cover image Preemption: A Knife That Cuts Both Ways

Preemption: A Knife That Cuts Both Ways

Alan M. Dershowitz. W. W. Norton & Company, $24.95 (348pp) ISBN 978-0-393-06012-6

Children of deposed kings, sovereign nation states, terrorist organizations, alleged witches-all have been targets, at some point in history, of preemptive action. Whether such action was justified whether the results were as intended and whether the political fallout was tolerable are the factors that complicate this alluring concept, as explored by Dershowitz. Though one might expect Dershowitz to capitalize on the obvious example of the invasion of Iraq (as illustrated by the cover photograph of smoke rising over the Tigris), Dershowitz focuses a good share of this cautious study on Israel, where the policy of preemption has been practiced for decades, to varying degrees of success. The country's 1967 strike against Egypt and Syria to begin the Six-Day War comes as close to perfect preemption as any event in recent history, but that success has proved difficult if not impossible to repeat. If this book is divisive, it's only because Dershowitz calls into question any hardline view, pro or con, of a practice that depends on circumstance and calculated risk-and even then hinges on what the public is willing to accept (profiling, assassinations, a nuclear strike) in the name of a safer tomorrow.