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August 28, 2006

Comments

"Invoking the notion that you previously suggested is an artifact of looking at the world thru the lens of American culture suggests that this was just snark with no serious point."

Huh? I suggested (rightly or wrongly) that the idea that hypocrisy seriously degrades authority is largely American rather than a universal understanding. How does noting that you don't need much moral authority to recognize Saddam's problems undercut that in any way? How does the idea that you don't need much moral authority to recognize genocide (though apparently more moral authority than found in almost any current national government) undercut that? I really don't understand your point unless it is just "I don't like Sebastian".

Does that mean that I can say "I do like Sebastian" by saying something about moral authority? Cool!

Yes, Hilzoy, and if I completely ignore Sebastian, I must really like him. No wonder I couldn't figure this dating stuff...

By the way, Andrew, that uninfluential nobody, John Hinderaker, got to interview Bill Frist recently. Just like people like Deb Frisch get to do all the time.

Sebastian: How does the idea that you don't need much moral authority to recognize genocide (though apparently more moral authority than found in almost any current national government) undercut that?

You need more moral authority than Reagan's administration had, Sebastian:

President Ronald Reagan thought that Saddam would respond better to a carrot than a stick. He was prepared to use his presidential veto to kill the Bill. The House and the Senate haggled over it until Congress adjourned and the Prevention of Genocide Act disappeared.

The Kurds were disappointed; Saddam Hussein would go unpunished. In fact, within the next year [1988] business with Iraq increased.

"President Ronald Reagan thought that Saddam would respond better to a carrot than a stick."

I'm confused. Wasn't Reagan suggesting the method you advocate? You weren't for war in Iraq. You weren't even for war in Afghanistan. Why would you now complain if Reagan supported the carrot approach?


But I'm not inclined to make that mistake again anytime soon.

Law o' the Blogosphere: edifying comment attracts much more thrown fecal matter than random, psychotic mumblings about one's authoritariancultist/nihilistic/commie/terroristsymp opponents.

But I do think this would be a happier place if we didn't assume the worst about other people's comments.

What fun would that be? It's practically a worldwide sport; the spectators would pull up stakes and go elsewhere.

Which, come to think of it...

Sebastian: I'm confused. Wasn't Reagan suggesting the method you advocate? You weren't for war in Iraq. You weren't even for war in Afghanistan. Why would you now complain if Reagan supported the carrot approach?

I'm confused, Sebastian. You keep saying that it doesn't take much moral authority to recognize that Saddam is a bad, bad man - as if this were something the US should just be assumed to accomplish. But, until Saddam invaded Kuwait, neither Reagan nor Bush I did recognize that. Directly and literally, they hadn't achieved the level of moral authority required to recognize that genocide is a bad thing and that someone who commits acts of genocide ought not to be considered a favored trading partner. (And given that Bush I needed to lie to Congress about imaginary crimes committed by Saddam in order to justify attacking Iraq, and needed to lie to the Saudi king about imaginary armies poised to invade Saudi Arabia, I don't think Bush I can be said to have achieved that level of moral authority.)

Now, what I think about Reagan, about the American oil and food corporations who won the fight in the 1980s, about Bush I - that's not germane to this discussion. What do you think of them?

"I'm confused, Sebastian. You keep saying that it doesn't take much moral authority to recognize that Saddam is a bad, bad man - as if this were something the US should just be assumed to accomplish. But, until Saddam invaded Kuwait, neither Reagan nor Bush I did recognize that."

Sure they recognized he was a bad man. They just thought dealing with him was better than the alternative. It doesn't take much moral authority to come to the conclusion that Saddam is a bad man.

In all the time I've written read your comments, I can't think of a single time you suggested using the stick instead of the carrot. Nevertheless you criticize Reagan for thinking that the carrot was more appropriate in the case of Saddam. That just seems odd.

You seem to attach special importance to recognizing the "badness" of Saddam while maintaining a very firm commitment to never doing anything to stop that badness. Such a stance isn't a sign of "moral authority" in my book. And if it is, I submit that "moral authority" is a virtually useless concept in international relations.

And as for genocide, the point remains that very few if any national governments have recognized even the very clear case of genocide in the Sudan. And that is "recognized" purely in the sense of naming it, much less doing anything about it.

Jes- Sebastian is just trying to smear the idea of moral authority here.

Seb- I hope your ok with never being able to use the idea of moral authority again.

Having lost us our moral authority the right naturally wants to pretend there is no such thing. Still stands.

A nation, like a person, doesn't earn moral authority for announcing a moral justification for something in their general interest anyway. It's taking an action clearly against interest, or forbearing from an action clearly in one's interest, on moral grounds. When we truly believe that someone, or a nation, would do such a thing -- a judgment we make based on our assessment of their character -- we say that person/nation has moral authority.

I don't see that the western governments, or China, have earned any moral authority wrt Darfur. (There may be individuals in State who stood up to the WH over this, at some risk to career -- if so, I'd say they've earned some MA). I don't see that the US earned any moral authority in its dealings with Iraq in the 1980s or, to the evident consternation of the neo-cons, in 2002-04. I'd be hard pressed to identify an official act of the current President that is intentionally against interest, undertaken for moral grounds. I've seen no reason to believe that he, Cheney, or Rove have any belief in morality at all, other than as a justification for doing what they otherwise want to do, or complaining about what someone else wants to do, which they do not want done.

"A nation, like a person, doesn't earn moral authority for announcing a moral justification for something in their general interest anyway. It's taking an action clearly against interest, or forbearing from an action clearly in one's interest, on moral grounds. When we truly believe that someone, or a nation, would do such a thing -- a judgment we make based on our assessment of their character -- we say that person/nation has moral authority."

If that is the definition, it almost never happens. Which makes continual hand-wringing about loss of moral authority a strange thing to bother with.

I don't believe that moral authority works the way most people seem to talk about it working, and I don't believe it is as strong a force as many seem to believe, but I do believe it exists as something more than what you are implying. Countries almost never intentionally act against their own interest. (Mistakes or self-delusion about acting in your own interest is of course possible or even likely). If acting against your interest is the way of getting moral authority, no country would have it.

Maybe it is acting in a postive way for something where you don't have particularly strong interests one way or another? But even that doesn't seem right.

If you count the interest in being perceived as a moral actor, then yes, there's virtually always an interest. I shouldn't have made it sound as if this is a binary situation. As the importance of the moral posture, and cost to the actor, rise, so does moral authority.

I think our legal system has certain defaults towards MA, in the context that other people live in. For example, I'm sure that Tim McVeigh got a fairer trial than someone in Yemen accused of a similar crime would have gotten. Or China. Moussaoui got a fairer trial than he would have anywhere. Yes it cost our government/society something to allow him to use the thing as he did, but the morally correct course was to take it (I almost said 'like men' but that's because I'm old and not PC) because imperfect though our Anglospheric system might be, it's better than anything anyone else has going. (I think the public nature of trials is an inherent part of their fairness, a view that's been our common heritage since that fellow got his head cut off over abuses of Star Chamber).

I'm not an exceptionalist, but I think that an important part of our patrimony is an adherence to the rule of law on the part of our leaders, and that this gives a certain moral authority. Everytime a military commander says 'we could do X, and maybe X would work, but we're not that kind of people -- which is why we have rules against it' the country's stock of MA is increased. If it's true that we aren't that kind of people. I happen to think we are, though, and that this is a big reason why the scope of war that people like CB and JT have called for isn't on our menu.

There are a bunch of reasons why torturing prisoners is a bad idea. Among these is dispelling the myth that we're not the kind of people who do that kind of thing. This myth had tremendous political value, but also tremendous practical value: if you're known to be fair and not cruel, a suspect can turn himself in. Or turn his brother in. If anything goes, the suspect will prefer not getting caught, and everyone sympathetic to him/her -- as a person, even if not with the goals -- will help out.

(Let me hasten to add that I know you don't like torture either. I've picked the example because I know it's something we agree on, not because I want to hit you over the head with something).

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