said that America has to pass some sort of global test --


THE PRESIDENT: -- before we can use our troops to defend ourselves. Think about that. He wants our national security decisions subject to the approval of a foreign government.


THE PRESIDENT: Listen, I'll continue to work with our allies. I'll work with the international community. But I will never submit America's national security to an international test. (Applause.) The President's job is not to take an international poll. The President's job is to defend the United States of America.
Did Kerry actually say that foreign governments would have to approve US national security decisions?

No, of course not.

Here's Senator John Kerry in Thursday's debate:
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, through 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've got to do 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.
Ah, so the global test is about political legitimacy. The domestic population has to understand the rationale, and that needs to be something can be proved to the world.

In other words, the President should only go to war if the action can and will be viewed widely as appropriate.

Gee, does the President disagree with that? Let's look at the Bush White House's September 2002 National Security Strategy document:

The United States will not use force in all cases to preempt emerging threats, nor should nations use preemption as a pretext for aggression. Yet in an age where the enemies of civilization openly and actively seek the world’s most destructive technologies, the United States cannot remain idle while dangers gather. We will always proceed deliberately, weighing the consequences of our actions. To support preemptive options, we will:

  • build better, more integrated intelligence capabilities to provide timely, accurate information on threats, wherever they may emerge;
  • coordinate closely with allies to form a common assessment of the most dangerous threats; and
  • continue to transform our military forces to ensure our ability to conduct rapid and precise operations to achieve decisive results.

The purpose of our actions will always be to eliminate a specific threat to the United States or our allies and friends. The reasons for our actions will be clear, the force measured, and the cause just.

National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice in October 2002 explained the importance of the caveats to the NSS:
But this approach must be treated with great caution. The number of cases in which it might be justified will always be small. It does not give a green light -- to the United States or any other nation -- to act first without exhausting other means, including diplomacy. Preemptive action does not come at the beginning of a long chain of effort. The threat must be very grave. And the risks of waiting must far outweigh the risks of action.
So, basically, the Bush White House claims to have essentially the same standard Kerry mentioned Thursday night. They've clearly said that preemption must be coordinated with allies so that there's a common understanding of the threat -- and that it should only be employed as a last resort. Diplomacy [hmmmm, wonder if that includes talking to US allies?] must first fail.

According to Kerry, of course, the White House failed to pass the "global test" in advance of the Iraq war. And that was pretty obvious at the time, wasn't it?

Here's some polling data from US allies in the Iraq war, from a March 2003 Pew Survey. Note that neither the "willing" or "unwilling" populations were enthused about war:

Numerous governments opposed the war, including most prominently, France, Germany, Russia, China, and India. Neither Turkey nor Saudi Arabia cooperated.

Gallup-International had an extensive poll in January 2003 as well.
The population [30,000 polled] in 41 countries think military action is likely to be launched against Iraq in the next few months. But half of this population is not in favour of military action under any circumstances....In general, a war against Iraq declared unilaterally by the US and its allies does not receive much public support. Only the Americans seem to be mildly interested in this approach to events (33%).
So Iraq failed the White House's own "global test." Bush is not only twisting Kerry's words from Thursday, but he's also not telling the truth about his own administration's stated views of preemptive war.

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