Terry Jeffrey

When then-Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte published his Annual Threat Assessment last month, he admitted a startling fact. We know where al-Qaida's leaders are hiding.

"Al-Qaeda's core elements are resilient," he wrote. "They continue to plot attacks against our homeland and other targets with the objective of inflicting mass casualties. And they continue to maintain active connections and relationships that radiate outward from their leaders' secure hideout in Pakistan to affiliates throughout the Middle East, Northern Africa and Europe."

Interestingly, no leader of either party has called for invading Pakistan to shutdown this "secure hideout" for the people who attacked America on Sept. 11, 2001.

Keeping that in mind, consider something Sen. John McCain said Monday about former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

"We are paying a very heavy price for the mismanagement, that's the kindest word I can give you, of Donald Rumsfeld, of this war," said McCain. "I think Donald Rumsfeld will go down in history as one of the worst secretaries of defense in history."

But which is more responsible for the tough situation we face in Iraq today: Donald Rumsfeld's management of the military or the assignment of that military to an impractical political mission promoted by John McCain and President Bush?

Under Rumsfeld, our armed forces swiftly accomplished the core military mission in Iraq. They removed the perceived threat posed by Saddam Hussein's regime.

After that, the U.S. mission in Iraq was essentially political, not military -- and in John McCain's view that meant a U.S. "commitment to revolutionary democratic change."

This was central to the moral case for the war, McCain argued in a March 2003 op-ed in The Washington Post. "The true test of our power, and much of the moral basis for its use, lies not simply in ending dictatorship but in helping the Iraqi people construct a democratic future," said McCain. "This is what sets us aside from empire builders: the use of power for moral purpose."

As nice as this may sound, it is wrong.

There is only one moral justification for war: self-defense. And self-defense alone is not sufficient. A war of self-defense must also be a last resort, must have a reasonable chance of succeeding and cannot be anticipated to cause more damage than it prevents.

For this reason, the virtue that ought to govern in war, as in all areas of foreign policy, is prudence, which means knowing the facts as well as they can be known, accurately foreseeing the consequences of alternative courses of action and then choosing the course that leads to the best result.

Terry Jeffrey

Terence P. Jeffrey is the editor-in-chief of CNSNews

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