1. The Primacy of Preemption
Chapter 1 originally appeared as “Potential Politics and the Primacy of Perception,”
Theory and Event 10, no. 2 (2007). Republished with permission.
1. Enshrined in the Bush administration’s National Security Strategy of the
United States issued September 17, 2002 (United States Government, 2002).
2. The change in tactics, announced in Bush’s January 2007 State of the Union
address, came in the form of the “surge” in U.S. troop numbers in Iraq beginning
the next month.
3. It has been po litically necessary for Obama to distance himself from the
Bush administration at certain conjunctures. Obama’s distancing from Bush
administration vocabulary has not been consistent. The Obama administration’s
vocabulary fluctuates according to the po litical expediency of the moment, but
is always poised to re- Bushify, as this 2014 news report of comments by Obama’s
attorney general exempliﬁes: “Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. on Tuesday
implored more Eu ropean countries to adopt American- style counterterrorism
laws and tactics, including undercover stings to prevent potential terrorists from
traveling to Syria. . . . Mr. Holder applauded Norway and France for recently
adopting laws criminalizing the intent to commit terrorism. . . . ‘In the face of a
threat so grave, we cannot aﬀord to be passive,’ Mr. Holder said in prepared remarks.
‘Rather, we need the beneﬁt of investigative and prosecutorial tools that allow us to
be pre- emptive in our approach to confronting this prob lem” (Apuzzo 2014).
4. “Given the goals of rogue states and terrorists, the United States can no
longer solely rely on a reactive posture as we have in the past. The inability to deter a
potential attacker, the immediacy of today’s threats, and the magnitude of potential
harm that could be caused by our adversaries’ choice of weapons, do not permit that
option. We cannot let our enemies strike ﬁrst” (Bush 2002).
5. This is reflected in General Stanley McChrystal’s reflections on his role as head
of the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command under Bush and commander of nato
operations in Af ghanistan under Obama: “When the counterterrorist eﬀort against
al Qaeda started, it was narrowly focused and centralized; you only did occasional
operations with a high degree of intelligence and a tremendous amount of secrecy.
That worked well for the pre-9/11 environment, but in the post-9/11 environment—
particularly the post– March 2003 environment in Iraq— the breadth of al Qaeda and