America, Forever At War

~by Elias Isquith

James Joyner’s got a piece up at The Atlantic called “How Perpetual War Became U.S. Ideology” — and it’s a total disaster. From start-to-finish, the article is ill-conceived and under-thought and it strains under the weight of a rhetorical construct of unfair equivocations and a misreading of American history. The general thrust of Joyner’s article is that the neoconservatives on the right and the humanitarian interventionists on the left are essentially interchangeable strains of the same dominant foreign policy ideology that has dictated American decision-making for nearly twenty years. He doesn’t give us a pithy catch-phrase to describe this two-headed hydra of international meddling, but he defines it as being in-contrast to the realism that, supposedly, determined policy prior to and up until President Clinton.

So if you’ll allow me a long-ish post, I’d like to tackle what I see as the fundamental mistakes of the piece.

First, we have the idea that there’s basically no difference between neoconservatism and liberal interventionism. To his credit, Joyner airs what would be the most obvious and immediate counterpoint, expressed by Jim Arkedis,

The Progressive Policy Institute’s Jim Arkedis, who describes himself as a “progressive internationalist,” calls this notion of a neocon-liberal alliance “bunk.” Neocons, according to Arkedis, “disdain multilateral diplomacy and overestimate the efficacy of military force” in a way that “saps the economic, political, and moral sources of American influence.” He adds, “Though our ends are similar, our thresholds for intervention, our military methodology, and our justifications for action could not be more different.”

To this, Joyner responds,

But are neoconservatives and liberal interventionists really so different? Neoconservative bastions like the Weekly Standard, Commentary, and the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies are passionate advocates of spreading American values. In Iraq, the toppling of Saddam Hussein and discovery that there was no WMD program to speak of were both accomplished in the first weeks of the war and with a relative handful of American casualties. If these had been our chief concerns we would have left immediately; the apparent U.S. goals in staying on so many years were democracy promotion and nation-building, both ideals the neoconservative White House leadership shared with liberal interventionists.

Further, while neocons are doubtless less patient than liberal interventionists when it comes to exhausting diplomatic options and achieving international consensus, what does it really matter if the end result is the same either way: military action.

Let’s work backwards on this one. To say that the differences between neocons and liberal interventionists are negligible because the end result is “the same either way” is an enormous leap, and I think it’s somewhat remarkable that Joyner feels comfortable making it without further buttressing his point. It’s as if saying both the bully and the bullied are equally morally culpable since self-defense and unprovoked attacks both result in conflict. Further, Joyner brushes aside the painstaking consensus-building central to liberal interventionism as merely an act of greater “patience” that neoconservatives forego. The underlying assumption here seems to be that the substance itself of a military action is not intimately determined by the processes that lead to its enacting. The example of the recent war in Iraq vs. the bombing campaign in Libya should be enough to show that, whatever the latter’s faults, it most certainly has not been “the same” result as what was seen in Baghdad.

And, of course going rather unmentioned by Joyner is the fact that perhaps the two most important thinkers driving our policy of intervention in Libya — President Obama and Senior Director for Multilateral Affairs Samantha Power — happened to, despite being liberal interventionists, oppose the Iraq invasion from the very start. It significantly clouds Joyner’s argument, then, (as well as the realities of contemporary elite foreign policy debate) to imply otherwise.

Moving on, when Joyner says that the “apparent U.S. goals [in Iraq] were democracy promotion and nation-building” he gives George W. Bush entirely too much credit while granting his audience far too little. Yes, there was a time when Bush spent a great amount of political capital arguing that we must “stay the course” in Iraq in order to plant the seed of democracy in the Middle East; but that was merely one of seemingly dozens of excuses and explanations for our continued presence that Bush and company cooked up. As was obvious to most of us from the first moments that it was clear no WMD were going to be found, Bush stayed in Iraq because either 1.) conditions in the country had become so chaotic that an American withdrawal could destabilize the entire region, 2.) the President refused to implicitly acknowledge his enormous, near-criminal mistake and concede defeat or 3.) a little bit of both. The fact that the people who got us into Iraq to begin with so constantly shifted the goal-posts when it came to necessary conditions for our departure tells us all we need to know as to their intellectual sincerity.

Lastly — and this is probably where Joyner travels furthest astray — is the idea that the neoconservatives and liberal interventionists are two peas in a pod because both “are passionate advocates of spreading American values.” If this is to be accepted, then the question arises: was Thomas Jefferson a neoconservative or a liberal interventionist? How about Alexander Hamilton? James Monroe? Andrew Jackson? James K. Polk? Or how about McKinley? By that criteria, nearly every major figure in American foreign policy since the founding, then, could credibly be assigned to one side or the other of the now all-encompassing neocon/interventionist dichotomy. Because America’s been passionately advocating its values since the earliest days of the republic (just look at the sheer number of conflicts here that could be credibly described as being values-based). Whether adopting a policy international relations experts would call “realist” or “Wilsonian” or the like, American Presidents have always framed their decisions in such language.

Joyner attempts to side-step this enormously problematic fact of history by arguing that even if all of American rhetoric sounds the same, he knows which of our constant invasions were really the result of neocon/interventionist thinking and which were more pure, sharp-minded displays of realism. Though convenient, it’s not especially convincing,

Starting with the 1991 Gulf War, however, despite the end of the Cold War, we’ve had two decades of non-stop fighting: Somalia in 1992, Haiti in 1994, Bosnia in 1995, Serbia-Kosovo in 1999, Afghanistan starting in 2001, and Iraq again from 2003. With Libya, we’ve added another U.S. war.

Ideologically, the George H.W. Bush administration should not have been inclined toward military intervention. Bush senior was a reluctant intervener, the National Security Council was guided by eminent realist Brent Scowcroft, and Colin Powell, the author of an eponymous doctrine that urges extreme caution in going to war, headed up the Joint Chiefs. And yet the administration launched three major military operations in its four-year term: the Panama invasion (derided by many as Operation Just ‘Cause), the first Gulf War, and the Somalia intervention.

But all three of those missions were at least ostensibly tied to U.S. national interests. As odd as the Panama invasion seems in hindsight, earning the derisive nickname “Operation Just ‘Cause,” at the time, it was justified within the realist goals of safeguarding U.S. personnel in country, combating drug trafficking, and protecting the Panama Canal. The first Gulf War was, at its heart, about preventing Saddam Hussein from gaining control of more than half the world’s oil supply. And Bush envisioned Somalia as a purely humanitarian relief mission; it morphed into warlord hunting and nation building under his successor.

After briefly noting that the United States was intervening in Latin America, African, and Middle Eastern affairs in the 1980s under Reagan — and that Bush’s policies in that regard were truly nothing new — we should take a moment to reflect that the line-up of “national interests” Joyner lists there are rather thin. Certainly a “humanitarian relief mission” or an assault with “protecting the Panama Canal” in mind are no more able to withstand scrutiny on realist grounds than those arguments put forth by the President to justify the campaign in Libya. It’s not as if, in his speech on the matter, Obama didn’t do all he could to make the argument that a Gaddafi massacre would destabilize the region and threaten our national interests. Similarly, Clinton’s arguments in favor of the bombing campaign in the former Yugoslavia in part centered around a citing of national interests.

I’m not saying these were wars of national interest; I’m merely saying that all Presidents say as much prior to giving the go-ahead. H.W. Bush’s excuses are no more convincing than those of B.H. Obama.

Why does this matter? Well, maybe it doesn’t. But I think it does because it’s yet another example of those on the right trying to spread the blame to liberals for their own mistakes and thus delay any real accountability. This seems to be a habit of Joyner’s, unfortunately; and in truth, the tactic far more offensive when he uses it in defense of war crimes perpetrated by a Republican White House. But though it’s not as unfortunate when launched in defense of “realism,” this kind of obfuscation and white-washing may be more pernicious. Because rather than discredit the preemptive war-making at the heart of neoconservative foreign policy, Joyner here takes perilous steps towards tarring the entire international human rights apparatus with Iraq’s bloody brush.

 

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346 thoughts on “America, Forever At War

  1. So the bottom line is that Barry can involve us in a foreign conflict/war like Bush did but somehow Barry is still better that Bush? I guess that bombing for the children is somehow better than bombing for other reason, as least when rationalized by liberals?

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      • Please, if you have to bring up FDR and all the others you are clearly trying way too hard to make your point. Perhaps I’m too simple but if Bush’s foreign involvements are to be criticized then why not Barry’s? What is it about bombing a sovereign nation that has not harmed the US that makes what Barry is doing any more legal than what Bush did? Is it b/c we are helping freedom fighters or stopping a humanitarian crisis, the usual liberal cause célèbre?

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        • What is it about bombing a sovereign nation that has not harmed the US that makes what BarryObama is doing any more legal than what Bush did?
          Um, a UN mandate?

          if Bush’s foreign involvements are to be criticized then why not Barry’s?Obama’s?
          The huge difference between the situation in Iraq c.2003 and Libya c.2011?

          You can legitimately argue against intervention in both situations, but to say that they’re the same is really dumb.

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          • Super:

            I see Barry’s UN Libya mandate and I’ll raise with Bush’s Iraq War Resolution passed by the US Congress. Surely that beats a UN mandate? Neither one is a lawful declaration of war so you can take both pieces of paper, .50 and get a cup of coffee.

            Just for us simple folks maybe you can tell us what “the huge difference between the situation in Iraq c.2003 and Libya c.2011” actually is. You allude to the difference but seem to assume that everyone should know what it is. The folks we killed are just as dead no matter why we killed them.

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            • Scott,

              Agree with you for the most part on the legality issues, but the differences between Iraq and Libya are so obvious that I don’t see why they need to be specifically referenced, or have we all forgotten “shock and awe” and the 24-hour media circus that went on for weeks on end, or that no-one has falsely (not to mention hypocritically) accused Gadaffi of WMD programs, etc.

              I still don’t like it, but if I may indulge in a little moral relativism it doesn’t seem quite as bad this time around.

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            • 1) if you can’t see the difference between a UN Mandate agreed amongst many nations as opposed to a War Resolution approved by a bunch of domestic politicians scared of being labelled un-patriotic, then that is your problem (i.e. this shouldn’t even be a point of contention for sane people); and I would also point out the limited nature of the UN resolution (you would be on firmer ground attacking some of the NATO actions taken recently).

              2) I’m really not going to bother ennumerating the differences between Iraq and Libya, because if you cannot see them for yourself you probably need help. I would be more charitable, but the fact I’m arguing with someone who is happy to describe President Obama as “barry” makes me very inclined not to bother.

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              • I used to describe President Bush “Dumb W. Ass,” so I don’t get too bent out of shape when people have unkind nicknames for presidents they don’t like.

                “A UN mandate agreed among many nations,” to me, translates into “a bunch of states — executive committees of their domestic ruling classes, and caught up in the neoliberal system — kowtowing to the global hegemon in its enforcement of a global political-economic order.” IOW, you might not like how the sausage was made in any of those other countries, either.

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      • Well, I’m tempted to think so based on Gabriel Kolko’s analysis in *The Politics of War*. In organizing occupied territories in W. Europe and the Pacific Rim, FDR/Truman generally dispossessed Leftist resistance movements from their gains on the ground and then installed provisional governments headed by fascist collaborators.

        And Chomsky has presented a lot of useful material on the neoliberal motives behind removing Milosevec from power. They didn’t like worker self-managed socialism in Yugoslavia any more than Yeltsin and his backers liked in the USSR (I’d seriously like to see the cable traffic from the Moscow CIA station before the attempted coup against Gorby).

        Believe me, not all critics of “liberal” interventionism are doing so from the Right, or in defense of Bush’s war crimes. Some of us are doing it from the Left, and fucking hate Bush (at least) as much as Clinton or Obama.

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    • No, the bottom line is that James Joyner wrote a dishonest article (then again, this is ‘The Megan McArdle Atlantic Monthly’).

      I find this to be a frequent right-wing line. IMHO, it’s because the interventions from right-wing politicians have been so disastrous that the right has to roll out the standard ‘both sides do it’ rhetoric.

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  2. What do you make of the somewhat weaker claim that the power structure of the executive itself encourages intervention — such that regardless of the president’s stated ideology, the temptation is just too great?

    I find the thesis attractive, but I’m not sure it’s been well-tested. While GWB talked well in his first campaign about no nation-building, he also surrounded himself with quite a few neocons, and then 9/11 Changed Everything. This was not the right presidency to make into a test case.

    I think you’re at your strongest when you go after the “alliance” metaphor — it doesn’t make sense here. But to this results-oriented voter who would just like to see fewer wars one way or the other, the functionality of the two parties is still depressingly close. Isn’t it?

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  3. I think Amerca’s modern wars have been fought for three reasons: for ideological reasons (fighting the Nazi, Communists), for national interests (Panama, Grenada), and a combination of ideology/national interest (Iraq, Persan Gulf, Libya, Afghanistan).
    The ‘real’ reasons for wars may be complex and perhaps sometimes hidden. For example in my own perfervid and feverish right-wing mind I’ve always thought the Iraq war was Pres. Bush’s response to the wacky Saddam’s efforts in Oklahoma City (at least Ms. Davis makes a very persuasive case for it).

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      • Actually, Jayna Davis, the author of The Third Terrorist does, and I’m believing the young lady’s got the evidence. Maybe a joint Iraq/Iran Special Forces operation, funded by Al Qaeda money outta the Phillipines. McVeigh and Nichols where simply mules.
        History tells us, if you mess with people (Gulf War I) and leave them standing, there’s payback/blowback.
        They don’t like their leaders assassinated either.

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            • I confess not.

              Let’s discard for a minute the text itself, it might be interesting. What I’m asking is more along the lines of the next layer of abstraction.

              Why do you find Ms. Davis to be a credible source of information? Given the fact that this seems to be a very extraordinary claim, why would you give Ms. Davis the gravitas to start reading the book in the first place?

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              • Pat, here’s the website: http://jaynadavis.com/

                I’ve found Ms. Davis to be a direct, honest, and no nonsense journalist. She’s a hardworking, determined, relentless in acquiring evidence, and an excellent writer. The story of her investigations and clashes with the gummint are nearly as interesting as the truth of the events on April 19, 1995.

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                • Every attempt to link Saddam Hussein or any other Arab to the OK City has failed to pan out. Saddam Hussein hated Al Qaeda and kept his Palestinians on a very short leash. Saddam kept several other Palestinian terrorists in his little zoo, notably Abu Nidal, but he didn’t use them in any of his operations, preferring his own tribally-oriented mukhabarat.

                  The Palestinians were causes célèbres in Saddam’s Iraq. He built them a series of apartments along the Airport Road in Baghdad. When the winds changed after 9/11 and it appeared the Americans were declaring war on those regimes which harbored terrorists, Saddam had Abu Nidal shot as a goodwill gesture, not that it helped much.

                  Saddam Hussein was many things, but he had no use for terrorists or their tactics. Oh, he tolerated them, as Assad père et fils have long tolerated them, but Saddam knew they could not be controlled to his own ends.

                  Every incident such as OK City, 9/11 or the 7/7 attacks leaves loose threads behind, but poor old Hussain Hashem al-Hussaini was not such a thread. It just doesn’t make sense. Had Hussaini been anyone of consequence, he would have stayed close to power in Iraq and not gotten mixed up in McVeigh’s revenge for the Waco fiasco. McVeigh was a white supremacist and would never have colluded with an Iraqi.

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                • Bob:

                  Direct and no-nonsense have nothing to do with reliability. Neither does hardworking or being an excellent writer. Being determined can be a two-edged sword; determined people can get a lot of stuff done, but determined people can be susceptible to cognitive bias and groupthink.

                  You throw “honest” in there, but why? What test of honesty has she passed that rates this judgment on your part?

                  Clashing with government is easy, dude. The JPL scientists are clashing with the government right now over their background checks. They’re also direct and no-nonsense, they’re certainly hard working and determined. Writing, well, technical scientists aren’t necessarily great copy producers, but within the scope of their responsibility, they do all right.

                  All those JPL guys are all global warming proponents. Moreover, some of them are actual climatologists and geophysicists, whereas Ms. Davis is a reporter and not a counter-terrorism practitioner herself. They meet all of your criteria for “people to listen to”, plus bonus.

                  So do you accept their judgment regarding AGW?

                  If not, why do you rate them as less credible sources than Ms. Davis?

                  This is what I mean by “scale for evaluating evidence”. How does Bob Cheeks rate experts?

                  And how does Bob Cheeks’ rating system for experts account for masses of experts that believe things that Bob Cheeks doesn’t believe?

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                  • Oh my, ‘experts!’
                    I once asked the Columbiana County Prosecutor in a trial, to splain to me what an ‘expert’ was. He got really pissed and started stammering and finally said, “You know Cheeks, someone who goes to college and gets himself edumacated.”
                    I always appreciated the prosecutors definition of ‘expert’.
                    Lots of ‘experts’, just like regular people, have agendas and some of them are hidden.
                    Journalists used to serve a function in society, or at least ‘good’ ones did. I like Jayna a lot, I think she’s a very good journalist who does an excellent job (she cites her sources, Pat, so you can check!). I think the function she served was to bring forward the evidence re: the Ok city bombing as she discovered it and, of course, how she interpreted it, and even more interesting was the gummint’s response to her investigative efforts. And, yes, I do think re: the Ok bombing, she’s a leading expert on the event and its aftermath.
                    Re: the JPL scientists, you got me there. I always thought ‘global’ warming/cooling was more closely related to astronomical issues then to human activity. You’ll have to forgive me, I’m rather suspicious of folks who earn their living off the gummint, whether they perform a ‘service’ or collect welfare.
                    Ms. Davis works at discovering evidence, evaluating and analyzing it, and reaching public conclusions. Now, the question is ‘what’s in her best interest’ (because folks tend to do stuff that’s in their best interests) as a reporter? If she lies and she’s discovered she looses her reputation and probably her job.
                    Now, let’s ask ourselves, ‘what’s in the best interest of gummint employed scientists in re: to ‘global warming/cooling?’ If the problem is solved, Pat, then we don’t need these people on the public payroll, they might lose their job, and also, we don’t need the gummint as much as we did (do you see a possible relationship between scientists and gummint?). Is it possible that they jumped on board Algore’s ‘global warming’-eco scare- impending catastrophe (secular apocalyptic senerios is a hobby) unless we all become commie-dems, park our Mercedes, and grow organic gardens, as a way of feathering their own nests and providing long-term employment to ‘solve’ the problem and save the Earth, bravely standing cheek-to-jowl with the gumint bureaucrat/apparatchik? Now, I don’t think ALL scientists-experts are weasels and would cheat the taxpayers like our State of Ohio collective bargaining union thugs do, but I’m pretty sure some would.
                    I remember Paul Erlich, he was a science ‘expert’ who taught at Stanford, which made him a really important scientific ‘expert.’ Paul was one confused dude.
                    Jayna, did her job, and very well, I might add! Dr. Erlich was a silly man. I think Jayna’s a much better ‘expert’ than Paul Erlich.

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                    • Tentatively no, RTod on the hierarchial thingy. It has more to do with the libido dominandi, greed, power,…all those wonderful, interesting attributes we acquired, some say, after the ‘fall.’ Shall we say the baser side of homo-erectus’s scheming, coniving grandkids, or are we Adams’s?
                      In answer to Pat’s query, to ferret out the ‘experts’ one, I should think, is required to do some intuitive work. A practicing mystic might be an expert at identifying experts.
                      Whom to trust?

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    • It’s probably a mistake to see World War II as a war fought for ideological reasons. That’s not to say that ideological reasons didn’t play a role, particularly in the war propaganda, but World War II was fought for pretty much the reasons most wars are fought, which is rarely if ever primarily ideology. The Cold War is a little more complicated, but it wasn’t just about ideology either (resources, spheres of influence, and what happens when you have two super powers with giant militaries, were more important than ideology).

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        • Versailles Treaty provided few more bullet points for the Nazi grievance list, but considering how much of WW2 was fought over the Ukraine (really a three-way war) and control of resources (petroleum, rubber, steel, coal), it might be more prudent to observe WW2 was the logical endpoint to the wars of empire which included WW1. The USSR finally got an empire for all the good it did them: it would lock the USSR into an unworkable and already-outmoded economic model.

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        • Oh yeah definitely. The armistice after WWI was fundamentally unstable, which is why the Allies insisted on unconditional surrender from both the Germans and Japanese.

          I think a real longterm view of history makes the period from 1914 to 1991 a single, protracted conflict that manifested itself in different ways in different places.

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              • Oh, I was mostly being facetious, but it’s a mistake to treat 1871 and 1914 as “qualitatively different” (not sure what that means, in this case). First, Germany took French territory, and as a result, the two were essentially in a state of “cold war” from 1872 until 1914. Remember the charges in the Dreyfus Affair? The entire French military culture was built up around an inevitable war with Germany (they wanted another war — taking back Alsace-Lorraine was an obsession in the military, and in the government). World War I, or at least a second Franco-Prussian war, was pretty much a foregone conclusion after the Treaty of Frankfurt, and that’s to say nothing of the power balance issues that the unified German state created.

                So, since World War I was in many ways a result of the Franco-Prussian War, and since World War II was in many ways a result of World War I, the Franco-Prussian War is the start of a 75 year war between France, Germany, and their allies at various points.

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                  • You know, that’s not entirely unreasonable. I don’t know a whole hell of a lot about the 30 Years War, except what was happening in the Commonwealth (’cause I really dig Sienkiewicz’ trilogy), but I do know that Lothringen (Lorraine) was one of the focuses of early German nationalism, and German nationalism was an impetus for the Franco-Prussian War.

                    Plus, we’ve already talked about Blucher and his baby elephant. So, Thirty Years War, Napoleonic Wars, Franco-Prussian War, World War I, World War II, 1982 World Cup semifinals! It all makes sense, now.

                    Plus, we’ve already talked about Blucher and his baby elephant.

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  4. Let’s presume James Joyner’s article strains under the weight of unfair equivocations etc. How could he, or anyone come to his conclusions? Perhaps we might begin with definitions. I find Joyner’s thesis compelling if you do not.
    By my definition, the Neoconservatives emerged from the disenchanted Left. They had always been the evangelists of socialist values, as Trotsky had been in his day. I’ve written a great deal on Trotsky over the years, a truly remarkable man. Stalin had him murdered. Trotsky lived in America for a while. Trotsky became a great leader of men in battle, armed with little more than his voice. Trotsky would inspire Irving Kristol, the father of Neoconservatism. Kristol watched as Trotskyism failed and coined the expression “mugged by reality.”

    In the time of Trotsky, state socialism had not yet become the engine of repression Stalin would later make of it. Irving Kristol still supported economic liberalism: if he came to support an interventionist America in the 1960s, it was in reaction to the communist appeasers still making excuses for Stalin at home (and Europe!), and the manifest troublemaking of the Communists abroad.

    Kristol supported Henry “Scoop” Jackson, a vocal anti-Communist and an advocate of American military-style diplomacy. We think of the Neocons as Republicans, but they were not so originally. Ronald Reagan would later praise the Jackson Democrats and put many of them in his administration. Reagan was himself a Democrat, famously declaring he hadn’t left the Democratic Party: it had left him.

    An accurate and dispassionate view of American Interventionism must conclude neoconservatives on the right and the humanitarian interventionists on the left are essentially interchangeable strains of the same dominant foreign policy ideology. There is no other possible conclusion: they are literally the same people.

    Putting aside the pedigree of modern American Interventionism for the moment and examining the record of Thomas Jefferson to see if he was a neoconservative or a liberal interventionist, few people in history have proven so contradictory in the written record.

    “Let the General Government be reduced to foreign concerns only, and let our affairs be disentangled from those of all other nations, except as to commerce, which the merchants will manage the better, the more they are left free to manage for themselves, and our General Government may be reduced to a very simple organization, and a very inexpensive one; a few plain duties to be performed by a few servants.”

    But let the Barbary Pirates arise, then it’s “Millions for defense, not one cent for tribute!” How times change, Mr. Jefferson. It seems, like Irving Kristol, Jefferson was “mugged by reality”.

    Bush43’s War on Iraq might have been promulgated on entirely truthful grounds: that Saddam was murdering his Kurds and paying the families of Palestinian suicide bombers, families who parenthetically refused Saddam’s ghoulish blood money in their horror and grief. Bush43’s long and embarrassing history of lies culminated in the Dodgy Dossier and the embarrassment of our Secretary of State, Colin Powell, being greeted with hoots of derision for presenting a pack of lies to the United Nations.

    War crimes were committed and they were covered up as well. We cannot lay them all at Bush43’s doorstep but those who wage prescriptive wars must also remember everything can be delegated but responsibility.

    Every war is its own problem domain, from precursors to postwar fallout: we cannot compare one war to another. That which passes, passes like clouds: today’s Big Hot Button Issue is tomorrow’s trivia question.

    In trying to tease apart the fibers of American Interventionism, tarring all who dare to intervene with the same brush, Clinton’s wars were characterized by a brutal pragmatism utterly lacking in Bush43, mostly in the war Clinton did not fight in Rwanda. Clinton waited over a year before whacking the besiegers of Sarajevo and let the dust settle for another year before putting the 1st Armored Division into Bosnia. Clinton did not invade Afghanistan: when he did lash out, the GOP rose to their hind legs with one accord and screamed “Monica! Monica! Wag the dog!”

    Mugged by reality. Bush43 ignored foreign policy until the morning of 9/11, openly scornful of national building. He ignored the Israeli/Palestinian problem. He wanted his tax cuts and his education policy and he got those and then he played a lot of golf. Took more breaks than even Reagan. When those planes plowed into our skyscrapers and the Pentagon, he and all his advisors broke out in a rash of assholes. As panic and fear rushed in the front door, reason and truth and pragmatism escaped out the back door.

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    • Brutal pragmatism can have its place.

      In fact, if we could agree to all use brutal pragmatism as the baseline goal for success, we’d probably be okay. Moral arguments aside.

      But the American public only responds to brutal pragmatism with fickle attention; sometimes, it cheers, other times it fires up the opponent’s base, and still other times it is apathetically silent and allows the war to be used as a low grade political football wherein brutal pragmatism suddenly becomes *not* the metric for success, and then we wind up with military decisions being made for home-grown political reasons, which is wretchedly disgusting and creates all sorts of bad outcomes.

      Why we fail is an important study, granted. But many of the factors in “why we fail” are predictable in a gross sense but non-deterministic. We know sometimes the American public will give the President 10 poll points if he brings troops home. We don’t know in any given intervention if the President is going to whore out his military objectives for 10 points.

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      • I am no Armchair General, though I often come across as one and it is truly the very worst thing about me. Once I was an Idealist who was more than merely Mugged by Reality. I was betrayed. I became a useful idiot. I understand the neoconservatives: I was one. In my anger and dismay, I suppose you might call me a Neo-Liberal, to coin a phrase. I would love to say I am a brutal pragmatist but I am not. Law and sausages: I saw the sausage factory, worked in it for a while, but it did not cure me of my idealism.

        With the exception of a truly defensive war, what moral basis is there for war? Every “aggressor” begins with a litany of grievances. I simply can’t resist the urge to insert Ambrose Bierce’s definition:

        A by-product of the arts of peace. The most menacing political condition is a period of international amity. The student of history who has not been taught to expect the unexpected may justly boast himself inaccessible to the light. “In time of peace prepare for war” has a deeper meaning than is commonly discerned; it means, not merely that all things earthly have an end — that change is the one immutable and eternal law — but that the soil of peace is thickly sown with the seeds of war and singularly suited to their germination and growth. It was when Kubla Khan had decreed his “stately pleasure dome” — when, that is to say, there were peace and fat feasting in Xanadu — that he

        heard from afar
        Ancestral voices prophesying war.

        One of the greatest of poets, Coleridge was one of the wisest of men, and it was not for nothing that he read us this parable. Let us have a little less of “hands across the sea,” and a little more of that elemental distrust that is the security of nations. War loves to come like a thief in the night; professions of eternal amity provide the night.

        Why do we fail? This question supposes there is a standard for success. Jus in Bello demands some prospective measure of success, some acceptable proof the solution isn’t worse than the problem. By these standards, each war would require its own justification. Perhaps we ought to look at war rather like a bed sore, or arthritis, some continuing provocation requiring continuing intervention. Once a bed sore starts, it’s almost impossible to heal and requires aggressive treatment.

        By dealing with the underlying provocations at face value, we might be able to avoid war, limit its scope and duration and plan for the aftermath. Like I said, anyone can be an Armchair General. Treating a bedsore is a lot less glamorous, but that’s the best metaphor I can come up with from where I sit.

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        • The military is a broadsword. It is not a scalpel.

          People dream of surgical use of the military to remove a cancerous growth… but, really, it’s only good at amputation (and that’s an iffy prospect in its own right).

          And people keep being surprised that trying to use it surgically results in… well, stuff like Iraq. Or Afghanistan. Or Libya.

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          • Zackly. More like a blunt axe, inexpertly wielded by a stupid executioner. Some of those beheadings were truly godawful. One tale says ten blows of the axe were required at the beheading of Margaret Pole at the Tower of London in 1541. Another says it was eleven: she was hit in the shoulder, rose up from the block screaming and ran around, chased by the executioner.

            War takes many forms and all of them are iffy. Most of what passes for the justification of war is the usual litany of nihilistic grievance one can hear from any two-bit gangito down in Compton. And as with the problem of gangsters, the solution usually resolves to effective law enforcement and the attenuation of underlying issues. I don’t want wimpy cops or wimpy soldiers either one. I want the rule of law and the consent of the governed, a free press and free elections. The rest will take care of itself.

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            • If I don’t like that analogy, it is for this reason only:

              Let’s make a hypothetical of a really, really good executioner. One who practices every day. 8 hours a day chopping wood practicing strength, accuracy, and followthrough. Someone who devotes himself to the task.

              Now: would this particular executioner be any better at removal of a tumor?

              That is not what an axe is for.

              An axe is for chopping.

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              • Better and better. Our well-trained executioner has no skill at tumor-removing but he’s also proven a mighty boon to modern medicine. Where else will surgeons perfect the arts of reviving our heroic executioner from blood loss, brain injury, gunshot and shrapnel wounds, or his wife’s injuries when he comes home and beats her nigh unto death? The psychiatrists are doing land office business, dealing with the tsunami of PTSD afflicted veterans. Or law enforcement, when he takes to drink and drugs, as happens to so many veterans? ( I speak from personal experience on that one, and eaten off the sheriff’s tin tray, too) One-third of homeless people in this country are veterans. Such contributions to our society should not go un-noticed.

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    • I will say Mr Blaise, that often it’s hard as all heck to unpack what you write, but I really liked this:

      Every war is its own problem domain, from precursors to postwar fallout: we cannot compare one war to another. That which passes, passes like clouds: today’s Big Hot Button Issue is tomorrow’s trivia question

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      • Johannes Kepler, who finally corrected Copernicus and established the laws of planetary motion left this apology in the tabular data of Astronomia Nova:

        If thou art bored with this wearisome method of calculation, take pity on me, who had to go through with at least seventy repetitions of it, at a very great loss of time

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    • As you know I’m with the founders re: foreign policy and at odds with your radical, statist postion. I’m thinkin’ there’s damn few good/rational reasons to send American teens to deserts and jungles to get eviserated and killed. Least of all for some half-assed ideological belief like taking ‘democracy’ to whoever, or saving them from commie-rats.
      Your analysis/critique of TJ falls short because he never implied there wouldn’t be a reason to go kill our third world brothers should they dare mess with our trade, just that he didn’t think it would be all that often/necessary. He was right, of course.

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      • Every analysis of Jefferson’s foreign policy shows he wanted to be neutral as far as it lay in his power. After Independence, American shipping began to fly the Stars and Stripes and lost the protection of the British fleet in the Mediterranean. We paid tribute for a while, in 1795 we paid a million dollars for 115 American sailors, then about 20% of our national budget.

        Churches would routinely take up collections for paying the Barbary Pirates, the situation was so bad. John Adams, craven little man, advised the payments should continue and wrung his hands, though he did manage to convince a skeptical Congress to build six warships. John Jay, an American hero who never gets enough credit in these things, tried to negotiate with the Tripoli pirates, who said Islam allowed them to take such slaves.

        Bad had come to worse: it wasn’t until the Americans put up a fight that anyone else did. The other nations of Europe just bought off the pirates. Nor did the problem of piracy go away, even after the first Barbary War.

        The fact is, Jefferson wasn’t thinking clearly back when he wrote the Federal government would be cheap. Nor are the current crop of wooly-headed thinkers who believe the same. Not until the end of the war of 1812 did anyone take our nation seriously. What the Barbary Wars had done for our navy, the War of 1812 did for our Army. Where once it was a scraggly, ill-paid and ill-led bunch of state militias, it had become a unified force, capable of beating the British invaders on land.

        When it comes to half-assery and Ideological Idiots, you cannot improve on the early Federalists. They were Mugged by Reality, plain and simple, when they weren’t being mugged by pirates or letting the White House get burned. There were excellent reasons then and there are plenty now for sending American Teens into deserts and jungles: the USA has never lacked for enemies willing to exploit our unwillingness to stand up and fight. It is only a question of what sort of war we must fight, as Clausewitz taught the world.

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        • “When it comes to half-assery and Ideological Idiots, you cannot improve on the early Federalists.”
          Oh my, Bp, you work so assiduously to lift up the current ideological deformation/statist regime as a normative polity, rather than the near perfect example of a political grotesquery that it is.
          I don’t think, IMO, there were any better executives, with their flaws, constitutional conficts, missteps, etc than the first four or five presidents. It sure as hell went down hill after that.
          Put down your Howard Zinn’s “The Peoples History of the US” and join us on Jesus’s side of the river.

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          • With you, Robert, I am put in mind of that little puzzle about the Pilgrim to Jerusalem. At the fork of a road stand two brothers. One will always lie, the other will always tell the truth. One road leads to Jerusalem, the other to Hell.

            The pilgrim is allowed to ask one brother one question. How can he phrase the question so he can go to Jerusalem.

            “Which road will your brother tell me to take to get to Jerusalem?” is the question. Then take the other road.

            And thus it is with you, Robert. All that needs asking to determine the sanity of any given position is “What shall Robert Cheeks say of it?” Then choose the other side of the argument.

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        • Not until the end of the war of 1812 did anyone take our nation seriously. What the Barbary Wars had done for our navy, the War of 1812 did for our Army. Where once it was a scraggly, ill-paid and ill-led bunch of state militias, it had become a unified force, capable of beating the British invaders on land.

          Hehe…

          The war did garner respect for the U.S. in Europe, but the bit about the army is chuckle-worthy.

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            • Yeah, one major victory against a significant British force, after the war was over, when the bulk of the British military was busy fighting a much more formidable foe on another continent, doesn’t inspire much confidence. I doubt it seriously affected the perception of the U.S. army, particularly since it was fought largely by irregulars: Lafitte’s pirates, militia from 3 different states, and Native Americans. I’ve never seen anything to suggest that after the War of 1812, the American land forces were suddenly respected by anyone, except perhaps anyone thinking of trying to invade U.S. territory while fighting total war half a world away at the same time.

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              • The Americans did a fine job at Lake Champlain and New York State. And you can quit the obtuse pedantry this minute: the entire North American continent was in play. Jefferson managed to get the Louisiana Purchase from Napoleon, who’d just gotten it from Spain. William Henry Harrison beat down Tecumseh, the only real Native American competition we ever faced.

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                • Except Plattsburgh was primarily a naval victory. The American navy, particularly on the rivers and lakes, faired quite well in that war. They had experience. The American army was a joke.

                  As for your history lesson about where we got the land, I haven’t the slightest clue what that has to do with whether the army performed well enough to earn respect in that war. But I hadn’t heard of this Louisiana Purchase thingie before, so thanks for bringing it to my attention.

                  Seriously, though, I’ll stop being “obtusely pedantic” when you point to one historical source that suggests that the U.S. army (not navy) became a respected force as a result of its performance in the War of 1812. One source. I’m willing to believe there’s one out there. I’ll wait (and no, telling me an anecdote about your time in Zimbabwe curing polio and killing pirates doesn’t count as an historical source on the War of 1812).

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  5. > It’s as if saying both the bully and the bullied are
    > equally morally culpable since self-defense and
    > unprovoked attacks both result in conflict.

    Not really.

    There are three groups of kids on the playground. The masses, who just want to play dodgeball or hopscotch or whatever, the bullies, who want some of the masses to play *their* particular game that’s structured so that they win all the time, and the knights in shining armor, who get off on bully-busting and the adoration that they receive from their acts of do-goodieness. Which they try and execute only when the teacher is watching, of course, for maximal payoff.

    But after the single incident of bully-busting occurs, the knights then saunter off and let the bullies, who are now not only bullies but irritated that they just got busted in front of the playground monitor, turn around tomorrow and steal little Billy’s pokemon cards.

    The analogy is bad, because nobody dies. It’s also misleading, because just as often we’re aligning with one bully to beat up another one, and then we leave the third graders with bully #2 ensconced to lord it over ’em.

    But, all that aside, the problem isn’t that we’re “defending somebody from the bully”; that in and of itself would be grand in principle even if we had to apply it only when the homestead political calculus made it feasible for re-election.

    The problem is that we’re absolutely horrible at it. For every incident of success, we have more incidents of failure by any reasonable measure of “success”.

    Korea? Call it a draw to be charitable
    Vietnam? Catastrophe
    Bay of Pigs? Catastrophe
    Cuban Missile Crisis? Success, but nearly totally by luck (also not really an intervention, per se).
    Congo? Failure
    Lebanon? Failure
    Grenada? Success
    Libya? Failure
    Gulf War I? Success
    Gulf War II? Cancel that last one
    Panama? Success, maybe… was Balladares better than Noriega? Martinelli – jury’s still out?
    Somali? Haiti? Afghanistan?

    Heck, just Haiti alone is sort of a long string of horribleness.

    If the history of U.S. intervention tells us anything, it’s that we’re good at two things: one, stepping in, very quickly, and enabling civilian evacuations and then getting the heck out of Dodge… and waging full on total war. Even our targeted strikes against foreign leaders with whom we have grievance is spotty.

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    • Note: from the point of view of the Kurds, Gulf War I wasn’t exactly a flowering success, either.

      Which is another problem: are we measuring success by some measure that we come up with after we get into the thing, or are we measuring success by mission goals, or do we try and establish a baseline metric across all interventions?

      Gulf War I could be regarded as a pretty stunning success if you look at it as a “mission scope” perspective. From a baseline metric, one could regard it as a failure ’cause we went back a decade later – didn’t solve the real problem, see. From the POV of the people in Iraq, it kinda sucked, as previously mentioned.

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      • It might just be that I’m a lot older than most people here, (I was in my early 20s when it went down) but I have no recollection of helping the Kurds or changing things in Iraq having anything to do with the publicly stated & advertised goals of GW1. If memory serves, it was to preserve the democracy for the good people of Kuwait. And to stop a madman bent on world domination. Because, you know, he was the next Hitler.

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        • Well, I wasn’t much younger (late teens) and you’re right about the goals going in, but I’m pretty sure Bush Sr. implied that the U.S. would help the Iraqis if they rose up against Saddam towards the end of the thing, right before pulling out entirely and letting them get massacred. At least, the Kurds thought that’s what he meant. In that regard, Bush Jr. was a vast improvement over his dad.

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          • IANM, the Kurds made out well enough under the umbrella of the northern no fly zone and achieve some measure of soverignty from Baghdad in the interwar years (i.e. 91-03). And in the aftermath of Gulf war 2, are the only people in the world that don’t want the US to leave by the end of this year.

            It was the Shia Arabs (aka the ‘Marsh Arabs’) that got totally hosed – were rather brutally put down in an uprising that they though they were going to be supported in the aftermath of Desert Storm.

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            • That’s a good point. I forgot about the no-fly zone. But, let’s be frank, both the Shia in the South and Kurds in the North were pretty brutally repressed in ’91, and both had really good reason to believe that the US had their back. Maybe if we’re talking about precursors to Libya, this would be another to keep in mind. But I guess it’s worth noting that the Kurds were mainly slaughtered by the People’s Mujahedin of Iran, who were getting money from Saddam by that point.

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    • Korea? Call it a draw to be charitable

      South Korea is a very successful democracy. Without our intervention, it’s the other half of the North Korean hellhole. If MacArthur had been smart enough to quit while he was ahead, the war would have been a quick and complete success.

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      • I am inclined to agree with this. The war was started when North invaded South. While it would have been nice to reunite under southern leadership, it wasn’t an offensive or pre-emptive war designed to do so. It was primarily entered to prevent reunion under northern leadership. Which it did.

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        • In S. Korea, we have 50 million people living in peace and prosperity instead of a Communist gulag. 50 million fairly thankless people, 35,000 dead Americans.

          I don’t know if we’ve ever made sense of that one, but it’s finally far enough in the rear-view mirror to consider and discuss it dispassionately, without the Team Red and Blue partisanship that makes talking Iraq a complete waste of time.

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            • Well, 30,000+ American dead in Korea vs 1/10 that in Iraq makes it difficult to compare in my eyes. And 400,000+ in WWII. BlaiseP has a point in that each of these things is unique.

              And WW I seems the least defensible of all, Europe fighting over the same pieces of real estate yet again, but with modern efficiency to bring the butcher’s bill to millions. Senseless.

              Yes, one death is a tragedy and a million is just a statistic, but some perspective is possible. In theory. I admit Korea in particular continues to flummox me. I’m not big on cost/benefit analyses of these things, but Korea sure jumps off the scale.

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              • Korea, iffn’ you ask me, is somewhat wildly measurable depending highly upon which vantage point you view it.

                From the point of view of the urban South, I imagine they’re happy that they have the best broadband in the world and totally (and justifiably) freaking paranoid about the nutbar with the dirty bombs on the other side of the line. The rural South may find the current situation less awesome. The civilian North are crushed under their regime and pissed off at everybody if they can stop flinching at the specter of the secret police.

                Who’s to say, though, that the current outcome is better than what would have been the alternative? Vietnam isn’t as well off as South Korean, but they’re demonstrably better off than North Korea. I personally wouldn’t want to live there, but I’m pretty sure that a unified Korea that looks even a tad worse than Vietnam would be a much preferable scenario than the status quo (at least, from an American and North Korean civilian perspective). Yes, I grant, it’s difficult to play at “what-ifs?”, but if you’re looking at risk analysis that’s the game.

                Which is a very common problem in these calculations. Right now, I’m sure that there’s a person in Libya who violently hates Maniac Q and is thankful that U.S. planes are blowing stuff up.

                The tune may not be the same if four years from now we have an entirely different set of conditions on the ground. And there’s really no way of knowing what is going to happen when a government falls.

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              • Korea remains as tricksy a situation now as it ever was. Seoul is within range of hundreds of bunkered and hardened heavy artillery pieces: it’s a hostage city. It doesn’t matter how many soldiers are thrown at those artillery pieces, Seoul would be destroyed.

                The Korean balloon could go up in minutes. More American troops are in an immediate danger close situation in Korea than in any other country, including Afghanistan.

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      • I would push strongly for a longterm view of history seeing Korea (and much of the Cold War in general) as a loose end from WWII (which in turn would be seen as the much larger second act of WWI).

        One of major major factors in the decision to use the atomic bomb on Japan (and compel surrender to *the U.S.* quickly) was the fact that the Russian and Chinese communists had invaded the Japanese territory of Manchukuo from the North and were planning an invasion of Hokkaido and a subsequent march down to Tokyo. By compelling Tokyo to surrender to only the U.S., America could assure sole occupation of all remaining Japanese territories, which included the Korean peninsula until Chinese communists took over the northern half and began pushing south.

        Basically that is to say that Korea was not an intervention by any means. It was defense of overseas territory.

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    • “There are three groups of kids on the playground. The masses, who just want to play dodgeball or hopscotch or whatever, the bullies, who want some of the masses to play *their* particular game that’s structured so that they win all the time, and the knights in shining armor, who get off on bully-busting and the adoration that they receive from their acts of do-goodieness.”

      Reminds me of this (definitely not appropriate for work; also a Team America spoiler), which I think cogently sums up how things generally work:

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      • I don’t think that’s a fair comparison, but I get it. My point is simply that I wouldn’t wave away a lack of mass slaughter as an irrelevancy. I mean, the reason Iraq was a disaster, in my eyes, was not that the mission lasted longer than planned. I’m more concerned generally with the casualties.

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        • Elias:

          “I’m more concerned generally with the casualties.”

          So it is okay for the US to attack a sovereign nation that has not attacked the US as long as you do it for humanitarian reason and keep the casualties down? You sound like the flip side of the neo-cons. They would attack others for self defense, oil etc., while you would attack other nations for humanitarian reasons. Where should the US attack next to alleviate suffering, North Korea ( I hear they are bad), China, Cuba, Darfur? Nether you nor the neo-cons seems to give a rats a@@ about the US constitution or the rule of law.

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        • > I wouldn’t wave away a lack of mass slaughter
          > as an irrelevancy.

          Mass slaughters are not an irrelevancy. They are a terrible evil.

          Trying to stop them requires you to eliminate the conditions that allow them to rise. They’re odd exception scenarios in stable societies, they require a number of weird forces to be present in order to occur. Untangling those forces in situ is a pain in the ass.

          So your choices are: give the refugees a new home where they can’t be victims of a mass slaughter, or go in and fix the root (not the proximal) cause of the conditions that allow mass slaughters to occur. Usually, the leader is a proximal cause of mass slaughters, not the root cause. Removing him doesn’t remove the economic disparity, racism, tribalism, religious heresy, recent violent history, etc., that produce conditions wherein 50 armed guys gun down 500 unarmed civilians.

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  6. “It’s as if saying both the bully and the bullied are equally morally culpable since self-defense and unprovoked attacks both result in conflict.”

    I don’t get this comparison. Which attack was self-defense, Iraq or Libya?

    “Moving on, when Joyner says that the “apparent U.S. goals [in Iraq] were democracy promotion and nation-building” he gives George W. Bush entirely too much credit while granting his audience far too little.”
    If we said the apparent U.S. goals in Libya was democracy promotion, who would we be giving too much or too little credit?

    “Lastly — and this is probably where Joyner travels furthest astray — is the idea that the neoconservatives and liberal interventionists are two peas in a pod because both “are passionate advocates of spreading American values.”

    How about they’re both passionate advocates of bombing stuff in other countries?

    “Because rather than discredit the preemptive war-making at the heart of neoconservative foreign policy, Joyner here takes perilous steps towards tarring the entire international human rights apparatus with Iraq’s bloody brush.”

    I get where you’re going with this, but isn’t it already tarred with Iraq’s bloody brush? I mean, isn’t there a value in learning from Iraq moving forward? Okay, so Libya was different in the reasoning that led the U.S. there, but so far it’s been even worse in the execution. Shouldn’t Iraq have led to some timidity about this sort of business and especially among the opponents of that war?

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    • “I don’t get this comparison. Which attack was self-defense, Iraq or Libya?”

      The analogy wasn’t meant to be so direct, but I could still respond that Iraq is obviously not self-defense — besides the neocon ideology’s misleading use of the term “preemptive” — while Libya (or ANY humanitarian intervention) would be. Whether you agree with the policy or not, it’s called Responsibility to *Protect* for a reason.

      “so far it’s been even worse in the execution.”

      Huh?

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      • “Huh?”

        Is Khadhaffi in a spider hole waiting to be found by a buncha folks waiting to put him on trial?

        If the answer is not only “probably not” but “probably not and that’s not likely to happen if we stay on this particular course”, then I’d say that “it’s been even worse in the execution” is an accurate statement.

        But, hey.

        At least our missiles haven’t killed *THAT* many rebels yet.

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                • Hey, I’m used to the tactic of adopting an air of obtuse superiority with some ad hominem on the side. It works pretty well sometimes! But it can be harder to maintain consistently if you’re arguing that thousands of non-combatant lives are unimportant. Again, I’m not especially in favor of the Libya intervention, but I don’t think it’s fair to say it’s already the moral equivalent — or worse — than our misadventure in Iraq. Simply ignoring this argument and calling me a partisan seems a bit tribal in itself, no?

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                  • But it can be harder to maintain consistently if you’re arguing that thousands of non-combatant lives are unimportant

                    Well, it depends on *WHICH* non-combatant lives you want to pretend are unimportant.

                    Are Iraqi non-combatant lives unimportant? If so, you can argue that Iraqis deserve to live in a totalitarian state with secret police who throw people in prison for discussion of topics prohibited by the government.

                    Remember the early days of the Iraq Kinetic Intervention? We were discussing how awesome everything was going to be (greeted with flowers!) and so on.

                    As it turns out… that wasn’t the case.

                    And here we are with Libya. Your argument seems to be that we’re saving lives, not taking them. We’re protecting rebels, not killing them.

                    It’s like last time never happened. There are many reasons that the right-wingers dropped the arguments you’re now picking up.

                    I rather expect that you will see, in the days, weeks, and months to come, why they ended up leaving them where you have found them.

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                    • Your position seems to be that Libya, unlike Iraq, is morally defensible rocket shooting.

                      My position is that they are too much alike to separate that easily. If you want to pretend that Libya is okay, then you have to notice Iraq is conjoined at the kidney.

                      If you want to argue that Iraq was toxic (and there are reasons to!), then you ought not treat the kidney they share as something that can be dismissed.

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                    • Okay, I’m back, after having enjoyed the sunshine yesterday. Look, I think we’re talking about a few different things here. I’m not arguing with you about the moral superiority of one over the other- Libya might well be more morally justified than Iraq or have been carried out in a way that has minimized the civilian casualties much better. And, okay yes the UN has a mission to protect civilians- although, given that they’re protecting people who are trying to topple their government, I’m not sure how that doesn’t amount to taking the side of any group trying to topple their government. My guess is it all comes down to location.

                      But I really was talking solely in terms of military objectives and there I think it’s gone worse. In Iraq, the first objective was to defeat the opposing army and topple the tyrant. By this point, they were well on the way to achieving that military objective. The second part- supporting the establishment of a functioning local government to replace the one they toppled- did not go so smoothly. But it’s more of a long-term objective anyway.

                      In Libya, meanwhile, they have not toppled the enemy army or tyrant at all, and for my money, they’re not going to any time soon. Khaddafi is seemingly much more invested in holding on to power than the west is invested in seeing him overthrown. So, my guess is he will slaughter the rebels, maybe later instead of sooner, but it seems like that’s where things are headed. I would love to be proved wrong.

                      I think maybe we could say the military objective was solely to protect the rebels, and not to take their side in toppling the government. And by that standard, I guess maybe it’s successful. But, since the people we’re supporting seem to be losing, it would be strange to say “success” means that they’re losing but not getting massacred.

                      Anyway, I think that’s what’s happening in this conversation- I really was speaking solely in terms of the military objectives and saying that, in Iraq, the enemy army was defeated much more quickly and easily.

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                    • I think you’re right about what’s happening in the debate, and I agree with your position as restated. I think the Libya campaign has been very flawed for the very reasons you state — it’s morphed from being a defensive action to being a partisan attempt at regime change.

                      Now, there is a very reasonable debate to be had over whether R2P could *ever* be enforced without regime change as the natural consequence. That’s something I haven’t really made up my mind about, and I think there’s good reason to argue that it cannot. If it becomes clear that R2P simply cannot be enforced without regime change, I’d say it’s a noble concept but too destructive in the end, and not worth maintaining.

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                    • C’mon, Jaybird, his point remains valid: our involvement in Libya is predicated on the consent of the UN and many other nations. It is not a unilateral war based on a pack of lies, as was Iraq.

                      As for Qadhafi and his influence after the shooting stops, let’s get real for a moment here. Libya was always a tribal society and this is fundamentally a tribal war and I might as well sort it out for you. There are three large if somewhat amorphous entities in Libya to consider,

                      1. The Warfalla group, who also have a presence in Misrata.

                      2. The Ben-i-Salim, imported by the Fatimid Egyptians to fight their wars.

                      3. The Margharba, which means “western” but they own the central area, and those include Qadhafi’s tribe.

                      There is a fourth group, the Tamasheq, who are spoilers. They fight among themselves.

                      I quote Ambrose Bierce with immoderate frequency, but he said Americans learn their geography from the war reporting. Might as well learn the names.

                      Elias has made some good points, the best was this one:

                      The fact that the people who got us into Iraq to begin with so constantly shifted the goal-posts when it came to necessary conditions for our departure tells us all we need to know as to their intellectual sincerity.

                      Fact is, we’re involved in Libya with no more of an endgame in mind that Bush had when he decided he’d wade into Iraq. These open-ended wars are a very bad idea: they all uncork long-suppressed tribal wars. We used such tribal hatreds to our advantage in Vietnam and Laos, pitting the non-Vietnamese Hmong and other “Montagnards” against their ancient enemies, we did it in Iraq and we are doing so again in Libya, with no conception of the dog’s dinner we are making of this situation.

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                    • It is not a unilateral war based on a pack of lies, as was Iraq.

                      Based on a pack of *INTELLIGENCE*.

                      Rumor has it that Saddam was just as surprised as anybody that no bad weapons were found… which probably makes sense.

                      I can’t imagine that the administration would have put anywhere near as much emphasis on WMDs as they did had they suspected they wouldn’t find anything from after 1992. They probably would have focused on stuff like “Saddam’s treatment of civilians” and “democracy!” and maybe even “let’s face it, it’s time to fish or cut bait in Iraq and because of 9/11, we don’t have the option of cutting bait… maybe on September 10th but not now.”

                      As it stands they based it not on Anglo-Saxon terms like “lies” but much nicer Latinate terms like “intelligence”.

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                    • The FBI delegated a Lebanese interrogator, George Piro, to work with Saddam. Saddam really got to like Piro and they’d discuss anything and everything. Piro was a Lebanese Christian so he didn’t have a dog in the Sunni/Shia fight, and Saddam told him a great many things.

                      It seems Saddam closed down his biological weapons labs after an accident killed a whole crew of researchers. It just wasn’t working out for him. Saddam kept on lying about his WMDs because he wanted to keep Iran on its back leg. After GW .5 we went through his inventory and found he really didn’t have any WMDs. He did have some yellowcake left over from the bombed Osirak plant, but that was under seal from the weapons inspectors. Parenthetically, we didn’t tell our own troops about it: they broke the seals and the Iraqis looted the bunkers, dumped out the yellowcake and stole the barrels for collecting rainwater and ended up with uranium poisoning. Pretty awful.

                      But it really was a pack of lies. And we knew it was a pack of lies, Jaybird. Trying to attribute Intelligence to the Bush43 crew is pointless: Cheney broke the intelligence gathering operations by cherrypicking. Colin Powell, a practised liar from this days covering up the My Lai massacre, even he threw out most of the hooey Cheney’s crew had collected — and the little bit he did use was ludicrous.

                      Saddam’s greatest complaint, while he was yet in charge of his country, was that his subordinates would lie to him. Saddam knew better than to believe the lies he was told, but he didn’t have many truth-tellers around him. The same was true of Bush43. That’s what happens when True Believers are running the show: they surround themselves with Yes Men.

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                    • I find it difficult to believe that they knew that they would find nothing if only because there were other arguments that they could have used that would have been about as convincing without costing much in the realm of credibility long-term.

                      It makes more sense to assume that they believed things that were not true than to assume… well, than to assume that their short-term/medium-term/and long-term goals would be well-served by invading.

                      Stupid and gullible and idealistic (the whole “greeted with flowers” thing is the best example of that) explains more here, I’d think. (It’s also why I’m not that keen on “intentions” when it comes to shooting missiles.)

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                    • Jaybird, we knew Iraq didn’t have WMDs. We’d gone round and looked for them. Iraq, while it’s a big place, is not all that big, and we’d been looking for a long time. Saddam kept telegraphing this to us, trying to get us to see things his way: Iran was still there. Guess what, it still is. They’re the big winners in our little WMD adventure and they do have WMDs, a lot of them and they’d like some more.

                      Here’s how bad the Bush era intelligence was: we didn’t have a single working operator in Iraq. Saddam was paying bounties to anyone who could roust out a CIA operator and he found one on Scott Ritter’s team. Even Scott Ritter didn’t know about this guy, but Saddam was right. We were down to Curveball, that’s how bad it was. He was it, dude. Everything turd he passed, Bush and Cheney wrapped it in gold foil and tried to fob it off as Swiss chocolate. Nobody else trusted him. He’d already stolen money from State, they said he was a bastard.

                      Hard to believe? No. It’s hard not to believe when you’re being lied to so extravagantly. That’s what intelligence operators do, they’re mining for gold in the sewage pipes, they know the difference, that’s their job. Now Bush43 didn’t know what to believe, but he believed what Cheney was telling him. And it was all bullshit.

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                    • Jaybird, the brand Bush43 and Cheney were selling was Democracy ® . In Arabic now, it means American-style democracy. They use a different word now, roughly Reform. That’s how far the brand Democracy ® has sunk, dude.

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                    • We should have walked away after that first mission accomplished banner was hung and left a note saying “don’t make us come back” on the throne.

                      Jaybird, you joke (I think), but that’s more or less Dark Trumwill’s current view. Light Trumwill is veering isolationist. Neither is big on another Iraq or Libya (the latter being preferable in the sense that burning a Franklin beats burning a Salmon Chase) and both are stunned at the legitimacy lent to “international law.”

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                    • No, that was me being serious.

                      Instead we stayed around and watched the elections and they discussed a new and improved Islamist (whatever that means) government and we, of course, said “no, not *THAT* kind of democracy… choose from a list that we approve of!”

                      You know, like the Iranians do.

                      We would have been better off letting them hammer this stuff out themselves.

                      I suppose that we did turn a civil war that would have had tons and tons of casualties into ethnic cleansing that only had tons of casualties but that’s hardly something to put on a resume.

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                  • Wars are not sanitary little propositions: an explosion, no matter how carefully it might be aimed, is an equal opportunity killer, varying with its blast radius.

                    The great weapon of mass destruction in Iraq was Iraq itself. We simply pulled the lid off that pressure cooker. It we got scalded in so doing, well, everyone in Iraq was already parboiled. The needless destruction was inflicted by the Iraqis themselves, upon each other.

                    Sadly, having been to northern Iraq with Operation Provide Comfort, I am here to report all the suffering and death and concomitant destruction was inevitable: it was only a matter of time. I have long argued Bush43 did not understand the Pandora’s Box he was opening. I would have followed the pattern of Operation Provide Comfort, gradually choking the life out of Saddam’s regime, replacing it with home-grown authorities, as we did with the Kurds in the north. They’re the only part of Iraq where the power’s on all the time and commerce is thriving.

                    Noncombatants die in every war. I applaud your sentiments in saying their lives are important. But let’s not parse this too finely: once the war starts, the reasons for its commencement, however noble or ignoble, are irrelevant and the hapless noncombatant will either live through the war or flee away. BlaiseP’s Law of Refugees: you may always know who is right and wrong in any given war by observing the footprints of the refugees: they run away from the bad guy toward the good guy.

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                    • I think I need more explanation from those who think Libya = Iraq what evidence they’ve for the proposition. I don’t disagree with or doubt the argument that war is an evil, messy thing. I’m not saying bombing Libya was awesome and we should do it four more times just so everyone can really get an altruism thrill up their leg.

                      But I also don’t think it’s particularly sophisticated to respond to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan by saying that we should never do anything ever no matter what the circumstances or how limited the goals because George Bush, jr. was an incompetent.

                      Iraq is not Libya is not Afghanistan, etc., and rather than argue in favor of the mission in North Africa — as many people seem to think I am — I’m merely saying that the sweeping generalizations and equivalencies being drawn between those in favor of R2P and the neoconservatives are incredibly problematic.

                      Obviously many of the people here come from somewhat rigidly ideological standpoints, and thus the goalpost shifting and continued attempts to reduce this into some grand and fuzzy strict binary between neocon/interventionists and everyone else; but I find it more than a little odd to see attempts by some to portray their *emotional* and *principled* blanket anti-interventionism as somehow more sensitive to and mindful of the members of humanity whom happen to live across national lines of demarcation.

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                    • Elias:

                      I’ try and explain it.

                      Iraq: US military action against a sovereign nation that didn’t attack the US and which was conducted without a declaration of war by the US.

                      Libya: US military action against a sovereign nation that didn’t attack the US and which was conducted without a declaration of war by the US.

                      Please correct me if what I stated is factually incorrect. You may say that the reasons why we attacked are different, which I would agree with . I disagree that those reasons allow you to rationalize that one military action is better or more justified that the other.

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                    • I’ve furnished a little sketch of why Iraq and Libya are both tribal wars. Insofar as they aren’t the same tribes, sure, they’re as different as night and day.

                      See, our problem isn’t the political divisions at home, or our tribal alliances. We’re going to end up taking sides in their tribal alliances and rigidly ideological standpoints. It can’t be helped. Someone’s going to end up in charge of Libya and he will automatically inherit an entire class of enemies going back into antiquity. These Strong Men we backed for all those years relied on shifting tribal alliances. We see it in Syria, too: those snipers are all from the Assad-allied clans.

                      We face a stark dilemma every time we get involved in these things. We’re either Going Native or we’re Going Home. The French went native for centuries, but they eventually went home anyway. Our intervention is transitory at best. Confine our mission to what can be done in the short term, because the long term picture isn’t up to us. It’s up to them.

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                    • I agree, BP. I would have dramatically preferred the mission was to stop the march on Benghazi, do our best to destroy Gaddafi’s means to mount a similar such attack, and then gtfo. A de facto Libyan 53rd parallel is much preferable to a prolonged mission of regime change. It would have even been worthwhile to allow Gaddafi to maintain control provided there were bulwarks against an attempt on his part to slaughter wholesale those in former pockets of resistance.

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                    • Elias:

                      “Then we’ll agree to disagree, I suppose, because I’m not interested in using an interpretation of the Constitution so strict that it’s been defunct for at least 60 years as my moral lodestar.”

                      That is quite amusing considering all of the liberal whining about Bush ignoring the US Constitution when he went into Iraq. I guess we now know that to pass the liberal constitutional test, that the Neo-cons should frame every military action as a humanitarian intervention to help the children or some other poor downtrodden group.

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                    • I’ll be sure to share your put-down at the next All Liberal Congress so my fellow liberals — with whom I’m always in agreement and thus am responsible for any and everything someone who calls themselves a liberal may have said at one point or another — and I can design a cutting retort accordingly.

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                    • I’m not interested in using an interpretation of the Constitution so strict that it’s been defunct for at least 60 years as my moral lodestar.

                      This is why International Law is so much better than Constitutional Law.

                      You want to find a useful interpretation? You will never, ever have to go back further than 12 years (tops).

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      • Elias:

        “Whether you agree with the policy or not, it’s called Responsibility to *Protect* for a reason.”

        Funny thing is that in all my time as an attorney, I’ve never heard that this country has a responsibility to protect anyone who is not a citizen. Could tell us where you heard of this concept and how it obligates the US to attack other countries?

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  7. Can’t find the best place to wedge this all in, so forgive me for starting a new thread:

    * I’m profoundly ambivalent about the Libya campaign. I don’t think we know with enough certainty yet how it will pan out. The historical record, on the whole, tells us the answer is “Not well,” but I’m not comfortable damning it for the things that probably will happen but have not happened yet. If they happen, I’d hope my thinking would respond accordingly.

    * I don’t deny that WWII is rather easy to describe in un-idealistic terms. That’s in essence my point. Parsing when a war is idealistic and when it isn’t is a bit of a mug’s game — especially when our leaders have been reading from the same script from the very start.

    * I’d still contend that hand-waving the differences in approach advocated by interventionists and neocons is unfair. If the rules of the game are to be set up so as to ignore the means entirely, then this becomes a bit of a syllogism.

    * And just as quick response to those who’d say Libya and Iraq are the same — there’s a reason we have the two distinct concepts of mens rea and actus reus.

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    • > I don’t think we know with enough certainty yet
      > how it will pan out.

      I don’t think we know anywhere near enough to say with any sort of even marginal probability how it’s going to turn out.

      Which is why we ought not to be screwing around there.

      Look, I’m a odd duck, aiight? I’m a peacenik who doesn’t believe that there’s much in the way of practical solution space inside the whole Just War theory. I find the whole deal to be morally abhorrent.

      But I accept the reality that morally abhorrent crap can still be regarded as necessary. I doubly accept the reality that I live in a country where both sides push for interventions I disagree with strenuously and sometimes that means people are going to start blowing crap up.

      I draw the line at screwing around. If you’re going to even consider going war, you don’t play games. Get it done, get it over with, and get the heck out. Don’t start with an ambiguous mission. Start with a measurable goal… one worthy of killing civilians and very likely making the situation no better than if you’d just stayed the hell out of Dodge (this is a pretty big mark)… and a measurable mark for failure and stay inside those parameters.

      I don’t even know what the hell the mission in Libya *is*. What’s endgame? When are we done? Are we done now? Why? What happened to make us be done?

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      • Wow, this perfectly outlines a lot of thoughts that Dark Trumwill has been having lately. Sometimes we just have to wear the black hat, do some pretty monstrous things, achieve our goal, then get out. Civil War to follow? Well, that all fits under the black hat.

        (On the other side of this, if a war isn’t worth wearing a black hat for, it’s probably not worth fighting).

        I’m still feeling the Black Hat Theory out.

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        • I’m not saying that we *have* to wear the Black Hat, I’m saying there’s enough people possessed with the desire to go in and find those suns a bitchin’ cowboys that done raped those whores that they’re going to be willing to go and call on William Munny.

          I live in the same country as these folks. And goddamn, I don’t like rapin’ people and that Gene Hackman guy sure ain’t the sort of sheriff I want in my town, so I can see their point. I sure can’t shoot that cold blooded bastard myself.

          But the thing is, we (the American Public, here… not you and me) rapidly lose our stomach for military interventions when people start showing pictures of dead babies and soldiers come home with half their skull missing. Uh, people? That’s a natural consequence of the activity. And then we start clamoring about bringing the boys home, and people start listening to public opinion polls, and someone decides that something is Necessary to Bolster the Public’s Support for the War.

          This is almost *always* bad. It nearly always leads to us leaving early, and the civil war you’re talking about unfolds. Standing up a country to withstand its political birthing pains and not drop into civil war takes at a minimum 20 freaking years, and that’s if it already had cohesive social structures. Places that are largely tribal? You’re going to have to go through three generational iterations at least. Call it 50 years. One that’s never had a modern economy? 5 or more generational iterations. Libya at least has oil, they can export something.

          If you don’t want to deal with that long haul, don’t stick your nose in the business. Take refugees. That’s about as morally pristine an action any country can take. Hey, we get all sorts of cultural intelligence that way. Once you lob bombs at somebody, guess what? You’re inexorably entwined with the outcome.

          So let’s say Qadaffi goes down. Who is going to take his place? Remember, this is a country where the armed forces had all the political opportunity to throw the guy to the wolves, and they didn’t. Which means at least 51% of the military there *are guys whose governance model will be indistinguishable from Qadaffi*. What are the odds that Libya’s government is better, in 10 years, than it is now?

          If it’s no better, what exactly did we accomplish?

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  8. Elias seems to be making a distinction that “our wars are better than their wars” while Joyner is focusing on the fact that “they’re all foreign wars.” It mostly seems to hinge on whether or not various commenters see a qualitative distinction between one set of wars or the other.

    The thing that really throws is Iraq, and to a lesser extent, the senior senator from Arizona. When you look at the other wars, there’s not the clear ability to say that the other side wouldn’t have done the same. John McCain almost certainly would have sent us to Libya and Mitt Romney probably would have. I’m certain Al Gore would have sent us to Afghanistan and I seriously doubt Bradley wouldn’t have. Bob Dole came out and said that he would have sent us to Kosovo.

    I think I’m more with Joyner in that I don’t see a huge difference between the two parties, as far as this goes. The main difference is proto-hypotheticals. Would McCain have put us in Syria by now? Would he have dropped troops into Egypt at the drop of a hat? It’s possible, and we know that Obama and can safely figure that Hillary Clinton did not and would not. And it should be said that McCain is something of a special case in his imperialism. I am doubtful that Romney and Huckabee would have dropped us into Syria.

    Meanwhile, those that want the US to just stay the hell out of foreign wars, that want less money spent on defense and returned in either tax savings or government programs, don’t really have anyone speaking for them. And it’s not difficult to see why, when they look at the game of Pick Your Wars (especially when there is so much overlap), don’t see a significant difference.

    Whether Joyner is genuinely in this category or whether he’s an Opposition Dove likely depends on what you think of Joyner’s degree of intellectual honesty and partisanship going in. I am inclined to believe the better of him, though those that are disinclined can easily interpret his writing as sophistry.

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    • I’d be happy to co-sign this provided that the division isn’t Republican/Democrat but rather Neoconservative/Humanitarian Interventionist. I don’t think there’s a huge difference in foreign policy between Hillary Clinton and Mitt Romney. But I do think there’s an enormous difference between Bill Kristol and Samantha Power.

      (Oh and I’m sure Huckabee would take us into the first MidEast war he could; how else is he to bring on the Rapture?)

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    • Not bad atall, Mr. Trumwill. Despite claims to the contrary from the edges, I do think there’s still an American consensus on these things. I submit President Obama is largely carrying out the American consensus on foreign policy, and that his own druthers are probably to the left of his own policies-on-the-ground.

      Not sure about this Libya thing—I think most Americans would have sat this one out. But there’s also an absence of more than rhetorical opposition in Congress, from both the opposition GOP and the “peacenik”/neo-isolationists on the President’s left.

      [I discount polls in these matters, sorry. We have a representative democracy, and the only important polls are held in November. Call it the wisdom of crowds or the madness of mobs, but we have managed to blunder through so far.]

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      • Thanks.

        I think that the resistance to Libya is more chronological than ideological. People would support it if it weren’t for the Iraq War. And, of course, if President Romney had sent us into Liberia, a lot of the people standing in opposition would be for it, and vice-versa. The president’s party will typically be nigh-uniformly in favor and the opposing party will be fragmented.

        You make a good point. There really is a consensus here in favor of war. I would say that this even extends to the general population. The exceptions that come to mind are ones that were never really “sold” to the American people (Libya and Liberia come to mind). If you want the general population (and by extension its representatives) to be really discerning, you’d need a war tax.

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        • Score two for Trumwill.

          The president’s party will typically be nigh-uniformly in favor and the opposing party will be fragmented.

          If you want the general population (and by extension its representatives) to be really discerning, you’d need a war tax.

          On the second, though, I imagine that would also be true of just about every other government expenditure.

          [Which is why our local gov’ts empty the police-and-fire pocket for other things, then complain it’s empty, so we need more taxes…]

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          • In the city where I’m from, the local sheriff’s department said that they would do everything they could to make the budget cuts come at the expense of the civilian rather than uniformed workforce.

            I was saying “Dude, you’re doing it all wrong!” Cut the civilian force and people won’t feel less save. Talk about how you’re not going to be able to protect the population without a funding hike, then you might get somewhere.

            Or do what a local school district did. Fire the teachers right in front of the students and tell the students to go home and tell their parents what the funding cuts have caused. Crying kids. That’s what makes a winning issue.

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          • To get the young energized about a war you need the draft. It concentrates the mind and results in opposition. When we decide to tax the young men to pay for the war (after all the draft is essentially a tax of a couple of years of a persons life) instead of all society as we do today, it gets their attention. IMHO this is why there has been not the level of opposition to these 2 wars as there was to vietnam.

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            • Ugh. No draft, please. While there is a salutary effect to the concept of a draft, insofar as it would seem to widen the impact of war, every time we’ve tried a draft we’ve come to regret it.

              The draftee is a terrible soldier. He just won’t fight. In WW2, the German soldiers (who by then were fighting for their lives in a defensive war) observed American draftees would simply retreat on contact with them. At best the draftee would dig in. In the Civil War, drafts led to terrible riots and the sons of the rich could buy their way out in any event. Vietnam featured many a sinecure and dodge, from the Champagne Charlies of TXANG (e.g. Bush43) to Six Deferment Cheney to Pilonidal Cyst Rush Limbaugh. Trust me, if you don’t want to soldier, the Army doesn’t want you.

              And drafts don’t seem to impede the march to war as a practical matter. Want to stop a war in its tracks? Force the Congress to pay for its wars from the General Receipts of the Treasury, cash money. No borrowing, or bonds or dodges of that sort. That will damp down the forges of war like a fire hose.

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      • I submit President Obama is largely carrying out the American consensus on foreign policy, and that his own druthers are probably to the left of his own policies-on-the-ground.

        I’ve been ruminating on this point myself. We’ve given the Executive branch (regardless of party) the power to make war on its own, without formal action from the Congress. You’d think having a president whose own druthers are non-interventionist would keep us out of another war zone.

        What’s the source of this American consensus? Is it that we have all this muscle, we just HAVE to use it?

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          • Well, unless we’re going to take all of the Presidents at their word, the vast majority of our wars haven’t been fought because of this motivation.

            Most of the time we were at war because we were either like “I want that!” or were like “Hands off! I *may* want that later!”

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            • I was more referring to how they got the general public on board.

              Reducing our decision-making process to simple pillaging or imperialism is about as unsatisfying as reducing it to a benign view of the good of the world. It doesn’t really explain the decisions we’ve made. It has poor predictive power. We could pillage more effectively than we do, just as we could be better world stewards than we are.

              Rather, I would say that our decision-making is amorphous. Difficult to pin down, and subject to a congruence of a number of factors.

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              • I’m not tracking some of your pronouns. Who are the “they” getting the general public on board for war? What decision-making is “ours”?

                Is the “us” the citizenry and the “them” the politicos? The only decision we, as citizens, get to make is who will represent us. As someone else says further up the thread, politicians don’t generally run on “I’m going to start wars.” (Even Reagan claimed his objective was peace through strength.) In 2008, the US elected the most anti-war candidate (rhetorically, at least) available from the short list (sorry Dennis K.), yet here we are with bombs dropping on Libya.

                I took tvd’s “American consensus” to mean an appetite favoring more war in the general public. The crowds chanting “USA, USA” outside the White House following the death of OBL, like fans cheering their team after winning a play-off game, would suggest the People are “all good” as long as we’re the ones kicking ass and taking names. We just don’t like to lose.

                I guess I’m asking what drives this general sentiment in the populace. Is it a chicken or egg first sort of thing – are we belligerent because we are powerful or do we continue to amass power so we can be belligerent?

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                • Sorry that I wasn’t clear. Comment 64 was in reference to our politicians. Comment 62 was in reference to the citizenry.

                  The citizenry doesn’t view itself as belligerent, but rather takes the motivation in 62. Throw on top of that a big desire to support the troops, and you get a president with the benefit of the doubt for whatever they want to do. Generally.

                  The leaders are where the congruence comes into play. It’s hard to rally the people around imperialism or simple bullying these days. So the vast majority of the time, it’s couched in terms of something bad is happening within a country that we must put a stop to (Kosovo being a prime example, though a little of that for Iraq, too.), or something might happen to us if we do not intervene (Afghanistan and Iraq, primarily, with a little of that for Libya, too). In reality, it takes one of the above (if only to sell it to the public) plus some other factors (material gain, international pressure, strategic advantage) to get them to do something.

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                  • If Saddam and the Taliban aren’t total bastards, we don’t go in. No consensus.

                    And we’re putting up with this Libya thing— which amounts to an air war terror campaign of doubtful legality—because Khadafi’s a bastard, too. A bastard who has taken American lives, although we must admit, not lately.

                    Machiavelli has something to say about all this, that the populace wants to think of itself as moral. The Prince, of course, has no such luxury, and must do what’s best for his people.

                    JFK said nobody who hasn’t sat in the Big Chair can judge someone who has, and there’s a lot of truth to that. I’m naive, sure, but there’s not one person who’s sat in it—or any of the nominees who lost in the general—who wasn’t a good man.

                    [Nixon, perhaps not—an, um, complicated man. But although he was straight out of The Prince on foreign policy, his record on domestic issues is that of a softee.]

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                    • > JFK said nobody who hasn’t sat
                      > in the Big Chair can judge someone
                      > who has, and there’s a lot of
                      > truth to that.

                      There’s also a lot of, “Please don’t look too deeply into how messed up our decision-making process was regarding the Bay of Pigs” to that.

                      To be fair, if you want a pass on moral judgement, I’ll give you that pass. It’s not my business to claim that Bush & Cheney lied about the intelligence regarding Iraq; that’s similar to coming to the conclusion that JFK was really a commie and wanted the BoP invasion to fail… because really, that was a totally messed up operation.

                      But I can still look at the historical record and say, “Jesus, dude, you guys sat in a room and discussed this while blatantly ignoring the facts on the ground. You screwed the pooch”. That judgment I’m okay with giving, in both cases.

                      > I’d imagine there’s information in
                      > the daily security briefs that POTUS
                      > receives that would would lead
                      > most to reassess their worldview.

                      Maybe. I don’t have a very deterministic worldview so I dunno that this would be the case, for me at least.

                      On the other hand, if you want to make decisions based upon information that you’re then not willing to share, you better be prepared to take some serious lumps for it. I’m disinclined to trust anybody who says, “I have here a list…”

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                    • The “Big Chair” apologetic strike me as lame — more managerialist than anything. It reminds me of the self-justification of $50 million-salaried CEOs. I’m not really interested in their eighty-hour work weeks or what goes into their decisions. The economic world is as complicated as it is because it’s a world created by MBAs, with artificially manufactured needs that can only be filled by MBAs. The economy is dominated by giant, centralized, hierarchical institutions that can only be run by trained managers because the system was set up in the first place by MBAs for MBAs.

                      As for the special information to which only the man in the Big Chair is privileged, I think that’s a lot less important than the implicit, unquestioned assumptions held by the man in the Big Chair as a result of the institutional culture which he’s absorbed. Just Google C. Wright Mills’ critique of what he called “crackpot realism.” The whole system is set up institutionally such that the only permissible, viable, moderate, mainstream solutions are those that can be implemented by the same people who caused the problems, and without altering the fundamental structure of power. Anything that does the latter is, by definition, “extreme.” The structure of power in any society structures the flow of information and the cultural reproduction apparatus so as to replicate the existing system of power and to marginalize fundamental critiques.

                      Regardless of how “good” the man in the Big Chair is, large hierarchical institutions are systematically stupid, so as to render unusable the intelligence — however great — of any individual within them. As both R. A. Wilson and Kenneth Boulding pointed out, hierarchies distort information flow so that those at the top live in almost completely imaginary worlds. A hierarchy is a machine for telling naked emperors how great their clothes look.

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                    • That’s a couple of good points, Kevin, but I think you give MBA’s too much credit for cabalistic self-preservation.

                      Organizations act in certain ways differently from individual people. Yes, the MBAs are the current priests of a particular church of Organization. But institutions present abstracted information to other layers of the institution for lots of actual practical reasons, not *just* to give the emperor the impression he has on nice clothes.

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          • I don’t believe anybody’s marketing pamphlets, Scott.

            Obama has kept in place a lot of the atrociously bad policies implanted by his predecessor. Many of which for political expediency, which I can understand if not support.

            Also, many of the things that he’s done to start undoing some of the bad from the Bush days have been hampered by political expediency. Which I can understand but don’t particularly excuse.

            In short, I don’t think Barry’s a great President. He does have a pretty bad set of initial conditions, so expecting anybody to fix it all is a pretty tall order.

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          • Presidents lead, but also follow Congressional consensus. We do not elect kings.

            Looking back on the 2008 election, altho I’m no BHO man, the one thing that BHO had/has over McCain is prudence.

            The President is perhaps rightfully criticized that it takes him forever to make up his mind, but this is far, far preferable to the alternative.

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    • Props to this and Trumwill, your other comments.

      Though, from the snippets (I didn’t read the source Joyner piece) it seems he was talking more about the schools of political thought rather than parties. Nonetheless, spot on.

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      • Thanks!

        I think that while he was indeed talking about schools of thought, central to his theme was that the dominant schools of thought among presidents (or perhaps more broadly, foreign policy establishments) in both parties leads to perpetual war (of a particular – unnecessary – kind). It’s possible that I am inferring into the piece things that he has said elsewhere, though.

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        • still haven’t read it but sounds like a fair inference – either way it’s practical enough.

          I’m actually reading Henry Kissinger’s Diplomacy which at various points talks about how Wilsonian foreign policy has become dominant in American foreign policy, drafting and execution, on the basis of it’s reflection of American self-identity. It’s a convincing thesis that I think fits well with much of Joyner seems to be saying.

          Sidenote: The Cold War and President George W. Bush being particularly poor indicators for broad historical trends but it does seem that while not necessarily a party of warmongers the Democratic Party has never really stood for limiting power merely for applying American power within the context of international law/world opinion/the concert of democracies. If one believes the NeoCons were a split branch emphasizing a more unilateralist and bellicose approach that found a new home in the tent President Reagan built, then I would say the only people speaking for the limitation of war, of interventions are the comparatively silent/powerless paleocons and libertarians. Which is not to say the GOP is the great hope for less bellicosity but if the NeoCons can split, why can’t the PaleoCons/OldWhigs?

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  9. I’d be happy to co-sign this provided that the division isn’t Republican/Democrat but rather Neoconservative/Humanitarian Interventionist.

    But given that we have Republicans and Democrats in charge, and that it’s the hawkish portions of both parties that typically win out, it’s a distinction without a difference for those that would prefer hawkish factions not win out and find “Pick Your Wars” to be a game that they’ve already lost.

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    • True, if we’re defining war in the broadest terms. Dropping bombs on Serbian forces is not the same thing as building the Green Zone in Baghdad, though. It seems to me as if we’re starting to call any and all military engagement “nation-building.”

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    • I’ll take zero American casualties with the result of democratic nations in all the former parts of Yugoslavia that are all as stable as a country in Eastern Europe full of nationalities with thousand-year long blood feuds can be _over_ a misadventure with no real endgame that led to the death of thousands of Americans and a country that is still barely back to the state it was before the invasion. If that makes me just as bad as folks like Bill Kristol in your eyes, so be it.

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      • Bill Clinton—and we—got lucky in the former Yugoslavia.

        I leaned against going in, since we had zero national interest there, and the “good” guys weren’t all that good. And as it turned out, the genocide/atrocities were waaaaaaaaay exaggerated by the administration.

        Serb killings ‘exaggerated’ by west
        Claims of up to 100,000 ethnic Albanians massacred in Kosovo revised to under 3,000 as exhumations near end

        http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2000/aug/18/balkans3

        Still, I was OK with the intervention. The bad guys were bad.

        And sure, anyone prefers lucky, painless outcomes to the alternatives.

        I’m not really in the mood for the partisan game, esp Iraq, which I’ve kept a distance from in fora like this since at least 2006. There’s no point.

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      • I’m actually somewhat ambivalent on war issues, due primarily my lack of foresight. With the exception of Afghanistan, my attitude is “Well, it depends on whether we win and how much it costs us,” which, of course, we don’t know until it’s too late. So I cross my fingers and hope that the president – whatever president – is making the right move.

        But for anti-war folks, the war in Kosovo can be problematic if it leads to wars that are less successful. I remember when Hussein first fell and before we had to deal with the aftermath, a lot of people in the anti-war camp were worried that our swift success there and in Afghanistan would lead us to be more brazen about further intervention. They were right to worry. Likewise, if a success in Kosovo leads to a lot more interventions – well, it only takes one to go badly. And they all cost money and lives to some extent.

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  10. I will buy that there is a huge difference between Bill Kristol and Samantha Power. But there is a middle ground where these views can bleed into each other without a concept of realist interest and without any presidential rhetoric because the US is expected to show “leadership”. For example, in Plan of Attack, Rice, no neocon, told Bush to go ahead because Saddam Hussein could not be allowed to defy the UN and numerous resolutions. Is the US military being relied upon by the international community an interest?
    Iraq is a much more modern and educated country than Libya. But foreign policy elites perceived a problem of the Arab world festering in a lack of democracy and human development, which became hatred and resentment of Israel. Both the war in Iraq and the war in Libya were responses to this, because at least in part, if Qaddafi succeeded in crushing the revolt that was the end of the Arab Spring. (Now Syria may be bringing it to an end because there will be no genocide, just brutality.) Then there was Saddam Hussein the scofflaw as aforesaid. So it was possible to appeal to neocon/humanitarian interventionist values while supporting the war for humanitarian interventionist/neocon reasons.
    The wars of the first Bush administration may not have been entirely realist, but neither kind of reason was given.

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    • I think Rice wasn’t a neocon but we can say rather comfortably now that she sure as hell was ambitious. We know a fair bit about how decisions were made in the Bush 43 White House; knowing how to say what the POTUS wanted to hear was a very, very useful asset.

      The bleeding together point is a good one and I think that nebulous in-between zone is an area of real concern. But some of the more aggressive opponents of the Libyan policy — often, though not always, coming from the right — have been trying to argue that Samantha Power or Susan Rice are no different than Bill Kristol and Charles Krauthammer. And I think it’s a patently mistaken if not disingenuous argument. I find it puzzling, too, coming from someone who seemed at least at a time recently to think Iraq wasn’t necessarily that bad anyway: http://www.outsidethebeltway.com/george_w_bushs_rehabilitation_/

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  11. Shorter: Neocons have less patience?

    It seems to me that at best the argument here is that there is a difference between neoconservatives and liberal interventionists in degree but not in kind.

    More likely, I think, it overstates the difference to make the probably true but nonetheless moot point that liberal interventionists would not have taken us into Iraq, though it remains far from clear that they would not have taken us someplace else instead, Sudan maybe, East Timor?

    However, if the shadows between the two schools of political thought (between Bill Kristol and Samantha Power), overlap to the point that the practical consequences end up being the same once an objective for intervention/change has been identified then Joyner is more right than he is given credit for and the idea that his piece is a total disaster is predicated on a variance too small to matter. Particularly to those foreigners who neither know nor care whether the missile strikes are coming from liberal interventionists or neoconservatives.

    That said, I wonder if it matters that for neoconservatism foreign policy isn’t just more important than domestic matters its practically the only matter of importance. Whereas liberal interventionists, I would guess, probably have comparatively more investment in domestic issues. Could it be that for issues of secondary importance, positions that look moderate, less quick-tempered, simply reflect the amount of

    That said, I think what’s telling about the similarities between NeoCons and LibInts (?) is that they’re all about the application of power, never its limits. I see this whole bit as arguing whether it would’ve been more appropriate to put boots on the ground in West Asia or Africa, Southeast Asia and Latin America being so last century apparently. As such, if LibInts would spend a few more weeks at the UN and then ultimately get NATO to endorse something or the NeoCons will send Ambassador Bolton to ruffle a few feathers and then get NATO to endorse something why do those few weeks/approaches matter if the end result is the same?

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    • More likely, I think, it overstates the difference to make the probably true but nonetheless moot point that liberal interventionists would not have taken us into Iraq, though it remains far from clear that they would not have taken us someplace else instead, Sudan maybe, East Timor?

      This actually touches on a point that I had intended to make, but never did. To some extent, once we lost control of the situation, Iraq really sucked the air out of the room as far as other incursions goes. Iraq is Bush’s baby and I am not sure any other president, Republican or Democrat, would have lead us there. But, if Joyner’s theory holds, it is likely that absent Iraq (or in the event of a quick conclusion there) there would have been activity elsewhere.

      There’s always something going on somewhere, and…

      That said, I think what’s telling about the similarities between NeoCons and LibInts (?) is that they’re all about the application of power, never its limits.

      Yes.

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    • ~Since when did John Bolton get a UN Security Council resolution as well as one from the Arab League and not only NATO participation but participation (admittedly more symbolic than procedural) from Arab nations, specifically?

      ~And if we’re going to start damning humanitarian interventionists for things they *didn’t* but *might have* done, then one might conclude we’ve already made up our minds and won’t let cumbersome reality get in the way.

      ~I’d think it fair to say that domestic policies are rather irrelevant in a conversation about two schools of thought in the realm of international relations.

      ~In general, I’m seeing a lot of the arguments in favor of the Bill Kristol = Sam Power position rely on vagaries and unsubstantiated generalities.

      How could you consider the practical consequences of the two adviser’s recommendations the same, for example? Where is that the case? In particulars unrepresentative of the whole, maybe — yes, they both wanted the President to make decisions that would entail dropping bombs. But where is the practically equivalent consequence in Libya to the riots in Baghdad, the death squads, the mass kidnappings, the seemingly endless suicide bombings, Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo?

      The dismissal of international law and institutions as mere barometers of patience is a radical position, frankly; and it shares more in measurable consequences with the neoconservative philosophy than R2P.

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      • While you’re entirely correct (and kudos for some great responses) , it seems fair to note we shouldn’t pare away domestic from foreign policy quite so neatly: there’s a messy overlap, especially where oil is involved. Once we’re at war with a regime, we never leave it in place anymore: we become the de-facto authorities for their domestic policy. These humanitarian interventionists, well, I’ve been one. I work with the refugees and the survivors.

        Consider the situation in Iraq as we entered Baghdad. Ever since the Iran/Iraq War began, Saddam had put Iraq’s domestic politics on hold. When the Americans invaded, we found several noisome Science Projects in the Tupperware he’d stashed away. It wasn’t a question, as Colin Powell said “You break it, you bought it.” It was “You opened it, now don’t vomit on your uniform while you deal with it.”

        Saddam began well enough, we forget he was a ruthlessly competent administrator. He electrified Iraq, raised it to middle class standards, he won a UNESCO prize for his literacy campaign. Iraq was the envy of the surrounding regimes, every bit the equal of Turkey to the north. His Ba’ath Party was secular: though he was a Sunni, there were more Shiite Ba’ath Party members, quite a representative regime all things considered.

        In Libya, Qadhafi has proven himself equally secular, for he faces many of the same cultural problems. The comparisons are very good: Qadhafi cannot subdue the Berbers to the south and has bought them off with oil money. Like Saddam, Qadhafi’s economy and society progressed where his neighbours did not: Libya was a target for illegal immigration from sub-Saharan Africa and Egypt. Most of the refugees shipped out of beleaguered Misrata are not-Libyan.

        Already, in Libya, we’re seeing death squads. Both sides are already hard at work, identifying collaborators and murdering them. There isn’t much actual war, plenty of sniping though. This isn’t the Battle of Kursk here, at most, Libya has fielded a few battalions of loyalists. Tripoli is filled with loyalist refugees. Tripoli will go the way of Baghdad and the jihaadi factions will turn up as surely as tomorrow’s sunrise to capitalize on the chaos.

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      • And if we’re going to start damning humanitarian interventionists for things they *didn’t* but *might have* done, then one might conclude we’ve already made up our minds and won’t let cumbersome reality get in the way.

        Does this mean that we can look at what we’re doing and what we’ve accomplished and extrapolate from there to what’s most likely to happen given the last several times we’ve done this?

        Or will we instead be weighing the costs/benefits of inaction against the costs/benefits of the absolute best-case scenario?

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      • The UN Security Council–behind all the idealistic rhetoric–was set up as a fig leaf for the Great Powers to exercise power collectively, with the permanent members as a sort of post-WWII Concert of Europe. By all means, let’s go back to the “liberal internationalism” of the people who gave us Korea and Vietnam, the overthrow of Arbenz and Sukarno, and the School of the Americas.

        As for endorsement by the Arab League, a large part of its membershhip abstained. And Obama was able to swing the vote because of a behind-the-scenes deal with the Saudis where they’d twist the arms of the Gulf monarchies in return for Obama giving them a free hand to invade Bahrain and suppress the uprising there.

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      • The stridency of this response only furthers my opinion that the short version of this piece is “James Joyner offended me by comparing Iraq and Libya…and as someone in favor of the reasoning behind the latter but not the Bush doctrine, this offends me.”

        My point was a loose comparison of styles…but the broader one was, I don’t think things like symbolic support ot UN resolutions matter to the combatants on the ground, nearly as much as they matter to the salons of Europe or parts of the American electorate.

        I agree that in general process matters. On the basis that better processes lead to better results. If the results are largely the same, what’s the importance of differentiating between processes?

        I never dammed liberal interventionism based on a counter factual. I denied it’s superiority on the basis of not Iraq because it’s similarly unproven.

        Again, I’m not saying bill kristol and Samantha power are perfect substitutes, I’m saying they result in similar enough means and ends. What I’ve failed to see is how the differences between them amount to anything much more than style and more importantly how they translate into real, concrete differences in results. Does a greater emphasis on multilateralism look any different than a smaller emphasis outside of Brussels?

        I think my point – vis a vis the effect on foreign policy of strongly held/preferred views on domestic policy – is more relevant than your superficial dismissal of it recognizes. Domestic considerations hold enormous influence in foreign policy development.

        As for international law I said no such thing, try responding to what I wrote and not the outrageous strawman you’ve constructed

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  12. When it comes to humanitarian war (intervention is a nice way of making it sound more antiseptic), at best, you’ve got afootbridge problem; at worst, burning the forest to save the trees. Libya looks more and more like something in between those two, though it’s inching closer to forest-burning. Whatever massacre we prevented in Benghazi, we allowed something of at least similar scale to happen in Misrata through poor planning and execution. And the folks we’re backing have a nasty habit of offing the loyalists they capture, suggesting that whatever the “peace” looks like when this is over, it won’t be a pretty peace. Which civilians do we protect then?

    The difference, I suppose, between liberal interventionists and liberal non-interventionists (and perhaps conservative ones too) is that the non-interventionists fully recognize that negatives like the ones we’re seeing in Libya are an inevitable part of intervention, not something that can be avoided if we just work hard enough and have noble intentions.

    BlaiseP’s Law of Refugees: you may always know who is right and wrong in any given war by observing the footprints of the refugees: they run away from the bad guy toward the good guy.

    This law fails to explain why refugees almost always run to other countries/regions not participating in the fighting. When they do run somewhere within the territories of the warning parties, they tend to run to the side that offers the most security (e.g., the side that’s doing the bombing, instead of the side that’s being bombed). Maybe the law should read, “You can always tell where there is no fighting or greater security by observing the footprint of refugees,” but that doesn’t sound as pithy and cool, just more accurate. Of course, sacrificing any semblance of verisimilitude for a clever-sounding turn of phrase is the Law of BlaiseP’s Blog Commenting, so whatever.

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    • > The non-interventionists fully recognize that negatives
      > like the ones we’re seeing in Libya are an inevitable
      > part of intervention, not something that can be avoided
      > if we just work hard enough and have noble intentions.

      Something of that. Always defaulting to “never intervene” is also leaving us open to charges that we’re refusing to take part in a mess on account o’ we’re prissy and we don’t like getting our hands dirty. And while this is just one concern of many, it’s a real, viable concern. If America just yanks all of its military bases from the rest of the world and drops its military budget to 200 billion a year… that’s going to yank a lot of power out of various little subcultures of the world. Things will gravitate towards acquiring that power. That can be bad, too; likely *will* be bad, the question is will it be more bad? Right now I’m convinced that we need to stop throwing bombs at people. That might not be the case in 20 years.

      I’m not entirely certain that military isolationism is the best course. We haven’t tried it in a long, long, time and the geopolitical reality now doesn’t even look remotely like what it looked like the last time we tried saying, “You bitches go fight it out your own damn selves”. I know that I don’t like the way things are now. I see very little possibility of positive change unless we force it by a rather dramatic sea change in our foreign and military policy.

      There’s no real easy answer here. The fact that I don’t like messing around in other parts of the world doesn’t mean that we’re not going to do it as long as we have the capability to do so. Indeed, there are times when the political will of the country is going to demand that we do it. What am I supposed to do, sit over here in the corner and pout about it? I’m not a college-age pot-smokin’ peacenik just feeding my own sense of moral superiority.

      My country does ugly stuff. It’s going to do ugly stuff occasionally, it’s a democracy. It comes part and parcel with the governance model.

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    • I don’t buy that, Chris. Refugees will run a long way. True, they decide who’s the good guy and the bad guy, but let’s take several cases in point:

      India/Pakistan at Partition: The Muslims ran two ways: toward Bangladesh and toward Pakistan. Kashmir had a lot of Buddhists and Muslims, they didn’t move as much.

      Afghanistan/Pakistan: the Pashtun ran over the border into Pakistan. They didn’t return until the Americans invaded. The Taliban ran back over the border and they’re trying to come back, but they face serious problems in so doing.

      Libya/Egypt/Tunisia: I’ve tried to lay out the tribal dynamics in a few sentences, it’s quite complex. They’re all trying to get back to their own tribal centers of power.

      Iraq/Iran: During the Iraq/Iran War, many of the Shiites fled into Iran, especially the clerics. A few stayed, like Sistani, but the clerics came back. Well, Moktada Sadr comes and goes, depending on how much heat he’s got on him at any given time. Since the Americans invaded, Baghdad has been ethnically cleansed: it’s become Belfast-on-Tigris. The north of Iraq has been ethnically cleansed: all the Arabs who moved up to Kirkuk on Saddam’s invite, to take over land he’d expropriated from the Kurds, they’re either gone or dead. At least three million displaced Iraqis remain in various camps.

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  13. Pat, this is precisely what I was getting at (strangely, an example like Afghans moving into Pakistan support my point, not Blaise’s, but he uses it anyway). I thought of adding that refugees also run to areas with ethnic or otherwise culturally similar populations, but that’s not always the case, so I don’t think it’s a good idea to include it in any “law of refugees.” A perfect example would be so many Tamil refugees ending up in India, despite India’s explicit support for the people fighting the Tamil rebels. India wasn’t the good guy to Tamils, and they were precisely the cultural group against which the Tamils were fighting, but they were nearby and there weren’t gun fights and suicide bombers there (mostly), so it was a safe place. The refugee camps within Sri Lanka were just as far from the center of fighting as they could get.

    In short, safety, not who’s good or bad, is all that matters to refugees, and as often as not you can’t tell anything about who the “good guy” is by where refugees go. But hey, it’s a nice little saying.

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    • More Tamils in India than Sri Lanka, specially when they have a state named Tamil Nadu. One of the terrible things about that war was the Tamil leaders ended up killing a lot of their own. Hey, the Law of Refugees is not only a nice little saying, it’s a sovereign fact. It really does help to have some facts on your side.

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  14. Yeah, and who’s policing the Tamil cams in India?

    Anyway, when you provide some facts that support your law, I’ll be happy to acknowledge them. Until then, it’s like most of what you say: it sounds nice, but crumbles under the slightest scrutiny.

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    • I’m just a old pedant who means well and worked in refugee camps in Lebanon, Pakistan and the Guatemalan border and continues to give money to refugee work. Guess I’m too close to the situation to have any valid opinions. Thankfully, there’s you, Chris, to set me to rights.

      What would I do without your august and perennially sagacious slagging? I simply do not know. I am told (though I have never actually seen them) there are people who can divine the truth of any situation from afar, having never actually seen the evidence. Psychics, they call themselves, but they generally charge for their services. How generous of you to correct me, and for free.

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    • When Barry puts his foot down, he seldom telegraphs it to either his friends or foes. In for a penny, in for a pound: we’re going to roust out Qadhafi using a somewhat different methodology than Bush the Dumber’s. It will be more like his Daddy’s, you know, Bush the Wiser, building coalitions where the grownups sit down and work out what Done means in any given situation, listening to the military and the intelligence communities — then (and only then) acting.

      Relax, Scott, the grownups are now in charge. Prudence my ass: prudence dictates you don’t start fights you can’t finish and Barry knows this.

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  15. Just a League inquiry, one truly devoid of snark: Are any of my leftist-statist-progressivist friends distrubed by the manner (reported by the gummint) of OBL’s death?
    I mean he was alledgedly surrendering, with no weapon at hand?
    I thought yous guys would be just a little concerned about his ‘execution?’
    Bro Bush did establish Club GITMO but I haven’t heard where he ordered anyone to shoot these Islamists down like a dog.

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    • You probably don’t read his website directly Bob but Freddie is on record as being vehemently aghast at how things went down with OBL.

      Personally I’m pretty content with how it went down. Obama made a pretty high risk order by sending in SEALs rather than just bombing the whole compound into a crater. I don’t blame him for mitigating the risk very slightly by not ordering the SEALs (and their war-dog!!!) to try and fetch Osama out alive.

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    • That’s a fair question, Bob.

      So even though I disavow membership in your target audience, I’ll answer it myself:

      Executing someone who is in the act of surrender is morally dodgy business. You’d have to have a strong conviction, supported by evidence, that the surrender wasn’t legitimate to stay on the side of right, there. I’m inclined to give troops on the ground the benefit of the doubt absence reason to have a belief to the contrary; if the soldier says he didn’t think his prisoner was legitimately trying to surrender, it’s going to take some other witnessing party with a digressing opinion or some pretty significant physical evidence. Note: this only applies to the question of morality.

      Legally, assassination is murky. I found a few articles here and there on the web discussing the legality of assassinations (this presupposes that there was never any intention to take Osama alive, this was in fact a hit squad).

      From what I’m seeing, if you have a targeted attack, using troops in uniform, and you’re in a battlefield situation you’re definitely in the clear. Less than that, and you’re in murkier waters. This action definitely qualifies under two of the three.

      International law sorta presupposes state actions, so terrorism is a tricky widget. Was Osama bin Laden part of a deposed military junta ruling Afghanistan (with whom we’re still at war), or an international criminal?

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    • I’ve always said OBL was just a murderous crook, featuring Islamic icing he’d smeared atop his crimes.

      But there are two sides to the messy Son o’ Nuremberg trials we’d have to conduct some folks are proposing. I’d favor a straight civilian trial, so we could get him for conspiracy, hijacking and the like.

      Now, Bob, there are some folks who don’t like the idea of Gitmo detainees in federal prisons. They like the idea of Gitmo, safely offshore so’s we don’t have to prosecute those murderous crooks. When Obama proposed to bring them ashore, oh the self-applied torque applied to the panties of these otherwise Firm Law ‘n Order Types could have powered a middling-size municipality had it been applied to a motor-generator set.

      Nuremburg was something of a kangaroo court, necessary at the time to sort out the uniformed soldiers from the authors of the horrors they inflicted on the people they conquered. But let’s not kid ourselves, the prosecutors at Nuremburg made up the laws as they went along. Nobody ever prosecuted the Allies for contravening the Geneva Convention for the bombing of cities.

      Besides, at war’s end, we send out our own cadre of summary justice agents to murder those Germans and collaborator French (and others) who we knew had committed atrocities on our troops. Eisenhower issued an order no SS prisoners were to be taken alive after the massacre of American soldiers at Malmedy.

      In summary, it’s a big Meh when it comes to the extrajudicial nature of OBL’s death. While we continue to keep prisoners at Gitmo, and the GOP continues to insist they stay there, it is the height of hubris to worry about how Barry and the Seals handled OBL.

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        • As usual, it’s the bullshit-du-jour from you Eisenhower made sure the massacre at Malmedy was put in all the papers, especially into Stars and Stripes so every soldier would read it. The subsequent orders we have on record from units such as 4ID, 3AD, 90ID, 328 Infantry and many others would lend credence to the idea that Eisenhower not only issued the order, he made sure the issue was pressed home to the troops with pictures and stories.

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          • Yeah, no such order existed, and orders were even issued to take them alive, because they tended to provide the best intelligence, which was being lost through repraisal killings.

            Anyway, I know you were there and all, fighting for both the French and Dutch Resistance (with a stint among the Ukrainian partisans), but no such order was issued. Pulling it out of your butt doesn’t make it true.

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            • Poor Chris. The situation got so bad the German tanker troops started wearing the infantry uniform to avoid confusion with the SS, who also wore a black uniform.

              Here’s a little anecdote from a Captain Robert P. Lewis, 99th Infantry Division, U.S. Army

              The Malmedy Massacre: We didn’t know anything about the SS until after the Malmedy massacre, when the SS troopers lined up all the Americans and shot them all down. Then it got bad because the infantry men, if they captured any Germans, they were only supposed to bring two back. If they captured 10 they’d shoot eight. It was retaliation to the Malmedy massacre. So it backfired on the Germans in the long-run.

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              • I would ask for reputable sources to back your claim, but as I know no such sources exist, I won’t bother. Thousands of Waffen SS soldiers were taken prisoner, and no order was ever given to kill then, not by Eisenhower or any other general at least (some Second Lieutenant, maybe). No evidence exists for such an order. You made it up, and pointing to Eisenhower’s incendiary rhetoric is just ass-covering, as are the insults.

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                • Why would I lie about something so trivial, Chris? Is that your point, to call me out for lying? Or are you, as I strongly suspect, a nasty little naysayer with nothing better to do?

                  Let’s say Eisenhower didn’t issue such an order, though we do know from Eisenhower’s biography of his anger over the Malmedy incident.

                  And there is this:

                  The massacre occurred at approximately 1 p.m. on December 17th and the first survivors were picked up at 2:30 p.m. on the same day by a patrol of the 291st Engineer Battalion. Their story of the unprovoked massacre was immediately sent to General Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander of the war in Europe, who made it a point to disseminate the story to the reporters covering the battle.

                  One of the news reporters at the Battle of the Bulge was America’s most famous writer, Ernest Hemingway, who was covering the war for Collier’s magazine. When the gory details of the Malmedy Massacre reached the American people, there was a great outcry for justice to be done. To this day, the Malmedy Massacre is spoken of as one of the worst atrocities perpetrated by the hated Waffen-SS soldiers.

                  The Inspector General of the American First Army learned about the massacre three or four hours after the first survivors were rescued. By late afternoon that day, the news had reached the forward American divisions. In his book , entitled “The Ardennes, The Battle of the Bulge,” Hugh Cole wrote the following:

                  Thus Fragmentary Order 27 issued by Headquarters, 328th Infantry on 21 December for the attack scheduled for the following day says: “No SS troops or paratroopers will be taken prisoners but will be shot on sight.”

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                  • yup, but saying he ordered it is not only wrong, it’s libelous. Eisenhower had his faults, but bloodlust wasn’t one of them. I am not being a naysayer; I am pointing out a blatant and character-damaging untruth. Why you uttered it? I’m no psychologist… Well, OK, I am a psychologist, but why you say the stuff you do is beyond me.

                    Inciting repraisals and making them the official policy of the supreme commander are two very different things. I can’t imagine someone as smart as you can’t see the difference, or why I might feel compelled to point it out.

                    But you keep attacking me personally if you want. I’ve made and overmade my point.

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                  • Oh hush. You got caught out. You didn’t think I could find evidence for any such orders. Google doth make geniuses of all, Chris.

                    You’re a psychologist, you say. A pitiful specimen of that nebulous craft by the evidence you’ve presented. The word is reprisal, you nasty little narcissist: you’ve been crapping on my posts ever since I got here. I have no reason to lie to you or anyone here. Physician, heal thyself: nothing annoys us so much as what they find annoying in us.

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                    • What evidence? You said he gave an order that no SS prisoners were to be taken alive. That’s a bold statement, one with implications about the American armed forces in World War II and about Eisenhower specifically. You’ve provided no evidence for such an order. You’ve merely repeated what I said in my first couple posts on the subject: that American troops murdered SS prisoners, and that Eisenhower used inflammatory language that probably exacerbated the problem. That’s not issuing an order. But if you don’t see that, it’s not my problem. I’ve put it out there. You’ve flailed away with personal attacks and repeating more of what I’ve already admitted.

                      By the way, have you noticed that you can’t respond to me without attacking me personally? It’s true, I’ve responded to you a lot, because you say a lot of blatantly false things with some frequency. It’s a bit of a pathology with me. I’ve done the same to others when I think they’re full of shit (ask Tom or Bob, who are at least principled and honest; I don’t know what you are). And with the exception of making a jab at you about your personal stories (have you looked up General Ivolgin yet? He’s a character in The Idiot, though lest you get offended by the title alone, he’s not the Idiot himself), I haven’t said a thing about you personally until just now.

                      Oh, and my spelling is atrotious (OK, that one was on purpose; I’m on Firefox now so I have automatic spell check). You and every teacher I had from the first grade on have noticed it. Good on ya. And I’m not a clinical psychologist, by the way. There are other kinds.

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                  • By the way, the 328th Infantry Division headquarters were not, in case you’re wondering, headed by Eisenhower.

                    And if you read the book from which that order is quoted, you’ll find that the order was generally not followed, or at least that there’s no evidence that it was.

                    Anyway, if you find evidence that Eisenhower issued that order, or that it was followed by anyone, I’ll chime back in. Until then, have fun attacking me personally. I’m sure it will make you feel better.

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  16. I was hoping Jaybird will join in; looking forward to his comments.
    Chris, much impressed with your moral judgement and consistency in these matters, at least what I’ve seen so far.
    Bp, I thought you’d join with me in, at least, being concerned about the morality of the execution (if that’s what went down). Frankly, I have all sorts of questions re: this entire operation (and the lack of a body) but I thought the moral question related to the execution of an unarmed man (yes, a dickhead butcher) who was/had surrendered would drive the libertarians to frothy chest-pounding.
    If I’ve successfully described what occured then American armed forces participated in a murder ordered by the president, and no matter how you cut it, there’s no excuse for that; not the question of the events surrounding the balsey/heroic/brilliant assault and retrieval of the Saudi terrorist, and least of all because a ‘trial’ would be inconvenient for Barry/the regime/the country.
    My God gentlemen, we’re Americans we don’t execute people, no matter what kind of dirt-bags they are without a trial. Hell, I can’t even get you people to agree with my idea about hanging capital criminals!
    It ain’t about what kind of scum these Islamists are, it’s about who we are. The f*cking ends don’t ever justify the means.

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    • I’ve long thought that decapitation is far more humanitarian than shooting missiles at buildings in the hopes that a “high value target” is among the “collateral damage”.

      OBL’s “assassination” is less troublesome to me than the assertion that the USG can assassinate US citizens without a trial.

      (Keep in mind: The trial of OBL would have been a madhouse. In addition to conspiracy theories out the wazoo, there would have been a number of problems with kidnappings and assassinations of American Citizens with the same demand: Free Mumia.)

      It seems to me that the killing of OBL was, if anything is, a necessary evil.

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    • Wars aren’t sports, with referees and nice painted lines. Morality isn’t ethics. Morality is what I won’t do. Ethics is me telling you not to do something.

      The order to take OBL dead or alive had been on file for years. There’s a tale Gary Schroen tells:

      Mostly, it’s about his riveting new book, “First In: An Insider’s Account of How the CIA Spearheaded the War on Terror in Afghanistan.” In it, he recounts how his boss, then-CIA director of counterterrorism Cofer Black, told him that he wanted “bin Laden’s head shipped back in a box filled with dry ice.”

      Debating the morality of war is a sophomoric exercise. I’m told plenty of people who’ve been through all the military training can’t bring themselves to pull the trigger when it’s pointed at someone. That’s morality in action: what I won’t do under any circumstances. It’s understandable, and nobody knows until they’ve done it.

      So by extension, what’s the moral problem with shooting OBL? That he wasn’t armed? Just which stage of armed and dangerous justifies shooting someone? I’m told the bomber crews coming back from raids over Germany would get into serious psychological problems trying to justify dropping their bombs on cities. Some could do it in good conscience, others couldn’t.

      So that’s why it’s all a big colossal Meh from me. I’m not going to second guess or stand in judgement on the guy who shot OBL, for the same reason I’m not going to do it for a cop or anyone else who carries a weapon in the line of duty. Nobody questioned the original orders to kill or capture back when they were handed out at the time.

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      • “Kill or ‘capture'” isn’t the controversy. It’s whether bin Laden was wanted “Dead or Dead.”

        It could be the world will let this slide. Moralist/ethicist/whathaveyou Glenn Greenwald urged his readers to consult the UK Guardian if they were interested in the controversy. Which kind of made me, you know, laugh.

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        • Poor old Glen Greenwald. He’s been on the side of the angels more often than not, especially on the warrantless wiretapping, but he sees the world through lawyer’s eyes.

          It’s OR logic: Kill or Capture, and the order was longstanding. This whole controversy seems rather like the death penalty itself and I’m not going down that road, rhetorically. What is justice? Who defines it?

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        • > “Kill or ‘capture’” isn’t the controversy. It’s whether
          > bin Laden was wanted “Dead or Dead.”

          Generally speaking, I’d guess that folks who carry guns interpret “Kill or capture” as “You’re off the hook if you shoot this dude”.

          I mean, that’s probably how I would look at it if I was carrying a gun and assigned to look for the guy under the classification.

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        • > “Kill or ‘capture’” isn’t the controversy. It’s whether
          > bin Laden was wanted “Dead or Dead.”

          Not responding to you in particular, Tom, but to Conservative Nation me thinks the controversy is simply: did Obama support it*?

          *it = (anything from killing OBL to telling kids to study hard)

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  17. Here’s my Black Hat Pat stance on the affair: if I’m engaged in War, and I’m the CinC, I’m doing what I think is least worst for the country. In this particular case, I’m ordering my strike team to get in there and kill the dude, and bring back proof of death and as much intelligence as they can gather.

    Because I’m not figuring that we’re going to get any actionable intelligence out of interrogating the guy, and I’m profoundly disinterested in having a couple planeloads of people taken hostage “for the release of the Leader!” while people both at home and abroad dicker over what ought to be done with the man. I’m also not interested in getting anybody on my team killed when they go in; this is somebody who advocates suicide bombs as a standard M.O., so shooting him seems imminently safer to the insertion team than trying to take him alive.

    That’s a horribly immoral thing to do, and it would probably haunt me the rest of my days, but that’s what I’m doing. I also would have firebombed Dresden. After seeing Iwo Jima and Peleliu, I would have nuked Hiroshima, you bet. After the war was over, I might retire to a monastery and do penance for 20 years.

    This is one reason why I don’t believe in going to war in the first place. It puts you in a place where immoral acts are the norm, not the exception.

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