Another War of Jenkins' Ear

Resist The Pointless

Posts Tagged ‘afghanistan

Today’s Stupid Anti-Intervention Argument

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Comes, not so surprisingly, from FDL. Jon Walker:

According to the Obama administration, imposing a no fly zone doesn’t count as war. Nor does launching long-range smart missiles against a sovereign country or using high altitude bombers. Apparently, even using low-flying, heavily armed, ground-attack aircraft to hit a foreign country’s ground forces or providing direct air support to a rebel army count as war, either.

I’m curious just how far this “as long as American troops are technically in the air it isn’t actually a war” logic can be stretched. Is there specific altitude threshold, or is it as long as our armed forces don’t physically touch the ground that it isn’t a war? Do helicopters count? Do ground-hugging flying armed drones count?

From here, it gets more silly. A few points from reality:

First, every nation-state is sovereign; it’s inherent in the definition. The question is when that sovereignty ends or becomes over-riden by another principle.

Second, the theory behind the United Nations Charter and article 42 in particular is that it is possible that humanitarian violations can inherently cause a loss of sovereignty. I notice there were no major complaints when Obama said that Gaddafi or other dictators had lost the right to rule. That was not respective of sovereignty either. When it does not suit him, Walker ignores issues of sovereignty and instead claims the US keeps dictators in power. And you’ll be happy to know he’s never written on Bahrain or Yemen. Are those leaders sovereign? What about in Syria? It’s easy to say a country is sovereign if you have no idea what that means or when it ends. This is because nowadays we understand sovereignty comes, generally, from the populace, even if not directly through the democratic process. So yes, Gaddafi sending his army to the edge of the city and credibly threatening a massacre would certainly have to have some effect on sovereignty. If you disagree with that, you’re basically disagreeing with all progress in international law the past 150 years.

Third, it’s not the air attack that makes this not a war – that simply makes casualties far less likely which buttresses public opinion (see Mogadishu). A war can be by any one or a combination of at land, war, or sea. Whether action is a war is determined pro forma by the process leading to it, not by the fact that weapons are used. When Bill Clinton fired cruise missiles on (allegedly) terrorist locations or into Iraq, was he declaring war? What about when Clinton intervened in Haiti or Kosovo? And maybe all of these were terrible tactical decisions (or maybe all brilliant) – that’s not the point. But did they amount to war? No, even if the people participating in the actions could not tell the difference. A lot of smart people have thought about when the war powers clause ought be invoked; none have been this glib about it.



Written by John Whitehouse

March 29, 2011 at 3:06 pm

Vision for Foreign Policy and the Budget

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Matt Yglesias:

Basically DHE is saying here that thanks to Obama’s decision to go to war, the previous tensions that had been building up inside the conservative coalition on this point are now easing and the whole right-of-center establishment will get behind the idea that the Pentagon shouldn’t be cut.

This is one reason why I think left-of-center hawks have been way to blithe about dismissing the fiscal concerns surrounding this mission. It’s true that nothing about claiming that you’re going to establish a no-fly zone in Libya and then instead offering tactical air support to rebel groups forces you to slash spending on global public health. But the mission in Libya is a shot in the arm for the politics of wasteful defense spending, and unduly high equilibrium levels of defense spending encourage further cost-ineffective “humanitarian” military adventures.

There’s a reason the budget is so high, though, and it’s not missions like Libya – it’s missions like Afghanistan and Iraq. Whether Libya was the right humanitarian intervention is a question for another post. It seems reasonable to believe the United States will be doing some sort of low-risk medium-interest humanitarian interventions under Democratic Presidents going forward (see: Haiti, the Balkans, etc.). Some will be good ideas, some won’t be, some will have good planning, some won’t. But none of them are going to be particularly expensive.

What is expensive is maintaining expensive and mostly fruitless nation-building programs in Iraq and Afganistan. Juan Cole makes this point here, that Libya is the type of intervention the US should be doing, not Afghanistan. If we really want to lower defense spending in the long run, we need to start convincing legislators of lesser footprints of American military actions, even if that may come with lesser certainty as well.

The path to a small military is not through avoiding Libyas, for positive or negative; it’s through avoiding Afghanistans.

(So yes, the worst possible solution in Libya would be escalating. A stalemate is preferable in many meaningful ways to American interests – and some humanitarian ones.)

Written by John Whitehouse

March 29, 2011 at 2:06 pm

The Kill Team Photos

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Everyone should see these. Yes, they are VERY GRAPHIC, but they’re also what soldiers are doing in our name in a country a world away.

It besmirches the name of everyone who has fought or died for this country, whether in uniform or not, whether in Afghanistan or not. It also besmirches the name of everyone who simply identifies with the United States, whether me or any country allied with the United States.

This is the inevitable result of having a volunteer army largely composed of 18-22 year olds fighting in a place armies go to fail.

But if we can say anything from this, can we at least say that not everyone in the world hates us for our freedoms?

I’m just disgusted.

Written by John Whitehouse

March 27, 2011 at 11:29 pm

Posted in Foreign Policy

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Why Is Iraq the bar for Libya?

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Following a post by Peter Bergen, Matt Yglesias asks:

Is “less misguided than the invasion of Iraq” really a reasonable standard for policy to aspire to? I agree that this should turn out better than Iraq did. But will it turn out better than Somalia? Does it represent a reasonable allocation of resources? “Better than Iraq” is a very low bar for a foreign policy initiative to pass.

I agree, that’s a low bar. But there’s a reason Bergen said that: people are comparing it to Iraq and Afghanistan as a reason why it’s a flawed idea. So proving it’s better than Iraq does not justify the actions, but it certainly does serve to disprove the analogy.

And once we’ve dropped the false comparisons (or at least the shrill ones – obviously to some extent Iraq does inform Libya), it’s easier to determine if it’s a good idea or not.

Written by John Whitehouse

March 21, 2011 at 10:00 am

Three Up and Three Down

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Three stories I somehow like, and three stories I somehow don’t. Chosen fresh daily.

Up: A monkey urinated on the Zambian president. What can I say, political scalatogical events make me laugh. Sue me. You want a serious one? OK, here’s John Dickerson and Peter Orszag discussing health care over the next few days.

Down: If you ever wonder why Afghanistan is going to be difficult for the Americans, British, and other forces there, read this. The frustration of the British in the article is palpable – I can’t even imagine how it is seeing fellow soldiers dying in a situation like that. I like this article for it’s realism, it’s in the down category for how difficult and frankly depressing it makes me feel about Afghanistan. I still think it’s a war that has to be fought, but is there a way to “win”? If not, what does that mean? Along those same lines, an American drone in Pakistan killed 60, half of which were civilians.

Up: Matt Taibbi takes on Goldman Sachs … and Felix Salmon applauds? Salmon’s conclusion: “The best we can hope for, I think, is that Goldman will unilaterally decide to be a force for good in the world, rather than an inflator of bubbles and profiteer in busts.”

Down: Greenwald alert: People within the British government are upset that the Freedom of Information act in the country is used to criticze government and not to understand it. How naive are these people?

Up: Daniel Larison pushes back against the idea that Khamenei can’t be negotiated with, and that negotiating with dictators leaves “blood on your hands.” He has a valid point that a strongly moralistic foreign policy was out of favor for a while, but I would caution that it’s an idea that weaves it’s way into and out of favor over time. The 1890s to the 1910s, for example, strike me as a time when foreign policy was often dictated by morality.

Down: Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly, dolls, and ACORN.

Bonus ups: I had marked this Ramesh Ponnuru op-ed in the Times for it’s clarity regarding judicial thinking on issues of race, but then Jonathan Chait went and singled it out before I got to it. The entire op-ed is worth reading. Additionally, Chait singles out an interesting counter-intuitive point regarding the health care public option and how it, if formulated wrongly, could provide a boon for insurance companies.

Written by John Whitehouse

June 24, 2009 at 6:44 pm