A perpetual declaration of war

by John Quiggin on August 21, 2007

In the course of a controversy with Glenn Greenwald, Dan Drezner offers the following rewording of Greenwald’s critical summary of the orthodoxy of the US “Foreign Policy Community”

The number one rule of the bi-partisan foreign policy community is that America can invade and attack other countries when vital American interests are threatened. Paying homage to that orthodoxy is a non-negotiable pre-requisite to maintaining good standing within the foreign policy community.

and states:
I suspect that anyone who accepts the concept of a “national interest” in the first place would accept that phrasing. As a paid-up member of the Foreign Policy Community (FPC), I certainly would.

Unless “vital national interest” is construed so narrowly as to be equivalent to “self-defence”, this is a direct repudiation of the central founding principle of international law, prohibiting aggressive war as a crime against peace, indeed, the supreme international crime. It’s more extreme than the avowed position of any recent US Administration – even the invasion of Iraq was purportedly justified on the basis of UN resolutions, rather than US self-interest. Yet, reading this and other debates, it seems pretty clear that Drezner’s position is not only generally held in the Foreign Policy Community but is regarded, as he says, as a precondition for serious participation in foreign policy debates in the US.

A couple of questions arise. First, is this rule supposed to apply only to the US? Second, can the elastic phrase “vital national interest” be spelt out? To take an obvious example, does unfettered access to natural resources like oil count as a “vital national interest”? If so, it seems pretty clear that vital national interests of different countries will regularly come into conflict, and (unless this is a US-only rule) that both parties in such a situation are justified in going to war.

Leaving aside questions of morality and justification, on what factual basis does the Foreign Policy Community consider that the use of war as an instrument of policy serves the US national interest? Look at the record in the past 50 years. Of the three large-scale wars the US has fought, two (Indochina and the current Iraq War) have been bloody failures and one (the first Iraq war) an equivocal success. The smaller wars and interventions (Lebanon, Haiti, Somalia to name a few) have not been much better. And covert attacks on foreign governments, from the overthrow of Mossadegh onwards, have had long-run consequences that have been almost uniformly disastrous.

Accepting Drezner’s summary of the orthodoxy, it’s hard to disagree with Greenwald’s conclusion that the United States and the world would be better off without the Foreign Policy Community.

{ 3 trackbacks }

Misappropriating history « Not a Hedgehog
08.22.07 at 9:04 am
Eunomia · The American Interest
08.22.07 at 5:42 pm
Crooked Timber » » Self-fulfilling assumptions
08.23.07 at 7:12 am

{ 105 comments }

1

dust 08.21.07 at 1:01 pm

Threatening to fight(in FP parlance: coercive diplomacy, or in TR parlance: carrying a big stick) whenever necessary can achieve the national interest and avoiding actually fighting. That is a reasonable policy for the world’s greatest superpower, of unmatched military strength (what do you think all that guns are for?). There will always be international lawyers prepared to argue for national interest. Please refer back to the response of American lawyers to the judgement of the ICJ in the Nicaragua case.

2

Steve LaBonne 08.21.07 at 1:01 pm

The extraordinary combination of arrogance and ignorance displayed by our Very Serious Foreign Policy Elite is intensely depressing to many of us; I can only imagine how it looks abroad (eg. among the potential recipients of our “beneficent” use of force). But these people will continue to be in control, regardless of which party is in power, as long as their message is what most of our people want to hear. I wish I knew how to even begin changing that situation. To Middle America any dissent from the “right” of the US to throw its weight around as its sees fit is heresy that rises to the burning-at-the-stake level of offense.

3

Matt 08.21.07 at 1:08 pm

You’re clearly right that the real issue is how “vital national interest” is defined. (This seemes, amazingly, to have been missed in many discussions. Drezner seems willing to define it fairly broadly, nearly as “what a country thinks will improve its situation” which is, of course, justification for aggressive war. Surely, though, sometimes access to resources can be in the vital interests of a country in an acceptable sense since the restriction of resources can be an aggressive act as well. Access to fresh water is perhaps the clearest example, but others are possible, too. Merely having a certain level of economic growth and the ability to afford to drive large cars hardly seems enough, though.

4

John Emerson 08.21.07 at 1:27 pm

My understanding is that the interventionist principle has been in place, at least latently, since 1941, and that it has never been seriously challenged. There have been various Presidential candidates who seemed as though the were rejecting the principle, but most of them did very poorly and some of them were just lying (e.g. LBJ, the 1964 peace candidate. Jimmy Carter in Afghanistan is another example, though he didn’t invade.)

Preponderance in a monopolar world is just a stronger statement of the principle. “National interest” can mean anything.

The “unitary president” is the domestic counterpart. The people for whom intervention at will is an absolute value have no patience at all with the idea that public opinion should have any influence at all on foreign and military policy, and their not completely comfortable with the idea that public opinion should affect domestic policy.

So we’re in Nader-Chomsky territory, and probably we have been all along.

5

John Emerson 08.21.07 at 1:29 pm

“They’re not completely comfortable with the idea that public opinion should affect domestic policy — for them, the populace is just another Other to control.”

6

gr 08.21.07 at 1:38 pm

Isn’t part of the problem that the specific form of expertise that members of the American ‘foreign policy elite’ claim for themselves is relevant (to a large degree) only in a world that finds itself in a state of perpetual (hot or cold) war?

These people must maintain that war is sometimes necessary (and always possible), and that this will always remain so. The whole discourse they’re engaged in would be quite irrelevant in a world that reliably functioned on the basis of the “central founding principle of international law”. In that sense, they’re essentially professional warmongerers.

7

aaron_m 08.21.07 at 1:39 pm

Surely just thinking of the issue in terms of US self-interest the value of America’s aggressive military stance, especially in terms of building an overpowering raw destructive capability, is not nearly as doubtful as you suggest.

You do not have to actually fight a war to secure benefits in terms of global influence from your military strength. It is the combination of economic and military power that allows the US to pursue its interests in a comparatively unilateral fashion in regional and international arenas.

This thesis is born out by the behavior of other large countries, like China and Russia, who realize that economic power on its own will not make them as strong on the world stage as they want to be. Military power facilitates rent seeking.

I doubt though that it is on balance worth it especially over the long term. This time around the prospect of a new serge of military build up around the world will be an economic fiasco not only or the world’s poor but for the rich as well. Well we can hope so!

8

abb1 08.21.07 at 1:55 pm

What is this ‘Foreign Policy Community’, exactly? Is it, by chance, just the marketing arm of the military-industrial complex.

9

Barry 08.21.07 at 1:56 pm

“Leaving aside questions of morality and justification, on what factual basis does the Foreign Policy Community consider that the use of war as an instrument of policy serves the US national interest? “

It’s not the US national interest, it’s the interest of the military-industrial complex. If you think of things in that light, much more makes sense. And the ‘Foreign Policy Community’ is just one set of propagandists.

It explains why so many allegedly honest and competant people in that ‘community’ eagerly associate with pure hacks like AEI. Because (a) there really are not any honest people in the community, and (b) because among propagandists, ‘hack’ is no longer an insult.

10

roger 08.21.07 at 2:13 pm

I believe that the Imperial Empire of Japan used the resources justification for attacking the British in Singapore and Malaysia – the British were threatening Japan’s supply of rubber. At the time, the US condemned this. Of course, at the time the US condemned the bombing of civilian targets by airplanes. The US changed its mind a lot since then.

11

roger 08.21.07 at 2:13 pm

I believe that the Imperial Empire of Japan used the resources justification for attacking the British in Singapore and Malaysia – the British were threatening Japan’s supply of rubber. At the time, the US condemned this. Of course, at the time the US condemned the bombing of civilian targets by airplanes. The US changed its mind a lot since then.

12

John Emerson 08.21.07 at 2:14 pm

I really think t’s a done deal, though. None of the major Democrats seems likely to jump ship. Hillary is very forthright about her hawkish convictions, but the other two fudge so much that you shouldn’t expect anything from them.

13

jet 08.21.07 at 2:18 pm

Steve LaBonne,
“I can only imagine how it looks abroad…” Try Link TV’s Mosaic. It is a weekly video podcast of excerpts from Middle Eastern news.

14

richard 08.21.07 at 3:21 pm

sometimes access to resources can be in the vital interests of a country… restriction of resources can be an aggressive act as well

Didn’t the Imperial Empire of Japan also use the resources justification for attacking Pearl Harbor? The US had been supplying oil to Japan, then stopped in protest against Japan’s war-making, then Japan attacked the US fleet prior to striking at oilfields in Malaysia, no? Perhaps this provides a useful reference for FP hawks: when you’re more aggressive than Japan in 1941, you’re definitely too aggressive.

15

Quo Vadis 08.21.07 at 3:23 pm

It could be argued that any government that didn’t act on their nation’s suitably defined “vital national interests” was negligent. Whether they do so competently is another matter.

When one nation’s interests conflict with another’s they weigh the alternatives and consequences. Violating international law carries some risk of negative consequences, but it seems that unless some group of sufficiently influential individual states are willing to make the sacrifices necessary to enforce international law or to punish an offender, those consequences are trivial.

16

robertdfeinman 08.21.07 at 3:33 pm

The US government is acting on behalf of the population. In many cases this is the unstated wishes of the public. It’s the old not wanting to see how the sausage is made dynamic.

The public wants cheap foreign goods and resources, we want low gas prices and to be able to drive SUV’s. We want to be able to heat and cool our McMansions. We just like to pretend to ourselves that this doesn’t require engaging in unfair relationships with other states.

But the people know this and that’s why the vast majority still favors a “strong” military and a muscular foreign policy. Are there those profiting from this, perhaps even unfairly or illegally? Of course, but that is an inevitable consequence.

As Pogo said: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Whenever the smallest degree of sacrifice is suggested people go ballistic. Just look at the discussion over raising the gas tax as an example.

17

Katherine 08.21.07 at 3:46 pm

Whilst the US has the strength to follow up such a foreign policy, I imagine it will. It’s not exactly alone in history in doing so, as a strong empire. What continues to surprise me though is the lack of awareness that this approach cannot last forever, and the unwillingness to think forward to the consequences of stamping all over other people in the pursuit of your own “vital national interests” – what happens when the stampers become the stampees?

18

"Q" the Enchanter 08.21.07 at 4:17 pm

I’ve decided that I’m going to start acting like a belligerent a**hole when I suspect my own vital personal interests might be threatened (regardless, of course, of whether anyone else agrees with my suspicion). Apologies ahead of time.

19

aaron_m 08.21.07 at 4:18 pm

What robertdfeinman says (#16) plays a big role and it is what is missing in the Chomsky assessment of the relationship between American foreign policy and domestic conditions.

It is not just that the public is mislead by the government and media. People also often want to be mislead so that they do not need to reflect over how their choices harm others, and to avoid having to question the validity of their image of their own identity (e.g. democracy spreading freedom loving individualists) and way of life (wildly unsustainable consumption). They want to distracted by trivial nonsense to avoid reflecting on the rest.

Fox is selling all of the above, which anybody who thinks about it for more than two seconds can see.

We can really see the problem in the global warming case were people constantly say something to the effect of ‘if the politics would just agree to do something.’ That is just an escape from moral responsibility. States are accurately representing their citizens interests by doing nothing.

20

jacob 08.21.07 at 4:21 pm

To attempt to answer John’s original questions: I think the definition of “vital national interests” is precisely what divides members of the foreign policy elite from each other–what makes “liberals” different from “conservatives” different from “neocons,” etc. Some people see “vital national interests” as promoting democracy; some people see it as preventing genocide; some people see it as preserving access to cheap oil; some people see it as enforcing extraterritorial drug laws; some people see it as rescuing expatriate medical students. It is these heartfelt differences on which political campaigns, think tank reports, and journal articles are based.

Second, of course this “right” is seen as applying only to “us.” “Us” certainly includes the United States, but may include other countries as well, as long as they are mostly white, mostly Christian, and liberal, capitalist states.

Third, I think I’d argue that Vietnam is the example on which all this rests. The US may have lost the war in a literal sense, but it won the larger war of controlling access to the world system. If all our defeats could be as successful as Vietnam, foreign policy “experts” could rest easy.

21

stuart 08.21.07 at 4:30 pm

what happens when the stampers become the stampees?

If the past is any guide, lots of people claiming “they hate us for our freedoms” seems a good bet.

22

P O'Neill 08.21.07 at 4:31 pm

Interesting in this context to hear Bush and Canadian PM Harper disagreeing about whether the northwest passage is an international waterway.

23

abb1 08.21.07 at 4:33 pm

People also often want to be mislead so that they do not need to reflect over how their choices harm others…

Psychobabble. No normal person wants to be misled. Not even a normal child.

24

shub-negrorath 08.21.07 at 4:40 pm

Drezner’s formulation reminds me of this passage from Lippman’s Public Opinion. It would seem that exceptionalism is the easiest, if not the only, way to render coherent the concept of the national interest . . .

Now it happened in one nation that the war party which was in control of the foreign office, the high command, and most of the press, had claims on the territory of several of its neighbors. These claims were called the Greater Ruritania by the cultivated classes who regarded Kipling, Treitschke, and Maurice Barres as one hundred percent Ruritanian. But the grandiose idea aroused no enthusiasm abroad. So holding this finest flower of the Ruritanian genius, as their poet laureate said, to their hearts, Ruritania’s statesmen went forth to divide and conquer. They divided the claim into sectors. For each piece they invoked that stereotype which some one or more of their allies found it difficult to resist, because that ally had claims for which it hoped to find approval by the use of this same stereotype.

The first sector happened to be a mountainous region inhabited by alien peasants. Ruritania demanded it to complete her natural geographical frontier. If you fixed your attention long enough on the ineffable value of what is natural, those alien peasants just dissolved into fog, and only the slope of the mountains was visible. The next sector was inhabited by Ruritanians, and on the principle that no people ought to live under alien rule, they were re-annexed. Then came a city of considerable commercial importance, not inhabited by Ruritanians. But until the Eighteenth Century it had been part of Ruritania, and on the principle of Historic Right it was annexed. Farther on there was a splendid mineral deposit owned by aliens and worked by aliens. On the principle of reparation for damage it was annexed. Beyond this there was a territory inhabited 97% by aliens, constituting the natural geographical frontier of another nation, never historically a part of Ruritania. But one of the provinces which had been federated into Ruritania had formerly traded in those markets, and the upper class culture was Ruritanian. On the principle of cultural superiority and the necessity of defending civilization, the lands were claimed. Finally, there was a port wholly disconnected from Ruritania geographically, ethnically, economically, historically, traditionally. It was demanded on the ground that it was needed for national defense.

In the treaties that concluded the Great War you can multiply examples of this kind . . .

25

shub-negrorath 08.21.07 at 4:41 pm

Argh. Everything after the first paragraph of #24 should be blockquoted—it’s all Lippman.

26

stuart 08.21.07 at 4:56 pm

Psychobabble. No normal person wants to be misled. Not even a normal child.

Wouldn’t a good analogy be the people that believe their own country only behaves (more or less) honourably and correctly in international politics (and every other country is just following it’s own self interests) are similar to the children that cling to the belief in Santa Claus even given repeated evidence from their friends that is actually their parents that put the presents under the tree?

27

mollymooly 08.21.07 at 5:05 pm

Does one write:
Foreign Policy Community ,
foreign policy community ,
foreign policy Community ,
Foreign Policy community ,
“Foreign Policy Community” ,
Foreign “Policy” Community , or
Foreign Policy “Community” ?
Google is not helping me here.

28

abb1 08.21.07 at 5:07 pm

Also, I find the often-repeated “to be able to drive SUVs” line kinda ridiculous. Yeah, right – we fight to be spared from having to built a modern high-speed mass-transit system in our country. Yeah, we cherish our way of life that involves sitting in our SUVs in stop-and-go traffic for hours and hours every week, breathing from exhaust pipes and not being able to read a newspaper. Yeah, that makes a whole lot of sense.

29

Quo Vadis 08.21.07 at 5:12 pm

@26

I think your Santa Claus analogy would apply better to one who believed that prosperity comes to them just because they are so good rather than through the concerted efforts in pursuit of their specific interests.

30

Steve LaBonne 08.21.07 at 5:16 pm

abb 1, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me either, nevertheless I know lots of people here in suburbia who are most definitely of the “you’ll take my SUV [or gigantic pickup truck] keys away from me when you pry them from my cold dead hands” stripe. It’s all about Personal Freedom and Our Way Of Life, or something. (Probably also about “The kids and I need room for our supersized butts”.) The human capacity for cognitive dissonance being what it is, that of course will in no way prevent them from bitching about their commutes.

(Full disclosure: I drive an elderly Saturn and live a few miles from my workplace.)

31

aaron_m 08.21.07 at 5:19 pm

abb1

Thinking about the possibility that people can often make superhuman efforts to lie to themselves would probably do you some good.

32

abb1 08.21.07 at 5:25 pm

QV, could you describe the mechanics of how invading and attacking other countries adds to your prosperity, please.

Just a typical military budget with veterans care and stuff like that costs every US resident about $2,000/year. That’s $8K to a family of four, so you’ll have to climb up from $8K/year hole first.

33

Davis X. Machina 08.21.07 at 5:30 pm

The argument could be made that war is the very to tou heneka of the state. What other functions it serves can, and have, been provided by other, non-state agencies — maybe not often, maybe not well, but provided.

What, or who, else, can get you a war?

34

Quo Vadis 08.21.07 at 5:33 pm

@32

No. See my note on competence in comment 15.

35

robertdfeinman 08.21.07 at 5:34 pm

abb1:
You need to study human psychology a little more. The ability for people to deceive themselves is one of our strongest protective mechanisms.

Without opening up another can of worms, I’ll just point to the large fraction of the world’s population that believes in supernaturalism. Each group is convinced that their version is the correct one. Even the fact that this means that every other group must be wrong and that there is a finite probability that it is your group that is the wrong one is rejected. This is illogical from just a mathematical point of view, if nothing else.

As to our national myths and the hold they have over the national psyche I refer you to this book:

Myths America Lives By

Here’s an extract from the blurb:

Myths America Lives By identifies five key myths that lie at the heart of the American experience–the myths of the Chosen Nation, of Nature’s Nation, of the Christian Nation, of the Millennial Nation, and of the Innocent Nation. Drawing on a range of dissenting voices, Hughes shows that by canonizing these seemingly harmless myths of national identity as absolute truths, America risks undermining the sweepingly egalitarian promise of the Declaration of Independence.

Sorry, irrationality and self-deception is the norm, not the exception.

36

mq 08.21.07 at 5:37 pm

Some people see “vital national interests” as promoting democracy; some people see it as preventing genocide; some people see it as preserving access to cheap oil; some people see it as enforcing extraterritorial drug laws; some people see it as rescuing expatriate medical students.

What definition of the word “vital” could any of these possibly satisfy? That’s the problem. The word “vital” has been expanded beyond all reasonable recognition.

37

abb1 08.21.07 at 5:52 pm

aaron_m, yeah, we all sometimes get a bunch of ideas or some gut-feeling that becomes so dear to us that we can’t let it go despite abundant evidence to the contrary, that’s true. If that’s what you meant, then I agree.

But I can’t imagine a healthy, balanced individual who would deliberately want to be deceived or would be deliberately trying to deceive him or her-self. That sounds pathological. No, people want to know the truth. When their preconceptions make the truth difficult to accept they are slow to accept it, but it’s not because they want to be deceived.

38

JP Stormcrow 08.21.07 at 6:02 pm

The argument could be made that war is the very to tou heneka of the state.

‘net translation: War is the state’s killer app.

Not original with me, but I can’t find the reference.

As self-perpetuating institutions, I believe that “nations” as currently conceived will be naturally drawn to this mode of behavior. The interesting thing is how the indivduals (and sub-groups and organizations) who comprise the nations feel about it. To that end I was always intrigued/repelled by the US Army ad slogan “My country is the deepest part of me.” Well, maybe, sorta. I think this is the “interesting” nexus of the current world and “foreign policy” – you have the emerging powerful institutions of business corporations and the declining traditional religious ones (which have been separated from states in most of the world) duking it out.

39

JP Stormcrow 08.21.07 at 6:05 pm

Add to above
…duking it out for the mindshare/loyalty of the population – and subsequently for the legitimacy of their roles in “world affairs”. Interesting to look at Bushco’s relation to all three – which interests are they really advancing vs. which are they just exploiting.

40

aaron_m 08.21.07 at 6:09 pm

abb1,

Now be honest with yourself. Was that a generous reading of my original post or not?

By the way, what do you call it when people want their unreflective held beliefs confirmed because they find critical assessment of these beliefs distressing and threatening?

41

abb1 08.21.07 at 6:30 pm

You could’ve as well said that demagoguery and propaganda can be very effective, especially if consistently and skillfully applied over decades, over several generations. I object to the notion that it’s somehow the victims’ fault.

42

aaron_m 08.21.07 at 7:00 pm

Abb1,

Are you saying that American citizen’s don’t bare some responsibility for their government’ international behavior because media propaganda has made them simply the victims of a government that is not acting in their interests at all?

43

Timothy Roscoe Carter 08.21.07 at 7:20 pm

John Quiggin’s indictment of the US foreign policy comunity is mostly correct, but there are two problems, both of which can be summed up by stating that the foriegn policy is – unfortunately – right.

1. It is the job of a nation to advance the interests of itself and its people. As a previous commetator stated, otherwise it could be argued that the nation’s leaders are negligent. Can anyone here seriously claim that any other previously dominate nation acted any better than te U.S.? To complain tat this violates international law is – unfortuntely – irrelevant. “International law” is an oxymoron. A “law” is only REALLY a law if it is backed up with a coersive threat of violence against individuals who violate it. International law is not real law because the town has no sheriff. Does this mean that “vital interests” will often conflict and both sides will be justified in going to war? Yes, it does.

2. The factual claim that this policy is bad for the U.S. was best tackled by jacob’s analysis of Vietnam. The fact that we will invade gives us power that benefits us, even if the actual invasions are a disaster.

Thus, it is not the “Foriegn Policy Community” that leads the U.S. into war, but the international system itself.

Is this system crazy? Yes.

Is there an alternative that would be better for both the U.S. and the world? Yes.

To paraphrase Harry Truman, when Nevada and Colorado have a dispute about water rights, they do not go to war, they go to court, because they are both subject to the U.S. Federal government law.

The only real way out is the establishment of a democratic world federal government, that would place the U.S. in the same position in the world as California, Texas, or New York are in the United States, where they are among the most powerful states in a federation where they cannot dominate the others. Just as being in the federation is financially good for CA, TX, & NY, being in a world federation would be financially good for the U.S. Polls show that most Americans and most people in the world would welcome a world government, and if the U.S. were to use its superior position to help create for the world what it created for itself, it would never need fear becoming the stampee.

If anyone is interested in learning more about why a democratic world federation is needed and how to achieve it, please visit Democratic World Federalists at http://www.dwfed.org.

Timothy Roscoe Carter
Program Officer
Democratic World Federalists

44

Bruce Baugh 08.21.07 at 7:34 pm

One factor to consider, I think, in deciding how much to blame Americans at large for distrusting deals that promise them some loss of comfort in exchange or future gains….a lot of workers and bourgeoisie know perfectly well that people like David Frum exist, who really want the masses poorer and less secure for the sake of a particular social vision. It’s not irresponsible to say “I’m tired of being dicked over just to make the other guy better off. If this is something you want my help with, explain it slow and careful, and if you can’t make your pitch, I don’t care.”

45

Sebastian holsclaw 08.21.07 at 8:12 pm

“Unless “vital national interest” is construed so narrowly as to be equivalent to “self-defence”, this is a direct repudiation of the central founding principle of international law”

I presume at the very least there is a ‘defense of others’ clause in there somewhere or else US involvement in Europe is pretty much right out the window.

And the defense of others concept (at least as a justification) when married to a national interest analysis, explains lots of the wars that you seem to find inexplicable.

This is not to say that the decisions were correct, or that at times they were other than mere justifications, but to ignore the concept entirely is to miss out on lots of what is going on.

46

John Quiggin 08.21.07 at 8:22 pm

Certainly, Sebastian, this includes defence of others, and that’s very clearly part of international law. The absence of any reference to self-defence, collective or otherwise, in Drezner’s formulation is what differentiates it from the stated policy of US governments in the last sixty years or so, which has given actual or spurious justification to lots of wars.

But wars justified on this basis haven’t necessarily been very successful.

47

abb1 08.21.07 at 8:28 pm

Are you saying that American citizens don’t bear some responsibility…

Well, I suppose they do – some, but certainly much less than their leaders. Naturally.

48

Sebastian Holsclaw 08.21.07 at 8:46 pm

“The absence of any reference to self-defence, collective or otherwise, in Drezner’s formulation is what differentiates it from the stated policy of US governments in the last sixty years or so, which has given actual or spurious justification to lots of wars.

But wars justified on this basis haven’t necessarily been very successful.”

Clearly the last sentence is correct, but I don’t think the rest will get you very far.

The reason I don’t like lumping together self defence with defense of others is that it obscures how the rationalization often comes down to exactly what Drezner is writing about–a perception of national interest. The US clearly doesn’t come to the defence of ALL others. There are lots of goings ons in Africa to attest to that. The defence of others concept makes it very easy to hide national interest questions. Drezner is trying to distill what he sees as the actual practice rather than focus too much on the rationalizations. This may or may not be a good idea, but you have to take it for what it is.

49

abb1 08.21.07 at 9:08 pm

‘Defense of others’ is not a part of ‘national interest’. It’s something that – theoretically – might be performed despite the national interest, against the national interest.

You’re walking home at night and see someone being attacked. You may intervene (unlikely) – but that will be an irrational impulse that goes against your personal interest. You have nothing to gain and a lot to lose. I don’t think governments ever do this kinda things.

50

Sebastian Holsclaw 08.21.07 at 9:11 pm

“I don’t think governments ever do this kinda things.”

Which is why you agree with Drezner.

51

Donald Johnson 08.21.07 at 9:29 pm

“But I can’t imagine a healthy, balanced individual who would deliberately want to be deceived or would be deliberately trying to deceive him or her-self. That sounds pathological. No, people want to know the truth. When their preconceptions make the truth difficult to accept they are slow to accept it, but it’s not because they want to be deceived.”

Yet more evidence that the internet gives us access to people in alternate realities. I wonder what it’s like to live in a world where people are as you describe them.

So, of course, people who are convinced they are smarter or more talented than they actually are will be eager to learn the truth. People who think their country or ideology or religion is God’s gift to the world are all dying to know of any contrary evidence that may be available.

52

alex 08.21.07 at 9:59 pm

Of the three large-scale wars the US has fought, two (Indochina and the current Iraq War) have been bloody failures and one (the first Iraq war) an equivocal success. The smaller wars and interventions (Lebanon, Haiti, Somalia to name a few) have not been much better.

On the other hand, the record in recent times (say 1990 onward) is somewhat better. Kosovo and Afghanistan have also been equivocal successes as well, though Afghanistan is far from over and the large number of refugees from Kosovo has been disheartening. Nevertheless, what would these places have looked like now had the US not intervened? On the balance, I can’t avoid the conclusion that intervention was probably the right thing to do on these occasions, as well as in Iraq in 91.

53

John Quiggin 08.21.07 at 10:17 pm

Side note to Miss Luis. I’ve deleted your comments, and will continue to do so until you stop trolling.

54

miuw 08.21.07 at 10:19 pm

Response to deleted troll comment from Miss Luis

The analogy of the ‘policeman’ is hardly precise, as the police are also subject to the law. A ‘law enforcer’ who is not bounded by law is a different kind of actor. Perhaps necessary, perhaps not, in the system in which it acts, but different, nonetheless

55

miuw 08.21.07 at 10:24 pm

…well, my response to Miss Luis’s comment about the great good policeman might as well be delted, too.

56

sniflheim 08.21.07 at 10:45 pm

So is it a US-only rule?

57

Jim Harrison 08.21.07 at 11:27 pm

The hubris of the military philosophers is premised on the proposition that America really does have an unchallengeable and durable hegemony over the rest of the world. In fact, we are so far from possessing that kind of power that we have to go around beating up third-rate Middle Eastern countries in order to demonstrate our macho. As Emmanuel Todd pointed out in book several years ago, we are very careful not to pick a fight with anybody we think can fight back. At that, we can’t even manage the conquest of a smallish country.

58

Roy Belmont 08.21.07 at 11:28 pm

#35- “Sorry, irrationality and self-deception is the norm…”
Superficially, yeah. But irrationality can be and most often is used to obscure a deeper biological rationale, whose attributes are usually antithetical to the local moral system and can’t be exposed without weakening that system. Hypocrisy works.
Thus self-interest for some will demand support for a cohesive social environment alongside predatory or parasitic relationships with and within that same environment, where an accurate honest readout of those relationships would be ultimately detrimental to self-interest. It seems irrational, the way fundamentalism can seem irrational, while obviously working just fine.
Thus abb1′s SUV driver and passengers, stuck in traffic, looking down their 8-cylinder noses at Steve LaB in his little elderly Saturn (or me in my even littler GeoMetro). The payoff for the SUV family isn’t the elapsed time in-vehicle, it’s the moment of recognition in the parking lot or at home, when they relive that first getting-in, possession, ownership, power. Biologically the SUV people are more fit, or the base organism will see itself so – and that’s the selling point, bio-superiority.
The war-as-necessary-for-self-interest thing proceeds out of the same non-abstract organic logic. Morality becomes a means of maintaining social cohesion at home so that ever-greater resource hierarchies can be developed and exploited, as well as a way to hamstring your enemies. This is morality that’s essentially about what’s good for me is good and what’s bad for me is bad.
There’s a solvent at work there invisibly and silently that’s reducing everything back to the tooth and claw. And there’s no logical defense of higher things available, it has to be supra-logical, aesthetic – the seemingly rational rest is already all proprietary, arguing those points becomes dancing to the tunes of swine.
Moral and ethical systems that are founded and valenced on the self will always be like this. Moral and ethical systems that are not founded and valenced on the self must perforce have some externalized center – thus fundamentalism and its more sophisticated but still theocentric ecumenical children. The higher and more humanly noble moral center would be up there in the always nebulous and therefore insubstantial future, carried in the very real yet not yet real people who will inhabit that future, and who will receive the gifts we leave for them, such as they are.

59

SG 08.22.07 at 1:04 am

alex, during the “equivocal success” that was Kosovo, the supposedly competent US air force landed a missile (Cruise? I forget…) on the Chinese embassy. Had the Chinese decided to respond with a typical cock-slapping US belligerence, kosovo would assuredly not have been an “equivocal success”. More of an international catastrophe.

You need to consider the actions of all the people involved in the situation – including the restraint of those who value peace more than the US does – before you declare the US’s many incompetent foreign adventures to be a success.

60

SG 08.22.07 at 1:06 am

#55 – amusing how all the belligerents here don’t answer that point…

61

Jon H 08.22.07 at 1:46 am

abb1 wrote: “You have nothing to gain and a lot to lose. I don’t think governments ever do this kinda things.”

Well, they typically do it due to codefense pacts. ie, they agree to defend another country in return for a promise that the other country will defend it.

In this case, it’s insurance, not altruism.

When there’s no defense pact, then a country goes to war in another nation’s defense if that is seen as having other benefits down the road.

To the extent countries will go to war in altruistic cases, it likely depends on that country feeling safe from retribution, so the only risk taken is the loss of men and materiel, which is no obstacle.

I expect a country would be much more wary of such involvement if there was a chance that it could result in destruction of industrial capacity or transport at home.

62

ed_finnerty 08.22.07 at 1:52 am

abba1

while I sometimes think it is all a kubuki dance, all of the establishment candidates and commentary on the talk shows takes as a starting point that Iran is a threat to the US. From the perspective of an outsider this seems to be an indication of a mass delusion and ignorance so profound it is difficult to explain in rational terms.

63

Jon H 08.22.07 at 1:59 am

Sebastian writes: “The reason I don’t like lumping together self defence with defense of others is that it obscures how the rationalization often comes down to exactly what Drezner is writing about—a perception of national interest.”

The problem is that ‘national interest’ encompasses a wide range of issues. The question is, where is the bar set, what’s the point at which ‘national interest’ can only be served by military action?

That boundary is the crux of the matter. Many people in 2002 held that Iraq, in terms of national interest, did not clear the bar for war, especially given that we were already occupied with a serious threat.

Obviously, there are an infinite number of things that would be in the national interest. Most of them are not done because, despite the benefit that would result, they aren’t critical enough or fail a cost/benefit test (eg, free college for everyone!). Many issues are handled through legal or bureaucratic means (WTO, etc).

It’s very much in America’s national interest for China to revalue its currency. But the Foreign Policy community isn’t arguing that we should nuke Beijing.

Now the drums are beating for war against Iran, but the claimed ‘National Interest’ is quite weak.

64

Sebastian Holsclaw 08.22.07 at 2:17 am

“The problem is that ‘national interest’ encompasses a wide range of issues. The question is, where is the bar set, what’s the point at which ‘national interest’ can only be served by military action?”

Absolutely. The weird thing is that it sounds like you think you’re disagreeing with me. You are right. That is exactly the most important difficulty with the national interest test. My point is that for the most part the “defense of others” discussion plays out along those same dimensions–as a national interest test with defense of others rhetoric.

65

greensmile 08.22.07 at 2:36 am

did the neocons purge all the people who had some notion that we have to share the planet from this putative FP community? The position posted is pure “american century” clap trap.

66

s9 08.22.07 at 3:16 am

“First, is this rule supposed to apply only to the US? Second, can the elastic phrase “vital national interest” be spelt out?”

p1. Yes, this rule is supposed to apply only to the United States.

p2. Yes, the elastic phrase can be spelled out, but it isn’t required [or desirable] for members of the “serious foreign policy community” to do so.

This has been another edition of S9′s Short Answers To Easy Questions, provided as a public service of MojoHaus. (MojoHaus. Fine journalism. Afflicting the comfortable since 1988.)

67

Ragout 08.22.07 at 4:59 am

If you really want international law to reign supreme, why knock the only force that might possibly act as a cop? Which is the US, of course.

The claim that “large-scale wars” typically end in bloody failure is true, but trivial. It is also true that when the local police get into a shoot out or a high-speed car chase, things often end badly. That doesn’t mean that we should get rid of the cops or that police work is doomed to fail.

The police are most success when they deter crime and military force is most successful when it deters war. The police are also successful when they arrest criminals without minimal violence, and the military is successful when it achieves our aims without much cost.

So here’s a list of US military successes in the last 20 years. Panama in 1989. Bosnia and Kosovo. The 1991 Gulf War. US intervention in Northern Iraq from 1991-2002, plus various bombing campaigns and the no-fly zones. US intervention in the Iran-Iraq War in 1987-1988, where we fought some naval battles, prevented Iran from stopping the passage of oil tankers through the Persian Gulf, and may have ended the war. Perhaps the biggest success is the continued independence of the small, oil-rich Gulf states, several of which pay for US protection.

68

sniflheim 08.22.07 at 5:27 am

I was asking s. holsclaw and alex–is it a US-only rule or not?

69

JP Stormcrow 08.22.07 at 6:00 am

Perhaps the biggest success is the continued independence of the small, oil-rich Gulf states, several of which pay for US protection.

And this speaks to a better model for the role of militarized nation-states – that of mafia enforcers, rather than policemen. (nice little oilfield you got there – be a shame if someone invaded it.) But in fact, with no universally accepted global “law”, there is a role for such informal methods in such an environment. Now you might also ask the items on your list of “successes”: Which ones had ultimate or proximate causes which included various prior US actions or positions?

Look, I do believe that the “USA, The Good Parts” is one hell of a great thing in world history (maybe we should get William Goldman to write the abridgement) – but really the American exceptionalism exhibited by many in this thread is breathtaking. Taking “Operation Just Cause” (Panama 1989) out of context and viewing it as a US military success is among the more amusing examples.

70

SG 08.22.07 at 7:03 am

ragout, was it the bombing of the slums, or the fact that victory was assured, which made Panama such a success?

And is there anything to be learnt from the fact that all the “successes” you list were such incredibly one-sided contests that anything but complete success would be a sign of staggering incompetence?

71

catchy 08.22.07 at 7:25 am

Disappointed to see Luis Alegria tossed. He’s typically more than capable of generating good convo. + forcing the left to articulate their exact pt.(s) of disagreement.

I admire this site generally + Quiggin particularly, but have seen Mr. Alegria’s commentary elsewhere for yrs. and never known him to ‘troll’.

Hopefully commenting from the hard(er) right is not grounds in itself for being banned.

72

abb1 08.22.07 at 7:36 am

“National interest” seems like a complex concept, but I’m sure a political scientist could come up with a crude formula. It would have, obviously, a bunch of weighted statistics in it: the GDP, crime rate, life expectancy, equality index, political stability index, etc. Maybe even an index of “decent opinion of mankind” in there somewhere. Gasoline price in there somewhere too, maybe indirectly. It’ll be heavily parameterized and subjective, but nevertheless a lot of people would accept it, I’m sure.

The problem is that some other people, powerful people, including this ‘Foreign Policy Community’, don’t define ‘national interest’ this way. They are concerned with Iran’s influence over Iraq, political Islam’s strength in Egypt and stuff like that. I highly doubt that their definition of ‘national interest’ has any positive correlation with what an ordinary person assumes the ‘national interest’ is.

73

J Thomas 08.22.07 at 7:46 am

The only real way out is the establishment of a democratic world federal government, that would place the U.S. in the same position in the world as California, Texas, or New York are in the United States, where they are among the most powerful states in a federation where they cannot dominate the others. Just as being in the federation is financially good for CA, TX, & NY, being in a world federation would be financially good for the U.S.

But few americans would accept losing complete sovereignty. As it is, we do whatever-the-hell we want, subject to our interpretation of international law. If we accepted a higher power, what would we be letting ourselves in for? Control by some mostly-foreign entity where libya and chad and turkmenistan get to vote?

We would be better off to expand the USA to include the rest of the world. Start with mexico. Is mexico better off as a foreign nation that exchanges ambassadors with the USA, or would mexico be better off as one or many US states? Clearly the latter. They would have far, far more influence on the US government with senators and representatives than they do now. We should find a way to make them the offer that doesn’t insult them.

Similarly honduras. Belize might be better off independent; people like to have someplace the laws are different. But if we were to work our way down the isthmus and into south america, adding US states whenever nations became willing to join, we’d all be better off. Far more investment in those nations when it goes with american rules and investors can be sure they won’t be expropriated. Far better trade without borders. Our illegal immigrant problem would be settled for a generation or more.

Once we show we can handle the problems of one country with english, spanish and portuguese languages, then within a couple of generations we might be ready to expand to other continents. The more successful we are in the western hemisphere, the more eager other nations would be to join. We might have essentially a world government in less than 5 generations. Far quicker than we can expect with other methods.

74

abb1 08.22.07 at 9:07 am

ed_finnerty,
how is all of the establishment taking as a starting point that Iran is a threat to the US an indication of a mass-delusion?

The establishment via opinion makers is trying to form a public opinion that is considered useful. That seems to me like the most obvious interpretation.

It’s not like the public is asking the opinion makers to feed them a bunch nonsense in order to shield them, the public, from some awful truth they refuse to face. That’s the interpretation I objected to.

75

Katherine 08.22.07 at 9:36 am

what happens when the stampers become the stampees?

If the past is any guide, lots of people claiming “they hate us for our freedoms” seems a good bet.“

Just to respond to a comment made many many comments ago – I see what you are trying to say stuart – however, and I hate to break it to you, there is no way in which the US is currently a “stampee”. Nor will they be for some considerable time. Nevertheless, people’s memories are long.

76

MFB 08.22.07 at 10:12 am

Actually, the words missing from the initial reference to invading other countries, in the original post, are “as a very last resort under desperate conditions”. That is, when all other options are exhausted and when the nation is in danger, you sometimes have to go to war. Now, nobody would disagree with that, and I think this is the gist of what Mr. Holsclaw is on about.

The big problem is when you have a country which invades other countries because it can. That is the problem with U.S. foreign policy. It squashes snails because it has a great big foot and doesn’t have to mop up the sidewalk afterwards. Enlivened by the feel of squashing snails, it crushes kittens. Gradually it works its way up to sodomizing and murdering toddlers. It all feels so good.

But meanwhile, a lot of other people are looking on in horror, because none of this stuff is very reassuring. If they can invade Panama and then move on to Iraq and hire mercenaries to destroy Somalia, reasons everybody, how long before they attack us? And so people everywhere get busy with the Great Equaliser, Pu-239.

I have nearly half my life left to live. I don’t want to live it in a cave grubbing for roots because a bunch of half-wits in Washington watched one too many war movies.

77

John Quiggin 08.22.07 at 10:27 am

I don’t object that much to the content of Fraulein Alegria’s comments, though I also don’t find them very useful. It’s the insistence on heading every comment with “Mr X” that I find trollish. If Herr A drops this tic, I’ll stop deleting.

78

Seth Edenbaum 08.22.07 at 12:38 pm

As I said in a comment on another site exceptionalism is the rule and model among Americans on all sides. The debate began this time over over the relation of experts to amateurs not exceptionalism itself.
US military intervention outside the UN even in the best cause sets a bad precedent. Its vigilantism, but vigilantism is our model.
Greenwald simply pointed that out and look at the response he got from Robert Farley.

79

abb1 08.22.07 at 1:32 pm

Greenwald’s piece is superb. I should’ve read it first; there isn’t really much to add or comment on.

80

Ragout 08.22.07 at 1:50 pm

And is there anything to be learnt from the fact that all the “successes” you list were such incredibly one-sided contests

Yes, we should learn is that these are the best kind of wars. That was one of my main points. It isn’t fair, or glorious (is that really what you’re criticizing?) but achieving our objectives at small cost is the very definition of success.

Now you might also ask the items on your list of “successes”: Which ones had ultimate or proximate causes which included various prior US actions or positions?

None? At least not in a bad way. Building the Panama Canal was a good thing, and I don’t blame the US for the Iran-Iraq war, the break-up of Yugoslavia, or Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait.

81

soru 08.22.07 at 1:54 pm

First, is this rule supposed to apply only to the US?

Isn’t the non-straw-man version of the rule supposed to apply to all 5 permanent members of the UNSC?

I doubt when Stalin signed up, he saw himself as signing away the right to invade any small country he felt could get away with.

See also: the reason why the UN genocide convention allows massacring all members of an economic class, as opposed to a cultural, religious or ethnic group.

82

Ragout 08.22.07 at 1:57 pm

Oh, and on the list of good things achieved mainly by US military might, let me add: free access to the Panama and Suez canals, the generally low level of piracy at sea, and the continued independence of Taiwan and Singapore.

83

Dan Drezner 08.22.07 at 2:06 pm

John, sorry for being so slow in responding to this. I just posted something on my blog.

http://www.danieldrezner.com/archives/003462.html

84

dust 08.22.07 at 2:51 pm

Congratulate myself for anticipating Prof. Drezner’s remarks. 1. Vital National Interest is what the superpower says. Libraries of books have been written about the fuzzy concept “national interest”; think “public interest”. 2: Force is always an option. 3.”It’s just that gaining that support is not viewed as a necessary condition for the use of force. It never has been in the United States — or for any great power. ” I would add “international law is not viewed as a necessary condition…” As Kant said in “Perpetual Peace” about the ancestors of “International Law”, Vattel and Grotius. “sorry comforters”.

85

abb1 08.22.07 at 2:53 pm

Ragout, what are you talking about? Panama and Suez canals? piracy? Taiwan and Singapore?

What about the sun raising today – is that an achievement of the US military?

86

SG 08.22.07 at 5:11 pm

So ragout (81): what much of the rest of the world derides as wrong and cowardly is to you right and sensible?

87

SG 08.22.07 at 5:12 pm

and furthermore (83), are we to assume that the Asian Co-prosperity sphere, which probably also would have stamped out piracy, was a good thing?

88

Elagabalus 08.22.07 at 6:38 pm

Since,

you deleted Miss Luis’ comments we’ll never know if he was trolling or not, we’ll we? If I know Luis, what you might consider trolling is just his dogged enthusiasm for all things right of center and while he can be a royal pain I’m sure the comments were respectful in their disagreements. Please reinstate Miss Luis and his comments. He’s pretty shook up about the whole affair. Honest!

Thanks in advance…

89

richard 08.22.07 at 7:28 pm

re 83, 86, 88: piracy has not been stamped out at all, especially in the waters around Malaysia and Indonesia, but not only there. It’s a growing concern, even in the fantastically corrupt world of international shipping and insurance. Like slavery, its demise has been greatly exaggerated. One can call its incidence ‘relatively low,’ of course, without stating what relative measure one is using, but I think you’d be hard pressed to hold up the current situation as a triumph for law and order. Here’s a good place to start: http://www.imo.org/Circulars/mainframe.asp?topic_id=334

Overview of the situation in the straits of Malacca:
http://www.iias.nl/index.php?q=tags-publications/piracy

90

richard 08.22.07 at 7:30 pm

follow up to 90: sorry, “generally low level,” not “relatively” – although I got your term wrong, my critique of its vagueness stands.

91

John Quiggin 08.23.07 at 12:47 am

To restate, all Luis has to do is drop the annoying and rude habit of prepending every comment with “Mr X”, and he can come back.

92

Ragout 08.23.07 at 3:17 am

what much of the rest of the world derides as wrong and cowardly is to you right and sensible?

You’ll have to be more specific about these things the rest of the world thinks is wrong before I can answer.

But I laugh at accusations of “cowardly” behavior. I’m guessing that you mean that killing our enemies by bombing them is cowardly. As I see it, US troops don’t deserve to die, and if they can stay 20,000 feet above the enemy, I’m all for it. Do you really think that it’s better to be killed by a brave soldier than a cowardly one? That there’s some noble or glorious way to fight a war?

93

Ragout 08.23.07 at 3:35 am

richard,

You mention that the worst piracy situation in the world is in Straits of Malacca. Note that this happens to be one place where the US Navy can’t go, since they are Malaysian and Indonesian territorial waters.

By the way, the US Navy’s most recent engagement with pirates occurred a few months ago, off the coast of Somalia when the Navy sank several pirate boats attacking the Danish ship Danica White. Unfortunately, the pirates were still able to capture the Danish ship and escape into Somali territorial waters where the US can’t follow, holding the crew hostage until a ransom was paid today. Thanks international law!

94

Roy Belmont 08.23.07 at 3:41 am

Whenever I read one of Alegria’s “Mr. X” posts I can’t help thinking they’re from Phillipe.

95

Ragout 08.23.07 at 3:51 am

richard (#91),

You mention that the worst piracy situation in the world is in Straits of Malacca. Note that this happens to be one place where the US Navy can’t go, since they are Malaysian and Indonesian territorial waters.

By the way, the US Navy’s most recent engagement with pirates occurred a few months ago, off the coast of Somalia when the Navy sank several pirate boats attacking the Danish ship Danica White. Unfortunately, the pirates were still able to capture the Danish ship and escape into Somali territorial waters where the US can’t follow, holding the crew hostage until a ransom was paid today. Thanks international law!

96

Ali 08.23.07 at 4:33 am

Citizens are subject to the laws of their nation, but nations are not subject to international law.

The nation-state is the highest order of sovereign body. But many use the phrase “international law” to imply there is some authority higher than the nation-state, or some enforcement body above the nation-state.

Intead, international laws should be better understand as the outcome of the treaties a nation becomes party to. Of course, any nation may unilaterally renounce any treaty at any time. Otherwise, they would not be the absolute sovereigns that they are.

97

Seth Edenbaum 08.23.07 at 4:44 am

“A perpetual declaration of war”
I guess I should be impressed that language of this sort, once religated to foreign newspapers and the looney left, is now being discussed in quasi-polite company in the US, though it’s being said most directly here by a foreigner with friends in the US, who thinks his audience should be shocked by the implications.

What’s changed? That’s the only interesting question. It’s the only new one.

98

SG 08.23.07 at 6:05 am

ragout, in case you haven’t noticed much of the rest of the world is not actually very taken with the “noble” aims of US intervention, and doesn’t generally believe that the ends (whatever they may have turned out to be) justified the means.

As to cowardly, yes, it is in fact cowardly for the world’s most powerful military to go to war with a nation like Panama. Whether it’s troops on the ground or bombs from space, bullying nations who have no defense against your might is cowardly.

99

J Thomas 08.23.07 at 12:08 pm

sg, it isn’t cowardly to attack weaker nations. It may be cowardly though to fail to attack strong nations because they’re too strong.

We have no obligation to let weak nations get away with things just because they’re weak. If we believed that, then wouldn’t we have an obligation not to spank our children? But what kind of a nation would we have if we didn’t spank children who misbehaved?

But then the situations aren’t directly parallel. If we attack weak nations that aren’t in our sphere of influence, I guess that would be more like spanking other people’s misbehaving children, or misbehaving orphans. That’s only justifiable if nobody else is taking care of the problem.

Anway, it’t no more cowardly to attack a weaker nation with overwhelming force when they do something we don’t want, than it is to spank a child or a woman or some other weak person when they disobey. Cowardice comes only from backing down from strong opponents, not from subduing weak ones.

100

richard 08.23.07 at 2:18 pm

wouldn’t we have an obligation not to spank our children? But what kind of a nation would we have if we didn’t spank children who misbehaved?

Current thinking, as espoused in child-rearing books, is that you should never spank children (yours or others’). I suspect most parents find it hard to live up to this ideal, and there’s still quite a bit of spanking going on, but many, many people will find your line of argument offensive rather than obvious.

ragout: yes, the Straits of Malacca are beyond the official, normal reach of the US Navy: that’s not the only reason they’re such a prime target for piracy, however; a high volume of poorly-registered shipping is also a factor. Long-haul transoceanic ships tend to be bigger and better tracked, fewer in number and have a harder time docking in placed where there’s no control. International law and bilateral treaties are a big part of preventing piracy elsewhere: the US Navy’s efforts shouldn’t be exaggerated in keeping the seaways safe.

I’ll grant that there’s little piracy on the US coast. The Caribbean is another story, but with all those islands around, I guess your territorial waters exception excuses that.

101

richard 08.23.07 at 2:20 pm

Oh, and drawing direct parallels between other nation states and naughty children is the sort of thing that people objected to about the British Empire. Is j thomas sure he’s ready to join Lord Curzon as a foreign policy thinker?

102

SG 08.23.07 at 2:23 pm

j thomas, your irony has put my case much better than I could. Thank you!

103

J Thomas 08.23.07 at 3:14 pm

sg, thank you. I should have put in some smilies or something, there was no way for people who didn’t know me to know I was being ironic.

104

richard 08.23.07 at 6:17 pm

Oh. That would include me. Sorry about that. I did think you’d captured the tone of the discussion here remarkably well…

105

Decnavda 08.23.07 at 7:52 pm

“Anway, it’t no more cowardly to attack a weaker nation with overwhelming force when they do something we don’t want, than it is to spank a child or a woman or some other weak person when they disobey.”

Holy sh*t, did you just use the analogy of hitting women who disobey you as an argument *in favor* of your position!?!? I mean, I hope future generations will be just as shocked at the idea of hitting children for disobedience as I am of hitting women for that reason, but seriously, in 2007, you actually said…?!?!?

Comments on this entry are closed.