The U.S. desperately needs to overhaul the way it deals with terrorist-sponsoring regimes. After much deliberation and many conversations with military and intelligence personnel, here’s an outline:
1. The U.S. does not practice preventive war, but it reserves the right to make a preemptive strike
Preventive war is the doctrine of attacking a country based on the possibility that sometime in the future that country may pose a threat. This is illegal under international law, and creates a terrible precedent since there is virtually no way to determine valid criteria for making such a claim. Iraq was a preventive war, not a preemptive war as claimed; it was a mistake that will not be repeated by any U.S. president.
A preemptive strike (also called a preemptive war) occurs when a nation attacks another nation that is clearly planning an attack, or clearly developing the capability to attack. Israel’s actions in the Six Day War, its bombing of Iraq’s nuclear facilities, and its recent bombing of Syria’s nuclear plant fall into this category. All nations reserve the right to attack any nation that is on the verge of attacking it, or developing the capability specifically to do so.
2. The U.S. reserves the right to take action against any terrorist cells planning attacks on the U.S. if the host government is unable or unwilling to do so
The first course of action is for the U.S. to work with other nations to root out these cells. America will take unilateral military action only in extreme circumstances when the host state is incapable of acting or refuses to act. Currently, the state of Pakistan may fall into this category, as well as Somalia and Ethiopia.
3. The U.S. reserves the right to target the leadership of any state that actively harbors terrorists hostile to the U.S.
“Actively harbors” refers to nations that are directly or indirectly supporting terrorist groups and refusing to cooperate with the U.S. to bring the terrorists to justice. Currently, the states of Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and North Korea fall into this category, among others.
The U.S. must make clear that “reserving the right” does not mean that such right will always be exercised. At the same time, the leaders of nations who harbor terrorists threatening the United States must be made to know that they are not safe as long as they continue such support.
Perhaps most important, the populations of these nations should be told in unequivocal terms that the U.S. government does not view them as enemies; it is their leaders who are putting them in danger of U.S. military retaliation. If the citizenry of these nations can help bring to power leaders who are not hostile to the U.S., they will no longer face the threat of U.S. military strikes.
This needs to be repeated over and over again by U.S. officials everywhere they go. Doing this will create a lasting incentive for the people unfortunate enough to live under autocratic, rogue regimes to work towards domestic regime change that holds the potential for lasting peace.