Tuesday, October 18, 2005
It is also clear that this criticism of me is off base. I am arguing that the Americans would be justified in attacking Iraq if Saddam was producing-or about to produce- nuclear weapons that he would give to AQ even if no nuclear attack by Saddam or AQ was imminent (much like the Israeli bombing of the Iraqi nuclear weapons plant before the Persian Gulf War), provided that we knew all that to be true and there were no means short of invasion to prevent it. That clearly isn’t preemption.
Except that Patrick initially claimed to be defending those Congressional Democrats who Leiter had accused of "supporting the war on strategic grounds." That means that he was defending those who accepted (as I believe Kerry did at one point during the campaign) Condoleeza Rice's grave and gathering threat argument. That's an argument that's clearly focused on prevention rather than preemption. By replacing it with his speculative argument, Patrick switched the goal posts.
Much of the rest of Patrick's post focuses on the vagueness of the distinction between prevention and preemption, and especially on the empirical difficulty of determining whether a particular case fits in one category rather than another. This line of criticism, it seems to me, ignores the tradition in which the distinction arose, a tradition which is strongly committed to casuistic methods. Now, notoriously, casuistical investigations and justifications can be manipulated by unprincipled thinkers, and that's a difficulty that casuists must engage. But it is no criticism at all of a casuistic principle to say that its application is unclear until we have made an in depth study of the facts of the case. What the principle is supposed to do is clarify the moral issues at stake so that we know, when we look at the many facts of the case, which are salient for the purposes of moral evaluation.
As for Patrick's parting shot, I opposed the war for many reasons, not the least of which was that none of the arguments that anyone presented for it were any damn good.
1 In fact, I think just this kind of abuse was taking place in the run up to war when various hawks exaggerated the threat posed by Iraq.