Re: I Wanted More About How An Ostrich Can Kick A Man To Death

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I should start out by saying I haven't read Yglesias's book; I plan to get it from my library at some point. My understanding from Yglesias's blog writing, however, is that he sees the Gulf War as a legitimate liberal internationalist intervention, which to me is a serious problem for his argument, because I don't see a bright line between the 1991 invasion, the regime of sanctions, inspections, no-fly-zones, and bombings that followed it, and the 2003 invasion that followed that. We essentially had a situation where a war blessed by internationalist standards gradually lead to mounting pressure for a war carried out on unilateralist grounds. I don't think the problem with the Gulf War or the Iraq War was just the presence or lack thereof of international support; it was that America was leaping into something as massive and destructive as war without considering the catastrophic and typically uncontrollable side effects war inevitably produces.


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 9:15 AM
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The original Gulf War, putting aside details of how it was actually carried out, doesn't seem to me to be a problem -- Iraq had invaded and occupied a foreign country, and the UN authorized a war to roll back that invasion. If that's not legitimate, what would be?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 9:23 AM
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Once you get into the aftermath of the Gulf War, that's more complicated, but the bright-line distinction from an international law point of view between the Gulf War and Kosovo or this Iraq War seems clear to me.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 9:25 AM
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Hm. I sort of agree with stras's critique, but I'm not sure you can blame the mere existence of the first Gulf War for the clusterfuck that followed, and if you do you raise grave concerns about whether internationally mandated military interventions are even possible when you have the possibility of the kind of bullying that kind be marshalled by a security council member, and if you think that, how do you think that International Law as such is a failure, and wouldn't that be a really dangerous and problematic place to be, especially if you're a superpower on the decline -- but with lots of nukes?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 9:26 AM
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3: one problem, I think, is that the bright line is really centered on the US acting in good faith, but to plan foreign policy for the US you can't very well predicate it on us acting in bad faith.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 9:28 AM
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Isn't the difference that Clinton bombed Kosovo because of the genocide of the Albanians, but no one was really getting hurt in Iraq in 2003?


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 9:31 AM
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Principled distinction between Gulf War I and Iraq 2003: The Empire Strikes Back: the UN authorized the first one, not the second. Rule: The US should only participate in wars that are sanctioned internationally. Following that rule would have kept us out of Iraq in 2003.

That would have also kept us out of Kosovo, so it seems from what LB is describing that Yglesias wants it to be permissible sometimes for the US to act on its own. But that's not a principle that distinguishes Iraq & Kosovo. "Do not act unilaterally when you're making up the reason you're invading" is the best I can come up with, but that doesn't work as a rule to keep the liberal hawks from being fooled.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 9:31 AM
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If that's not legitimate, what would be?

That's the point. It's not about "legitimacy," it's about consequences, and the consequences of the Gulf War included a sanctions regime which claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and ultimately lead to the Iraq War. Looking at war as a matter of legitimacy, instead of who's going to live and who's going to die, is an entirely perverse way of thinking.


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 9:32 AM
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Maybe Yglesias is thinking 'Immediate humanitarian intervention alone is an acceptable reason; pre-emptive warfare never is.'


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 9:33 AM
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Well, yeah, that's kind of the same soft spot I was talking about. What are the principles that define 'good faith'? You can't realistically demand unmixed motives, but what's the standard for a good faith intervention even if you assume that it also has self-interested motives?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 9:34 AM
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And I would add to 8 that we often don't know what the consequences of a given military action will be, which is a very good reason to presume against military intervention, regardless of how internationally popular a given war may be at the time.


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 9:34 AM
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8: well but are you saying that there's no need for military intervention ever? If you are, then we fundamentally disagree in a way I'm not sure how to address, but if you aren't then don't we need a way to make the use of force about something other than manifestations of national will, however conceived?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 9:35 AM
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but are you saying that there's no need for military intervention ever?

Of course not. There's self-defense. But neither Kosovo nor the Gulf War were self-defense, and neither Kosovo nor the Gulf War were good ideas.


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 9:37 AM
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And I would add to 8 that we often don't know what the consequences of a given military action will be, which is a very good reason to presume against military intervention, regardless of how internationally popular a given war may be at the time.

So should the U.S. have gotten involved in the European theater of WWII?


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 9:38 AM
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10: right. It's a problem, and one that is insufficiently solved even in our domestic political institutions, so even if we were to vastly strengthen the UN -- problematic from a democratic governance perspective, maybe -- there still would be the problem of the large states being able to do what the fuck they want, actually.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 9:38 AM
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14 to 13.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 9:38 AM
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10 to 5.

8: But not acting, there, has the consequence of rewarding Iraq's patently illegitimate invasion of Kuwait -- there are consequences on both sides. We could have fought to remove Iraq from Kuwait without subsequently imposing sanctions -- those consequences weren't inherent in the decision to go to war.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 9:39 AM
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So should the U.S. have gotten involved in the European theater of WWII?

Again, self-defense. Japan attacked Pearl Harbor; the U.S. declared war on Japan; Germany declared war on the U.S. in return; the U.S. declared war on Germany in return.


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 9:40 AM
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You can't realistically demand unmixed motives,

Wait, as a doctrine for liberal internationalism? Why not? We demand it all the time when setting up domestic police forces.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 9:40 AM
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There are so many differences between the nature of the "interventions" in Iraq 2003 and Kosovo that to me it is not even worthwhile to view them as being the same kind of thing. This so hopelessly muddles any discussions that it makes them worse than useless.

And I agree with Tweety in 4, both Gulf War detractors (inevitable step towards quagmire) and supporters (yay we won! It was easy!) often do not place the war in context of the whole weird history of US/Iraq relations. We did not just wake up one day and "Ohmigod! Kuwait, he's a madman!"


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 9:40 AM
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11: That's generally right, but you still have to weigh the consequences of inaction against the consequences of action.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 9:41 AM
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Japan attacked Pearl Harbor; the U.S. declared war on Japan; Germany declared war on the U.S. in return; the U.S. declared war on Germany in return.

That ignores two things: 1) Lend-Lease and 2) Germany's declaration of war was basically irrelevant, since it wasn't like they were actually going to be attacking the U.S. anytime soon.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 9:43 AM
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But not acting, there, has the consequence of rewarding Iraq's patently illegitimate invasion of Kuwait

Forgive me for being so blunt, but so what? Did the U.S. invade Israel to expel it from Gaza and the West Bank? Did it invade China to expel it from Tibet? Countries invade and occupy each other all the time without intervention from the United States. And from a utilitarian standpoint, do you really think that more people would've died if the U.S. hadn't intervened, given the consequences of intervention? Saddam may have been A Very Bad Man, but when you add casualties of sanctions to the casualties of the Iraq War, you're looking at well over a million dead.


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 9:43 AM
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22: It is clearly legitimate to define "self-defense" beyond the narrow definition of direct attack on my territory. (but of course this is the top of a long, maybe slippery, slope that to the neocons includes Iraq 2003 and Iran now).


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 9:46 AM
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23: did either of those constitute the case of a sitting UN member taking over another?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 9:46 AM
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There's a post-Rwanda argument that the UN charter & other sources of int'l law ought to be changed such that ongoing or imminent genocide is a legitimate basis for intervention. There are dangers in this: people could make bad faith arguments about genocide & launch wars of aggression; well-intentioned humanitarian interventions could turn into clusterfucks, etc. But I find it somewhat persuasive. Obviously, it wouldn't settle the question of whether an individual war is justified. And that's not really where international law stands right now. But it's a more limited & more defensible basis than the "pre-emption doctrine". And it's an argument with general application, unlike the "pre-emption doctrine", which is basically a "U.S. does whatever the fuck it wants doctrine" that no one argues should apply to any other country.

The other distinction that people sometimes draw is that it was supported by NATO, not a "coalition of the willing." But that's not much of a legal argument. It doesn't fall within collective self-defense of NATO; that's more a political indicator--the fact that we got an existing European alliance on board for an intervention in its backyard, as opposed to having just England, Spain, Australia & a bunch of smaller countries that we bullied or bribed into sending token support.

I'd say the most legally troubling thing about Kosovo is the lack of real Congressional authorization.


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 9:47 AM
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Oh yeah, and I forgot Destroyers for Bases.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 9:47 AM
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The whole notion of "consequences of inaction" with regards to the U.S. military making war in an unrelated part of the world is pretty damn arrogant, if I might add. It presumes that America has a right and a duty to "do something" about anything that happens anywhere on the planet, and that something must invariably involve blowing something up.


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 9:48 AM
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There's two questions here: whether Yglesias is right to argue that Kosovo and Gulf War I were right and that Iraq 2003 was not (the humanitarian interventionist position), and whether, having granted Yglesias that premise, he's done a good job of explaining what distinguishes good interventions from bad ones.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 9:48 AM
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Countries invade and occupy each other all the time without intervention from the United States.

Sure, but it would be a better world if they didn't, and a robust system of international institutions that prevented that sort of thing from happening would be a good thing. We haven't expelled China from Tibet because we're reasonably afraid of the consequences of starting something there; we didn't use military force to expel Israel from Gaza and the West Bank because we're enmeshed with them and approve of their actions. That doesn't mean that protecting countries from invasion isn't a generally good thing to do.

And like I keep saying, you can't say the Gulf War was a bad thing to do because sanctions were bad -- the two things are seperable policies.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 9:50 AM
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did either of those constitute the case of a sitting UN member taking over another?

Why should it matter if they're sitting members of the UN? Do you honestly believe that had anything to do with America's motives in the Gulf, or with its lack of interest in starting a war with Israel and China?


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 9:50 AM
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It is clearly legitimate to define "self-defense" beyond the narrow definition of direct attack on my territory.

Sure. But the point still stands: Germany's declaration of war on the U.S. was functionally irrelevant.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 9:50 AM
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32: In the short term.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 9:51 AM
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We haven't expelled China from Tibet because we're reasonably afraid of the consequences of starting something there

And we should have been reasonably afraid of starting something in Iraq.

And like I keep saying, you can't say the Gulf War was a bad thing to do because sanctions were bad -- the two things are seperable policies.

But they weren't. The sanctions regime came about as a direct result of the decision not to take Baghdad - to "contain" Saddam rather than invade Iraq. You can't really divorce these policies.


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 9:53 AM
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In the short term.

Sure. But given stras's line of reasoning, shouldn't we have waited until the long-term consequences started to make themselves felt? After all, you don't know what the consequences of a given military action are going to be.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 9:54 AM
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And we should have been reasonably afraid of starting something in Iraq.

Why?


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 9:54 AM
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Absent obvious cases of self-defense, I tend to think about war as similar to lynching: if you're going to do it, it's best to get as many of the town's prominent citizens involved as possible. Didn't we have the support of most of the well-sized powers and regional powers in Kosovo?


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 9:55 AM
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The decision not to take Baghdad was a but for cause of the sanctions, certainly, but the sanctions as imposed weren't a necessary result of that decision. Saddam could have been contained just fine without the type of sanctions that imposed the humanitarian cost they did.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 9:55 AM
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But given stras's line of reasoning, shouldn't we have waited until the long-term consequences started to make themselves felt?

Don't be an ass. I made it pretty clear that I think military action is justified in the case of self-defense, and that responding to a hostile country that's declared war on your country is self-defense.


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 9:56 AM
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I think we would have been justified in entering WW2 even if Japan hadn't invaded Pearl Harbor & Germany hadn't declared war on us. A war can still be a bad idea/moral disaster even if it would be legal under international law. But if you're arguing that international law justification is necessary, if not sufficient, a theory that doesn't allow for defensive alliances at all is nuts as far as I'm concerned. If you're arguing for a pure consequentialist analysis & international law just doesn't matter, then this isn't really the same conversation LB is having.


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 9:57 AM
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Saddam could have been contained just fine without the type of sanctions that imposed the humanitarian cost they did.

But the U.S. wasn't just going to pick up its bags and leave Iraq alone without the imposition of sanctions given the makeup of the American political and military elite. You can't divorce these decisions from the context of their political climate.


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 9:58 AM
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I made it pretty clear that I think military action is justified in the case of self-defense, and that responding to a hostile country that's declared war on your country is self-defense.

I still wanna know about Destroyers for Bases and Lend-Lease.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 10:01 AM
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given the makeup of the American political and military elite.

The American political and military elite favor a light rouge to bring out their cheekbones, and burlesque laquered lips.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 10:09 AM
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The case for bombing in the case of Kosovo was emphatically not clear-cut. And 'genocide of the Albanians' really over-states the situation. If we describe the sort of displacement-of-persons/ethnic cleansing/nasty inter-group civil-warfare that was going on in Kosovo as genocide, then there's a shit load of genocide going on all over the place.

re: Lend-Lease -- that began in 1941. Pre Pearl Harbour but quite a long time after the beginning of the War.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 10:09 AM
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40: What I'm saying is that even when a war looks pretty cut and dry - Bad Guy Country X invades Good Guy Country Y, and America can easily swoop in with umpty-zillion allies and take out the enemy in a couple weeks - the war can still be a shitty idea because it can lead to very bad consequences. This shouldn't be such a difficult concept to grasp. It happened in the Gulf War. Yes, you can imagine some parallel earth where an entirely different group of political elites decided not to impose sanctions and no-fly zones on Iraq after the war, just as you can imagine a universe where the Iraqis greeted us as liberators. But imagining doesn't make it so.

What all of this means is that we need a much higher standard for deciding to blow up other countries than the standard of international law. International law is nice, but it's clearly not enough if an internationalist war still produces very negative outcomes.


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 10:11 AM
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re: Lend-Lease -- that began in 1941. Pre Pearl Harbour but quite a long time after the beginning of the War.

Right. But it was still the U.S. getting involved in the European war prior to a declaration of war by Germany. Not full-on, boots-on-the-ground involvment, but pretty heavy involvement nonetheless. (And indicated that the U.S. almost certainly would have come into the European war even absent Pearl Harbor.)


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 10:14 AM
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I vaguely wish I didn't find myself agreeing with Stras so much about Gulf War 1. In retrospect the unasked question was this: "Assuming we win, in the sense that repel Iraqi armed forces and restore Kuwait's preexisting government, what then? What do we foresee as necessary or desirable afterward, and what happens if we just come on back home?" If there'd been anything like debate about it then, it would have been much easier to drag some of the most serious flaws of Gulf War 2 into the spotlight.

I feel pretty comfortable saying that anytime we're looking at answers with an emphasis on continued policing and governance, that's a job for the UN, and we ought not act on our own without commitments to share the burden in place. Because I don't want us going lone cowboy as a general matter, nor do I want us coming in, smashing stuff up and killing people, and then leaving foreseeable chaos behind. Inevitably there are surprises, but one of the conditions of warmaking of any kind should be plausible answers to "And then what?", with preparations based on the kinds of answers that apply that time.


Posted by: Bruce Baugh | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 10:18 AM
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I don't think Tibet is relevant to this discussion.

I'm confused as to why liberals want Kosovo to have been justified. Why not just give it up? I have to come out and say that I'm a "humanitarian intervention" skeptic generally -- it doesn't seem clear to me that the international community really knows how to do the things that a humanitarian intevention would claim to be doing, at least not on a consistent basis. Also, it's not really clear to me how much good Kosovo in specific did. Aerial bombing seems like a weird way to implement a "humanitarian intervention."


Posted by: Zippy the Comment Frog | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 10:20 AM
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re: 46

I don't think so. Countries have allies. They help allies. Doing so often doesn't constitute a declaration of war. The US sells arms, for example, to lots of people. In the case of Lend-Lease and Destroyers for Bases, the US was getting something in return for helping an ally.

Some people think that Lend-lease was a way for the US to stay out of the war, rather than a slippery-slope on the way into it.

You can argue about whether the US should have been helping the UK but their help for the UK fell far short of actual warfare.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 10:20 AM
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"What all of this means is that we need a much higher standard for deciding to blow up other countries than the standard of international law"

Okay, what's the standard? Does the U.S. have to be attacked, or is collective self defense ever a justification even if not in the first Gulf War? If it's "individual or collective self defense" + will save more lives & prevent more human suffering than it inflicts, I'm pretty close to with you. If you're arguing that the U.S. shouldn't ever get involved in wars unless we're directly invaded, I'm not.


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 10:21 AM
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48 is right.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 10:21 AM
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Okay, was Britain's 1939 declaration of war on Nazi ermany after the invasion of Poland justified? I can't believe how difficult it is to get a straight answer from people on whether "collective self defense/defense of another" is ever a justification for war.


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 10:27 AM
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China didn't really invade Tibet. China's sovereignty over Tibet was generally recognized, and still is -- even by the Dalai Lama, who really only asks for a degree of local autonomy. If the US had intervened it would have been an invasion, though I don't think that that was ever even considered.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 10:28 AM
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It's not clear to me that WWII is even relevant in this context -- in any case, since we're all indoctrinated from the womb about how just a war it was, maybe it's harder to think clearly about it in the sense of potentially being willing to say something negative. (For instance: The US didn't get involved to stop the Holocaust!)

So in its place, I propose the case of WWI.


Posted by: Zippy the Comment Frog | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 10:31 AM
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stras, I largely agree with what you're saying, but Yglesias' argument is emphatically about a practical, politically feasible Democratic foreign policy, and not about seizing the quasi-pacifist moral high ground.

I think what distinguishes (1) Gulf War I and (2) Kosovo from (3) Gulf War II is:

(1) The invasion of Kuwait was a clear-cut violation of international law and the expulsion of Iraq from Kuwait was authorized by the U.N. Security Council.
(2) The tactics used by the Serbians against the Kosovars were arguably genocidal and a majority of Europe was willing to sanction an intervention. Drafting NATO as the legitimizing institution was to some extent "forum shopping," but there's a reasonable argument to be made that preventing bloodshed *in Europe* should not be contingent on Russian and Chinese approval.
(3) No U.N. sanction, no NATO involvement, no clear-cut violation of international law, not a matter of keeping order "in the neighborhood." Oops.


Posted by: Chris Conway | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 10:31 AM
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I don't think so. Countries have allies. They help allies.

But that gets back to the reason I asked about WWII in the first place: stras was arguing that we shouldn't have attacked Iraq in response to Kuwait (a U.S. ally). I'm trying to figure out what distinguishes the one case from the other.

Doing so often doesn't constitute a declaration of war. The US sells arms, for example, to lots of people.

The main reason it doesn't constitute a declaration of war these days is that no one is stupid enough to attack us over it.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 10:32 AM
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I can't believe how difficult it is to get a straight answer from people on whether "collective self defense/defense of another" is ever a justification for war.

It is. But I'm probably not who you're asking.


Posted by: Chris Conway | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 10:32 AM
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I'm confused as to why liberals want Kosovo to have been justified.

As a matter of political branding, liberals want to be for some wars, but not for all wars. It is also helpful if a war you could conceive of supporting occurred after 1945.


Posted by: Chris Conway | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 10:34 AM
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If you're arguing that the U.S. shouldn't ever get involved in wars unless we're directly invaded, I'm not.

I'm curious as to why this is. What kinds of "good wars of choice" do you think the U.S. should be engaged in?

One of the reasons I'm disappointed in hearing Yglesias defend the Gulf War - and apparently Kosovo - is that he's been pretty good on why it would be a bad idea for America to invade the Sudan. In addition to pointing out the capacity to do a lot more harm than good, he's often made the case that if America wants to get into the business of saving people's lives in third world countries, it'd be far more effective to buy and distribute more medicine, vaccine, mosquito netting, etc. than to go around blowing shit up.


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 10:35 AM
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What all of this means is that we need a much higher standard for deciding to blow up other countries than the standard of international law.

Right. The sanction of a legitimate international institution (in this case the UN) is, the claim would be, a necessary but not a sufficient condition for intervention.

It seems that the question of legitimacy is being read in two ways upthread: LB's question regards the legitimacy of an international body (and its decisions regarding intervention), while others drifted to questions of the legitimacy of the intervention itself considered apart from the decision of any institutional body.

And the question, I take it, regarding the position Yglesias presents (as sketched by LB) is whether and to what extent the presumptive legitimacy of the institutional body can be disregarded, i.e. when can one of its decisions, if judged illegitimate, render the body itself illegitimate.

Or at least, if that's not quite the question, it's the one I find interesting. It's essentially a question of whether the US would or should ever be willing to entirely subordinate its decisions regarding military interventions to an international body; or whether it should always preserve a right to disregard that body.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 10:36 AM
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What kind of contrarianism is LB displaying in linking to Powell's instead of Amazon? Kausian or Yglesian?


Posted by: 56 and Sunny | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 10:36 AM
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It is also helpful if a war you could conceive of supporting occurred after 1945.

This is pretty easy. No.


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 10:37 AM
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What all of this means is that we need a much higher standard for deciding to blow up other countries than the standard of international law.

There's also just using good pragmatic judgment about the likely consequences, which is clearly necessary, and would have led to the aftermath of Gulf War I being conducted very differently. But that's not so much a standard -- "standard" in this context seems to me much more like "the threshold you have to meet before you even start thinking about the specific situation on a pragmatic level."

55: Isn't defining Russia as not having a legitimate interest in Europe a problem there? Myself, I lean toward saying Kosovo wasn't legitimate, but I'm shaky enough on it that I'm interested in argument.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 10:37 AM
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54: Indeed. WWII is also a bad example for arguing about intervention on behalf of others because we were attacked by one ally and were declared war on by the other ally. "If someone declares war on you you're allowed to go to war" doesn't help at all for the usual humanitarian interventionist reasons.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 10:38 AM
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61: The pro-labor kind. Powell's is organized, Amazon is not.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 10:38 AM
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For instance: The US didn't get involved to stop the Holocaust!

Are there actually people who get upset if you say this?


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 10:40 AM
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stras, where do you stand on Afghanistan 2001?


Posted by: Hamilton-Lovecraft | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 10:40 AM
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quasi-pacifist

What is this supposed to mean, by the way? A pacifist is someone who doesn't believe in taking up arms under any circumstances. I've explicitly disavowed that view. And I've no idea what "quasi-pacifist" means, other than an insinuation that I'm a dirty hippie for not being fond of pointless wars.


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 10:40 AM
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60: That's one of the questions. A followup question is whether you can usefully rely on the concept of legitimacy in a world where all the actually available international institutions do have genuine legitimacy problems. I want the answer to that followup question to be yes, but I don't have a worked-out argument that gets me there, and I would have liked Yglesias to hand me one.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 10:41 AM
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54: no kidding about U.S. involvement. But it's directly relevant. I am asking whether it's EVER justified to get involved in a war before your country is invaded. For anyone answering "no, never, self defense & actual invasion of your own country are the only justification for war" obviously it's legitimate to test that with the hard case. I'm not arguing that invasion of one country by another anywhere in the world is automatically a justification for U.S. involvement regardless of the consequences, so I'm not sure that WWI is so relevant. But fuck it, if no one will even answer the Great Britain & Poland question, there's obviously not much interest in dissecting first principles.


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 10:41 AM
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And I've no idea what "quasi-pacifist" means

I've assumed it means something like, "someone who, generally speaking, opposes most wars but not all wars." Someone like you!


Posted by: mrh | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 10:42 AM
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re: 56

Well, personally, I'm not 100% sure about Gulf War I. I think a case can be made for using military force to expel Iraq from Kuwait.

However, where it gets problematic, is that there are lots of other similar cases where no such expulsion by military force takes place and the reasons why it happens in some cases and not in others often look like naked self-interest or partiality on the part of some of the actors.

This isn't problematic for a foreign policy realist -- they just point-blank accept that naked self-interest is the name of the game -- nor is it problematic for your national-greatness conservative -- fucking up people who can't fight back is the name of their game. However, it is problematic for your liberal interventionist who does want to occupy the moral high ground.

This is why liberal interventionism is such a problematic position to take.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 10:43 AM
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52: I can't believe how difficult it is to get a straight answer from people on whether "collective self defense/defense of another" is ever a justification for war.

Yes, absolutely. And clearly the special treatment and attention given to treaties in the US Constitution is justified by how serious a matter it is to enter into such an agreement. (And as far as I know all of the discussion on the subject in the Federalist Papers etc. was on how to divide up that power. Speaks to the point above that the deficits in internal consensus re: Kosovo are possibly more of a concern than the external, NATO after all.)


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 10:43 AM
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67: I was against it from even before day one. I stated this conviction on September 11, 2001 on a public internet forum, although the posts from that day are no longer available. I was convinced that the US would respond with a more or less arbitrarily declared war, and in my view, we did.

With this in mind, I defy anyone to try to stake out a position to my left!


Posted by: Zippy the Comment Frog | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 10:44 AM
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70: This was probably clear from my defense of Gulf War I, but I'm on board with entering a war in response to an invasion of one of our allies as justified, although it may or may not be wise depending on the circumstances.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 10:44 AM
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This is pretty easy. No.

Did you mean: "This is pretty easy. No?" If so: no.

Looking at this list, Gulf War '91, Kosovo, and Afghanistan are really your only options. Many Congressional Democrats voted against the first Gulf War. Afghanistan is such an easy call that no credit accrues. So Kosovo may be their only choice (again, from a political positioning POV).


Posted by: Chris Conway | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 10:44 AM
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stras, where do you stand on Afghanistan 2001?

Supported it naively and rather bloodthirstily at the time; in retrospect it's a complete clusterfuck and a moral nightmare. Why, exactly, has a discrete mission to wipe out a handful of al Qaeda terrorists evolved into an open-ended counterinsurgency against the Taliban? And why is it that every major liberal foreign policy thinker wants to implement the Afghani equivalent of The Surge?


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 10:45 AM
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I'm not arguing that invasion of one country by another anywhere in the world is automatically a justification for U.S. involvement regardless of the consequences, so I'm not sure that WWI is so relevant.

Replace "U.S." with "UK" and it gets a bit more relevant. (Think of the "Rape of Belgium".)


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 10:47 AM
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i don't know much about what happened then there
but always think Vietnam did really good liberating Cambodia from pol pot, and thought it was almost the same time-frame, when America fought a war in that region why the US did not do anything, or may be you did and i just don't know that
Kosovo and saddam hussein's downfall i 'd also support, just the war shouldn't have lasted this long
i mean the intervention ideally should have been that, intervention and restoration of what is the internationally recognised good, democracy and human rights, but not continued occupation
Ruanda, Darfur should have been intervened the UN sanctionedly and asap imo, though of course not the US alone should be responsible to intervene


Posted by: read | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 10:47 AM
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I've assumed it means something like, "someone who, generally speaking, opposes most wars but not all wars."

But opposition to war is not, in and of itself, pacifist.


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 10:47 AM
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I can't believe how difficult it is to get a straight answer from people on whether "collective self defense/defense of another" is ever a justification for war.

It's a bit quick to be pulling out that sort rhetorical trick. We're 70+ comments into a discussion on a fairly involved issue, and pulling the 'why won't you answer' move is a bit low.

FWIW, my own view is something like LB's 75 with fairly deep worries about the wisdom of doing so in many/most actual instances..


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 10:47 AM
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One thing I haven't seen mentioned here is that America's military and foreign policy bureaucracies have their own institutionalized, semi-autonomous planning agencies, and do not key their planning on the demands of the electorate or even on the orders of elected officials. They have enormous powers to manipulate both public opinion and the elected civilian leadership. At the end of his life, for example, LBJ believed that he had been tricked into escalating the Vietnam War.

War opponents are always at a loss because they have no institutional heft at all; they tend to be thought of as a rabble of uninformed individuals. The war faction has massive presences in the media, academia, and in both political parties. There is no countervailing antiwar presence.

I think that this has been true more or less since 1941. It went along with increased technocracy and rule by experts, and the suppression of populism (which is basically Nazi, as we know.) And it did include the McCarthyist transformation of the university, but I won't harp on that.

Everyone reads Orwell their own way, but the switch from war on Eastasia to the war on Eurasia in 1984 (and the subsequent whipping up of popular support for the new war) can be related to the switch from alliance with Stalin to a cold war against Stalin, or to Nixon's playing the China card, when enemies suddenly became friends. The de-Nazification of Germany was crippled by our need to have allies against Communism, and we also buddied up to Franco for the same reason.

I have become very pessimistic. I think that America will continue to be militarist and imperialist as long as it is able to. I only really hope for less-adventurist imperialism.



Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 10:49 AM
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74: Good for you, Zip. I'm still ashamed that supported Afghanistan for as long as I did.


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 10:49 AM
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But opposition to war is not, in and of itself, pacifist.

It sounds like we're talking about semantics now. My interest wanes.

I can't believe no one is going to defend Operation Just Cause in Panama, when it was clearly for a just cause. It's right there in the name!


Posted by: mrh | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 10:49 AM
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Why, exactly, has a discrete mission to wipe out a handful of al Qaeda terrorists evolved into an open-ended counterinsurgency against the Taliban?

Because the distinction between al-Qaeda and the Taliban is not so clear as that question would make it out to be.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 10:49 AM
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I think that America will continue to be militarist and imperialist as long as it is able to.

I'm pretty certain of this. The empire will only end when it goes broke.


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 10:51 AM
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And I've no idea what "quasi-pacifist" means

I'm purposeful conflating principles and consequences. If you place the bar on military intervention so high that it can rarely if ever be passed, that's "quasi-pacifist." For instance, I'd say Noam Chomsky is a quasi-pacifist, even though he claims WWII was justified.


Posted by: Chris Conway | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 10:51 AM
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Josh, did you trip off your warblog and fall into here or something?


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 10:52 AM
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84: You mean "Operation Why? Just 'cause."?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 10:52 AM
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75: yeah, I agree. I actually opposed Gulf War I at the time, but I was in 7th grade; I've never seriously re-examined the question as an adult. On the one hand, a "no aggressive wars, the international community won't allow it" norm is valuable. On the other hand, given the Iraq War it's hard to argue that such a norm actually exists or is really what we were defending. And as far as the human consequences of the Gulf War, sanctions regime, etc., I've never looked at that in detail.

Kosovo I opposed before the fact because I thought preventing genocide was justified but an air war was just not going to work; then I thought, "oh, I guess it did work"; then I had doubts about the lack of Congressional authorization & legal legitimacy etc. & about how good the consequences were. So I'm basically ambivalent about both.

In general, I think that it's useful to have some "you can't go to war unless...." rules of international law, but it's entirely possible for a war to meet those conditions & still be immoral, disastrous, etc.


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 10:52 AM
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re: 80

Damn right. Irrespective of my views on warfare by nation states, on a personal level, I'm all for punching some people in the head.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 10:52 AM
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I'm purposeful conflating principles and consequences

Oh, good. You won't mind if I call you "pro-mass-murder," then.


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 10:53 AM
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Britain and France's declaration of war in support of Poland seems to me pretty much the model of justifiable defense of another. But to be honest, part of that is that there are no major competing claims to sovereignty involved in any of the participants. The Balkans have problems of who gets to say "this is mine" that go back to the 19th century (in something like their present form), and I have the impression that Kuwait's history involves a lot of imperial decree for the convenience of oil companies, which as a general thing I have trouble taking seriously as a foundation for governance. (I reserve the right to be shown to be a through-hat-talking nitwit here, and to graciously acknowledge it if I am.) Furthermore, there were allegations at the time that Kuwait was slant-drilling into Iraqi-held parts of that big oil field on their border, and I never did hear the results of investigation by outside groups into that.

And, of course, Poland didn't engage in a well-funded campaign to deceive the British or French people into war with the connivance of the British and/or French governments. Kuwait did, with the US. (Britain and the US connived that way too, which is why I'm happy to take intervention on Poland's behalf as a test instead.)

I would like to see more folks like Yglesias take up seriously the question of why the US is not a justifiable target of invasion from just about anyone else in the world, on behalf of any of our targets these days. Because I can't see a genuine standard fit for the whole world that doesn't put us front and center.


Posted by: Bruce Baugh | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 10:53 AM
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88, 92: Jesus Christ, you've gone right into strasshole mode, haven't you?


Posted by: mrh | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 10:55 AM
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A couple of points: this is a lot like the discussions of "procedural liberalism." If you commit to a set of rules, sometimes you're going to get perverse outcomes; it's nearly inevitable, because rules are crude and events are complex.

Given that, it might be better to come up with a set of flexible principles that explicitly recognize the need for good judgment in any given case. Something like the Catholic doctrine of just war.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 10:55 AM
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The other thing is that sometimes in a situation where you WANT a multilateral military response to some kind of situation, you don't get UN troops but you would still totally rather have the US in there than nobody. (I'm talking about Rwanda here, because I'm in Rwanda at the moment and have a one track mind).

I don't think any of it is easy. As a proud quasi-pacifist, I have no idea how to decide which wars I like, except by hindsight. Hindsight makes everything so simple!


Posted by: Cecily | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 10:56 AM
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Josh, did you trip off your warblog and fall into here or something?

You know, it *is* possible to have been against the invasion of Iraq, and in fact to be completely within the mainstream of opinion here with regard to U.S. foreign policy, and still disagree with you about this stuff.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 10:57 AM
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I would like to see more folks like Yglesias take up seriously the question of why the US is not a justifiable target of invasion from just about anyone else in the world, on behalf of any of our targets these days. Because I can't see a genuine standard fit for the whole world that doesn't put us front and center.

Quite.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 10:57 AM
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strasshole mode

Excuse me? Re-read 84 and tell me who's being the asshole.


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 10:58 AM
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I supported going into Afghanistan, and can envision a possible world in which the Administration conducting that war was not incompetant and wicked, and in which we Marshall Planned the hell out of Afghanistan after routing the Taliban, and in which by 2008 burgeoning beacon of democratic institutions reverse domino effect blah de blah de blah.


Posted by: Hamilton-Lovecraft | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 10:58 AM
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Oh, good. You won't mind if I call you "pro-mass-murder," then.

As long as it's in good faith!


Posted by: Chris Conway | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 10:58 AM
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They were so proud of the just war doctrine in Catholic school. We flitted right over contraception, marriage, etc. to talk about that for a week. (But then, all the priests were gay.)


Posted by: destroyer | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 10:59 AM
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96: Exactly, that's the Kosovo problem. (Or it might be. I'm very hesitant about these arguments because I don't know enough to be sure when intervention would practically have been likely to improve the situation - I'm ambivalent about Kosovo on that front, even in hindsight. In Rwanda, it seems as if military intervention would have to have saved lives, but I don't really know of my own knowledge.)


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 10:59 AM
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Re-read 84 and tell me who's being the asshole.

George H. W. Bush?


Posted by: mrh | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 11:00 AM
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98: Well, yeah, kinda.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 11:01 AM
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100: Isn't that the basic argument given by the Iraq incompetence dodgers, though? "I can imagine a world in which George Bush did Iraq right." I can imagine a lot of things, but usually the objections go something like (1) you did know this was George Bush, right? and (2) you did know this was Iraq, right? And in that vein, we both should've known that this was George Bush, and that this was Afghanistan.


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 11:01 AM
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||

I was opposed, but resigned, to the war in Afghanistan, but supported the invasion of Iraq.

>


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 11:02 AM
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95: I thought about mentioning just war theory, but I thought it was more fun to watch everyone stumble towards it through series of examples. There is also the practical trouble with just war theory that it places a lot of weight on discerning the state's intentions. Good for Catholic souls, perhaps, but a lot harder to use practically if one doesn't have a reliable way to discern them.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 11:02 AM
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or may be you did and i just don't know that

Actually, we helped create the conditions that led to Pol Pot's regime, and ultimately to an opportunity for Vietnamese intervention. No need to thank us, Vietnam—it was the least we could do.


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 11:03 AM
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Isn't defining Russia as not having a legitimate interest in Europe a problem there?

Well, sure, but we're talking about practical diplomacy here. And that would be your pre-Putin, Yeltsin-era, hitting-the-skids Russia we were snubbing. No reason to think we couldn't get away with it, legitimacy-wise.


Posted by: Chris Conway | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 11:03 AM
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82, 96: Another problem here is that answering pragmatic questions about likely consequences requires a lot of expertise, and as Emerson notes, in the US at least the professional military is seen as the sole source of the relevant expertise, but isn't a politically neutral player.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 11:04 AM
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Doh! LB beat me to the HITS book review. I was going to finish it last week but then, well, beer.


Posted by: Becks | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 11:04 AM
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Josh, here's a difference between al Qaeda and the Taliban: al Qaeda attacked America on 9/11, and the Taliban didn't.


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 11:05 AM
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To continue my dark mumbling, I increasingly doubt whether it's realistic to suppose that civilians can really control the military and the police. They can try, but groups with the license to kill are hard to effectively oppose. The nations where the military actuallydoes seem obedient to civilians seem mostly to be nations which are not at war, haven't been at war recently, and don't expect to be at war in the forseeable future.

There are very few American cities where the police aren't semi-autonomous, often with their own elected leader and an invulnerable policeman's union. A friend of mine in Portland claimed that no Portland mayor had ever succeeded in getting control of the police force.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 11:05 AM
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112: And I actually bought my copy.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 11:06 AM
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Josh, here's a difference between al Qaeda and the Taliban: al Qaeda attacked America on 9/11, and the Taliban didn't.

Of course, but surely alliances must mean something, right? Is it controversial to say that al Qaeda and the Taliban were meaningfully aligned against the United States?


Posted by: mrh | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 11:08 AM
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I bought my copy, too!

Everyone should buy a copy!


Posted by: Becks | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 11:09 AM
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106: To which I reply that Afghanistan was a hell of a lot more relevant to the Al Qaeda problem than Iraq was, and the ability of the Bush Administration to fuck things up was at that time unproven, so why are you trying to draw an equivalence?


Posted by: Hamilton-Lovecraft | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 11:09 AM
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In case this isn't clear, I'm only talking about the "necessary but not sufficient conditions" sort of rules. The weighing of the likely consequences of a particular war is always a necessary additional step. Lots of wars that could be characterized as self defense, defense of another country, or an attempt to stop a genocide have been & still could be awful ideas. (E.g., regardless of the international law justification for other countries to invade us after we invaded Iraq, I don't think it would've been a very good idea.) But it's possible for countries to convince themselves of ridiculously rose-colored views of the consequences, so it's good to have those international law rules too.


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 11:10 AM
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116: "Meaningfully aligned" in what way? Taliban leaders weren't sitting in a room drafting plans to hijack planes with bin Laden and KSM. The Taliban had given al Qaeda sanctuary in Afghanistan. They weren't meaningfully coordinating with al Qaeda to attack the U.S.


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 11:11 AM
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yeah, my best wishes to Cecily in Rwanda
i just recalled Soljenitsun, how the gulag prisoners in 1950 ies were wishing that the US'd declare a war with stalin
the first time i read i thought something like no wonder they were prisoners, they're so unpatriotic and antisoviet after one WW to wish another
but on re-read i thought i got what he meant, all their despair


Posted by: read | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 11:11 AM
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107: Unsurprising given the historical enmity of Iran and Iraq.


Posted by: Hamilton-Lovecraft | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 11:12 AM
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103: military action would totally have saved lives. There was prior knowledge of arms stashes and impending orders for massacre, and a request for additional UN troops. Instead the UN pulled everybody out so they wouldn't be stuck in a dangerous situation.

But, I, personally can see a bright line between at least Rwanda and Iraq. Specific incipient harm, etc. I don't know that much about Kosovo so we might be talking around each other.


Posted by: Cecily | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 11:12 AM
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thanks read!


Posted by: Cecily | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 11:13 AM
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"Meaningfully aligned" in what way?

In the way you just said: providing sanctuary, even in the face of a threat of military force. That's a sufficient criterion for me, but I recognize that reasonable people can disagree.


Posted by: mrh | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 11:13 AM
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120: Failing to assist the US in retailiation against Al Qaeda? If an organization warring against another country is located within your country, you really are 'either with it or against it'. The "Al Qaeda attacked you, we (the Taliban) didn't, but you can't come into our sovereign territory after them because that would be unprovoked war against us," position is really untenable.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 11:15 AM
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120: There was guy out on the back deck of my house with a high powered rifle taking out my neighbor's kids. I never planned anything with him, I just let him in when he came to the door. Those cops that busted in afterwards and yelled at me and took me down and cuffed me have a lot of nerve.


Posted by: Hamilton-Lovecraft | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 11:16 AM
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123: I'm sure you're right, it's just an issue where I feel my lack of expertise.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 11:16 AM
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82: One thing I haven't seen mentioned here is that America's military and foreign policy bureaucracies have their own institutionalized, semi-autonomous planning agencies, and do not key their planning on the demands of the electorate or even on the orders of elected officials.

I've been reading Andrew Bacevich's The New American Militarism. Just a couple of chapters in, but it's a bit of a reality check given the extent to which I've become so accustomed to laying virtually all blame for our dubious military adventures on a given presidential administration itself. Bacevich gives a general history of evolving military policy (chiefly within the military, but also as it morphed in interaction with relevant executive bodies) in response to the Vietnam War, the Cold War and its end; how the state of affairs in military policy at a given time was reflected in our prosecution of various adventures, or actually constituted a fuckup divergent from existing doctrine, and so on.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 11:18 AM
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Sorry, that was a cheap "think of the children" move. I should have said "taking out my neighbor's dogs".


Posted by: Hamilton-Lovecraft | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 11:18 AM
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Afghanistan was a hell of a lot more relevant to the Al Qaeda problem than Iraq was

That's a jump over the low bar. Midgets think I'm pretty tall, too, but for some reason I never made it into the NBA.

the ability of the Bush Administration to fuck things up was at that time unproven

Except for the fact that Bush was already a demonstrable idiot with little to no interest in policy, who had decided to flush away a multi-million-dollar budget surplus on tax cuts for the rich as the country headed into recession. And again, this was Afghanistan, a country made up of various disparate tribes and ethnic groups that hadn't been unified under a single government in decades. The notion that America was going to turn this into a successful nation-building exercise should've been laughable.


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 11:20 AM
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My favorite part about Afghanistan is that the Taliban offered to turn over al Qaeda if we showed evidence that they were behind the attack. We got pissed off at such an unreasonable demand and invaded the shit out of them.

On another point: Using what was basically a European war as a model for international relations today is pretty dumb, since most borders for contemporary African and Middle Eastern states were arbitrarily drawn by the Western powers. Yet we are supposed to treat them like brute unchangeable facts. Why shouldn't Kuwait be a part of Iraq, for instance? Or why shouldn't there be a Kurdistan? Etc., etc.

Europeans got to establish their borders by conquest, population transfer, etc. -- why should the third world be excluded from the fun of building their own nation-states the old-fashioned way if the nation-state is to be the end-all of international law?

(This thread is making me want to reread Hardt and Negri, beyond the quick review/skim I did for exams.)


Posted by: Zippy the Comment Frog | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 11:20 AM
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I bought my own copy of HITS and opposed the Afghanistan war in a widely distributed email that really upset my uncle, who for some time afterwards stopped forwarding me emails with the various themes of Kill 'em All and Wow, Women Complain A Lot.

I've wavered in my Afg. opposition, but the most sense has always been made by those who contemplated international police action (and, in the presidential race, were mercilessly mocked for it).

77 is very humanizing.


Posted by: Wrongshore | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 11:23 AM
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Using what was basically a European war as a model for international relations today is pretty dumb, since most borders for contemporary African and Middle Eastern states were arbitrarily drawn by the Western powers.

This is kind of a really good point. Is there a better way to resolve the problem, though, than to let them just fight it out to draw new borders?


Posted by: mrh | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 11:23 AM
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"On another point: Using what was basically a European war as a model for international relations today is pretty dumb, since most borders for contemporary African and Middle Eastern states were arbitrarily drawn by the Western powers. Yet we are supposed to treat them like brute unchangeable facts. Why shouldn't Kuwait be a part of Iraq, for instance? Or why shouldn't there be a Kurdistan? Etc., etc."

Or why shouldn't Iraq be the 51st state?

That's insane. A lot of borders are "arbitrary" in one fashion or another. The U.S.'s territory wasn't exactly legitimately acquired, and yet I wouldn't be cool with Mexico or Canada invading.


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 11:24 AM
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Is there a better way to resolve the problem, though, than to let them just fight it out to draw new borders?

Not that I can see.


Posted by: Zippy the Comment Frog | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 11:24 AM
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Which is to say, stras, that if you don't think the benefits outweighed the costs in the case of Afghanistan, that's fine, but to suggest that the principle of self defense doesn't at least offer a measurable benefit to the US that has to be weighed against the cost (as opposed to the Iraq case, where there was essentially no threat to defend against) seems disingenuous.


Posted by: Hamilton-Lovecraft | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 11:24 AM
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136: again, stupid, insane, and actually appallingly West-centered in its own way. "WE have real countries no matter what bloody way their borders were set, but those fake little Third world countries should fight it out; it'll be good for them."


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 11:26 AM
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The borders of a nation-state are always de facto borders -- legitimacy doesn't enter into the question. The definition of the modern state is an agency with a monopoly on coercive force over a given territory. What right do Mexico and Canada themselves have over their territory, much less ours, given that they are also products of colonialism/imperialism?


Posted by: Zippy the Comment Frog | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 11:28 AM
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Josh, here's a difference between al Qaeda and the Taliban: al Qaeda attacked America on 9/11, and the Taliban didn't.

bin Laden swore an oath of personal fealty to Mullah Omar, and the two organizations were clearly closely allied. The assassination of Ahmed Shah Massoud was also taken at the time as an al-Qaeda quid pro quo for Taliban support once 9/11 happened.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 11:29 AM
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138: I'm playing devil's advocate. If the nation-state is to be the basis for international law, then let the rest of the world establish nation-states in the appropriate way.


Posted by: Zippy the Comment Frog | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 11:29 AM
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if you don't think the benefits outweighed the costs in the case of Afghanistan, that's fine

Let's be clear here: we're not paying the costs in Afghanistan. The Afghans we've killed are paying the costs. As for the benefits, I don't even see what they are.

but to suggest that the principle of self defense doesn't at least offer a measurable benefit to the US that has to be weighed against the cost ... seems disingenuous.

How our we defending ourselves in Afghanistan right now? The Taliban didn't attack us; the innocent Afghans who invariably get killed in the crossfire certainly didn't. Bin Laden is in Pakistan now. The whole thing strikes me as a grotesque farce.

What seems clear to me is that the best way America can defend itself against terror isn't through military action, but through changing its foreign policy with regard to Israel, the Mideast, and the rest of the developing world. But no one in a position to do this is willing to do this, so the "practical" response becomes, let's hunt down and kill the terrorists! And "hunting down and killing the terrorists" always ends up meaning killing lots of people who aren't terrorists, which ends up, surprise surprise, creating more terrorists.


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 11:32 AM
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Except for the fact that Bush was already a demonstrable idiot with little to no interest in policy, who had decided to flush away a multi-million-dollar budget surplus on tax cuts for the rich as the country headed into recession.

Eh, demonstrating crappy economic policy doesn't really speak too much to foreign policy, IMO. Colin Powell was Secretary of State at the time, so you could make a case that there was adult supervision there.

Of course, to be more honest, I was paying approximately zero attention to what the Administration was doing before 9/11. I listened to Bush's speeches right afterward and said to myself "well, he doesn't exactly inspire confidence" but I probably would have given him my approval if polled, simply on national-unity and "you go to war with the president you have" principles. (If I'd known about My Pet Goat and the August 6 2001 PDB, that would be another story, of course.)


Posted by: Hamilton-Lovecraft | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 11:33 AM
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138: So let me ask you a simple question back. Do historical questions of the legitimacy of a particular span of control of a nation-state #1 ever change the obligations of nation-state #2 to react to threats to its sovereignty?


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 11:33 AM
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I was opposed, but resigned, to the war in Afghanistan, but supported the invasion of Iraq.

Yeah, you're a psycho, if that's really you. I cannot think of any worse policy than to instruct the American military to behave like Lassie.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 11:33 AM
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Colin Powell was Secretary of State at the time, so you could make a case that there was adult supervision there.

Wasn't Colin Powell left out of meetings and summarily ignored until he resigned?


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 11:34 AM
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Why, exactly, has a discrete mission to wipe out a handful of al Qaeda terrorists evolved into an open-ended counterinsurgency against the Taliban?

The Bush administration certainly never billed the war as a "discreet mission to wipe out a handful of al Qaeda terrorists." It was a war to root out Al Qaeda and their state sponsors. Additionally, a lot of the discourse surrounding the war in 2001 focused on the claim that the only reason invading Afghanistan was necessary in 2001 is that we had abandoned engagement with the country after the 1980s and let the Taliban take power. Nation-building and a refusal to "walk away from Afghanistan again" seemed to be part of the mission from the beginning.


Posted by: Moby Ape | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 11:35 AM
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147: Yeah, well, that's why it was a stupid war. And I was stupid for supporting it at the time.


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 11:36 AM
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"138: So let me ask you a simple question back. Do historical questions of the legitimacy of a particular span of control of a nation-state #1 ever change the obligations of nation-state #2 to react to threats to its sovereignty?"

Don't begin to understand the question. What is the relationship between nation states 1 & 2? Whose control of nation state #1? And does the "its sovereignty" in the last sentence refer to nation state #1 or #2?


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 11:36 AM
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142: Sorry - I should have been more clear; I'm still talking about the projected costs and benefits of a competently executed Afghanistan war not interrupted by a stupid and incompetent war in Iraq.

That said, we were and are paying costs in Afghanistan, and the projected benefits would include disrupting Al Qaeda, capturing or confirmably killing Bin Laden, and the (admittedly small) possibility of creating a more stable Afghanistan.

I agree with you that, today, our presence in Afghanistan is not making us safer.

I agree with you that better, "nicer" foreign policy is a much better way to do things. Use big carrots, use small sticks, and take comfort in the fact that we have bigger sticks should we really need them.


Posted by: Hamilton-Lovecraft | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 11:39 AM
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How our we defending ourselves in Afghanistan right now? The Taliban didn't attack us

What does "right now" have to do with it? That's not when we made the judgment. And my recollection is that we asked the Taliban to turn OBL over.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 11:40 AM
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I think I'm coming down on Stras's side here. The war in Afghanistan doesn't seem to have done much but kill some Afghans; from the practical perspective of disrupting or destroying a terrorist organization the results are middling-to-none.

Similarly, I'm unclear on any legitimate moral position from which the US cares whether a given patch of the Middle East is controlled by one autocracy versus another.


Posted by: Nathan Williams | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 11:42 AM
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146: I certainly wasn't personally aware of that in September-October 2001, 'swhat I'm saying.


Posted by: Hamilton-Lovecraft | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 11:42 AM
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What does "right now" have to do with it?

Because we're still killing people in Afghanistan right now, and because that war still enjoys a great deal of support among liberal foreign policy circles.

And my recollection is that we asked the Taliban to turn OBL over.

And they indicated that they would if shown evidence that he was responsible.


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 11:43 AM
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152: FFS, I'm not saying that if I knew then what I know now, I'd support the invasion of Afghanistan.


Posted by: Hamilton-Lovecraft | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 11:44 AM
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"The war in Afghanistan doesn't seem to have done much but kill some Afghans; from the practical perspective of disrupting or destroying a terrorist organization the results are middling-to-none"

I don't think that's correct as far as "disrupting." I'd say middling-to-decent in the early days.


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 11:45 AM
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149: Yes, I totally fucked up the last sentence (I meant to nation state #2's sovereignty). And no, you don't get to ask the particulars, the question is "ever".

I was mostly just playing dumb to point out that the questions of what is or is not a nation state is tough. OK, can't do anything about Tibet in 2008. What about 1959? What about 1950? Maybe it really is realpolitik all the way down.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 11:45 AM
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And they indicated that they would if shown evidence that he was responsible.

So I'm curious: do you doubt OBL's involvement? (That's not snarky or pointed.)


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 11:46 AM
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Wow. Afghanistan was probably the third easiest call for war in American history, maybe the second. (I'm not sure where it sits relative to Fort Sumter.) The American Revolution is less clearly justified than Afghanistan. If you are harboring a group that has declared war on the United States, then you've fucked up.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 11:47 AM
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Besides which, there was already a shooting war going on in Afghanistan.


Posted by: Hamilton-Lovecraft | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 11:47 AM
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So I'm curious: do you doubt OBL's involvement?

No. But I don't think it was necessary to invade Afghanistan and overthrow the Taliban in order to get at bin Laden.


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 11:49 AM
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157: ...and to point out that I am not a native speaker or writer of the English language although I have not other.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 11:50 AM
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As constructed, I do not see how the clauses are relevant to each other in any way unless there's an implication of #1 controlling #2. What would questions about the legitimacy of say, Uzbekistan's territorial control over its borders, have to do with how, say, Sierra Leone reacts to a dispute over its borders? I still have no idea what you're asking.


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 11:50 AM
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On the subject of the Afghanistan War, I found this paper helpful:

Miller, Richard. "Terrorism, War and Empire" in James Sterba, ed., Terrorism and International Justice (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.), pp. 186-205.


Posted by: Chris | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 11:51 AM
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And to follow up on 161: we invaded Afghanistan, overthrew the Taliban, and got involved in a long, bloody counterinsurgency in the country, but still didn't get bin Laden. So way to go, war in Afghanistan!


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 11:53 AM
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Never mind, I see now that I reversed #1 and #2 in my clarification.I withdraw all comments in this thread and go now to tend my garden on this beautiful spring day. Sorry for the bother.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 11:54 AM
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No. But I don't think it was necessary to invade Afghanistan and overthrow the Taliban in order to get at bin Laden.

Yeah, this is a likely point of disagreement. I'm not sure what counts as "necessary." But--and it's entirely possibly that I'm sufficiently ill-informed as to be entirely wet--I'm OK with what we did, initially.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 11:57 AM
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Or are you saying: does the fact that state 1's borders were set arbitrarily 50 years ago change how we, state 2, react to a border dispute in state 1 now? Yeah, it could: if we're talking about attempted secession of a long-oppressed minority, we might find the history of repression relevant to how we approached the issue. Whereas if we're talking about one country invading another, it's a different situation. Also, if it's a dispute among colonial powers, I think we'd probably stay out of it--if France is claiming that Germany is stealing its colonies in Africa & it's acting in self defense, I would tend to say: "I don't really care, you're both jerks," whereas if one independent, self governing country just up and invades its neighbor its a different situation. But, those countries in Africa are now independent. They achieved independence some time ago. If, oh, South Africa attacks Mozambique, I'm not going to be very impressed with them saying, "oh come on, those borders were arbitrary anyway, that should be ours."


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 11:57 AM
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168 crossed with 166. I think I answered in the end...


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 11:57 AM
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I'm purposeful conflating principles and consequences. If you place the bar on military intervention so high that it can rarely if ever be passed, that's "quasi-pacifist."

If you really want a term for this, I propose "functional pacifist".


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 12:02 PM
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168, 169: Yes that was the question. Glad to see it stated in English! Yes you did answer, but I think in cases like Tibet, Nigeria/Biafra, Balkans, "Kurdistan" and especially Israel/Palestine it raises more significant issues.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 12:03 PM
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re: 170

I think 'pacifism' ought to be resisted as a term for this position. Someone can be functionally anti-intervention but still fully for the rights of countries to act robustly in self-defense. Pacifism would preclude the latter.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 12:07 PM
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(Further to 168: I care less how territory was acquired decades ago than whether the people within it are now given full citizenship, equal protection, etc. & can count on that continuing. Israel may have started the occupation of Gaza & the West Bank because of a legitimate war of self defense, but "we won it fair & square" isn't a decent argument for keeping it if you're not willing to offer the people living there Israeli citizenship.)


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 12:07 PM
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Interestingly, no one is proposing to invade France because of the plight of the sans papiers, nor is anyone proposing to invade Israel because of the treatment of the Palestinians. It almost makes me suspect that that's because in the present global order, there are different classes of states, such that a discussion of the rights of "states" in general (especially if the category of "states" in general is supposed to include the United States) is hopelessly abstract and irrelevant!


Posted by: Zippy the Comment Frog | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 12:10 PM
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172: Good point.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 12:10 PM
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, there are different classes of states, such that a discussion of the rights of "states" in general (especially if the category of "states" in general is supposed to include the United States) is hopelessly abstract and irrelevant!

I knew you'd come around.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 12:12 PM
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Zippy is totally rocking this thread.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 12:14 PM
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If someone invaded France or Israel, France or Israel would win. I think we all agree that the likelihood of success should count for something, no? (Except for Paul Wolfowitz, who advocated the US go to war with Russia over the rights of Lithuania.)


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 12:14 PM
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JE's focus on the juggernaut of military planning and agenda mirrors my own; it's the thing I'm most worried about.

And I'm thrilled to see so much doubt expressed here about the rightness of Gulf War I, Kosovo, and Afghanistan 2001. Opposing those at the time could be a lonely business, even in a largely supportive subculture. And my family, like Wrongshore's and maybe everybody's, was filled with kill-em-all feelings particularly in '01.


Posted by: I don't pay | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 12:15 PM
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If someone invaded France, France would win.

History has not showed this to be the case.

[couldn't resist, but of course liklihood of success should count]


Posted by: Idealist | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 12:17 PM
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Tying my long, meandering question back to the original thread, I do find my attitude toward the Kosovo intervention colored by the questions surrounding the legitimacy of Serbian/"Yugoslavian" in the wake of the prior events. This is one of many elements which make it quite easily distinguishable to me from Iraq 2003.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 12:18 PM
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19 gets it exactly right.

Of course you can demand good faith! Not only that, you should—then when someone doesn't act in good faith, you've got grounds for complaint.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 12:19 PM
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Zippy is arguing against a bunch of straw men. I am arguing that there ought to be universal minimum international law standards necessary to justify getting involved in a war, which apply to all states. I am not arguing that this is the way it actually works right now. Obviously, more powerful countries get away with more. No one is denying or has denied that. This applies even among western powers: we've done things to the citizens of our allies, lately, that would create major international incidents if they did it to U.S. citizens. We've by and large gotten away with it. Third world countries are even worse off. I thought we all took this for granted, so it's not exactly blowing my mind. It's also pretty orthoganol to what the justifications for involvement in wars *ought* to be. "Those borders are arbitrary, man" remains a crap justification.


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 12:20 PM
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... in the wake of the prior events in the former Yugoslavia.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 12:22 PM
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It's also pretty orthoganol to what the justifications for involvement in wars *ought* to be.

I think, perhaps, the reference to "hopelessly abstract" is meant to indicate that you're assuming the possibility of some "objective" measure of the terms of a rule that simply isn't available. Whatever rule you come up with will be applied, in good faith, differently to different classes of states. (Better to first determine if we can type those classes?)


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 12:27 PM
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You can say this stuff about all international laws. And yet, I still think they're useful constraints on power worth pursuing. There was a time not so long ago when the U.S. would've regarded the Bush doctrine as naked aggression; it would help to get that back, & to formulate coherent answers to bad faith arguments about why wars are justified.


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 12:36 PM
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The bottom line is that it's very difficult to slice off one piece of the logic of U.S. imperialism and say that's fucked up while preserving the rest of it. The real differences between Kosovo and Iraq have much more to do with practicality and consequences than with justification. Kosovo was minor enough that the rest of the world could look the other way.

If you wanted to be honest, you'd say something like "I believe the U.S. can throw its weight around while disregarding the rest of the world, but let's not get crazy about it". Frankly, I'd be OK with that for a start. It's pretty much the mainstream Democratic position at this point. The problem is the logic of throwing your weight around while ignoring other people's needs eventually gets you into situations where you get crazy. But even being aware of your own potential for craziness is helpful. (I think this awareness is generally referred to as the "Vietnam Syndrome").

I haven't read the whole thread, but some people up top were very right to bring up WWII. Pearl Harbor happened because we were taking a very aggressive interest in preventing Japanese expansionism in the Western Pacific, thousands of miles away from the continental U.S. To the point of threatening to embargo Japanese oil.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 12:38 PM
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Why, exactly, has a discrete mission to wipe out a handful of al Qaeda terrorists evolved into an open-ended counterinsurgency against the Taliban?

OK, just to be clear: stras thinks that sending troops into Afghanistan to take out AQ could be legit, but thinks it's absurd to support war against the Taliban.

What exactly, stras, should the Taliban have done when the SEALS showed up? Surely fighting back against US invaders would be legit, and then they're shooting at us. Do we not shoot back, because it's stupid to conflate criminals with those that harbor them?

Oh, and PS - comparing 84 with 88 and 92, you are clearing the one being an asshole. I realize that doesn't mean much coming from me, but I found 88 and 92 to be breathtaking.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 12:41 PM
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165: It's totally awesome the way you always live in the now no matter how many times we try and bring the conversation back to October 2001.


Posted by: Hamilton-Lovecraft | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 12:43 PM
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Don't be bitter, HL. Stras has been living in May 2008 for the past 7 years. It must be monotonous.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 12:45 PM
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Ben is right!


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 12:46 PM
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This applies even among western powers: we've done things to the citizens of our allies, lately, that would create major international incidents if they did it to U.S. citizens. We've by and large gotten away with it.

This one is pretty interesting, to me. I think a pretty good case could be made for those allies doing a damn sight more in response.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 12:46 PM
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187: Which is why I mentioned the idea of Marshall Planning Afghanistan above. It's amazing how much friendlier an occupied, militarily defeated nation can become when you start throwing real money around in it, and if the US spent enough time and money in effective reconstruction after each invasion, you'd have a lot more friends, if not nations lining up to be next a la The Mouse That Roared.


Posted by: Hamilton-Lovecraft | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 12:47 PM
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You can say this stuff about all international laws. And yet, I still think they're useful constraints on power worth pursuing.

I would say that say that about all international laws. I'd say it about all laws. I also think international laws may be useful but not sufficient constraints--which I believe you've said as well--but I think I'd want to put in place some fairly specific sorts of roadblocks that weren't general laws (or rules). I'm not, however, sure what they would be.

I guess I'm saying I wouldn't worry too much about the international law filter making correct decisions on hard cases.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 12:47 PM
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188: you could argue that we have to wait until they shoot at us to shoot back. I think the result in Afghanistan would've been exactly the same, but you can imagine a situation where a nation is "harboring" terrorists because it lacks the means to go after them, or is afraid of the political ramifications of doing so, or what not, rather than because it's actively allied with them. U.S. special forces raids on the Pakistani side of the border with Afghanistan would not equal a full scale invasion of Pakistan. But in the case of Taliban & al Qaeda after 9/11 , it probably amounted to the same thing.


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 12:48 PM
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186: There was a time not so long ago when the U.S. would've regarded the Bush doctrine as naked aggression; it would help to get that back

Certainly, and I think the military budget is one place to start. You're not going to spend like this and not use it. But very tough political sledding given the economy. (Unless, maybe there is some other pressing problems of humanity that could use further investment. Nah, what am I thinking, the market will cover those very nicely.)


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 12:49 PM
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190: I was actually toying with the idea that people who seem unreasonably opposed to any given proposed war are probably time travelers who saw the result, but stras's admission in 77 would seem to leave him out of that theory. Still, maybe futurestras replaced October2001stras at some point in the intervening years.


Posted by: Hamilton-Lovecraft | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 12:50 PM
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My favorite part about Afghanistan is that the Taliban offered to turn over al Qaeda if we showed evidence that they were behind the attack. We got pissed off at such an unreasonable demand and invaded the shit out of them.

Are you seriously saying that we should have essentially built a court-worthy case for AQ involvement in 9-11 before invading Afghanistan? I mean, we didn't invade on 9-13. Although knowledgeable people (not Bush appointees, obvs) knew before the second tower fell who was responsible, we had plenty of evidence before invading Afgh. that AQ was responsible. The Taliban request was not in good faith.

I might add: fuck a fucking fuckload of Taliban. Goddamn rapist medieval godbag assholes.

Further: Afghanistan, 2 months after the Taliban was overthrown, was in better shape that Iraq has ever been (post-invasion). The current clusterfuck wasn't inevitable, iff the flip to Iraq could have been avoided. I know that last counterfactual is almost meaningless, but let's not pretend that the supremely idiotic evil of GWB is the same thing as "no invasion of Afghanistan could've succeeded." A Gore-led invasion could very well have created a (mostly) stable, functioning nation-state in Afghanistan. The problem is, what do you do in fall, 2001? GWB is president for 3.3 more years. You can't stop him from doing everything. Saying, Yes Afghanistan, No Iraq is actually a decent method of trying to minimize the damage that GWB will inevitably create.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 12:51 PM
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192: yeah, I kind of wish they would (not invade, but the idea that the country that's supposed to be your best friend & expects your active support in its various escapades can go around torturing their citizens with impunity would infuriate me if I were Canadian, German, etc.). I think due to the complicity of their own intelligence services as much as generalized wussiness & refusal to stand up to the U.S.


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 12:51 PM
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It's totally awesome the way you always live in the now no matter how many times we try and bring the conversation back to October 2001

In what way is this a response to anything I've said? The Afghanistan War was and is not merely an operation to shut down or disrupt al Qaeda, but a massive open-ended regime-change and nation-building mission in a country composed of multiple warring ethnic factions. This was not merely what the Afghan War turned into, but, per 147, was the idea all along. And it was a stupid idea.


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 12:54 PM
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re: 180

This shit also needs to fucking stop. You lot don't exactly have a history covered in shining success in warfare, either, for all your posturing. You've had your fucking arse kicked several times. And not by the fucking Wehrmacht at the height of their powers, either.

France lost more men as a percentage of population than either the UK or the US in WWII. So weaselly crowing from Americans is pathetic.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 12:54 PM
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The reason I am "arguing against strawmen" is for two reasons:
1. International law presupposes a state of affairs (a world completely covered with legitimate nation-states) that does not and cannot actually obtain.
2. I don't believe that the presupposition of international law (a world covered with legitimate nation-states) is a desirable one, even if it were attainable.

Where does that leave my ability to argue about norms of international affairs? Up shit creek. Same as where you are, but you don't realize it.


Posted by: Zippy the Comment Frog | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 12:59 PM
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The war in Afghanistan doesn't seem to have done much but kill some Afghans; from the practical perspective of disrupting or destroying a terrorist organization the results are middling-to-none.

Actually, this isn't true. Smart people, like Richard Clarke, think that we did enormous damage to AQ in Afghanistan. A little better luck, or a lot better leadership, and we would've gotten bin Laden, and AQ would've been massively and lastingly crippled. As it was, AQ itself is today weaker than it was on 9-10.

Now, our subsequent actions in Iraq have aided the AQ meme (as it were) in metastasizing into numerous terrorist groups around the world but, frankly, very few of them pose a meaningful threat to the US or our Western allies (Madrid and London were, IIRC, in the works before 9-11, and so were able to occur even after the fall of AQ in Afghanistan).


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 1:00 PM
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The current clusterfuck wasn't inevitable, iff the flip to Iraq could have been avoided.

Says who? Again, we're talking about a country composed of over half a dozen different ethnic groups, none of which had been united under a single stable government in decades. How was an American puppet regime going to accomplish this when Afghan governments throughout the twentieth century failed to hold the country together?


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 1:01 PM
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The Afghanistan War was and is not merely an operation to shut down or disrupt al Qaeda, but a massive open-ended regime-change and nation-building mission in a country composed of multiple warring ethnic factions.

This is completely true. But the international community also tried totally ignoring Afghanistan after the Soviet pullout and letting them work things out internally (with some help from the Pakistani ISI -- but you can't stop that unless you're willing to interfere). That ended in a state that created substantial problems for the entire international community, by giving safe haven to a trans-national terrorist movement. I think there was a substantial international consensus on an effort to rebuild Afghanistan. I also agree with you that this effort can easily embroil you in civil war (and has).

So what do you do? One side says you don't invade Iraq and do Afghanistan "right". It's also possible to say that we don't know how to do nation-building "right" and you constrain yourself to discrete military interventions and then just leave.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 1:04 PM
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Smart people, like Richard Clarke

Oh, Christ. Richard Clarke may be smart, but let's not mistake him for one of "the good guys" just because he once had the balls to tell the 9/11 committee that Bush was stupid.


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 1:06 PM
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Zippy, I can't tell you how much you sound like my law school's Federalist Society youth auxiliary league at the moment. Liberal internationalism & international humanitarian & human rights law--from the Hague Conventions, to the Geneva Conventions, to the UN, Nuremberg the Refugee Convention, the human rights NGOs the Convention Against Torture, the International Criminal Court, universal jurisdiction over the crimes of genocide & torture--is a quixotic project in many ways. Most of its strongest supporters actually *get* this. But it's been a useful one.


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 1:06 PM
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To make the question to Stras clearer: exactly your approach was tried post-1989, for over a decade. Do the results make you think that is the right model to follow?

Would a short, sharp punishment for AQ involvement have been sufficient?


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 1:06 PM
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This shit also needs to fucking stop.

Agreed. One nice thing about the asinine Freedom Fries period of US history is that it got my francophobic ass to knock it off. I mean, I'm still not especially fond of France (architecture, language), but I no longer make the military jokes about them.

I would note that the Germans make military jokes about the Italians. It must be an intra-ally thing.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 1:09 PM
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It's also possible to say that we don't know how to do nation-building "right" and you constrain yourself to discrete military interventions and then just leave.

I'd certainly agree that we don't know how to do nation-building. I'd go further and add that the entire premise of the War on Terror - that terrorism has to be met primarily with military force - is destructive and wrong. It's nothing but glorified whack-a-mole, only with every whack you kill a dozen civilians somewhere. The only way to stop terror is to address its underlying causes, which lie in American foreign policy. Until we do that, we're going to have al Qaeda or something like them.


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 1:10 PM
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Madrid, London, and 9/11 were not "meaningful threats to the US or our Western allies". We've been played into overreacting in a huge way.


Posted by: Nathan Williams | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 1:11 PM
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Oh, Christ. Richard Clarke may be smart, but let's not mistake him for one of "the good guys" just because he once had the balls to tell the 9/11 committee that Bush was stupid.

Did I say he was a good guy? No, I said he was smart, which you agree with.

If people had listened to Richard Clarke in August of 2001, no 9-11. I don't care if he fucking reenacts Patton in front of a flag in his basement every night, that gets him credit in my book. It also makes me trust his insight into the post-2001 status of AQ more than I trust yours or Zippy's.

No offense.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 1:11 PM
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exactly your approach was tried post-1989, for over a decade.

Bullshit. "My approach" includes radically scaling back the U.S. military's presence abroad, radically increasing foreign aid to Africa, the Mideast, Southeast Asia and Latin America, and brokering a just peace in Palestine.


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 1:14 PM
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207: The principles behind all those declarations are wonderful, and I share them. Also, I support the work of the NGOs I know of.

I'd be surprised if your youth auxiliary pals were (a) making the same arguments as me (b) for the same reason. What we have in common is that we seem to be critical of liberal internationalism. Awesome -- also, Hitler was a vegetarian.

An inter-national order, i.e., one based on relations between sovereign nations, is not, in my opinion, a desirable end state -- even with the proviso that other nations can intervene if things get bad enough within a particular state. Under the actual existing circumstances, I can't imagine a good-faith "humanitarian intervention" occurring -- though all the liberals so eager to support the logic of "humanitarian intervention" do provide great cover for a lot of other stuff. (How many liberals worried that opposition to the Iraq war would lead people to be biased against future "humanitarian interventions"? And what is the widespread support for Kosovo among liberals if not a reflection of its perceived status as the only actual "humanitarian intervention" ever to have taken place?)


Posted by: Zippy the Comment Frog | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 1:15 PM
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Reading the CSRT transcripts in GTMO did often leave me with the impression, "boy, we didn't know what the fuck we were doing in Afghanistan, did we?" I agree that the "crime, not a war" model makes a lot more sense in a lot of ways. But, what do you do with a country deliberately allied to & harboring a pretty powerful organized crime syndicate that just murdered 3,000 of your citizens? "Regime change!" may not be the answer, but "address the underlying causes" isn't how the police respond either. Especially when the people immediately responsible don't have so much in the way of legitimate reasons, even if their community does have real grievances. It's not crazy to try to kill a fugitive when it's impossible to capture him.


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 1:17 PM
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212: Richard Clarke is a militarist, and puts his faith overwhelmingly in the power of armed intervention. I don't trust his opinion on this much more than I trust the neocons who talk about how Iraq could have worked out, if only it'd been handled properly.

And no, I don't think he could've single-handedly stopped 9/11, either. At the very best, a hypothetical Gore administration could have postponed it. Blowback from American foreign policy was inevitable, and eventually some plan was going to work. The only foolproof plan against terror is to stop doing things that make America a target.


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 1:19 PM
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214: They were actually making a lot of the exact same arguments as you, though for different reasons & in the service of different conclusions.


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 1:19 PM
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I'd certainly agree that we don't know how to do nation-building.

I think that we should recognize that nation-building is usually very difficult, but that's not the same as impossible. Germany and Japan obviously count as successes. Frankly, the Balkans are in much better shape now than they were anytime before we bombed in Kosovo. But I think the former examples are instructive, because what they tell us is that nation-building requires massive, long-lasting intervention, not just a battalion of Marines and 6 months worth of food aid. And the lesson that follows is, Don't invade other people (mostly).

the entire premise of the War on Terror - that terrorism has to be met primarily with military force - is destructive and wrong. It's nothing but glorified whack-a-mole, only with every whack you kill a dozen civilians somewhere. The only way to stop terror is to address its underlying causes, which lie in American foreign policy. Until we do that, we're going to have al Qaeda or something like them.

Agreed, but I kind of think that the way you've stated it - "primarily with military force" - isn't really how you think of it. I have yet to see you really say that you approve of any military action against terrorists, and I certainly know that most people who oppose(d) the Afghanistan war also opposed the cruise missile attempts on bin Laden. But goddamn, wouldn't it have been nice if one of those had worked out (and they were very, very close)?

Terrorism is a criminal problem, and sometimes policing includes aggressive, not merely reactive, actions.



Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 1:20 PM
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213: Stras, you're being deliberately obtuse, and the "bullshit" is rude, since it assumes that people don't understand or haven't thought about the simple points you're repeatedly making. What I'm saying is that we practiced a hands-off policy toward Afghanistan for over a decade post-89, which is what you're recommending.

If you're saying that had we done that *and* magically made every cause of resentment against the U.S. by anybody disappear at the same time, then Afghanistan wouldn't have been a problem for us, then sure. But people might question your magic intervening step ("and then, a miracle occurs!").

For one thing, it's highly unclear we have the ability to solve the Palestinian problem. For another, your argument presumably assumes an armed and aggressive Saddam Hussein at the Saudi Arabian border, since you opposed GW I. It's not so simple to wish away all U.S. international involvement. I agree with you (and Ron Paul) that this is what we should be aiming for, but it's a little more complex than you make it out to be.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 1:25 PM
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But goddamn, wouldn't it have been nice if one of those had worked out (and they were very, very close)?

Dude, do you really think that bumping off one guy in a cave somewhere would've stopped a terrorist attack? Al Qaeda isn't like some boss at the end of a Metroid game, where when you kill the baddie everyone else decides to blow up. If bin Laden had been killed before 2001 - or if he'd slipped on a bar of soap in the bathtub, or choked to death on a chicken bone - someone else would've taken over, and someone else would've given the go-ahead for an attack on the U.S., and someone else would become the symbol of the Great Brown Satan in the war on terror.


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 1:26 PM
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At the very best, a hypothetical Gore administration could have postponed it. Blowback from American foreign policy was inevitable, and eventually some plan was going to work. The only foolproof plan against terror is to stop doing things that make America a target.

There's a big difference between 9-11 and the first WTC bombing. Saying that "eventually some plan was going to work" is a pretty far cry from saying that something as spectacularly successful as 9-11 was inevitable. Most terrorists aren't all that capable, and spectacular attacks require a lot of people to be involved, which leads almost inevitably to mistakes and slip-ups. As we all know, there were a half dozen points at which 9-11 could've been prevented (wholly or in part). Most terror plots don't even get that far. And foiled plots, or half-ass plots like the first WTC, don't lead to crazy US retaliation.

I'm not saying that getting the US out of the ME is a bad idea, or a bad way to defuse terror. I'm just saying that the US has been meddling overseas for a long time before 9-11. Isolationism doesn't guarantee safety, nor do foreign bases guarantee 9-11s.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 1:27 PM
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"Dude, do you really think that bumping off one guy in a cave somewhere would've stopped a terrorist attack?"

Sure, if you kill or capture the right guy at the right time you could certainly prevent an attack, as has happened numerous times with both terrorist attacks & other major crimes throughout human history. This is pretty basic & comparing it to a video game is assinine. It wouldn't destroy the organization & prevent another attack from occurring ever again, of course.


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 1:30 PM
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220: You're right, stras. Bin Laden is and was irrelavant. That's why the decades before he came on the scene featured attack after attack on US soil, each more spectacular than the last.

Also, Bush is and was irrelevant. Every possible US president would have done exactly what he did. History has no contingencies, just inevitabilities.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 1:30 PM
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First spelling error isn't until page 14 -- "loathe" for "loath." Kudos to the copy editor.

No shit, kudos. That's not a copy editor, that's a Harvey Keitel Cleaner/Wolf.


Posted by: foolishmortal | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 1:32 PM
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. If bin Laden had been killed before 2001 - or if he'd slipped on a bar of soap in the bathtub, or choked to death on a chicken bone - someone else would've taken over, and someone else would've given the go-ahead for an attack on the U.S., and someone else would become the symbol of the Great Brown Satan in the war on terror.

This is insane. Surely time purchased matters.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 1:33 PM
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What I'm saying is that we practiced a hands-off policy toward Afghanistan for over a decade post-89, which is what you're recommending

No, that's not what I'm recommending. I'm recommending that the United States stop intervening militarily in the rest of the world, yes. I'm also saying that America actively seeks to make the world a better place, particularly in regions of the world that it has previously made actively worse, in effect seeking to redress previous wrongs. If my approach had been implemented in 1989, for example, this would've included extensive food, economic and medical aid to Afghanistan as a form of reparations for engaging in proxy warfare there throughout the 1980s. In the Mideast this would mean, among other things, similar aid to Gaza and the West Bank, stopping the flow of arms to Israel, and actively working with Israelis and Palestinians as a genuinely neutral arbiter for peace (and I'm not going to get into an argument about Israel and Palestine right now because 1. I've done plenty of that before and you can read the archives, and 2. I haven't got the time).

So I'm not an "isolationist" or whatever you'd want to call me. I don't think it's enough to just go home and call it a day; I think America has a shitload of sins to atone for, and that it has to atone for them without killing people.

As for this:

For another, your argument presumably assumes an armed and aggressive Saddam Hussein at the Saudi Arabian border, since you opposed GW I.

So what? Why is this the U.S.'s business? And given that over a million people and counting have died as a result of Gulf Wars 1 and 2, I'd take my chances on a theoretical conflict between Iraq and Saudi Arabia in this alternate universe or yours.


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 1:41 PM
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This is insane. Surely time purchased matters.

Time purchased how? Bin Laden has never been the organizational chief of al Qaeda; Khaled Shiekh Mohammed planned the actual 9/11 attacks.


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 1:43 PM
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You're right, stras. Bin Laden is and was irrelavant.

Don't you think it's possible, just possible, that bin Laden's importance to the smooth functioning of al Qaeda has been, at the very least, largely overstated? Or do you see no similarity whatsoever between the way bin Laden has been made into this terrorist figurehead and the way that Zarqawi was - Zarqawi, whose death affected bombings in Iraq not at all?


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 1:47 PM
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And if I could ask a question of my own to the various people who seem gobsmacked at my doubting the mystical all-importance of Osama bin Laden: what, exactly, do you think motivates the average terrorist? Do you really think they're driven by some abstract hatred of our freedom, or are they actually responding to specific grievances - the Israeli occupation of Palestine, the U.S. occupation of Iraq, American support for unpopular dictatorships in Saudia Arabia, Egypt, etc.? And if the latter is true, do you think it would be more effective to fight terror by running around the world trying to kill individual groups of terrorists, or by changing those policies that make a lot of the world really pissed off at us?


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 1:52 PM
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what, exactly, do you think motivates the average terrorist

Nobody cares.* You can affect the average terrorist's motivation, or you can affect his capabilities, which would include the institutions that allow him to work well.

* Not actually true.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 1:59 PM
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what, exactly, do you think motivates the average terrorist

Boredom and sexual frustration, of course. What motivates anybody?


Posted by: foolishmortal | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 2:02 PM
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No, you care a lot about the average terrorists' motivation because you want to dry up recruiting, dry up their support among the population where they're hiding out, etc. You care much less abour Osama Bin Laden & Ayman al Zawahiri & KSM because unless you're a right wing parody of a leftist, you don't much think they're going to reform if you improve your middle east policies--the high level people you try to incapacitate.


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 2:05 PM
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229: There's a symbolic value to capturing or killing OBL. See my "big carrots, small sticks" in 150. I agree with much of what you're saying; I'm just not Christian enough to say that the best reaction to 9/11 is to turn the other cheek and play nice.


Posted by: Hamilton-Lovecraft | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 2:08 PM
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There's a symbolic value to capturing or killing OBL.

Of course there is. But that value has to be weighed against the drawbacks of what it takes to capture or kill him. When Obama made his (in)famous "I'll go into Pakistan" remark, that was problematic because while there's some value to taking out bin Laden, there's not actually so much value to taking him out that it's worth, say, plunging Pakistan into civil war, or even killing lots of innocent people who happening to be living in the vicinity.


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 2:12 PM
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I disagree with stras -- I think a large-scale attack like 9/11 could've been postponed basically indefinitely. I mean, there was an FBI informant living with some of the perpetrators for a time!

If counter-terrorism had been a priority, as it presumably would've continued to be if the 2000 election weren't stolen, I'm going to say that 9/11 would never have happened. Being caught would've been the operational equivalent of succeeding for AQ going forward -- that is, they would've lost a huge number of highly trained guys. Since then, they've pulled off a few smaller attacks in Europe and elsewhere, but nothing in the US.


Posted by: Zippy the Comment Frog | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 2:22 PM
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There are surely those among the population of would-be AQ members who are looking to events for a manifestation of the will of the Almighty. That certain people might seem to be spared to fight again could seem relevant.

Although it would be silly to say that there's no AQ movement or wannabes without the very top guys, there's also no substitute for charismatic and skilled leadership of a clandestine organization. Or a decentralized network of clandestine organizations. Capturing/killing capable people is pretty important.

I think the disruption of going into Pakistan in mid-2002 might well have been survivable. Post-Iraq, it's impossible to do anything but a surgical strike that gives the P. government plausible deniability. And this is because of Iraq. Which did change the dynamic in the region.


Posted by: NĂ¡pi | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 2:23 PM
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All of this fetishization of OBL smacks of what we might term "the Battle of Algiers syndrome" (so named because an acquaintance went to a screening of the restored print in Mpls. and heard a couple of yahoos cheering the French when they were torturing and murdering the Algerians.) The BoA syndrome is characterized by seeing every event in the Middle East through the lens of contemporary US political culture.

Does anyone really believe that OBL is the most successful "terrorist" in history? He's not even particularly outstanding as a terrorist/insurgent/guerrilla leader among his contemporaries. Subcommandante Marcos and his comrades have done far more (and with less negatives), Abimael Guzman lasted a lot longer, Savimbi and his ilk killed a lot more people and Mandela and Mbeki and the other ANC luminaries actually fought all the way to an apotheosis of sorts. OBL is small potatoes any way you slice it, unless "killed lots of Americans" becomes not only your main criterion but your only one.

This all goes back to the fallacy of "terrorism" as a category. There's political violence and that's it. Which way you view is entirely dependent on your position in relationship to it. If you want to lessen the impacts of political violence (which may or may not be a valid goal), it's no secret how you do that. The fact that US foreign policy for the last 110 years or so has been about increasing the impact of political violence should give anyone pause as they seek to prescribe, proscribe or prognosticate solutions to the crisis of the moment.


Posted by: minneapolitan | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 2:26 PM
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234: So don't jump on us for acting like there's value to capturing or killing OBL.

One of the reasons that a kinder gentler more generous foreign policy is a good thing (THIS IS ME AGREEING WITH YOU) is that it makes it cheaper and easier to capture or kill OBL, because there will be more people willing to sell him out to the US.

This is also why Israel should be insanely nice in the occupied territories, incidentally.


Posted by: Hamilton-Lovecraft | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 2:27 PM
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First spelling error isn't until page xviii -- Armsmasher's first name.


Posted by: JL | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 2:48 PM
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Are recent Unfogged threads not making existence feel worthless enough? Are you clinging to some shred of optimism regarding the state of the world? Then read Thomas Powers in the NYRB. I wouldn't say I agree with every point he makes, but he's remarkably successful at sucking the life right out of you.


Posted by: JL | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 2:57 PM
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Ya know, I'd respect the anti-Afghan war types a lot more if they weren't so goddamn dishonest. Saying the Taliban didn't attack us, Al Qaeda did is evidence of extreme ignorance or 'we don't torture' type PR. Al Qaeda was part of the Taliban armed forces and intelligence command in Afghanistan. It's units fought alongside them in coordinated actions, and individuals migrated from one to the other. You can say that the overall cost of the war, particularly to Afghans makes it wrong. You can argue it has had a net negative effect on US security. You can take a pacifist stance. I disagree with all of those, but at least one can have an honest argument about them.


Posted by: tkm | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 3:10 PM
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237: Future historians, looking back on a century or two of ravaged cities, contaminated ports and
"Tombs of the Unknown," will identify him as the first mover of the age of catastrophic terrorism, which seems distinction enough for me.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 3:17 PM
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I'm also saying that America actively seeks to make the world a better place, particularly in regions of the world that it has previously made actively worse, in effect seeking to redress previous wrongs. If my approach had been implemented in 1989, for example, this would've included extensive food, economic and medical aid to Afghanistan as a form of reparations for engaging in proxy warfare there throughout the 1980s.

Aid to who? In a situation where there are warring factions and no clear state, each faction will try to manipulate your aid to benefit them and cut off aid to other factions. This is just what happened when we got pulled into going after Aidid in Somalia, and we almost got embroiled in a civil war there. In situations where there is a single state, they also try to commandeer and use foreign aid on their own terms, and it becomes a transfer to that state and a way of strengthening them against their enemies.

And before you say this, yes, I think demonizing Aidid was stupid, but facing that kind of dilemma is not so avoidable as one might think.

"Giving aid" is not so easily separated from military intervention, and it's all too easy for the two to become different sides of the same coin. Giving aid and assistance, military intervention, identification with one side in civil conflict, and nation-building are steps on a contiuum. Countries do give aid without becoming militarily involved, but often at the price of seeing their aid become a new tool in an ongoing civil war.

And on OBL: terrorism is the use of violence as a form of propaganda and PR. That's what it's all about. In that kind of conflict, failing to capture OBL is a huge defeat -- a propaganda defeat, and therefore a real one.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 3:18 PM
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241: You can argue it has had a net negative effect on US security.
Assuming you're not just trolling here, what would constitute the other side of this argument to your way of thinking? Every Afghan wedding party we annihilate increases the wrath and resolve of the Afghans, the Pakistanis, the Iranians and a significant portion of Iraqis. It's all well and good to weep your crocodile tears for the poor, oppressed women of Afghanistan, but what scintilla of proof, I mean of actual evidence, do you have that would suggest that the condition of any Afghan person is better than it was 10 years ago, or that it will have improved 10 or 20 or 50 years hence? Invading Afghanistan is the quintessential imperial boondoggle, as the article linked in 240 ably points out. We've screwed ourselves and we've screwed the Afghans and probably we've screwed a whole lot of other people besides for a long time to come. A rational response to the September 11th, 2001 attacks might have avoided this, but with folx like you around, that was never an option, was it?
Man, some people never learn!


Posted by: minneapolitan | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 3:23 PM
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240: He is correct that the American FP establishment is not ready to pull out of Iraq. If you want more detail on predictors that Obama might not pull out, see this excellent article from TNR a few weeks ago (Michael Crowley, one of their good writers):

http://www.tnr.com/politics/story.html?id=6001af15-399f-4b11-b7fb-6f52baca6bcc

The Democratic FP establishment is very split on this, there are many so-called "liberal" foreign policy types who want to stay in.

My fear here is that the U.S. will truly become serious about crushing Iraqi opposition to a puppet government. This could happen no matter who wins; it would be presented as helping the current government keep the peace and restore order. It's possible this is happening now in Sadr City; our offensive there is unconscionable but is getting very little domestic attention.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 3:30 PM
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241: Blah blah blah blah blah....


Posted by: Zippy the Comment Frog | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 3:34 PM
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244
Well on that part of the argument I'd say that disrupting a hostile government intent on attacking Americans both domestically and at home is a plus. On the other side you've got the quagmire issue and the negative blowback from the sort of stuff you mention

In any case the war wasn't fought for the sake of the Afghans. However, I'd say they're probably better off - still in the middle of a vicious war where both sides couldn't care less about civilian casualties but with a somewhat less oppressive government and more outside aid. But assuming you're not just trolling you already know that.


Posted by: tkm | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 4:06 PM
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246 So Zippy, when some idiot argues that the Iraq war was justified because of the WMD's that were there you're fine with that. And when someone calls them on their lie I'm sure you think that their response of 'blah, blah' settles things? Or is it that like the Iraq war supporters you're just fine with whatever 'facts' true or false happen to support your view.


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 4:10 PM
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Minor stylistic notes: First spelling error isn't until page 14 -- "loathe" for "loath." Kudos to the copy editor.

Before I read the thread, there's also a couple of errors in the footnotes. For instance, footnote 14 in chapter o\One should be to the same source as footnote 13, not an unrelated article that came out a year and a half earlier. Per FN 9, Chapter 7, Spackerman wrote an article calling for withdrawal from Iraq which was published in February of 2002. I believe there were a couple others, but that's all I marked.


Posted by: washerdreyer | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 4:15 PM
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Atrios is is no fun at all today. He refuses to make fun of Jenna's wedding, and he refuses to gloat about people who regret buying SUV's. What a lame.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 4:18 PM
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248: Yes, you've obviously picked up all the rich nuances I intended with my "blahs."


Posted by: Zippy the Comment Frog | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 4:23 PM
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48

"I'm confused as to why liberals want Kosovo to have been justified. ..."

Because it was supported by the Democrats as opposed to the first Gulf War which the Democrats opposed (179-79 against in the House, 45-10 in the Senate).


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 4:42 PM
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He refuses to make fun of Jenna's wedding

John, you'll just have to do it yourself. You could maybe start with a fragment from this very thread, e.g.,

Every Afghan wedding party we annihilate

and riff on it hilariously, maybe with a turnabout-is-fair-play twist. Trust me, it'll be comedy gold.


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 4:45 PM
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A little behind the times, but when asking the question, "Should the U.S. have come to Kuwait's defense", it is helpful to start with the question, "Should Iraq have invaded Kuwait in the first place?"

The answer may be obvious to all of us, but it wasn't obvious when Saddam Hussein asked U.S. Ambassador April Gillespie in 1990 and got back the response "fuck if I care."


Posted by: Wrongshore | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 5:19 PM
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Anyways, to get back on topic and away from flamewaring, Yggy and co. have so much trouble with Kosovo because they feel it was the right thing to do but it conflicts with the formal rules they want to set out for intervention. Ironically the liberal hawk paradigm does allow for supporting Kosovo while opposing Iraq as a humanitarian intervention. It devalues the issue of legitmacy based on the international legal system protecting sovereignty and replaces it with a cost-benefit analysis for the people your purportedly helping by going to war - Kenneth Roth of HRW laid it out on the eve of the Iraq war. It argues that humanitarian intervention is only justified in the case of an acute man made humanitarian disaster because in those cases the harm caused by war may be outweighed by the benefits. The fact that a government happens to routinely murder and torture its opponents doesn't cut it, regardless of what atrocities it may have committed in the past. Under those circumstances you are creating a humanitarian disaster rather than alleviating one. But this approach weakens the attempt to create a rule based international order governing the interaction between states.


Posted by: tkm | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 5:19 PM
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I think this may be the Roth piece in question.


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 5:42 PM
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It argues that humanitarian intervention is only justified in the case of an acute man made humanitarian disaster because in those cases the harm caused by war may be outweighed by the benefits.

Acute and ongoing, past violations -- massacre, displacement, etc. -- expressly not constituting a casus belli in Roth's view, if I recall his post-2003 paper correctly.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 5:48 PM
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I should add, I find it pretty persuasive. I would guess most people here won't....I'm also surprised at the extent to which HRW has decided to up and develop a just war theory; I think of it as a more cautious organization than that. I think this goes back to Bosnia & Rwanda.

One thing I'll say: No matter how much the right & liberal hawks irritate with their fake-concern for human rights violations against foreign civilians as a justification for war--I don't think humanitarian justifications for war are especially more susceptible to abuse than "self-defense"/national interest justifications for war. The irritating liberal hawks aside, the actual decisionmakers on Iraq sold it on national interest grounds. You can also trump up a self defense rationale: e.g. Tonkin Gulf.

Also, it's possible to agree with Roth's piece, and argue that the justifications for war are limited to:
(1) self defense
(2) defense of an ally (or collective self defense carried out through the U.N.)
(3) stopping an imminent/ongoing mass slaughter.

This can be understood as a call for a dramatic change in the international law rules on the use of force, rather than an abandonment of the idea that there are & ought to be international law rules constraining the use of force.


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 5:59 PM
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...though, I bet Roth wishes he could take back this sentence:

"However, the balance of considerations just before the war probably supported the assessment that Iraq would be better off if Saddam Hussein's ruthless reign were ended"


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 6:02 PM
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It devalues the issue of legitmacy based on the international legal system protecting sovereignty and replaces it with a cost-benefit analysis for the people your purportedly helping by going to war

Yes, which is why I remain stubbornly interested in questions of sovereignty, state legitimacy, the legitimacy of an international institution composed of nations whose sovereignty may or may not be respected to varying degrees, and so on. I repeat myself.

Thanks for the links in 240, 245 and 256, guys.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 6:07 PM
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There was not an acute and ongoing humanitarian disaster in Kosovo. The "genocide" of the Kosovar Albanians has never been demonstrated. Some people were afraid there would be genocide in the future, is about all you can say.

Once you open the door to messing with sovereignty based on humanitarian assistance, that justification is all to easy to manipulate. There were a lot of people with genuine humanitarian motivations who ended up supporting the Iraq war. I think Parsimon is right in 260 that you end up going back to sovereignty, for all its faults as a concept, in part because it is more effective in drawing a bright line around justifications for war than anything else we've come up with. It of course does fail in either halting civil wars or permitting intervention in them.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 7:28 PM
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Well, no, PGD, you go back to sovereignty because that's the central question, not necessarily because it should be the answer. It's what I took Zippy to be addressing, or at least poking at; it's at least arguably an outmoded model.

And I am painfully well aware that many people have written on this topic quite well, and I'm not well-versed enough in what's been said.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 7:44 PM
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_Once you open the door to messing with sovereignty based on humanitarian assistance, that justification is all to easy to manipulate._

Same goes for the notions of universal jurisdiction and trying leaders for crimes committed while they were in office against the will of their own country. Would you be against putting W, Cheney, et al. on trial in the Hague if America decides not to prosecute? Or do you basically believe in the liberal hawk vision of international law and international relations with the exception of war? That isn't meant to be snark, I am very tempted by that position myself, what keeps me from fully adopting it is the memory of Rwanda, rather than Kosovo which even using the type of reasoning that Roth did was a much less cut and dry case for humanitarian intervention.


Posted by: tkm | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 8:20 PM
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Again, I reject the idea that humanitarian intervention is easier to manipulate than any other justification for war. Many more dumb awful wars, including Iraq have been justified on national security/self-defense grounds. And the "think of the children/rape rooms/he gassed his own people/this is just like the Holocaust" type arguments-of-convenience for wars that really serve other interests are better dealt with by having clear cut criteria for the rare circumstances when stepping in is justified.


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 8:31 PM
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It's not just universal jurisdiction; the entire post WW2 human rights movement is premised on messing with sovereignty.


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 8:32 PM
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I have not read this thread yet, but am linking this pre-but-during-the-run-up-to-the-Iraq-war Stpehen Holmes piece on intervention,* which I remember thinking was pretty good when I read it a few years ago.

*which reviews Samantha Power's first book along with a Halberstam book


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 05-10-08 8:36 PM
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