For the lat 50 years the world has known a relatively peaceful and safe international war waging standards. Until 1999 and the bombing of Yugoslavia all military actions were sanctioned, and/or monitored by the Security Council. No one could attack or invade a sovereign nation without the Security Council’s agreement, specially the superpowers that hold the power of veto: France, USA, USSR, GB and China. In 1999 the things have radically changed. One of the most obscure and confusing precedents in the last few decades, regarding matters of international law was the US led NATO bombing of Yugoslavia.
It is such a difficult and unfortunate conflict, which has not been solved yet but only mended to some extent. It raises polemics and problems even today as the breakaway region that caused the US to bomb Yugoslavia proclaimed independence this year. The country was bombed due to the claims of ethnic cleansing for which little evidence was found (3) (as for WMD in Iraq) and many thought that the conflict might escalate to global level. This fear was maybe at its peak when the US bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade by mistake, fortunately cool heads prevailed and the conflict soon calmed down.
The same strategy of avoiding the UN Security council and waging a half legal war was used by Bush when Iraq was invaded in 2003. So this strategy is more of a Clinton then a Bush idea. The main difference however is the fact that when Clinton bended the international law and introduced a new kind of military engagement that is totally opposed to the just war strategy he did to solve an endless conflict and it seemed as the best solution. However the Bush administration used the precedent in order to illegally conquer and occupy a country.
When the Bush administration decided to attack Iraq without any evidence whatsoever regarding WMDs and broke the international law by using Clinton’s practical idea in order to show himself as a useful president that protects his nation, the outburst in the international community was far greater then in the case of Yugoslavia. At the end of the day the Yugoslavians were not bombed badly and casualties were minimal, the dictator (Milosevic) was overthrown in a popular revolt and a war thorn country is recovering at breath taking speed.
On the other hand Iraq is still war thorn and dozens of people die violent deaths every day. As an example we can say that the Yugoslavians are still learning democratic ways and have elections every couple of years, but the Iraq faces a major bloodshed every time there is an election. In other words preemptive strikes can be justified but only with the approval of the UN Security Council and supported with substantial evidence.
The Bush administration has disrespected all kinds of just and legal warfare creating a great scandal in the International community. The main point however, is that it is not Bush’s fault; he simply used the Clinton precedent in order to do as will. And that is what Clinton was always warned about when planning to bomb Yugoslavia: “we do understand that the bombing is out of practical and humanitarian reasons but if you violate the international law it will create a precedent that another president might use out of not so humanitarian reasons.