Hitting First: Preventive Force in U.S. Security Strategy

William Keller and Gordon Mitchell

The U.S. war in Iraq was not only an intelligence failure—it was a failure in democratic discourse. Hitting First offers a critical analysis of the political dialogue leading to the American embrace of preventive war as national policy and as the rationale for the invasion and occupation of Iraq.

Taking as its point of departure the important distinction between preemptive and preventive war, the contributors examine how the rhetoric of policy makers conflated the two very different concepts until the public could no longer effectively distinguish between a war of necessity and a war of choice. Although the book focuses on recent events, Hitting First takes into consideration the broader historical, ethical, and legal context of current American policies. Precedents are examined for preventive military action based on conventional as well as nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons threats.

The authors also consider recent examples of the rhetoric of “humanitarian intervention,” which have tended to undermine traditional notions of national sovereignty, making purportedly “morally justifiable” actions easier to entertain. Intelligence gathering and its use, manipulation, and distortion to suit policy agendas are also analyzed, as are the realities of the application of military force, military requirements to sustain a policy of preventive war, and post-conflict reconstruction.

The critiques and prescriptions offered in the book provide a unique and valuable perspective on the challenges of formulating and conducting national security policy while sustaining the principles and institutions of American democracy. Hitting First is the premier monograph in “The Security Continuum,” a book series published jointly by the Matthew B. Ridgway Center for International Security Studies and the University of Pittsburgh Press.

University of Pittsburgh Press, 2006