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Profile: Daniel Webster
Daniel Webster was a participant or observer in the following events:
New York Times journalist David Sanger criticizes the White House’s use of a piece by 19th century American orator Daniel Webster to justify its argument that attacking Iraq is “anticipatory self-defense.” National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice cited Webster as a source of the idea that justifiable pre-emption should replace containment and deterrence as US policy. However, Sanger says that Rice is misrepresenting what Webster originally said. Webster used the term in 1837 to try to calm down Americans demanding another war with Britain, while simultaneously chastising the British for not exhausting diplomatic alternatives before burning a civilian US steamboat on the Niagara River after that steamboat fired cannons toward a British installation. Webster wrote that “striking first against an enemy was acceptable only when the necessity of that self-defense is instant, overwhelming, and leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation.” Sanger writes of Rice’s statement: “It was only the latest example of how history, definitions and defense doctrines are being twisted to fit the Iraq debate. In its rush to convince Congress and the United Nations of the need to act quickly, the Bush administration has bandied about some very different concepts—pre-emption, preventive war and Ms. Rice’s ‘anticipatory self-defense’ (a phrase Webster never used)—as if they were the same thing. Experts in the field say they are not.” Author and foreign policy expert Michael Walzer of Princeton University says: “There’s a standard distinction here, and a very important one. Condoleezza Rice says we don’t have to wait to be attacked; that’s true. But you do have to wait until you are about to be attacked.” Harvard’s Graham Allison says a better example is one most Americans will not prefer to use: the Japanese strike on Pearl Harbor in 1941. [New York Times, 9/28/2002]
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