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April 07, 2010


regardless, the occupations will proceed, as if nothing happened, according to the will of those who know how to manipulate those who are afraid of being branded He Who Gave Up.

what's a little fun with a chain-gun among friends?

Merely because this type of atrocity is inevitable if we occupy a country we have invaded does not prove that leaving that country to its fate is a lesser moral wrong. That is why all debates must needs go back to the propriety of the initial decision to invade and overthrow the existing gov't, when those decisions are made consciously at discreet moments in time by responsible officials. Because the resulting responsibility for either this type of atrocity or the moral consequences of abandonment are at that point compulsory.

Otherwise, what is your maxim? Invade & overthrow willy-nilly, but above all, NEVER sustain a prolonged occupation of the ungoverned space you've created? That doesn't hold water. Everything lies in the decision whether to intervene.

I still boggle at the unforgivable stupidity of those self-identifying liberals or intellectuals who supported the invasion in the first place.

I mean I am glad that most of them have recanted, and I wouldn't want to discourage anyone else from changing their mind, but for god's sake, how can you claim to be a liberal and not understand that in endorsing a preemptive attack you are ensuring that incidents like this one will happen endless numbers of times?

And yet no doubt next time they (or their replacements) will swallow the same line of BS about being greeted as liberators, about clean precision weapons, about the power of democracy to defuse insurgency, and they'll tell themselves a nice story about how this time when we invade and occupy a country it's going to work out just great. Cause it's not like they remembered Black Hawk Down and My Lai when the Iraq war was being rolled out.


Defeatism about future acts of aggression by our government is both unproductive and unsupportable at this juncture. We have to cling to the hope that we can influence such decisions; positing that the actions of our government are utterly outside our control w/r/t foreign intervention is an abrogation of our responsibilities not only as U.S. citizens, but as equal human beings to those who would die as a result of our decisions.

Thanks for the lecture, I'll be sure to think of you and blame myself for my "defeatism" next time we go to war.

By the way, I hate to confuse a good argument with such extraneous factors as "what was actually said", but your point about the purported failure to remember that it's the invasion that's the real problem would seem to run aground on what was said in the 2nd paragraph of the post being quoted:

"[T]he threshold point I meant to start with is this: The very high likelihood of such 'tragedies' occurring is a very strong reason not to get into wars of this sort."

I know it's sort of hard to find someone willing to defend the invasion these days, resulting in a grave lack of opportunity to lecture people about their stupidity, but that doesn't mean you can just launch into that argument with anyone at random as if they disagree with you even if they just said the same thing you're arguing.

You have to be creative; you know, find some people who did support the war, but don't now, and beat them up. Like I did. It's not as much fun as a real live argument, but you gotta take what you can get these days.

Liberals are just as susceptible to nationalist calls for the mass sacrifice of foreigners in the name of honor and a better tomorrow.

Otherwise, what is your maxim? Invade & overthrow willy-nilly, but above all, NEVER sustain a prolonged occupation of the ungoverned space you've created?

I'm pretty sure I'm not in the "invade and overthrow willy-nilly" camp, and nothing I have ever written would indicate such.

Sheet, I opposed the Iraq invasion when doing so made me a hysteric and a lune. So why would I decide now to hop on the invade willy and nilly bandwagon - I mean, what did either do to me ;)?

Merely because this type of atrocity is inevitable if we occupy a country we have invaded does not prove that leaving that country to its fate is a lesser moral wrong

This is true. It's just that rarely does staying make it better, especially when staying involves deploying a large army of shooters that will, inevitably, kill large numbers of the people that we are staying to supposedly better their fate. Meaning, the onus on those that argue keeping a large occupying force is better for the inhabitants have an enormous hurdle of a presumption to overcome.

They have to prove that:

1. They can stay and improve the situation.
2. That the situation undoubtedly would spiral out of control but for our presence - and yet staying will prevent that, etc.

In places like Afghanistan, for example, I'm not sure what our moral obligation is. We entered in the middle of a civil war, and tilted the field in favor of one side - the Northern Alliance and those Taliban factions that switched over to them like weather vanes.

While there, the civil war has raged on regardless. If we leave, the civil war will continue to rage, and probably flare up more. The side that we originally sided with will fare badly, but no worse than had we not invaded in the first place. In fact, the NA was pretty badly beaten back when we did, and there's a good chance that now they could better hold turf.

Sorry, didn't mean to lecture. I just don't think resignation to a fate of renewed intervention and empire is necessary yet. Maybe you don't either. Sorry if I misread you.

As to the "quoted" passage -- well, that's Jim Fallow's expressed view, with which I obviously agree. Eric on the other hand,in almost all his posts on the topic, is much more apt to emphasize the wrongness of the continuation of the resulting occupation, which, while I certainly don't categorically argue with that view, I regard as a more thorny issue than the question of intervention in the first instance, which is the most imperative and direct way to address the problem of the obligations (whether those are to remain engaged or to disengage whatever the cost) incurred by launching invasions and overthrowing regimes.

positing that the actions of our government are utterly outside our control w/r/t foreign intervention is an abrogation of our responsibilities not only as U.S. citizens, but as equal human beings to those who would die as a result of our decisions.

None of which makes it any less true.


Thanks for the calm reply. I realize that was a provocative construction. I didn't mean to suggest you were in fact on the willy-nilly bandwagon -- of course I know you weren't/aren't -- merely that from the arguments you are making, it isn't clear you couldn't be. I.e that the principle you espose w/r/t intervention in your posts seems to be more up in the air in your posts, than the principle w/r/t occupation.

Because, as you point out, the efficacy of the occupation versus a withdrawal is an empirical question of comparing harms. I just can't buy a blanket statement that an occupation following an invasion will NEVER be the morally required course. And the point is that, one the invasion is undertaken and overthrow achieved, that morally required course (subject to reasonable protection of interests) IS in fact required. So if that is not maintaining an occupation, then not is required (about which in Afghanistan you may well be right), but if it is maintaining an occupation until a civil gov't of some kind can be established, then that is required (again, within reasonable concern for interest). The point is, some course of action is required of the invader by international norms once an intervention has been undertaken. You identify that holding to be the 'liberal hawk' view, but I take it to just be the clear requirement of responsibility for the consequences of what one undertakes ostensibly for the benefit of others. I always identified the liberal hawk view as the one that says powerful nations have a duty to undertake such enterprises where a great moral wrong in the world cries out for intervention by the righteous powerful of the world. If we say that the mere view that the decision to intervene imposes certain obligations on the intervenor the liberal hawk position, then what do we call the latter position I just described?

In my view the only way to avoid such requirements (whether to maintain occupation or to disengage or even just to face that wrenching calculation) is to avoid the intervention in the first place. I just think it's important to say that often and emphasize it.

"I mean I am glad that most of them have recanted"

Keeping in mind that had there been even a small number of identifiable WMD's, or even proof they had existed recently, most of them would not have recanted.

So, in regards to your points, you still stand with a minority. For better or worse.

We just proved that point with the unnecessary extension of the occupation and decimation of Afghanistan.

how can you claim to be a liberal and not understand that in endorsing a preemptive attack you are ensuring that incidents like this one will happen endless numbers of times?

The preemptive part is beside the point.

Incidents like this will happen in any war, preemptive or not.

And regarding the preemptive part, I'm not sure that liberal or not liberal has anything to do with it.

My question is how you can claim to believe in the rule of law and also assent to a doctrine of preemptive war.

The logic of liberal interventionism is, at base, that of empire. Cry for me, Peter Beinart.

This is what happens in war, even so called good wars like WW2. War by it's very nature is immoral regardless of the motive. War corrupts period. The pilot/captain of that gunship was an officer. This is what happens to our bravest and brightest in war.


There's definitely a difference between liberal hawks that want to invade countries to bring about democratic change/right a wrong and those that want to stay longer once we're there.

In practice, obviously, there is a lot of overlap. Also in common, for too many (though not all): a fundamental lack of understanding about what the use of force entails. That is, a belief in the redemptive power of military force and ignorance to the inevitable fact that, when employed, military force is a heinous tool that often devastates those in close proximity thereto. Even when our overal mission doesn't intend such destruction - hell, even when our commanders establish ROE to avoid it.

Part of this confusion is the byproduct of believing our own propaganda: watching too many war movies where US troops are always the good guys, and reluctant, restrained heroes at that; listening to too much exceptionalist rhetoric, etc. Part of it is also the way war has been sanitized for American audiences and quarantined: we don't see the gore, we don't see the bodies, we don't even see the coffins coming home; we're not subject to a draft, our taxes don't go up, etc.

That being said, there are obviously some that don't favor an easy use of force to begin with, that understand the brutality of occupations/insurgent wars, and still agonize about whether in the grand scheme of things, maintaining an occupation is slightly better than ending one in certain contexts. I, myself, am sometimes in that camp. I was at various times vis-a-vis Iraq and Afghanistan.

I would arge that this latter group is relatively small, and not the target of this piece necessarily. However, even that latter group needs constant reminder about what war really looks like.

"preventive" not "preemptive"

If you're about to punch me in the face, I can pop you first. But I can't just haul off because I think you might decide to hit me later on. (Not that either case matters in terms of the kind of consequences we're discussing. I just don't want to give the Bush admin more justification than it deserves.)


That's masterfully stated. I agree with every word. For those like you and I who regard war with the revulsion it deserves (and which every single person who has been in it tells us we should), it is a difficult thing to try to make sense of what our responsibilities are when we've thrown that caution to the wind and used war as a means to change other countries' governments without good reason (ie self-defense). In any given case, I'm completely open to the position you've taken on Afghanistan, but as you say, I struggle with it. But this is why I emphasize so greatly that we remember the stakes of the initial decision whether to employ force (or more to the point, to eliminate an existing government). We're stuck with what we've created in Afghanistan and Iraq, but we don't have to make ourselves responsible for the governance of yet more beleaguered populations around the globe.

You said that, "the war proponents most in need of the pause and reconsider that this incident should inspire, and which Fallows begs for, would be the liberal hawk set, and those that demand that we owe it to either the Iraqis or Afghans to maintain large numbers of troops in their respective countries for decades to come again, for their own good," and in retrospect I see that doesn't necessarily include all who think that we have some residual, perhaps military, obligation in Afghanistan, so I probably did misread your target somewhat.

And indeed, you are right that what we saw in the video is an important reminder even for those of us with with a more limited view of our obligated commitment there (i.e., not 'decades'), and since I saw it, that is exactly the way I have been considering what I see.

Just to reiterate, I wholeheartedly agree with Fallows' main point, namely that when considering any proposed use of force, it is essential to understand that the type of action seen in this video is precisely the thing that is being considered in that suggestion, not an aberration. My point is that before a country have decided to use force to overthrow a government, it is still fully in possession of its prerogative not to have to be responsible for any such actions, whereas the responsibility incurred after foreclosing the option not to do so will be very difficult to pinpoint, and, as horrible as what is seen in that video is, countenancing actions like it for some period of time after launching such an elective action may well ultimately be required. Which is all just to say that launching any unnecessary invasion and regime change against another country (1) is rightfully illegal, (2) will be a hugely adverse decision for a country to make given the resulting responsibilities, but above all, (3) constitutes in every case a vertiginous fall from moral grace, no matter where the country previously stood, which will leave the country in a worse position in which to attempt to say that the means of war as seen in this video are morally repugnant and cannot be countenanced, because they were deemed fully acceptable only so long ago as the invasion was being considered by the polity of the country, before it had even taken on any responsibility for the state of affairs in the country to be invaded. This is the reason I emphasize so strongly the importance of the integration of an explicit understanding that this video is what war is in the debate about whether to go to war, because once a country has determined that they regard these means as acceptable for some end by deciding to go to war, the grounds on which it will subsequently be able to say that it cannot use them will be significantly deteriorated (though of course it is never too late to do the right thing, even if that is recognizing that the lives destroyed in the effort thus far are no less subject to he sunk cost fallacy than the dollars spent).

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