Misreading the Bush Doctrine in the WaPo

26 01 2009

On Sunday, the Washington Post published a story with the following headline: “Bush Doctrine Stalls Holder Confirmation.” Now I understand that headline writers have quite a bit of leeway in deciding what they title certain articles, but there’s a difference between being creative and misrepresenting the main idea of a story.

The lead in the article says, “Even as Senate Republicans seek assurances that new leaders at the Justice Department will not prosecute former government officials over national security abuses, one of the highest-profile investigations of the Bush era is grinding to a close.” The rest of the article describes how Senate Republicans want to assurances from Eric Holder that he will not seek to investigate and prosecute those who may have tortured or otherwise abused detainees under interrogation and the destruction of tapes recording those sessions. That has nothing to do with the Bush Doctrine.

Simply stated, the Bush doctrine holds that the U.S. has a right to extinguish national security threats with the use of military force against a country or nonstate actor as preventive measure. That is to say, we may wage preventive war to anticipate threats before they blossom into full blown eminent threats. This is a radical idea because international law calls for threats to at least be eminent before claiming to wage an attack in self defense against an enemy. Otherwise, there is no way of truly distinguishing a war of choice from a war of necessity.

By contrast, the WaPo article on Senate Republicans stalling the confirmation of Eric Holder as Attorney General has to do with pressuring him not to investigate officials interrogating war on terror suspects, not his views on what constitute the judicious use of military force. One is a question of who to prosecute and what for, whereas the other has to do when we should go to war against or at least strike an enemy.

Its hard to imagine that the folks at the WaPo thought that making these kind of distinctions do not matter.

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