Cia Boss: Iraq Not Called Imminent Threat

by Clifford D. May

That’s the headline on Drudge right now. But President Bush also did not call Iraq an imminent threat. In fact, the argument he made was that the lesson of 9/11 is that we no longer have the luxury of waiting until a threat becomes imminent.

Specifically, in his 2002 State of the Union, he stated: “Some have said we must not act until the threat is imminent. Since when have terrorists and tyrants announced their intentions, politely putting us on notice before they strike? If this threat is permitted to fully and suddenly emerge, all actions, all words, and all recriminations would come too late.”

But that explanation, conveyed in somewhat academic language two years ago, was not sufficient to persuade many Americans that such a dramatic departure from past policy is justified. The case needs to be made over and over–and in many different forms, from the wonkish to the simplest.

Here’s one straightforward way to express it: When a knife is raised and pointed at you, and you block the thrust–that’s not pre-emption. That’s self-defense, a common sense response to an imminent threat. By contrast, pre-emption is when you recognize that someone means you harm, glimpse a knife–and take action before seeing the weapon poised for an imminent strike.

What should be the policy of the U.S. government when facing enemies who have sworn to slaughter us? Was the president justified in using force to remove Saddam? Or should we have sat back and waited for him to become a clearly imminent threat? Isn’t that the debate we ought to be having?