The pictures tell different stories — American tanks rolling into Iraq in 2003 as a pre-emptive measure to prevent terrorism; U.N. forces not marching into the Sudan in 2005 to stop genocide; international relief workers in 2008 helplessly poised on the borders of Myanmar, but unable to enter. Different standards should not apply, and world organizations should make the rules and the enforcement clear because, to the people in the countries involved, the crises are equally threatening and all are matters of life and death.

After the World Trade Center attacks in 2001, the “Bush Doctrine” was announced. The United States would seek multilateral solutions to terrorism threats, but would feel free to act against “any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism … as a hostile regime.” From a legal perspective, this position was not irrational. A person does not have to wait until an assailant pulls the trigger to prevent an assault even if the assailant is not standing on his own property. The problem, of course, is how soon before the pulling of the trigger is a person allowed to act — when the assailant says “Hey buddy, got any extra cash?” or when the person first sees a gun?

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