Democrats & Liberals Archives

The "global test" makes perfect sense

It was a pretty safe bet that after the debates the Team Red would find something to twist into a new “flip-flop”. They seem to have fastened on Kerry’s position on preemptive war, the “Kerry Doctrine”. And guess what, if you take Kerry’s actual words in context, they make perfect sense.

The whole debate hinges on Kerry's response to the question: What is your position on the whole concept of preemptive war? which was the following (the numbers, I added):

(1) 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.

(2) 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.

(3) 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 Red Team claims that the first two statements contradict the third---that Kerry means that before you can preempt, you have to pass a "global test" and "prove to the world" something or other. It seems much more reasonable to interpret (3) as saying: if and when you, as president, attack preemptively, then later (once the dust has settled, after the fact) you, as president, have to be able to show that you attacked for legitimate reasons.

Note the word "did", as you "did it", not you're "going to do it". For those of you on the right side of the classroom, or others who are are gramatically challenged, "did " is usually construed to indicate past tense.

To summarize, the US has the right to attack preemptively. The president should exercise that right responsibly, and if he doesn't there's a cost, which Kerry explains a sentence or two on:

...what is at test [sic] here is the credibility of the United States of America and how we lead the world. And Iran and Iraq are now more dangerous -- Iran and North Korea are now more dangerous. ... You have to earn that respect. And I think we have a lot of earning back to do.

Note that Kerry misspoke here, and said "what's a test". He probably meant to say "what's at stake here if you don't apply the test ..." To summarize, preemption is not necessarily bad. But preemptive attacks that can't be justified after the fact will cost us in credibility.

By analogy, if someone comes at me with a gun, the law says that I have the right to attack preemptively (i.e., before actually being shot) in self-defense. And it is entirely appropriate to have that right. But if you attack someone preemptively, the law says that you need to justify your actions.

What's the problem?

Posted by William Cohen at October 4, 2004 1:52 PM