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August 04, 2011

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"low-cost regime change"

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The U.S. political elite is mostly effing nuts.

It's really quite understandable. After all, we have infinite resources which can and should be devoted to fixing all the world's problems....

/sarcasm

What is fascinating is that we see exactly the same rhetoric from both the left and right. There are some differences in who they see as "evil regimes" which the US should somehow magically replace with something more virtuous. But there is the same implicit belief that it is America's duty to fix any imperfection in the world.

I sometimes wonder how much of this both-ends-of-the-political-spectrum similarity is due to another phenomena I have long noted. Rarely do people move from being moderates to embracing one political extreme or the other. (Individual's opinions do shift, but generally from something like moderate liberal to moderate conservative.) Much more common is someone moving from one extreme to the opposite, without ever passing thru moderate. (Possible reasons for this vary. But a need to have a "one true and absolute explanation for the universe," whether it's a political philosophy or a theology, seems most likely to me.)

Good one, Eric. In theory, we could coordinate an aggressive sanctions regime against Syria or we could assassinate Assad. If sanctions would work, it would be worth it, but my concern is that we would wind up starving people and give Assad an out. On the ticket-canceling thing, as appealing as it might be on some visceral level, there is no good end to it. Asymmetrically, we have a lot more to lose than Syria and others similarly situated.

"What is fascinating is that we see exactly the same rhetoric from both the left and right."

Put this lefty down for "Nope, not on that train".

This is not very nuanced. There is a growing self professed "end our foreign wars" sentiment on the right (cf Ron Paul and his zealous followers). Your judgement as to their recently discovered sincerity, I leave to you. On the "left" we have your (morally confused or morally corrupt....pick 'em) liberal interventionists and a sliver of strident non-interventionists....reasons vary, but I must say they are often quite intriguing in a "challenge commonplace moral assumptions" kind of way (cf Freddie DeBoer).

Revise and resubmit.

On the ticket-canceling thing, as appealing as it might be on some visceral level, there is no good end to it. Asymmetrically, we have a lot more to lose than Syria and others similarly situated.

Yeah, and then there's the age old question: if you off Assad, what comes next? Is it better? Worse? Same?

if you off Assad, what comes next? Is it better? Worse? Same?

Well, that is pretty much the question any time a gov't changes hands, so it's something that's looked at before you even get involved in regime change, like we did in Libya, thoroughly vetting our new friends and allies and determining that they were latent Jeffersonian liberals. You see, when done properly, regime change by force can be quick, decisive and effective.

bobbyp, I admit that the right has recently been more strident about inducing regime change in various countries. But the left has a pretty long history of "why aren't we taking action to stop these horrible people" rhetoric as well.

I will also note that frequently the regimes that one side or the other (or both) wants to get rid of are, indeed, pretty awful. But neither side seems to have much interest in drawing a line between those regimes that we should act against and those which are bad but tolerable. At least, not a line which has any real-world relation to what we can possibly do. and that's before you get to the issues that Eric raised originally.

At least, not a line which has any real-world relation to what we can possibly do.

It seems to me that the lines are drawn mostly on the basis of economic advantages offered or not offered the US by a given regime. They're just very quiet about those lines.

What is fascinating is that we see exactly the same rhetoric from both the left and right.

Citation needed.

I think you're conflating 'claims that government X is evil' with 'claims that government X is evil and should therefore be overthrown by the US military'. I often see lefty leaning publications or think tanks make the first kind of claim while the second tends to be invoked by more conservative entities.

There are some differences in who they see as "evil regimes" which the US should somehow magically replace with something more virtuous. But there is the same implicit belief that it is America's duty to fix any imperfection in the world.

I don't believe this is true. Eric's post was about military intervention. And liberals who think that the US government can "magically" improve the world by blowing a few million dollars a year on bednets for malaria prevention don't strike me as relevant. When it comes to arguments for US military intervention, we do not "see exactly the same rhetoric from both the left and right". According to Professor Farley, liberal voices are largely absent from debates about the military:

I’m nevertheless confident, however, in the contention that defense wonkish types are found more often in conservative circles than progressive, that conservative organizations spend more time on defense issues than progressive organizations, and that typical, everyday Joe/Jill Conservative is more knowledgeable on defense and military issues than typical, everyday Joe/Jill Progressive. The central reason for this is not difficult to articulate; conservatives (at least in the current American construction of the term) are more likely to favor the use of force, are more likely to favor high defense budgets, are more likely to focus on military capability as a central component of American identity, and (statistically) are more likely to have served or know someone who has served in the military than are progressives.

This stuff always makes me want to start reciting "The White Man's Burden".

The idea that we have some kind of moral sanction to engineer the political life of other countries via military intervention is nuts. IMVHO.

Plus, it doesn't work.

My sense, personally, is that there are lots of people who just like to see stuff blow up. We have this great military, they want to see it in action.

If you find this point of view over the top, or unfair, I will simply ask you to remember what an unbelievable lucky penny Gulf I was for CNN. Their ratings were through the roof.

The bombs don't fall in our backyards, the military SWAT teams are not kicking in our doors, our kids are not crying in the corner.

The only folks of ours who are affected are military, and there aren't that many of them, and they're increasingly kind of a ghettoized community anyway. They knew the job was dangerous when they took it.

Just ask Andrew Sullivan.

There aren't that many Americans who have any kind of concrete understanding of what a war is. So, "start a war" just seems kinda like "call the cops".

White man's burden. The point being not the color of skin, but the idea that the superiority of your culture entitles you to travel the world f***ing with other people.

wj-
The right? Recently? Your history is short..cf the isolationists prior to WW2.

"But the left has a pretty long history of "why aren't we taking action to stop these horrible people" rhetoric as well."

Taking action is not quite the same as military force...nonetheless...we do have the "cold warrior" left, or did. That must also explain the left's strident support (or not) for the Great War...(a war that broke the left in two before the first shot was fired)...or the angry debate in lefty circles over Kosovo while many on the right opposed it since, well, Clinton derangement syndrome.

Nope...it's not so simple, and the rhetoric is not exactly always the same. And neither left or right is calling for invasion of Israel.

It is indeed striking that Libya was justified to prevent a massacre, yet in the case of Syria we have a massacre but no such call to arms. Where have the liberal interventionists gone? And if the right can't find it to hate Assad they really have mellowed out since the fall of the Soviet Union. Perhaps it's the drugs.

Just sayin', and what Russell and Freddy DeBoer said.

All the best!

"But neither side seems to have much interest in drawing a line between those regimes that we should act against and those which are bad but tolerable."

Absent the assumption that we have the right to intervene whenever, wherever, and for any reason or none, to really seriously attempt to draw that line reveals the incoherence of the interventionist ethos.

"It is indeed striking that Libya was justified to prevent a massacre, yet in the case of Syria we have a massacre but no such call to arms. "

In Libya, it was argued that because of the particular way the rebels were organized, a military intervention would be effective at preventing a massacre. There is no such argument regarding Syria. That is why the international community, via the UN, supported intervention in Libya but has not in Syria. Sanctions have been imposed against Syria, and I'm sure people wish there was some more effective way to stop the one-sided slaughter, but don't believe that the same kind of military action would do so.

Er, sapient, you left out a few words.

"In Libya, it was FALSELY argued . . ."

and

"the international community, via the UN, WAS TRICKED INTO SUPPORTING intervention in Libya".

(Sorry about the capitals; I lack skills for emboldening.)

In case you haven't noticed, essentially all the propaganda behind the no-fly zone was subsequently exposed as lies, and almost all the countries which voted for Resolution 1973 have withdrawn all support for the NATO aggression against Libya.

And that, of course, is why there is so little support for repeating the aggression against Syria (where, once again, the propaganda appears to be largely lies based on a few partisan publicists in London); NATO wouldn't get any support outside its members.

Kipling ("The White Man's Burden") should imo not be automatically equalled with those who quote him. Old Ruddy was a very harsh critic of the actual actions his government took. Today he is considered, esp. on the left, as the embodiment of all that is evil about imperialism. At the time it was the right that attacked him for his constant criticism of imperial practice and lack of uncritical support (worst of all RK considered it wise to take the views and likely reactions of the natives into account too). Kipling was clearly pro-empire but (with a few exceptions) of the think-first-then-act school. His ability of self-criticism is also absent in many of his 'followers' (i.e. those quoting him in support* of their imperial(ist) views and actions).

*I am accusing no one here of that

"In case you haven't noticed, essentially all the propaganda behind the no-fly zone was subsequently exposed as lies, and almost all the countries which voted for Resolution 1973 have withdrawn all support for the NATO aggression against Libya."

Yes, I did miss the stories on the lies and tricks, as well as the withdrawal of support for NATO's actions (although, of course, some of the states that enjoy playing both sides of an issue have done so here.) Incredibly tricky of [who played the trick? you didn't say] to have tricked every nation on the UN Security Council, as well significant numbers of humanitarian organizations whose workers testified to a growing humanitarian crisis. But please do point to the evidence of tricks and lies.

You have pretty accurately detailed the progression from being upset to sending soldiers to die. We have seen this more times then I want to recall. Viet Nam is a prime example of both sides of the political aisle supporting the loss of soldiers' lives. The quintisenssial liberal, John Kennedy was the first to send soldiers to die there.
As long as we allow politicians to speak of soldiers "sacrificing" for our freedom, they will send our soldiers to bleed and die on foreign lands where we have little or nothing to gain. Our soldiers should be used to protect OUR freedom and OUR Constitution. That is an investment in OUR future.
There may be some value to be realized from publicly protesting the actions of inhumane leaders. I, for one, see nothing to be gained except death, destruction, and loss of fortune from invading and deposing those leaders. Those with a value to be realized from deposing (i.e., citizens of that country) must make the investment in that deposing.

If the international community comes together through the UN, and agrees that concerted, limited military action has a realistic possibility of stopping the massacre of a strongman against his own people, and the action is taken with UN approval, I believe that taking the action is the correct thing to do.

There aren't that many Americans who have any kind of concrete understanding of what a war is. So, "start a war" just seems kinda like "call the cops".

I'd say a substantial number of men over 60 fully understand what war is, having either fought, or been drafted to fight, WWII, the Korean War, Vietnam or the Cold War.

If the international community comes together through the UN, and agrees that concerted, limited military action has a realistic possibility of stopping the massacre of a strongman against his own people, and the action is taken with UN approval, I believe that taking the action is the correct thing to do.

I am not buying this. With China and Russia having Security Counsel veto power, with an organization that remains dominated by dictatorships of every stripe, the moral authority of the 'international community' is weak to nonexistent.

If a consensus is achieved among true democracies that actually have skin in the game that military action is warranted, that is another thing. But this goes only to the moral case for the use of force.

What we've learned, hopefully, is that regime change and nation building are not good policy. What some, perhaps more than some, thought would be a relatively easy walk with a reasonably known end game, turned out to be anything but.

US strategic interests with a military angle are limited these days:

1. Taiwan and sovereign independence in the Pacific Rim.

2. South Korea remaining a democracy.

3. No cross border aggression or hegemonic coercion by Iran in the Middle East.

The above are really not US interests, but rather the interests of every nation that depends on trade. Unfortunately, only the US has the horses to make a difference, as the predictably anemic showing of NATO unplugged in Libya has demonstrated.

HSH and bobbyp, the left isn't quite as explicit about regime change. Their position tends to be articulates as "We must do something," with the "something" left unspecified. But short of magically changing the personality of a regime, regime change is the only option that I can generally see to accomplish what they want. Regime change which, far more often than not, is realisticly going to require at least some military action. So I would consider the right and left positions to be, at most, a distinction without a difference.

HSH, on your other point, the lines get drawn on actual action based mostly, as you say, on US economic interests. But the demands for action are much broader than that. They just don't get implemented -- to the loud regret of those demanding them.

I'd say a substantial number of men over 60 fully understand what war is, having either fought, or been drafted to fight, WWII, the Korean War, Vietnam or the Cold War.

This is a fair point, in particular the Vietnam cohort. Not that many guys still around from the WWII and Korea days. But yes, there are about 2.5 million folks with hands-on, real-life, in-country Vietnam era service alive in the US today.

So, that's a lot. In a population over 300 million, not so large, but still, a lot.

What I notice from my personal, anecdotal experience is that the folks I know who have been most affected by war, whether through serving in the military, or even just being alive during WWII, were the least enthusiastic people I know (or knew) about our adventures of the last 10 years.

My in-laws first reaction after 9/11 was to say, "I hope we don't go to war over this". It was the very first thing they said when we spoke with them after that day. Father in law spent years in the Phillipines during WWII, mother in law built Corsairs in Akron. So, not pacifists, just people speaking from direct experience of what war could mean.

The over-three-hundred-million of us who do not have direct experience of warfare seem to be less averse to taking the leash off.

To me, employing military means to try to influence political outcomes is like attempting brain surgery with an axe, a blowtorch, and a sledgehammer.

Wrong tool for the job, as they say. Even if the patient lives.

But yes, there are about 2.5 million folks with hands-on, real-life, in-country Vietnam era service alive in the US today.

And what % of those saw combat? My father served in-country in Vietnam, but never came close to having to shoot anybody.

My WWII veteran relatives were also opposed to going to war in Afghanistan after 9/11 UNLESS the UN approved it. Unlike McKinney, my WWII veteran relatives believed that the UN, while an imperfect institution, is the way that many imperfect nations with conflicting interests can work together to solve problems. And instead of picking and choosing which "exceptional" nations have "moral authority," there can be, in certain cases, some consensus that a particular situation is intolerable to the international community.

Just as American democracy is far from perfect (and seemingly getting worse at the moment), it's a system that's worth supporting and building on. So is the UN. The generation of leaders that designed the UN certainly had first-hand experience with the alternatives.

I don't want to claim to speak for a friend of mine who used to frequent this blog, and whom I hung out with while he was home a couple of nights ago, so I won't name him (though some of you will probably be able to guess). At any rate, he was in Iraq twice as an Army officer. A few of us at his parents house were talking and came around to the subject of the US military. My going-on-20-years US Army officer friend said, more or less, that our actions in Iraq, Afghanistan (at least the continuation thereof) and Libya were gross wastes of lives and money. (He may have phrased it as "the biggest f*cking wastes of....") I was a little surprised to hear such an unequivocal criticism of our current military adventures from him, but there you have it, from a career US Army officer (raised Republican, to boot).

And what % of those saw combat?

The 2.5M are the folks who were in country, meaning they served in Vietnam. Don't know how many of those folks shot anyone, or were shot at, but if you did your tour in the actual country, I'd say that for purposes of this discussion you have a fairly concrete understanding of the consequences of war.

Total Vietnam *era* vets in the US as of 2004 was a little over 8 million. See here.

"I was a little surprised to hear such an unequivocal criticism of our current military adventures from him, but there you have it, from a career US Army officer (raised Republican, to boot)."

It's getting to be quite fashionable for Republicans to be against our military policies, now that we have a Democratic Commander-in-Chief. I can't say that I'm surprised to hear that. And, as for Iraq, I'm not sure there's any controversy about that being a waste of lives and money.

In terms of Libyan lives, whether our participation in the intervention has cost or saved lives is subject to some debate. I don't know the number of American military lives that have been lost in Libya: although there were some tragic deaths of journalists, I'm not sure that any American military people have died, but maybe I missed something.

My father served in-country in Vietnam, but never came close to having to shoot anybody.

I have a good friend who served two (possibly three; I can never keep it straight) tours in Vietnam, never shot anyone, but was nevertheless shot at, shelled, and was witness to many friends dying or being sent out on patrol and coming back wounded or dead.

I say that gives him a certain perspective that Vietnam-era vets who were never there just don't have.

He was a crypto guy. I never asked him if he carried a sidearm.

It's getting to be quite fashionable for Republicans to be against our military policies, now that we have a Democratic Commander-in-Chief.

I could be wrong, but he didn't seem to be coming at it from that angle, thus the "unequivocal." That's just one guy, of course. But he's someone I know well personally, so my surprise and your surpise wouldn't correlate, anyway.

I guess I was just saying that, IMHO, the U.S. populace is not familiar with the ravages of war, and my note on my father's Vietnam experience was in support, though the very definition of anecdata (AFAIK, he was never shelled, shot at, or had to see friends die).

It just seems to me that the last real war on U.S. soil was fought in the 1860s, which combined with our military might, leads to horrible consequences that we a mostly insulated from.

It's probably noteworthy that the people who were most gung-ho for the wars in Afghanistan and (especially) Iraq were folks who were never even in the military, let alone in combat. Not to say that service is necessary to have a valid opinion. Just a note that enthusiasm for war seems much more common in people who have never been close to the reality.

As a Vietnam "era" vet, but never in-country, I would not presume to say what the experience of war was actually like. But just being in the Army in that era, knowing that you might wind up in "the 'Nam" (I actually had orders for VN once, which I managed to persuade them to retract), knowing that others around you either were likely to go or had gone, tended to focus one's mind on the brute facts of war (and the possibilities of death or grave injury) in a way on that many civilians simply didn't need or want to.

Not that I blame them. Everyone, for the sake of his/her sanity, tends to ignore unpleasant realities like our own mortality and the suffering of those far away. I certainly do; only the early (?) ravages of old age keep reminding me of the frailty of the - of my - flesh.

But I would guess that a lot of us vets, even those never in combat, take war a lot more seriously than the keyboard commandos.

This sounds cynical but I think the argument could be made that the world would be a better place had the US lived through at least a few weeks of bombing in WW2*. At that time this may have had a lasting effect on/against the 'we can hit you but you cannot hit us' mentality. No chance of that after WW2 when the US acquired the ability to incinerate the world. Not to forget that then it would have been unthinkable that opinion leaders would actually celebrate big US cities being hit as divine punishment for liberalism.

*Pearl Harbor was a single event and too far away.

"As a Vietnam "era" vet, but never in-country, I would not presume to say what the experience of war was actually like."

me too, and then what dr ngo said.

HSH and bobbyp, the left isn't quite as explicit about regime change. Their position tends to be articulates as "We must do something," with the "something" left unspecified. But short of magically changing the personality of a regime, regime change is the only option that I can generally see to accomplish what they want.

Who are "they," and where do "they" say this?

The German Green Party was rather divided (to put it mildly) about military intervention on the Balkans but since they happened to be in a pro-intervention coalition government the foreign minister (a Green former 'terrorist') used his popularity to get enough of the party behind him on that.
On Afghanistan even less persuasion was needed* at least until it became clear what Bush was up to about Iraq. That led to a full turnaround and 'We are not convinced' won the election by the tiniest margin for the (then rather unpopular for cuts in the safety net) Social Democrats against the Christian Democrats who seemed willing to follow Dubya into the desert.

*slogan: Our freedom is (to be) defended at the Hindu Kush

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