War and waste

by John Quiggin on August 29, 2013

Even by the standards of CT, I seem to be an extreme pacifist. That’s surprising to me, because I was a mainstream liberal internationalist 20 years ago, and I haven’t changed my views in any fundamental way. In particular, I don’t have any fundamental objection in principle to war, or even to constraints like the need for a UN resolution. I’ve just looked at the experience of those 20 years, and reconsidered earlier wars, and I’ve concluded that the consequences of war and revolution are nearly always bad. Even ‘successful’ wars cost more, in terms of lives and wasted resources, than the benefits they deliver.

I don’t particularly like being out on a limb, so I’m generally encouraged to find other people starting to think the same way. In particular, I was pleased to see this column by Matt Yglesias, making the point that Military strikes are an extremely expensive way to help foreigners with specific reference to Libya. I made exactly the same case at the time.

With a little more ambivalence, I read this piece by Tom “Suck. On. This” Friedman who observes that Middle East oil no longer matters, and concludes

Obama’s foreign policy is mostly “nudging” and whispering. It is not very satisfying, not very much fun and won’t make much history, but it’s probably the best we can do or afford right now. And it’s certainly all that most Americans want.
I don’t share the tone of regret (“Happy the land that has no history” is my view), but apart from that, Friedman is very close to the view I put in the National Interest a year ago, that there is no clearly defined U.S. national interest at stake in the Middle East and, more succinctly, in this comprehensive plan for US policy on the Middle East … [^1]

Even at the cost of lining up with Friedman, I’d be pleased if the idea that war is a mostly futile waste of lives and money became conventional wisdom. Switching to utopian mode, wouldn’t it be amazing if the urge to “do something” could be channeled into, say, ending hunger in the world or universal literacy (both cheaper than even one Iraq-sized war)?

[^1]: The joke doesn’t quite work as a link. You have to imagine the [click to continue] fold after the first para.

{ 214 comments }

1

bob mcmanus 08.29.13 at 9:58 pm

2

David 08.29.13 at 10:03 pm

Violent force has a value that goes beyond simple bean counting. And what effect is the idea that war is expensive going to have besides pushing the Usual Suspects to frame their favored interventions as cheap and efficient?

3

Ian S. 08.29.13 at 10:14 pm

But I can’t help and think about what might have happened had the French and the English not caved in in Munich. The Sudetes were a strong defense against Germany (a natural barrier duly fortified by the Czechoslovaks), the Germans increased their industrial output by 25% to 50% when they annexed Czechoslovakia, and the agreement gave the Germans another year to actively prepare for war.
Are we sure that this situation will never present itself again? And if it does, will we know how to recognize it?

4

Ronan(rf) 08.29.13 at 10:28 pm

Friedmans article is a series of strawmen and mistakes though. Did *Obama* really ‘remove’ Gaddafi ? Who said Libya was going to be an ideal democracy? Most evidence has shown that US troop presence in Iraq encouraged violence, rather than prevented it. Isnt the point about oil in the Middle East not domestic reserves in the US, but that oil shocks dont have the same effect on the global economy and the way the global oil system has evolved means that a cut in supply in one country can be compensated for somewhere else? So F-man gets all that, and more, wrong, it seems?
His claim that people play down ‘regional agency’ is a nonsense (although people probably do ignore how the regional state system and local networks breed instability, and how *multiple* actors involving themselves in regional politics – including the US – have created the problems we’ve seen over the decade)
It seems to me that MY and F-man have just swapped their Utopian outlooks from the naughts for another set of unrealistic assumptions, if we ignore everything all will work itself out

5

bexley 08.29.13 at 10:29 pm

Ian S. Conflicts in the middle east are nothing like your example because:

1. The countries we intervene in tend to be of no immediate threat to the US or UK.

2. Since gulf war 1 we haven’t been intervening to stop an invader.

Kicking an invader out of a country is a lot more justifiable imo than trying to topple dictators or taking sides in civil wars given the plausible outcomes.

6

Ronan(rf) 08.29.13 at 10:39 pm

Whenever I read MY or F-man I think of the line from Nancy Franklin’s great review of J**sey Shore in the New Yorker a couple of years back:

“Like all reality-show participants, Pauly D, The Situation, and the others speak in categorical certainties. They know things for sure, then those things blow up in their faces, then they hate those things and take about three seconds to find new things to believe in”

7

Hidari 08.29.13 at 10:40 pm

@3

Oh… piss off.

8

Tom Slee 08.29.13 at 11:02 pm

I think Ian S. was joking, no?

9

js. 08.29.13 at 11:25 pm

If that was parody, it was far too well executed. And completely agree with JQ’s argument. I can totally come up a hypothetical military intervention I’d support. Just never an actually existing one.

10

Omega Centauri 08.29.13 at 11:29 pm

In this case with UK out, and Arab league coming out against a strike -as well as domestic opinion, at this point I think Obama would be nuts to go ahead with a strike.
I kind of like the idea of automatic penalty for use of chemical weapons however. But I don’t think there is any real framework for such. Having one power unilaterally make the decision and carry it out is highly problematic however.

Now, I still think we did the right thing in Libya. But, that was a special case. It remains to see how that one comes out.

11

anon 08.29.13 at 11:35 pm

#3 … in point of fact the RAF was in no way prepared to take on the Luftwaffe at the time of Munich. Radar interception was having huge teething problems. Aircraft production was poor. By mid 1940 all that had changed to the UKs advantage. And Britain was thus able to win its eponymous Battle.

12

Patrick C 08.29.13 at 11:44 pm

I dunno, I wish we had done something about Rwanda. In cases like that, I kinda feel like we have a responsibility to help out in cases like that. Not exactly an example in favor of a more bellicose policy, as I’m not sure as a practical matter we can determine which civil wars are likely to turn into genocides if we don’t intervene….but still, that is a lot of people murdered while we rested on our laurels.

13

Anarcissie 08.29.13 at 11:49 pm

No war, no state. Then what?

14

Cahokia 08.29.13 at 11:54 pm

via twitter:
last time a UK PM was defeated on a war motion was 1782, when MPs voted to stop fighting American war of independence.

15

TGGP 08.30.13 at 12:00 am

Middle eastern oil never mattered enough to justify our actions in Libya or Iraq.

16

William Timberman 08.30.13 at 12:17 am

Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, Nicaragua, Colombia, Honduras, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan, Serbia, Bosnia, Somalia, Yemen, Libya, and now Syria — and God knows how many I’ve overlooked along the way. Do our principled liberal interventionists really want to bid on this entire sad lot? No? Principled pick and choose is the name of the game?

U.S. foreign policy technocrats may well consider themselves uniquely qualified to administer a new world order, but I’m not buying it. The world does NOT belong to the U.S. and its collaborators, and it will never be theirs to dispose of as they see fit, no matter how much ritual hand-wringing administrative spokespeople indulge in, nor how many cruise missiles the U.S. navy has stuffed in its magazines.

17

Roy 08.30.13 at 12:18 am

“Happy the land that knows no history”

This is the sentiment I so often feel, especially when “History” gets in the way of truth. But history can also inform us of both the limitation of and tbe extent of one’s powers. The US can not spread its revolution by force, just as France could not in the 1790s. However just by being we spread our revolutions. It was the example of France that inspired a generation of Germans, it was the actions of France that created Prussian militarism and warped the revolution of 1789 far more than Robiespierre. When we invaded Iraq we unleashed something that was already there, but even being exceptionally charitable to Bush/Cheney (The Hitchens position of assuming pure motives to the neocons) it was a disaster that may have warped an inchoate need in the Arabic speaking world for the rights of man into brutal sectarianism. I can see how if one lived without knowledge of History one could think that external force could improve things, but actual history makes this an act of either wilful self-delusion or actual evil.

18

Lee A. Arnold 08.30.13 at 12:20 am

John Quiggin: “I’d be pleased if the idea that war is a mostly futile waste of lives and money became conventional wisdom.”

We may be there already. About 60% of the U.S. population in late summer 2002 was against an invasion of Iraq and it required the WMD lie from Bush and Blair in that autumn to turn the numbers around. Very interested to see what the public’s response is to the use of chemical weapons but those poll numbers might not cycle out for another week. If the public doesn’t express a revulsion to the use of chemical weapons, and doesn’t commit to some sort of retaliatory signal against them, the historical outcome may be ultimately more dangerous and horrifying. Of course they may respond, “We are already using drones, so what the hell!”

19

novakant 08.30.13 at 12:28 am

So if war was cheap and in the national interest – you’d be be all for it?

I have a fundamental issue with consequentialist anti-war arguments – though they are better than nothing – as I regard war as intrinsically evil (and I’m in good company just google a page with antiwar quotes, you’d be surprised, not that it really matters).

But even taken at face value such arguments ignore the fact that wars do generate a lot of profit for a select group of people and that they serve the perceived or real interests of the power elites.

Btw, casually pontificating about war seems to be much easier if you happen to live in a country that hasn’t had the pleasure of experiencing one on its soil in the past century.

20

LFC 08.30.13 at 12:29 am

Tom Slee:
I think Ian S. was joking, no?

I certainly f****** hope so.
If he wasn’t I suggest he read Y.F. Khong’s Analogies at War (Princeton Univ Press, 1992).

21

Conrad 08.30.13 at 12:29 am

Totally off topic but Dr Quiggan is now world famous in New Zealand after figuring prominently in this documentary that aired last night (from 14:00 to about 21:00):

http://www.tv3.co.nz/INSIDE-NEW-ZEALAND-Mind-The-Gap/tabid/3692/articleID/94816/MCat/3061/Default.aspx

Oh and even more off-topic, ‘Quiggan’ is pronounced very differently from the way I had supposed.

22

Bruce Wilder 08.30.13 at 12:39 am

Force is a useful antidote to force. But, it doesn’t build anything.

Some of the failure in Iraq ought to be attributed to the failures of reconstruction and to the misguided policy of sanctions, which was the alternative to invasion put forth by the fp establishment.

23

Mao Cheng Ji 08.30.13 at 1:07 am

International brigades in the Spanish civil war is one scenario, and a state-controlled (most likely mercenary) army intervening in another state’s civil war is a very different scenario.

24

geo 08.30.13 at 1:25 am

John, you have to stop talking about “costs” and “benefits”; likewise “national interest.” Those who pay the costs of war — those “lives and wasted resources” — are mainly soldiers, taxpayers, and future workers whose potential jobs were destroyed by the waste of those resources. Those who collect the benefits are those who finance the war and supply the munitions, provisions, auxiliary services and manpower; general officers in search of glory and promotion; chief executives whose approval ratings are plummeting and who badly need to exploit any possible distraction from domestic politics (GWB in 2001); and those who have an ideological/commercial stake in one or another outcome (the “threat of a good example” in Cuba, Vietnam, Nicaragua; United Fruit in Guatemala; the oil industry in Iran in 1953; the entire Western political and economic elite in 1919, united in its determination to strangle the Russian Revolution; etc, etc.)

In general, the costs and benefits of war, as of most policies (like fossil fuel production), accrue to very different groups, with very different interests. Which is why talk of the “national interest,” based on statistics about GDP or some other utterly misleading aggregate, is always mischievous. God knows I have no kind feelings for Lenin or Trotsky, but as one of them (I think) very truly said, the workers have no homeland.

25

David 08.30.13 at 1:39 am

What struck me about Sec State Kerry’s speech the other day was his referring to “…the indiscriminate use of these weapons….” As if there could be a discriminating use?

26

John Quiggin 08.30.13 at 1:48 am

@geo We’ve been over this quite a few times. Wars benefit the war industry (both workers and capitalists in that industry), just as road construction benefits the construction and motor industries. As you say, the same is true of fossil fuel production, and indeed of every kind of economic activity. But so what?

27

Conrad 08.30.13 at 1:51 am

Well sure, Kerry has to leave the door open for the US to use white phosphorus ‘illumination rounds’ and the like.

28

geo 08.30.13 at 1:56 am

“So what?” Are you serious? If a policy’s benefits accrue disproportionately to those with a lot of political power, and its costs accrue disproportionately to those without much political power, then even if, by some abstract and utterly factitious reckoning beloved of economists, the costs greatly outweigh the benefits, the policy will nevertheless be adopted. Is this not perfectly clear?

29

John Quiggin 08.30.13 at 1:56 am

“So if war was cheap and in the national interest – you’d be be all for it?”

Rather, if war was in the *interests of humanity as a whole*, which was probably true of WWII, but very few others.

But, writing for a US publication called The National Interest, it seemed more useful to make the point that war isn’t in the US national interest, even disregarding the rest of the world.

30

P O'Neill 08.30.13 at 1:57 am

Iraqi Kurdistan looks like a successful UK/US military intervention that needed considerable equipment to make the no-fly zone credible and there wasn’t an obvious alternative (at least one that didn’t involve breaking up Iraq). Now of course there are tricky long-term consequences of that action (some now directly in play in Syria) but maybe one positive entry in the ledger.

31

John Quiggin 08.30.13 at 2:00 am

@geo You’re assuming what needs to be proved.

Why is the war industry so much more powerful than, say, the automotive industry, or the financial sector (which clearly doesn’t want war, at least this time around)? Isn’t it primarily because lots of people who don’t benefit from war think that they do, or that they should support it for some other reason?

32

geo 08.30.13 at 2:31 am

It’s not “the war industry” vs. “the auto industry,” or any such superficial chess game. Paying for the war and enduring wartime hardships and postwar austerity is something both aircraft industry workers and auto industry workers do. Moreover, workers in military industries don’t make super-profits, while the major shareholders and financiers of those industries, to whom the super-profits do accrue, are to a considerable extent the same persons and institutions as the major shareholders and financiers of non-military institutions.

And there’s another reason why your simple “industry A vs. industry B” model fails. It’s because industry A may have a great deal to gain from a policy, while industry B will feel only a small, widely distributed loss. Doesn’t the example of the private health insurance industry make this clear? By and large, most employers would like to be free of the employer-based health insurance system. Quite possibly the total amount saved by all businesses under a single-payer system would far outweigh the profits of the health insurance industry. But for the health-insurance industry, single-payer is a matter of life-and-death, while for ordinary employers, the present system is just a more or less serious nuisance. So the health-insurance industry fights in the last ditch, while there is no one to undertake the vast effort and expense it would take to coordinate business pressure on Congress and the administration for single-payer. Surely economists recognize differential motivation and the much larger costs of coordinating loose and diverse coalitions against a more compact, homogenous, and highly motivated foe? In addition to which there is the perfectly rational calculation on the part of other policy-dependent industries that it’s far more sensible for them to sit out such a fight so that they can, when their turn comes, exert unopposed pressure on policymakers for their own preferred policies.

You can’t simply assume, as you apparently do, that there is someone or some group above the fray that is summing costs and benefits, perhaps with weights, over a whole society and calculating optimum outcomes. Nor can you assume that all costs and benefits accrue to actors with equal political power. The latter might be true in a genuine democracy — i.e., sometime in the 24th century, if we’re lucky.

33

Samir A. 08.30.13 at 2:39 am

“The British are not backing down; they intend to send Assad a very sternly worded letter.”

34

John Quiggin 08.30.13 at 2:58 am

“It’s because industry A may have a great deal to gain from a policy, while industry B will feel only a small, widely distributed loss. “

But this is true of every industry – it’s the standard public choice analysis of why tariff protection, subsidies and so on happen. But most industries only manage to get subsidies of 10 per cent or less, which roughly cancel each other out (the relevant concept, developed by Oz economists is the effective rate of protection).

The war industry (except for the tiny proportion required to actually defend the US against invasion) gets more than 100 per cent subsidy. That is, all its costs are paid for by the state and it returns negative value.

35

christian_h 08.30.13 at 2:58 am

I don’t agree with JQ on the futility of (armed) revolution, mostly because I think that violence is sometimes forced upon us; and in particular that the dictatorship of capital (and other oppressive modes of production historically, like for example slavery) we live under is itself unavoidably violent. Cf. John Holbo’s earlier post to see how fear of violent radical change can be a justification for a violent status quo. But I do share the strong skepticism towards violence in most particular cases arising. (E.g., the massive violence of the Syrian civil war is, to me, an indication of the political weakness of the rebellion there – and political weakness cannot be substituted by military strength in the long run.)

36

QS 08.30.13 at 3:12 am

The US will intervene not because it thinks it’s in the national interest, whatever the hell that is, but because it’s the action expected of a hegemon. The US feels a “responsibility” to maintain global and regional order, as parents feel toward their children. When the children act up for too long, the parents must step in and quiet the situation or they’ve reneged on their social role. So too with the US.

For once, I think a little IR theory is useful to understanding US foreign policy. Surely the war industries and bureaucracy benefit by a semi-regular intervention, even if small-scale and relatively trivial in monetary benefit. Maintains their raison d’etre. But the US itself must perform the role it rhetorically advances or it looks hollow. Hence, despite the unpopularity of the intervention and the small immediate return to the war industry, the US is compelled to go forward.

37

geo 08.30.13 at 3:22 am

JQ@34: Ah well, as you say, we’ve been over this before, and it’s bedtime here in Cambridge (USA).

A last thought, in a different vein: speaking truth to power (e.g., trying to persuade the readers of The National Interest that some morally depraved policy is not in their economic self-interest) seems to me — however admirable your intentions and persuasive your arguments — a mug’s game. Sooner or later, their immediate self-interest will lead them to ruin the planet, slaughter millions of its inhabitants, and/or enslave millions more. More useful in the (very) long run — albeit admittedly so enormous a task that it’s hard even to know where to start — is demonstrating their self-interest to the powerless and persuading them to act on it.

38

JW Mason 08.30.13 at 3:59 am

I agree with this post.

Like christian_h, tho, I wish the “and revolution” had been left out. Jon H.’s brilliant post on pro-slavery thought right before this one, made me wonder if there a similar book on pro-empire thought before decolonization. I feel fairly confident that if people in Asia and Africa had not been willing to engage in costly negative sum opposition — up to armed revolution if necessary — most of humanity would still be ruled from a few European capitals.

39

JW Mason 08.30.13 at 4:04 am

(It’s interesting that when people are listing the few “good wars”, they always say WWII and often the US Civil War, but no one ever mentions e.g. the US-Vietnam war from the perspective of Vietnam. Were Vietnamese people wrong to fight for a unified, independent country?)

40

John Quiggin 08.30.13 at 4:47 am

“Were Vietnamese people wrong to fight for a unified, independent country?”

Suppose they hadn’t. Presumably, the French would have left sooner or later, same as everywhere else*, and Vietnam, along with the rest of Indo-China, would now have a capitalist economy, probably with quasi-democratic governments dominated by a self-selecting oligarchy. But three or four million people who died in the process would still be alive, or at least would have lived a bit longer.

* The French certainly hung on with more determination than most of the imperialists, but the other side of my argument is that they were foolish to do so, and I think they would have worked that out in the end, even without resort to force by their subjects.

41

WEU 08.30.13 at 4:48 am

A short list of significant revolutions isn’t terribly promising: the English, American, French, Haitian, Russian, Chinese, Cuban; 1848 and 1989.

Only 1989 and the American Revolution are unambiguous successes, with nearly immediate redress of popular grievances and stable and democratic successor regimes.

I suppose the French was for the best in the long run (although revisionist historians increasingly disagree.) It’s hard to muster much enthusiasm when you read about the Nantes drownings…

The Haitian example is stirring, but almost immediately led to slaughter of the remaining whites, new form of serfdom for the blacks, and a couple centuries of misery — probably still preferable to enslavement by the French, though.

Beyond Stalin and Mao’s gruesome human toll, the Russian Revolution and its progeny possibly sunk — for good — humanity’s chances of moving beyond capitalism. History might be quite different if the German Revolution had been enough of one to make my short list…

42

John Quiggin 08.30.13 at 5:05 am

How you view the American Revolution depends on what you think would happened with slavery. Suppose the Americans had stayed in the Empire, and the abolition of slavery in 1833 had extended to the remaining slave states. Then no need for the Civil War, and independence would have come sooner or later anyway.

Of course, it’s arguable that the pro-slavery interest would have been so strong in that scenario that peaceful abolition would have been impossible, and the Civil War would have been fought across the whole Empire, or else slavery would have persisted.

43

js. 08.30.13 at 5:15 am

JQ @40:

Presumably, the French would have left sooner or later, same as everywhere else….

This is a weird argument to make for a couple of reasons. One, it doesn’t actually answer the “were they wrong?” question JW Mason posed. Things may often turn out fine, or even better, if one were not to do something one is perfectly justified in doing. The important point here is that Vietnam case for the Vietnamese is not at all like a military intervention for the interveners—it’s right and proper to demand that the latter clear a very high bar of justification, and it’s not at all clear that such would or should apply for indigenous armed resistance to colonial (or other) occupiers. (This assumes a prior lack of moral standing for colonizers as such, and that’s not accidental.)

Secondly, the “they would have left anyway (sooner or later)” is also a bit strange in context, because surely you could make the same argument about slavery in the American South. Other places in the western hemisphere managed to get rid of chattel slavery without a civil war, and it’s not implausible to suggest that the same would have occurred in the US—sooner or later. Would you want to run the same sort, “what if the North had not fought after all?” question here. I’m not asking this as a rhetorical question.

44

gordon 08.30.13 at 5:16 am

This whole business about historical violence and counterfactuals was argued out pretty extensively in this thread from nearly two years ago (how time flies!):

http://crookedtimber.org/2011/10/19/mlk-and-non-violent-protest/

I don’t want to rehearse all that I said there, but just to point to it and note that we wouldn’t be where we are today without the violence of the past.

45

Tim Chambers 08.30.13 at 6:17 am

It’s a good thing the British parliament voted against it. I hope the French do so as well.

I don’t see how American interests are served by ousting Assad and letting the Islamists take over. Assad has not been aggressive towards Israel but an Islamist government might be. To say nothing of how Iran might react. Syria is no more a nation state than Iraq and if it takes a dictator to hold it together, what of it? Let the Syrians resolve it for themselves and break up into tribal homelands if they will.

To bring back an old 60′s phrase, they didn’t fight in our civil war. We don’t owe them anything.

46

reason 08.30.13 at 7:10 am

I know of one military that had relatively good consequences, even I though I thought it was stupid at the time. Reagan’s bombing of Libya. I frightened the sh.. out of Gaddafi and stopped him from being a terrorist haven. It indirectly lead to the creation of a Palestinian State (however powerless) as well.

47

John Quiggin 08.30.13 at 7:14 am

“Would you want to run the same sort, “what if the North had not fought after all?” question here. I’m not asking this as a rhetorical question.”

I would ask that sort of question, and have thought about it a fair bit, coming to the conclusion that US slavery was growing more entrenched, not less, and that a successful Confederacy would have extended it through much of the Americas. So, I can’t see how slavery could have been abolished without the Civil War.

I have to quote Lincoln here

Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.

48

reason 08.30.13 at 7:14 am

Also looking at economic history (as I was the other day), it seems it can be argued (not the same as proof I know) that mass warfare in the 1860s led to the start of massive improvements in general living standards. Sure technology ENABLED this to happen, but it is not sure that it would have happened without the wars (at the very least without the realisation of the elite that they needed healthy soldiers.)

49

reason 08.30.13 at 7:16 am

Perhaps war time inflation helped as well by favouring debtors over creditors.

50

John Quiggin 08.30.13 at 7:16 am

@Conrad The doco is great, but the pronunciation and spelling of my name isn’t one of its strong points.

51

reason 08.30.13 at 7:17 am

Quiggin @47
And if the US has instead divided, then the US would not be in political pickle it is today – the conferacy would be the North American equivalent of Pakistan.

52

maidhc 08.30.13 at 8:02 am

reason: The US Civil War led to economic problems because creditors loaned inflated money to the government to run the war, and then insisted on being paid back in gold-backed currency, which sucked a lot of money out of the economy. There were periodic crashes for the rest of the century.

I’m not sure that living standards got that much better until the 1920s. Although there were some things like street lighting and more canned food.

53

maidhc 08.30.13 at 8:09 am

John Quiggin: Brazil was the last major country to end slavery, and I think that was around 1870. Why did Brazil end slavery? I’m not aware of any particular pressure on them to do so. (I’m asking; I know very little about Brazilian history.)

Refugees from the Confederacy started a colony in Brazil; I think they even brought their slaves along. It’s still there, kind of, although the inhabitants have long since assimilated into the general population.

I assume Quiggin is a name of English origin; I can think of only one way to pronounce it. Am I missing something?

54

Ronan(rf) 08.30.13 at 8:29 am

“I don’t see how American interests are served by ousting Assad and letting the Islamists take over. Assad has not been aggressive towards Israel but an Islamist government might be. To say nothing of how Iran might react. Syria is no more a nation state than Iraq and if it takes a dictator to hold it together, what of it? Let the Syrians resolve it for themselves and break up into tribal homelands if they will. “

Well there’s no reason the ‘Islamists’ have to ‘take over’? And we really dont know that the Islamists (whatever you mean by that, its a pretty broad church) would be all the worse than Asad. Syria and Iraq most certainly are nation states, not countries of tribes. And what are you defining as US ‘national interests’ ? Everyone talks about national interets, no one feels the need to define them, ever
Another thing that drives military intervention, along with elites, circumstances, alliances etc, is public opinion, always. Everyone is implicated in war (though not everyone suffers) For those who support ‘anti colonial revolutionary violence’, Im not sure why whats happening in Syria (oppossition to a brutal regime) doesnt count for something. I’m not sure why the violence to remove Asad is any more illegitimate than the violence to remove the British, or the French, or the Americans..

55

Tim Worstall 08.30.13 at 8:49 am

“Rather, if war was in the *interests of humanity as a whole*, which was probably true of WWII, but very few others. “

On the more limited subject of liberal interventionism by military means there’s a few recent ones that could and should be added to that list. Liberia and Sierra Leone I would argue for. And I’d similarly argue that shipping off a few battalions to take care of Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army would make the world a better place.

And Dallaire’s book certainly argues (convincingly to me) that Rwanda could have been averted with a little more military intervention.

56

Ronan(rf) 08.30.13 at 8:58 am

“it’s not at all clear that such would or should apply for indigenous armed resistance to colonial (or other) occupiers”

There’s rarely a singular ‘ indigenous armed resistance’ though. There might be a complicated mix of groups with varying interests who come together against a common enemy (though not always and not completely) but thats probably going to fall apart once the common enemy dissipates, and its usually an elite led activity and not necessarily one with widespread support
I agree with the OP in general about the use of force, but why not come up with alternatives at this stage rather than support MY’s grandstanding and F-mans boilerplate? How can you exert pressure on Assad and the oppossition without force? Wheres the political will going to come from? How do you respond sensibly to a genuine humanitarian crisis like the one in Syria without alling back on soundbites about western imperialism or ‘not in out national interests’?

57

Ronan(rf) 08.30.13 at 9:00 am

Which is to say, above, colonialism or occupation always have *some* (at times considerable) domestic support in the colonised/occupied country

58

reason 08.30.13 at 9:12 am

59

reason 08.30.13 at 9:14 am

Particularly after 1880 – the 1870s weren’t so good. This might be a generation echo from the civil war (relatively few new entrants to the labour force causing a labour shortage).

60

reason 08.30.13 at 9:25 am

P.S. I’m not saying that war is worth the price because of this – just that acchieved a good (rising living standards), that may not have been acchievable at the time by political means. In the same way that the black plague also potentially had good effects during the middle ages. There are better ways to acchieve the same effect, but maybe they wouldn’t have happened.

61

Foppe 08.30.13 at 9:27 am

@55: Quite so, but the problem, obviously, is that the inviolability of sovereignty is always invoked when action warranted, and ignored whenever it isn’t; the point being, perhaps, that those who decide that a war is desirable are not generally moved by considerations of humanitarianism. (Perhaps because they are making 20$ selling old weapons to the LRA?)

In any case, I would also submit a quote for consideration, by the consummate liberal Woodrow Wilson.

Since trade ignores national boundaries and the manufacturer insists on having the world as a market, the flag of his nation must follow him, and the doors of the nations which are closed must be battered down … Concessions obtained by financiers must be safeguarded by ministers of state, even if the sovereignty of unwilling nations be outraged in the process. Colonies must be obtained or planted, in order that no useful corner of the world may be overlooked or left unused.

I cite this not because I have a clear idea of which industry stands to gain from bombing/indvading/whatever they would like to do to Syria; but because it strikes me as so completely random that now that there are alleged ‘chemical attacks’ (using “a substance”), a decision has suddenly been made to punish Assad (or his population? All of this whole pars pro toto/aggregation stuff that comes with talking about nation-states is so confusing). I therefore assume that this is just the stick, and that the desire/plans to unseat him/force governments to spend money on bombardments/the eventual contracts for rebuilding predate the ‘atrocity’.
On the whole, I think what we need is more ‘Shock Doctrine-esque’ analysis of the entire field of companies/industries that profit from calamity/upheaval, as well as a better understanding of how all of those actors influence policy. (Do they coordinate their message? Do they work independently? Do they talk about promoting such military interventions specifically, or do they just create a subconscious desire in politicians to create work for them?)

62

Marc Mulholland 08.30.13 at 9:36 am

I think this post puts John on the same side as As Ludwig von Mises:

‘the violence of war and revolutions is always an evil to liberal eyes … when revolution seems almost inevitable liberalism tries to save the people from violence, hoping that philosophy may so enlighten tyrants that they will voluntarily renounce rights which are opposed to social development.’

63

Hidari 08.30.13 at 9:50 am

@62 or, from Brecht (I think, although teh internets don’t help) ‘the only war worth fighting is the war against war’.

64

reason 08.30.13 at 9:59 am

I guess I’m just saying that it is very difficult to second guess history. Ceterus parabus may help theoretical speculations, but it has no worth in reality.

65

gordon 08.30.13 at 10:28 am

reason (at 48)

I’m curious about the suggestion that warfare in the 1860s (I guess you mean the US Civil War?) led to a demand for healthier soldiers. Where does that come from?

66

The Raven 08.30.13 at 11:37 am

John Quiggin@34: “The war industry (except for the tiny proportion required to actually defend the US against invasion) gets more than 100 per cent subsidy. That is, all its costs are paid for by the state and it returns negative value.”

Surely this is because of the “defense” argument—which is at bottom an expression of fear of the other? But also there is the not-so-secret pleasure of power over a despised other, like some addictive drug.

To the broader issue, I think the connected world has brought about a change in the nature of war, so that increasingly connections cross national borders and, as we blunder towards a unified world, international conflict comes more and more to resemble intra-national conflict; all war comes more and more to resemble civil war, with all its stresses, costs, and miseries.

67

soru 08.30.13 at 12:08 pm

@66:

Which begs the question, in the contemporary and near future world, is it actually going to remain possible to choose to stay out of a war?

Certainly, the meaningful debate will not be pro or anti-war, or pro or anti-imperialism, whatever that means these days. But between the parallel options of _end the war_ and _avoid the war_.

Someone should probably come up with concise and unambiguous ideological labels for those those positions.

68

Z 08.30.13 at 12:26 pm

Why is the war industry so much more powerful than, say, the automotive industry, or the financial sector (which clearly doesn’t want war, at least this time around)? Isn’t it primarily because lots of people who don’t benefit from war think that they do, or that they should support it for some other reason?

As The Raven say, it is easy to scare people in believing that their very survival depends on national defense, but I’m sure you are well aware of that.

A subtler answer to your first question is that the military industry has some peculiar characteristic: its deals are necessarily confidential and ordered by political authorities and there is no market in the conventional sense. Hence it is an industry which is much more amenable to multiple levels of briberies (and to briberies orders of magnitude greater) than industries with opposite characteristics (open competitive markets relying on well-documented transactions), an example of which being the automotive industry. Hence it is an easy way to political power. Hence its political influence is out of proportion with its economic significance. In order to check that this is not just theoretical, you can compare the frequencies of bribery scandal involving the military sector compared to other sector roughly the same size.

The same characteristics are also largely true of natural resources in under-developped autocracies, as I mentioned in comments when you expressed puzzlement over the fact that the US elites still tries to control middle east oil: whoever gets the exploitation rights has access to a backdoor cash machine. And sure enough we typically witness furious battles over them, battles which usually seem completely out of proportion with their market value usually understood.

69

Ronan(rf) 08.30.13 at 12:26 pm

“I cite this not because I have a clear idea of which industry stands to gain from bombing/indvading/whatever they would like to do to Syria; but because it strikes me as so completely random that now that there are alleged ‘chemical attacks’ (using “a substance”), a decision has suddenly been made to punish Assad (or his population?”

It seems that Obama really doesnt want this war. He drew the line in the sand on chemical weapons to ‘do something’ but not expecting Assad to use them. Now he’s responding to pressure within his own admin and out of need to save face

70

Ronan(rf) 08.30.13 at 12:33 pm

“as I mentioned in comments when you expressed puzzlement over the fact that the US elites still tries to control middle east oil”

But which elites? Those connected to the oil industry of course but ‘elites’ dont speak with one voice or share the same interests. US oil industry elites didnt do well post the Iraq war 2003

“Hence its political influence is out of proportion with its economic significance.”

It still doesnt show specifically *what* influence the arms industry have. They can exert influence for sure, but how much and in what areas? I dont think theres a huge amount of evidence that they systematically influence foreign policy decisions

71

Foppe 08.30.13 at 1:26 pm

@69: so war because of narcissism? Then why jump the gun again and act before “evidence” has been collected?

72

Trader Joe 08.30.13 at 1:30 pm

One can hope that the combination of the UKs non-participation vote and having a little more time to think things through will sour Obama et al on doing anything beyond more sabre rattling.

When the polls come out I’d suggest they will be harshly opposed.

My own personal polling group includes about 20 guys who come out for a standard Thrusday night beer pounding session. The group, though mostly male, runs pretty neatly across the political spectrum from hard-right conservatives to pretty left liberals. We didn’t exactly have a vote, but I could count no more than 3 or 4 in the group that were even willing to put up much of a defense for taking action – and that defense generally was a weak “well what good is a red line if you don’t back it up” – a lesson most learn in about 7th grade.

Even one of our red-neck-right, bullets ain’t nothing but wasted metal if you don’t use’em right wingers said something to the effect of “let’em keep shootin each other, its not worth it” – not exactly a policy gold-standard, but if the Right isn’t supportive, why should the Dems waste their bullets?

2 cents only

73

dsquared 08.30.13 at 1:30 pm

I assume Quiggin is a name of English origin

Manx, I think.

On the more limited subject of liberal interventionism by military means there’s a few recent ones that could and should be added to that list. Liberia and Sierra Leone I would argue for

Sierra Leone wasn’t a “liberal intervention”, because it wasn’t an intervention at all. UNAMSIL was a supporting mission asked for by the government of Sierra Leone to help them control a terrorist movement, and Operation Palliser was a British mission (also with the support of the legitimate government of Sierra Leone) to rescue UNAMSIL troops. The US “intervention” in Liberia was mainly a force of Marines protecting their own embassy and had pretty little to do with ending the Civil War, which was a triumph of diplomacy. And if you think that the reason that the Ugandan military hasn’t captured Joseph Kony is that they lack a “few battalions”, you really might want to wait a bit before making recommendations on East African policy.

74

Phil 08.30.13 at 1:39 pm

For anyone who’s curious (but not curious enough to play the tape), the documentary spelled John’s name “Quiggan” and pronounced it “Guigan”. I don’t know where the G sound came from, but the A is clearly NZ over-correction – if it was “Quiggan” (or “Queggan” for that matter) they’d pronounce it “Quiggin”.

75

reason 08.30.13 at 1:39 pm

gordon @65
Actually the suggestion was that French decided this (slightly later – Franco-Prussian war) and it came from Z here:

http://crookedtimber.org/2013/08/29/how-moral-revolutions-happen-they-had-a-nightmare/#comment-480479

76

reason 08.30.13 at 1:44 pm

P.S. around the second half of the 19th century seems to be when two things happend – maybe completely co-incidentally
1. The start of rapid increases in general living standards in Western countries
2. Wars become total mobilisations involving large fractions of the population.

Totally speculative on my part that there may be some relationship between the two.

77

Mao Cheng Ji 08.30.13 at 1:48 pm

I agree with geo 37 that utilitarian approach is not very useful here. Not very enlightened either. As far as the wars between states are concerned, I believe it calls for deontological imperative, a taboo. This, I imagine, is what most people felt in 1945; and there was an attempt to make it so. The problem is, life goes on and this feeling fades away. And then utilitarian considerations take over, and then you have a ‘debate’, and then the most powerful interests win. End of story.

78

Ronan(rf) 08.30.13 at 2:03 pm

@ 71
Or ‘war’ b/c of politics?
From what I’ve read (thats all) it seems the Obama admin genuinely sees a negotiated compromise between the two sides as the ideal resolution. (Which is shown by their reluctance to get involved deeply in the conflict from the start.)
So the question surely should be, how to they do it? (Which is assuming they want this outcome, rather than a proxy war with Iran and Hezbollah)

79

Ronan(rf) 08.30.13 at 2:11 pm

71 ….just to add, can we call a military strike to reinforce a norm against use of chemical weapons as ‘war’

80

Ian S. 08.30.13 at 2:21 pm

I didn’t expect such strong reactions to my comment #3 (“piss off”, really?).

It wasn’t intended as a relevant comparison for the Middle East so much as a response to the rather sweeping statement made by John Quiggin:

I’ve just looked at the experience of those 20 years, and reconsidered earlier wars, and I’ve concluded that the consequences of war and revolution are nearly always bad.

But I see that John Quiggin later wrote in the comments (#29):

If war was in the *interests of humanity as a whole*, which was probably true of WWII, but very few others.

So we agree, it turns out :)

81

Random Lurker 08.30.13 at 2:47 pm

@reason 76

mass politics?

82

Layman 08.30.13 at 3:22 pm

Ronan@79

If one state bombing another isn’t ‘war’, then words lose all meaning.

83

reason 08.30.13 at 3:31 pm

random lurker @81 – yes could be. I noted this from the Wikipedia report on the Crimean war
“The Crimean War was one of the first wars to be documented extensively in written reports and photographs: notably by William Russell (writing for The Times newspaper[12]) and the photographs of Roger Fenton.[13] News from war correspondents reached all nations involved in the war and kept the public citizenry of those nations better informed of the day-to-day events of the war than had been the case in any other war to that date. However, nowhere more than Britain was the public kept better informed of the day-to-day realities of the war in the Crimea.[14] Consequently, public opinion played a larger role in this war than in any other war in history.”

84

Ronan(rf) 08.30.13 at 3:50 pm

layman. Yeah, fair enough
But, rhetorically, the way its playing itself out seems a little off to me. We have a two year progressively worsening brutal civil war and it garners little real attention. The US threatens a (relatively) limited military strike, mainly for show, and it becomes THE CRISIS, we’re marching towards war etc
The outrage (to me) seems..misdirected(?)

85

Mao Cheng Ji 08.30.13 at 3:52 pm

…to add to my 77: if you read JQ’s analysis of the Civil War, it’s clear that his attitude towards slavery is deontological rather than utilitarian, which is overwhelmingly common, although I heard Louis CK a couple of weeks ago pointing out that this attitude may not be entirely rational.

To end the wars, this has to be the attitude towards them as well, otherwise at least a threat of war will remain an accepted tool of foreign policy, and threats need to be credible, so you’ll have wars too…

86

Peter K. 08.30.13 at 4:14 pm

I am one of those dreaded liberal interventionist, decent, bleeding-heart warmongers.

What Yglesias is doing is two things. One, he’s telling the bleeding hearts (who don’t like to imagine children being gassed to death) and the young “slacktivists” who were inspired by KONY 2012 etc. that there are ways to help foreigners other than bombing their country. Second, with a Democrat in the White House, Republicans, conservatives, and Tea Partiers are all about cutting deficits and cutting government spending. War is expensive and not easily translated into a cost-benefit analysis. (WWII was expensive. Was it worth it? It did help end the Great Depression and was followed by the “Golden Age” of social democracy.) Here Yglesias is appealing to fiscal conservatives. Boehner appears skeptical about missile strikes.

The Bush administration’s dishonesty is coming back to haunt Obama. He has a high burden of proof as evidenced by the British parliament’s vote. My guess is that they’ll do the missile strikes anyway but there will be no invasion or occupation. What will the missile strikes accomplish? Dissuade future chemical weapon attacks? I don’t see them altering the outcome in Syria. I was under the impression that Assad was winning, so the use of chemical weapons doesn’t make much sense. Perhaps after witnessing the lack of words or action over the Egyptian military’s recent massacres, they decided to push things.

The irony is that Pakistan and Iran have elected leaders who are more given to dialogue with the West.

87

Peter K. 08.30.13 at 4:15 pm

@85 “although I heard Louis CK a couple of weeks ago pointing out that this attitude may not be entirely rational.”

Please elaborate.

88

soru 08.30.13 at 4:20 pm

@84: that’s actually explained in the OP: participation in war is expensive.

The cost of properly ending the war has been estimated like something like a billion$ a month for at least 3-9 months, with a risk of that being 3-9 years instead. And one lesson of Iraq is that there is no prospect of that money being recovered; countries with oil are really no different to countries without in that respect.

Reframed, that means every US household is made ~$100 a year better off by the decision to let the war continue. Any threat to that money is of course going to attract outrage.

The main point of disagreement is between those who think the best way of avoiding doing anything effective is to actively do nothing, or those who think it would be safest do something stupid, pointless and bloody instead.

89

Mao Cheng Ji 08.30.13 at 4:41 pm

@87, oh, it’s just a comedy act, not important. You’d need to watch it, it’s on HBO.

90

Brett 08.30.13 at 5:04 pm

There’s an interesting counterfactual there on the South. The increasingly pro-slave society stuff that grew in the Antebellum South followed the boom in cotton agriculture, justifying it as well. If something had happened to completely crash the price of cotton and render the “investments” the planters had made in slaves and land worth much less, how would that have affected their ideology? Would they have eventually hypocritically shifted everything around to a different stance on blacks? Tried to push slavery in other directions (which doesn’t always work – slavery could theoretically be used to produce anything, but in practice it tended to work best with certain cash crops)?

91

hix 08.30.13 at 5:09 pm

My biggest problem with an intervention in Syria is that the west has proofen over and over that it cant be trusted . So any attempt to move beyond a simple no war/intervention no matter what the given reason norm cannot possibly work. Rather any further western invasion undermines the very basic level of trust that does exist between nations. Libya has shown Russia and China that if they dont veto any intervention, the west will use a narrow mandate to avoid civilian death as an excuse for regime change in his favour.

92

mud man 08.30.13 at 5:27 pm

It isn’t that poison gas isn’t a very bad thing. … If we wanted to retaliate by carpeting the country with MREs and bottled water, I could go for that.

93

LFC 08.30.13 at 5:29 pm

Although Ian S. now says @80 that he was simply reacting to a statement of JQ’s in the OP, he brought up Munich in comment #3 and proceeded to ask:

Are we sure that this situation will never present itself again? And if it does, will we know how to recognize it?

I’m not sure these questions are v. helpful. A better question is: Will we be able to refrain from relying on misleading analogies in situations where they don’t apply, or apply only very partially?

In his 1978 book Primacy or World Order: American Foreign Policy since the Cold War, Stanley Hoffmann wrote:

Much has already been written about the “lessons” of Vietnam. One of them is precisely the uniqueness of Vietnam or, rather, the need to refrain from mechanically applying disembodied principles…–the need to take into full account the specific features of each country and issue…. To some extent, Vietnam was one more application of the imperative, “no more Munichs” (as Munich itself was the result of the imperative that dictated French and British behavior in the thirties — “no more summers of 1914″). A blanket rule of “no more Vietnams” could easily be as calamitous as previous retrospective analogies. (p.22, emphasis added)

He then goes on to say: “However, just as there was something to be learned from the summer of 1914, and something to be avoided after Munich, much ought to be remembered from Vietnam.”

The message I infer from what I’ve just quoted is that ‘lessons’ and parallels are somewhat unavoidable and can sometimes be useful but must be drawn carefully and with “attention to the specific features” of each issue/problem/etc. Bringing up Munich and asking “are we sure this situation will never present itself again?”, although you may have meant it just as a reaction to one statement in JQ’s post, is something of a red flag in these sorts of discussions precisely b.c the Munich analogy has a history of being misapplied, most notably in the case of the U.S. war in Vietnam but not only there. I think that’s largely why you (Ian S.) got the reaction you got.

94

jake the snake 08.30.13 at 6:06 pm

One of the most serious issues about war is that it is fought for the benefit of the
wealthy and powerful by the children of the poor and working class. Occasionally, those interests coincide (American Revolution, WWII). But, other than to repel invasion, war will almost always be a waste of blood and treasure.

95

William Timberman 08.30.13 at 6:09 pm

LFC @ 93

Do we not above all have to weigh the sincerity of the historical analogy being brandished for our approval? I suppose you could argue that sometimes we actually do become the victims of sloppy thinking by battleship admirals who can’t see beyond the embarrassments of their youth, but to me it seems much more often the case that we’re being manipulated by cynics of one sort or another. Did anyone really believe at the time that the failure to attack Iraq would make Neville Chamberlains of us all? I’d say that those who did were dupes, and ought to have enquired more carefully into the motives of the foreign policy apparatchiks who were so tirelessly flogging their analogies through the transatlantic marketplace of ideas.

96

Bruce Wilder 08.30.13 at 6:12 pm

The example of Munich should not be thought of as identical with the analogy to Munich. The latter is a particular argument, derived from and gathering emotional force from the experience of WWII.

I’m not sure that any argument, gathering force from collective experience, has much validity beyond its time and place. It’s a rationalization, arrived at after, and it’s always a fossil of a particular lived experience. I think one could recognize that Britain erred in response to German aggression, and that the subsequent applications of the analogy of Munich, and associated allergy to “appeasement” (why does my brain produce alliteration?), were increasingly misleading, culminating in a big contribution to the tragedy of Vietnam.

About all the analogy to Munich is good for now is to outline a ritual argument, to be used by stupid, war mongering liars, to stampede those likely to think reason ought to matter. Preparing for the last war, or negotiating the last peace, is clearly inferior to actually dealing with present circumstances, with a full understanding of how generally useless and costly and uncontrollable, war tends to be, combined with some reasonable imagination concerning alternative paths for policy to travel.

97

Bruce Wilder 08.30.13 at 6:16 pm

Obama’s apparent determination to “go it alone”, internationally and domestically, seems so politically stupid, that it takes the breath away. Parliament’s example just highlights the fact that Obama is not asking Congress for permission, as he is Constitutionally obligated to do, and the Administration apparently regards contempt for the UN, Russia or allies of any kind, as a badge of honor. Not since Czar Nicholas took command in WWI has there been a display of such hubris. The force of the Iraq experience and Snowden revelations puts Occam’s razor clearly on the side of assuming as a fact, that everything the Administration says is a bald-face lie.

Quiggin hopes for a recognition that war is a bad option. I wonder how we can get reason to operate at all, when jealousy of power, secrecy, authoritarian attitudes and political dynamics produces such obstinacy in even apparently intelligent leaders.

98

roger gathman 08.30.13 at 6:21 pm

I think John is overlooking the positive externalities of America’s bloated military. American force or its threat paves the way for many of the practices and much of the position of international corporations that are run by American management and held by American stockholders. From the price of oil and commodities, to the privileges American businesses enjoy in Latin America, Africa and Asia, one can see how the shadow of the bayonet moves things along. Thus, the system accomodates lunatic ventures, like Vietnam and the Iraq war, quite well.

99

Ronan(rf) 08.30.13 at 6:29 pm

The interesting thing is (according to the book Appeasing Bankers by Jonathan Kirshner) the ‘financial sector’ usually opposses war out of self interest (at least in his case studies)

100

Ian S. 08.30.13 at 6:44 pm

LFC @ 93, I am still surprised at the emotional reactions my post generated. I didn’t know Munich had a long history of being used and abused. I certainly didn’t know about Vietnam, and I don’t remember it being used in Iraq.

However, my point was this: I believe there are wars worth fighting, e.g. the USA entering the second world war. Once we agree there exist wars worth fighting, my question is valid (slightly rephrased): When a war worth fighting presents itself again, will we know how to recognize it?

I don’t think we will, but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t ask the question.

101

bob mcmanus 08.30.13 at 6:47 pm

“It is, it seems, politically impossible for a capitalist democracy to organize expenditure on the scale necessary to make the grand experiment that would prove my case—except in war conditions.” …John Maynard Keynes

War or Full Employment?

Revolution.

102

js. 08.30.13 at 6:48 pm

My biggest problem with an intervention in Syria is that the west has proofen over and over that it cant be trusted .

This is a very important point that was implicit in my earlier comments (esp. @43), tho I should probably have made it explicit.

So, I agree with a lot of what Ronan says @56, but that doesn’t change the basic distinction between somebody who’s living with violence as a fact of their lives in a highly oppressive or colonial regime on the hand, and those sitting in various “war rooms”, boardrooms, etc., half a world away. The former can have violence “forced upon them” as christian_h says, whereas it’s absurd to make the same claim about the latter. So again, totally different standards of justification for indigenous armed resistance vs. foreign military intervention, and a crucial part of the latter standards needs to be the trustworthiness of the self-appointed interveners. I’d humbly submit that these standards are well-nigh impossible to meet in the world as we know it.

JQ @47:

Well, that answers my question. Can’t say I agree with the apparent implication that if the historical record showed that slavery would’ve disappeared sooner or later without armed conflict, then this would make the Civil War unjustifiable.

103

js. 08.30.13 at 6:53 pm

I didn’t know Munich had a long history of being used and abused.

Have you been residing on Planet Earth these past several years? You might just want to start with a Google News search for “appeasers”. Go from there.

104

MPAVictoria 08.30.13 at 7:03 pm

“Not since Czar Nicholas took command in WWI has there been a display of such hubris.”
Really? I mean really? You can think of no examples of greater hubris since 1917? Not one?

105

LFC 08.30.13 at 7:15 pm

Wm Timberman:

Did anyone really believe at the time that the failure to attack Iraq would make Neville Chamberlains of us all? I’d say that those who did were dupes, and ought to have enquired more carefully into the motives of the foreign policy apparatchiks who were so tirelessly flogging their analogies through the transatlantic marketplace of ideas.

I take your point, not all uses of a given analogy are sincere, to be sure; many are just manipulative. However, my guess — and I’m just speculating — is that ‘the Munich analogy’ got a sort of fresh lease on life w the *first* Gulf War, where George H.W. Bush invoked it in making the case of for expelling Iraq from Kuwait. And in that case, since at least on the surface it looked to be a fairly traditional case of state X (Iraq) attacking state Y (Kuwait), the analogy had a certain force. I’m aware that beneath the surface things were more complicated. That said, Desert Storm was an operation that had very wide international support and a UN imprimatur, iirc, unlike the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which didn’t have either.

106

lupita 08.30.13 at 7:21 pm

Obama has gone mad. He has just declared himself, through Kerry, the world’s sovereign, the sole decider. He alone decides what rules are enforced against whom, when, by what means. Amazing.

107

Ronan(rf) 08.30.13 at 7:22 pm

“but that doesn’t change the basic distinction between somebody who’s living with violence as a fact of their lives in a highly oppressive or colonial regime on the hand, and those sitting in various “war rooms”, boardrooms, etc., half a world away. The former can have violence “forced upon them” as christian_h says, whereas it’s absurd to make the same claim about the latter”

Ah okay, fair point. I see the distinction you’re getting at.
The only thing that gives me pause re western interventions is that there are times, I think, when the aim of furthering national interests or dominating other countries does get stripped away (more or less), and we’re left with a genuine desire to protect populations at risk.* I think thats a worthy aspiration, although it doesnt seem to play out well in practice (although sometimes,under certain circumstances, it can)

* though I know thats not what the Syrian intervention is about

108

lupita 08.30.13 at 7:27 pm

we’re left with a genuine desire to protect populations at risk.* I think thats a worthy aspiration

It is not. It is no more than the ideological cover for imperialism.

109

LFC 08.30.13 at 7:29 pm

Ian S.
I am still surprised at the emotional reactions my post generated. I didn’t know Munich had a long history of being used and abused.
That’s ok: no one knows everything and there is certainly a great deal that I don’t know; I’m glad to have brought this particular thing to your attention.

Once we agree there exist wars worth fighting, my question is valid (slightly rephrased): When a war worth fighting presents itself again, will we know how to recognize it?
I’m not sure. I think in any case they will be fairly unusual cases. That’s my short answer. War in general is in decline, so maybe the question will come up less and less often. One can hope so, at any rate.

110

Ronan(rf) 08.30.13 at 7:37 pm

“It is not. It is no more than the ideological cover for imperialism.”

I agree that a lot of the time it is, and that the rhetoric of human rights etc can be used as cover, but certain interventions (the Balkans, Libya imo) I think are difficult to understand as wars fought primarily to further national interests

111

LFC 08.30.13 at 7:49 pm

As an historical footnote, I’m not sure Chamberlain’s policy is all that well understood by those who like to invoke the Munich analogy. This is not a defense of Chamberlain at all, just an observation. His aim was a general settlement of claims etc., hence he used ‘appeasement’ in the sense of ‘pacification’ and spoke not of the appeasement of Germany but of the appeasement of Europe (D. Kaiser, Politics and War, 1990, p.385 n.51). Of course this approach didn’t work in a Europe that contained Hitler, b/c Hitler’s aims were what they were (large-scale territorial conquest), and Chamberlain et al. can/should be faulted for not taking what H. said in Mein Kampf at face value. He meant it.

112

lupita 08.30.13 at 7:54 pm

the rhetoric of human rights etc can be used as cover

That is, unless there is a legitimate procedure to determine when and how to intervene and it applies to all countries equally. Since that does not exist at the moment, all Western interventions are illegitimate.

Obama just declared, through Kerry, that he alone decides based on secret information. Surely this is madness based on desperation. Who in their right mind can believe that one man can declare himself the sovereign of the world and get away with it? I sincerely hope that the US congress pulls off a UK commons on him and does it fast, like today.

113

lupita 08.30.13 at 8:04 pm

The greatest threat to stability and order (forget about peace and justice) at the moment is Obama. How could he have come out and said, through Kerry, that, despite the total lack of support from whatever quarter for his intervention, he alone will decide? How can a rational person think that, by bombing Damascus, Obama can fend off any challenge to his self-proclaimed reign of the planet?

114

zbs 08.30.13 at 8:26 pm

Totally off topic but Dr Quiggan is now world famous in New Zealand after figuring prominently in this documentary that aired last night

What a babe !

115

Salem 08.30.13 at 9:05 pm

The thing about rhetoric and accusations of bad faith is that they cut both ways. Human rights as a cover for imperialism? I may as well say that the pacifism here is a cover for cowardice and – let’s face it – racism. I simply don’t believe that if European children were being gassed and burned alive, that so many would be so sanguine. But I don’t believe in that method of argumentation.

Of course war is a bad thing. But there’s already a war, being waged by the Assad regime against its own people. If the USA stays out of it, it doesn’t end the war, it just condemns the weak to be crushed under the boots of the strong.

Carpeting the country with MREs and bottled water

And what does that do against bullets, shells and guns? Yes, there’s a humanitarian crisis, but that has grown out of the political crisis. There can’t be any proper solution until Syrians have something approximating freedom. And I’m under no illusions that US intervention will make Syria a utopia, but if they can get to some half-assed situation like Lebanon, that would be Obama’s greatest achievement.

Frankly I am disgusted by Milliband’s vacillation, cowardice and pettiness, and I had hoped to see similar condemnations here.

116

lupita 08.30.13 at 9:19 pm

Kerry:

And it matters deeply to the credibility and the future interests of the United States of America and our allies.

It is directly related to our credibility and whether countries still believe the United States when it says something.

Our concern with the cause of the defenseless people of Syria is about choices that will directly affect our role in the world and our interests in the world. It is also profoundly about who we are. We are the United States of America.

And it matters to who we are. And it matters to leadership and to our credibility in the world.

Kerry’s justifications read like a lament, a farewell speech to Pax Americana. The US has no support, no credibility, it is not a leader. Though Kerry does not specify exactly what the US’s role in the world is, he is definitely grieving its demise.

117

Phil 08.30.13 at 9:33 pm

Vacillation? Cowardice?? Pettiness??? Miliband’s done Britain a great service and deserves great credit for it, not personalised playground namecalling.

I suspect that Ed Miliband – like the majority of the British public – doesn’t want Britain involved in any attack on Syria that the US might be about to launch. To the extent that it’s not politically possible to say that, he doesn’t want Britain involved in an attack launched without Security Council backing, and to the extent that it’s not politically possible to say that (how far we’ve fallen!) he doesn’t want Britain involved in an attack which runs counter to the UN’s expressed wishes. Even if I’m wrong about points 1 and 2 – and his position really is the weak gruel of “let’s not do it until the UN’s had a chance to say they tried it their way” – this position dictates one key tactical priority, viz. to stop the rush to war. Which he’s achieved, through some very adept political manoeuvring – albeit nothing outstandingly elaborate or underhand; anyone who’s ever been involved in a strike or an employment tribunal has faced worse.

The weakling here is Cameron. To be clear, he may be a lovely bloke with all kinds of personal virtues, but he’s displayed a raft of political weaknesses – weak proposals, weak analysis, weak support, weak tactics, appallingly weak PR. (Calling the Leader of the Opposition a f***ing c*** – what exactly was that meant to achieve?)

118

geo 08.30.13 at 9:57 pm

LFC @111: As an historical footnote, I’m …

No, you are not an historical footnote.

119

lupita 08.30.13 at 10:08 pm

The US has been obstructing the expansion of the UNSC’s membership for years because it is too weak to deal with more powers. Now, Kerry accuses Russia of obstructionism because it does not follow the US’s lead regarding Syria meaning the US has become so weak it can no longer deal with just four other powers, two of which are allies and one of those a lapdog. What do Obama and Kerry want? That no country oppose them, ever? Is that what they mean by leadership, credibility, and the identity of Americans? Is that what the US has become, that which is never opposed?

By the way, the US congress is out on vacations, so somebody else is going to have to control these guys.

120

Layman 08.30.13 at 10:26 pm

BW @ 97

‘Obama’s apparent determination to “go it alone”, internationally and domestically, seems so politically stupid, that it takes the breath away.’

This makes me think he’s arrived at some notion of moral imperative. Politically, he could submit the question to Congress, with the likely result that Congress prevents him from acting without international support. He could submit the question to the UN Security Council, with the certain result that Russia and/or China veto any measure. Both those approaches give him the cover to do nothing. If he won’t make those approaches, it can only be because he wants, or feels obligated, to do something.

121

Salem 08.30.13 at 10:39 pm

Milliband’s done Britain a great service

He has sacrificed the Syrian people on the altar of short-term expediency. I don’t care about the rationalisations; if he had got behind the motion, it would have carried. If trying to undermine Cameron is more important to Milliband than saving lives, then yes, he is a f—ing c–t.

to stop the rush to war

A couple of threads ago people were so keen to argue that the pre-war South was in a constant state of war against its enslaved population, which, in part, justified the North’s actions in the Civil War. And here we have a situation where the Syrian government is, quite literally, at war with its own people, but suddenly we can’t pay any attention to that. There can be no rush to war, because there’s already war, and has been for two years – but we can’t say that. We must at all costs maintain the current peaceful butchery. As long as all the victims are filthy foreigners, there’s really nothing to see here.

I find it disgusting.

122

engels 08.30.13 at 10:43 pm

‘No, you are not an historical footnote.’

So is LFC mentioned in the main body of the text? Or not mentioned at all?

123

Hidari 08.30.13 at 10:47 pm

“Calling the Leader of the Opposition a f***ing c*** – what exactly was that meant to achieve?”

It reminds us that our political leaders are a bunch of thugs. I don’t mean that in a metaphorical sense. Cameron was a member of the sinister ‘Bullingdon Club’ street gang (who would undoubtedly have spent some time doing time had he not been so rich), and Nick Clegg, of course, is a convicted arsonist (!). They talk like thugs because they ARE thugs.

Of course this shouldn’t cast into doubt their sincerity when it comes to saving Syria. That goes without saying.

http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2011/sep/02/bullingdon-club-david-cameron-riots

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/7003100.stm

124

lupita 08.30.13 at 10:53 pm

As long as all the victims are filthy foreigners, there’s really nothing to see here.

As a filthy foreigner, I say go away, leave us alone, yes, look the other way. It will take some time to recover from centuries of Western imperialism, but the sooner you stop intervening to boost your credibility, strengthen your leadership, and emphasize your identity, the better.

125

Walt 08.30.13 at 10:57 pm

Salem, you’re suffering from the logic of “We must do something. This is something. Therefore we must do that.” You have no plan of what to do to stop further chemical attacks, you have no plan what to do if the current government falls, you have no evidence that the rebels will be any better than the current regime (and given that al Queda is one of the rebel factions, evidence that they’ll be worse). All you have is your hysterical reaction that you parade around like it’s actual moral rectitude. Clearly you are too young to remember the lead-up to the Iraq War, but we’re not. We’ve heard it all before.

126

nick s 08.30.13 at 11:03 pm

He has sacrificed the Syrian people on the altar of short-term expediency.

Which Syrian people have you chosen to be sacrificed on the altar of short-term moral pomposity? Are you aching for reprisal massacres of the Alawites, regardless of whether they’re on board with the Assad regime? Would you prefer to see the demise of Syria’s Christians? Are you encouraging the Druze to pack up and move to Lebanon if they haven’t already?

You don’t get away with not choosing here. Sorry about that.

127

engels 08.30.13 at 11:12 pm

It’s interesting that the post opposes equally violence of states against states (war) and of populations against their states (revolution) but says nothing about the violence of states against their populations (law enforcement). Is this also opposed or does it fall into a separate consequentialist category of violence whose overall effects are positive?

128

dsquared 08.30.13 at 11:14 pm

And Dallaire’s book certainly argues (convincingly to me) that Rwanda could have been averted with a little more military intervention.

Just to add to the point I made a while ago, that this is the most perfect example of “picking winners”, which if possible, would make Tim W’s well-known position on industrial subsidies hard to fathom.

It is true of everything that was fucked up, that it would have gone a lot better if it had not been fucked up. But the nature of the world is that we don’t get to make this choice in advance; we have to choose a plan, and then find out after the fact whether it got fucked up or not. So, UNAMIR and Operation Turquoise get added to the portfolio which already contained Vietnam, Iraq, Somalia, Honduras etc. As I’ve often said (including in a post called “Alice in Rwandaland” on this very blog), the French intervention in Rwanda was badly planned, politically motivated and horribly, democidally counterproductive. In other words, the normal kind.

129

Daniel 08.30.13 at 11:16 pm

I simply don’t believe that if European children were being gassed and burned alive, that so many would be so sanguine.

https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=picasso+guernica&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ei=wSchUu_vKcnasgaNnICQAQ&ved=0CAkQ_AUoAQ&biw=1092&bih=538

fool.

130

Ronan(rf) 08.30.13 at 11:17 pm

I think Salem has a reasonable point to be fair. Doing nothing isnt really a great option, particularly when you have the possibility of this spreading to other countries in the region.
I agree a military intervention isnt a good idea, but a concerted diplomatic effort, pressure on Iraq to cut down on weapons and fighters moving across the border, on the Gulf states and Iran to stop funding and arming factions(by weakening the sanctions on Iran if necessary), on a genuine effort to resolve the refugee crisis..or as Deborah Avant suggested, working through people (business interests, elites) close to Assad..all of these, or some of these, could be used. Its not going to wrap everything up perfectly, but it could make a difference, or be the beginning of a resolution

131

BigGuy 08.30.13 at 11:25 pm

As best as we can determine from what Tom Friedman has written already, the internet and big data allow us today to live in the best of all possible worlds. Inside of one or two Friedman units, we’ll know if his current conclusions are apropos to today’s circumstances, although, to the best of our knowledge, we cannot be assured of that

132

engels 08.30.13 at 11:32 pm

He has sacrificed the Syrian people on the altar of short-term expediency … he is a f—ing c–t.

You, sir, have barbecued your readers in the hog-roast of metaphorical bathos.

133

Hidari 08.30.13 at 11:33 pm

“Frankly I am disgusted by Milliband’s vacillation, cowardice and pettiness, and I had hoped to see similar condemnations here.”

Whatever words one might choose to describe Milliband standing up to the Americans (let’s not forget, the most powerful military force the world has ever seen, with political/financial power almost to match) ‘cowardice’ is not necessarily the first one that would spring to mind.

Obviously with the charges of ‘vacillation’ and ‘pettiness’ you are on stronger ground.

134

geo 08.30.13 at 11:33 pm

Mao@77: Thank you, but I’m afraid I must disagree. I don’t know about John, but I am a hard-line consequentialist — indeed, I think consequentialism is a null hypothesis and deontology is sheer metaphysics. The basis of the difference between John and me in this case is that 1) I don’t think policymakers take much account of consequences to the 99 percent (unless there are potentially unpleasant electoral consequences for them, the policymakers; and even that consideration has diminished in importance since they can now count on going straight from office into a lucrative private-sector sinecure as a reward for defying the wishes and welfare of their constituents); and 2) I think conflicts of vital interest among the 1 percent are rare (such conflicts are possible, of course, and then there’s a contest, conducted in public without any reference to the private interests at stake, naturally). Normally, each group within the elite fights very hard (well, spends a lot of money, anyway) for policies that serve its own vital interests and acquiesces in policies that affect the vital interests of other powerful groups but only marginally affect their own. Live and let live (most of the time).

For what it’s worth, being a consequentialist doesn’t mean that I disbelieve in moral principles or ideals. I have as many as the next bleeding-heart democratic socialist. (Even more, since, unlike John and most other CTers, I rarely indulge in time-consuming distractions such as empirical research or conceptual analysis.) But I think that moral principles are derived from the consideration of consequences, including consequences to others. We have a genetic, evolutionarily derived faculty of sympathy, or moral imagination, whereby we feel, keenly or less keenly, the pain of others, close to us or less close. A good society recognizes and gives scope to this faculty; a bad society ignores or restricts it with ideologies like rational choice and competitive individualism.

135

Bruce Baugh 08.30.13 at 11:35 pm

Someone above asked whether we’d recognize an actually just war (my term, not theirs) if it came along. In all seriousness, I suspect that one of the signs would be that many of the usual voices for war would be against it.

I used to be a lot more in favor of humanitarian intervention than I am now, and this site has a lot to do with the change. :) I’ve become convinced that no quantity of good intentions or actual need on the ground exempts us from having to answer questions like these:

Who are we going to support? Unless we’re proposing at the outset to set up an indefinite occupation, we’ll have to be backing some faction. Who are they? Why should we favor them? What specific reasons do we have for believing that they can govern, and what will we do if they can’t?

Republicans obsess over cutting spending that does needy people any good, and far too many Democrats go along. Every scrap of spending we put into anything intended to help people with real needs will face demands for offsets. Therefore, we have to have a solid figure for the costs of the whole operation and a plan for what we wish to sacrifice here at home and elsewhere in the world to make it possible. What are the likely costs? What are the costs of contingencies covering all the foreseeable escalations and complications? What are we doing with that money now? Is the likely gain worth the likely losses?

(It’s disgusting and immoral that we should have to ask such complications. Blame both the Republicans who go for it and the Democrats who let them. Short of mind control rays, this is a reality we have to take into account.)

Who will lead our part of the show? Since we don’t punish violators of human rights, what reason do we have to believe there won’t be more horror shows of torture and slaughter coming from us? Who will administer the long-term presence we’ll inevitably have there? What reasons do we have to believe they’ll do more good than harm?

136

geo 08.30.13 at 11:52 pm

PS to 133: Sorry, I left out a third possible reason why I disagree with JQ. I believe in something like Marx’s notion of the state as the executive committee of the ruling class; or more precisely, Chomsky’s notion that a state’s foreign policy is determined in broad outline by the common interest(s) of the dominant groups within the society. In the US case, the fundamental, or default, purpose of our foreign policy has been to promote a favorable investment climate for American business: open markets, access to natural resources, free movement of capital, minimal regulation, destruction of the social safety net, etc. As with corporate executive committees, conflicts may arise, but the idea of taking into account the interests or welfare (“lives and wasted resources,” as John put it in the OP) of those not represented on the committee doesn’t arise.

137

Random Lurker 08.30.13 at 11:55 pm

I propose the USA declares war on Syria, conquers it, declares it the 51th state of the USA (that then becomes USW) and grants consequently citizienship to all Syrians.

If you think that this proposal is stupid , the question is why?
If the USA wants to protect Syrians’s human rights, those rights basically are the same as citizenship rights; the only reason not to annect Syria is to give them less rights.
This includes the right of not living in a theocracy, which is somehow opposed to the right of self determination .

Anything less than conquest and annexation is neocolonialism, if you think of it.

138

roger gathman 08.30.13 at 11:59 pm

The Munich analogies and such like , which get repeated again and again, really are worth pursuing. Analogies are a rather suck way of doing historical analysis, but historical analysis must include the way people ordinarily do historical analysis – which is by analogies.
So it is important to take a critical look at the analogon.

Let’s say that we really want to hold a good old World War II style humanitarian intervention (and never mind that World War ii was a war against aggression, and never a humanitarian intervention).
World War IIs are not cheap. They require, for one thing, an immense mobilization of the population. In the U.S., all males between 18 and 30 had to sign up for the selective service. Taxes were hiked to the world war I level, and they did not substantially fall again until 1960. The occupations that ended the war were manned at a militarily appropriate level. The end of the war itself caused a fallout among the victorious allies, which led to a series of wars during the long cold war period.
In brief, if we are serious about the analogy, it isn’t just the rhetorical form that we should talk about, but the content.
This, however, is not a conclusion that the hawk establishment, or those people, like Salem, who supposedly are in this for the good of the Syrian people. Partly this is due to the fact that this establishment is conservative, and true World War IIs – which involve the mass mobilization of people – lead, usually, to socialistic programs in peace time – in healthcare, education and housing.
Mostly, however, this is due to the fact that the hawks in D.C. have a very incomplete grasp of the dialectic of war in modern times.
Alas, those hawks are in power at least intellectually in D.C.
If the military-humanitarian intervention (to use that oxymoron for a moment) was serious, then its means would have to be serious. The means can’t be a stray cruise missile. They have to be attack, the collapse of the regime, and the occupation of Syria. The number of troops have to reach some Shinseki level in order to have a chance at all – that’s around four hundred thousand troops. And those troops have to be funded, as well as the war. Let’s put the amount needed conservatively at around a trillion dollars. The time this will take, as in our experiences in Afgan. and Iraq, will be at least ten years. Furthermore, the fighting method has to be changed. The bloody crux, the structure, the very moral economy of the American way of warfare has to recognize that force must be proportioned to some threshold point beyond which you antagonize the population. This means accepting a much higher casualty rate. If American soldiers winnow through a village, looking only for insurgents, they are much likely to be injured or killed than if they plow through the village in the balls out, mega-American way. And the soldiers know that. The American soldier has been trained to think that the preservation of his life is the prime objective. He has been raised in the spirit of McLellan, and advances with the firepower of Grant, which is why America always wins the wars that it loses. This is why the American soldier is good in a battlefield situation such as presented itself in WWII, or in the First Gulf War, and entirely sucks at counterinsurgency. And will always suck. Because the higher risk brings with it the question: what am I doing here?
So let’s get serious about this analogy and run it by the american or british people, and see what they think.

139

Random Lurker 08.31.13 at 12:21 am

@Roger gathmam 137

Plus, WW2 was a war of annihilation of the opponent.

140

Suzanne 08.31.13 at 12:25 am

@120: Going to Congress carries risks for Obama but in the end I doubt they would deny the President a war he wants. (At one time I thought Obama a reluctant warrior in Syria; I now doubt this.) Some in Congress fancy their chances for the White House and want to be able to drop bombs when the mood takes them. The Democrats will mostly follow-the-leader and many Republicans are reflexively hawkish. The danger lies in the paltriness of the evidence the Nobel Peace Prize winner can produce and the difficulty in pointing to an actual national interest – or even a sensible humanitarian one – at stake should genuine evidence be produced.

Scaring hell out of the citizenry doesn’t seem to be working, either. This week he went on TV to explain that we have to bomb Syria lest Assad’s chemical weapons be used against the United States in future. I await with impatience his colorful description of the mushroom cloud.

141

John Quiggin 08.31.13 at 12:29 am

@Engels A good point. I don’t see any categorical difference. Most of the standard justifications for state use of violence in law enforcement (retribution, deterrence, sending a message, upholding the dignity of the law) are no more valid than the same arguments used as justification for war.

What’s left, in both cases, is self-defence. In the law enforcement case, this is mainly a matter of putting locks between the population as a whole and those who have proved themselves to be violent and dangerous.

142

John Quiggin 08.31.13 at 12:30 am

@Geo To restate (I’ve made this point many times, but I’ll try once again), I don’t see how US capitalists in general benefit from war. As I said last time, the financial sector clearly doesn’t like it. And, when you look at the places where the US has waged wars (Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia) it’s hard to imagine the Executive Committee of the bourgeoisie rationally deciding to invest trillions of dollars in making these places safe for capitalism.

It isn’t true that the capitalists can shift all the costs of war onto the population in general. The top 1 per cent get 20-25 per cent of all income in the US, and they account for around the same proportion of Federal tax revenue (including income & payroll taxes.

To sum up, for the US ruling class as a whole, war is worse than a crime, it’s a blunder.

143

Lee A. Arnold 08.31.13 at 12:34 am

The prohibition against biochemical weapons and nuclear weapons is curious. It says, “It is okay to kill, just don’t use biochemical or nuclear weapons.” Of course, it really isn’t okay to kill, except in self-defense. But then, shouldn’t it be okay to use chemical weapons or nukes in self-defense? If that’s what works to keep yourself alive, right? Assad would probably claim self-defense. Maybe Western imperialists should say, “He’s only using them in self-defense. Let him gas all the kids he wants to, and we’ll open trade negotiations with him later.”

144

chris 08.31.13 at 1:09 am

But then, shouldn’t it be okay to use chemical weapons or nukes in self-defense? If that’s what works to keep yourself alive, right?

It’s hard to claim self-defense against kids, unless they are wearing hoodies and carrying tea and Skittles.

145

chris 08.31.13 at 1:10 am

Less snarky and more serious version of the above: that may be why there’s traditionally a difference between attacking combatants and attacking noncombatants. Because the combatants are attacking you back, or might do so in the future. WMDs (a loaded term, but not completely devoid of meaning) by their nature kill noncombatants along with the combatants.

In fact it *is* possible to kill discriminately — depending on what weapons you use.

146

Ronan(rf) 08.31.13 at 1:17 am

lupita @112
sorry, only noticed your response now.
I agree with you that the biggest problem with R2P etc is that the powerful states (though I wouldnt just say the US) will never have it used against them (that it will never apply to all equally)

147

Layman 08.31.13 at 1:18 am

Chris @ 144

Kids is a great point, but why is it OK to kill kids with a missile or bomb, but not to kill them with sarin gas?

Chris @ 145

Give an example of a long distance military strike (using artillery, aircraft, or cruise missiles) where no innocents were killed. Just one. I’ll wait.

148

Layman 08.31.13 at 1:24 am

Suzanne@140

I’m not so sure. The House wouldn’t give Obama a parking pass. The Senate requires 60 votes to plan lunch. Would Obama get an AUMF if he asked for one?

In any event, he doesn’t seem to be asking, or asking the UN, for that matter, which suggests to me that he doesn’t want to be told ‘no’. For some reason, he really seems to want to do this. Otherwise he’d let Congress or the UN stop him, and then blame them for the inaction.

149

Random Lurker 08.31.13 at 1:31 am

@chris
But is it possible to win a war without killing indiscriminately ?
And what’s the point of waging a war without trying to win it?

150

Lee A. Arnold 08.31.13 at 1:31 am

Chris #144: “It’s hard to claim self-defense against kids”

They grow up into adults who avenge their fathers. Known throughout history, and the knowledge has been duly acted upon by many tyrants. Obviously you were absent on the day the ancient lesson was taught in King and Dictator School.

But let’s take it your way: Since you say he cannot claim self-defense for gassing the kids, should destroy some of Assad’s assets in a bombing run? Or just put sanctions on the country? But wait–sanctions are no good, we always hear. They just hurt the poor and the kids, the dictators are not affected. So you think we should just let Assad get away with this?

151

lupita 08.31.13 at 1:43 am

This is what Philip Hammond, defense secretary , has to say:

“It is a difficult time for our armed forces, having prepared to go into this action, to then be stood down and have to watch while the US acts alone or perhaps the US acts with France.”

“It’s certainly a reversal of the usual position and it will be an uncomfortable place for many people in the British armed forces who are used to working alongside the Americans as an everyday, normal course of business.”’

Hammond sounds like his girlfriend, Francine, just stood him up and is describing how difficult and uncomfortable it is to watch her dancing with another guy, he was so used to her. I cannot imagine what a defense minister can say that would sound more pathetic.

152

lupita 08.31.13 at 1:53 am

From an article in The Guardian:

Cameron told Ed Miliband “you are letting down America”

Miliband also makes clear that the US will always play a leadership role in the world.

Why do British politicians talk like lovelorn teenagers when referring to the US?

153

Suzanne 08.31.13 at 1:54 am

@148: The House won’t give Obama anything he wants on the domestic front. War is another matter. Boehner, after all, didn’t demand a vote; he demanded “consultation.” (Pelosi’s position is “Bombs away!” Thank you, liberal Democrats.) I don’t get an overpowering anti-war vibe from the statements I’m reading from Senators, either:

http://nbcpolitics.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/08/29/20244932-lawmakers-say-obama-must-do-more-to-sell-intervention-in-syria?lite

If Obama can come up with anything that looks remotely like “evidence” it’s hard for me to see this bunch denying him a war he plainly wants. Would be pleased to be wrong. I agree that he doesn’t seem to want to give them the option.

154

Layman 08.31.13 at 2:02 am

I certainly don’t mean to be callous – this is a catastrophe – but the UN claims that 6500 children have been killed in Syria thus far, virtually all of them victims of conventional weapons. Is the message we’re trying to send to Assad that he has our permission to kill children with projectiles, explosives, & incendiaries; but not with chemicals? I just don’t get it.

155

Lee A. Arnold 08.31.13 at 2:10 am

Exactly what I was trying to say! Why a prohibition on biochem and nukes? We will be sending him the message that it is only okay to kill kids with bullets! Wrong way to go! Just let him gas the kids instead, and we won’t have these logical conundrums! Nuke the kids!

156

Ronan(rf) 08.31.13 at 2:15 am

157

Lee A. Arnold 08.31.13 at 2:29 am

@156 — Good reads. The ban on biochem does seems very old-school. But then, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp is one of my favorite movies. Then you realize that acting on nukes and biochem could be a long-term way to end ALL war. First we stop the biochem, then we stop the bullets. But thinking in this way, in other words thinking that international law should have some import (no matter how much the U.S. or any other country would be hypocritical to say so) means unfortunately drawing a line. From the logic exhibited in the discussions here and elsewhere, I expect the U.S. opinion polls to start swinging by the middle of next week in favor of a limited missile strike on some of Assad’s top assets. No ground invasion.

158

Layman 08.31.13 at 2:29 am

Lee @ 155

Sarcasm is fun but not an answer.

Ronan @ 156

The links are not helpful. The first amounts to an argument that chemical weapons are bad because they can be effectively employed by non-state actors. Yet Assad is a state actor. And the second argues that chemical weapons are bad because they can’t be effectively employed by anyone, contradicting the first, while ignoring the obvious comparison with incendiary bombs.

This seems to be a purely emotional response, a reaction to the horror. But why wasn’t it a horror before?

159

William Timberman 08.31.13 at 2:34 am

JQ @ 142

With all due respect, not having grown up in the U.S. may make it harder for you to grasp what geo is on about, your enviably cosmopolitan curriculum vitae notwithstanding. The bourgeoisie here is different — thanks largely to WWII, it’s an imperial bourgeoisie, and it often speaks a language that, for all its stylized pomps, is opaque to outsiders.

Keeping the wogs in their place may not always have a purely business justification, but it’s very dear even to those new age, new technology types here who delude themselves that they’re the true internationalists, and have nothing in common with the industrial dinosaurs of our past.

We native contrarians hear the subtext, and find it appalling. Others may need to employ an analogy — perhaps that of the UK in its glory days would do the trick. I don’t really expect you to take my word for this, but do at least consider it.

160

Ronan(rf) 08.31.13 at 2:34 am

Two very different responses there, eh : )

161

Lee A. Arnold 08.31.13 at 2:58 am

Layman #159, Then the answer is, “If you tell someone that we shouldn’t kill people with guns, that doesn’t mean that it is okay to kill people with knives.”

162

LFC 08.31.13 at 2:58 am

Geo:

LFC @111: “As an historical footnote, I’m …”
No, you are not an historical footnote.

Geo, you’re right! I was typing hastily and made an error. But as one who grouses occasionally about grammatical mistakes when others make them, I can hardly complain when someone points out my own.

Btw Geo, I admire your caring about the language and how it’s used, even in the blogosphere. I’m beginning to see why you’re an award-winning book critic and I’m just a blogger. ;)

163

geo 08.31.13 at 3:00 am

John@142: The financial sector clearly didn’t like Dodd-Frank in its original form, and wouldn’t like the prospect of Elizabeth Warren as Treasury Secretary. It is, however, prepared to go to the wall to oppose either of these, while it is reluctant to do anything more than murmur discontentedly about the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, etc. Similarly with the insurance industry and single-payer; the energy industry and leaving oil in the ground or putting up with nationalist reformers like Mossadegh; or the defense industry at the prospect of the US firmly and permanently committing itself to obey international law and renounce unilateral military intervention. “Capitalists in general” don’t deliberate on specific policies, calculate the costs and benefits to the class as a whole, and then unite to support or oppose the policy. They fight like hell for individual policies they consider vital, and generally keep mum about policies other big players consider vital, unless things get way out of hand, as in 1968, when a group of business heavyweights visited Lyndon Johnson and told him to bring the troops home, to damp out all this loose talk about “revolution” they were hearing.

They entrust the management of their common interests (the ones I mentioned @136 under the heading of “favorable investment climate”) to the state, on the understanding that if the state slacks off and allows, say, Vietnam, Cuba, or Nicaragua to demonstrate that successful economic development is possible under nationalist auspices, without allowing a whip hand to foreign investors, thus perhaps encouraging similar inconvenient notions in more important neighboring countries like Thailand, Indonesia, Brazil, and Argentina, then “capitalists in general” will remind the state of its responsibilities by making the US economy scream.

In 2001, neither business nor anyone else opposed the blind spasm of retaliation; but in Iraq, there were substantial economic interests at stake: if all had gone as planned, Iran would have been destabilized, and the second and third largest oil-producing countries would also have been in the American pocket. Not to mention the demonstration effect of making postwar Iraq an “investors’ paradise,” to which considerably more planning and effort was devoted than to constructing democracy.

Foreign policy, even if it has a single, identifiable fundamental purpose, as I’ve argued, is complex; and the military is a half-trillion-dollar bureaucracy with considerable inertia or momentum of its own. The State Department, though traditionally presided over by a Wall Street lawyer, is home to many large egos with Big Ideas of their own. There isn’t literally a centralized executive committee; I tried to make clear that I preferred Chomsky’s more careful model of foreign policy, based on the notion of fundamental constraints, to Marx’s offhand phrase implying some kind of explicit coordination between business and government.

Sorry all this blathering of mine, across many threads, has made so little impression on you. I’ll try to give it a rest in future.

164

LFC 08.31.13 at 3:03 am

p.s. I endorse your views on grammar, but not necessarily all of your views on a range of other matters. Just to be clear.

165

Layman 08.31.13 at 3:04 am

@161

I think you’ve got it backwards. Having allowed your neighbor to kill dozens of children with knives, your shocked to learn he’s now doing it with guns. Something must be done!

166

Layman 08.31.13 at 3:06 am

s^your^you’re. D’oh!

167

LFC 08.31.13 at 3:11 am

Salem @121
“I find it disgusting”

The question is whether the limited action being considered will actually do any good, or whether anything short of a *major* operation for which there is no political support anywhere, will do any good. (See R Gathman above). I don’t know but have severe doubts.

168

Lee A. Arnold 08.31.13 at 3:23 am

Layman #165: “Having allowed your neighbor to kill dozens of children with knives”

Do you think the U.S. should have intervened in Syria before now, to prevent the knives too? Or do you think Assad should get away with the use of chemical weapons, on account of logical inconsistency or hypocrisy on the part of the U.S.?

169

Layman 08.31.13 at 3:35 am

@168

I think you’re arguing a false position. The US has made it clear they contemplate no action which would have the effect preventing Assad from killing more children with chemical weapons. They’re just sending him a message of displeasure; one which will not harm Assad but which will almost certainly kill people who had nothing to do with the use of chemical weapons. Isn’t that right?

170

LFC 08.31.13 at 3:47 am

@169
It’s tricky. Presumably the US hopes Assad will conclude, after whatever limited strike occurs, that if he uses chemical weapons again he will be in *really* big trouble. But Obama has already made clear that the US is not going to get deeply and directly involved in the conflict. So the hope presumably is that Assad will imagine ways the US cd get at him w/o direct on-the-ground involvement. Which may keep him awake at night and lead him to conclude that, on balance, he shdn’t use chemical weapons again. That wd seem to be the thinking, but I am not privy to the admin’s deliberations of course. Just guessing. Will it work? Who knows?

171

John Quiggin 08.31.13 at 3:47 am

@William

I think we are in furious agreement here. Since the US goes to war so often, it must be true that the ruling class gives wars their political support, even if they go on to sell stocks and the dollar as soon as the war is called. And imperialist sentiment (not confined to the ruling class) is obviously a big part of the explanation.

My point is that this can’t be explained in terms of either of the (contradictory) models geo is putting forward, namely
(1) a coherent executive committee running things in the objective interests of the ruling class as a whole; or
(2) a public choice-style logrolling model,
The problem with (1) is that the ruling class as a whole doesn’t in fact benefit. The problem with (2) is that the military sector gets too much and gives too little for the deal to makes sense to other interest groups.

172

Lee A. Arnold 08.31.13 at 3:48 am

That is not necessarily right. It may kill innocent people and it may also hurt some of Assad’s military assets. But I missed the U.S. statement which made it clear they contemplate no action which would have the effect preventing Assad from killing more children with chemical weapons. If you have a link, that would help.

173

Layman 08.31.13 at 4:09 am

@172

They’re sending a message. That’s what they’ve been saying for days…

http://video.msnbc.msn.com/daily-rundown/52863893

174

geo 08.31.13 at 4:27 am

LFC@164: I can live with that. Grammar is, after all, the most important thing. As Karl Kraus said in 1938: “If all commas were in their proper places, Shanghai would not be in flames.”

175

Lee A. Arnold 08.31.13 at 4:41 am

@173 – That report says the reverse of your statement: the U.S. plans “a limited strike aimed at sending a message to Bashar al Assad and the Syrian regime not to launch any more chemical weapons”. What you want is a strike that directly hits the chemical weapons? Hitting them directly could release the chemicals, and it is unlikely that the locations are known.

176

William Timberman 08.31.13 at 4:48 am

JQ @ 171

Noam Chomsky is often criticized for the same supposed failing — that his view of U.S. foreign policy implies a ruling class, undifferentiated across business and government, which acts to further a common purpose even when it’s members aren’t entirely conscious of doing so. This makes him, his critics argue, a believer in mystical conspiracy theories, and therefore unworthy of respect. As I read him, though, Chomsky has argued that even though there’s not actually some secret Committee for the Preservation of U.S. Bourgeois Imperialist Hegemony, decades of concrete evidence suggests that there might as well be. In this, he echoes, albeit from a more empirical perspective, the arguments once made by Gramsci or Marcuse.

As for the public choice part, while self-interest writ small may make a modern corporate boss grimace at the idea of yet another neo-colonial police action, in the larger context supporting such actions promises, even if it doesn’t precisely guarantee, that he won’t have to worry about anything getting out of hand internationally that might threaten the general interest of his class.

Are these Masters of the Universe as conscious of managing their own hegemony as Chomsky, geo and the rest of us degenerate lefties sometimes accuse them of being? Well, I’d say that sometimes they are, and sometimes they aren’t. And of course, they make mistakes — wealth and power are hardly absolute proof against irrational exuberance, let alone an ill-grounded confidence in the efficacy of cruise missiles or remotely controlled drones. I don’t know what magical thread it is that connects all of these phenomena together, but I’d say that it isn’t entirely out of the question that there is one. Perhaps more research is needed.

177

LFC 08.31.13 at 4:54 am

ronan@130
Deborah Avant’s post at TheMonkeyCage is interesting if a bit vague; also the comment by someone who suggests referral to the ICC.

geo @174: great quote.

Late here. Signing off.

178

William Timberman 08.31.13 at 5:15 am

Addendum:

It may be that what we’re now seeing, is the first stages of a disintegrating imperial consensus, with no clear idea among the powerful of what ought to replace it. Nervous time, in short, when everyone clings to the part of the elephant within his reach. Chomsky may not be the one with eyes to see the whole, but I doubt we should expect anyone from the National Security Council, or the National Association of Manufacturers to do any better.

179

js. 08.31.13 at 6:16 am

For the We must do something, PEOPLE ARE DYING!! crowd, here’s a rather pedestrian thought:

Negotiate with Assad without setting his ouster as a precondition.

How hard is that really? Obviously, it might not work. (Even more obviously, it’s probably a bit too late.) But if you want options other than bombing, there are always options other than bombing.

(Speaking of which: when it is gravely pronounced that “all options are on the table”, why is it that conceding just a bit to your “enemy” is not one of those options? And that is a rhetorical question.)

180

js. 08.31.13 at 6:18 am

Ugh. Fucked up tags. Everything after “DYING” should be roman.

181

Tim Worstall 08.31.13 at 9:35 am

“Just to add to the point I made a while ago, that this is the most perfect example of “picking winners”, which if possible, would make Tim W’s well-known position on industrial subsidies hard to fathom.”

It is indeed exactly the same problem. Some military interventions work, others do not (for some given value of “work”). So with industrial subsidies.

The thing is that those markets things work rather well in the industrial sense. But we’ve tried the free market thing in military matters and very much did not like the results (Wars of the Roses, 100 Year War etc). So we’re left, in the military field, with having to pick those winners through the political system: something that fortunately we don’t have to do in the industrial.

182

Hidari 08.31.13 at 10:13 am

“(1) is that the ruling class as a whole doesn’t in fact benefit.”

Possibly true but so what? The point is that they think they benefit.

For example, it is a widely held ‘truth’ amongst Westminster elites that bombs win elections, and wars lead to landslides. Thatcher’s Falklands War is put forward as a prime example. Now this is obviously not always true (Bush Senior attacked Iraq but lost the next election). But, to repeat, so what? It is widely believed and will therefore be acted upon. Counter-examples can be easily explained away (‘bad luck’ ‘calling the election too late’ etc).

183

Salem 08.31.13 at 11:07 am

Daniel at 129 (bringing up Guernica):

I’m willing to bet most on CT approve of the International Brigades, which makes my point nicely. But I won’t call you a fool.

FC @ 167:

I quite agree with you. I don’t expect a limited action to do much good. But military action has a logic of its own. I hope we get a no-fly zone and strikes on certain military installations, then destruction of Assad’s Air Force and air defences to enforce the no-fly zone, and so on, until US air power is being used to destroy their heavy armour and artillery. If Obama just fires a few missiles and goes home, I’ll be very disappointed. This is why I think Britain pulling out is so disastrous.

js @ 179:

What you seem to be missing is that the public don’t have policy control. We only get to choose from the menu politicians set – or even more narrowly, post-ratify/condemn whatever action was taken. My options are Ed “Pontius Pilate” Milliband and David Cameron, who, whatever his flaws, is trying to do the right thing.

184

Phil 08.31.13 at 11:19 am

engels – Benjamin drew a similar distinction between violence that preserves power (law enforcement) and violence that destroys power (war or revolution). I don’t think JQ would agree with the rest of his analysis, though.

185

Hidari 08.31.13 at 11:23 am

“I’m willing to bet most on CT approve of the International Brigades, which makes my point nicely”. If you actually look at whose side the UK was on in the Spanish Civil War (de facto) it doesn’t really make your point at all.

“I don’t expect a limited action to do much good.”

Or any good.

“I hope we get a no-fly zone “

No-fly zone, meaning of course, only a no-fly zone for Syrians. The Americans and French will be allowed to continue to fly wherever they want.

“I hope we get….strikes on certain military installations”.

Killing and maiming the men in them.

“until US air power is being used to destroy their heavy armour and artillery”.

And the Syrians who are manning this artillery and heavy armour, and whichever civilians ‘get in the way’ of these ‘surgical strikes’.

“If Obama just fires a few missiles and goes home, I’ll be very disappointed. “

You poor man. Would you like a cookie?

186

Phil 08.31.13 at 11:26 am

military action has a logic of its own. I hope we get a no-fly zone and strikes on certain military installations, then destruction of Assad’s Air Force and air defences to enforce the no-fly zone, and so on, until US air power is being used to destroy their heavy armour and artillery.

Leading to the fall of Assad. Leading to regime change (hallo Iraq!) or anarchy, and not the good kind (hallo Somalia/Somaliland/Puntland/etc!). Leading to (in ascending order of importance) a massive and continuing drain on US blood and treasure, the exacerbation of all the international and regional tensions currently focused on Syria, further deterioration of relations between Russia and the West, the complete discrediting of international law, and many, many more dead in Syria.

The proposed intervention is a catastrophe waiting to happen. Which is precisely why I’m so glad that Ed Miliband has succeeded in stopping my country out of it and has, perhaps, made it less likely to happen.

187

Phil 08.31.13 at 11:27 am

Oops – sb keeping my country out of it. (Will make sense when previous comment’s modded.)

188

Ronan(rf) 08.31.13 at 11:31 am

LFC, yeah I agree. I would have been interested if she’d gone into more detail on it

Also, might be of interest (and somewhat related), heres a new paper disputing the idea that war and violence are declining

http://www.braumoeller.info/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Is-War-Disappearing.pdf

189

Layman 08.31.13 at 11:45 am

@175

Precisely, a strike which will not prevent Assad from doing the same thing again. We’re sending a telegram, one which just happens to kill people along the way.

The calculation, if there is one, is that by killing some innocents ourselves, we’ll discourage but not prevent another chemical attack; and that even in the unlikely event the discouragement takes, we’ll leave Assad free to kill innocents by other means. Is that what you’re signing up for?

190

Salem 08.31.13 at 1:48 pm

Hidari @ 185:

I’m not saying that the British government has always made the right choices. You yourself agree in your post that the British government, by staying neutral in the Spanish civil war, was de facto pro-Franco. And indeed most CTers likely think was a bad thing, and have sympathy for the International Brigades, even though there was collateral damage, many groups on the Republican side were awful, and there were atrocities on both sides. But when it’s Arab children being blown to smithereens, suddenly neutrality looks very attractive around here, anyone who supports freedom in other countries is called an “imperialist,” and the very same arguments that are rejected in the context of the Spanish Civil War become trumps in the Syrian Civil War. No doubt you’d take great offence if I called you de facto pro-Assad… To be fair, I don’t think racism is the only factor. But it is a factor.

And yes, I am we’ll aware that Western intervention in Syria will result in deaths. But not intervening will also result in deaths. You don’t get to play this “killing and maiming” card unless you acknowledge that that is exactly what’s taking place at the moment, and you somehow justify that allowing Assad to slaughter his own people and remain in power is the more humane option.

191

LFC 08.31.13 at 3:15 pm

Ronan–thks for the link to the Braumoeller. will take a look.

192

Lee A. Arnold 08.31.13 at 4:01 pm

#188 “The calculation, if there is one, is that by killing some innocents ourselves, we’ll discourage but not prevent another chemical attack”

You think the calculation is to avoid hitting any of Assad’s military assets?

193

Phil 08.31.13 at 4:21 pm

when it’s Arab children being blown to smithereens, suddenly neutrality looks very attractive around here

Is anyone advocating neutrality? Is anyone saying that they’re just fine with the situation in Syria? I think you’ll find that what most people are saying is that the proposed intervention would be a very bad idea because it would predictably make matters worse. There is plenty that the West – and Britain in particular – could do to make the situation better; talking as if all possible solutions grow out of the barrel of a gun is both stupid in itself and an encouragement to stupidity in others.

194

Lee A. Arnold 08.31.13 at 4:31 pm

Phil #192 — You have seen indications that the opposition to Assad is unified and has asked for a negotiated settlement?

195

nick s 08.31.13 at 4:33 pm

And indeed most CTers likely think was a bad thing, and have sympathy for the International Brigades–

So you’re commenting from Aleppo, then, during a brief moment when both the electricity and internet is working?

If not, grow the fuck up.

196

Bruce Wilder 08.31.13 at 5:03 pm

MPAVictoria: “You can think of no examples of greater hubris since 1917?”

Where “hubris” specifically means the simple-minded, extreme arrogance of great political power exercised conspicuously by the self alone, examples are rare.

Humans are social animals; we do things in groups. Many are the examples of foolish stampedes, or of groupthink becoming group stupid. Politicians in apex leadership positions usually delegate authority, build consensus, consult, take the pulse, etc. etc., by second nature — always conserving the opportunity to fire someone else for failure or claim to have been wrong for the right reasons, hide in the immunity of official action and ritual, etc.

This is a remarkably salient indication of the breakdown of American political institutions.

197

William Timberman 08.31.13 at 6:05 pm

Bruce Wilder @ 195

This is a remarkably salient indication of the breakdown of American political institutions.

Remarkable, yes, if we were innocent enough to expect something better at the outset. But it’s true, I think, that if everyone who mattered had clung to a sense of civic responsibility, despite its obvious disadvantages, and continued to do his duty, maybe what now seems a tragically misplaced confidence in Realpolitik might have been justified, at least to the extent that we’d have been able to muddle our way through the changes that occur naturally in history without destroying the lives of more than a minimum number of hapless bystanders.

As you often point out, that isn’t what happened. What happened is that the idea of duty got chucked overboard, and pretty much everybody with any ambition at all began to fancy himself a ruthless predator. How far on the moral scale is Larry Ellison — or Barack Obama, for that matter — above Gordon Gecko? It’s a game, get it? And screw all you losers.

This won’t do; it won’t do at all. There’s no sense telling anybody in a silk suit that, of course. As in past episodes of powerful forgetfulness they’ll have to discover it for themselves. The modern age seems to have provided no end of opportunities to marvel at a world gone mad, so predicting that this particular episode is the final act is chancy at best. It does seem awfully weird, though, to watch the President row his way through all the standard platitudes, half truths, euphemisms, and outright misrepresentations of known fact in yet another sad attempt to justify bombing a squalid civil war in the Middle East, without even once acknowledging that not only have we been there and done that already, but that we also bear a significant responsibility for creating the mess that he now proposes bombing.

Orwell spoke as clearly about this as anyone probably could, and it didn’t help a bit, except maybe with our sense of irony. Whence cometh our help? may be a naive question these days, but it’s the only one I can think of at the moment to ask.

198

Phil 09.01.13 at 8:29 am

Lee – nobody asks for a negotiated settlement; people settle for a negotiated settlement (the clue’s in the name), if it becomes obvious it’s the best thing they’re going to get. I’d like to see the ultimate victory of some kind of reasonably orderly Syrian opposition front not involving either Assad or Al Qaida, but it’s a question of how you get there. Taking Assad’s armed forces out of the game – even if this could be done quickly, humanely(!) and without knock-on effects – doesn’t strike me as a good way to reach this end point, for reasons I set out at #186. Ironically, the best thing our governments can do at the moment is probably to try and rein in the Syrian opposition – or at the very least to disappoint them.

199

Ronan(rf) 09.01.13 at 10:04 am

We know more or less the parameters of what the regime wants out of a negotitated settlement

http://qifanabki.com/2013/06/17/a-compromise-in-syria-the-regimes-view/

And we know that even in the possibility of a complete victory for the oppossition they *dont* have the ability to run the country. So do the US et al push for it now, or 10 years down the line after bleeding eachother in Syria?

200

Barry 09.01.13 at 3:44 pm

Salem:

“I’m not saying that the British government has always made the right choices. You yourself agree in your post that the British government, by staying neutral in the Spanish civil war, was de facto pro-Franco. And indeed most CTers likely think was a bad thing, and have sympathy for the International Brigades, even though there was collateral damage, many groups on the Republican side were awful, and there were atrocities on both sides. But when it’s Arab children being blown to smithereens, suddenly neutrality looks very attractive around here, anyone who supports freedom in other countries is called an “imperialist,” and the very same arguments that are rejected in the context of the Spanish Civil War become trumps in the Syrian Civil War. No doubt you’d take great offence if I called you de facto pro-Assad… To be fair, I don’t think racism is the only factor. But it is a factor.”

Ah, yes – the accusation of racism if one doesn’t support the neocons pet war of the moment. Note that you and the neocons did not and don’t care how many people the Egyptian Army slaughters, and didn’t say a word about the, ah – upleasantness in Bahrain. It’s only when *you* are hot for war that war is a moral imperative.

Now, do you really think that we don’t remember those fraudulent morality arguments from the Iraq War? And that we don’t remember how few of you oh-so-moral people gave a rat’s @ss when the WMD’s turned out not to be there, and the ‘liberation’ turned into a couple of hundred thousand deaths?

201

AJ 09.01.13 at 5:08 pm

@John Quiggin :

> Suppose they hadn’t. Presumably, the French would have left sooner or later,
> same as everywhere else*, and Vietnam, along with the rest of Indo-China, would
> now have a capitalist economy, probably with quasi-democratic
> governments dominated by a self-selecting oligarchy. But three or four
> million people who died in the process would still be alive, or at least would
> have lived a bit longer.

The problem with counter-factual history is that it rests on too many assumptions. Your analysis is, by no means and in no way, robust and you know that. For all you know, the French may have used Vietnam as a base to attack an oil rich country such as Indonesia.

A non-violent revolution would have been ideal for Vietnam but in some countries, non-violence/civil disobedience doesn’t seem to easily take root. e.g. Syria, Iran, Iraq and many others. There are, I believe, cultural aspects to it. Non-violent protest took shape most famously in India. And that is not a coincidence. This is very likely due to Hindu culture.

202

Layman 09.01.13 at 6:00 pm

Lee @ 192

“You think the calculation is to avoid hitting any of Assad’s military assets?”

You (still) don’t acknowledge the difference between ‘discourage’ and ‘prevent’? Do you think the proposal is for strikes sufficient to eliminate all of Assad’s military assets? Otherwise, I think you’re being deliberately obtuse.

203

Hector_St_Clare 09.01.13 at 6:28 pm

Re: There are, I believe, cultural aspects to it. Non-violent protest took shape most famously in India. And that is not a coincidence. This is very likely due to Hindu culture.

wtf? This is arguably the dumbest thing I’ve seen today (and that includes listening to celebrity gossip on the radio) and reads like a parody of witless Hollywood Hinduism.

1) Nonviolent resistance ‘succeeded’ in India (and it wasn’t that nonviolent- just ask the various Muslim and Hindu victims of partition) because Britain had been terminally exhausted by fighting the Germans and Japanese, and gearing up to defend against the Soviets, and weren’t in any position to put down a massive insurrection involving a country of hundreds of millions of people. Maybe they could make some efforts in the smaller colonies like Malaysia or Kenya, but there was *no* way they were ready to fight a war in India.

2) Hindus have a long history of war against other Hindus, and against Muslims, going back, well, as far back as we can tell. Take a look at the Marathas, or the Rajputs, or the Jats, or the Gurkhas, sometime, just to take the most notable early modern examples. One of the reasons the British were able to take over the subcontinent so easily was by opportunistically intervening in succession struggles, civil wars, etc. that were going on around them.

3) ‘Hindu culture’ can very comfortably fit together with justifications of warfare (as well as plenty of other violent behaviour, whether moral or immoral). One of their most popular *holy texts* is an inspiration pep-talk given by one of their gods to a legendary hero on the eve of a battle.

4) Indians did violently resist the British, several times in the 19th century, maybe most famously in Tamil Nadu in 1806 and then across the Gangetic plain in 1857. While both those revolts were theoretically ‘in the name of’ Muslim sovereigns, they involved a lot of Hindu soldiers, and in both cases were at least partly motivated by Hindu religious sentiments that they felt had been offended.

204

Hector_St_Clare 09.01.13 at 6:32 pm

Re: Noam Chomsky is often criticized for the same supposed failing — that his view of U.S. foreign policy implies a ruling class, undifferentiated across business and government, which acts to further a common purpose even when it’s members aren’t entirely conscious of doing so.

I don’t see why this is hard to believe. The concatenation of lots of different chaotic, undirected, self-interested behaviours can add up to what looks like ordered design on the large scale. This happens with natural selection in nature, so why wouldn’t it happen with social behavior too?

205

AJ 09.01.13 at 7:25 pm

The question is – was non-violent resistance in India at least partly due to Hindu culture? I think the answer is ‘Yes’. The word ‘ahimsa’ is from Sanskrit.

> wtf? This is arguably the dumbest thing I’ve seen today (and that includes listening
> to celebrity gossip on the radio) and reads like a parody of witless
> Hollywood Hinduism.
Celebrity gossip can do this to you brain? WTH? You are fixating too much on the word ‘Hindu’. The position being advanced is based on a new conceptualization of the idea of ‘Hinduism’. I basically don’t consider Hinduism outside of a modern institutional context Hinduism at all. So any examples prior to 1947 are, basically, useless for you to point out to me. If it helps, substitute the word ‘Westernized Hindus’ when you think of the term ‘Hindus’. You don’t hate the Hare Krishnas, do you? Do you think they are genocidal maniacs? Or do you?

Anyway, you can’t just simply go full tilt at me because you simply disagree with one little word. Since there is such massive disagreement, just forget that I even used that word. For ‘Hindu’, substitute the word ‘Indian’ if that helps.

> 1) Nonviolent resistance ‘succeeded’ in India (and it wasn’t that nonviolent-
> just ask the various Muslim and Hindu victims of partition) because Britain
> had been terminally exhausted by fighting the Germans and Japanese, and
> gearing up to defend against the Soviets, and weren’t in any position to put
> down a massive insurrection involving a country of hundreds of millions of people.
Actually, Britain’s “terminal exhaustion”, as you put it, played a minor (but significant) role. The primary driver of Indian independence *was* nonviolent resistance. This nonviolent resistance was never subjected to genocidal tactics. The British did have a sense of fair play in the way they governed their provinces.

I don’t have the time to provide extensive comments on the other items you bring up. Some brief remarks.

> 2) Hindus have a long history of war against other Hindus, and against Muslims,
> going back, well, as far back as we can tell. Take a look at the Marathas, or
> the Rajputs, or the Jats, or the Gurkhas, sometime, just to take the most notable
> early modern examples. One of the reasons the British were able to take over
> the subcontinent so easily was by opportunistically intervening in
> succession struggles, civil wars, etc. that were going on around them.
Yeah, we all know that. But how have war-mongering have the Hindus of Fiji been? Or the ones in Jamaica? In the last six decades, Hinduism has virtually no influence on the public policy of any country except perhaps India. And even India can hardly be said to be a country with any more global ambition than, say, Australia.

> 3) ‘Hindu culture’ can very comfortably fit together with justifications of
> warfare (as well as plenty of other violent behaviour, whether moral or
> immoral). One of their most popular *holy texts* is an inspiration pep-talk given
> by one of their gods to a legendary hero on the eve of a battle.
Yeah, we all know that too. The Gita may be a holy text (It is a pre-modern text that is best classified as Iron Age Fiction) but nobody ever brings it up as justification for war. The fact is that even in America, the Bible is never brought up as justification for war. It is the beliefs of the people who believe in the Bible and their beliefs in the geographical origins of their religion that makes them so war-mongering. The Hindus have all their holy land securely bound up in one country and so this problem basically does not arise.

> 4) Indians did violently resist the British, several times in the 19th century,
> maybe most famously in Tamil Nadu in 1806 and then across the Gangetic plain
> in 1857. While both those revolts were theoretically ‘in the name of’
> Muslim sovereigns, they involved a lot of Hindu soldiers, and in both cases
> were at least partly motivated by Hindu religious sentiments that they felt had
> been offended.
Yeah, we know that too. It is, however, irrelevant to the matter under discussion.

206

Lee A. Arnold 09.01.13 at 7:43 pm

Layman #202: “Do you think the proposal is for strikes sufficient to eliminate all of Assad’s military assets?”

You don’t have to eliminate them all.

207

Ronan(rf) 09.01.13 at 8:26 pm

Now this seems the right idea

http://www.crisisgroup.org/en/publication-type/media-releases/2013/mena/syria-statement.aspx

“Whether or not the U.S. chooses to launch a military offensive, its responsibility should be to try to optimize chances of a diplomatic breakthrough. This requires a two-fold effort lacking to date: developing a realistic compromise political offer as well as genuinely reaching out to both Russia and Iran in a manner capable of eliciting their interest – rather than investing in a prolonged conflict that has a seemingly bottomless capacity to escalate. “

208

Layman 09.01.13 at 8:39 pm

Lee # 206

I was right; you are being deliberately obtuse.

209

Hector_St_Clare 09.01.13 at 9:24 pm

Re: Yeah, we know that too. It is, however, irrelevant to the matter under discussion.

It’s not irrelevant at all. If your claim is “Hinduism naturally conduces towards nonviolent resistance, and that’s why Resistance Movement #4 was nonviolent”, then it rather weakens your case if Resistance Movements #1,#2, and 3# were not, and the only reason we remember the last one is because it happened (for a variety of reasons) to succeed.

Re: The word ‘ahimsa’ is from Sanskrit.

And there are concepts of pacifist/quietist approaches in Christianity, Islam and Buddhism too, as well as probably other religions, which no doubt have there own terms for it. I’m not sure how that makes Hinduism unique here.

Re: The Hindus have all their holy land securely bound up in one country and so this problem basically does not arise.

Not really, a lot of it is in Pakistan (and they have a few very holy sites in Tibet as well, which isn’t really politically relevant). The right-wing Hindu neofascists have been complaining, pretty much since 1947, how “the banks of the Indus, where the Vedas were composed” aren’t in India and ought to be. Violent irredentism is *absolutely a thing* on the Hindu far right.

Re: The fact is that even in America, the Bible is never brought up as justification for war.

Plenty of evangelical preachers use the Bible (specifically, the supposed biblical prophecies about Israel’s borders) as justifications for promoting middle east wars, all the time.

210

John Quiggin 09.01.13 at 10:08 pm

@AJ Indeed, almost any catastrophic war/revolution can be justified by an even more catastrophic counterfactual. I’ve seen it done in CT comments for the Great War, Iraq, the Global War on Terror, the Bolshevik Revolution and many more. Would anyone like to propose one for (the Paraguayan side of) the War of the Triple Alliance?

211

Alan 09.01.13 at 11:18 pm

I’m embarrassed to say that despite having minored in history as an undergrad (in the 70s) I had never heard of the war until I read Lily Tuck’s novel.

How about: Had not Paraguay distracted Brazil and Argentina from one another with its total destruction, those two powers would have engaged in a much more devastating war?

212

AJ 09.01.13 at 11:21 pm

> If your claim is “Hinduism naturally conduces towards nonviolent resistance,
> and that’s why Resistance Movement #4 was nonviolent”, then it rather weakens
> your case if Resistance Movements #1,#2, and 3# were not, and the only reason
> we remember the last one is because it happened (for a variety of reasons) to succeed.
No, that is not my claim. I did not claim that and do not wish to claim that.

> And there are concepts of pacifist/quietist approaches in Christianity,
> Islam and Buddhism too, as well as probably other religions, which no doubt
> have there own terms for it. I’m not sure how that makes Hinduism unique here.
I did not claim any uniqueness for Hinduism.

> Not really, a lot of it is in Pakistan (and they have a few very holy sites in Tibet
> as well, which isn’t really politically relevant). The right-wing Hindu neofascists
> have been complaining, pretty much since 1947, how “the banks of the Indus
I am quite aware. It sounds like you are saying that I believe that nothing that Indian foreign policy wants to achieve has to do with Hinduism. That is not true. What I am saying is that India’s only problems are with Pakistan, not with Bangladesh or Sri Lanka or Nepal, where Hindu holy sites also exist. Nor, of course, with China.

The problem India has with Pakistan is, to the first order of approximation, a secular one. India and Pakistan have had very hostile relations for a very long time, well before the rise of communalism-oriented regional parties. So even if religion plays a role, it is a problem of bad fences and bad neighbors. The analogy is quite direct- if I had an argument with a neighbor who happens to be Pastafarian, it may not be because he is a Pastafarian, but because he insists on lobbing grenades over the fence from time to time. I am aware of the religious dimensions of the Indo-Pak conflict, obviously.

Regional conflicts are inevitable. A significant fraction of the population of Asia live in countries where neighborly relations are far from cordial. My essential point remains. The fact is that India has no major global ambitions and so, for instance, you don’t see India trying to get aggressive with countries that are far from its geographical area.

> Plenty of evangelical preachers use the Bible (specifically, the supposed
> biblical prophecies about Israel’s borders) as justifications for promoting
> middle east wars, all the time.
American politicians almost never use the Bible as justification. It is, of course, true that they pander to a Bible-thumping, ultra-religious conservatism. Indian politicians, on the other hand, openly use religious justifications for war.

213

AJ 09.01.13 at 11:29 pm

>What I am saying is that India’s only problems are with Pakistan
What I am saying is that India’s only problems are with Pakistan. Pardon me. I quote myself. :) India’s only problems in terms of “religious sites” are with Pakistan. Prominent policy makers almost never bring up the fact that Mount Kailash is in Tibet and therefore, Tibet/China deserves a military intervention from India.

The point is that a lot is foisted on to the “need for military action” against country X once there is already an ongoing current of opinion for it.

The Syrian affair is much more about the Iran than is often realized. Much evidence indicates that Iran is very close to a nuclear weapon. Natanz and Qom, these are the proximate catalysts of the U.S. threatening of Syria.

214

gordon 09.03.13 at 12:40 am

AJ (at 201) -

The violence of revolutions and of national independence movements is sometimes a function not of the local culture alone, but of foreign intervention.

Comments on this entry are closed.