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A nation must think before it acts.
Prior to the Iraq War, there had been a long series of American wars in which U.S. leaders often maneuvered the other side into “firing the first shot.” This strategy of “passive defense” amounts to an American way of going to war, and it dates back at least to the U.S.-Mexican War. The United States thus retained the moral and legal legitimacy, an asset which is especially important in a democratic political system. The Iraq War represents a fundamental departure from this American way. It might be the worst crisis since Vietnam. but that war was just another entry in the U.S. playbook for how to go to war. The Iraq War not only contradicts longstanding practices in American foreign policy, but it has the potential to issue in far greater international disorder than the Vietnam War. This catastrophe may make future presidents more heedful of John Quincy Adams’ prophetic words: go not abroad in search of monsters to destroy.