Not surprisingly, Clinton administration alumni Ashton Carter and William Perry have called on the Bush administration to strike at North Korea's missile if the North Koreans go ahead with their plans to launch. Mixed in with the rest of the madness was this criticism:
The Bush administration has unwisely ballyhooed the doctrine of "preemption," which all previous presidents have sustained as an option rather than a dogma.
So Carter and Perry don't oppose the idea of preemptive strikes--they just don't like that the Bush administration has been so unsubtle about them. And in this they precisely mirror statements by their Clinton co-conspirator Madeleine Albright in a 2003 article in Foreign Affairs:
When the administration published its 2002 National Security Strategy last September, it took this process even further, transforming anticipatory self-defense -- a tool every president has quietly held in reserve -- into the centerpiece of its national security policy. This step, however, was dangerously easy to misconstrue. (Do we really want a world in which every country feels entitled to attack any other that might someday threaten it?)
No, of course not--clearly this right must be reserved for the US. We can't have just anyone thinking they can do it. And Albright goes on to echo (or presage) Ashton and Perry's feelings about the Bush administration's distressingly vulgar tendency to just state outright their contempt for all norms of international law:
It would be helpful now if the doctrine of preemption were to disappear quietly from the U.S. national security lexicon and be returned to reserve status.
Note carefully: it's not that the doctrine should disappear; it's that the doctrine should disappear from the lexicon, and go back to its status as the unspoken, exclusive right of the most powerful nation on the planet.
This is precisely why I believed in 2004--and still believe now, more than ever--that a Democratic loss was the best hope for the long-term health of the world. As Ashton, Perry, and Albright so clearly demonstrate in this instance, it is not the actual policies that are different under Democratic administrations but merely their presentation to the world. By asserting (and acting upon) these uniquely American "rights" with such unvarnished arrogance and disdain, the Bush administration is revealing the true face of American foreign policy--a face that never changes, but which is rarely displayed with such clarity.