RATHER THAN vainly sniping at President Bush over his management of the Iraq war, the Democratic-controlled Congress ought to focus on averting any recurrence of this misadventure. Decrying the so-called "surge" or curbing the president's authority to conduct ongoing operations will contribute little to that end. Legislative action to foreswear preventive war might contribute quite a lot.
Long viewed as immoral, illicit, and imprudent, preventive war -- attacking to keep an adversary from someday posing a danger -- became the centerpiece of US national security strategy in the aftermath of 9/11. President Bush unveiled this new strategy in a speech at West Point in June 2002. "If we wait for threats to fully materialize," he said, "we will have waited too long." The new imperative was to strike before threats could form. Bush declared it the policy of the United States to "impose preemptive, unilateral military force when and where it chooses."
Although the Constitution endows the legislative branch with the sole authority to declare war, the president did not consult Congress before announcing his new policy. He promulgated the Bush Doctrine by fiat. Then he acted on it.
In 2003, Saddam Hussein posed no immediate threat to the United States; arguing that he might one day do so, the administration depicted the invasion of Iraq as an act of anticipatory self-defense. To their everlasting shame, a majority of members in both the House and the Senate went along, passing a resolution that "authorized" the president to do what he was clearly intent on doing anyway. Implicitly, the Bush Doctrine received congressional endorsement.
Events since have affirmed the wisdom of seeing preventive war as immoral, illicit, and imprudent.
Andrew J. Bacevich is professor of history and international relations at Boston University.