Lasting, Grave, and a One Percent Probability

July 2, 2006 § Leave a comment

I am reading The One Percent Doctrine by Ron Suskind, Pulitzer winner and former senior national affairs reporter for the Wall Street Journal. The “one percent doctrine” is when a one percent chance of a grave event like a WMD attack is responded to as though it were a certainty. Basically it represents an attempt to make gravity and certainty mutually fungible as a basis for action: to make significant enough gravity act as a substitute for certainty. A war launched as a result of applying the one percent doctrine is manifestly unjust: the Just War doctrine in the catechism does not say that when gravity gets big enough you can throw out the requirement for certainty. The One Percent Doctrine applied to war is a direct, formal repudiation of the Just War doctrine.

I’ve been criticized to the effect that there isn’t any reason to think that the one percent doctrine was used by the administration as a basis for war. It may have been used as a basis for aggressively investigating even small-probability threats, the criticism goes, but investigation is not war. And that is true enough, if the one percent doctrine is in fact not used as a basis for military decisions.

But that criticism falls flat in the face of the actual text of this book. If Suskind’s reporting of the facts is at all accurate, there is no possibility whatsoever that the Iraq war was launched consistently with the Just War doctrine. There is no room whatsoever for a legitimate diversity of opinion on the justice of the Iraq war if the facts presented in this book are true. None.

By November [2001], Bush would take Rumsfeld aside and tell him to construct a detailed plan for the military invasion of Iraq. […] Bush asked Rumsfeld to tell no one in the upper reaches of government, and to make the request to senior officers seem routine. […] So, as America officially moved to a detailed action plan for the overthrow of Hussein, only three men would be in the know: Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld. The rationale for keeping it quiet is obvious. A thorny question remained: How would the ousting of Saddam Hussein be woven into something now called the “war on terror?” Up ahead would be more definitions by default.

And elsewhere:

The President’s June speech at West Point on preemption tried to establish a new set of international rules, even though the key rule – that the United States would treat a “one percent chance” of a country passing WMDs to a terrorist as “a certainty” and be forced to act – was never spoken. Such a disclosure certainly would have provoked a widening debate over Iraq.

And:

The operative concept was, in fact, “prevention” — using force against any country that has destructive intent, a geopolitical strategy based, in large measure, on supposition.

A few excerpts cannot even begin to do justice to the wide ranging and specific information in this book. If Suskind’s reporting is even one percent accurate, then there is simply no doubt that the launch of the Iraq war did not rest on a valid jus ad bellum.

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