“”Bolton’s language is instructive. He has called the attacks he proposes “preemptive.” That’s incorrect: Under international law, preemption is an attack on an adversary that is about to strike you, the geopolitical equivalent of shooting someone who has already drawn his gun. The strikes Bolton urged against Iran—and before that against Iraq, and, recently, against North Korea—are “preventive.” They’re based on the fear that those regimes might one day attack the United States or its allies. But the dishonesty is useful: It makes the wars Bolton proposes sound like self-defense.
If Bolton has misused the word “preemptive” to make military conflict seem more necessary, he has avoided the word “war” so as to make military conflict seem less frightening.