The problem with a precedent is, of course, that someone might follow it. Rodger writes:
Given how the US reacted to the traumatic 9/11 attacks — wars against Afghanistan and Iraq that are still ongoing and adoption of a dangerous public doctrine of “preemptive” action that openly embraces preventive war — security scholars ought to be thinking seriously about India’s possible reaction to this week’s Mumbai commuter train bombings.
While the origins of the bombers remain unclear, and their connection to Pakistan unknown, it’s fair to acknowledge that the Indians have much better grounds for viewing Pakistan as responsible for the recent attacks than the US had for, say, Iraq. Pakistan and India of course have a grim history of conflict and war. It would hardly be unreasonable, under a doctrine of preventative war, for the Indians to view an attack on Pakistan as wholly legitimate and even required by the circumstances. Given the relatively close relationship between Pakistan and the United States, India could also reasonably assert that the “international community” is unlikely to do anything productive about Pakistani sponsored terrorism.
A neocon, such as Charles Krauthammer, might respond to this argument by suggesting that Pakistani cooperation in the War on Terror should be seen as a mitigating factor. Such a response would be unlikely to satisfy India, which is far more threatened by Pakistan than it will ever be by Iran or ever would have been by Iraq. The neocon is left, I think, with only a modified “good for me, but not for thee” argument, maintaining that as world hegemon the United States ought to have special leadership rights on intervention decisions. Again, this argument is unlikely to satisfy the world’s largest democracy.
The only argument we’re left with is a realist one; the United States should restrain India because an attack on Pakistan would be against our interests. Naked self-interest does not require the giving of reasons or explanations to countries like India. But this position leaves the notion of preventative war as reasonable act of internationalist policy in tatters; there seems no way to convincingly argue that the US ought to be capable of launching whatever preventative wars it fancies while India should be restrained from advancing its own interests.