From Publishers Weekly
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.
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When and how should democratic societies respond to potentially dangerous conduct before the conduct takes place? The latest book from this prolific defense lawyer and legal scholar examines preemptive war, preventative detention, and restrictions on dangerous speech, and claims that in the absence of general legal principles (or even a healthy debate) about preemptive action, society's current trend away from deterrence and toward prevention (as accelerated by the "war on terrorism") threatens longstanding notions of individual liberty and state sovereignty. Attempting to articulate the rudiments of a jurisprudence of prevention and preemption, Dershowitz considers the risk calculus applied by Israel in its various preventative wars and digs into his own previous research into the problematic mathematics of prediction. Although the subject matter dovetails nicely with Dershowitz's recent work on torture and terrorism, this account conspicuously avoids those works' polemics and admits that constructing a jurisprudence for a democracy is a daunting task not well served by narrow political stances. Yet perennially provocative Dershowitz sneaks in a punch or two, speculating aloud about the possibility of preemptive action against Iran's nuclear program and arguing that preemptive war in Iraq may have hindered preemptive action against that nation. Best read in conversation with Richard Posner's cost-benefit argument for prevention in Catastrophe: Risk and Response
(2004), this book is an academic and accessible framing of an important debate. Brendan DriscollCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved