Pre-emption doctrine: A look-back


Friendly Fire

Khalid Saleem

PRESIDENT Trump’s recent broadside against Pakistan – brought on by the failure of the US’ Afghan policy – set a lot of tongues wagging. It would appear that our ‘strategic ally’ is none too happy about the way things are turning out in Afghanistan and may be looking for a ‘fall-guy’. And which entity stands out like a sore thumb but the once ‘most allied ally’. There it is in a nutshell, as they say. One would have thought that, having burnt its fingers in the Afghanistan and Iraq adventures, the United States would have found it expedient by now to fine-tune its strategic roadmap. This, it now appears, is not the way the cookie has crumbled, if that is the Americanism one is looking for. The succeeding U.S. Administrations have belied hopes (if there were any) that anything in the nature of second thoughts is in the offing. If anything, successive administrations have confirmed that their actions so far have been strictly in accordance with the then announced National Security Strategy and that the world – already somewhat edgy on past experience – can lump it and look forward to more of the same.
Some salient features of what a wary (and jittery?) world regards as the “Bush pre-emption doctrine” would bear recapitulation. It will be recalled that the National Security Strategy of the United States of America that was sprung by the (George W) White House was based on the premise that “America is at war”. The document had specifically emphasized the roll of “pre-emption” in US National Security Strategy. To quote: “We do not rule out the use of force before attacks occur”. This was evidently meant to provide convenient cover for not only the adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq but also to similar ventures that may be contemplated in the time to come. Two things need to be pointed out in this regard: 1) the US National Security Strategy paper is supposed to be issued every year (the lapse of the past few years notwithstanding); 2) it may not be entirely accurate to term the paper issued as a “doctrine” – it can be seen more in the nature of a defense of the administration’s post-nine/eleven policies intended basically for the domestic audience. The fact that it also serves to put the fear of God into a few errant states can be seen as an additional bonus.
Inferences in regard to regions nearer home would merit closer examination. The reference to Iran, for instance, was in some ways perfunctory, despite the belligerence of the tone. While singling out Iran as the one country from which the United States (read Israel) faces the greatest challenge, the strategy paper – though holding out the threat of ‘military action’- stopped short of foreclosing all options. In effect, it went out of its way to suggest what needed to be done in order to avoid a confrontation. This appeal was directed not only at Iran but also at the other parties presently engaged in diplomatic efforts to sort out the wrangle. One is free to draw one’s conclusions.
On the issue of Palestine, the strategy paper left things a bit vague. Starting on a somewhat positive note by reiterating US support for the creation of a “Palestinian State at peace with Israel”, it meandered off into uncharted waters. Having shouted support for establishment of democracy from housetops, the US must understandably have felt a bit shy of directly renouncing the verdict of the Palestinian voters. Nearer home, in South Asia, the Strategy Paper held out no hope for a gentle US nudge in order to keep the much-vaunted peace process on track. For the US to note, as it did, “an improvement” in the situation or “seeing a new spirit of cooperation in the dispute over Kashmir” is neither here nor there. The reference was evidently towards the myriad CBMs that passed through the mill – which are incidentally fast approaching their “use by” date. What was left unsaid was what happens when the sheen of the CBMs wears off and the common man sees them for what they are – feeble efforts at papering-over of cracks in the decaying edifice? Who, then, is going to be left holding the baby?
Direct reference to US relations with Pakistan have centered mainly on “Pakistan’s choice to join the war against terror”. In this context Pakistan is being constantly goaded ‘to do more’. There is also the rather chilling reference to the launching, by Pakistan (and Saudi Arabia) of “effective efforts to capture or kill (sic) the leadership of the al-Qaeda network”. Surely, there should be more substance to our (strategic?) relationship than just that. Talk of one-sided relationships!
The pre-emption doctrine is one that erstwhile allies like Pakistan need to be apprehensive about. Surely the pre-emption philosophy was not directed against ‘allies’ especially those whom the sole super-power was constantly badgering to ‘do more’. These allies, particularly this blessed land, are the ones that have borne the brunt of the ‘war on terror’. And what have they gained in return? A few measly dollars combined with a virtual destruction of their social and institutional infra-structure. Surely, allies in such unenviable circumstances deserve better than to be flung by the way-side – un-heralded and un-sung? Or, are we being expected, much like the light brigade of yore, to surrender our prerogative to reason why?
— The writer is a former ambassador and former assistant secretary general of OIC.

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