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February 14, 2007

Comments

It's funny, Katherine. After reading the quotes, I find it hard to believe that we live in a world where any serious presidential candidate could be in support of it. Yet, of course, you wouldn't be asking if the events of the last few years hadn't made it a reasonable question.

I believe Edwards, at least back when he was Senator, made various comments implying he was for pre-emptive war. Indeed I can't see how anyone could have voted for the resolution and NOT have been for pre-emptive war, since even the false and misleading intelligence did not indicate an imminent threat.

The problem comes down to 'imminent threat'. In WWI the idea of imminent threat was almost silly with respect to the United States, but indeed you could see the threats coming from a long way away.

Ever since then, the time horizon for effectively reacting to a threat has been shrinking. The problem will only get worse, so we need to figure out what to do about it.

What we need to do is make this personal.

"a world in which states consider themselves subject to law, particularly in the matter of standards for the use of violence against each other. That concept would be displaced by the notion that there is no law but the discretion of the President of the United States."

And to me, the really scary part about reading these words of Al Gore's is to contemplate, for a moment, the number of our fellow American citizens who might read this passage and think, "Hmmm.. discretion of the President... Yeah, that's not a bad idea!". And never think twice about the implications.


Ever since then, the time horizon for effectively reacting to a threat has been shrinking. The problem will only get worse, so we need to figure out what to do about it.

Yes...I imagine many Iranians are saying exactly that right about now.

Of course, they have far, far more to fear at this moment than the United States has ever had -- and likely ever will have.

Seb: Kennedy was already operating in a world of short time horizons, as (at least for part of his term) was Eisenhower. It's not the time horizons that have changed; it's us.

That may be. There's actually an interesting parallel between this, and domestic violence cases in criminal law, which I intend to write up some time...the idea being that maybe we should redefine "imminent threat" to mean, not that we are literally about to be attacked, but this is genuinely our last chance to protect ourselves.

I'm not sure that works completely. Even if it does, it was quite clear to me even in 2002 that the Iraq war failed for any reasonable reading of "imminent". Now we know that it failed even more blatantly than even I thought at the time--and the Bush administration still claims, in the 2006 National Security Strategy, that it was fully justified. It's also quite clear to me that Iran fails.

Kennedy was already operating in a world of short time horizons, as (at least for part of his term) was Eisenhower. It's not the time horizons that have changed; it's us.

Actually, it's plausible that the time horizons have lengthened rather than shortened, at least as far as large scale attacks on the US are concerned.

Wasn't the Soviet Union better placed to launch an attack on us, or on Western Europe, in a relatively short time frame than Iran, say?

The problem is that imminent threat gets defined as a dip in manufacturing output, or a drop in the stock market. 9-11, as horrible as it was, was not threatening the existence of the US, unless the pace of attacks could be maintained. Globalization creates a situation where any sort of friction is considered a huge threat. It seems to me that we either sink back into a situation where we try and maintain the former nation state structure or whether we embrace the openness necessary to make globalization work.

HRC in casting her AUMF:

“If we were to attack Iraq now, alone or with few allies, it would set a precedent that could come back to haunt us. In recent days, Russia has talked of an invasion of Georgia to attack Chechen rebels. India has mentioned the possibility of a preëmptive strike on Pakistan. And what if China were to perceive a threat from Taiwan? So, Mr. President, for all its appeal, a unilateral attack, while it cannot be ruled out, on the present facts is not a good option.”

Clinton in '03: "But the fact is that new doctrines and actions by the Bush Administration undermine these core democratic principles - both at home and abroad. I believe they do so at a severe cost.

In our efforts abroad, we now go to war as a first resort against perceived threats, not as a necessary final resort. Preemption is an option every President since Washington has had and many have used. But to elevate it to the organizing principle of American strategic policy at the outset of the 21st century is to grant legitimacy to every nation to make war on their enemies before their enemies make war on them. It is a giant step backward."

That excerpt from Sen. Clinton's floor speech in favor of the Iraq war resolution makes it sound very much as if she did not understand the blank check for unilateral, preventive war that it represented.

The Congressional authorization to invade Iraq undermined rather than strengthened the UN's role, by sending the message that the U.S. would attack whether it got UN sanction or not.

"Seb: Kennedy was already operating in a world of short time horizons, as (at least for part of his term) was Eisenhower. It's not the time horizons that have changed; it's us."

Not really. What sparked the Cuban Missile Crisis (and the thing that convinced the USSR that we were willing to go to war over it) was that the missiles in Cuba shortened our reaction time to effectively zero--making every moment an imminent threat as far as we could tell.

"the blank check for unilateral, preventive war that it represented"

As I and many other liberals argued at the time and subsequent, I think it didn't represent a blank check to a reasonable president. I certainly didn't think that we had such a president, which was part of my reason for opposing the AUMF, but I understand the reluctance of a liberal interventionist politician to make such an argument then or long after.

making every moment an imminent threat as far as we could tell

The Russians had been living with effectively "zero reaction time" for many years prior to that.

There are many countries in the world today in that position.

To even discuss this idea as if it was worthy of serious consideration is nuts. It is the ultimate corruptible and self-serving doctrine and sincerely believe if it is not abandoned it will lead to human extinction in the next century.

"Of course, they have far, far more to fear at this moment than the United States has ever had -- and likely ever will have." ...Jay(s)

"It's not the time horizons that have changed; it's us." ...hilzoy

We are acting in this way preventative wars (and Bill Clinton disregarded UNSEC in Kosovo) because we can I really think it is that simple. We are Rome, or Britain, or some more benign variation. But Empire and hegemony are not, I believe, so clearly chosen. It just kinda happened.

Why did Carter & Reagan & Clinton maintain such a massive defense establishment with the lack of credible serious threats? Well, we keep defining threats, interests, strategic necessities further down. I think the American Empire has actually just begun.

I don't think it is going to be easy, if possible, to pull out of Empire willingly. We have yet to pay the kind of costs that would cause us to change. China and Saudi Arabia are still paying tribute.

The world, like Putin, will snipe and whine, but they are not willing to do what it takes to humble us. So they don't mind too much.

Just as what did or did not happen in Britannia in the 1st century AD was not determined by some kind of moral logic, so will what happens in Iran.

Sorry. The Republic probably is dying or dead. Rome and the Empire were better off after the fact was accepted. And Cicero was so utterly irrelevant.

I'll go away, before Bruce comes along to call me irredeemably wicked. Hey, not my fault, this Empire.

The 50% of the world's military spending annually doesn't really describe the situation, since many of the other big spenders are allies, and because whatever Brazil or South Africa spends doesn't count.

This is a historical condition completely without precedent, and to expect the old rules and analyses to apply is just silly.

The problem comes down to 'imminent threat'.

I think this is a very good point. I also agree with basic point that the time horizon for "imminence" is shorter now than, for instance, in 1914.

What I can never see qualifying as "imminent" is something that might, hypothetically, happen someday, perhaps some years down the road.

Thanks -

Okay. I know I sound all Cheneyesque, but the real questions are only being addressed on the right, and the left needs to deal.

I am a New Yorker, it is 1998, and al-Qaeda is maybe a potential threat in Afghanistan. Clinton can just wipe them out, maybe saving 3000 lives. Hey it is a hypothetical, I know all the arguments about uncertainty etc. I am not blaming Clinton.

But why not wipe out al-Qaeda? "Rule of Law?" International institutions? Why...you have to tell me why I should care about those things, and moral considerations are not a language that speaks to raw power.

The Athenians were just honest in Miletus.

I'd attribute Sen. Clinton's reluctance to make that argument (rejecting the AUMF because of the blank-check danger, given who we had for president) not to her liberal interventionism but to Bush's popularity and to her willingness to go along with the administration's fusing of the invasion of Iraq with the "war on terror", evident in another passage from her floor speech.

She had the same information as the rest of us about the "Bush doctrine" embodied in the administration's National Security Strategy; it was featured in several prominent stories in the NY Times when the NSS was published in September.

Her remarks about the consequences of the rest of the world adopting our stance on preventive war echoes something I wrote in a letter to the editor a week earlier:

A first-strike war sets the stage for a world of endless war. If the U.S. abandons international law by overthrowing the government of a country that has not attacked us, there will be no way of preventing other countries from launching preemptive attacks when they see possible threats.

Yet she was willing to authorize a president pushing that doctrine to go to war, and to defend the invasion long after it was clear that the rest of the world wouldn't be joining or sanctioning this war of choice.

Those words don't square with her actions. Voters need to hear her answer to Katherine's question now.

itals begone.

Al Qaeda had already attacked us in 1998.

Clinton did basically what Kerry did on the war: bad vote, decent speech about the kind of war she was "not authorizing", utter silence when the president proceeded to launch exactly that kind of war, increasing criticism as the war went badly without admitting that she actually made a mistake.

Rilkefan's quotes suggest, at least, that she had bad political judgment and wrongly subordinated her policy views to politics, rather than being a genuine gung ho hawk. Which is preferable, because there's less pressure for the President to start wars than Senators to go along with them. So that's worth something; how much, I'm not sure.

The person I'm most curious about is Edwards. Edwards may be running further left than he actually is on matters of war and peace.

I think preemptive war is the only doctrine for a bold power. But it needs to be combined with consequences. That power over life and death can only be checked by life and death. In this case, our leaders should have gone on national television and committed seppuku. But, they were right to exert their will. They were just proven to be inadequate leaders. Consequences would force future leaders to be careful and insure that only the bold would seek leadership positions.

Power and consequences must be combined. But we must not reject power.

"...there will be no way of preventing other countries from launching preemptive attacks when they see possible threats." ...HRC

Considering that the US controls or influences 95% of the projectable military power in the world, I suspect there will be a way of preventing Columbia from attacking Venezuela. Just guessing, of course.

I suspect there will be a way of preventing Columbia from attacking Venezuela

How will we know which one is worthy of our friendship unless we let them fight it out?

There's a tenet of moral philosophy - I don't remember who said it - that advises generalizing an action in order to test whether it's morally/ethically sound. In other words, is the action that you're contemplating one that you would support if everyone did it?

Pre-emptive or preventative war fails that test. Utterly.

Depends Bob. Ricin shot into someone's leg by an umbrella is an attack. Dropping Polonium in someone's tea is an attack. Sinking the Rainbow Warrior is an attack. How was the US supposed to stop those?

I was going to list the Letelier-Moffit assasination, but that is something that the US probably could have stopped...

Liberals just can't deal, can they. It invalidates some of the fundamental presumptions of liberalism, and they just cannot deal.

They cannot abstract themselves.

"50 Northern Italian city-states, one of which has an completely dominant military advantage, what happens? Well the most powerful state sets up a democracy where all city states have equal votes and all rules apply equally to everybody."

lj: That's what I'm trying to help you understand, the US doesn't need to stop those attacks. If greenpeace is stopped by having their boat sunk, they deserved to be stopped. If Litvenenko couldn't watch his tea more carefully, he clearly wasn't ready to play the Great Game of European politics, in the 21st century.

lj: That's what I'm trying to help you understand, the US doesn't need to stop those attacks. If greenpeace is stopped by having their boat sunk, they deserved to be stopped. If Litvenenko couldn't watch his tea more carefully, he clearly wasn't ready to play the Great Game of European politics in the 21st century.

Ooops, sorry about that.

Ahab, if you are trying to help me understand something, you are doing a piss-poor job of it, because all I see in your posts is warmed-over survival of the fittest. Sure, it is logically unassailable, but only if one accepts your axioms as being the only ones that matter, which I don't, so to me, you come off as some Nietzschean wannabe who has never explored the ramifications of his logical posturings, but prefers to pat himself on the back thinking that he's got the answer and everyone else is wrong. Where is Rachel when you need her?

"...is the action that you're contemplating one that you would support if everyone did it?"

Certainly the Categorical Imperative is useful, but will not yield egalitarian solutions in grotesquely imbalanced or unequal conditions. If I am the only adult in a kindergarten classroom I have different rules and obligations than the children do.

Like keeping them from hurting each other.

The problem is retaining the attitude that the rest of the world is our equal, or that we can morally escape our responsibilities.

Whether we chose Empire, or it was thrust upon us, the fact remains that the US exists under different conditions than the rest of the world.

Is Bob McManus joking?

I am a New Yorker, it is 1998, and al-Qaeda is maybe a potential threat in Afghanistan. Clinton can just wipe them out, maybe saving 3000 lives. Hey it is a hypothetical, I know all the arguments about uncertainty etc. I am not blaming Clinton.

But why not wipe out al-Qaeda? "Rule of Law?" International institutions? Why...you have to tell me why I should care about those things, and moral considerations are not a language that speaks to raw power.

Rule of Law? You mean the sort of stuff like "wag the dog" or "impeaching the President?" Remember what kind of s*itsto*m arose when Clinton lobbed a few Tomahawks at Sudan?

Wipe out Al-Qaeda? Clinton? It was politically impossible even to attempt, given the GOP's control of Congress.

Bob, just to note, I'm very much in agreement with a lot of the concerns you raise, their relevance and importance. I didn't want to let disagreements about what they mean now and can plausibly mean anytime soon obscure that.

Actually, now I think about it, and my thinking about it so directly is thanks to your reminding me of it...I suspect that a lot of Americans envision the world as full of nation-states about as capable of projecting a lot of military power as the US is. They probably think of us as first among equals, roughly comparable peers, rather than in an utterly unique position. If you were to have some good pointers to easy-to-read introductions to this, with carefully checked figures and non-bomb-throwing prose, I'd be happy to throw them into my reference file. It's a point that probably needs to be made more often and prominently.

Ahab- You are DougJ, and I claim my 5 pounds.

lj: Thanks for the reply. I see where your problem in understanding is. You say that:
"it is logically unassailable, but only if one accepts your axioms as being the only ones that matter, which I don't"

You thought I was proposing an axiomatic theory which I am not.

However, if you insist on believing that I'm proposing an axiomatic theory, your response is invalid. You claim that you have additional axioms which you feel should be included in the theory (the other "ones that matter" you mentioned). However, you state that my points are logically unassailable. If that's the case, then by the rules of inference of the theory my points follow from the axioms I've supplied. By adding additional axioms, you cannot disprove those theorems. At best, you can create contradictions but that just allows me to prove anything with my theory, making me more powerful than you could imagine.

Really though, like I said, I'm not proposing an axiomatic theory (more of a hermeneutic one).

Frank: Why do people keep accusing me of being someone other than myself? Your efforts to undermine my sense of self are falling against the rock of my soul, but I'm still curious. I have now been accused of being DQ, Charles, DougJ, and a couple of other names that have dipped below my attention span and interest in looking up previous threads.

It sounds as though this DougJ owes you money so I can understand why you would want me to be him, but wishes will not put those 5 pounds in your pocket. Wishes will only make you weak.

"If you were to have some good pointers to easy-to-read introductions to this, with carefully checked figures"

2004 Chart ...quixk search;warning popups, i think, my blocker got them.

Rest of world - US:~500 billion

US 466 billion (may not include supplementals)

China 65 billion

Russia 50, France 45, UK 43, Japan 42,Germany 35, Italy 28, S Korea 21,
India 19, Saudia Arabia 18, Turkey 12

Global Security.org, bad pop-ups but I bet decent data is at Wiki.

Thanks, Bob! Much appreciated.

The Wikipedia military spending list (which comes mostly from the CIA World Factbook)

Now you may want to cut defense spending, but we are not in NK military state conditions. One of the points of our dominance is that we can pretty much afford it without extremely stressing our economy or standard of living, and after a cut in defense our dominance would just show up in other ways, economic or technological.

So I will go. Obviously I do not accept the premise, which may have made sense in a bi-polar world, but is not relevant today.

The US can and should play under different rules from the rest of the world, and preventative war may be one of those changed rules. I do not understand why we should let Serbia ethnic cleanse Kosovo, or Rwanda descend into madness, when we can stop them and really do not need int'l support.

Whether the liberals prefer to let the provinces eat each other...well, whatever.

Work it out. Perhaps you think it best to withdraw, so that new military powers arise and compete amongst each other. I guess that is an option.

An axiom is something that is claimed to be evident without proof. Since you have supplied no evidence, you are suppling axioms. For it to me hermeneutic, it would need to have some explanatory power, but nothing that I have seen provides such. While it is a similar line to what Bob presents, he does it by pointing to links, and historical references. If you wish to be taken seriously by me, you might want to try that, but that is your decision.

Bob,
like Bruce, I agree with a lot of what you point to, but it is the conclusions you draw from the data that I disagree with. And I have to say, these 'you liberals' comments are getting to be a bit annoying, regardless of whether you are convinced that we march to the same drummer or not. Would you cut back on them a bit, please?

"It was politically impossible even to attempt, given the GOP's control of Congress."

Certainly the political conditions were different.

IIRC correctly, the actual problem was that the Pentagon offered Clinton plans that involved a much larger committment of forces than he was comfortable with. He had the approval ratings Bush lacks, so probably could have carried Congress and the nation in his wake, as Bush has done (sorta).

Maybe Clinton did the right thing, as a small-r republican or liberal. Maybe if he had invaded Afghanistan, Al Gore would be President.

Hell, maybe I am just succumbing to Lord Acton's corrupting power. But the power remains, and cannot be ignored or wished away.

"The US can and should play under different rules from the rest of the world, and preventative war may be one of those changed rules. I do not understand why we should let Serbia ethnic cleanse Kosovo, or Rwanda descend into madness, when we can stop them and really do not need int'l support."

Ah. Waiting for someone to make this argument. These have nothing to do with preventive war. The problem with the doctrine is NOT, repeat, NOT that it violates international law as it currently exists. There are huge problems with international law as it currently exists....I think it should allow countries' to come to each other's defense against aggressors without the U.N. I also think it should allow intervention in a imminent or ongoing genocide. Etc. etc. But those rules could at least theoretically be followed by everyone.

The Bush doctrine doesn't just change the use of force doctrine. It simply substitutes raw power for law on the basis that "we're the good guys." But no country is good enough to be trusted with that much power, and any country that claims it rapidly stops being the good guys. Anything that legitimates power also limits it.

Bob's reaction is interesting...I think about these ideas as the difference between, not so much liberalism and conservatism, as liberalism and illiberalism. I wasn't sure I could defend that, but he seems to see it the same way.

"'you liberals' comments"

Sorry. I mean liberalism as a philosophy, a respect for autonomy, soveriegnty(sic?), process, etc out of the enlightenment etc. And I guess other meanings.

Sorry.

My apologies too, temp's getting a bit high in here.

Decided to go read Perpetual Peace. Maybe get my head back.

I do have some illiberalism and bad determinism. Our country is what it is, and the world is what it is, and there may not be as wide a range of possibilities within those constraints as I would like. Within whatever range there is, I would like to do aw well as possible.

There is no contradiction between seeing the world as it is and wanting it to be otherwise.

bob: "The Athenians were just honest in Miletus."

Do you mean Melos?

If they had been more careful about maintaining their empire through terror the war might have turned out differently.

btw: we will, unfortunately, not be able to have any searching discussions of Melville in future. Too bad.

"The condition of the possibility of international law in general is this: a juridical condition must first exist. For without this there is no public law, since all law which one may think of outside of this, in the state of nature, is merely private law. We have seen that a federation of states which has for its sole purpose the maintenance of peace is the only juridical condition compatible with the freedom of the several states. Therefore the harmony of politics with morals is possible only in a federative alliance, and the latter is necessary and given a priori by the principle of right. Furthermore, all politics has for its juridical basis the establishment of this harmony to its greatest possible extent, and without this end all its sophisms are but folly and veiled injustice." ...Kant, Perpetual Peace. Appendix II

But if the world is unwilling or unable to enforce it's federative law, then it is the same as if there is no law. That the US should under President Obama reassert its allegiance to international law will be irrelevant, if again, the world is unwilling or unable to enforce the law. Even should the US hand over suspects for international trials, that would not re-establish international law. Only when the int'l community would be willing and able to force the US to be subject to int'l, would int'l law be meaningful.

The int'l community is theoretically able, thru sanctions, boycotts, and other economic measures, but not likely willing. Therefore the US is not subject to int'l law.

I wanted to see if anyone else is having trouble with the commenting system. I keep getting the following message:
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An error occurred...
Your comment has not been posted because we think it might be comment spam. If you believe you have received this message in error, please contact the author of this weblog.
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I've sent a message to the top level posters, but I wanted to know if anyone here has had similar problems and knew how to get the system to accept posts. Thanks in advance.

I see. It looks like the word A*h *a*b is getting blocked as spam. Odd. I've heard about spammers using all sorts of strange keywords, but I'm really quite curious what sort of spam was using A*h *a*b such that it got added to one of the ban lists. Ok, until this gets fixed, I'll be using this id.

"For the laws of nature, as justice, equity, modesty, mercy, and, in sum, doing to others as we would be done to, of themselves, without the terror of some power to cause them to be observed, are contrary to our natural passions, that carry us to partiality, pride, revenge, and the like. And covenants, without the sword, are but words and of no strength to secure a man at all. Therefore, notwithstanding the laws of nature (which every one hath then kept, when he has the will to keep them, when he can do it safely), if there be no power erected, or not great enough for our security, every man will and may lawfully rely on his own strength and art for caution against all other men." ...Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan

lj: You remind me of myself at a young age, full of anger, ready to assert your place in the world, willing to challenge your leaders. I would like to help mold you. First you need to look at the historical failure of plans which have failed to follow the principles I lay out. Second, you need to look at the way I argue by laying out scenarios and showing them to be inevitable. This form of normative argument is extremely powerful. Finally, as you acknowledged, my arguments are absolute in the light of logic. So, you need to channel some of that passion into cold, hard reason.

I appreciate the effort you've put into challenging me.

"The Russians had been living with effectively "zero reaction time" for many years prior to that."

Not really. Zero reaction time to their border perhaps, but not Cuba to Washington flight time to Moscow.

That the US should under President Obama reassert its allegiance to international law will be irrelevant

Bravo. I tried to make a similar point earlier, but it was lost in the errors.

Law is a corruption of power and to tie notions of power to notions of law is to corrupt them. Power demands expression in its own terms and while those terms can take the form of agreements which we might term law, to place those agreements as higher than that of which they're formed would be madness.

Yeah, I'm not much of a Hobbesian. I'm not even much of a Kantian. This is a longstanding debate...The liberal position is: oh yes international law does too exist; the enforcement we're working on. Which I was fairly cynical about and not especially convinced by, and then I took a class with this guy and get to know some other human rights-do-gooder type people, and they brought me around.

Honestly, it's a very results driven debate: people who want international law to exist tend to argue that it does exist; people who want the opposite tend to argue the opposite. So you could argue that the question isn't "does int'l law exist?" so much as "should it exist?"

Anyway, you don't have to debate preventive war in terms of int'l law at all; you could equally well argue about whether a preventive war can be a just war, or a morally legitimate use of force, or what have you.

"Do you mean Melos?"

If you say so. Yeah, Melian Dialogue. It is one of those things, it isn't as if I haven't read it a hundred times, but still the two bounce in my brain like ping-pong balls. Thanks.

Katherine: After acknowledging that international law is a toothless concept, why do you think that substituting "moral legitimacy" or "justice" are better ways to consider the issue?

The question is one of efficacy, not empty words or academic posturing. Preventative war ignores the informational conditions under which international relations operate. Information on intentions of rivals is scarce while the costs of war are high, even for the victors. Under those conditions, the costs of preventative wars will, over time, dwarf the benefits received.

The question of should international law exist is a more interesting one. What do we mean by international law? Usually it is put out as a way of resolving disputes between nations.

But why should law exist between nations rather than as a collective bargain between the citizens of those nations? Why would we privilege an organizational form over actual agents?

The structure of international law assumes that the state has acquired power over its citizens rather than power through its citizens. It reinforces the very conditions (absolute state power over individuals) that those who espouse it are generally trying to undermine.

It's an odd dynamic.

Son of O: that was me. Calls for assassination violate the posting rules. So do repeated attempts to disrupt conversation for its own sake. To paraphrase you: I tend to assume that people who say things like this:

"As to the terrorists who might decide to eliminate all their enemies at once, this doesn't really help since they could easily decide to hide under the sea in secret bases there. Unless we're willing to boil the world's oceans (something we should be researching), we can't get them everywhere. The key then would be making the surface unlivable when they tried to come up for air."

and this

"Pull our troops back and let a thousand assassin squads bloom. Let the night of the long knives commence. Let Reynolds fight off the hit squads and let those worthy of survival continue to lead.

Assassination is the only moral form of state-backed violence."

are trolls. It allows me to view them with pity, rather than abhorrence.

Or, more briefly: either you are trolling, in which case you violate the posting rules on one count, or you are serious, in which case you violate them on another.

You can, of course, appeal this to the others.

"The liberal position is: oh yes international law does too exist; the enforcement we're working on"

I would of course cede as much practical power to the ICC etc as my President and Congress would agree to. Who knows how President Obama will feel, but I guess that was the question. And I am not sure the President after Obama will feel actually bound. We have a problem.

Hey, Jonathan Schell, 1982. Bind with force.

The morality will I guess boil down to empirical and cost/benefit questions, which as Lincoln noted, will almost always be arguable and not dispositive.

Calls for assassination violate the posting rules.

So, just to clarify, I've seen people elsewhere on this blog argue in favor of war. In that post, I was specifically arguing that war is illegitimate because it targets those who have no power over policies while only leaders are legitimate targets because they direct the power of the state. Yes, that's a call for assassination but I view it as a legitimate position.

Arguing for preventive war is kosher while that is not? I believe the point I made on that same thread about nobles protecting their own (ransoming prisoners) while peasants were fair game may still hold a little too true.

Final check: yep.

Regarding 'empire', Rome and Britain get thrown about a lot because people are historically unimaginative. Financially speaking, and less flatteringly, 18th century France might be more apt.

Regarding military spending, the 50% figure exaggerates American superiority for a number of reasons. First of all, a haircut in China costs far less than the same haircut in a trendy boutique in New York. The inefficiencies of the Washington money-trough make defense spending equivalent to that trendy New York boutique.

Secondly, every recent conflict, including Iraq, simply confirms the reality the US is at a huge psychological disadvantage militarily compared to its conceivable opponents. May as well erect an enormous casualty clock in Times Square. The psychological disadvantage extends beyond mere casualties. How much of that vaunted defense budget is spent paying larcenous contractors to provide a ridiculously pleasant quality of life to soldiers in far-flung outposts? You think that's how Rome and Britain operated?

Third, the latest technology is always extremely expensive, particularly when our aforementioned defense contractors are charging for it. Yet high technology in any domain provides diminishing returns on the dollar. Your increase in defense capability is not at all commensurate with your increase in spending - China et alia can get 90-95% of the same 'defense capability' for, I dunno, say 30% of the spending [numbers pulled out of posterior for sake of making the point]. Most of this technology never gets used, and gets replaced 10 years later by yet more expensive technology.

Fourth, more broadly, the law of diminishing returns universally. If the US spend $600 billion, do you think the last $100 billion makes as much of an impact on your personal safety as the first $100 billion? Most US defense spending is wasted because the country deems fit to prepare for every possible contingency. China, on the other hand, is pretty much able to focus on a limited series of possible conflicts, such as Taiwan. The US, in contrast, has a vast network of under-utilized fancy bases around the world. Often these bases get abandoned without ever being used when local political conditions change.

Fifth, and this is the fact that is driving the US strategic posture into seizures, nuclear technology basically erases the utility of a very large chunk of US defense spending. One well-placed North Korean missile can annihilate hundreds of billions of dollars worth of cumulative defense investments. Russia today still has the capability to make America disappear. Lesser nuclear powers could presumably inflict damage at least on a scale to obviate any conceivable political goal of military action .


So, while the US clearly has the world's most powerful military, if it spends $500 billion while China spends $50 billion, it would be a potentially catastrophic delusion to think that means the US would be ten times more 'powerful' in any potential military conflict between the two.

hilzoy: Given that you began by insulting me (calling my views abhorrent) and then proceeded to ignore my reasonable and insightful explanations, it is clear that your banning has nothing to do with my positions. At first I could not figure out why you would bear a grudge against me. Then I recalled the comment where I referred to you as a "scion of privilege" after a post where you bragged about the wealth and power of your family (dadzoy...). Clearly, you will never forgive or forget that. Privilege hates nothing more than having a light shined on it. Since you have the power to rip away my very identity within the confines of this place, I have no choice but to depart. So I leave this blog, at least knowing that, in my final moments here, I was able to expose you for the petty thug you are. Goodbye to those who loved me. I will miss you, but know that you will never be far from my heart.

I'm actually willing to jump in on behalf of our troubled reader of Melville. The posting rules say "calls for the assassination of any person". I've always taken the underlying issue here to be that we didn't want to allow commenters to make personal threats against others (others who may or may not be reading).

I have to be honest: I'm not sure I understand this rule if it's taken too literally. For one, there was a post a few days ago commenting on a proposal to engage in a policy of assassination. Whatever we think of that policy, it seems somebody ought to be able to defend it in the comments without violating the posting rules.

And we talk about all kinds of lethal harm being done to people on this board, so I think imaginative-creation-of-Melville's point is well-taken that assassination might not be worse than some of the alternatives. After all, people often ask themselves whether an assassination in such-and-such a circumstance would be justified, and it's a serious question.

His point, it seems to me (and maybe I'm reading WAY too much into it), is that we've fetishized certain kinds of tactics as being inappropriate, despite the fact that the harm isn't worse than tactics we tend to endorse. A few times, for example, I've had people express to me how they thought that suicide made suicide bombing so much morally more despicable than, I guess, a mere homicidal bombing. I scratch my head at this sort of thing too.

Now, there's a difference between advocating a policy and making a personal threat, which I can't articulate, and which I know to have blurry boundaries, but I hope we more-or-less know the difference when we see it.

I'll grant that if creation-of-Melville is making these points, he or she is making them in extremely strange and obtuse ways, but I don't think creation-of-Melville has crossed the line of actually personally threatening someone.

Against the charge of trolling, I can't defend him, but then again, I'm not really sure what trolling is, so I really have no idea. Just on the assassination point. But that gives him a defense against Hilzoy's fork.

I don't know what's gotten into me. Every time I weigh in on these things, I'm anti-ban.

Okay: let it be known to all that I wrote and posted my defense before seeing Ah 5:08.

Geez, man, way to make it easy for people to stick their necks out for you.

I am a New Yorker, it is 1998, and al-Qaeda is maybe a potential threat in Afghanistan. Clinton can just wipe them out, maybe saving 3000 lives. Hey it is a hypothetical, I know all the arguments about uncertainty etc.

Hey, I'm a lefty. I'll step up.

In 1998 Al Qaeda had attacked the US and openly declared war on the US. Clinton actually did respond militarily, in the face of a lot (a lot) of conservative political opposition, and I supported that then. These days, I'd say send in a Marine Expeditionary Force and crush them.

So, that's one liberal data point heard from.

Note that no doctrine of "preventive war" is needed here. Responses to actual attacks and declarations of war don't count as "preventive".

The Athenians were just honest in Miletus.

As noted upthread, that would be Melos. And, how did that adventure in honest aggression by the Athenian hegemon work out?

Maybe Clinton did the right thing, as a small-r republican or liberal. Maybe if he had invaded Afghanistan, Al Gore would be President.

A lovely thought. In real life, Clinton would still have been impeached, and an invasion of Afghanistan would have been held against him as an act of reckless adventurism. Ironic, isn't it?

I'd like to make a general comment on the notion that our overwhelming power makes us, in some way, a special case.

Our "overwhelming power" has a number of vulnerabilities. Oil. Debt. A closing gap in technological advantage. The proliferation of nuclear technology and relatively minor nuclear states.

A data point. In a recent war game, our pilots were outflown by the Indian Air Force. The rules of engagement were such that some technological advantages that would otherwise have given us an edge were not available, but in terms of pure flyboy skill, we were outflown.

A stance toward the world that is predicated on an assumption that we can exert unchallenged power anywhere and anytime is not a stance that is rooted in reality. No matter how much we spend on shiny things that go "boom".

You are DougJ, and I claim my 5 pounds.

Wishes will only make you weak.

Actually, I think our man of many names was channeling Marvin the Martian.

Thanks -

Sebastian:

Zero reaction time to their border perhaps, but not Cuba to Washington flight time to Moscow.

Uh...what?

In 1961, the U.S. started deploying 15 Jupiter IRBM (intermediate-range ballistic missiles) nuclear missiles near İzmir, Turkey, which directly threatened cities in the western sections of the Soviet Union, including Moscow through its 1500 mile range and flight time of about 16 minutes.

Checking it just now, I see the distance from Turkish missiles -> Moscow was about 1290 miles. The distance from Cuban missiles -> Washington was about 1150 miles.

And then there were nuclear missile-armed U.S. submarines.

The consistency with which Sebastian makes this type of reality-free yet easily-checkable assertion long ago convinced me that he is an incredibly silly but sincere person.

@Bob McManus Feb 14 9:48 pm: It's not relevant now, but just to clarify:

The blockquoted text in my comment at 9:17 pm is me quoting myself (from a letter to the editor written Sept 2002); it's not Sen. Clinton. Her remarks on the same subject are in rilkefan's comment at 7:33 pm.

Jon (s)

Hey, quite right. But note the USSR reaction to zero-reaction time. Increased bellicosity, not decreased.

That should be, quite right, sorry for being wrong (in case that wasn't clear).

But note the USSR reaction to zero-reaction time. Increased bellicosity, not decreased.

The extrapolation regarding the potential reaction by the radical Islamic world to the invasion of Iraq, and what this might have meant for our dealings with the hardliners in Iran, is left as an exercise for the reader.

That the Soviet Union deployed missiles in Cuba decisively proves the United States was justified to pre-emptively deploy missiles in Turkey.

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