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June 19, 2009

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I enjoy transparently poor and rhetorically flashy, yet feeble arguments, but I even more enjoy sober dissection of such.

Thanks, Eric.

Packer should be as embarassed as you should be proud.

"On the other hand, if it’s going to be done, it should be done quickly. I know all the arguments why we shouldn’t. But there are at least a million counterarguments why we should."

"That last bit would seem to be relevant to a discussion of whether or not a given piece was a mere exploration of options, or an actual call for military intervention. You don’t have to be a journalist to grasp the importance of such inconvenient facts - it might even help not to be."

Eric Martin may be right that military intervention in Burma would have been much worse than what happened. He may be right that we should lend no support to the Iranian protesters.

But there is no question that the Burmese deserved our support as do the Iranians who are protesting their rigged election. Martin's writings suggest to me to be he's indifferent of or callous about what the Burmese went through and what the Iranians are going through. (they're about to go through hell) May be he isn't but I sympathize more with Packer, especially when Martin tries to score debating points against him.

Excellent post, Eric.
As usual.

Martin's writings suggest to me to be he's indifferent of or callous about what the Burmese went through and what the Iranians are going through.

Peter K., please be aware that acknowledging that there is a limited amount the US can do to help in a situation != indifference or hoping for the worst.

Facts, not emotions.

"He may be right that we should lend no support to the Iranian protesters."

I have never said that. What I said was that Obama should proceed cautiously, and take pains to steer clear of tarring the protesters with the US taint. I have written of my support for the Iranian protesters. Just yesterday. On this site.

As I did a while back about the crisis in Burma.

What I did not support was bombing the Burmese to help them. Just as I didn't support bombing the Iraqis to help them. And just as I don't support bombing the Iranians to help them. If that makes me callous, so be it.

I was wondering -- and this is an open question -- about the response to Packer's call for military intervention in Sudan:

I'll admit, I don't read Packer regularly, so I'll just ask first: Was this a recent article (after the genocide had essentially run its course)?

If not, does this mean that military intervention of any kind involving US forces* would not have been justified in the midst of Sudan's ethnic cleansing? Would this be the case even if it could slow or halt the genocide, or is the assumption that such an effect would be impossible to pull off?

I ask this with all respect, out of a genuine curiosity as to your views.

*I would mention a no-fly zone, for example. But I can understand if the view is that its a needless distinction from larger military interventions, given the possibility of escalation -- a mistaken one, I believe, but understandable.

I freely own up to using disparaging language about Packer ('moral preening') in the first thread, Hilzoy's post. If that's vituperative, then so is Packer's insulting caricature of me and other pre-invasion opponenents of the war on Iraq.

Vituperative or not, my criticism of Packer is based on his actual arguments and stances.

I'd wondered if he'd learned anything from his none-too-impressive performance at Talking Points Memo a few years ago, where he exhibited the same dismissive tendencies toward his critics. After all, the New Yorker's blog on which he's been posting for at least a year now has a comments section.

Sadly, no. I happened to see his response to the ObWi posts just hours after it appeared (checking to see if there were any new Iran posts by Laura Secor, his wife). My immediate reaction was that he'd have done better to ignore Eric and Hilzoy altogether -- or wait to post until he could keep his cool.

"Was this a recent article": October 2006.

"If not, does this mean that military intervention of any kind involving US forces* would not have been justified in the midst of Sudan's ethnic cleansing?"

It was a difficult situation, and one for which I am open to arguments from both sides.

But I wasn't discussing the merits, just mentioning that Packer has a habit of calling for such interventions (Iraq, Darfur, Burma). His response was to construct a strawman who argued that he wanted to "declar war" on Darfur. Whatever that even means.

Heh: I am working on a response to him too. This was great.

Thanks for the clarification, Eric; if it's not too much to ask, while clearly opposed to bombing the Burmese to help them", do you share similar ambivalence about "bring[ing] aid to victims without the regime’s permission"?

If not, is this because this is a needless distinction from larger military interventions (given the possibility of escalation)?

As another one of the nasty, vituperative DFHs who chimed in on the thread in question (non, je ne regrette rien), I thank you for this post, Eric. Very nicely done.

"If not, is this because this is a needless distinction from larger military interventions (given the possibility of escalation)? "

That's the fear. And then if it escalates, we would inevitably end up killing some of the Burmese that we were trying to help. And the conflict itself could and likely would exacerbate the hardship on the population - creating refugee flows, worsening shortages of food, water, etc.

But I'm not necessarily an absolutist. There could be a scenario that would merit the risks. Burm was not one in my estimation.

Again Eric, thank you for your response.

Great post. I think it is now required that those who want to "do something" for the reform movement in Iran actually articulate what that "something" should be (besides turning your blog green). Any specific proposal will likely fail outright, or pose too great a risk of unintended negative consequences (as we have observed in Iraq, which Packer keeps ignoring).

Also, once Packer (or anyone on his side here) articulate some specific propsal, it will be easy to find a historical analogy to show why it will likely fail. After all, no one can point to a single successful effort of the United States, post WWWII, to intervene in the events of another country. (That is, assuming your definition of "success" includes fostering democratic movements. It goes without saying that every US intervention has been successful if the goal was to achieve the destruction of democratic movements).

By focusing on what's going through the minds of the protestors (not that I'm sure why he'd know that better than any other interested party), I think Packer betrays the fundamental gap between the administration's critics and the administration itself. The administration is retaining a bigger-picture objectivity -- the NSC and State braintrusts must surely be wargaming all sorts of different possible outcomes right now -- whereas I think many of the administration's critics have allowed a natural sympathy for the protestors to blind them. They are projecting all sorts of seeming parallels, somewhat misleading misremembered ones, like 1989, 1956, and so forth onto what is happening in Iran now.

Secondly, the administration's calculations are certainly far more concerned with how the elite, not the protestors, will react to their actions. This crisis began within the elite, and it seems most likely that it will be resolved within the elite, not by some sort of mass uprising or popular revolution.

Point: My pleasure. Obviously, talking about these things is something I like to do, and what makes ObWi unparalleled is the quality of conversation in the comments.

Nice pwnage, Eric--although I'm sure Packer is positively tingling at all the unwarranted attention his trite musings have once again garnered.

Thanks for the clarification, Eric; if it's not too much to ask, while clearly opposed to bombing the Burmese to help them", do you share similar ambivalence about "bring[ing] aid to victims without the regime’s permission"?

I wish we could dispense with the non-sequiturs. There was never a feasible plan for bringing aid without the regime's permission that didn't translate into an invasion. Seriously, what should we do? If you fly unarmed aid workers in, they'll be arrested. This does not help anyone. So you have to send aid workers in with the ability to resist government attacks. Now you've got aid workers surrounded by a military force. In order for that military force to have any chance of surviving, it needs to secure supply lines and it needs air support or artillery. It probably needs armor if the regime has any heavy weaponry.

So now we're talking about securing a landing zone, blowing up regime military assets (and command and control centers? and communications networks?) with air strikes, and probably sending in tanks or other armor. None of this works without air superiority, so we probably have to blow up any SAM installations as well. How is this any different from an invasion? More specifically, what do you do when your aid group and soldier escort gets on the radio, tells you that there's a column of regime military vehicles approaching them with weapons and asks for an air strike? Tell them no and watch as they're blown to bits? Actually start bombing Burmese forces?

The bottom line is that you can't conduct serious operations in a foreign country without that regime's consent unless you have military force backing you up. And you're going to need a lot of force to overcome the regime's natural advantages. If you don't provide a great deal of force, you're just sending in soldiers and aid workers to die, which is political suicide.

If people want to talk about invading Burma, that's fine, but they have to have the stones to talk about invading Burma rather than hiding behind ridiculous euphemisms.

"What I did not support was bombing the Burmese to help them. Just as I didn't support bombing the Iraqis to help them. And just as I don't support bombing the Iranians to help them. If that makes me callous, so be it."

Just as you didn't support bombing the Afghans to help them?

Eric

I'm glad to talk.

Turb

I suppose I always pictured airlifting supplies to Burma, akin to the Berlin airlift. Obviously, they come with real risks of escalation (so the question is, "Is it worth the risk?" -- Eric thought not, I thought it made some sense), but it's not the same thing as an invasion.

Which brings me to another point (for everybody):

If, on their merits, Packer's arguments for intervention in Burma and Darfur are, if not necessarily correct*, at least serious -- and if, as I understand it, Packer's call for statement on Iran was much milder than initially understood --

If I am not mistaken, and this is the case, then is it fair to say that Packer's calls for intervention should be viewed skeptically based entirely on his support for the Iraq invasion.

Again, I ask this with all respect, out of a genuine curiosity as to your views.

"Just as you didn't support bombing the Afghans to help them? "

Correct. I supported attacks on al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and, to the extent necessary, the Taliban in order to neutralize a credible and proven threat. A group that had already conducted numerous attacks on US and US interests.

I did not support the invasion of Afghanistan under the pretense that we were doing it to help the Afghan people. If we could achieve that ancillary benefit at acceptable costs, then we should. And in the process of seeking to root out the aforementioned threat, we absolutely must take care to limit unintended casualties (it also helps the underlying military mission).

Iraq war proponents in general should be ignored. Their credibility should be permanently ruined as were those who supported US Southern segregation.

The Iraq war was an unjustified act of military aggression causing mass suffering. It was justified with lies. It was immoral.

At best, an Iraq war proponent who 1. vociferously denounced the pre-war propaganda, who immediately and strongly 2a. denounced the civilian casualties, 2b. spoke out against the mass imprisonment and torture, who 2c. critiqued the imperial politics (2c*.attempting to privatize the Iraqi econony, 2c**.attempting to stifle democracy) may remain credible as a decent human being but would then simply be a fool: for this is what war will entail.

Failing these, failing status even as a fool, the war propenent is merely a disgrace to modern civilization.

I never want that to be glossed over. For writers who have taken on the responsibility of arguing for certain political ends, words have consequences.

Let us banish Packer from polite conversation, just as we would a segregationist (regardless how empathic their paternalism).

Eric Martin:
"That's the fear. And then if it escalates, we would inevitably end up killing some of the Burmese that we were trying to help. And the conflict itself could and likely would exacerbate the hardship on the population - creating refugee flows, worsening shortages of food, water, etc.

But I'm not necessarily an absolutist. There could be a scenario that would merit the risks. Burm was not one in my estimation."

So concerned! So considered! Meanwhile how has non-intervention in Burma worked out? Something we all can feel good about? It must be okay since it hasn't been on the front pages. Aung San Suu Kyi is now being put throw a show trial, but who gives a shit there's not much we can do except mock guys like George Packer who didn't advocate bombing, but was just being emotional about it.

"I suppose I always pictured airlifting supplies to Burma, akin to the Berlin airlift."

That was not what Packer discussed.

"If I am not mistaken, and this is the case, then is it fair to say that Packer's calls for intervention should be viewed skeptically based entirely on his support for the Iraq invasion."

Partially, yes. When someone is so trigger-happy as to call for military interventions that this trait leads him/her to support what is likely the biggest foreign policy blunder in US history (up till now), then we must take a closer look at the underlying premises. And when that same person calls for "huamanitarian" military interventions on multiple occasions after that initial catastrophe, then the questions mount.

"So concerned! So considered! Meanwhile how has non-intervention in Burma worked out? Something we all can feel good about? It must be okay since it hasn't been on the front pages."

Well, how has the intervention in Iraq worked out? Concerned about that are you? Feel good?

Further, do you advocate invading North Korea? If not, do you feel good about what's going on in that country?

Why do people get so emotional and so worked up at the prospect of using the military to help people when there are numerous other ways to save lives that are cheaper, more effective and feature no anger/resentment from loved ones of the people that we inevitably kill in the process.

Do you know how many people die of malaria each year in Africa? If it was an African dictator killing that many people, you would be jumping up and down about how we must invade X country to save the people.

But do you get so worked up about a cheaper option: government funding to buy mosquito nets for pennies apiece? No. Charity is never as appealing as shock and awe.

Bottom line:

If your humanitarian urges are overpowering you and making you so emotional as to advocate for war, maybe you should go exhaust some perfectly legitimate non-violent ways to help people first. When those are used up, then we can talk about the glory of humanitarian wars.

I suppose I always pictured airlifting supplies to Burma, akin to the Berlin airlift. Obviously, they come with real risks of escalation (so the question is, "Is it worth the risk?" -- Eric thought not, I thought it made some sense), but it's not the same thing as an invasion.

I don't think this makes any sense. Air defense is fairly cheap, especially when you're talking about hitting giant, slow moving, low flying cargo aircraft. Do you really think the military would be willing to send cargo pilots over Burma without sending attack aircraft to destroy any air defense forces? That would be tantamount to sending pilots to die. And if you're going to send in attack aircraft, it makes sense to hit air defense installations before you send in the relief supplies...and if you're going to do that, you might have to take out air defense or command and control facilities far removed from the actual SAM sites since you can have distant radars transmitting targeting data. And now we're back to talking about a fairly heavy bombing campaign to eliminate the regime's air defense capability. And this starts to look like an invasion.

Of course, even if you do drop supplies, what do you do when the regime seizes them? Do you really think they're just going to watch foreign military aircraft drop packages on their country without doing anything? What do you do when the regime destroys them? After all, we're talking about a paranoid regime that believes dangerous enemy nations are using the cyclone as a pretext for invasion. Do you send ground troops in then? Or do you just shrug your shoulders after all that effort and say "eh, too bad, guess we can't do anything"?

matttbastard,

I think, Packer's writing is still very influential...which is why his "trite musings" should be taken very seriously. His "musings" involve the rationalization by which mass death is used to "make us safe."

I suppose I always pictured airlifting supplies to Burma, akin to the Berlin airlift.

Which would have worked great, as long we were airlifting them into the portion of Naypyidaw already controlled by Western powers, using the air corridors provided for by the Potsdam Agreement.

Eric:

"Do you know how many people die of malaria each year in Africa? If it was an African dictator killing that many people, you would be jumping up and down about how we must invade X country to save the people."

Great point. Let's say that I have convincing evidence that corporation A is harming innocents. If I wrote an Atlantic column calling for a violent riot at corporation A's headquarters, what am I? A terrorist, am I not? Beyond definitions, I hope 99% of the population agree that it is fundamentally immoral for me to write that.

And yet, if I call on a state apparatus to engage in violence to write some wrong, then I am a Very Serious Person. State's are not magical institutions, their violence is not hallowed nor legitimate beyond the measure that justifies the violence of citizen of that State: namely, violence is justified in self-defense, or to defend against an immanent threat to others. Beyond this, the call to violence is the act of a thug, whether he argue the agents be a group of citizens or the State.

Iraq war proponents are, by this reasoning, enemies of the common good. They should be excluded from civilized conversation of political affairs.

"Bottom line:
If your humanitarian urges are overpowering you and making you so emotional as to advocate for war, maybe you should go exhaust some perfectly legitimate non-violent ways to help people first. When those are used up, then we can talk about the glory of humanitarian wars."

For example, how about getting US to pay all unpaid assessments to UN before it invades any other country?

Having only skimmed the other posts mentioned, but not the comments, I'll just say that this is a great standalone piece.

The actual pathology (at least for those with good intentions) is support for a hyper-interventionist strain of foreign policy that treats as a given that military intervention can be used effectively (and should) for humanitarian goals in a number of settings (from the Balkans to Iraq to Burma), and that legitimate goals could include anything from interdicting a genocide to democracy promotion. Underlying this faith in the redemptive power of war is a presumption of American exceptionalism, and the esteem it supposedly enjoys in the eyes of the world, sufficient to soften the jagged edges of shrapnel and other ordnance."

Well said.

Now, while I certainly appreciate the sober reasoning in this post, do let us know if you ever decide to open a distillery... I'll buy the first round of shots.

Turb, mds:

Like I said, it's just how I saw the option playing itself out -- let the regime know the planes are coming, give them aerial backup, and do it en masse (so that the regime can only seize a portion of the supplies).

Granted, it's a very rough outline, by a non-military-professional, and, only so, with risk. Also, granted (Eric) it's "not what Packer discussed" -- though he was very vague on the strategic element.

Eric (at 2:56 and 3:05)

First, I absolutely do not think military solutions to humanitarian problems should be pursued at the expense of far more efficient ones; at the same time, our shirking of responsibility on one front does not justify shirking it in another.

On Iraq, the point I think I'm getting at is this: the US invasion and occupation has without a doubt proven disastrous (to say the least) for the people of Iraq and, to a lesser extent, for the US. As such, the view that the invasion was in itself a horrible idea is certainly more than respectable (one I happen to have held at the time and still do today).

But there is also a compelling case that the invasion proved a disaster in its (really beyond) incompetent execution -- fanning the flames of insurgency, for example, by (essentially) randomly rounding up and torturing people.

So, to my understanding, while it is really beyond reasonable debate as to whether the Iraq War was beneficial, there is still a respectable argument to be had as to whether the war was an bad idea that was doomed to create unnecessary, net misery from the beginning, or whether it was a half-way decent idea (albeit a risky one) that was horribly executed.

One of the sick tragedies of the war is that both cases can be reasonably made.

Like I said, it's just how I saw the option playing itself out

You felt helpless in the face of substantial human suffering, and wanted someone to "do something" to render aid. I consider this a wholly admirable reaction on your part. And despite being a "certain anti-war type," I felt something of this too. But the Law of Unintended Consequences can have really sharp teeth. Once there's "aerial backup," there can be shooting. And then...?

The fact that I find the genuine urge to "help somehow" admirable is most of the reason why I am especially outraged at it being exploited by neoconservatives who have never before given a flying fig for the actual people involved. Packer is a different case, since he appears to both want to help, and embrace massive military force as a form of help whether it's likely to be or not.

"there is still a respectable argument to be had as to whether the war was an bad idea that was doomed to create unnecessary, net misery from the beginning, or whether it was a half-way decent idea (albeit a risky one) that was horribly executed"

Well, the realm of reasonable debate is more forgiving than the realm of good policy. If you haven't checked out the Incompetence Dodge link in this post, you should. Bottom line: this was never going to work. There is no precedent for it working, and we as a nation (not the effort itself) lacked the language/cultural expertise, GROUND FORCES!, expendable money, political will, cooperation of neighbors, willingness of the underlying population, and several other important factors.

Further, Iraqi society was too ravaged and broken by Saddam.

"akin to the Berlin airlift"

Another note: the Berlin airlift was to territory that the Soviet Union had recently agreed belonged to the US/UK/France (per the Potsdam Agreement), through agreed-upon air corridors to West Berlin.

In other words, even if the Soviets didn't like it, the airlift proceeded according to written agreements with them; there were no territorial-violation grounds for shooting down the planes.

To put it mildly that is not the case in Burma.

Peter K wrote: " Aung San Suu Kyi is now being put throw a show trial"

Because a knucklehead wanted to "help her" and didn't think of the likely negative result of swimming across the lake to her house, uninvited, which gave the junta exactly what they wanted - an excuse to imprison her.

You're just like him. You just wanna help, nevermind the entirely predictable consequences.

Ironic that you'd bring him up.

"I suppose I always pictured airlifting supplies to Burma, akin to the Berlin airlift."

The only thing I could think of being any use would involve heavy use of huge transport hovercraft based on US amphibious landing ships. They'd be good for the storm-ravaged coastal areas, could go up shallow rivers, wouldn't need docks, wouldn't care about washed out roads, and could carry tons and tons of food and other stuff.

But there'd be nothing much to prevent the Burmese military from just swooping in and taking everything, and generally making life suck for the people nearbby.

"You're just like him. You just wanna help, nevermind the entirely predictable consequences.

Ironic that you'd bring him up."

And you're just like most people who dont care at all about Burma. You're just concerned about mocking George Packer.

Eric Martin:
"Further, Iraqi society was too ravaged and broken by Saddam."

It was ravaged and broken by a decade of sanctions while Saddam built palaces.

I've changed my mind on sanctions b/c of this and at least regime change ended the sanctions.

BTW, Peter K's name links to a spammy parked site.

"It was ravaged and broken by a decade of sanctions while Saddam built palaces...I've changed my mind on sanctions b/c of this and at least regime change ended the sanctions."

Well, we agree that the sanctions were poorly constructed. Regime change ended the sanctions - true. It also ended the lives of a couple hundred thousand Iraqis, created about 4 million Iraqi refugees, created hundreds of thousands of grievously injured Iraqis, created trauma and psychological shock for many millions of Iraqis.

So, end to sanctions = good.
Price tag to end sanctions this way = not so much.

Like I said, it's just how I saw the option playing itself out -- let the regime know the planes are coming, give them aerial backup, and do it en masse (so that the regime can only seize a portion of the supplies).

This is absurd. Even with attack aircraft, you're not going to be able to guarantee the cargo aircraft's safety. The whole point of MANPADs is that they're small and cheap and impossible to find. What do you do when they shoot down an aircraft and hold its crew hostage? Then you'd have to ratchet up military force to preserve your "credibility", right?

I get that you're not a military professional (neither am I) and I get that you're recounting stuff you thought about in the past, but surely you agree that what you were thinking at the time is ridiculous, right? I mean, what you've described so far fails the scenario planning test that every child's birthday party plan should pass. If your answer to "what can go wrong" and "what do you plan on doing when those things go wrong" is "I haven't thought about it" or "nothing", then your plan is a massive failure. You have no business advocating for invading a country's airspace if you don't know anything at all about air defense. Just like you have no business advocating for ground invasion if you don't know anything about logistics.

This is precisely the problem with Packer and friends. We have people who apparently have no idea what can go wrong when you employ military force constructing pie-in-the-sky fantasies completely detached from reality. You're talking about sending American soldiers or airmen to their deaths and you're doing so with less apparent concern than I have crossing the street. No one has any business advocating for military intervention anywhere unless they've done a whole lot more thinking and learning than you're apparently willing to do. The military is not magical. It is not populated by magical soldier elves that can do anything anywhere anytime so long as you ask nicely.


But there is also a compelling case that the invasion proved a disaster in its (really beyond) incompetent execution -- fanning the flames of insurgency, for example, by (essentially) randomly rounding up and torturing people.

Even if we hadn't rounded up and tortured people, there were simply never enough boots on the ground to provide effective security. There is no set of tactical decisions that alters that reality: no matter what, we never could stop criminal and former regime elements from killing hundreds of thousands of people.

So, to my understanding, while it is really beyond reasonable debate as to whether the Iraq War was beneficial, there is still a respectable argument to be had as to whether the war was an bad idea that was doomed to create unnecessary, net misery from the beginning, or whether it was a half-way decent idea (albeit a risky one) that was horribly executed.

I'd suggest you read The Incompetence Dodge, which Eric linked to earlier.

Eric Martin:

"Bottom line: this was never going to work. "

Foremost, this was not going to be undertaken by an international humanitarian agency with a sterling history that stumbled across a compliant air force, marines, etcc... This was an action to be taken by a State, with several non-altruistic motives and interests and a very anti-democratic historical strain running right up to the historical present.


Iraq was such a mess because of a decade of sanctions.

"But the argument from Ebadi, Parsi, Ganji and others is that too heavy-handed an approach by the American government would facilitate that same violent Iranian government crackdown by lending credence to the charge of American manipulation. "

Yes but an Iranian writes:

http://www.thedailybeast.com/blogs-and-stories/2009-06-17/iranians-to-obama-hush/?cid=bs:featured5

"Though it seems most Iranians are taking such a measured view of American involvement, there are still some who feel that both the United States and the world must take a stand. A girlfriend of mine emailed to complain bitterly about what she considers America's cowardly silence. “Why is it with a country like North Korea, the world shouts that the dictator is hated by his people, but when it comes to us, the West is diplomatic? The world must help us today. People are shouting and telling the world what is going on here, and the world should help us. People are tired and now we need the world's help.”

It just bothers me when people try to ventriloquize Iranians or Iraqis in order to support their agenda.

And Obama is taking a firmer stance

"We will continue to pursue a tough, direct dialogue between our two countries, and we'll see where it takes us. But even as we do so, I think it would be wrong for me to be silent about what we've seen on the television over the last few days. And what I would say to those people who put so much hope and energy and optimism into the political process, I would say to them that the world is watching and inspired by their participation, regardless of what the ultimate outcome of the election was. And they should know that the world is watching."

Might as well seeing as how the protesters will get slaughtered anyway.

I'm interested in discussing the Iraq war as it applies to social norms and the problem of evil.

Let's discuss the social norms of child abuse. When we get beyond our justified reactivity to such an heinous act, we are able to understand that their are inexcusable but understandable motives for abuse. Oftentimes, abusers were themselves abused. The pathological act of abuse can be seen as an attempt to control stress, create empathy (weird, but psyches are not rational), or maintain or create dominance (a necessary parental role) .

In other words, the most heinous of acts can, I think, persuasively be shown to be wildly mistaken means of achieving humane ends. The abuser wants to be a good parent, the racist wants an ordered society, the authoritarian wants personal security etc...

Of course, we rightly do not engage in debates over whether child abuse is a valid means to achieve certain benign-in-themselves ends. We do not bother to reiterate time and again, "Yes, as a father you are responsible for disciplining your child, but this way of doing it will not work."

And the way we break off engagement is by simply saying "you (the child abuser) are beyond sympathy".

I argue that similar social norms be applied toward those, in any land, who lobby for aggressive state violence. That such people fail to realize that their means are woefully inadequate to achieving their stated aims is no excuse. I wish us to move from "Yes, you seek good things but" to simply "You are a monster".

It's just as true in either case.

"It just bothers me when people try to ventriloquize Iranians or Iraqis in order to support their agenda."

But it didn't bother you when Packer did it, only when I responded? And if the argument is about what would be best for the protesters, surely we should listen to them. While they do not speak with a monolithic voice, Ebadi, Parsi and Ganji are considered leaders of the human rights/reform movement.

Heh, like the url for the permalink.

good luck with that.

One of the real problems is that military interventions can work-but they often don't and it's a mess either way.
The anti-interventionists like Eric have a strong hand right now because they can point to the latest major US intervention-Iraq- and paint it as a disaster. (I would add that Iraq is looking a lot better these days and that thee is even a chance that it might work out).
but then some interventions worked. Gulf war one worked. Bosnia worked. Kosovo worked.Some had mixed results (Haiti, Panama). A lot didn't (Somalia, and of course the big one-Vietnam).
And of course, as Packer points out, maybe we should have intervened in say, Rwanda and Burma.

Frankly, its hard to say when we should intervene. I will say that the simple rule-"Never intervene"- is simply stupid.
Maybe the best rule may be " Don't intervene until our vital interests are at stake" but then you will rightly ask " But what are our vital interests ? "

This stuff is rocket science, if not harder...

"it might work out"

Well, unless your dead. Or your family members are dead. Or you've been maimed for life. Or you're a refugee, whether you've been forced into prostitution, or not.

Unless you're the US treasury and you're counting the 2-3 trillion dollars spent. Unless you're one of the 4,000+ dead US soldiers. Or their family.

Etc.

I would add that Iraq is looking a lot better these days and that thee is even a chance that it might work out

The Iraq War produced a million dead Iraqis and 4 million refugees. How can you possibly say that "it might work out"? I mean, assuming that all those dead Iraqis count as human beings, exterminating a million of them has to register as "unspeakable crime" in any sane ethical framework.

We have to stop meeting like this Eric. People will start to talk.

Well, people got killed and maimed a lot in the Civil War and WW2 as well but those, I think, worked out. I don't want to re-fight the Iraq War debate. I'm just saying that there is now a chance that it will work out.I know that's heresy around these parts, but in fact it is looking better than 2-3 years ago. That's empirical observation, and even Obama would agree with that.

BTW, that's what's so hard about military interventions. People get so committed one way or the other, that they even dispute the indisputable.
My saying things are looking better now in no way justifies the war,but it does point out that maybe some good can come out of what was a tragic blunder.

stonetools:

I believe you misstate the problem: knowing when to intervene is difficult because knowing when the intervention will work is very difficult. The success stories you site: Gulf War I, Bosnia, Kosovo are hardly clear cases. We don't know and have no way of knowing whether they worked.

Again, this is similar to child abuse. It's easy to see when it's a disaster. When the technique is claimed to have worked, well, there's just no way to know for sure.

In both cases, the only thing you always know about non-defensive violence is that is causes pain and suffering in the immediate. Beyond that, we know when it's a disaster; when it's claimed a success we're only able to speculate such.

Well, Gulf War I worked from the limited objective of the Kuwait regime being restored and Saddam being checked. Its aftermath was pretty messy, but I and most would say it was a success. Even a successful war , however, tends to produce messy and unintended consequences. WW2 was a success (Even Eric would probably concede this)but it was a disaster all around and ended with Soviet power projected into the heart of Europe and the stage set for the Cold War.
Frankly its the reason why you should be very slow to go to war-there was to be a vital threat and it has to be fairly imminent. But if you use that yardstick, then you stay out of Bosnia, Kosovo, Burma, Rwanda. Heck if you are Britain and France in 1939, you probably let Germany take Poland and turn a blind eye to Hitler's measures against German Jews. If you are the USA, you certainly don't help out the Brits in 1940-41. As I said, its tough.

Hmm, you make a good point with your WWII comparisons, although I do have one small doubt based on a tiny difference between the pre-war scenarios.

See, and I hope you can forgive me if I am mistaken, but I don't remember Iraq invading and occupying most of Europe before the war with an enormous army of equal technogical sophistication to that of the US and obvious desires to dominate the world and murder millions of its inhabitants. Could be wrong, but I think I'd have remembered that.

So that does seem to make the "not working out" that might ensue from a failure to take military action a little tiny bit different between the two, that is, on the one hand, world domination by murderous Nazis, and on the other hand, a non-democratic Iraq posing no particular threat to anyone just like dozens of other non-democratic countries.

Perhaps there is something I'm missing here.

Packer is indeed a supercilious ass. I stopped reading his ill-informed bloviations after listening to him bluster and blither during an (attempted) interview with Amy Goodman in 2003. He was all "oh my sources are impeccable and there are WMDs and Al Queda in Iraq and me and the generals know what you stupid peons can't be trusted with and blah, blah, blah..."

And poor Amy, who was typically well prepared with specific questions about his baseless claims of fact, was subjected to the most dismissive and insulting responses from that bloated windbag. What a schlub!

jacob, stonetools never said anything of the sort.

Not at all. You are not mistaken, just looking at things through a post 1945 lens. In September 1939, it was not at all clear that Hitler was the homicidal megalomaniac he proved to be. This is why there were substantial peace factions in France and the UK even after September 1939. Indeed, even up till 1941, a substantial majority of the American public opposed intervention in Europe. I can well imagine a 1939 Jacob Davies saying, " Who cares whether Germany takes back it's old lands in Poland? It's not America's affair. After all, it's not like they have taken over the whole of Europe."
Anyway, happy to help straighten you out.

A great post with interesting followups from Eric. This pretty much nails it in my opinion:

If your humanitarian urges are overpowering you and making you so emotional as to advocate for war, maybe you should go exhaust some perfectly legitimate non-violent ways to help people first. When those are used up, then we can talk about the glory of humanitarian wars.

The closest thing to a response comes from Point:

I absolutely do not think military solutions to humanitarian problems should be pursued at the expense of far more efficient ones; at the same time, our shirking of responsibility on one front does not justify shirking it in another.

This language of "shirking responsibilities" profoundly misses the point. We do not have a responsibility to right all the wrongs in the world. In fact, we cannot right all the wrongs in the world, both because we have limited resources and because we simply do not have the power to right some wrongs even if we decide to invest the resources in doing so.

Not only do we not invest in the kinds of non-military humanitarian aid that is both cheaper and more likely to work (mosquito netting to Africa being but one great example), we are even unwilling to invest in a workable healthcare solution or public transportation system for our own people. Yet we are willing to write endless blank checks to slaughter people overseas.

One other thought about why war seems so much more attractive than, e.g., mosquito nets to many Americans who don't directly benefit from war (why it seems attractive to the many Americans who do directly benefit from war, like our nation's military contractors, should be obvious to everyone). Though there are humanitarian reasons for these interventions, the arguments that convince Americans to pour blood and cash into them involve fear. Many Americans will simply be unmoved by millions of Africans dying of malaria...or by oppressive regimes in countries about which they know little. But (imaginary) WMDs in Iraq? That's another story! Fanciful tales of national security threats, existential enemies and the like are usually of little use in selling non-military humanitarian aid. They are the backbone of the successful sales pitches in favor of military intervention.

bombing the Afghans to help them

Do you have to kill the patient to cure the disease?

Iraq war proponents in general should be ignored. Their credibility should be permanently ruined as were those who supported US Southern segregation.

I would agree, except for the fact that "serious" voices of conventional wisdom on both sides of the aisle in DC are a lot closer to George Packer than to Eric Martin. The presumption in favor of using the military in DC is great, largely, I think, because to a hammer everything looks like a nail, and after investing billions and billions in the military-industrial complex for over half a century, our national foreign policy debate (at least in actual policy-making circles) is an argument among hammers.

At any rate, the problem is a lot larger than George Packer or the "decent left," who are just a symptom of a much deeper disease.

Sorry about the infrequent responses:

"Bottom line: this was never going to work. There is no precedent for it working, and we as a nation (not the effort itself) lacked the language/cultural expertise, GROUND FORCES!, expendable money, political will, cooperation of neighbors, willingness of the underlying population, and several other important factors."

Obviously, that's a reasonable point -- it's a view I'm partial to, and Yglesias' article only makes me more so. And I'll say this from the get go -- if by "work" you mean "establishing a pro-US functioning democracy in Iraq" (as, I'll concede, all too many hawks did) then you're right.

On the other hand -- and this is a longer point -- it also reminds me of the big reason I opposed the invasion at the time: the administration, in pursuing a massive military endeavor, showed contempt for the international process, refused to allow UN inspectors to determine if Saddam had WMD's, etc.

So, if the invaders lacked cultural expertise, cooperation of neighbors, and, to lesser extent, ground forces and money, it was (at least in large part) because the US was essentially going it alone. (Of course, its probable if the US hadn't gone alone, it likely wouldn't have gone at all -- sort of undercutting most liberal IW apologists' arguments.)

This diplomatic incompetence continued into the occupation -- Bush resisted allowing the UN or war opposing nations to even help with reconstruction (mind numbing to this day); a centralized occupation government imposed a number of policies, to put it lightly (including an economic policy likely found in the wet dreams of Phil Grahm*); and the torture, always with the torture.**

My point is this -- Yglesias was completely right when he said "Military power can force parties to the table, but it cannot secure an enduring peace or a social transformation" -- but that's where statecraft comes in. IOW, if your only saying that Bush just screwed up militarily, then your point is (as Eric shows) weak; but if your saying that, given the incompetent statecraft involved, the military efforts were futile, your case is much stronger.

Also, while the US can take a larger role in small interventions (like Bosnia) with a reasonable chance of success, larger scale interventions (e.g regime change) -- while not necessarily beyond the pale -- must be taken upon with only the extremest of caution.

Yes, Packer and other liberals did not show this caution in the earlier years of this decade -- but, as Yglesias also says, not all interventions are alike.

*Sorry, that was a little creepy.

** Okay, that's worse -- and insensitive, and I'm sorry -- but, in fairness, I do think this heinous policy had more to do with the insurgency than Turb.

OK, some follow up:

first, sorry about the length of my last response.

second, I've already discussed a hypothetical Burma airlift more than I really care to; it was never really anything more than something that struck a non-expert as an interesting idea.

third, in a (albeit lame attempt at a) response to ben alphers --

(a) I don't think we necessarily have to right every wrong in the world -- just, where feasible, the truly grotesque, beyond the pale ones (e.g. genocide).

(b) As to our domestic problems (healthcare, etc.) -- I'm not really of the mind that our country needs to solve all its problems before it can lend a hand to others -- that's de facto isolationism.

(Though -- to be clear -- I don't think that's what you're advocating. But I do think it would be the practical result.)

The problem with the incompetence dodge is that the Packers of the world have to recognize that their ignorance cased the deaths of hundreds of thousands and the maiming of millions. Their self-recognized guilt makes them react with fury.

One last, er, note: it's occurred to me, in my longer post, that the use of my pseudonym in my posts has really taken on a life of its own -- it's getting to the, um, state, that I'm sounding like this guy (the tall one).

Anyway, I'm going to try and cut back. (Emphasis on try.)

Well, people got killed and maimed a lot in the Civil War and WW2 as well but those, I think, worked out.

When you say things "worked out", you're setting an incredibly low bar. By that standard, the Holocaust "worked out", right? I mean, in any horrible conflict, lots of people die and some people survive and eventually economic progress kicks in so life gets better for the survivors. But by that standard, everything is always good. This is not a meaningful standard and its use does not advance discussion.

The truth is, we don't know what we've lost. The Iraqi girl who just died might have grown up and discovered a cure for AIDS, but we can't know that, so our perception of how well things "worked out" will always be more optimistic than it should be.

Well, Gulf War I worked from the limited objective of the Kuwait regime being restored and Saddam being checked.

We spent billions of dollars replacing one dictatorial regime with another dictatorial regime. How could anyone go up to an American soldier and ask them to die for something so tawdry?

So, to my understanding, while it is really beyond reasonable debate as to whether the Iraq War was beneficial, there is still a respectable argument to be had as to whether the war was an bad idea that was doomed to create unnecessary, net misery from the beginning, or whether it was a half-way decent idea (albeit a risky one) that was horribly executed.

One of the sick tragedies of the war is that both cases can be reasonably made.

Posted by: Point

This sounds like a Two Cultures thing. One of the things I get tired of hearing is that I was right, 'by accident' and that the (official)reasons for my marginalization remain pertinent. And all those serious people who have been wrong so many times in so many ways on so many issues? They're still in power; because, you see, even though they were wrong, they were wrong for the right reasons. Yes, they will admit that they were in error about WMD's . . . but who could fault them for being wrong? The intelligence that indicated their existence was impeccable, and besides, everyone who counted thought the same thing. So why should the DFH's be given any credence if their opinions went against the 'best' assessments?

Well, most of the so-called DFH's I know were skeptical about the claims for WMD's because there was never any tangible evidence offered for their existence. The yellow-cake forgeries, those ominous aluminum tubes, the bioweapon sites were all just so much hokum, and known to be so within days or hours of their proffering to boot.

The DFH's, were, in short, evidence-based opinion machines. They were not media-based opinion machines. This makes me think that what we have here, to repeat myself, is a Two Cultures conflict. I confess I am puzzled by Packer's reasoning, and his apparent inability to see what are to me quite obvious lapses. But otoh, he would doubtless express the same sort of opinion about the way me and mine think.

I can well imagine a 1939 Jacob Davies saying, "Who cares whether Germany takes back it's old lands in Poland? It's not America's affair. After all, it's not like they have taken over the whole of Europe."

Uh huh. And I can well imagine you saying "I'm ashamed of making disingenuous arguments based on putting words into the mouths of people who disagree with me"; so I guess we're even.

The counterfactual earlier direct US involvement in Europe might have left the US vulnerable to Japan, deprived the US of several years of mobilization, caused Germany to abandon planning for Barbarossa in favour of just fighting the US, or at least reduced the strain on Russia leaving a stronger Soviet Union that would be more of a threat post-war, etc. It could also have resulted in an easy victory over Germany, though given that the Soviet Union lost ten million soldiers fighting the lion's share of the German military, I wouldn't put money on it. But I guess that's just my "post-1945 lens", whatever that is supposed to mean.

But it always seems to be 1939 somewhere for this crowd; there is always some grave and obvious threat to humanity, and some crowd of cowardly appeasers who are too stupid or too corrupt to fight. What is strange to me is that this view implies that the US was a nation of cowards and weaklings in 1939, 1940, and 1941. Is that really what you mean to say? Seems a little, um, harsh.

Although, back to the actual subject, it ought to be quite clear to everyone now that it was not actually 1939 in Iraq in 2002. Iraq has only 30 million people, their last invasion of a neighbour resulted in a rout at the hands of the US military, and they couldn't even fly planes over most of their own country without the US shooting them down. They were about as threatening as Luxembourg. Keeping on making the argument that Iraq was a real threat makes it ever clearer that the argument was made in bad faith then and is made in bad faith now. The comparison to WWII is laughable.

People still going on about 'the invasion might have worked in Iraq' don't seem to have grasped the basic fact that the problem wasn't the invasion but the occupation. And occupations hardly ever work in the modern world because people don't like their lives being controlled by foreign soldiers. Simple as that. Even when the soldiers were originally brought in peacfully to protect one social group (as the British army were in Northern Ireland), they will be resented very soon. If you want to be cheered as liberators, you need to get the hell out of there once you've done the liberating.

This thinking that "things worked out in the end" annoys the hell out of me, because it simply ignores the human death toll and instead focuses solely on the positive change, perceived or real, that followed. Such thinking is only made possible by the dead not being able to speak up, the dead leaving not much of a trace and being easily forgotten.

There's a great passage in Alex Garland's "The Beach": two members of a group have been attacked by a shark, one of them dies on the spot, the other one survives, but with horrific injuries that make him wail and scream day and night. The dead guy is buried with all the bells and whistles, everybody is a bit sad for a while, but soon they go on with their lives as before. The injured guy however is just too much for the group and eventually he gets banished to a tent far from the main camp, so that they don't have to be reminded of his misery and the shark attack.

The narrator comments:

You see in a shark attack, or any other major tragedy, I guess, the important thing is to get eaten and die, in which case there's a funeral and somebody makes a speech and everybody says what a good guy you were - or get better, which case everybody can forget about it. Get better or die! It's the hanging around in between that really pisses people off.

This all too human way of dealing with death strikes me as a major source of the problems we face when we talk about war.

"In September 1939, it was not at all clear that Hitler was the homicidal megalomaniac he proved to be."

Dachau, opened March 1933. Night of the Long Knives, June 30 to July 2, 1934. Nuremberg laws, 1935. Kristallnacht,November 9-10, 1938.

"The problem with the incompetence dodge is that the Packers of the world have to recognize that their ignorance cased the deaths of hundreds of thousands and the maiming of millions."

It still seems to me that folks are doing what the blogosphere excels in: using a particular person, in this case George Packer, as a synecdoche for a specific evil, in this case, the invasion of Iraq and wrongheaded military interventionism in general.

It still seems to me that this is heaping an immensely larger amount of responsibility on George Packer's head then he deserves. He's hardly Charles Krauthammer or William Kristol or Donald Rumsfeld, after all. It's unclear to me why he should have all this opprobrium and calumny dumped on him compared to, say, Matt Yglesias; lots of people were cautiously favorable towards the invasion for some time, and yet we haven't written them out of the human race, or punditry, as people whose "credibility should be permanently ruined as were those who supported US Southern segregation" or "excluded from civilized conversation of political affair" forevermore. This simply seems wildly disproportionate to me in the context of Packer's actual writing, rather than the caricatures presented here.

There are some quite obvious differences between Packer and Yglesias.

Gary,

Certainly there were/are lots of segregationists that changed course, on principle (they didn't just say, "Well, if the white aristocracy had been more wise and generous in their paternalism").

And such politicians and pundits who now adjust to the civilized norm are useful as markers to how far we have come.

You focus on the proposed rememdy, exclusion, which may seem ridiculous. This may because you do not share my take on the underlying disease: namely, proponents of state violence can promote murder and suffering in a manner that would hardly be legal were it afforded to proponents of citizen violence.

I find this drastic difference in standards untenable in society, but what to do about it? Banishment from polite conversation seems like a proper social sanction (I'm not arguing for arresting folks, as might happen for proponents of citizen violence).

There is also the fact that Packer doesn't seem too penitent about his record on Iraq. Perhaps I'm being unfair on this one, but I haven't certainly seen anything of his that would lead me to believe the contrary. And in my book, that spoils his cred on subsequent issues involving this sort of 'analysis'.

There should be consequences for advocating the mass death of many, many people, for specious reasons.

It still seems to me that folks are doing what the blogosphere excels in: using a particular person, in this case George Packer, as a synecdoche for a specific evil, in this case, the invasion of Iraq and wrongheaded military interventionism in general.

It seems to me that you're doing what humans excel at: finding affinity with one person and then defending them no matter what, without bothering to seriously examine what they're accused of.

It still seems to me that this is heaping an immensely larger amount of responsibility on George Packer's head then he deserves.

A million people died. Yet I see no one calling for George Packer to be shot. Or mutilated. Or even have any of his wealth and possessions taken away. The only sanction I'm asking for is that we stop listening to him because he's demonstrated repeated bad judgment and moreover, completely failed to learn from his disastrous policy choices. No one is saying Packer is exclusively responsible for Iraq; but his voice as a prominent journalist gave him some small responsibility. Even that would be forgivable if he learned from it, but he didn't.

He's hardly Charles Krauthammer or William Kristol or Donald Rumsfeld, after all.

He's also not Hitler or Stalin. It seems that you're advocating a strange ethical norm whereby as long as someone does something bad but can point to other people who have done worse, they must face no sanction whatsoever. How bizarre.

In any event, I think invoking Krauthammer and Kristol and Rumsfeld proves too much. Everyone here recognizes that those people are either moral simpletons or policy simpletons; they recognize that these people have zero credibility. And yet they advocated some of the same policies as Packer...so to be consistent we should ignore Packer's policy recommendations now as well. You've convinced me.

It's unclear to me why he should have all this opprobrium and calumny dumped on him compared to, say, Matt Yglesias;

Yes, I'm sure it is. If Packer could write something like this Yglesias piece, than he would face as much criticism as Yglesias. But that's the whole point: Yglesias has learned from his Iraq experience and understands that lots of proposed military interventions are just ridiculous (in the sense that they can't be expected to work with high probability). Packer has not learned that and so we see him advocating for more ridiculous military interventions. The difference between Yglesias and Packer is learning.

lots of people were cautiously favorable towards the invasion for some time, and yet we haven't written them out of the human race, or punditry, as people whose "credibility should be permanently ruined as were those who supported US Southern segregation" or "excluded from civilized conversation of political affair" forevermore. This simply seems wildly disproportionate to me in the context of Packer's actual writing, rather than the caricatures presented here.

Aren't you just nutpicking here? I don't want to write people out of humanity nor do most people here. As for writing them out of the punditry, should people lose positions of influential punditry when the really screw up in ways that get lots of people killed? I mean, a professional engineer who signed off on a design that killed lots of people would not only lose his certification and his job, but might also end up in prison. I know that our society is deeply committed to never holding writers responsible for anything, but surely we can at least relegate them to obscurity after advocating so loudly for such a stupid policy?

By the way, I like how you conflate everyone who was "cautiously favorable" with people who fervently advocated for the war. And I like how you seemingly make no distinction between people who advocated from positions of great prominence and those who did so from obscurity.

I think the engineer analogy is a good one.

Again, if the "cautiously favorable" wanted a military assault that brought security, prosperity, democracy, and ponies-for-everyone that's great. But responsibility doesn't even _begin_ with good intentions.

Who were those that were "cautiously favorable" (cautiously advocating military aggression is an oxymoron, I would argue) that immediately cried foul when:

-the dishonest prewar public relations campaign was repeatedly exposed

-the massive civilian casualties were being documented

-mass imprisonment and torture were being documented

-post-invasion US political usurpation of Iraqi sovereignty was being documented.

I mean, as soon as the ponies fail to materialize, and you advocated for the violence that was gonna bring the ponies, you have an extra responsibility to rail against the injustices.

So who can name the "cautiously favorable" who did that? They were fools, but at least they were not knaves.

Turbulence, do you know of anyone who has said, unqualifiedly and unabashadly that they were wrong about Iraq in just about all the ways it is possible to be wrong? Wrong about the justifications, wrong about the occupation?

Again, maybe I just hang out with a limited group of people, but I've never seen anyone cop to this. Wrong, yes - but it seems that it's always qualified in such a way that it absolves the person from taking any responsibility for their opinions.

Turbulence, do you know of anyone who has said, unqualifiedly and unabashadly that they were wrong about Iraq in just about all the ways it is possible to be wrong? Wrong about the justifications, wrong about the occupation?

I've never seen anyone in my entire life admit they were wrong about anything in all the ways it is possible to be wrong. So if that's the test, then no, I haven't. On the other hand, I have seen people admit they were wrong about Iraq for very substantiative reasons.

I'm not sure why you're asking this though: I don't want an apology from Packer for his pre-war idiocy. I just want him to either (1) stop being foolish or (2) stop writing. He need not admit anything to me so far as I care.

SoV, let me point out John Cole.

I'm asking, Turbulence, because I am willing to listen to people who can admit their mistakes and learn from them. If they can't do that, if they somehow duck responsibility, then the odds are that they're going to make the same mistakes again. Witness the gentleman under question.

People who were wrong about WMD's, but qualified it in a self-serving way are more apt to say that this time they are right about Iran's pursuit of nuclear weaponry, for example, and the good intelligence really is good this time. People who were wrong about WMD's, and took unreserved responsibility for it? They're the ones who are going to be demanding physical evidence of Iran's nuclear intentions this time around - photos, samples, etc. Not on 'expert testimony' stovepiped through some Continental agency.

Good on John Cole, btw. If he agitates for some form of 'intervention' with Iran, I might be more receptive than not. Certainly far more willing to listen to him than this Packer fellow.

Thanks for explaining what you meant SoV. I agree with you completely in that regard. That's what I mean by referring to people who admitted being wrong for substantiative reasons (i.e., i uncritically fell into war fever vs. i was wrong but couldn't have been expected to be right because everyone was wrong). I have met a few people like that.

"This may because you do not share my take on the underlying disease: namely, proponents of state violence can promote murder and suffering in a manner that would hardly be legal were it afforded to proponents of citizen violence."

No. I'm just saying that I think the focus on George Packer seems to me to be considerably disproportionate to the relative moderation of his views, and that he seems to be being caricatured rather exaggeratedly. I'm not saying he should be immune from criticism, or anything like it; I'm saying that he doesn't, in my reading, seem to be remotely the regular agitator for military intervention that people are making him out to be in this thread (and elsewhere at times).

If we were talking about, as I alluded, William Kristol, or Krauthammer, for instance,I'm all for full villification; I just don't think Packer remotely falls into their category, in my reading. The notion that he has some record of seriously agitating for military intervention in Somalia or Burma just pretty much isn't true; people are taking a couple of isolated and very unforceful passing blog posts of his and acting as if his body of work is generally militaristic when it just isn't.

"It seems to me that you're doing what humans excel at: finding affinity with one person and then defending them no matter what"

Again, just so we don't exaggerate with absolutist claims.

The notion that he has some record of seriously agitating for military intervention in Somalia or Burma just pretty much isn't true; people are taking a couple of isolated and very unforceful passing blog posts of his and acting as if his body of work is generally militaristic when it just isn't.

I don't think anyone mentioned Packer advocating for intervention in Somalia. Who were you referring to?

As for Burma, you're right in a very narrow technical sense. Packer did not write "I think we should invade Burma to provide humanitarian relief!"...instead he just raised questions about cited a high government official who claimed that we had a responsibility to protect people, cited an expert who said that we had the capability to invade, speculated that it might be "necessary" and then claimed that there were a million reasons to intervene militarily.

If he had been talking about Iraq in 2002 rather than Burma, I don't think anyone would be so foolish as to claim that wasn't advocating for an invasion. That's just transparently silly. You can advocate for a policy without explicitly saying "let's do this" just by raising provocative questions.

Again, I don't care about his entire body of work. I care about his specific advocacy of infantile policies. The fact that he can't write some of his more ridiculous notions in published work where he's subject to an editor and instead must relegate them to unedited blog posts isn't much of a defense. As you know, writers have a great deal more freedom to spout transparently silly claims on their blog than in edited pieces.

Are you still confused on the difference between Packer and Yglesias? Or do you understand now that I've spelled it out?

"I don't think anyone mentioned Packer advocating for intervention in Somalia. Who were you referring to?"

Sorry, I meant Sudan. "...and then claimed that there were a million reasons to intervene militarily."

And then wrote a long and thoughtful piece in which he said no such thing. You can't hold up a passing blog post as definitive of his opinion and ignore his far more definitive take.

"Again, I don't care about his entire body of work."

I believe you.

"The fact that he can't write some of his more ridiculous notions in published work where he's subject to an editor and instead must relegate them to unedited blog posts isn't much of a defense."

If Packer comes out and says that he was or is for an invasion of Burma, I'll join you in condemning his opinion.

@ScentofViolets: There's also Belle Waring.

To me, the post on Burma was significant because it revealed that Packer had seemingly failed to learn one of the central lessons of Iraq. My point in writing the original piece - and this one - is that I'm willing to give liberal hawks another go (I read Packer regularly and have cited him favorably at least a dozen or so times), but that they have earned a certain level of heightened scrutiny.

What I want to see from Packer is not a tearful apology as much as a re-examination of his tendency to advocate for military intervention in unsuitable settings (which is actually most settings). And after that re-examination, a shift. That's what I see from Yglesias.

"@ScentofViolets: There's also Belle Waring."

A post I'm ashamed of. A subsequent post. A yet later post. An even later post.

I keep links to all these on the sidebar of my blog, near the top, for honesty's sake.

I never came out for the invasion, but I didn't come out against it for quite some time, either. I was horrifically wishy-washy for far far too long.

Eric, I think your 03:25 PM comment is perfectly and utterly reasonable. It's the claims such as "...Packer will seize upon every such utterance to push for another pointless war" or that he has some consistent history of "advocating pointless wars in Burma and Darfur" that don't seem supportable to me. These sorts of claims seem to me to be gross exaggerations. That's all.

I'm just saying that I think the focus on George Packer seems to me to be considerably disproportionate to the relative moderation of his views

I think that for some of us, at least, the "relative moderation of his views" is part of the problem. Krauthammer and Kristol are easily dismissed as predictable, shallow, and relentlessly partisan. Packer, on the other hand, is considered to be far more serious and thoughtful by people across a wide spectrum of political opinion. And that means his advocacy of the invasion of Iraq had a far greater impact than, say, Kristol's. How bad an idea could it be when Even the Moderate George Packer was on board?

Now, you may agree or disagree with this perspective, Gary. But frankly I'm surprised that you're so surprised that many people subject the Packers to a greater degree of scrutiny and criticism than the Krauthammers.

I know this kid who is a bully. He humiliates and beats up his peers. He's 12 and I'm 24. In most cases I wouldn't advocate this, but I think I'm gonna kick the crap out of him. That will prevent him from future bullying.

What do you guys think. Are you so naive that you think seriously beating up a 12 year old wouldn't solve a lot of problems this kid presents. I mean, at least until he had time to grow out of his bullying.

Preventive child abuse. Whaddyasay? Can we have a civilizaed conversation about it? Why not?

"And that means his advocacy of the invasion of Iraq had a far greater impact than, say, Kristol's."

True.

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November 2014

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