A reed in the wind

Andrew Sullivan is ‘nibbling on some crow‘ at the moment, apparently over his early and vocal criticism of the Libyan war. Here’s Freddie:

I confess: the idea that the rebels winning at this stage represents some sort of a mea culpa-inducing event– when the person making that claim himself voiced many arguments that have nothing whatsoever to do with who wins– is simply bizarre to me. (Perhaps Andrew could tell the sub-Saharan Africans currently being disappeared by the Libyan rebels that the only question that matters is who wins and who loses. That ought to comfort them.)

So let me ask you all this question. I’ve read some Oakeshott, and I’ve read some Burke, but obviously I’m no expert. Can someone, pretty please, articulate any argument– any argument at all– that Oakeshottean or Burkean conservatism could ever support the Libyan war? I am truly straining to imagine any space whatsoever for such support. Perhaps the more informed among you could explain it to me.

Of course, I think neither conservative icon could support the kind of thinking that is so endlessly fungible as Sullivan has displayed these last few months, either. But what power have Michael Oakeshott or Edmund Burke against the cult of Obama?

I have a great deal of respect for Andrew, and much of that is because I see in many of his struggles some of my own. Also, because I have a great admiration for a conservatism of doubt, for that Oakeshottian conservatism that Andrew is drawn toward. I am drawn toward it as well, especially in matters of foreign affairs.

Indeed, many of Andrew’s best qualities emerged in the (very brief) run-up to the Libyan war, and in its first days. It is looking more and more like Andrew will discard this initial Burkean impulse, and let his passion carry him. Make no mistake, some of his best writing comes from those moments of passionate disregard. But that’s a dangerous line to walk.

In his response to Freddie, Andrew writes:

Those arguments stand. I would not have initiated this war at this time in this way for these reasons. But it is perfectly possible to take that position, yet realize it’s now a fait accompli and be glad that Qaddafi is no longer able to massacre thousands by brute force.

Or to put it another way: If one has failed to help prevent a war, that does not commit you henceforth to hoping for its failure, or not being relieved when it temporarily prevents mass murder.

But this misses Freddie’s critique entirely. Nobody is suggesting that critics of the war should not be glad that civilian deaths were avoided, or that Qaddafi’s proposed slaughter was diverted (though at this point, the rebels seem well poised to meet out their own slaughter soon enough, if the tide really does turn in their favor).

The point is, Andrew is not merely saying “Hooray, the rebels are beating back Qaddafi!” Rather, he is admitting – through his various ‘meep, meep’ posts and the ‘eating crow’ comment – that he was wrong in his opposition to the war in the first place. Unless I am greatly mistaken, that is the textbook definition of ‘eating crow’.

There is a vast divide between cheering on the successes of the military campaign (we can all hope it goes forward with as few civilian deaths as possible, even those of us who are unequivocally opposed) and the admission that you were wrong about your opposition to the war in the first place. Hell, there is even a point at which an opponent of the war might say something along the lines of “you broke it, you buy it” and consistently oppose ending the war prematurely, as many critics of Iraq and Afghanistan have done (a position I myself took for a while, though no longer).

Critics of the Libya war do not have to commit ‘henceforth to hoping for its failure’. That’s rubbish, and rubbish foisted endlessly on Iraq critics as well. We can hope for the best outcome, while sticking to our guns about the wrongness of the war in the first place. Success is not justification enough for the military invasion of another country.

See also: Freddie’s open letter to Juan Cole, one of the more vociferous pro-war voices this time around.

P.S. Andrew quotes Edmund Burke:

“A more mischievous idea cannot exist than that any degree of wickedness, violence and oppression may prevail in a country that the most abominable, murderous and exterminatory rebellions may rage in it, or the most atrocious and bloody tyranny may domineer, and that no neighbouring power can take cognisance of either or afford succour to the miserable sufferers.”

Unless I am greatly mistaken, I believe Burke was referring here to the French revolutionaries. I don’t believe he ever wrote in favor of overthrowing the French monarchy and aiding the rebellion there. Indeed, his cause for concern was with the very radical and violent overthrow of the monarchy in France and the possibility of that spilling over into Great Britain.

Pause for a moment here and examine the very different nature of the threats in these two scenarios. Burke may have wanted to forcefully put down the French rebels, but that was because they presented a very real threat to the English crown and to the heads of many of Burke’s friends and family remaining securely attached to their bodies. He was right to be worried. Not long after, Napoleon Bonaparte swept across Europe. And Napoleon was a moderate compared to Robespierre and some of the other charming figures in that revolution.

How is this at all like Qaddafi in Libya? Does the violence from the oppressive Qaddafi regime threaten to spill over into Great Britain?

No, I would say that Burke would be more threatened by the “murderous and exterminatory rebellions” than by the Qaddafi regime.

It’s all well and good to talk philosophy, but we would do well to incorporate historical context into the conversation.

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88 thoughts on “A reed in the wind

  1. I had the same take when I first read the eating-crow post, then I realized that he actually wrote “nibbling crow” which likely meant that he’d still advocate the same position but was wrong in some of his arguments (that there’d be no Arab support, that the United States would inevitably be stuck orchestrating the war, that ground troops would be required, etc) and wrong in ways that weren’t particularly justified at the time. For example, French and British air power is fairly strong and it was likely that they would provide a real and not token role in the attacks. Also, near-unanimous support for the war in the British Parliament countered his fears that international support would crumble or that the war was all about Sarkozy’s domestic politics. I wouldn’t be so fast to say that those arguments were actually wrong, but that’s how I read his partial mea culpa.

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    • I can name three, at least.

      He has consistently opposed torture.

      He always thought Sarah Palin was a bad choice for the country, and he’s probably right on that, even if his Palin antipathy does go a bit too far even for my taste.

      And I’m fairly certain he has always opposed the War on Drugs.

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      • ***He has consistently opposed torture. ***

        Technically, that is true (for now). Yet he also thinks that three prisoners at Gitmo were tortured to death and that the Obama administration helped cover up the murders. If he were a bit more consistent (or believed half of what he says), wouldn’t he still be harping on this outrage?

        ***He always thought Sarah Palin was a bad choice for the country, and he’s probably right on that, even if his Palin antipathy does go a bit too far even for my taste.***

        Okay, I’ll concede on this one—for now. Sullivan has a pattern of changing his mind within a three year period so there is always the chance that he can flip on this one two in the near future.

        I don’t think it will happen, of course. His antagonism to Palin stems from his misogynistic disdain for powerful women. He used to hate Hillary Clinton with the same fervor and will likely find other women to despise by the next election cycle.

        ***And I’m fairly certain he has always opposed the War on Drugs.***

        I’ll concede that one too. In fact, I should have thought of that once since it fits into the pattern of excusing any activities related to behavior that Sullivan likes to engage in himself.

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        • Looks as if I’m three for three, after shoveling away a few dozen lines of ad hominem.

          I read Sullivan every day. I often disagree with him, as I do here, but I come back anyway. If you’re interested in discussing policies, that’s a talk worth having, and Sullivan often finds the best arguments for whatever side he chooses. That alone makes him valuable.

          If, however, all you want is to impugn the motives of a particular advocate, that’s not a terribly interesting discussion to me. Compare: Sullivan opposes the war on drugs merely because he smokes pot. And you oppose the persecution of Christians merely because you happen to be a Christian.

          Convenient, no?

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          • Perhaps you could comment upon Sullivan’s opponents within the LGBT community, especially Michael Warner: I can only comment from the outside.

            Seen from the outside, I find Sullivan’s views oddly shallow, a ship without a rudder, blown this way and that by the prevailing winds. As a student of languages and cultures, I am predisposed to view the word Normative with deepest suspicion, especially with topics as personal as sexuality.

            When my mother was in med school, she worked at the Milledgeville State Hospital. Many of the patients were syphilitic, which often manifests as insanity. In those days, STD patients were asked to enumerate their sexual partners so the state could go out to test them: it was viewed as an epidemiology problem. What about the privacy implications, I asked my mother. It’s not so simple, she said: what about the unwitting future infected partners, what are the implications for them, for their unborn children?

            I’ve read Sullivan for years, too. I watched the civil rights and feminist debates and now the LGBT struggle for equality with considerable interest, using Sully as something of a yardstick for this entirely necessary effort. Am I condescending or misunderstanding something about his stance on LGBT rights when I conclude he’s failed to measure up to the standards of previous civil rights efforts? I’ll stipulate to Sully being just one person, well within his rights to view the good as the enemy of the best, but in his efforts to mainstream the LGBT debate, isn’t it fair to observe a good deal of his utterances have been entirely too Normative?

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            • isn’t it fair to observe a good deal of his utterances have been entirely too Normative?

              I’m not sure what you mean by this line of criticism.

              My own policy disagreements with Sullivan are plain enough already. If I had to criticize him on political style or intuitions, I’d say this — he’s too caught up in politics-as-personality. There are heroes (Obama!) and villains (Pailn!), and their mere status as heroes or villains is enough to decide things for him.

              Any bets on how he’d have tilted if Libya had been George W. Bush’s war? In 2007? (In 2002?)

              I have a tremendous admiration for Andrew Sullivan. But perfect he ain’t.

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              • May I refer you to Michael Warner’s critique, The Trouble with Normal.

                There’s something terribly presumptuous, preposterous might be a better word, when it comes to a self-described Christian Hetero Dude such as myself taking up the issue of gay rights. Yet the same might be said of my take on feminism and race, problems I don’t have but consider important, freedoms due to all on the basis of the Rights of Man. Nature has equipped me with two ears to hear, two eyes to see and one mouth and that’s about the proportion they should be used.

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                • I’m not terribly impressed by these sorts of critiques.

                  For one thing, if you’re really, truly not ashamed of having non-marital sex, then the simple act of my getting married should be no skin off your appendage. I didn’t get married to shame you. I didn’t even get married to shame libertinism. I got married because I found the one guy I love and trust more than any other. I want him to have legal rights over my estate, over my medical and financial decisions, in preference to everyone else in the world. Because I love and trust him.

                  How you run your life is your business, and you may run it on an entirely different plan if you wish.

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                • I think I agree with Jason on this. As a gay man I fear I’m too young to understand much about the preceding gay generations, especially since my immediate predecessor generation generally perished before I was old enough to care (I’m 31 now).
                  That said, what I’ve read, heard and observed of this critique always struck me as a primordial scream from the collective throats of generations of really wounded gay individuals;
                  “We’re not normal! You’ve shut us out of normal; you’ve beaten us, reviled us and driven us forth from normal. So we’ll reject you and your normal in turn. We’ll turn our place of exile into a paradise. To hell with your normal, we don’t want normal, we’re better than normal, we’re special, unique and amazing!”
                  Problem is that it was always a temporary refuge and it’s one built on pain, rejection and a simple mistaken falsehood. The gay antinormatives, in my uninformed opinion, seem to accept the basic first principal of their oppressors; that being gay isn’t normal. We’ve learned now that it pretty much is. Homosexuality is far from new; evidence suggests it’s been bouncing around as a small subset of the heterosexual population for all of human history. It’s only with the advent of modern economies and the accompanying new attitudes of human decency that the conditions have arisen that allow homosexuals to be normal in the same way that heterosexuals are normal.
                  So once you accept that it is not uniquely abnormal to be gay the whole edifice crumbles. Gay people, absent the societal abuses that the previous generations suffered, are by and large very similar to straight people. They want the same degree of autonomy, stability and opportunity for happiness that heterosexuals do and generally their prerequisites for happiness don’t seem very different from their straight cohorts. So as younger generations of gay kids are being brought into a friendlier world free of emotional baggage and spared the exile the social conservatives once rained down on their kind they’re not very allured by the ghettos of their predecessors; why flee to a safe haven when you’re not in danger? The gay book stores crumble, the gay cruising spots whither, the gay bars consolidate (though they won’t, I think, vanish; there are logistical concerns there) and the gay neighborhoods disperse into the general population.
                  Ironically the nightmares of the social far right and of the social far left are identical: gays are becoming normal.

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                • @North: One of the advantages of getting old is seeing the world change for the better, every so often. You are living proof the struggle was worth it and I feel somewhat vindicated in my positions over the decades.

                  One particularly ferocious argument with my father (over my friendship with the man I spoke of earlier) resulted in a cold peace which lasted five years. It remained a sore spot with me. As I taught my own children about sexuality, I made a point of bringing up homosexuality and urged them to be tolerant.

                  I always contended, even from my position as outsider, the proposition of being LGBT, as being black or being a woman, contained within those differences certain intrinsic problems but nothing which could matter to anyone else.

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              • “These are my principles. If you don’t like them, I have others.”—Andrew Sullivan

                Oh, wait, that was Groucho.

                Still, The Excitable One has turned being wrong into an art form. When he finally jumps onto the winning side of Conventional Wisdom, he’s “admired” for his honesty and open-mindedness. Right or wrong [it’s usually a coin flip], he wins anyway.

                Gotta admire that.

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              • I should probably expand on that…. Michael Warner bemoans the attenuation of the gay bathhouse culture. He says men are naturally more promiscuous, be they hetero or gay. I’d argue against the bathhouse culture, saying it was always trouble from an epidemiological stance, hence the reference to my mother, presuming you’d heard about Michael Warner.

                I have a friend from high school, now living in San Francisco. We’re probably as close to as best friends as either of us will ever have. When I asked him about love and why he’d never formed any lasting relationships over the years, he told me he’d hermetically sealed off his sexual life from the rest of himself, going to the clubs and bath houses when he wanted to scratch that itch. He did have people in his life he’d loved, after his own fashion, but on his own terms. Anything else would just be too confusing. Gay life was weird enough without conflating it with hetero norms about love and marriage, he opined.

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                • BlaiseP, I don’t know your friend or his background very well. But I suspect that his specific attitudes towards sex, love et all are more a consequence of the nurture of his upbringing and the attitude of the society he grew up in than they are caused by any natural element inherent to his homosexuality.

                  I mean yeah, men are more sexually nomadic than women so one could logically expect male gay couples to be sexually free floating for longer than heterosexual couples. Women are more nurturing in general than men so one can expect lesbian couples to start nesting sooner than heterosexual couples (What does a lesbian drive on her second date? Answer: a moving van.)

                  But the norms seem to fit gay couples just like they fit straight ones. Just a little sooner or later than they do for straight ones.

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                  • “But I suspect that his specific attitudes towards sex, love et all are more a consequence of the nurture of his upbringing and the attitude of the society he grew up in than they are caused by any natural element inherent to his homosexuality. ”
                    North, I’ve always read/heard that homosexuals were notoriously promiscuous. We had two in the neighborhood and it was said they were. Is this true or is it the same relationship with promiscuity that exists among we heteros?
                    A lesbian friend died last night. She and her ‘friend’ (they were older and hadn’t been sexually active in years though they continued to live together) discussed eternity and God and she died a Christian. I hope this doesn’t offend, but it’s a true story.

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                    • I used to know a guy from West Virginia, a soldier. He used to go into a bar, get a few in him and walk down the bar, asking each woman in turn, very earnestly and seriously, “Do you want to fuck?”

                      He got slapped a lot. He also got laid more than anyone I’ve ever known.

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                    • Bob, I’m far from an expert, but my understanding is that as a general rule homosexual men are more promiscuous by inclination than heterosexuals and homosexual women are less. I would submit, however, that you consider that up until the rise of the gay rights movement all of the social pressures in society were pressuring gay men to be promiscuous; two men living together for a long period of time would raise suspicion and bring about the accompanying social punishment so fleeting easy to hide liaison’s would have been the norm.
                      Your average heterosexual man, as a general rule, would be far more sexually active than your average heterosexual woman except of course that he’s inhibited by the logistical challenge that he wants to have sex with women; not men. If women had the same sex drives as men then I greatly doubt that there’d be any difference in promiscuity between homosexuals and heterosexuals.
                      As for your lesbian friend, if she chose to die a Christian then I dare say that’s between her, her companion and whoever lies beyond. I don’t see why that would offend anyone.
                      But if there was a savior who died for man on a cross in Jerusalem then the homosexual is as much his creation as any heterosexual and it doesn’t parse to my reason that the King of Men would be desirous that so many of his children live in misery, solitude and loneliness their entire mortal lives without surcease.

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    • No Mr. Carter, I can’t. The King of Flip-Flops never ceases to amaze me with his prolific number of flip-flops. I pretty much despise the guy and his pathetic need to be accepted and liked by everyone is just sickening. His nadir has to be the Bristol Palin/Sarah obsession and who the real mother was. He has absolutely ZERO credibility and has proven himself to be a pathological liar. He jumped on the Palestinian issue with his usual flair for lies and misinformation, manipulating all the facts so he would appear “neutral” while at the same time creulfully, with zero facts, accusing the Israelis with genocide, in so many words.

      He’s just a vile person in serious need of psychotropic medications. He lost his soul a long, long time ago which is sad because he is quite a good writer. Imagine having to wake up every day and have no idea what your political positions are on any subject? That’s him. I wonder how goes about deciding what to think and feel on any number of issues and subjects.

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  2. Can someone, pretty please, articulate any argument– any argument at all– that Oakeshottean or Burkean conservatism could ever support the Libyan war?

    The most cursory reading of Edmund Burke reveals plenty of arguments in favor of a Libya-esque scenario. I’d argue Burke sees such scenarios as inevitable. To preserve and extend the good that Experience Hath Shewn, governments must act promptly according to those principles to solve the Sufferable Evils because there’s a limit to how much Mankind are more disposed to suffer. Oakeshotte would extend this proposition to say we know about Evil and we know about Suffering and are compelled to admit them into evidence. Great Britain’s brittle and contemptuous response to reasonable requests from the American colonies would inevitably lead to revolt.

    As for Oakeshotte, he’s

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  3. Hear, hear.

    Erik, I’m 100% with you and Freddie on this one.

    An ideological commitment to peace, rather than war, has to have policy implications somewhere. At some point, on some margin, that abstract commitment has to translate into the actual, principled opposition to some real-world war.

    If not, you have no commitment to peace at all. Note that everyone says they’re in favor of peace. Everyone! If you want to set yourself apart, the only differentia are in the realm of action.

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      • That’s a misjudgement, E.D. People care about their lives and fortunes and those of their children; I thought that’s what so much of your blogging of late has been about. People don’t like to see their dollars go off to military actions abroad, but that concern is not at the center of most people’s lives and concerns, because we no longer have the draft (instead we rely on multiple deployments from a small slice of the population). Anti-war sentiment is something that cuts across the political spectrum when it’s brought to the forefront of people’s minds. But in normal times (depressingly, even “normal” times during time of war – i.e. when a new intervention isn’t being debated or an ongoing war isn’t in acute crisis a la Iraq 2006, and the draft is not in force), anti-war sentiment just isn’t a fundamental driver of American political coalition, because it isn’t at the core of the personal concerns of the vast majority of voters (again, shamefully, because of the tiny slice of the population who serve). The war issue comes and goes; the issue of whether your recent college graduate son or daughter (or you) can get a job, and whether you’ll be able to retire within a decade and a half of when you’d hoped, and how comfortably, (to say nothing of more elemental personal concerns, like, will I have a roof over my head tonight or next week) sticks around.

        Ending our wars would help all this, but it would be a fallacy to say that it if we did, these problems would resolve themselves. And whether that’s true or not, it’s only a small, albeit rainbow, coalition of people who perceive them as linked that way.

        I guess another way to think about this would be to think about all the people who get listen to talk radio and hear all the discussion about up with the various cuts to their kids’ education and other basic services, and the disappearance and lowered pay for the good public sector jobs in their towns, and the general economic problems they face, and get fed up and call in and say, “How can we afford these wars when we can’t afford to avoid laying off teachers?” Is that what you mean by an anti-war coalition? If so, I guess I can;t argue. But in those same shows, I hear others call in and say, “How can we afford to bail out these corrupt(ing) banksters but not to keep open the facilities at night for my kid’s basketball game?” And others have other diagnoses. Is this an anti-war coalotion? Or a pro-prosperity coalition? And how well has the liberaltarian alliance done in the last two years in resolving fundamental debates about the Path to Prosperity? My experience of that time has been that when the anti-war sentiment cools down, and that question is really put and looked at hard in detail, coalitions built around passing conditions like w, and even financial crisis, melt away, and fundamental (and depressingly rote) ideological divides are revealed as being as wide as ever. But perhaps I am under the sway of some false perception or consciousness (really, seriously).

        I think it’s perfectly accurate to say that the passionate anti-war segment of the electorate has people of every political flavor represented in it. It is an order of magnitude (or two) larger analytical claim to say that that means it will be “the most important political coalition.” To be horribly uncouth and snarky for a moment, presumably NAMBLA, and a hundred other fringe groups or coalitions, are “comprised of libertarians, liberals, conservatives, and whoever else.” I know you don’t say that it follows from this inclusivity alone that an anti-war coalition will be the most important coalition in American politics at some point in the not-so-distant future, but you don’t say from what you do think it follows.

        Count me as a skeptic. If for none of the reasons above, then only because, to the extent it were successful, such a coalition would have nothing to coalesce around. But I have often been wrong in the past.

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    • I don’t think intervention in Libya was a great idea, but I think that I have ideological commitments both to peace and to a world in which nations that use violence to prevent democrat reform are at least excluded from international trade and possibly engaged militarily. Events in Libya did not come close to the threshold I think is necessary for war. However, the process that backed this event — a unanimous Security Council vote authorizing limited, multinational combat — is more or less what I’d prefer.

      The world shouldn’t have sat on its hands and hoped that Qadaffi would abdicate without facing any armed rebellion. Waiting until after a civil war began complicates things; with an entire region of the world seeing large protests calling for some degree of government reform, it would be ideal if the Security Council would have established some guiding principles ahead of time rather than hoping everything goes as swimmingly as Egypt. If there had been some sort of consensus on various principles — addressing non-violent calls for reform, condemning violent responses to same, endorsing international monitors of protests & political reforms — this could have been a much more objective process and gained the support of countries without a history of actual or de facto colonial rule in the region.

      From Qadaffi’s point of view, his options are complete capitulation or war and have been since this became a civil war. Given that protesters in these things haven’t been particularly receptive to half measures, those may have been his options from the beginning. Could there have been an internationally-endorsed third option of more gradual reform, backed up by peacekeeping forces if necessary?

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    • You say “An ideological commitment to peace, rather than war, has to have policy implications somewhere. At some point, on some margin, that abstract commitment has to translate into the actual, principled opposition to some real-world war.”

      I’m with Zach here. Though I’d prefer the margin to be somewhere much closer to less intervention overall, the unanimous UN Security Council vote and this particular multinational coalition indicate to me that this administration has some criteria that must be satisfied before military action is taken. You don’t agree with the criteria, but that is not the same as there being no criteria at all.

      And Freddie is arguing in his open letter that there in NO point where intervention is appropriate. Is that what you are saying?

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      • First, consult with Congress. This wasn’t an invasion or any other proximate danger to the United States. It should have been done constitutionally, if at all.

        Second, is there NO point where intervention is appropriate? I’m pretty close to that position, yes. I’ve seen how even the most utterly necessary interventions — or those sold as such — work out. (Just curious — were you one of those who was convinced by the case for Iraq? Still agree with it? If you answered no to either, what makes Libya so much better?)

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        • On consulting Congress, yes – a thousand times yes. This not calling it war to avoid a declaration of war has become far too common.

          On intervention, I’m not an absolutist. I supported the campaign in Kosovo, for example. I didn’t support Iraq, but I don’t support intervention in Libya either. But, I would still contend that Obama’s actions here do not represent an absence of any opposition to real-world war. It’s just that his criteria are more bellicose than mine.

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        • > First, consult with Congress. This wasn’t an invasion
          > or any other proximate danger to the United States.
          > It should have been done constitutionally, if at all.

          The President is the CiC. The Congress is dumb enough to give him a military budget every two years, instead of only approving a military budget during a time of war. Whether or not a formal declaration is necessary has been debated probably as long as the country has been around, hasn’t it? We had an undeclared war with France in 1783 and another with Tripoli in 1801. Mostly all the Founders were around, and we got those suckers off without too much fiddle-faddle about the rules.

          However, it’s certainly against the Hague Conventions, and IIRC we’re signatory there, ratified and everything. We can debate the first point since the term “Declaration of War” isn’t itself defined strictly in the Constitution… but it’s certainly defined strictly in the Hague Conventions, and we put pen to that one.

          Oh, no, I spoke too soon. We never ratified it. Guess we like the freedom to decide whether or not we’re at War… independently of whether or not we’re at war.

          > Second, is there NO point where intervention is
          > appropriate? I’m pretty close to that position, yes.

          Yeah, I’m pretty close to that position as well, myself, fwiw. Although I don’t like the word “appropriate”. It’s inappropriate.

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        • Just curious — were you one of those who was convinced by the case for Iraq? Still agree with it? If you answered no to either, what makes Libya so much better?

          The attitude in which these are nothing more than rhetorical questions 9which I don;t know if they were, but i think they clearly verge on it here or can be read that way and in any case can serve my illustrative purposes as such here) to which you think the answer should be, “well, i guess nothing, so i guess I’m wrong” is the where I have a problem. I’m agnostic on this action, but it seems to me that there very well might be good answers to those questions; that in any case those questions form the whole crux of the matter. If not there but here, why, and if there but over there, why? These are productive questions to think through, not proofs that any given, or all, intervention is wrong-headed. What does it get us to just be sarcastic or rhetorical about them about them (again, not saying you are here, I can’t tell)? Here’s one thing it could get a person: an easy way to avoid or give pat answers to the hard questions policy makers face.

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    • An ideological commitment to peace, rather than war, has to have policy implications somewhere. At some point, on some margin, that abstract commitment has to translate into the actual, principled opposition to some real-world war.

      First, Sullivan repeatedly stresses that he is not a pacifist (his record obviously vouldn’t allow it. His opposition to the Libya action that I can tell was never based in a horrified reaction that we would meet violence with more violence. SO there’s no way for him not to be inconsistent or reed-like in his application of that principle.

      As far as I can tell, his opposition here was based on an Iraq-tempered “conservatism of doubt” about the cost and benefits from the U.S. perspective of participation. In that respect, the venture proving successful and helpful to the U.S. position would be very germane to the ex-post evaluation of one’s own views that any conservative should engage in retrospectively.

      Lastly, as to the question of marginal opposition to war based on a basic human opposition to violence at some moral threshold (not an absolute opposition) — again, as far as I am aware, Sullivan claims no principled opposition to our government’s use of violence in our (its?) interest — but supposing he did, I think it is very instructive which wars one would see as marginal. It is meaningless to take each war chronologically as the marginal case; that erases any meaningful analysis of when if ever force should be implied. If you believe in the possibility that some wars can be justified, then you have to believe in the possibility that situations where a war is justified will arise chronologically after situations in which a war was fought when it was not justified, or not justified as pursued, have transpired. (Of course, if you are an absolute pacifist, then you do not face this problem).

      But, supposing that Sullivan (or anyone else) had a marginal commitment of this kind against violence, I think much can be learned from where he has perceived the marginal cases to occur, and here, if this were a relevant analysis to apply to Sullivan, which again I think it is not, is where he in my view comes off looking worst. We’ll recall that he enthusiastically supported the Iraq War. And he opposed Libya. Leaving aside his (I think) recant of his Iraq position, and the effect of that experience on his Libya views, in my view objectively that record shows a bass-ackwards perception of which, if either of these cases should, ought to be seen as the marginal case for opposition to the employment of violence by our government. The arguments for that position have been rehearsed ad nauseum elsewhere; that is not my purpose in writing here.

      My purpose is just to say that, in the case of Sullivan, there is no evidence that marginal-human-opposition-to-using-violence-to-meet-violence-(much less as a way to simply pursue maximum U.S. security or even just interest) is a principle that governs his positions on America’s wars, and so judging his record by that standard i something of a goose chase. And that, in any case, if that were a good way to analyze his positions in such cases, he would have to be found a sore, sore failure. This tends to suggest to me that other frames of analysis are more relevant for understanding his positions, including the one outlined in the second para ultra. Of course, whether any principle other than the marginal-human or absolute pacifist ones are morally permissible is a decision for each person to make for himself, and then judge others’ positions by if he will.

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      • I understand Sullivan isn’t a pacifist. But his turnaround in the space of a week — from non-intervention to this — is pretty stunning. It’s by no means clear that the data justifies it yet. And even if it does, in this one case, that doesn’t mean the ex ante pro-war call was the right one.

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        • I think the turnaround is vastly overstated. One very tentative reference to nibbling crow? And I explained why the thing working out well would be germane to his position, making adjustment not a lack of conviction but rather a kind of consistency. The sequence goes like this:

          1. “I don’t think this is a good idea for America because I don;t think it’s going to turn out well for us.”
          2. “As events have transpired, it is beginning to look like I might have been wrong about that.”

          That’s not any kind of flip flop on a hard principle; it’s just prediction of consequences, prospective consequentialist prescription, observation of events, and assessment. Maybe that’s not the extent of what he argued, but it’s the gist of what I took him to be saying. There is certainly no principled stance against our use of violence that it was based on, even well-short of pacifism, that can be supported by his record in my view. And it’s certainly not to argue that the pro-war call was the right one in light of events. This is all just about what Sully is in particular has been saying. It may be unprincipled or not contain the principle you think it should, but, again, please see my comment regarding his principles on our uses of violence and reasons for opposing this one initially (as I read them).

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        • Jason, I can tell you this—he was emphatically supportive of federalism with regard to same-sex-marriage. You’ll probably have to get into his archives but it really is inarguable that he supported and endorsed same-sex-marriage insofar as it was interpreted and voted on by the citizenry of any state. In other words, he had no problem with states determining for themselves what the definition of marriage is, should be and how it should be implemented. Well, guess what? After loss, upon loss (SSM has never won a ballot initiative) Flip flopping Andy decided states should have NO say whatsoever on this issue, and the proper definition of marriage should be decided by a Federal court–yes, the Supreme Court. We’ll see. The only way SSM ever gets approved is by a rebellion of the masses and you well know, that is never going to happen.

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          • I believe you’re mistaken Heidegger. As far as I’m aware Sully has continued to call for federalism in gay marriage but obviously he favors support of gay marriage in those spheres where it impacts on the federal domain; immigration for instance.

            Now he got pretty exercised and involved when the social right federalized the issue under Bush the Lesser via DOMA and a significant though ultimately dead on arrival attempt at a constitutional amendment. But I don’t see any reversal of principals there.

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        • I wouldn’t be surprised if he did the calculation in his head and realized that quick success in Libya would mean a bit of evidence to be used to back similar actions in Iran during the next uprising there. Of course, the fact that what’s going on in Libya is apparently based on the will of a broad majority of Libyans (within a region of the country; I haven’t been convinced that this is so of Tripoli yet) is a major difference between Libya and Iran. It’s doubtful that there’s majority support for overthrowing the Iranian government in Tehran, let alone a large fraction of the country. I don’t expect this sort of logic to work at all when Iran probably flares up again this summer given that the commentariat consensus is still that the Iranian election results of 2009 were totally fabricated.

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  4. On Burke, basically that’s what he was referring to. He’s answering the Jacobin-leaning thinkers in England who were claiming as a general rule that a nation may never involve itself in another nation’s internal affairs- and of course Britain did try to involve itself in the affairs of Revolutionary France, although for a long time they were hampered by having a great navy and lousy army to face a nation with the reverse- often described as a shark fighting with a tiger. But, anyway, like you’re saying, his point is that it’s absolutely justified to involve yourself in the buisiness of other countries in certain circumstances- his example is the numerous treaties affirming the Protestant succession in England, but he’s really talking about France.

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  5. “Non-intervention” or “Doing Nothing” is generally seen as indifference to those who argue for “Making Things Better”.

    Hell, even if one fails to make things better (or, indeed, makes things worse) one can always fall back on “Hey, at least I *CARED*.”

    The idea that we ought not intervene in Libya because of the precedents it sets, the processes that have not been followed, and because of the likelihood that this time will end up like Iraq presents, in practice, identically to the proposition that no number of Libyans are worth the cost of a single coffin for an American soldier.

    Additionally, we know that Ghadhaffi is a bad guy. Hey, Freddie himself pointed out the argument that when he sees an egg thrown against a wall, he takes the side of the egg. It’s difficult to not see Kadaffi as the wall in this situation and the protesters as the egg, right? We want the protesters to *WIN*. We want the bad, bad guy to fall! We want democracy instead of tyranny, right? We’re all rooting for the protesters to still be standing with Gadaffi vanquished to the Hague instead of Qaddafi standing on a pile of protester bodies at the end of the day, aren’t we? (Aren’t we?)

    And it is *THAT* very dynamic that throws oh-so-very many wrenches into the idea that we do not have the standing to intervene.

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    • There’s a classic psychology experiment for doctors that illustrates the point.

      You have 500 patients. Give them treatment A, and you will save 200 patients. Give them treatment B, and you have a 50% chance that you will save zero patients and a 50% chance you will save all patients. Docs choose option A.

      Rephrased: you have 500 patients. Give them treatment A, and you will lose 300 patients. Give them treatment B, and you have a 50% chance you will save all the patients and a 50% chance you will lose all the patients. Docs choose option B.

      They’re equivalent, and yet the preference changes based upon the phrasing. And with Libya, the narrative is established for pro-intervention phrasing. It doesn’t have anything to do with outcome. It has to do with marketing.

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      • It strikes me that the marketing of Libya, if the vector we’re on continues, will provide justification for those who support intervention rather than for those who support isolation.

        Why, look at all the lives created or saved! Are you really putting a dollar value on THIS: (picture of smiling Libya boy hugging a blue-helmeted female soldier)?

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        • Yes, it will.

          Thankfully for both political parties and unthankfully so for humanity, people also have a tendency to reject evidence on case, rather than by cause. So evidence *for* intervention when your team is in power is regarded as more reliable than evidence *for* intervention when your team isn’t. Which is one reason why talking heads are usually so amusingly contradictory when they argue from principle, because they’re not actually arguing from principle at all.

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      • They aren’t equivalent. It’s a stupidly phrased choice, containing the results of at two experiments in which at least one where all the patients died.

        Actual treatments have Minimum Lethal Dose data. Actual doctors make malpractive insurance payments. Maybe if you go back to Jenner’s inoculation experiment, you might find such a choice but Jenner only used one child.

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        • They’re numerically exactly equivalent, dude. Choice A in either case results in 200 alive people and 300 dead ones. Choice B in either case results in a 50% chance you have 500 alive people, and a 50% chance you have 500 dead ones.

          And yes, I know that it’s phrased simplistically, disregarding normal treatment probabilities. It’s phrased that way on purpose. It’s not an investigation into medical practice, its an investigation into default behavior of humans when it comes to loss aversion.

          And it’s backed up by hundreds of additional studies on loss aversion, of which I’ve read more than a couple. I can forward you docs if you want to read the original studies (not of the above, that was paraphrased).

          People, on the whole (although not entire), are much more likely to choose not to lose something over a chance at gaining something, even when the outcomes are mathematically exactly the same. Controlling the narrative controls how most people view whatever it is you’re discussing. If they view it as loss aversion, they’re more likely to be for it, because a bird in a hand is worth two in the bush.

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          • They are not functionally equivalent. It’s a dumbass word problem in which one experimental run resulted in the death of all the patients. Just like all those moronic algebra problems in which the train leaves the station at 30 miles per hour, leaving out the rate of acceleration. Aversion is one thing, an experimental run with a ward full of dead patients is another. The doctors chose the side in which someone survived.

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            • Blaise, about this train business, no algebra or calculus needed–at least if my answer to this problem is correct–interesting that the debate over this issue keeps going on and on.

              Here’s the way I look at it. Okay, let’s say you have one train leaving New York on its way to Boston at 2pm– speed it travels is 50mph; and another train leaving Boston on its way to New York at 3pm. This train will be travelling at a speed 65mph. It’s a given that their paths will inevitably cross at some point on the way to their different destinations. Now the point where they cross paths is the precisely the point at which they are both identically the same distance from both Boston and New York! How could it logically be any other answer? And yes, the train leaving Boston at a faster speed (65mph) will be further along than the train leaving New York at (50pmh) but that is irrelevant as the question is how much further does one train travel than the other. They both travel the EXACT same distance, and when their paths cross one another, they are both in identical positions insofar as how far or how close they are to their train stations. Rate of speed, acceleration, train breakdowns, NEVER change this basic fact. I should probably write an algebraic formula or equation but I find it’s much better to do these kinds of problems in your head. I’m sure you’ll agree with my reasoning because I can’t think of a single way it could possibly be answered differently and correctly.

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                • Good question, Blaise. And to be perfectly honest, I have no idea. My brain has a terrible habit of jumping all over the place, and somehow, somewhere, I started thinking of trains–it was part of a problem people were discussing last week and I thought it might be worthwhile to bring the Vichy govt. and boxcars filled with bodies on their way to Auschwitz into this discussion. Regarding Libya, I’m in favor of targeted assassinations. I’ve learned much from you Blaise, thank you. What I’ve learned is stay the hell out of these Islamist black holes. The culture is so far, far and away removed from Western Civilization that it seems like mere folly to attempt to “democratize” them. I still have absolutely no idea what they want to replace their dictators with. Is it possible they want something more severe and strict–more Talibanish? More strict implementation of Sharia law? It’s extremely rare and unfortunate that they don’t have any spokesman to better articulate what the hell they want after the revolution ends. I’d rather have Baghdad Bob be their official spokesman—he certainly couldn’t be worse than a lot of these know-nothings who seem utterly clueless about what the real situation is. Now back to those trains…..sorry to go off the rails–there has to be at least some. minute connection to posts and comments.

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                  • Though lots of people speak Arabic, there’s no such thing as “The Arabs”: not everyone who speaks English is English.

                    Here’s how I’d think about it, from a European perspective. Islam is about six hundred years younger than Christianity. Six hundred years ago, the Hussites were being slaughtered. Europe was a nasty, backward place, chock full of tyrannical bastards in a state of constant warfare.

                    It’s just coincidental that most of this bedeviled, anarchic area is Islamic. The trouble goes right the way down Africa and all the way to Pakistan. Since Allenby invaded Jerusalem and the Ottoman Empire closed up shop, the whole area under their control fell under the dead hand of the Strong Men. Since the British and French Empires closed up shop in their areas of control, the whole shebang fell down in shit and ruin. The Cold War armed these regimes to the teeth but a new generation of children grew to adulthood in its aftermath. Now they’re unemployed, marginalized and completely out of patience.

                    Islam is just a religion, like all the others. Christianity was once just as brutal, just as backward, in most cases more so. At least in antiquity Islam tolerated Christians and Jews. Richard I of England systematically robbed, then murdered all his Jews.

                    The West can’t see its own biases, nobody can see his own. If Islam is angry with us, it’s mostly angry with our governments’ connivance with the regimes which have oppressed them. Though I’ve heard many Arabs curse my government, not one has ever cursed me.

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                    • Richard I may have been hard on the Jews, but it wasn’t predicated on the Bible. Islamic terrorist these days base their uncivilized, violent actions on their religious documents and seek the world caliphate from those same documents and doctrines. There’s a very great difference between gnostic Islam and the Christian faith.

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                    • Stop making excuses. The Bible, like the Qu’ran, has been used to justify and condemn practically anything. The difference between Islam and Christianity at a political level is nil: the prophets of both promised justice and mercy and urged their followers to live lives of personal holiness, tolerance, charity and mercy. Neither delivered on those promises.

                      You can demonize Islam if you’d like. Everything you will ever say about Islam was once true of Christianity. If these things are no longer true, it is because the Nation State castrated the beast and pulled its fangs. Now Christianity sits there, grinning through its remaining teeth, acting like it wouldn’t hurt a fly, but we both know better. Given half a chance, it will escape the Separation Clause and constantly contemplates how it can revisit its ancient glories, where heretics and scientists burned merrily in the town square.

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            • > The doctors chose the side in which someone survived.

              That’s the whole point, man. They didn’t.

              In the first case, they chose (200 for certain survivors) over (an equal possibility that they’d lose all the patients or save all of them).

              In the second case, they chose (an equal possibility that they’d lose all the patients or save all of them), over (200 for certain survivors).

              Simply by changing the order in which the possibilities were presented and the descriptor of the remainder as “survivors” (out of total patients) vs. “losses” (out of total patients.

              But whatever, Blaise, you go right on keepin’ on.

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  6. Lots or mental masterbation going on here much like the discussions in a political science class.

    The world is far more basic than we seem to allow.

    Is Libya our business? No. It’s the business of France and the UK. Was war declared on either? No. Is it our business then? No. Does it affect the responsibilities found in our NATO treaty and it’s agreements? No.

    It’s basic.

    Do we have internal problems? Yes. Do we spend on other peoples problems? We do but shouldn’t. Why then do we?

    I am a basic person. What people think one way or another is of little importance. What has become important is the consequences of those voices who are listened too and acted upon.

    Politicians think they govern by ruling rather than representing. Can you see the difference. There are consequesnces to this imballance. Is there a solution to this clear problem. Is this a wasted topic of discussion.? You decide.

    The same should be applied to your propositions in this article. Are the authors listened to or are they just voices with no influence. (Do not confuse audience with influence) If they truely have influence and there is consequesnce to their words then lets spend our valuable lives upon this matter. If there is no consequence then what does it matter and even more important does what they say matter?

    Lets focus on real problems. 50+ million Americans are living on food stamps. 1/6th of our population. 59 million Americans are living on Social Security with 75 million more joining the rolls during the next 10 years. Every dollar paid out is borrowed. No money exists in the account, only IOU’s. Can you see a real problem here? These are the issues of the day not what some conservative says that seems to be in controversy when weighed against other conservative voices. This is miss direction. It takes us away from real problems faced by a nation.

    We are conservative and liberal, Democrate and Republican and dare I say, Progressive and Libertarian. If this ship sinks there will be no winners. Maybe like we saw during the first 90 days of 9-11 Americans will become one voice, one action, one nation when they are focused on the greater problems rather then positions of political parties and the politicians who fight tooth and nail to keep their positions so they are protected from their poor decisions.

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  7. How ’bout that speech?

    I listened to it (on NPR!) on the way home from work (read it here ).

    It was a good one.

    It had sweeping rhetoric, addressed criticism, and he said “let me be clear”, like, a million times.

    The possibility exists that we got lucky in Libya. This will change the dynamic of a handful of arguments regarding international intervention.

    Be prepared.

    (Note: I still oppose intervention in Libya and think we need to withdraw from everywhere and go full non-interventionist. With that said, I acknowledge that if everything turns out very, very well for Libya (huge if), the moral argument will look to fit better in the hands of those who supported intervention than those who opposed. But I repeat myself.)

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    • Obama dissed both Presidents 42 and 43, glorified himself. I, I, I. Asshole.

      We will lead. We will follow. We are exceptional. We are one of many. Some wanted no intervention. “Some”

      “Now, just as there are those who have argued against intervention in Libya, there are others who have suggested that we broaden our military mission beyond the task of protecting the Libyan people, and do whatever it takes to bring down Gadhafi and usher in a new government.”

      “Some,” like fucking who? Typical Obama strawman.

      “In fact, much of the debate in Washington has put forward a false choice when it comes to Libya.”

      Uh huh. Any course but what the president did was a “false choice.” There is no such thing as principled opposition. There is no legitimate debate, because there’s nothing that can be legitimately debated.

      So, what did he, I mean “we”—America—do? We shot off a hundred million dollars of cruise missiles and thank God Libya’s on the coast because Tomahawks only have a range of 1300 miles.

      He—I mean “we”—sent our airpower to fuck up not only Qaddafi’s air force, but his army too, destroying tanks and artillery and stuff, under the international mandate to “protect civilians.” Oooops. Destroyed Qaddafi forces and helped the rebels. Dang. I hate when that happens.

      And hey, I have no problem with any of this, except a strong reservation that we might be helping worse guys than Qaddafi take power. I like fucking Qaddafi up by “accident.”

      But basically, the president is still acting like a candidate—everybody sucks except him. Those who offer “false choices,” Presidents Clinton and Bush 43. And Obama’s halfway measures,

      —mugwumping American exceptionalism [“Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries. The United States of America is different.”] and leadership [NATO will now take over command and control]

      —calling for Qaddafi’s ouster, but leaving the military situation balanced and precarious. Now that Obama has called for Qaddafi to be brought to [international] justice, what choice does the Colonel have but to fight to the death?

      Me, I think President Obama will get lucky on this; it’s a pooch that can’t be screwed, at least in the short term, since Qaddafi sucks. And the French, America’s premier frenemy, are really into this one. Sarkozy’s invoking 1789 and the French Revolution, and it was Bernard-Henri Lévy, noted Eurodouchebag, who talked him into this!

      Obama’s so in the clear, just the way he likes it.

      What happens in the end, who cares? Qaddafi falls, Qaddafi survives. Whatever. The important thing is that Obama was right all along, and his critics—both the real and the fabricated—are wrong.

      I agree, Mr. Jaybird. It was a good speech. That’s what the man’s best at. And I don’t really have a problem with what he’s done. I have a big problem with how he’s once again set us Americans against each other, the Obamaway or the highway.

      Because I’ll bet Hillary’s steaming about now, how BHO just thoroughly ill-used Bill Clinton for his own aggrandizement. Frenemies all, in ObamaWorld. Me, I don’t like living in it.

      God bless America.

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      • “Some,” like fucking who? Typical Obama strawman.

        No, that would be the fucking Arabs. That’s who. Our name stinks, the very word Democracy stinks in Arabic. Maybe it hasn’t occurred to you that the world is sick of American troops coming into situations they don’t understand to fuck things up worse than ever.

        There is no such thing as principled opposition.

        Like who? Boehner and his little catamite Michael Steel? Too little, too late. Dude, you’re not old enough to remember Eisenhower’s close to the vest strategy or clever enough to see how Obama’s emulating it to a T. Obama has plenty of principled opposition to this Libyan intervention in the form of SecDef Gates and the Pentagon, who hates it like homemade sin. They insisted on getting UN and NATO buy-in for this little fun-filled adventure, they got, now Obama’s letting them define the parameters. We may all thank God that barking idiot McCain is not in charge of this operation.

        Hillary Clinton, stung by her palsy-walsy talk about Mubarak’s family, was just snubbed by the Egyptians. This was her chance to get involved on the side of the angels. So it looks like you and the Hildebeest are singing the same song.

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        • “Some who…”; “those who…” is a typical speechmaking conceit. It’s typical of Obama, but not unique to him. Speechmaking, especially this sub-genre of the Speech to the Nation to Justify Military Action isn’t discourse pursuant to inquiry. It’s High Persuasion. It’s damn-near, if not actually, propaganda. It’s not that masquerading as something else. It’s that. On it’s face. You take your position and address stated criticisms based on their content. You don’t cite who said what – that’s for papers and blogs and even official policy announcements and press releases. There are no hyperlinks in this context. If you single people out, you are essentially picking political fights that are not germane to the occasion. Those can be had later the same day, or are likely already underway.

          You may hate all of this, but don’t pretend Obama invented it.

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          • Obama couldn’t come straight out and say “The Arabs and the Russians and plenty of people in my own administration are now very concerned about what will follow on Qadhafi, but they shouldn’t worry cause I, Obama the Great ‘n Powerful have all this shit figgered out and don’t you worry your little heads about such things, this won’t turn into another goddamn Somalia, trust me here.”

            Of course Obama had to admit there were people who are worried about what’s going to survive this brush fire. If he didn’t say such things, they would think he wasn’t listening and that’s why Obama made the point.

            I read now the USA has brought in A-10 and Spectre C-130 gunships. That’s Fallujah-esque hardware. Whatever Obama is saying about protecting civilians ‘n suchlike, NATO has decided to make this fight a serious ultra-slap from which Qadhafi will not quickly recover. NATO has the excellent example of lifting the siege of Sarajevo, another mighty and completely necessary bitch-slap from the air. NATO waited for a year after that before it entered the erstwhile Yugoslavia, letting the Bosnians settle scores on their own before intervening, and I’m betting that’s how this will play out, too.

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        • “Dude, you’re not old enough to remember Eisenhower’s close to the vest strategy or clever enough to see how Obama’s emulating it to a T. ”
          If Barry’s ’emulating’ anyone, it’s GW…ha,ha,ha! However, I’ll give Barry this, he ain’t a ‘real’ commie-Dem until he gets about 50,000 American troops slaughtered. But, give him time, give him time.

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      • Dude, you know who talked Sarkozy into this? Marie Le Pen. Specifically, the fact that even the Front National is polling better than Sarko made it seem like a good idea. And, hey, he seems to have gotten a boost in the polls from it. The French like short impatient leaders going to to war in other countries.

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  8. I don’t see Sullivan saying anything other than “It was a bad idea, but it seems so far to be working. Let’s hope for the best.” I might have said the same thing about Iraq, if there had ever been one fishing moment when it seemed to be working.

    Would y’all like him better if he were Limbaugh-ishly hoping Obama falls on his ass? Funny how hoping for the failure of our troops is OK so long as you’re not a liberal.

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    • I’m not hoping for failure, and now I can put you in just the same basket as the right wingers who say the same thing about me.

      What I’m hoping for is that, this one time, we’re lucky. I already know, for an absolute fact, that military interventions (1) often cost more than expected (2) often produce geopolitical complications we can’t predict (3) almost always threaten civil liberties at home and (4) only sometimes achieve their stated goals, if they even have any.

      But I’m hoping now, on each of those points, that we play the bad odds and win anyway.

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  9. My bad — I meant to reply directly to E.D’s post, as a response to the reflexive Obama- and Sullivan-haters in general.

    I think this is one of the rare instances in which you and I are pretty much in agreement.

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  10. My disagreement with Jason on Libya has had me thinking hard about my understanding of the ethical use of military force. I used to think I was a pacifist, because I abhor human suffering and death resulting from violence.

    But I think I’m not a pacifist. I just abhor human suffering and death resulting from violence. Therefore, any military intervention that can be reasonably expected to reduce death and human suffering, rather than increase it, may be justified. If we can go from “reasonably expected” to “virtually certain,” then we also go from “may be justified” to “is compulsory on all capable nations.”

    It is almost impossible, however, to really get to “virtually certain.” To navigate the foggy area of reasonable expectations, we have to craft foreign policy and stick to it. We have to commit to mutual support agreements and stick to those. We have to support multinational bodies that possess a modicum of authority over what violence is justified to stop worse violence, and what violence is only going to make a situation worse, and we have to pay at least some respect to the decisions of that body.

    Applying this principle to the various conflicts we have seen has led me to the following pre-war/post-war stances:

    Afghanistan: A military action to make it clear that we, along with most of the rest of the world, hold the sovereign government of a nation responsible for groups organized under its protection on its soil. Full attention to this war (instead of the diversion of Iraq) might have brought a better result, but failing to prosecute the Taliban leaders of Afghanistan was reasonably likely to result in future attacks on the U.S. and other Western and Westernized nations.

    Iraq: An action to destroy stockpiles of WMDs that the ruler of Iraq had made clear he intended to use against U.S. interests. This was the only acceptable justification for the violent invasion of Iraq. Another pre-war reason that was given was preventing terrorists from using Iraq like Afghanistan, but this was a lie told to get more people on-board the war train. Other reasons, such as securing Iraqi oil, creating a base for American military presence in the region, establishing a democracy, were all, even taken together, not acceptable justification for that war. So, I supported it going in, explicitly for the WMD reason alone, and not very forcefully, saying that I suspected our government was lying about the WMDs just to get something else (I understood the “something else” poorly at the time). Once it was revealed that the government DID lie to us, by creating a culture of lying to itself and therefore shirking its duty to us and our soldiers especially, the war was revealed to be a horrible mistake. A mistake we should have removed ourselves from as effectively as possible, without regard to those other interests that looked like pretty good justifications after the fact. There’s plenty to criticize in that view in terms of practicality, but my position is not purely utilitarian, and a war found to be unjust should be disengaged with the minimum further loss of human life and dignity.

    Libya: An intervention of limited scope to prevent the massacre of rebels by overwhelmingly better equipped forces. The policy of getting international agreement was followed, and the goal was explicitly aimed at reducing overall loss of life. And note that the “rebels” were made rebellious by the brutal massacre of many of their compatriots for the act of protesting peacefully. This was not the violent rebellion of ideologues, but rather an attempt to save lives. Blowing up a single tank or helicopter in this kind of one-sided conflict almost certainly saves the lives of many more than the pilots lost. Some of the rebels are likely torturing and murdering their enemies in some situations, and this is wrong. It happens in every war, on one side or the other or both, and should be seen as a likely result of engaging in armed conflict when the tally of reasonable expectations is made. This is a very good argument for not committing ground troops. I think Obama has carved out exactly the right balance here, whether or not it works out as planned.

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