The pundits have a rather broad point. Yes, there is a preemptive quality to the Afghan strategy as articulated by Obama and as understood among the media. In the sense that the strategy involves, you know, preventing future terror attacks in the United States and protecting (yes, for the future) its interests in the region. But then: every war is preemptive in that sense: what Maddow accusatorily deems a “preemptive” strategy (preemptive—it must be Bushian!) could be understood just as easily as, you know, pragmatic policy.
The ‘preemptive war’ clause of the Bush doctrine—to the extent that the thing is officially articulated in the first place—is considered nefarious not on its face, but rather because the Bushian notion of “preemptive” war is colored by history: it is conflated with the false pretenses of the war Bush waged in Iraq. And it is connected, generally, to the broader implications of a globalized notion of manifest destiny. Which is to say: “Preemptive” has several definitions, and Obama’s and Bush’s are clearly different ones. Obama isn’t choosing to start a war, but rather negotiating with one already waged. You can’t be “preemptive” about something that already exists.
The Bush/Obama comparison, in the end, washes over the particular details (such as they were) that the president articulated in his speech last night—and ignores the many supplemental pieces of information and context and insight that other journalists, admirably, provided the public last night. “Obama: so Bushian” might make for good punditry. It doesn’t, however, make for good journalism.