PRE-EMPTIVE WAR….Chris Bertram sums up the intelligent anti-war viewpoint pretty well today. It’s worth reading, especially if you’re pro-war.

I am nominally on the opposite side from Chris, but I agree with him that most pro-war partisans are unwilling to face up to the essential weakness of their arguments. Pre-emptive war is a horrible doctrine, and once let loose it will not obediently crawl back into its hole simply because we are done with it for the moment. The bar should be set very high for an act of pre-emptive war, and in the case of Iraq ? if we are there at all ? we are only barely there. The argument balances on a knife edge.

Allowing WMDs to fall into the hands of a man who has started two unprovoked wars against his neighbors in the past two decades ? and who is also a brutal, sadistic dictator ? is clearly something the rest of the world has a right to be concerned about. But the way the world goes about disarming him matters.

If the United States does it alone, the message we send is that any single nation state has the right to attack another if it feels sufficiently threatened. This is a dangerous precedent to set since, after all, we are not the only nation state in the world.

Contrariwise, if we invade Iraq under UN auspices, we send a different message: pre-emptive war is justified in the extreme, but no single nation state is justified in doing it on its own. You have to persuade a group of neutral third parties first.

This is a principle worth keeping. Not because the United States should be held hostage to the United Nations, but because everyone should be. This is a case where it is in America’s best interest to keep Pandora’s Box firmly and solidly shut.

POSTSCRIPT: I should add that Chris also echoes my concerns about what we are going to do in Iraq after the fighting is over. As he says, our track record here is not exemplary, and it makes a big difference. If we are fighting to bring some level of democracy and tolerance to Iraq, well and good. However, if we simply install a friendlier dictator who will keep the oil flowing, then we will have lost whatever moral authority we ever had in the first place. George Bush’s relative silence on this question is not a good sign.