Kennedy mounts attack on Bush's `preventive war'

April 09, 2006|By RICK KLEIN | RICK KLEIN,THE BOSTON GLOBE

WASHINGTON -- In a forthcoming book, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy invokes the leadership of his brothers during the Cuban missile crisis to launch a sharp new attack on President Bush, declaring that Bush should have followed the example of President John F. Kennedy and his attorney general, Robert F. Kennedy, in forging a diplomatic resolution to the standoff with Saddam Hussein.

The Massachusetts Democrat writes that his brothers were right to resist advice urging them to launch a preemptive strike on Fidel Castro when missiles aimed at the United States were discovered in Cuba in 1962. They correctly argued that "a first strike was inconsistent with American values" and would be a "Pearl Harbor in reverse," he writes.

Kennedy writes that preemptive war may be justified to prevent "an imminent attack on our country." But he puts the Iraq war in a different category that he calls "preventive war" and which he condemns.

"The premeditated nature of preventive attacks and preventive wars makes them anathema to well-established international principles against aggression," Kennedy writes in America Back on Track, which is scheduled to be released April 18.

Bush's decision to invade Iraq, Kennedy says, was an example of "preventive war" - attacking a nation to prevent it from developing the ability to threaten the United States. Similar thinking led the Japanese to attack Pearl Harbor in 1941, he writes, because Japan was seeking to block the U.S. military buildup in the Pacific.

"Preventive war is consistent with neither our values nor our national security," he writes. "It gives other nations an excuse to violate fundamental principles of civilized international behavior, and the downward spiral we initiate could well engulf the whole planet."

In 2002, shortly before the invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration issued a national security strategy that called for preemptive war in some cases, claiming the need to root out terrorist threats before they fully materialize. Last month, the administration reaffirmed that policy "under long-standing principles of self-defense," despite the mistaken assumptions about Iraq's weapons capabilities that contributed to the decision to invade.

Kennedy, who voted against the Iraq war and remains one of its harshest critics, said Bush's national security strategy is "too extreme" in its reaction to Sept. 11, 2001, he writes, because it "legitimizes a first strike, and elevates it to a core security doctrine."

"War should always be our last resort. Instead, the Bush administration made preventive war an option of first resort," Kennedy writes.

America Back on Track, Kennedy's first book since 1982, is being published in a year when Democrats have high hopes for regaining control of Congress. It offers a vision for the nation that draws heavily on lessons from Kennedy's 43 years in the Senate, in addition to his role in one of the most prominent political families in the nation's history.

The book incorporates a broad indictment of the Bush administration and its policies. He accuses the president of engaging in an "unprecedented level of secrecy" about government operations, bemoans the Republican "culture of corruption" in Washington and criticizes policies that he says harm the environment, the economy and the education system.

Kennedy's policy proposals will surprise few who follow liberal politics. He calls for a higher minimum wage, billions of dollars in new education spending, higher taxes on the wealthy, equal rights for gays and lesbians, and universal health care run through the federal government. Most of the policies, he writes, will pay for themselves by boosting the nation's productivity.

In an antidote to the Republican Party's demands for smaller government, Kennedy offers a full-throated defense of a vigorous federal government that can fight for equal rights, lessen economic inequalities and contribute to a robust and stable society.

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