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October 08, 2012

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This article seems to seriously misrepresent the debate at hand. I have no doubt that there are pacifists out there who do not believe that countries should have armed forces at all, but if there were any participants in these recent debates who took this perspective, they were surely very much in the minority.

The issue seems, rather, to be about whether a) the US military is being used for politically and socially legitimate purposes by the US government, and b) whether the functionality of the US military justifies its enormous expense.

In my opinion the answer is, broadly, no and no. Which does not mean that the US does not need a military for legitimate purposes, such as national defense and civil support in national emergencies.

Well, I specifically didn't want to bring specific people in, because this was a more general post and the parameters of the argument are going to vary for each specific case. But in the rewritten CT post, one commenter towards the end (in the high 200's), has this statement.

"A mature democracy should despise every branch of their armed forces with abandon."

While that is not as clear cut as my formulation, (which, as I note, is one pole of the argument space, so therefore the most extreme), this sort of reasoning seemed to be pretty strong component, I thought.

As far as for national defense, there was also a reductio ad absurdum, saying that the US doesn't have to fear a sea invasion, so therefore, the national defense argument itself was not legitimate.

In fact, it seems like the thing you would need would end up looking a lot like the military.

Actually, we Finns tried this. Between 1956 and early 1990s, the peacekeeping troops we sent to the United Nations operations were not really part of the military. They were serving under Foreign Ministry. The rank-and-file, and most NCOs and officers were volunteers coming from the reserves. (This is still the case.) Even the career officers were on unpaid leave from the Defence Forces, and the deployment usually affected their careers negatively.

It did not really work out very well. Because the peacekeeping was a military operation, it worked like a military organisation, and only caused some doubling of administrative structures. During 1990s, the peacekeeping troops were integrated to the Defence Forces, as the need to pretend that they were not really military disappeared.

You could equally say that what you needed for disasters was something that looked a lot like a fire service. Or that looked a lot like any big old-fashioned professional corps that took pride in its work, like some railway company men. (One of my husband's elderly relatives was famed for being the one who got out to railway junctions in the driving snow when there'd been a problem, to prove it wasn't *his* signals at fault).

What you need is a group of people who have been highly trained in the skills and ethos of the organisation, are used to working together, and who are then allowed to make rapid, independent decisions. Also, where you have enough slack so that it doesn't matter if they're hanging around not doing much in between assignments. The military tend to be regarded as the ideal service nowadays only because most other service organisations have been so drained by cuts, deprofessionalisation, etc that they're the only one left with these old ideals.

The only thing that soldiers etc are trained to do that you couldn't do as well with properly trained civilian emergency aid crews is to kill people. You can use hammers as paperweights and they'll work pretty effectively, but don't forget that's not what their main purpose is. You shouldn't develop a large armed force simply so that it can be used for humanitarian purposes, because it's likely to end up being used by politicians enthusiastic to kill other people.

That' a good poit magistra and if there were discussions about how much we should trihm defense forces, I suspect that these debates would not blow up the way the last two have.

As regards the US Civil War, I am beginning to suspect that the way to have ended slavery in the continental US without massive loss of life incurred during the Civil War would have been to never have had the American Revolutionary War. We would have remained a colony of England, and at some point British law would likely have made slavery illegal in 1834 or so.

That's a stretch, I know. You never know what may have happened had significant events happened differently prior to that.

Another possibility is that the colonies choose to revolt separately, fail to compromise over representation, the whole mess falls apart, and Britain steps in to rule the whole operation more closely. I can actually see a potentially quicker end to slavery in that scenario.

On the topic of the military, just wanted to note that yesterday marked the 11th anniversary of our military engagement in Afghanistan.

On the topic of slavery and the civil war, in the middle 19th C slaves were, after land, the largest capital asset held in this country. There is no freaking way the plantation economy states would have surrendered them voluntarily.

Had they been English colonies at the time that England outlawed slavery, my guess is that they would have revolted and the civil war would have been the American south vs the UK.

One of your points argues that the military is necessary "in the case of natural disasters, including Katrina, Haiti or the Tohoku Tsunami." I knew a lot of people who dropped everything to go to New Orleans and work essentially unpaid after Katrina. I'm not aware that we've ever tried massive, military-level funding for efforts like that. Why is "beef up the Red Cross" not an option? Or is the Red Cross enough like a military organization that you put it in the same category?

Shit, a very lengthy post of mine just got eaten by hitting the wrong key.
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Okay, let's try again in abridged form

Fire services: Over here it was for a long time organized like the military and shared a lot of equipment (just painted red). Their very helmets are derived from the Wehrmacht Stahlhelm.

One argument, potentially problematic, for using the military as troubleshooters is that it is more efficient to have a single organisation of that type esp. because most of the time a specialized service has little to do (and most states hope that their military remains the equivalent of a fire insurance plus fire extinguisher: it's better never to have to use them).
The Bundeswehr relishes the chances to 'play fire service' (Feuerwehr spielen = to be the rapid response to a critical situation). It's perfect PR but without the negative side effects of a shooting war. Soldiers stacking sandbags to stem literal tides even beat the Navy hunting pirates and protecting shipping off Africa.
But a potential problem is that the military could begin to occupy and monopolise civilian services that could do their job as well without military trappings and thus over time do a creeping, silent (because bloodless) takeover. Societies where the military has done that are not a pretty sight usually from a democratical POV. That's one reason many states explicitly ban or severely restrict the use of the armed forces in-country in peace-time.
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US Civil War: slavery played a major part in causing it but it was also a symptom of a deeper split in society that manifested itself geographically. Unfortunately slavery was such a pillar of support for the Southern side of that split that it cannot be separated even for the sake of argument. But I do not think that it was slavery that made the war so bloody. It was built-up mutual hatred, incompetence and technological progress (WW1 showed a similar pattern).

Yarrow, that's another good point, but I don't think we can depend on volunteer efforts like that. The thing is that a military (or a similar hierarchical organization, like a very big fire service) has people with a skill set that are able to accomplish things and follow orders. Also, in those cases, the military mobilization was only part of the relief. I would be very cool with some sort of multinational taskforce that could zoom around like star trek, but how we get to that state of affairs seems to be a non-starter. Magistra's point that if all you have is a hammer, you make do, is very true, but precisely the sort of logistical challenges that a military has to deal with are the ones that you would want in a disaster situation.

Hartmut's point about the military creep is also a fair one and a reason we have specific laws on how the national guard can be employed in disaster situations.

Still, my post was more to identify the disjunction as a possible factor (but not the only one) as to why these two blog fights got so heated.

a pro military pole that takes the existence of military organizations as an unescapable feature of any society that comes from human history

just based on that, without reading the blog wars in question, i guess i'd be "pro military". but that doesn't mean i think we spend the right amount on our military, or that we use it wisely.

IMO, we'd be far better off spending 1/10th of what we currently spend on "defense", and dropping 90% of our foreign bases. i'd also like to see the military used far less than it currently is. and i'd like to find a way to make it far harder for Presidents to use our military.

i'm not sure anyone would call that 'pro military' in any other context.

I think Slarti's alternative history (no American revolution) is probably one way to avoid a civil war to end slavery. Though there would have been a bigger pro-slavery group in Parliament, I'm guessing.

I don't agree with Coates about the need to flesh out the alternative in 1861--it's perfectly fine I think for someone to point to a bloody war and ask whether a determined peaceful alternative was possible. But that's about as far as one can go with the subject,unless you have access to an alternative history viewing device or unless you enjoy endless debates about unresolvable issues (not that there is anything wrong with that). The real point Zinn was trying to make is about the present--don't use past "just wars" to justify current claims that we need to intervene some place to end some evil.

On the proper lefty attitude towards the military, it doesn't interest me much. Maybe because I think the answer is obvious--cut back on spending, but we still need some sort of military. But there's something absurd about a country which thinks which thinks it can improve other cultures with a judicious application of high explosives and can't even investigate its own torture scandal.

There is no freaking way the plantation economy states would have surrendered them voluntarily.

Had they been English colonies at the time that England outlawed slavery, my guess is that they would have revolted and the civil war would have been the American south vs the UK.

Very good point, russell.

Here's what I think: a lot of time passes between the 1770s and 1811, when slave trading is made a felony in the British colonies. The British don't have to invest a lot of time and materials fighting the Revolutionary War, so they are more prepared when the Southern colonies start resisting antislavery laws. The 1811 law barely makes a scratch in slave importation, but angers colonists. Britain, having more military assets to ship overseas and also having some forewarning of what is to come, effectively makes this a war between untrained and unorganized southern colonists and a British Naval blockade of southern ports, aided by naval forces of the northern colonies.

Maybe not so bloody. Maybe bloodier, but over more quickly. That's alt-history for you.

Still, my post was more to identify the disjunction as a possible factor (but not the only one) as to why these two blog fights got so heated.

I think there are simpler explanations for that.

I think Farley saw Quiggen as violating the norms of the academy, specifically, the presumption of scholarship in other fields. One of the things that makes the academy work as an institution is that everyone is willing to grant people with PhDs a certain level of respect, even if they're in other fields that you know nothing about. Quiggen came out saying that just about everyone doing military history or security studies or a good chunk of IR was obviously stupid, because he, an agricultural economist, could take one look at naval history and trivially deduce conclusions that no one in the field was making. And he didn't need to do extensive scholarship to make those conclusions or even bother to learn the basic facts about how navies are used for power projection or what missions navies are actually tasked with.

Farley wasn't irritated that Quiggen disagreed with him; he was pissed off that Quiggen had decided this his entire field of inquiry was not legitimate. That's a betrayel. I mean, you expect conservatives to occasionally pick some random bit of academia, rip it from its context and start screaming about how it is stupid thus proving that all of academia is stupid. But you don't expect the folks at CT to be leading the charge.

I think Quiggen was generally surprised at the reaction he got and that his heated responses were mostly doubling down after being caught with his pants down. Quiggen got so desperate that he resorted to hiding behind the skirts of an army PR flack who had written a short piece arguing that we should replace the surface fleet with an all submarine fleet. Why? Because, google earth shows anyone a real time view of the seas. That statement proves that the army PR flack is an idiot and the fact that Quiggen thought that argument helpful to him doesn't speak well to his position.

I missed Russell's comment, and don't want to get into the alternative history war-fighting quagmire, but the British stance on the Civil War was important to both sides. The North nearly blundered into war with Britain because of the Trent affair and that would have been a disaster for the North. If the British had intervened against the South the blockade would have been total.

It's also my impression that earlier in the history of the South there was more open admission that slavery was an evil--you had people like Jefferson who was the typical callous slaveowner in his actual practice, who nonetheless admitted it was an evil system. Several decades later, if I remember this correctly, Southern intellectuals begin defending slavery as a positive good and there is no longer this Jeffersonian lament that it's bad, but we don't know how to end it (but we might as well profit from it while we can). If we rewrite the history starting in 1780, who knows how different things might have been? Well, I will, as soon as I get my alternative history viewer working again.

Turb, there is that, but I do think that the topic is related to the Conor Friesdorf topic and the heat that both of those generated. I don't want to parse Quiggen's and Farley's response because that seems personal to them (though, as you note, indicative of academic firefights), whereas the topic of the need of a military seems to be one that often divides the left. In fact, Farley and Quiggen didn't even participate in drone line in the sand threads, I think, of which there were three at CT and maybe 2 at LGM, so, despite the personal reasons that their thread was so problematic, I thought it was the larger frame that was interesting. This is not to say that you or others can't explore it, but that's not really of interest to me.

I should also say, to response Donald's comment, I'm only peripherally interested in 'the proper lefty attitude' as if it were dictated from somewhere on high. What I am interested in is a left that doesn't rip itself apart when certain questions come up.

As far as alternative histories, one where George the IV doesn't have Porphyria might be interesting. Several years back, someone suggested that if Great Britain is able to keep the US, there is no WWI because it would have been too daunting to engage Great Britain with a thriving colonial United States attached to it.

a British Naval blockade of southern ports, aided by naval forces of the northern colonies.
There are no such forces. Instead, there are a number of privately-financed American privateers operating with a royal warrant and a relatively large number of RN ships built in American dockyards, using American timber.

What would be interesting here is the rest of it:

Now, it is 1811. There are 13 British colonies, a British Quebec, Saint Lawrence Island and a British Upper Canada. However, the valley of Missisippi is French and Florida is Spanish. On the far side of the Appalachia, there is the Iroquis Federation, a British treaty partner. The Iroquis are getting more literate by the year, and the British prevent the colonists from expanding to their area. The Iroquis are needed as allies for a land war against the French.

In this setup, the Iroquis have a slight chance of surviving.

There are no such forces. Instead, there are a number of privately-financed American privateers operating with a royal warrant and a relatively large number of RN ships built in American dockyards, using American timber.

s/naval/maritime

Privateers, though, I had not thought of. But should have.

Obviously I should be thinking through what's going on in our sister universes more carefully.

Why does "Quiggen" look right to frequent or occasional readers of CT, but totally wrong to me?

Maybe because I have that spelling gene? And am annoying about it? Signs point to yes.

Now that I've brought up spelling, though: Iroquois.

Told you.

Insert smiley emoticons as needed.

"What I am interested in is a left that doesn't rip itself apart when certain questions come up."

Probably won't happen. "The left" is too diverse an entity to play nicely with itself.

Going back to pre-history, and imagining an alternative set of facts prior to the Civil War, causes us to completely miss Coates's point which was that the Civil War was worth fighting in that it was the crucible upon which slavery was conquered, and was the true war of independence of African-Americans in this country (the USA, not the British colonies of America). When he question's Zinn's theory that slavery would have eventually ended, he calls for an explanation that the people who made the decision to fight the war should have had a better plan, and asks what that would have been. And even if such a plan existed, a question might have arisen whether it might have taken a long time, and what about the continuing enslavement and degradation of people in the meantime.

I thought that his point was incredibly moving. The decision to fight any war is a belief or decision that certain principals are more important than life itself. Obviously, it complicates matters when the person deciding is not the person dying, but that problem has always been with us.

The problem for many liberals (such as myself) is deciding when the use of military force is just. The word "justice" in a "just war" sense is different than "justice" in a criminal law sense. Achieving "justice" in the criminal law requires holding certain people accountable for past acts of bad conduct, whereas war always suggests "overkill" - people who are not proven perpetrators suffer even though rules of engagement and laws of war try to minimize harm to innocents. But the "justice" of a just war exists in the values that are at stake in the conflict, and the possibility of achieving those values measured against the destruction that a war will cause.

I'll offer, with respect, my opinion and no more than my opinion that "values" are a tricky thing to go to war over.

To me, what justifies war is an existential threat. If you don't fight, you will die.

I can even see a justification for fighting in the case of existential threats to *other* folks, in some circumstances. The textbook example in recent years being something like Rwanda.

Short of that, it's a pretty slippery slope. And what's at the bottom of the slope is "we had to destroy the village in order to save it".

Whose values? Who decides which values deserve to be furthered by warfare?

I think we, in the US, suffer from an excessively abstract understanding of what the reality of war is. We treat it like a foreign policy option.

Diplomacy. If that doesn't work, sanctions. If that doesn't work, we will kill you and your children and reduce your homes to smoking piles of rubble.

I'm not sure those thing belong on the same continuum.

Just my own, personal observation, after a lifetime of watching the same movie over and over again.

To me, what justifies war is an existential threat. If you don't fight, you will die.

"Existential" meaning life or death? Life or death to whom? The people on 9/11 who died faced an existential threat, and there are others in the country who face an existential threat if terrorists are allowed to attack. Is the institution of slavery, or living life as chattel, an existential threat to a meaningful existence?

I think the world is more complicated than whether a foreign army is taking over the government or not. Existentialism is a big concept.

I don't disagree that many of the wars we've fought have been unwise. But each instance has to be argued on its own merits.

Whose values? Who decides which values deserve to be furthered by warfare?

I think we, in the US, suffer from an excessively abstract understanding of what the reality of war is. We treat it like a foreign policy option.

Diplomacy. If that doesn't work, sanctions. If that doesn't work, we will kill you and your children and reduce your homes to smoking piles of rubble.

Very well put, thanks.

And for the record: as long as the US behaves like a hegemon claiming the right to do most anything, anywhere, anytime, forever, I will be fervently "anti-military" - to put it bluntly: the whole military-industrial-security complex needs to be dismantled.

The Civil War became a war against slavery, but it didn't start out that way. It started out as a secession by a bunch of fanatics on the Southern side, intended to preserve slavery, though Lincoln had no plans to end it, and a decision to prevent the dissolution of the Union on the Northern side. The Civil War ended up freeing the slaves, though Jim Crow was established some years later and something approaching equality not established until our lifetime. That's something else to think about--the civilized West didn't really become civilized until pretty recently (and in the future people will look back at some of our current practices and say we're not there yet.) But we had these internal struggles, some of them quite violent. We didn't have the British Empire invading us after the mid 1830's after they had abolished slavery to end it in our country. Since we're doing the alternative history thing I wonder how Americans would have reacted to an external invasion to end some of our barbarous practices. Arguably, some United Federation of Planets or perhaps Iaian Banks' "Culture" civilization would try to intervene now--well, the UFP has that Prime Directive that gets in the way, but the Culture (you should read that series if you're an SF fan) might give it a shot.

(While I'm on Banks and his novels "Look to Windward" was a spookily prescient novel that you would think was an almost too obvious SF allegory about 9/11, except it came out before 9/11.). )

"Obviously, it complicates matters when the person deciding is not the person dying, but that problem has always been with us."

This unsolved problem is precisely why Americans are so prone to bomb, arm, sanction, and otherwise intervene in lethal ways--the people doing the deciding generally don't die and for that matter, most Americans are pretty oblivious to what we do and who we support unless it effects Americans, and maybe not even then.

"But the "justice" of a just war exists in the values that are at stake in the conflict, and the possibility of achieving those values measured against the destruction that a war will cause."

Sounds nice, but the only costs that one hears about much are costs to us--this is why sanctions are seen as the nonviolent alternative (Glenn has a rant up about that today, connecting with the sanctions on Iran, the past ones on Iraq, and what Gaza has undergone). No Americans die. All innocent suffering is blamed on the enemy. End of story.

There was a story I saw online just a few days ago about a study estimating the number of Iranian civilians who might die if we hit some of their nuclear plants. The estimated number of dead and wounded was placed around 70,000. There have been discussions for years about hitting Iran with "surgical strikes" and nearly all the talk revolves around the dangers to us.

The anti-military pole points out the harms that military force has done (lots of examples to choose from) and concludes that we would be better off without it or at least in a highly attenuated form.

This position always irritates me. (Fortunately, it is realtively rare. CF that archetypal liberal city, San Francisco, which just celebrated Fleet Week. Pretty pro-military on the serious left.)

It assumes that somehow everybody else (not just every human society, but any non-human society we might encounter) will have necessarily reached the same conclusion. Because if someone else has a military, and an inclination to use it, there really isn't any non-military way to stop them.

Also, while military force certainly has been misused, having a military doesn't necessarily mean you have to misuse it. Take Switzerland. Anybody have a case, in the past several centuries, when the Swiss Army has been misused? And yet there is a Swiss Army. And every man in Switzerland serves, and is a member of the reserve for most of his working life. Result: nobody attacks the Swiss -- it's just too tough a nut to crack.

having a military doesn't necessarily mean you have to misuse it. Take Switzerland.

Does the Swiss military have any ability to project power whatsoever? It seems to me that we should be careful to distinguish between "having a military that can realistically fight outside your country" and "having a military that can't do much of anything outside your country".

Point taken about the history of the Civil War. However, what it ended up being is what it now means to a whole lot of people.

"Sounds nice, but the only costs that one hears about much are costs to us"

Well, if you're responding to what I wrote, you can be assured that I don't believe that "costs to us" are the only costs that should be considered.

Also, if you're responding to me, I don't happen to support a strike against Iran's nuclear facilities. Sanctions are different: Iran is a large and powerful country, and can change its policies to avoid sanctions. The choice to live with sanctions is a choice imposed by the government of Iran. (Sanctions against Iran are very different from the Gaza situation. Tell me exactly what Gaza needs to do for Israel to lift its blockade? In contrast, Iran just needs to quit developing their nuclear capability in accordance with UN resolutions.)

"Existential" meaning life or death?

Yes.

Not "existential" in the "existence precedes essence" sense, but in the "you will cease to exist" sense.

The people on 9/11 who died faced an existential threat

And we responded with military force.

Is the institution of slavery, or living life as chattel, an existential threat to a meaningful existence?

Absent the other significant conflicts between the mid-19th C American north and south, I doubt the Civil War would ever have been fought solely to eliminate the institution of slavery.

Does the Swiss military have any ability to project power whatsoever?

My understanding is that the Swiss army is pretty much a purely defensive body, which makes their current organization and capabilities a good fit for their goals.

Take Switzerland? Would that we could. As a nation, we pay an incredible economic and political price to be the Hegemon. cf James Carroll's The House of War for starters.

Defense spending is a huge Keynesian government and/or tax funded fiscal pump for the private sector, and consevatives hate Keynes(The much disparaged "entitlements" are simply recycling resources that would have to be spent anyway...retirement and medical costs).

I would posit that the political damage is much greater than the damage imposed by poor resource allocation. It is pervasive and insideous.

sapient: "Existential" meaning life or death? Life or death to whom? The people on 9/11 who died faced an existential threat, and there are others in the country who face an existential threat if terrorists are allowed to attack.

That jackass across the street looks like an existential threat to me, what should I do?

And we responded with military force.

So you believe that our response was justified. Me too, but not so much as retaliation (since punitive measures are for criminal law), but to prevent a continued existential threat. And our continued military response, drone attacks against people who still pose an existential threat, is also justified.

Absent the other significant conflicts between the mid-19th C American north and south, I doubt the Civil War would ever have been fought solely to eliminate the institution of slavery.

If slavery hadn't been an issue, it's very unlikely that the war would have happened. Many of the people who fought did so for other reasons. But the fact is that the war resulted in the elimination of slavery as an institution. And those who fought against slavery prevailed. There was no "existential threat" except to the United States as union, or to a "way of life" based on the institution of slavery, or (most profoundly) to the possibility of freedom for African-American slaves. All of those things are existential enough for me.

"Sanctions are different: Iran is a large and powerful country, and can change its policies to avoid sanctions. The choice to live with sanctions is a choice imposed by the government of Iran."

The sanctions are hurting ordinary Iranians. We are hurting the Iranian economy, ordinary Iranians, in hopes that this will pressure the government to do what we want. We did this to Iraq too. Now maybe you think the danger of an Iranian nuclear program is great enough to justify this, but the logic is the same as an air strike. And sometimes sanctions can be lethal on a pretty large scale. I don't know if the Iranian ones have reached that point yet.

I harp on this a lot and I need to do some things in real life now, but what really bugs me about this are the double standards. If you use coercion or violence for anything other than self-defense or in the very most extreme circumstances (like maybe Rwanda) it's always going to boil down to the US playing God. Can you think of anything the US has done that would deserve sanctions that would hurt our economy until our government gave in? And we're a democracy--theoretically our government is answerable to us. Would it be right to do this sort of thing to Westerners? Well, it's besides the point--this kind of thing isn't done to the powerful or our allies. If Iran were powerful it wouldn't be done to Iran. If they already had the Bomb nobody would be talking about air strikes (or if they did, they'd probably be like Sam Harris, talking about nuclear strikes).

Now we're imposing sanctions on Iran because everyone has to prove to everyone else how tough they are. Maybe it'll work, maybe it won't. But it's all about Obama demonstrating he's tough, the Republicans claiming he's not tough enough, Romney taking different positions from day to day, the Israelis trying to persuade us to save them from the existential threat that would also wipe out the Palestinians, who don't seem to care and aren't asked if they care, though wouldn't that be a propaganda coup if the Israelis and Palestinians lined up on the same side? Of course the Iranians also have to demonstrate that they're tough, which they do by allowing the sanctions to hurt their people.

Turb, the Swiss Army doesn't have much ability to project power these days. But the time was when they could and did. (The Swiss Guard at the Vatican is the only remnant of that time that I am aware of still being in place.)

Also, the Swiss economy is not critically dependent on keeping the shipping lanes open. (And, to the extent that they are, they can depend on the US to do it for them.)

You can't have trade without someone policing the trade routes. Which means a military force of some kind. (See what is happening in the seas off Somalia as an example of what happens when there isn't adequate military/police power to keep the pirates in check.)

And our continued military response, drone attacks against people who still pose an existential threat, is also justified.

Is there any point in going back and forth about this one again?

You find the drone attacks just because the people we intend to kill wish to do Americans harm.

I understand your point, but nonetheless find drone attacks, as a strategy, to be extremely problematic.

We disagree. I'll doubt either of us will change the other's mind.

If slavery hadn't been an issue, it's very unlikely that the war would have happened.

Also true. But there were not a lot of folks taking up arms to, specifically, eliminate the institution of slavery prior to the bombardment of Fort Sumter and the secession of the Confederate states.

The major issue for the north, especially initially, was the union.

The major issue for the south was their anger at any attempt to place limits on the institution of slavery.

Had the south been content to continue to practice slavery only in the places it had historically been common - and in particular, had they had not expressed that anger by seceding and initiating the war - my sense is that nobody would have been that motivated to fight about it. Certainly not a fight of the scale of the Civil War.

Obviously, just my impression. The actual history is what it is.

And our continued military response, drone attacks against people who still pose an existential threat, is also justified.

You do realize, don't you, that from the point of view of, say, Pakistani civilians, WE represent an existential threat to THEM, and they are therefore justified in doing whatever is necessary to defend themselves?

Donald Johnson | October 08, 2012 at 04:27 PM

Why doesn't Obsidian Wings have a "like" button?

The example of Switzerland is a really interesting one, with the army based on conscription so it is 'democratic'. Of course, being landlocked, no Navy. And a glance at Wikipedia says that:

A report in the Swiss news magazine FACTS reveals that the Swiss Air Force provides ready-to-takeoff aircraft only during office hours on working days. The air force staff declared that, due to financial limits, they are not operational all the time.

While I like the notion of a 9-5 army, it's a bit like those Looney Tune cartoons with Sam the Sheepdog and Ralph Wolf punching in every day.

Still, the Swiss voters have refused to allow the military to participate in UN peacekeeping missions, though they did deploy in the Balkans, so to get something like what Switzerland has, you need to have a pretty strong isolationist thread and that kind of attitude brings its own problems down the road, like it does here">http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/japan-the-grey-planets-ticking-timebomb-8191524.html">here

Thanks jrudkis. Personally, I'd rather not have a like button. This way I can imagine masses of people out there wildly cheering my every post-so long as I'm not actually arguing against a bunch of people, which might make that a little hard to believe. If you bring in some connection with reality there goes my little fantasy world.

On the sanctions, Richard Silverstein at his blog Tikun Olam had this connection to an article in Business Insider, which claims that the sanctions are mainly hurting Iran's middle class, though not the poor so much. I don't claim to know if the economics of the article is correct. But anyway, the assertion is that by hurting the middle class we're actually postponing the chance of a liberal Persian spring overthrowing the theocracy. Don't know if that's right either, but here's the link--

business insider

Had the south been content to continue to practice slavery only in the places it had historically been common - and in particular, had they had not expressed that anger by seceding and initiating the wa - my sense is that nobody would have been that motivated to fight about it. Certainly not a fight of the scale of the Civil War.

Perhaps that's true, but it didn't happen that way, did it? And it wasn't just because of the South's anger management. It was because the states knew that they had to interact or they'd have different problems - the South couldn't "practice slavery" locally, because there were runaway slaves and a freedom movement, and the South had to trade with the North because it needed stuff. And the North did too. Are you suggesting that the South should have been left to "practice slavery" locally? We can't redo history, but we can surely imagine where we would have wanted to stand. If we wanted to re-create Southern slaveowners as benevolent patriarchs who sincerely would have wanted to free their slaves, sure maybe things would have all happened in a much more humane way. But that wasn't reality. Just like the Nazis weren't going to suddenly hug and embrace the Jews.

We, as a country, have to interact with other countries. Isolationism isn't an option. We aren't self-sustaining. The South wasn't. We aren't. Other people's values affect us, and we affect them. The South wasn't just left to be, and neither are we, and neither is Afghanistan. We need to get along. Terrorism undermines that.

You do realize, don't you, that from the point of view of, say, Pakistani civilians, WE represent an existential threat to THEM, and they are therefore justified in doing whatever is necessary to defend themselves?

Sure. And that's the reason we need to be careful. Wars are necessarily problematic for that very reason. But that doesn't mean we should just sit around and let terrorists be. Terrorism is poisonous to our democracy here and elsewhere. It's not tolerable. The only way to get rid of it is to fight it. Do you think that it will just die by itself? That's not a pattern that I notice. Can you point to places where we've just left violent bullies and terrorists alone, and suddenly everything turned peachy?

If you use coercion or violence for anything other than self-defense or in the very most extreme circumstances (like maybe Rwanda) it's always going to boil down to the US playing God.

That is, to me, a ridiculous argument - sorry. We have an interest in nonproliferation - an interest that's shared by the whole world. We don't have an obligation to trade with other countries. If there's a country which is acting against the interest of the international community, the international community has a right to shun that nation. Obviously "coercion" is the point.

Let's go back to the civil war analogy. If, as russell suggests, certain states in the South were allowed to "practice slavery" locally, wouldn't other states be allowed to refuse to trade with the slaveowners' states? This is where our respect for other countries' self-determination has some meaning. We don't have to help countries that do things that we consider to be destructive.

This is not to say that a cost/benefit analysis - the damage versus effectiveness argument - shouldn't be made. Of course it should. In this case, aside from the direct effect of the sanctions, you are correct that sanctions buy time for the issues to be resolved before an Israeli strike against Iran. To my mind, sanctions are worthwhile for that reason alone.

My idea behind the post was not to replay the conflict, but to maybe try and find a way out. This is not to stop anyone from discussing individual situations, like Iran or Syria, which Donald mentioned in another thread, but I'm not sure refighting the Civil War is the way to go (though that is my fault for trying to wrap up with Coates)

I'm not sure refighting the Civil War is the way to go (though that is my fault for trying to wrap up with Coates)

I think that the Coates civil war series is well worth studying, and I've often thought of it when thinking about current arguments about whether we should be using military force for this or that. I'm grateful that you mentioned it, and think it's very relevant if it's read as Coates intended it - as an argument for the (sometimes) necessity of certain wars (not all war - it's not at all a glorification of war in general). russell is certainly correct that people didn't fight the civil war as a slavery crusade. But in an interdependent country or world, is it possible to coexist peacefully where there's a cultural conflict that's so huge? And isn't taking a stand against an obvious evil (slavery, genocide, terrorism) the right course? Even to the point of eradicating the opposition?

Anyway, sorry, don't mean to antagonize people (such as russell) or reargue often debated stuff. But Coates wasn't asking us to revisit the Civil War - he was questioning Zinn's having done so. And, yes, a lot of lives were lost in the Civil War - an unbelievable number. But his view is that the lives weren't lost in vain. And wouldn't it be wonderful if, in fact, they weren't.

"That is, to me, a ridiculous argument - sorry. We have an interest in nonproliferation - an interest that's shared by the whole world. We don't have an obligation to trade with other countries. If there's a country which is acting against the interest of the international community, the international community has a right to shun that nation. Obviously "coercion" is the point."

Which countries get coerced with sanctions and which ones don't? It's the ones that we pick.

It isn't just nonproliferation here--it's nonproliferation on our terms, sanctions on the country that we pick, issues settled the way we want settled, and issues ignored that we want ignored, often for various domestic political reasons. I brought the Palestinians upthread for multiple reasons. One of them is this--doesn't it strike you as slightly ridiculous that we hear so much about the existential threat to Israel and nobody tries to win the Palestinians over on this issue and cut the propaganda ground out from under Iran's feet in that way? Is Iran supposed to be building bombs that only kill Zionists?

I don't want Iran to have the Bomb either, but the US is a hypocritical bully with your blessing and if we want to be seen as something other than a bully then at some point we might have to consider the possibility that our own violence and arrogance and coercive tactics and hypocrisy are part of the problem. Not the whole problem, but obviously part of it.

" But in an interdependent country or world, is it possible to coexist peacefully where there's a cultural conflict that's so huge? And isn't taking a stand against an obvious evil (slavery, genocide, terrorism) the right course? Even to the point of eradicating the opposition?"

So I guess you'd favor a UN strike force, or preferably a group of aliens (I nominate the ones in the "Culture" novels) who can go around eradicating evil wherever it is found, whether it is Westerners who terrorize civilians or start wars on false pretenses or support terrorists and war criminals, or whether it is our enemies.

"That's not a pattern that I notice. Can you point to places where we've just left violent bullies and terrorists alone, and suddenly everything turned peachy?"

I'm confused about this pronoun "we've". Are you saying that we're not violent bullies ourselves?

This is why our discussions don't go anywhere. You really don't see American actions, where we start wars on false pretenses, terrorize civilians, inflict sanctions when we want and prevent international action when we don't want it, support dictators when convenient and terrorists when convenient and so forth--none of that really matters, though if you can blame it on a Republican you're happy enough to do so. But even then it doesn't really seem to matter. Should the US be sanctioned for its unwillingness to investigate and possibly prosecute Bush Administration officials? Something like the Iraq War will surely happen again because American officials who are responsible for massive suffering pay no price. So if you believe what you say about sanctions, shouldn't the rest of the world be working to bring us to our knees?

"sanctions buy time for the issues to be resolved before an Israeli strike against Iran."

Now that part is true. It doesn't make me like sanctions, but war would probably be worse.

Donald, Iran is a big country. It has power. It has a choice.

No, even though you see the United States as evil, as "responsible for massive suffering" - the "rest of the world" doesn't. You read Glenn, and you cherry-pick other sources which support some preconceived notion (based on Glenn), that the United States is the basis of evil in this world. Most people in the world see us as a mixed blessing (as I do). And most of the world doesn't bear the expense and pain of military might, because we do it for them. (Not trying to be obnoxious here, but that's the whole point of a lot of our post-WWII treaties. We are rich, powerful and we do a lot of the dirty work that other countries would be doing if there was a vacuum where we are.)

So all of the thing you list - wars on false pretenses, etc. - let's talk about the here and now - what I'm supporting - and the real political choices behind what Obama does - not what Bush did (which I protested in the streets to oppose) - each particular situation posed a particular set of questions. It was posed to a great power which took on (won) that power in a huge war involving many, many countries.

The world isn't benevolent. Nature isn't benevolent. We try to be benevolent by choosing a course of action that does more good than harm. It's a calculus, and we make it (and we try to elect a non-moron president who will make it with intelligence and compassion). We could withdraw from the world (at our peril). Someone else would fill the gap. Would China do it better? Will India? Who will do it better? It's not about withdrawal from the world because that isn't an option. You're always about criticism, Donald. What is the alternative? Do tell. Let us know what the outcome will be if we just let the terrorists be terrorists. Or let Iran be Iran.

And our continued military response, drone attacks against people who still pose an existential threat, is also justified.

and thus doth the term 'existential' lose all existential meaning, a shrunken dry husk of the term (Sartre is rolling in his grounded grave) employed to serve cheap political ends masquerading as high idealism because if you really believed this drones would be raining down on everybody from everywhere and you would be supremely satisfied with the morally bastardized 'existential' outcome. as existential threat becomes another excuse to kill the insignificant.

Without getting all Blackhawk-y here, I tend to think that once you deal with the I/P problem in a way that makes progress, the other problems in the region would be a lot more tractable. Democratic presidents have tended to realize that (Carter invested most of his presidency in dealing with the situation, Clinton noted that he had to choose between North Korea and I/P) This may be dismissed as a Obot excuse, but I think that Arab Spring has really complicated things and not in a good way. In the case of Iran, sanctions are, as both of you note, a way of trying to walk the tightrope between just blowing it off and actually doing something. I realize this seems pretty callous when one is talking about the Iranian middle class, but it's like one of those episodes of House where the patient has three life-threatening conditions, and you've got to deal with the one that will hopefully allow you to deal with the other two. I'm not sure that focussing on the hypocrisy of sanctions is where the crux of the problem is at.

"You're always about criticism, Donald. What is the alternative? Do tell. "

I already gave an alternative on the drone issue. Use them only in cases where one is damn sure of who one is killing (if then). RIght now we may be producing more terrorists than we're killing.

Here's another article for you sapient, from Foreign Policy, about the Iranian sanctions. I suggest you not worry about me and my Glenn Greenwald reading ways and read this FP link and the other one I supplied from Business Insider. The Iranian opposition movement doesn't seem to want us to impose sanctions. If you want me to suggest an alternative, there's one--listen to what the Green Movement people inside Iran have to say about our policies. If they support sanctions then I would, and if they don't then I wouldn't. If the sanctions were targeted at the leadership, the so-called smart sanctions, then I'd support that. Back in the apartheid days Tutu and others wanted sanctions even though they did hurt ordinary people, but they thought it would help bring down the regime. Apparently the Iranians don't think this.

link

On Iran, I also implied another alternative. Don't pretend that Netanyahu's cries are only about an alleged existential threat--it's also a distraction from the Palestinian issue and even on the Iranian nuclear issue, it's also about Iran having a nuclear shield, so they could support Hezbollah and Hamas more openly. Or so the theory goes. So much of that issue is really the I/P issue in disguise, but the Obama Administration is currently doing Netanyahu's bidding on that subject. I understand why--domestic politics and all that, but that's part of why the US can't be trusted on the global scene to do the right thing. We have our mixed motives too. But if people really believe that Iranian nukes pose an existential threat to Israel, then they also pose one to the Palestinians. So try to get the Palestinians on board.

But you know that probably won't happen, because of domestic politics and because it's partly about distraction and the last thing Netanyahu wants is more focus on the Palestinians. Some things matter more than existential threats.

Saying that I think the US is nothing but a source of evil is silly--I don't, I doubt my hero Glenn thinks that, but if he does then he's wrong. We're a mixed bag. Dubya, for instance, did a great thing in Africa when he increased funding on fighting AIDS there, or so I've heard. (Bono praised him anyway.)

It's also interesting how you seem to think that if we're not using violence we're not engaged in the world and so China will fill the gap. Because that's exactly how it works. If we don't blow people up in the right compassionate kind of way, someone else will step in and do it crudely.

"let's talk about the here and now - what I'm supporting - and the real political choices behind what Obama does - not what Bush did "

No. There's some bipartisan continuity in foreign policy anyway, but besides that you're ignoring my point. Not only is it hypocritical to yammer on about evil overseas and allow our own leaders to get away with war crimes, it would also do a lot for our reputation with people overseas if we actually tried to be morally consistent. Some of what motivates support for terrorism is our perceived hypocrisy.

I'm not sure that focussing on the hypocrisy of sanctions is where the crux of the problem is at.

Well, OK. Let's try this. With respect to Iran, sanctions will not work. They impose collective punishment-something that we, in other circumstances decry as an unmitigated moral evil...oops, getting off track again! Try this...they harden the extremism, and promote political loyalty to, a regime whose EXISTENTIAL BIRTH is predicated on virulent, and pretty much fully justified, anti-americanism.

Why not impose sanctions on Israel? Try that for a crux.

Or how about if we begged for forgiveness and offered them $100 billion/year in foreign aid...carrots, not sticks!

But, but, but....????

But I really do apologize to Sapient because I do not have a fully worked out 3,000 page treatise expounding in excruciating detail my plan for Middle East peace, much like the detailed plans put forth by those crazy wild eyed idealist abolitionists in 1842. Damn them for being so wordy.

"I'm not sure that focussing on the hypocrisy of sanctions is where the crux of the problem is at."

Well, it's a big part of it. It's not everything. Some people think we could live with a nuclear Iran (and we might have to, though Obama seems to have painted himself into a corner on that one), but I'd prefer not to see two countries that hate each other and are paranoid, both with nuclear weapons. Deterrence isn't all it's cracked up to be--the US and the USSR almost stumbled into nuclear war a few times.

But if Iranian dissidents think sanctions are unhelpful to their cause, that would be the deciding factor for me. I agree that sanctions are playing one good role, if they keep Israel from going nuts, though I suspect much of Netanyahu's histrionics are a con job. Which brings us back to the hypocrisy angle. The Palestinians are of no interest when there's a big scary existential threat and the possibility of a really big war (and not just some piddling little intifada) on the horizon.

Why not impose sanctions on Israel? Try that for a crux.

You know what? I'm totally for that. I oppose Israeli policies. Trouble is, we live in a world of choices, and that's not one of them. Just as prosecuting torture isn't one of them, unless you want to say hello to Republican fascists.

I agree that sanctions are playing one good role, if they keep Israel from going nuts,

And that's enough for me, because I don't think Netanyahu's histrionics are a con job. I think that he and the Likud are capable of all kinds of worrisome behavior, and that's what I mean by a power vacuum. We're not perfect - as lj said, we walk a tightrope.

I'm sure that there are lots of persuasive articles on both sides of the sanctions issue. I'm not in favor of military action against Iran, and sanctions are necessary to forstall it. And much as I'm horrified by the situation in Syria, I'm worried about lending support there that will just cause more blood. I'll leave it to people who have studied those particular situations for their day jobs to duke it out. However, I'm not going to second guess and vilify the people I've entrusted to do that - the Obama administration - which hasn't shown any particular blood lust as far as I can tell.

But I really do apologize to Sapient because I do not have a fully worked out 3,000 page treatise expounding in excruciating detail my plan for Middle East

Well, I accept your apology, bobbyp, and appreciate your pacifism, but don't pretend that you have a freaking plan that's better than what's happening. Oh, the horror. of dealing with actual facts, including a political situation that is actually part of the equation (and not in a cynical way - in fact, it is part of the cost/benefit analysis, sadly for all who live in the real world, because when Romney is elected, we'll have John Bolton calling the shots. Vacuum filled with the undesirable alternative.).


My Foreign Policy link is broken. I think the h is missing from the ttp.

Here's another attempt--

Sanctions cripple Iran's middle class not the regime

Donald, I will read the Foreign Policy article, but not tonight. Thanks for it.

I'm just saying though - our action or inaction isn't dispositive of the good/evil that happens in the world. I trust that when we do the best we can with intelligent leaders, our impact on the world is as good or better than many alternatives that might show up in our absence. It's not as if our disappearance would mean mushrooms and wildlife.

Well, I accept your apology, bobbyp, and appreciate your pacifism...

Your generosity is a shining beacon of magnanimous thought and the give and take of respectful conversation. On the other hand, I am no pacifist. Does opposing American foreign policy automatically consign one to that box? I advocate sanctions against Israel, invading Saudi Arabia, and the occasional random bombing of anti-abortion extremist gathering places...just to keep those nut-bags on their toes. After all, they are engaged in a highly moral struggle.

from the point of view of, say, Pakistani civilians, WE represent an existential threat to THEM, and they are therefore justified in doing whatever is necessary to defend themselves

Not an academic question.

Are you suggesting that the South should have been left to "practice slavery" locally?

If, as russell suggests, certain states in the South were allowed to "practice slavery" locally

Answering our own questions now, are we?

The plain fact of the matter is that the slave states were, in fact, allowed to "practice slavery locally". There was a robust abolition movement, which had at most a minimal effect on the practice and legal status of slavery in the slave states.

To my knowledge, prior to secession there was no movement seeking to eradicate slavery in existing slave states through force of arms.

John Brown and 22 other guys is not a "movement".

From what I can see, folks were willing to engage in a shooting war for the union. To liberate black people, not so much.

In short, I'm not suggesting any freaking thing at all. I'm making an observation about the actual history of the US.

Please feel free to correct me from the historical record, I'd be delighted to be wrong about this.

If you have a point to make, kindly make it yourself and don't try putting words in my mouth.

Thanks.

No, russell, I didn't "answer my own question." I asked whether the states "should" have been allowed to practice slavery locally, but I asserted (as you did) that they were allowed to do so. Agreement, correct?

The individuals who fought the war, they fought for a variety of reasons. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain certainly did fight for abolition, and his personal bravery and skill helped the Union to win the battle of Gettysburg. I would suggest that you shouldn't allow your cynical generalities to eclipse the incredible idealism of people like Chamberlain. There are certainly many others, including Robert Gould Shaw, from your neck of the woods.

There is true heroism, and not just in those who turn a blind eye.

No, russell, I didn't "answer my own question."

You asked me if I was suggesting that the slave states should have been allowed to practice slavery locally.

Subsequently, you stated that I had made that suggestion.

If you ask me a question, don't assume you know the answer until I provide one.

And this:

I would suggest that you shouldn't allow your cynical generalities to eclipse the incredible idealism of people like Chamberlain

is obnoxious.

I'm not interested in your suggestions. Get off your high horse.

Thanks.

I don't really care whether you find that comment obnoxious or not. You said "folks were willing to engage in a shooting war for the union. To liberate black people, not so much." Actually, for Chamberlain: so much.

And a lot of other people were heroic who gave their lives because they didn't want to turn a blind eye to the evils of slavery.

By the way, you never did answer the question of whether slave states should have been allowed to quietly practice their "culture" while people turned a blind eye to it, thereby avoiding war. Your observations nicely acquit you of taking a stand as to what you would have done. I won't presume to guess, since you object to it, but your attitude about federalism isn't very comforting.

Seriously sapient, WTF.

I think slavery was, and remains, a hideous blot on the nation's history. I think the history of the treatment of black people in this country, and more broadly the institution of slave-based plantation economies by European powers throughout the world, was nothing but evil. I think the Civil War was, in fact, as righteous a war as any war can be said to be.

No, I don't think the slave states should have been allowed to quietly practice their "culture" while people turned a blind eye to it. I think they should have been forced by whatever means was necessary and most effective to make them stop.

I have no fncking idea what I would have done, or what position I would have taken, at the time. Neither do you, and if you say otherwise you lie, because you have no fncking idea either.

The whole question of "what would you have done then" is horseshit. Nobody knows. If we were born then, we wouldn't be us, we'd be somebody else. I don't know what somebody else would do today, let alone 150 years ago, so I have no answer for your question, and neither do you.

On the topic of drones, here are my issues. Here are the reasons I find them problematic.

Employing military force in other countries is an act of war. Drones are used in countries that we are not at way with. So, that's a problem.

Drones are used against individuals or small groups of individuals, but the ordinance they use are not as narrowly focused as, frex, a bullet. They're usually small rockets, and they have a footprint large enough to kill whoever happens to be nearby. So, that's a problem.

We choose drone targets based not only on what we believe to be positive identification of people we want to kill, but also on intelligence signatures, which can be anything from physical resemblance, to patterns of behavior, to our expectations of where we think somebody might be at a given time. It's one thing to detain and question someone on that basis, another to kill them. So, that's a problem.

A lot of drones are operated by CIA, which is not even a military organization. Why the fnck is an intelligence organization shooting missiles at people in other countries? Isn't that a military responsibility? So, that's a problem.

There are lots of things like this that are, frankly, problematic. But the biggest one, for me, is this:

Killing some guy in Yemen or Pushtunistan or god knows where might, possibly, make some Americans safer. It might not, but it might.

But we are making ourselves safer by some statistically miniscule degree by means of making a lot of people that we are not at war with, and who have no particular issue with us, live under a constant threat of unpredictable, immediate, horrible death by having fire rained down upon their heads from above.

I think that is, on the face of it, fncked up. YMMV.

To answer your perennial question of "what would I do?", I would do the other stuff we do and not the drones. And then I'd take my chances.

Maybe that would mean some Americans would die, and that would suck. Maybe I would die, even worse maybe my wife would die and I would not.

I think it would be better to live with that risk, than to be shooting missiles at people in god knows what corner of the world based on the fact that they sorta-kinda match an intelligence signature about what we think a terrorist would be doing, if there was a terrorist there.

That's my answer.

As always, I'm fine with the fact that you don't agree, and I'm fine with simply stating my point of view without making snarky invidious comments about you or your point of view.

If you can return the favor, fine. If not, you can piss off.

Thanks

Do you think that it will just die by itself? That's not a pattern that I notice. Can you point to places where we've just left violent bullies and terrorists alone, and suddenly everything turned peachy?

Did you learn your excluded middle lessons from Bellmore? Have you stopped beating your spouse?

We have an interest in nonproliferation - an interest that's shared by the whole world.

Methinks you might want to examine your premises there.

Based on my limited conversations with Israelis, Israel isn't so much worried about Iran developing its own nuclear weapons as it is worried about Iran selling nuclear materials to various & sundry terrorist groups that are difficult to watch and keep track of.

Israel can do things about Iran, should Iran all of a sudden become overtly aggressive (other than verbally). Israel can't do squat against a couple of dozen guys, other than catch them. And then catch the next couple of dozen. And the next. But that has to work every single time, and eventually it won't, and you'll get a fizzle, or even a small-scale detonation of a nuclear device. That, there, is the fear.

Could be more wrong than right. It's something to think about, anyway.

As far as drones go, I think they can and have been over-used. I don't know that they have any particular rules of engagement, or at what level weapons release occurs at. That kind of bothers me. As with most other tools of warfare, the use of drones can be used as propaganda. Anytime you're doing something other than meeting the enemy on a field of battle, there are opportunities for propaganda. I submit the Revolutionary War would never have happened without a substantial amount of propagandizing, and the British stepped in more than their fair share of opportunities to be made publicly wrong.

Drones carry missiles that are small only in a relative sense. A Hellfire warhead is the equivalent of about 50 blast fragmentation grenades, which is I submit something that should be used even more carefully than a single grenade. You can't be thinking you can make mistakes and have them not matter, because then you wind up missiling a house full of women and children, and the next thing you know it's Blackhawk Down.

"I trust that when we do the best we can with intelligent leaders, our impact on the world is as good or better than many alternatives that might show up in our absence. "

Not good enough. There's no reason to think any leader will always be right.

One other thing-

I wouldn't support draconian sanctions on Israel or the US (fat chance in either case, of course) for the same reason I don't support them on Iran. They hurt ordinary people, usually increase death rates, and most of the time they don't work anyway. South Africa may have been the exception. It also matters that dissidents there wanted sanctions. Though in the case of Israel and the US the population theoretically is responsible for the government's policies, so it is slightly more justifiable to hurt ordinary people in such cases. But it still amounts to a shotgun approach, where you are hurting one set of people in order to pressure leaders who aren't hurt by them at all. We've had sanctions on Cuba for decades. It hurts Cubans. Castro, not so much.

But they do give the sense that we have a "tough" policy, which is the real point in most cases, I think. It's for posturing purposes. In the case of Iran it's part of the theater and it's hard to tell who really believes what about the Iranian threat, the possible Israeli response, our own red lines, or anything else. Lots of domestic politics and the Palestinians and the lack of progress on the I/P conflict are part of it, but go deliberately unmentioned. So yeah, I prefer sanctions to bombing, but if you argue that then you're not arguing that sanctions are a good policy in themselves.

I have no fncking idea what I would have done, or what position I would have taken, at the time. Neither do you, and if you say otherwise you lie, because you have no fncking idea either.

You're correct, obviously. I guess the question should have been what do you hope you might have done, but you answered my question sufficiently in your comment - that the Civil War was as righteous a war as wars get. I agree, and not because of an "existential threat" but because some people actually believed that they could eliminate slavery, and they were willing to fight and die for that belief. They did not see another way to accomplish that task, and no amount of hindsight can create a different path for them.

As you stated, we live in a different world. War is fought differently now, and it's not a panacea for anything - I would never argue that it is. The "enemy" rarely wears uniforms, for example, and often operates among civilians. I agree that drones are problematic in that if lives aren't being put on the line, it's possible that a more casual view of killing can result (although war is and always has been morally problematic - and I don't really see any evidence that people are more bloodthirsty now than in history).

I think it would be better to live with that risk, than to be shooting missiles at people in god knows what corner of the world based on the fact that they sorta-kinda match an intelligence signature about what we think a terrorist would be doing, if there was a terrorist there.

I accept that answer, so thank you. I disagree. It's not just about you and your wife, who are free to accept whatever risks you like. There are a lot of people in this country, and in the world, who depend upon our country's government to protect their security - that's a major function of government. Organizations that are specifically designed to kill large numbers of civilians here and around the world in order to make some vague political or religious point are poisonous to peace and diplomacy everywhere. Where they can be stopped by better methods, I'm all for those methods. But I don't think they should be allowed to proceed.

This might be me imagining I knew something, but I think the revised sanctions started in 2010, about the same time that Obama was pushing for some resolution on I/P issues (with getting Abbas and Bibi to restart the negotiations), so I thought there was some quid pro quo involved.

I think that the restart summit was in August, 2010, the first wave of newer sanctions on oil, gas and banking date from that time as well? There was a later wave of US sanctions were when the IAEA report came out in 2011, and the most recent ones were EU driven restrictions on oil and gas I think. This is a background on the sanctions and how the contexts in which they were applied from the Council on Foreign Relations.

I think they are MOR, if only because they often appear in webpages about the Illuminati :)

We've had sanctions on Cuba for decades.

There's a difference between placing sanctions on a country for its political system, and placing sanctions on a country in order to achieve a specific diplomatic end. We'll see whether Iranian sanctions achieve what they're designed for - so far, they have achieved a delay in military action. I'm okay with that.

I don't believe that we can have things both ways: if we live in an interdependent world, we're allowed to make demands of each other. We're allowed to use what power we have to enforce those demands. That's true in interpersonal relationships as well as in international ones. We always have the right to avoid each other if we can't get along, or vote with our feet if we disapprove of someone else's conduct.

If you have a better way to try to insist that Iran doesn't go nuclear, I'd be happy for you to suggest it. Or maybe we should all be like Brett, and tout our right to bear nukes as a fundamental right.

I wouldn't support draconian sanctions on Israel or the US (fat chance in either case, of course) for the same reason I don't support them on Iran. They hurt ordinary people, usually increase death rates, and most of the time they don't work anyway.

So, short of military force or sanctions, how does one engage a problematic, aggressive regime?

I've followed this with interest, haven't seen much in the way of practical application.

For example: for those who would have intervened in Rwanda, with the very limited military capacity you would afford the US in your world, how would such intervention have been accomplished?

I accept that answer, so thank you.

Thank you, and you're welcome.

I disagree

People do. Not a problem.

We're allowed to use what power we have to enforce those demands. That's true in interpersonal relationships as well as in international ones.

No, we're not allowed to use what power we have to enforce those demands. Not in international relationships, nor in personal ones.

If I want you to stop doing something that I feel threatened by, I can't simply beat the crap out of you to make you stop. The exception is if your actions present a clear, credible, physical threat to me.

That does not exist in the context of the US and Iran.

There may or may not be good arguments for keeping military action as an option in the context of Iran and their nuclear program. In either case, "If you don't do what we want we'll kill you" is not one of them.

how does one engage a problematic, aggressive regime?

I'm trying to understand how the government of Iran fits the profile of "aggressive".

I'm trying to understand how the government of Iran fits the profile of "aggressive".

I don't think I mentioned Iran specifically. My question was more generally directed to any problematic, aggressive regime. And, to repeat the question: absent sanctions and/or threat of force, how does a country deal with such countries?

However, since you asked, some of Iran's conduct that might be viewed as aggressive and problematic: support for Hezbollah, threats against Israel, threats to close the Straits of Hormuz and building nukes.

defying America's will is an aggressive act.

Based on my limited conversations with Israelis, Israel isn't so much worried about Iran developing its own nuclear weapons as it is worried about Iran selling nuclear materials to various & sundry terrorist groups...

Slarti, why would that be more of a concern than Pakistan? After all, there are far more (and, from what I see, far more radical) Sunni potential terrorist than Shia potential terrorists. And the Pakistani government seems far less in control of its own territory than the Iranian government. Not to mention that they have a proven track record, not just the potential, to sell nuclear technology on to others.

I just don't see how Iran, even with a bomb, let alone just the capacity to make one, is anywhere near the threat that Pakistan already has proven to be.

No, we're not allowed to use what power we have to enforce those demands. Not in international relationships, nor in personal ones.

Sorry, I meant what power we have within the bounds of the law. And the imposition of sanctions (which is what we were discussing) supported by the UN, is surely a legal use of power. Just as boycotting would be a legal use of power on a personal or commercial level.

I just don't see how Iran, even with a bomb, let alone just the capacity to make one, is anywhere near the threat that Pakistan already has proven to be.

How did you size up Iraq 2 weeks before it invaded Kuwait?

defying America's will is an aggressive act.

This is pretty much non-substantive. Genocide and ethnic cleansing both have happened recently. How does one deal with that and do we 'army-up' to be able to deploy force?

How does one deal with that and do we 'army-up' to be able to deploy force?

is it our job to be the world's policeman?

really, is it?

"For example: for those who would have intervened in Rwanda, with the very limited military capacity you would afford the US in your world, how would such intervention have been accomplished? "

I haven't made a detailed statement of how big our military should be, because I haven't given it much thought. Probably big enough to take on Rwandans with machetes or even Rwandans with AK47's, though if Rwanda turned into a bloody occupation and insurgency then my willingness to intervene might quickly sour. But that's an extreme case--800,000 dead in a few months, so if I was going to favor going somewhere and fighting evil that's the example I'd pick.

On Iran and what to do (though you didn't specify Iran), I'm rejecting the basic premises on which we conduct our foreign policy in that area. I see Israel as contributing greatly to its own security problems and I see America touting values it holds when convenient and worrying about proliferation when it is an enemy and not so much when it is a friend (even a friend like Pakistan.) Israel may not have been the most responsible country in the world to have nukes either--there are some who think they helped South Africa acquire them.

Gotta go.

My question was more generally directed to any problematic, aggressive regime.

Sorry, my bad!

And, to repeat the question: absent sanctions and/or threat of force, how does a country deal with such countries?

I guess the answer to the more general question is, "it depends".

In most cases, some kind of sanctions are available (at a minimum), so I'm not sure if the question addresses a real world situation.

some of Iran's conduct that might be viewed as aggressive and problematic: support for Hezbollah, threats against Israel, threats to close the Straits of Hormuz and building nukes.

I agree with you as regards Hezbollah.

My sense, personally, is that the threats against Israel per se (as opposed to material support for, frex, Hezbollah) are theater.

My sense, personally, is that both the threat to close the Straits of Hormuz, and the nuclear program, are primarily defensive. Iran's in a tough neighborhood, and they are being leaned on quite heavily.

Not saying either the Hormuz threat or the nuclear program are good things, just pointing out that, in context, they are more likely a reaction to events, and less likely aggressive in intent.

IMO. Not my field, so I make no claims to speak with anything like authority.

is it our job to be the world's policeman?

really, is it?

So, your answer is: whatever else happens in the world, no matter how horrible, it's none of our business. Fair enough. It a minority viewpoint, but, fair enough.

Probably big enough to take on Rwandans with machetes or even Rwandans with AK47's, though if Rwanda turned into a bloody occupation and insurgency then my willingness to intervene might quickly sour. But that's an extreme case--800,000 dead in a few months, so if I was going to favor going somewhere and fighting evil that's the example I'd pick.

This is pretty much non--substantive too. You can't put the Mississippi National Guard in Cessna's and fly them wherever you want. NATO couldn't take on Libya without US help because it didn't have the depth to maintain continuous operations. Force projection, i.e. getting enough people and equipment to Point A, supplying them and, if necessary reinforcing, IS an issue. Until critics of defense spending and overseas deployment understand the nuts and bolts to some reasonable degree, they speak out of ignorance and it does show.

So, your answer is: whatever else happens in the world, no matter how horrible, it's none of our business.

yes. in exactly the same way your position is: we must control every aspect of the world, always, without exception.

Fair enough. It a minority viewpoint, but, fair enough.

Not to mention that they have a proven track record, not just the potential, to sell nuclear technology on to others.

Do tell. It would be interesting to have a list of people that the government of Pakistan has sold (or given) nuclear materials or weapons to.

just pointing out that, in context, they are more likely a reaction to events, and less likely aggressive in intent.

Not to negate this, but I just want to point out that an entire war has been fought over "reaction(s) to events". Providing you believe that things played out the way Wikipedia says they did.

"This is pretty much non--substantive too" followed by
" Until critics of defense spending and overseas deployment understand the nuts and bolts to some reasonable degree, they speak out of ignorance and it does show."

Oh stuff it. I said I hadn't given it thought. I suspect there's a difference between what we have and what it would take to intervene in Rwanda. I'm not John Q at Crooked Timber making some grand claim on how much of a Navy we need. Now you could maybe go ask Robert Farley at Lawyers Guns and Money what he thinks we'd need to intervene in Rwanda and I'd listen to him, but you're just point scoring over me when I've already said I didn't have a worked out position.

but you're just point scoring over me when I've already said I didn't have a worked out position.

Well, what do you call it when you state positions that you haven't thought out?

I suspect there's a difference between what we have and what it would take to intervene in Rwanda

And you'd be right, although Rwanda in some respects would tax our abilities sorely due to lack of local infrastructure. However, since no one knows what the next Rwanda is going to look like, how do we know how much we need or don't need.

"Well, what do you call it when you state positions that you haven't thought out?"

I would call it you snarking at someone who didn't claim to know how big a military we'd need to intervene in Rwanda--I made the deliberately vague claim that we could probably get by with something smaller than we have. You agree.

"However, since no one knows what the next Rwanda is going to look like, how do we know how much we need or don't need. "

Sure. For instance, Mao put his country through the Great Leap Forward, and current estimates of the death toll go as high as 40 million or more. Then there was the Cultural Revolution, which probably wasn't nearly as lethal, but still terrible. What would it take to intervene in a country of roughly 1 billion to stop the greatest humanitarian catastrophe of the 20th century? Well, I'm just guessing way way more than what we could afford. Still, I'm not an expert--perhaps it could be done by redirecting funds currently allocated to Sesame Street, which is currently bankrupting the nation. You don't intervene everywhere and some things are beyond whatever means you have. I wouldn't intervene much of anywhere--Rwanda is the standard example given of when some good might have been done with an intervention, but it wouldn't take much to talk me out of it. Do you need to spend, say, an extra 300 billion a year preparing for a Rwanda once every 20 years? Seems cost ineffective. That sounds coldblooded, but you could do a tremendous amount of good with 6 trillion dollars in other ways. I don't have on hand a study of all possible contingencies ranging from "little Johnny down the street is pulling Susie's hair" all the way up to "Cylon raiders are launching a genocidal campaign against Asia", so I don't know what sorts of interventions we can afford.

And I can't believe I'm even talking about this. Rwanda was a concession to sapient--there are perhaps situations so terrible we should intervene. But if we needed to spend hundreds of billions every year just to prepare for a Rwanda that might occur once every twenty years, then the US shouldn't be paying for that alone.

However, since no one knows what the next Rwanda is going to look like, how do we know how much we need or don't need.

Yup. Nobody knows with absolute certainty. Interestingly enough, we in this country try (with varying degrees of success) to make these types of decisions politically using this thing called "democracy". Some here have noticed this means that a lot of folks who don't know squat about the 'nuts and bolts' get a say. Sorry if this somehow makes you unhappy.

I have purchased some "substantive" supplements on-line (some place in Texas). I hope they work as advertised. Oh, and does anybody here know where to take that test to get a certificate asserting that I do indeed Know My Ass From A Hole In The Ground?

Just to clarify, I agree with Donald's 2:53 comment. I'm happy to have the strongest military in the world, but it doesn't need to be five times that of China's. Our defense budget is more than 60% of the world's total.

And, despite my argument here that military force is sometimes useful, etc., most that would fall in that category wouldn't be long, drawn-out occupations (unless done in cooperation with the UN). I haven't been arguing in favor of imperialism here, fwiw.

Feh. The U.S. has its charms, but is just as willing to chuck principles overboard when the sh1t hits the fan as any other country, be it North Korea or Norway.

If I were in charge, I'd offer normalized relations and an end to sanctions with/on Iran in exchange for whatevers (I'd even put "nothing" on the table). 70 million Iranians can't be wrong.

Also, too, Cuba.

We're insane.

Maybe a reasonable test for "when it is worth it" to intervene is when 40 year old untrained people are lined up in the streets to enlist. And they are enlisting into an Army where it is not reasonable to expect to survive intact.

The small standing Army can engage in that scenario, while the volunteers are getting trained to occupy.

Rwanda might pass this test, if we knew at the beginning what was really going to happen. I think WWII did pass this test. I can't think of others that are even close.

It's not going to happen but there is this crazy idea that the UN should have actual troops that are not just borrowed temporarily and that would have the means to react to a Rwanda situation.
But the US would be as if not even more unwilling to agree to that as e.g. China or Russia (even if the helicopters were painted in a colour different from black and Ghurkas would not be allowed to join those forces).

I can't think of others that are even close.

The entire Korean Peninsula under N Korean control for the last 62 years doesn't bother you?

WWII is different how?

US troops attacked in Hawaii and the Phillipines is different from US troops attack in S Korea in what way?

So, short of military force or sanctions, how does one engage a problematic, aggressive regime?

I have no idea how civilized people should deal with the US - seems all we can do is sit tight and wait for the empire to implode.

Hawaii and the Phillipines were US protectorates. They were relatively close to being US Soil where we had occupied for decades.

We got involved in Korea after WWII, after the USSR boycotted the meeting at the UN, and our forces were attacked only after we intervened. It was never part of the Truman plan for Asia, let alone an issue of national importance. You can tell, because we quit. We had the ability to go total war (ie nuclear), and we did not.

So, are you kidding? 40,000 US troops died for what? We have occupied for 60 years for what? Cheap VCRs?

Interesting that I was thinking earlier today about alternate histories about the CivilWar,Ward Moore's "Bring The Jubilee" and Terry Bisson's "Fire On The Mountain".

While we are in an alternate universe, what if Lincoln had not gone to war to save the Union? I suppose that at some point the Confederacy would have outlawed slavery.
Either forced by continual John Brown and Nat Turner type guerilla warfare, or forced by modern industrial economy and the changing international views of slavery. I suspect it would have been replaced by some type of wage peonage very similar if not exactly like sharecropping. I suspect the modern Confederacy would be like Haiti, or Cuba, or most likely a Theocratic Fascism like a Fundamentalist Christian version of Iran.

Just for the record, the US did not fight the civil war to end slavery, we fought the civil war because the second thing the confederacy did (after enacting pass laws so the poor people couldn't leave their county without permission from the sheriff) was to default on the debts they owed the northern bankers. The third thing they did was to forbid any southern state from ending slavery by decision of the state legislatures or amending state constitutions.

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