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.

How Moral Revolutions Happen (They Had A Nightmare)

by John Holbo on August 29, 2013

In a recent post I remarked that MLK is a figure well worth stealing. And NR obliges me with the first sentence of their anniversary editorial. “The civil-rights revolution, like the American revolution, was in a crucial sense conservative.” They do admit a few paragraphs on that, “Too many conservatives and libertarians, including the editors of this magazine, missed all of this at the time.” And then manage to wreck it all again with the next sentence: “They worried about the effects of the civil-rights movement on federalism and limited government. Those principles weren’t wrong, exactly; they were tragically misapplied, given the moral and historical context.” No look into the question of how such a misapplication transpired, since that would not produce gratifying results. After all, if we are talking about what actually worried people, then plainly federalism and limited government were more pretext than motive. The tragedy is that so many people wanted to do the wrong thing, for bad reasons. But they couldn’t say ‘Boo justice!’ So they said stuff about … federalism. There is obviously no point to conservative’s revisiting how they got things wrong without bothering to consider how they got things wrong. But let’s be positive about it. “It is a mark of the success of King’s movement that almost all Americans can now see its necessity.” Yay justice!

I’m sitting down to read Kwame Anthony Appiah’s book, The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen [amazon]. I’m planning to agree with it, but the framing is odd. [click to continue…]