Kevin Drum muddled an argument yesterday regarding critics of the war and the use of preemptive force and on his attempt at clarification he doesn't do much better.
However, I also made a specific comment about preventive war: namely that the failure in Iraq doesn't especially vindicate the argument that preventive war is almost always wrong. It is almost always wrong, and the fact that Iraq was a preventive war was a good reason to oppose it. But the specific quagmire that we find ourselves in now has very little to do with the fact that the Iraq war was preventive.
I'd drop the "almost" if I was Kevin. Preventive war is always and in all cases completely wrong on every level. Moral, philosophical, tactical. You name it.
This is because defining what is to be "prevented" by a state proactively attacking another state is entirely subjective and given to interpretation. For example: there is nothing in the concept of preventive war that internally defines what the term "threat" means. It's simply assumed that a threat will be so gravely self-evident, such as Saddam's supposed WMDs, that preventive attack will be justified to the world community. But is this always the case?
India and Pakistan have shared a traditional animosity through generations which has led there own mini arms race towards becoming nuclear states. If we were to turn back the clock to a point when neither country had WMD would the shared belief each country has the other imposes a grave and impending "threat" suddenly diminish? Of course not. If each of their armed forces were made up entirely of dogs with spoons duct-taped to their heads they'd still see the existence of their neighbor as a threat to their very existence. That's because the threat concept goes beyond the physical menace imposed by the neighboring nation-state and crosses into religious and cultural concepts of threat. Subjective concepts.
Thus the very non-quantifiable nature of the "threat" makes the idea of prosecuting a war based on it's prevention obscene.
UPDATE: I see Digby hits Kevin's argument from a different angle.