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July 30, 2007

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PS: I'll be in, um, Pakistan for 10 days, starting tomorrow. Have fun!

Edelman, a Foreign Service officer who once was U.S. ambassador to Turkey, revealed to lawmakers plans for a covert operation of U.S. Special Forces to help the Turks neutralize the PKK. They would behead the guerrilla organization by helping Turkey get rid of PKK leaders that they have targeted for years."

Turkey: Um, gee Mr. Cheney, that's um, well, very kind of you, but, um, no thanks. I mean, no one's better at this stuff than the US, but you know, parlance of our times.

Everything's our business, eh, hilzoy?

Have a safe trip.

Nell: not everything, but i think that as ways of keeping a large chunk of Iraq stable, this one is pretty low-cost, high-benefit. Fwiw, as I understand it, the PKK are not based in villages of civilians, but in their own little state within a state. (Quite little, but they do do things like collect taxes from passers-by and stuff.) Villagers near them and the border are already being forced out by shelling. The consequences of a Turkish invasion would be horrible, and might well include the much-feared regional war, as well as the destruction of the only enclave of stability in Iraq.

And, as I said, the people we'd be taking action against are really bad. -- I mean, back in the day when I knew this from a lot closer up, the people I knew who were very sympathetic to them, and for all I know might have joined, were in many ways decent people, who just felt that they could not just sit by while people they knew and loved were being killed and tortured, and villages were being razed. And, at the time, the PKK looked like the only group that was wholeheartedly opposed to this. That I understand.

But precisely because they were desperate to find a way to oppose this, they were willing to bend themselves all out of shape to justify things that the PKK was doing. The village I mentioned, the one that was massacred? All collaborators. Even the kids? Well, they would have grown up to be collaborators. Terrorism? A necessary weapon in the hands of those without military power. Necessary even when the goal -- an independent state in SE Turkey -- is so remote that it's hard to see how it could ever happen, especially since (at the time, 1988) it had water, and other resources, and bordered the USSR, Iran, Iraq, and Syria, and besides, they would have to defeat a very large and well-equipped army? Was there any prospect that this killing of civilians would ever achieve the goals that supposedly justified it? Well, it had to, that's all.

They were otherwise decent people justifying the slaughter of innocent people, because that was somehow the only hope they had. But the PKK did kill a lot of people, including a lot of Kurdish civilians; and it caused an awful lot of suffering. And now, predictably, when things really are getting a lot better for the Kurds in Turkey (not good enough, but it seems pretty clear where it's headed), they have started the civil war up again. And they are jeopardizing Iraqi Kurdistan, and still of course, killing civilians, now with suicide bombs.

As long as we're dreaming, maybe a joint US-Iranian effort to clean the PKK outta Iran, too?

So, the plan is: the US is supporting the Iraqi government. Iran is supporting the Iraqi government. The US is opposed to Iran. The US is allied to Turkey. The US is also a friend of the Iraqi Kurds. The Iraqi Kurds are tolerant of the PKK. The president of Iraq is a Kurd. The PUK and the KDP are sort of allies but really hate each other. The PUK and the KDP both hate the Iraqi Arabs. The Turks hate the PKK. The Iraqi Sunni are backed by Saudi Arabia. The Iraqi Sunni are fighting the US. The US is allied with Saudi Arabia. The US is also backing Iraqi Sunni groups to fight AQ. The US is also backing Iraqi Sunni groups to fight Iranian infiltration. Now the US is going to put more troops into Iraqi Kurdistan to fight the PKK, on behalf of the Turks.

I think that Andrew, at least, would recognise that:

"Only an idiot goes to war on two fronts. Only the heir to the kingdom of Idiot goes to war on twelve fronts." -- Ambassador Londo Mollari.

I simply cannot see how such a move could possibly be good thing.

On principle I could not countenance a further escalation of America and Britain's disastrous military operation in Iraq.

On a practical level I am surprised that you believe the US military blundering into another highly complex ethnic political situation could actually be beneficial. Sure, we can talk about carefully planned operations against terrorists and the use of elite special forces but surely it would only about 17 minutes before the US Air Force, called in as air support by special forces, would whack a load of women and children sheltering in some god-forsaken house in the mountains of northern Iraq. I mean, it happens everywhere else in Iraq and in Afghanistan too.

A sincere diplomatic effort would be something, but sincerity does not seem to be the hallmark of Bush and his pals.

In actuality, I think the Turkish invasion threats were more for domestic consumption in light of the then approaching election. Obviously I cannot rule out Turkish infantry rumbling over the border and proving me wrong but that is my view at present.

The fact that someone with ties to the adminstration leaked this plan means that the adminstration doesn't want to do it, right? Or what?

Bring all the old Kremlinologists out of retirement, put them to work figuring out what our government really intends to do . . .

In any admin that one could suspect of having a nonnegligible sense of subtlety, the leak could be a veiled threat to certain factions that "our patience is not limitless" without risking much.
This admin on the other hand "leaks" secrets that should be closely guarded on a regular base for the most inane/insane reasons while treating things that are all over the papers/airwaves as state secrets.

"Edelman, a Foreign Service officer who once was U.S. ambassador to Turkey, revealed to lawmakers plans for a covert operation of U.S. Special Forces to help the Turks neutralize the PKK. They would behead the guerrilla organization by helping Turkey get rid of PKK leaders that they have targeted for years."

"It is unclear exactly what this plan involves."

It doesn't seem that unclear at all: targeted assassinations of PKK leaders, with Special Forces deeply involved. Maybe that's necessary and viable, maybe it's not, but let's call a spade a spade.

i think that as ways of keeping a large chunk of Iraq stable, this one is pretty low-cost, high-benefit.

Herodotus had a saying, "Count no man lucky until after his death.".

We need one for military conflict too, something like "Count no war low-cost until after peace has broken out.".

Even Mollari is correct occasionally.

From a practical standpoint, American special operations forces are overtaxed already between Iraq and Afghanistan, as both of those conflicts are largely special operations fights.

From an international relations standpoint, the idea seems a bad one as well. If Kurdistan is going to be a viable state, it is going to have to come to terms with Turkey. The U.S. can delay this reckoning, but it cannot prevent it. And the cost of preventing this reckoning might include losing the support of the one group in that part of the world that is generally pro-American. Given how important Kurdish support is to any hope of keeping Iraq from boiling over (and Cole's point is well taken, although I believe he is wrong on the timeline), any decision that would involve risking Kurdish support seems not worth the risk.

Bring all the old Kremlinologists out of retirement, put them to work figuring out what our government really intends to do . . .

They tried to figure out decisions that hadn't been made yet. They used the data that was available, which was mostly irrelevant. They mostly failed.

Peter Townsend (who write witty books about business management) had a suggestion about memos. Each memo included a list of the people who were supposed to get the memo. He said to make sure the list was always in alphabetical order. If the list order changed lots of people would waste hours each week trying to figure out what it meant.

I don't think it works to try to figure out what our government intends to do. This administration doesn't have policies, it has piques. They don't know themselves what they intend to do.

Bring all the old Kremlinologists out of retirement, put them to work figuring out what our government really intends to do . . .

They tried to figure out decisions that hadn't been made yet. They used the data that was available, which was mostly irrelevant. They mostly failed.

Peter Townsend (who write witty books about business management) had a suggestion about memos. Each memo included a list of the people who were supposed to get the memo. He said to make sure the list was always in alphabetical order. If the list order changed lots of people would waste hours each week trying to figure out what it meant.

I don't think it works to try to figure out what our government intends to do. This administration doesn't have policies, it has piques. They don't know themselves what they intend to do.

But I don't think it's a bad idea [US Special Forces collaborating with the Turkish Army to 'behead' the PKK leadership] in principle.

I admit to only skimming hilzoy's previous posts with respect to ethics (her field, iirc), but I don't recall reading anything of hers this strongly in favor of ends over means (consequentialism?).

So what makes this consequentialist? We are already in Iraq, and we already go after terrorists. I said that I thought we should do this only with the agreement of the Kurdish government, along with the other conditions. Given those conditions, why would this be wrong?

So what makes this consequentialist?

Are we arguing about using bad means to good ends?

We're talking about sending our elite soldiers halfway around the world to kill people who haven't done anything to us. On the prediction that it will have good results.

That sort of thing usually has better results when everybody thinks the people we kill are better off dead. Ecept the people we kill, whose opinions won't matter once they're dead. Then it might still have bad results, but at least the bad result won't be that people viciferously disagree about whether we should have done it.

If the kurdish government agrees, that might come because we're so important we can lean on them. Particularly if it's only a secret agreement.

Ths is clearly something the turks want, and maybe it's the best interim solution. We'd have to see what comes next.

One possible alternative would be to persuade the kurds that we can't protect them from the turkish army, and they have to do something about these guys. They could bring up their own army and either persuade the terrorists to scatter (a temporary solution) or persuade them to move farther south and help with other problems. If they put the leaders into their Cabinet then those guys could get a different perspective on the problems. See what the kurdish government is up against and they might not keep poking at the turks the same way.

I have a couple of objections to killing people without enough thought. If you fail they turn extra-dangerous. And you need to make real sure who their friends are first.

"We are already in Iraq, and we already go after terrorists."

We should be extricating ourselves from Iraq by handing responsibility over to the locals. And in general we should be re-evaluating the effectiveness our militarized terror-fighting approach. The PKK gets its legitimacy from somewhere (those "otherwise decent people" you mention). Drain the lake and treat criminal gangs like criminal gangs.

But at the least, if we assume beheading is the best option for tackling the PKK, let's let the Kurdish militia handle their own internal affairs.

On preview, what j thomas said about the consequentialism.

I'm not sure that if the Kurdish government in Iraq gives its permission all Kurds will unite in the belief that the US had every right to kill Kurdish terrorists, though we somehow neglected to bomb Turkey's military forces in the 90's when they used US-supplied weaponry to destroy Kurdish villages. You don't seem sure of popular Kurdish support either. You say the Kurdish government might only give its agreement to do this privately while publicly denying it. So there's a few problems there. First, it suggests that under your conditions we'd do this even though many Kurds would oppose US military action against fellow Kurds. So maybe they wouldn't like us too much and I'm not sure we need more enemies. Second, you seem to be supporting the kind of underhanded deceptive anti-democratic governmental action that liberals are supposed to oppose. That'd be another great example for America to set in its n crusade to bring democracy and accountable government to the Middle East. Third, how's that supposed to work? Does the US government say it has Kurdish government support and they deny it? Or does our government just pretend to run roughshod over the Kurdish government's wishes, not even bothering to claim support?

I've got another objection, involving the usual leftist tirade about American hypocrisy. I think there might be a few (dozen)examples of American allies who've behaved at least as badly as the PKK and I already mentioned Turkey's military as one example, who we'd be allied with in this scenario. But enough said.

Anyway, I don't think you've thought this through. Which is uncharacteristic for you.

hilzoy: "I said that I thought we should do this only with the agreement of the Kurdish government, along with the other conditions. Given those conditions, why would this be wrong?"

I don't think it's wrong: neither does the National Review; you're both on the same page on this one, but a little behind the curve. As far back as August, 2004 Michael Rubin was saying that Bush's failure to act against the PKK undercut "the moral authority of the White House in waging the global war on terrorism." This because they were letting the PKK -- a terrorist group listed as such by the State Department -- conduct their operations with impunity in an area we are supposed to be overseeing, and that our inaction was undermining our relationship with Turkey, a long time ally, by failing to act.

Those Bushies, even if they get good advice from conservatives it takes them years to figure things out.

So I say, go get-em Special Forces, do your stuff. But if you run into any of the Iranian PKK affiliates, the ones retaliating against Iran for the brutal way they've been treating Iranian Kurds, I say give them a pass, and maybe some ammunition. Naw, just kidding. No ammunition. Maybe just a scolding, and some satellite maps and intell about future weapons convoys on the way to Lebanon with arms for Hezbollah -- the PKK hijacked a couple of those recently, which really pissed off the Iranians, who thereupon lobbed a whole bunch of shells into an Iraqi village where they thought the PKK was holed up: those Iranians, they just can't take a joke.

..I guess.. if it wasn't for how I usually read hilzoy's analysis - as thinly veiled support for an actual successful american world domination - I'd think the entire post was a joke.

..Dare I even ask what 'we believe it's going to work' has to do with the success of the mission, for instance, rather than just the threshold for committing troops? Somehow that wasn't explained very well.

I'm going to put it down to pre-travel stress that neither the post nor Hilzoy's comments are up to her high standard. Putting all the weight on how bad the PKK are and virtually none on the feasibility or downside risks, "we're fighting a war and terror and they're terrorists" ... It's all too reminiscent of some of the fall 2002 liberal interventionist arguments for invading Iraq.

I'm more interested to know who on Capitol Hill was briefed, what Gates will admit about this purported deployment, and whether this leak will kill it (hope so).

Here's some relevant backstory:

American officials paid a visit to Ankara this week as part of a DoD investigation into reports that US-supplied weapons have ended up in the hands of the PKK. Turkish media is also reporting that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan plans to travel to the United States to meet with President Bush for talks on bilateral issues, including the PKK problem.

General Counsel of the US Department of Defense, William J. Haynes, led a seven-member American delegation to Ankara for a day of meetings on Wednesday, during which they held closed-door talks with officials from the General Staff, the Foreign Ministry, the Security Directorate and the National Intelligence Organization (MİT).

There may well have been some discussion about how the PKK got those weapons, given today's GAO report saying that the Dept of Defense can't account for almost 200,000 weapons supposedly transferred to Iraqi security forces. But in light of Novak's column, that meeting and the upcoming ones mentioned look to me like joint planning for the operation leaked to him.

[Haynes bolded as red flag; someone with his history should be a defendant at a war crimes tribunal, not Pentagon general counsel.]

flein- I have noticed that about hilzoy's writing before, but in her defence the U.S. does rule the world if we did a better job it would be easier on everyone.

Given those conditions, why would this be wrong?

Because we would be sticking our noses into other folks' business.

Because if you, with first hand knowledge of the area and people, are not completely clear on what the right thing to do is, it's a dead certainty that no-one in a position to set policy has a freaking clue. Remember that this is the crew who only recently grokked the difference between Sunni and Shia.

Because we're already caught between a rock and hard place, several of each in fact, and hardly need another intractable Gordian knot to untangle.

Because the track record of the current administration for the last six years has been to undertake the stupidest possible foreign policy available.

Because we are sponsoring more than enough wars, hot, cold, overt or covert, for any 20 nations at the moment.

And, oh yeah, because we would be sticking our noses into other folks' business.

I'm sure I could go on. I won't.

And, as a P.S. to Frank, no, we do not, remotely, rule the world. Get that right out of your head.

Thanks -

russell- Meh you are entitled to your opinion. You need to work harder if you want to challenge mine.

russell: "Because we would be sticking our noses into other folks' business".

Hey, I agree with you, Russell, we shouldn't be sticking our noses into the PKK's business. If they want to commit terrorist acts against Turkey, it shouldn't concern us. We need to stop being busybodies in that area of the world. The fact that Turkey, long considered one of our most important strategic allies in the region, a Muslim nation with a secular democracy, asked us to help stop the terrorist attacks against them shouldn't concern us. So what if Turkey stuck their nose in our business after 9/11, immediately coming to our aid within 24 hours of the 9/11 attacks and allowing us access to their air space, then helping to invoke the articles of the NATO defense treaty to fight alongside us against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

Turkey should have followed your line of reasoning instead, and not poke their noses in our business, or into the Taliban's business, or Al-Qaeda's either. They should have stepped back and minded their own bees-wax. But no, they had to poke into everybody's business, providing important intelligence about terrorist activities in Afganistan, sending liaison teams and special force troops there to help acclimate US troops to the region. Nor should they have sent Turkish ships to shadow and interdict suspect vessels, or afterwards agree to take command of the NATO led UN mandated international security force in Afghanistan.

Yeah, your advice is better: let the locals deal with their own local terrorists, and everyone else should avoid unnecessary adenoidal entanglements, friends and allies or not.

Frank --

You need to work harder if you want to challenge mine.

Get in a plane and fly to more or less anywhere on the planet. Upon disembarking, walk up to anyone you care to meet and tell them that you, as an American, are their ruler, and that they should do your bidding.

Let me know how that turns out.

As you aptly note, we're all entitled to our opinion. To quote a well known character actor and former president, we're not, however, all entitled to our own facts.

That's probably about as much effort as I'm willing to spend on this. Folks' minds are very hard to change. What you want to think and believe is up to you.

Jay Jerome:

Anytime you want to compare notes on when "sticking our noses into other folks business" has worked out well vs when it has worked out not so well, let me know.

We don't know sh*t from shinola about those people or that part of the world. My guess is that, in the case under discussion, our involvement directly or via proxy is likely to make things worse rather than better.

Your point is apt but I think history supports my argument here.

Last but not least, J Thomas:

I have a couple of objections to killing people without enough thought.

I'd add to your list, "because they're people". A quaint sentiment, sadly out of fashion these days, but perhaps still worth considering.

hilzoy, travel safe.

Thanks -

russell: "We don't know sh*t from shinola about those people or that part of the world. My guess is that, in the case under discussion, our involvement directly or via proxy is likely to make things worse rather than better."

Better pass your "We don't know sh*t from shinola" observation on to Slammer Obama -- who says we'll be directly going inside Pakistan (better duck, Hilzoy) to strike al Qaeda targets there, if Musharraf doesn't act more effectively against them...

"If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won't act, we will," Obama said.

If he keeps up that kind of tough-talk he may actually overcome his 'dovey-wimp' image and catch up to Hill-Bill in the poles...

Greetings from scenic Dubai airport, which turns out to have wifi.

For what it's worth, I do not believe that the US should rule the world. My general view is that we should do what we can to protect and promote people's ability to live under decent governments that have genuine popular legitimacy and do not do dreadful things to their citizens and that generally allow people to live decent lives free from fear and violence; that war is never justified by appeal to this goal; that in general the best ways to achieve it involve leading by example, doing genuinely good things, like reducing economic misery, and also doing what we can to protect such governments where they exist, and to prevent them from ever having to choose between accepting tyranny and surviving.

I also think that we should generally refrain from dictating to those governments what we think they should do, on the grounds that it's not our business, and also that the whole point of wanting people to live under decent and legitimate governments is to promote their ability to decide for themselves what they want, and that telling them what to do completely undercuts that. For this reason, I am flatly opposed to trying to ensure that one party wins in an election over another, to pressuring countries to support US economic interests in the absence of some genuinely appalling unfairness, etc.

In the present case, I don't see the point of saying that this isn't our business. I wish we had never invaded Iraq at all, but we did, we are there, and it's pretty hard, I think, to say that what happens there is not our business.

I do not think that I have any particular sense of how things look on the ground -- unfortunately, I do have some sense for what might lead Turkish Kurds to join the PKK, but even that is getting out of date. That's one of many reasons why I listed conditions: they are meant to say: look, I don't know what the local politics are, and everything depends on that (and on the availability of our forces), but here are the conditions under which I think this would be justified.

Suppose, for the sake of argument, that the existence, in Iraqi Kurdistan, of the PKK would make the difference between Iraqi Kurdistan being invaded by the turks and its not being invaded. Suppose further that the Kurdish government does not have the means to get the PKK out itself, since a lot of the Pesh Merga (its forces) are off fighting in the rest of Iraq. And suppose further that the Kurdish government really does not want them operating from Iraqi Kurdish territory. IF we had a government whose basic competence we could count on, which we don't, I would then say: OK, let's help. And I would think of this as the one thing we could do in support of the Pottery Barn rule. We cannot fix most of Iraq. We can try to ensure that the Kurdish part is not destroyed.

Jay in his argument to you suplied some concrete examples. I'm sure the Turks would react violently to the idea that America rules them nonetheless, they do spend some time doing the US governments bidding.

If America isn't really an empire, why do its citizens act like the citizens of an empire.

Woa lost the top of that.

russell- Hilzoy took the fun out of it, but I don't claim any special influence for myself. I simply note that the international order was designed by the US and for the US.

Jay in his argument to you suplied some concrete examples. I'm sure the Turks would react violently to the idea that America rules them nonetheless, they do spend some time doing the US governments bidding.

If America isn't really an empire, why do its citizens act like the citizens of an empire.

There are a number of back stories here.

One is the long history of animosity between Turks and Kurds, going back to the end of the Ottoman Empire. The Turks are not the good guys in this history.

Another is the general problem of Kurdish nationalism and statelessness. The Kurds are the largest population of stateless people in the middle east, probably in the world. The issues that Turkey has with the Kurds are shared by Syria, Iran, and other nations in the area.

Another is the shifting relationship of the local states with the PKK. Sometimes they are enemies, sometimes they get along famously.

Another is the alleged support of the US for the PKK's Iranian equivalent, PJAK.

Another is the level of support, whatever that is, for the PKK among Kurds in Turkey. The Iraqi Kurds have a high level of de facto autonomy, and so can afford to look down on the PKK rabble. Turkish Kurds, perhaps less so. About half the Kurds in the world are in Turkey.

Another is our history with the Iraqi Kurds themselves, going back to our checkered history with Saddam, through Gulf I, to now.

Another is the fact that the Iraqi Kurds are probably our best friends in Iraq right now.

Another is the fact that the PKK has been relatively quiet since the capture of Ocalan, and only abandoned a unilateral ceasefire after attacks by the Turkish army.

Finally, the PKK now numbers in the low thousands, and are more or less isolated in northern Iraq. If the capture of Ocalan, their small numbers, and their geographic isolation has not taken the steam out of them, I doubt that covert assassination of some of their leaders will do the job.

A simple thought experiment -- imagine if, while we were trying to negotiate some kind of workable cease fire between Israel and the Palestinians, we simultaneously undertook a program of covert assassinations of Hamas leadership. Would that fly?

Those are all the issues I can think of regarding the Kurds and the PKK, and my guess is that that's just barely scratching the surface of a volatile and complex reality. It seems like we're trying to make some points with the Turks, and in the process embracing one of the world's biggest tar babies, with both arms and both legs.

It's a mess.

Committing US military assets, sub rosa or otherwise, to a hands-on fight against the PKK is, de facto, taking a side in the Turkey vs Kurd blood feud. If we take a side, we're stepping into all of the above, lock, stock, and barrel. The Iraqi Kurds don't like the PKK, but they hate the Turks. And, vice versa.

Because of our presence in Iraq, we have a stake in whether Turkey invades Kurdish Iraq or not. That *is not* the same as having the resolution of the struggle for Kurdish nationalism be anything like our business. Stepping in per Bush's plan turns the first into the second.

There's a difference between having a stake in a situation, and having it be your business to take sides and try to determine the outcome.

If we'd really like to do something constructive here, my suggestion would be to get the Iraqi Kurds and the Turks into a room and bang heads until something workable emerges.

As soon as you put somebody in your gun sights, you've taken a side. It can't be avoided.

And, to make a very long story as short as possible, IMO the whole scheme falls down on hilzoy's first condition -- would it work. Having it work would require extraordinary luck, and even more extraordinary diplomatic skill to thread the needle between the interests of the Turks and the Iraqi Kurds. Bush gets lucky once in a while, but diplomatically he has the subtlety, finesse, and insight of a cannonball.

My two cents.

I simply note that the international order was designed by the US and for the US.

I actually have no argument with that statement.

We have an enormous economy, and an extraordinarily formidable military. That makes us, in many ways, the biggest of the big dogs.

That's not the same as ruling.

Other nations have their own interests, and their own agendas, and they pursue them. If they're friendly toward us, they may consider how those interests align with ours. If not, not. But it's their own interests that they pursue.

IMO that's as it should be.

The reason that is significant is because, given that, we won't and can't solve the world's, or our, problems by "ruling better". We will solve our own, and perhaps some of the world's, by the timeless arts of negotiation, compromise, and diplomacy.

Thanks -

Sorry for the serial posts, but this deserves a reply:

If America isn't really an empire, why do its citizens act like the citizens of an empire.

Because it flatters and pleases them to do so.

Thanks -

Because it flatters and pleases them to do so.

And, possibly, because we're barking mad. I had a barking mad uncle who thought he was Napoleon, but that didn't have much bearing on him actually being Napoleon.

If you want a really meaningful bit of data, though, poll citizens of countries around the world; ask them if they're vassals of the American Empire. It'd be interesting to hear what they say.

If America isn't really an empire, why do its citizens act like the citizens of an empire?
The Chinese emperors claimed all nations to be their nominal vassals and inferior to China. The other nations did not unanimously agree on that but usually kept politely silent in order not to ruin the lucrative trade.
Many French still cling to the past glory of La Grande Nation (sp?) and behave accordingly.
Superiority complexes are not that rare.

"I have a couple of objections to killing people without enough thought."

I'd add to your list, "because they're people". A quaint sentiment, sadly out of fashion these days, but perhaps still worth considering.

Yes, I agree with that, but it isn't consequentialist.

If I try a consequentialist version of that, I get

1. If we refuse to kill people but they don't mind killing us, we are at a competitive disadvantage.

2. But if we refuse to kill them, maybe they'll refuse to kill us too. Then the world is a better place.

3. Since the outcomes depend on a complicated and unreliable set of behavioral feedback loops, it's hard to make the general case one way or another. But if you make a noncosequentialisy cas you will face people who make the opposite consequentialist case.

"If the burglars know you don't have a gun that you're willing to use, they will rape and kill you." There are multipole reasons why it's better not to start up this argument. One of them is the consequentialist reason that if you argue this in public hoping to convince third-parties, you'll tend to lose. When people think of it as a survival issue they don't want to depend on the kindness of random burglars.

I find it easier to make consequentialist arguments in specific cases.

Is it a really a survival issue for us? Are we perhaps being somebody's catspaw, us doing the killing for their material gain? Are we sure we'll succeed? If you want to create a terrorist dedicated to hurting the USA, making him think he's already living on borrowed time before we kill him is pretty effective. Who else cares about him? Etc.

One problem with arguing only specific cases, though, is that once we spend significant time training how to kill people efficiently, we're going to insist on killing some people to prove the methods work, and to keep our hands in etc. You can't be really good at killing people unless you practice, and if it turns out there aren't enough really good causes to kill for, we'll have to make up some.

Which is the more down to Earth version of the Ledeen Doctrine, because that's what "smashing a country against the wall" actually means.
Or look at the fate of famous gunfighters that became targets for people that wanted to become "The man that shot/beat ..."

Suppose, for the sake of argument, that the existence, in Iraqi Kurdistan, of the PKK would make the difference between Iraqi Kurdistan being invaded by the turks and its not being invaded. Suppose further that the Kurdish government does not have the means to get the PKK out itself, since a lot of the Pesh Merga (its forces) are off fighting in the rest of Iraq. And suppose further that the Kurdish government really does not want them operating from Iraqi Kurdish territory.

Then the obvious thing is to send the peshmerga home. As far as arab iraq is concerned, peshmerga troops are like foreign troops, though speaking arabic is a plus. And not withdrawing to the USA is a minus. If we want iraqi troops to stand up and do their own security, we need reliable shia arab troops and reliable sunni arab troops, not kurdish troops. Say the kurds patrol baghdad and get accused of a few atrocities. The kurds don't need that. The kurds may pay far too much for this favor they're doing us.

In the long run a bigger solution is needed. The turks have this large minority that will never embrace turkish culture. And kurds don't get adequate say in the turkish government. Maybe everybody would be better off if turkish kurds got their own country, and choose whether to ally with kurdistan. But that isn't in the cards any time soon.

So we can support the turks who're suppressing their own people. Or we can support the terrorists against our friends the turks. In the short run we want our friends to get along, and that works best if we can get the kurds to suppress themselves.

In the long run -- I think Abraham Lincoln set a very bad precedent when he decided that no one can secede from the Union under any circumtances. Of course the turks don't want to let anybody secede from turkey.

If we want iraqi troops to stand up and do their own security, we need reliable shia arab troops and reliable sunni arab troops, not kurdish troops.

Some Kurds actually consider themselves Iraqis as well, therefore Kurdish troops are not necessarily not also Iraqi troops any more than Shia or Sunni Arab troops are not also Iraqi.

G'Kar, to the extent that the problem is shia/sunni incipient civil war that needs to be suppressed by military patrolling, kurds are less than no help.

A couple of arabic-speaking kurds in each US patrol would help.

But kurdish troops intervening in arab shia/sunni violence just causes more problems for kurds. Kurds who think of themselves as iraqis aren't that much help, when the people they're policing see them as kurds.

I'm not sure that's necessarily the case. Security can be provided by troops regardless of their ethnicity/religion. A majority-Kurd battalion is currently providing yeoman service to Iraqis of all stripes. While they may not be the norm, they demonstrate that one doesn't have to be an Arab to help the Arabs.

G'Kar: Some Kurds actually consider themselves Iraqis as well, therefore Kurdish troops are not necessarily not also Iraqi troops any more than Shia or Sunni Arab troops are not also Iraqi.

Maybe so, but the Kurdish authorities are doing what they can to stamp that out. For instance, by arresting fifty young people for the act of waving the Iraqi flag in celebration of the Asian Cup victory of Team Iraq (which contains Kurds, but who's counting?).

If America isn't really an empire, why do its citizens act like the citizens of an empire?

Not nearly as pointed as: If the United States isn't really an empire, why does it have military bases in 125 countries?

Possibly because those countries are letting us have bases, Nell.

Or, possibly, because we'd kick their asses if they tried to oust us. I mean, they couldn't oust us, because they're vassal states, so we'd kick their asses for just bringing it up.

There might be a third alternative, but I'm not seeing it.

"There might be a third alternative, but I'm not seeing it."

There's a considerable excluded middle, yes. It's quite possible for a powerful country, let alone one considered to be the world's single superpower, to exert pressure on another country, particularly a considerably smaller/weaker one, that is far less than one describable as "we'd kick their asses"; it's even possible for such a country to exert non-military power to exert such pressure.

Will that do as a "third alternative" between "letting us" out of pure free will and pleasure, and the kicking thing?

"For instance, by arresting fifty young people for the act of waving the Iraqi flag in celebration of the Asian Cup victory of Team Iraq (which contains Kurds, but who's counting?)."

What's more interesting, I think, than the single incident, is the policy:

For the autonomous Kurdistan region, the flag is a particularly sensitive issue. Security forces in the three northern provinces of Dohuk, Erbil and Sulamaniya have been ordered by the government to arrest anyone displaying the Iraqi national flag - considered a symbol of Arab nationalism and a reminder of the repression of Kurds under the regime of Saddam Hussein

The regional president Massoud Barzani last year replaced the national flag with a regional flag.

This has been reported quite a bit, but not received a great deal of public attention or focus, largely because the Shia-Sunni battles tend to overshadow all Kurdish issues in the American press.

Will that do as a "third alternative" between "letting us" out of pure free will and pleasure, and the kicking thing?

Sure. But would we still be an empire, filling in those middle bits?

"But would we still be an empire, filling in those middle bits?"

Debating whether or not we are an "empire" without a mutually agreed-upon definition of "empire" is a pointless exercise.

Agreed, Gary.

A self-fulfilling claim was made, though, that some Americans behave as if we were an empire. At least two people who think so have posted here, so it'd be very interesting to hear from them why they think that.

"A self-fulfilling claim was made, though, that some Americans behave as if we were an empire."

Whether or not some Americans behave that way doesn't in the least speak to whether it's true or not, of course. People, including Americans, behave in all sorts of ways, and statistically "some" will act in more or less any and every possible way.

Frank's version is different, though. His was "If America isn't really an empire, why do its citizens act like the citizens of an empire."

That's not "some"; it's implicitly "all" (of America's citizens) or the practical equivalent.

To find the answer to that question we'd again have to first define what "acting like the citizens of an empire" is.

But if we're going back, this doesn't seem correct to me, either:

If you want a really meaningful bit of data, though, poll citizens of countries around the world; ask them if they're vassals of the American Empire.
I don't know how that would prove anything at all about whether the U.S. meets an undefined definition of "empire." Care to explain how that would work?

And if anyone wishes to debate further whether or not America meets their definition of an "empire," perhaps they might be so helpful as to offer a definition of "empire," perhaps, please?

(My own helpful short answer, otherwise: America meets some definitions, and not others! Informative, eh?)

I guess I'd like to make a small point here.

We're not going to solve the problem of Kurdish nationalism. If we really wanted to, we couldn't, and when it comes right down to I don't think we're really all that interested.

There's a smaller problem, one more relevant to our own interests, that we can solve. We can help avoid having Turkey invade Iraq.

From hilzoy's post, it seems that our strategy for achieving that more limited goal is to help out the Turks through the covert assassination of PKK leaders.

That's likely to stir things up for, and with, the Kurds. Perhaps, if we think really hard about it, we can find another, less problematic way to achieve the same end.

Thanks -

Thank you, Russell.

Slartibartfast: "Or, possibly, because we'd kick their asses if they tried to oust us. I mean, they couldn't oust us, because they're vassal states, so we'd kick their asses for just bringing it up.

There might be a third alternative, but I'm not seeing it."

Because 'they' asked us to be there? As a buffer, to protect them?

Like Bahrain, for instance, so that Iran doesn't 'reclaim them as part of the Motherland?'


Because 'they' asked us to be there? As a buffer, to protect them?

I think I covered that with Possibly because those countries are letting us have bases, Nell.

Possibly you were being snarky and I'm being more dim than usual, though.

"Because 'they' asked us to be there? As a buffer, to protect them?"

Nah. Either that comes under Slarti's "letting us," or it's non-existent. As it turns out, the U.S. government doesn't construct and man military bases in foreign nations because somebody asks.

The U.S. government does it because it thinks it's in the interests of the U.S. government; not because of a request. We're not in Bahrain because Bahrain asked. We're in Bahrain because it's very useful to us.

That sometimes some countries are very happy to have U.S. bases, and other times countries are mildly to moderately happy to have U.S. bases, means it sometimes works out mutually well, at least for the U.S. and some of the folks in those countries, but we don't, in fact, do it primarily to make them happy.

As an example, I invite you to consider the U.S. bases on Taiwan. Oh, wait, there aren't any. Is that because Taiwan wouldn't like one or more?

Or do you think Israel would object to an American base or two?

Slarti- I'm surprised more people haven't chimed in agreement, really I thought this debate was settled by now.

With my luck, I was asleep when that happened.

Usually empire is used in opposition to federation and nation-state. The latter only contains minorities too small to form their own independent state or belong (ethnically) to another state. A federation unites basically equal "tribes". An empire has one tribe/nation ruling others that are not actually equal or only insofar as they follow the customs of the dominant (ethnic) group.
The line between federation and empire can be diffuse. Yougoslavia was formally a federation but had many elements of a Serbian empire.
Germany between 1871 and 1918 was (despite the name Deutsches Reich) not an empire but a federation*. The Soviet Union on the other hand was a federation only in name but really a Russian empire.

*one could argue that the acquisition of colonies turned most European states into empires. That would make the US an empire too.

in repsonse to this:

"Because 'they' asked us to be there? As a buffer, to protect them?"

Gary says this:

"Nah. Either that comes under Slarti's "letting us," or it's non-existent. As it turns out, the U.S. government doesn't construct and man military bases in foreign nations because somebody asks."

Although the US doesn't construct and man foreign bases for anyone who asks, it does provide that kind of assistance if the request is mutually beneficial-- like marriages of convenience, there has to be advantages for both parties.

Saudi Arabia, for instance. Since our first association with them in 1945 (the historic meeting between FDR and King Abdulaziz that forged the long relationship between the two countries) Saudi Arabia has requested military help, or aid, or protection, or military equipment from the U.S. numerous times. Here’s some of them:

In the 1950s, worried about Iraqi and Jordan (Saudi traditional regional rivals) involvement with Britain, and the possible encroachment on Saudi oilfields, the Saudis initiated discussions with us, which culminated in a long term mutual defense assistance pact (they leased us the Dhahran Airfield; we supplied them with military trainers, equipment, and promises to protect them).

In 1962, after Egyptian infiltrations, and air attacks on Saudi territory, the Saudis again pursued help from the U.S. which resulted in a stronger U.S. Air Force presence in Jidda, and stepped-up training missions for the Royal Saudi Air Force.

After the Iranian Revolution, and during the Iran-Iraq War, when the Iranians launched missile attacks on Persian Gulf shipping, and made blatant attempts to probe Saudi air defenses, the Saudis again cozied up to the U.S., purchasing large quantities of American weapons and planes, and requesting U.S deployment of airborne warning systems and aircraft to Dhahran, to back up their Air Force.

Of course, it's been an up and down relationship with the Saudis, and with other Gulf allies; but to suggest as others have that the only reason the U.S. is allowed to have military bases in various parts of the world is because we threaten or bully them to get our way is both naive and inaccurate.

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