Tripoli and the hawks


Erik Kain

Erik writes about video games at Forbes and politics at Mother Jones. He's the contributor of The League though he hasn't written much here lately. He can be found occasionally composing 140 character cultural analysis on Twitter.

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  1. From Tom Engelhardt tonight:

    “Can you even remember the world before 9/11? You know, the one where you weren’t stripped in the airport or body-wanded at the ballpark? It’s as much a lost world as anything Conan Doyle ever imagined. And it seems there’s no turning back. An administration voted into office by a populace tired of George W. Bush-ism has, remarkably enough, added on to Bush’s wars, redoubled his “secret” drone campaigns, further expanded the special operations forces that have grown into a secret military inside the military, upped the level of secrecy that envelops the National Security Complex (whose further expansion it also has overseen), renewed the Patriot Act, supported further surveillance of Americans, dumped yet more money into the Pentagon, and in sum seems intent on recreating Bushism without Bush.”Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

      Ain’t it the truth? And maybe next we’ll double down and elect Rick Perry!Report

      • Avatar wardsmith says:

        But E.D. if we elect Perry, the exact SAME establishment that completely ignores every thing Carr accurately identified that Obama is doing will have conniption fits about Perry doing it! You see it isn’t somehow wrong for a lefty do do what a righty did, it only becomes wrong if a lefty says so. They’ll only speak up when it is the other side doing it, they are perpetually silent when it is one of their own.

        In other words, if you don’t like Obama one-upping Bush as he has been doing, just vote someone from the right into office and the screaming and yelling will begin immediately. In the funhouse mirror political world we live in it all makes perfect (illogical) sense.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          The problem is that the tea parties will then disappear like tears in the rain.

          Do you know why your children need to be patted down (not *MOLESTED*, that’s inflammatory and indicates that you are not a serious person) before flight? Because there are terrorists out there who want to kill you and they are so evil that they are willing to kill their children if it will kill you too.

          The only question that remains is whether you want to endanger my children from the threat of the people who want to kill them because you project your own perversions onto the government who is trying to protect us… oh, I see you’ve already answered that question.Report

        • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

          wardsmith – yes and no. Plenty of liberals were happy enough to go along with Iraq (at least at first). The dynamic is weird. There is a much more consistently hawkish contingent on the right. This contingent isn’t about to criticize a president harshly for going along with their agenda simply because they happen to be a Democrat. They have other allies to do that for them, on other issues. Meanwhile the left has no similarly stalwart contingent of hawks (they deserted some time ago and became neoconservatives after all). The TNR crowd will go along with a war, maybe, and a few other bastions of liberal interventionists, if the POTUS is a Republican. But many liberals who were entirely happy to support Obama in Libya would have been up in arms had it been a president Bush or Perry in charge.

          But really, who cares? I wasn’t cheering along with Libya. Why do I care if the left does or does not depending on which party is in power. It’s all to be expected and both sides are guilty of it on any variety of issues and policies.Report

          • Avatar wardsmith says:

            It seems we are in complete agreement, I didn’t understand the yes and no part of it. It’s all to be expected and both sides are guilty of it on any variety of issues and policies.

            Yup, both parties and the entire concept of lefty and righty is completely broken.

            This reminds me of something we used to do in gung fu. The translation from the Chinese of “pushing hands” isn’t really correct because it entails a lot more, but the object is to at once have a stance and not have a stance. If you push me, you’ll become unbalanced and I’ll knock you on your ass. On the other hand if I overreach and /try/ to knock you on your ass /I’ll/ become unbalanced and I’ll end up on my ass. The exercise of course is to teach balance and accommodation. Our political “masters” are not so good at this game, unfortunately as the stakes get higher, their incompetence becomes more costly.Report

  2. Avatar bldi says:

    “Instead we are about to replace one tyrant with another in Libya and call it victory.” What do you mean ‘we’, white man? Can’t you give the rebels a day of power before declaring tyranny and starting to cry in your soup? Also, “We can work to end these horrors, through freedom of trade and freedom of movement, the end to trade and immigration restrictions, and the persistent advocacy of civil liberties.” Please explain 1) the difference between freedom of trade and the the end to (you mean ‘of’) trade restrictions and 2) when the last time a dictatorship was undone by other nations ending immigration restrictions and persistent advocacy. Thanks!Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

      There is no difference. I’m just being repetitive.

      When was a regime undone by the end of immigration restrictions? When have we ever truly seen the end to said restrictions? I’d say the opportunity to emigrate to the United States did quite a lot to end various strangle-holds on various peoples, however.Report

    • Avatar Christopher Carr says:

      “when the last time a dictatorship was undone by other nations ending immigration restrictions and persistent advocacy. ”

      I’d say this was basically our strategy with China (and Ron Paul brings this up a lot as part of his crank “isolationism” bs.) and China has gotten a lot better since we started doing this.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew says:

        That plus de jure cold war with them (including a nuclear umbrella) over an island they claim to have the right to govern where we don’t recognize their right to govern, but rather that of a rival. Other than that, yeah totally just an engagement strategy.Report

        • Avatar Kolohe says:

          It’s impossible to describe the US’s relationship with Taiwan in a single sentence (i.e. there’s at least two more layers on top of how you summarized it), which makes the PRC relationship an archetypical engagement strategy (c.f. Pakistan)Report

        • Avatar Christopher Carr says:

          I’d frame it as that despite Taiwan and count it as two points for trade as primary force of peace.Report

          • Avatar Michael Drew says:

            Trade as a force of peace, even of moderation and gradual liberalisation were not the topic that was raised, and I wouldn’t dispute it as such. The topic raised – the claim made – was for trade as a force for ‘toppling dictators,’ i.e REvolution, not merely desirable evolution (gradual liberalisation) of a single tyrannical regime (which PRC China is, has been, and will continue to be [a fact that largely serves our interests]).Report

  3. Avatar Roland Dodds says:

    I am a bit surprised that this is your first thought on these events E.D. On a day that appears to see the end of a 42 year old dictator at the hands of his own people with the aid of a slew of nations and people, why is your first fear the politically strengthened position of “hawks” and “neocons”?

    No one knows the future of Libya, and it will be up to the Libyan people to decide, but I would surely put more faith in the possibility of a free and functioning society from one that has the opportunity to be democratic and representative. A future that would not have been possible under the Gaddafi regime without some support from the international community.Report

    • Avatar Roland Dodds says:

      That last sentence is a bit unclear. It should read: A future that would not have been possible under the Gaddafi regime and that would not have been undone without some support from the international community.Report

      • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

        Perhaps, perhaps not. The international community is likely somewhat to blame in Gaddafi’s rise to power and grip on power for so long. I’m glad to see him go, of course, but I find the entire thing yet another example of Americans and Europeans getting themselves involved in things that are none of their business.

        Besides, the Libyans will almost certainly prop up new dictators to replace the old ones. Nothing in Libyan civil society makes me think that a functioning democratic system will emerge.Report

        • Avatar Stillwater says:

          I’m optimistic about Libya. Definitely more now than when the intervention began.Report

          • Avatar Burt Likko says:

            “Hopeful but cautious” describes my mood.Report

          • Avatar Murali says:

            I’m not. I’m extremely pessimistic about libya’s future. Over time, if Nato had just lived up to its name and merely talked, Libya would be in a much more stable condition now and it would be nusiness as usual. It requires massive cognitive dissonance to on the one hand note that a state is by definition a local monopoly on the use of power and at the same time think it impermissible for a state to fire on its rebels or even violent demonstraters or rioters.Report

            • Avatar Stillwater says:

              Murali, I’m not sure that a dictatorship has the legitimate authority to fire on rebels, or at least, I’m not sure the argument in it’s favor can be drawn by analogy to democratic governments engaging in the same behavior.

              Further down, you argue that there is nothing inherently wrong with a dictatorship, which I think is a bit puzzling. A dictatorship sorta definitionally is not required to acquiesce to the legitimate demands of the people. I think that specific power automatically puts dictatorship below democracy, even tho democracies are notoriously messy.

              Do you not agree with that?Report

              • Avatar Murali says:

                A dictatorship sorta definitionally is not required to acquiesce to the legitimate demands of the people

                No, a dictatorship’s policies are merely not necessarily governed by popular opinion. Unless you presume that demands for the right to vote are necessarily legitimate. But to do that is to assume the inherent justice of democracy in the outset.Report

        • Avatar Herb says:

          I’m no hawk by any means, but I’m not so sure that what’s been going on in Libya is none of our business. It may be out of our direct control, but we (and the Europeans) have various interests in the region, and so we have various options.

          1) Do nothing and let things play out. That may be a prudent option, but we shouldn’t expect American or European powers to choose it. America/Europe almost always errs on the side of pursuing global stability over non-intervention. The western powers seem to be only reluctant to intervene if the problem is located in Sub-Saharan Africa. Libya is too far north for that, and it’s recent history exposes them even more to Western intervention. You can’t spend 40 years actively opposing the West and then hope they don’t align against you when you’re at your weakest.

          2) Do too much while trying to control the uncontrollable. Over-committing to Iraq is the most glaring example.

          3) Intervene in a way that limits your exposure and furthers your goals, which appears to be what NATO has been doing.

          Option 1 won’t accomplish anything because “not accomplishing anything” is the goal. Option 2 may accomplish something, but at too high a cost. So least bad option? Number 3. Intervene, but not in a way where you lose.

          That’s not to say that intervening is a good idea on its merits. Just that if you’re going to intervene….you should do it this way.Report

          • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

            I see nothing wrong with the do nothing approach. If we truly believe that dictatorships are brittle, let them break on their own. Quit trading with them if you must (or trade with them more depending on how you want to be subversive). But this Libyan intervention is folly even if we “win”.Report

            • Avatar Murali says:

              There is nothing intrinsically wrong with dictatorships. Whether or not dictatorships are conducive to justice is ultimately an empirical matter that depends on the particularities of any one case. It follows, then, that toppling a government because it is not a democracy is fundamentally illegitimate. Similarly bringing military action against a country which is dealing with its rebelss violently is an act of aggression. If we wanted global stability, we would not invade other countries, nor would we invoke economic sanctions.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Murali, the whole “consent of the governed” thing gets in the way when it comes to dictatorship.

                While it’s certainly true that a “Good Tsar” isn’t a bad form of government necessarily (it’s certainly efficient!), it easily becomes a “Bad Tsar” government… which has much intrinsically wrong with it.

                If we wanted global stability, we would not invade other countries, nor would we invoke economic sanctions.

                Stability is not enough. We need consensus.Report

              • Avatar Murali says:

                the whole “consent of the governed” thing gets in the way when it comes to dictatorship.

                Why is consent of the governed important? What type of consent do we want anyway? Hypothetical or actual? If the former there is no reason why people in a constitutional convention with a veil of ingnorance would necessarily not consent to a dictatorship. If the latter, see below for why actual consent is neither achievable in practice, nor in principle nor even desireable.

                The first observation to make is that no government in the world has the complete consent of all its people. Under the principle of those who have not sinned should be the first to cast stones, no one has standing to criticise non-democracies on this front.

                Also, in principle, no government can achieve actual consent of the governed. If all men (and women) were angels, there would be no need for government. People would voluntarily abide by the principles of justice. However, people are not angels and if not threatened with force, at least some will continue to be hooligans and criminals and endanger the rest of us.

                And being flawed human beings, not all would even consent to a government run by angels let alone flawed human beings.

                The point is this. Any government, even the most just government, would in virtue of being a government, do things to those it governs against at least some of their consent.

                Finally, there is nothing tht guarantees that the demands of majorities are legitmate. Another word for consent of the governed is mob rule, which sounds a lot less nice than consent of the governed.

                So, why is government justified? because government, by imposing a monopoly on the use of force, sharply curtails the war of all against all. Governments, therefore retain there legitimacy as long as they perform this function. And while they continue to be legitimate in this particular sense, they are fully justified in putting down rebellions by force.

                While it’s certainly true that a “Good Tsar” isn’t a bad form of government necessarily (it’s certainly efficient!), it easily becomes a “Bad Tsar” government… which has much intrinsically wrong with it.

                Two points here:

                1. The Bad Tsar government is intrinsically wrong because of the badness, not the Tsar-ness. The Tsar-ness is only wrong contingent on its empirical probability of turning from good to bad. Also, there are good and bad democracies as well anddemocracies can go horribly wrong by voting Hamas, or for that matter, the National socialists into power.

                2. If all economic sanctions were dropped against dictatorships, within a generation, they will most likely converge on the Singapore or for that matter, the Dubai solution. i.e it is likely that we will have a lot of bad Tsars becoming Good Tsars. Why? because being a good Tsar can and will make you really really rich! In fact, with examples like Singapore, Dubai and China (which is in the process of becoming a Good Tsar), the solution would be so obvious that the probability that such would happen becomes higher.

                Stability is not enough. We need consensus

                What do we need a consensus about and who are the “we” that need this consensus?Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                I like the way you approach things, Mr. Murali. My agreement on this or that is secondary to my appreciation of your clarity.

                & thx for clarifying my point elsewhere on order as the prerequisite for justice, let alone “freedom,” whatever that is. We of the West take civil order as a given and for granted.

                I was just about to ask about yr Hobbesian bent, but you answered before being asked.


              • Avatar Murali says:

                I like the way you approach things, Mr. Murali. My agreement on this or that is secondary to my appreciation of your clarity


              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                I think Mr. Murali’s core dynamic is what follows from EDK’s position, and is getting more to the heart of the matter than he’s being given credit for.

                In the larger sense, Mr. Murali is not self-evidently wrong, that democracy is the only legitimate government. There have been a number of nations at wit’s end with civil war that only a dictatorship can pacify, and they have a consent of the governed on that level. [Freedom is useless without order.]

                So too, it’s not self-evident that regimes like some parts of Soviet Union history or Chavez’ Venezuela or Castro’s Cuba do not enjoy a consent of the governed, at least a majority of them. We’re appalled at Chavez’ high-handedness, but it seems his majority permanent underclass think’s it’s just peachy vs. the monied interests.

                These are examples of when who the good guys and bad guys are becomes a matter of taste.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                [Freedom is useless without order.]

                Who is measuring utility here?Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                Or freedom, for that matter.Report

              • Avatar Murali says:

                We are not even measuring utility or freedom, Mr Van Dyke’s basic point is that a pre-requisite of justice, i.e. before we even get to setting up the basic structure which would realise the principles of justice, we must first stop the Hobbesian war of all against all.Report

              • Avatar Christopher Carr says:

                I believe Vladimir Putin regularly tops lists of most popular world leaders.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                > There is nothing intrinsically wrong
                > with dictatorships.

                Yes, there is.

                Assuming you include “transfer of power” as something that is included in your evaluation of forms of government.

                Of course, if you instead assume that you evaluate a government only on what happens while it’s in swing, then you can have “good” dictatorships.

                It’s these edge cases that are the bitch.Report

              • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

                I guess, in theory, you could have a night watchman style dictatorship that was essentially harmless, but I don’t think this is how power typically works.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                Even discounting the motivations of the dictator (which is a whole ‘nuther conversation with a conclusion upon which I’m pretty sure you and I would agree).

                Getting from one Presidential administration to the next, here, requires a vote and some ceremony.

                Getting from dictator A to dictator B or alternative government Zed is usually something of a very ugly affair.

                Dictatorships do not have graceful failure modes.Report

              • Avatar Murali says:

                Getting from one presidential administration to the next cannot be compared to getting from dictator A to alternative government Zed. In fact, if we want to talk about transitions of power, dictatorships, absent foreign interference can have very stable power transfers. Successors are designated far in advance, and are groomed to take the reins of power by gradually taking over more and more roles as the predecessor gradually relinquishes power to him. Transitions are therefore more seamless than the insane oscilation in policy direction that seems to characterise american politics.

                Dictatorships do not have graceful failure modes

                And democracies do? Regardless, a single party dictatorship like China’s may very well exhibit the best of both worlds. Consistent policy over time as well as seamless power transfer.Report

            • Avatar Roland Dodds says:

              Not all dictatorships are going to fall apart with mass public protests. Libya and Syria make that case quiet well. The “wait and see” approach sometimes ends with enough local support to overthrow the regime, and sometimes it doesn’t. But that should not color our policy in each situation.

              Juan Cole has a post about about ten myths around the Libya War that is worth a read. This bit is especially timely:

              “The Libyan Revolution was a civil war. It was not, if by that is meant a fight between two big groups within the body politic. There was nothing like the vicious sectarian civilian-on-civilian fighting in Baghdad in 2006. The revolution began as peaceful public protests, and only when the urban crowds were subjected to artillery, tank, mortar and cluster bomb barrages did the revolutionaries begin arming themselves. When fighting began, it was volunteer combatants representing their city quarters taking on trained regular army troops and mercenaries. That is a revolution, not a civil war. ”


              As for Murali’s argument that “There is nothing intrinsically wrong with dictatorships”…. sigh. But there you have it really.Report

            • Avatar Herb says:

              There’s nothing wrong with the do nothing approach. It’s just not the approach the US/European political establishment is going to take with a dude like Muammar Gaddafi.

              There’s too much history there.Report

        • Avatar Kolohe says:

          “The international community is likely somewhat to blame in Gaddafi’s rise to power and grip on power for so long.”

          I’m struggling in vain to get my head around this? Is this a generic “everything wrong with the post-colonial world even a half century after the fact is still the fault of (western) Europeans and Americans”? Is it the fact that we ‘engaged’ with Gadaffi over last few years*? We’ve ‘engaged’ with the PRC in the same way for decades.

          Anyway, hipster Zombie Reagan says he was hating Gaddafi before it was cool.Report

  4. Avatar Roland Dodds says:

    “The international community is likely somewhat to blame in Gaddafi’s rise to power and grip on power for so long.”

    Condemn and combat when wrong, support when correct. The fact that capitalists and Western heads of state supported a strongman and a dictator should be no surprise to most, but it also doesn’t make the fall of Gaddafi any less support worthy.

    “Besides, the Libyans will almost certainly prop up new dictators to replace the old ones.”

    More than ever, international support, preferably through the UN and other international organizations, have to support the Libyan people and the existing liberals in that country as they make a transition to a new society. But to say that since their social society has been crushed under years of dictatorship a better future is not possible, sounds sadly reactionary and unfortunate. Societies with less in the way of material interests and greater social divisions have created societies without the need for a military strongman, and counting Libya out on the day they may have actually removed their strongman seems regrettable.Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

      From what I can tell, the rebels are just new strongmen. It’s hard to get worked up and excited about new strongmen replacing old ones. Though, like I’ve said already, I’m glad to see Gaddafi toppled. I’m just deeply cynical that it will lead to a happy ending.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        … you want your happy ending? Look at Israel. You want your sad ending? look at London, or Philadelphia.

        …jeez, you’d think flash mobs were just about “being silly”…Report

        • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

          I can’t parse this comment.

          What are you saying?Report

          • Avatar Kim says:

            … that what is ongoing in Libya is part of a wider war, and that people shouldn’t mistake a test-operation for planned-deployment. Most of what is being used in Libya was also deployed in Egypt, and is now being used in London and Israel.
            You did see the post about /b/ taking credit for Libya and Egypt, right?Report

  5. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    As usual, I’m oblivious. So they got rid of Gaddafi, eh? Well, good riddance to him. I don’t know what to say about the hawks. Their position has always struck me as inaccurate on a number of points. However, it is cheering to see people free themselves from tyranny, even if we don’t know what happens next; and the Arab Spring really is something to behold. People want to be free and good for them.

    Besides, the argument that there was something particularly “neocon” about the idea that people in that part of the world desire democratic self-determination just as much as anyone else always struck me as nonsense- it wasn’t as if the sensible opposing argument was that they yearn to be oppressed and should be left alone- it was that home-grown revolutions tend to do much better than imported ones. The claim that people of the Near East (actually, it’s often been made about the Far East as well) prefer to live under an iron fist dates back to about the 18th century and most likely originated in Europe. If the “neocons” rejected it, they were right to; there’s plenty of evidence that it’s nonsense. Besides, the logical conclusion to that isn’t for the West to manage their affairs for them.Report

  6. Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

    Why not just credit or condemn President Obama for this? Bush is retired; barely a neo-con in sight.Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

      You must not have read the post very carefully. I said this strengthens the hands of the hawks, including neoconservatives that most hawkish tribe of them all. I didn’t condemn Bush (who wasn’t really a neocon anyways, only gullible) and I did wag my finger at Obama….so….Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        E.D, why do you hate Christians?Report

      • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

        EDK, since the neo-cons had their day under Bush, and Bush pulled the trigger twice under their “tutelage,” it’s reasonable to see an implication of Bush here.

        Obama gets off rather easy, if not scott-free, since there’s no real condemnation of him here, only that his action will encourage the “bad guys.”

        We can work to end these horrors, through freedom of trade and freedom of movement, the end to trade and immigration restrictions, and the persistent advocacy of civil liberties. Bullets are a lousy substitute.

        Absent NATO bullets and bombs, Gaddafi’s still in, as he was for 40 years. It depends on the regime and its ruthlessness. An “end to trade and immigration restrictions” [whatever immigration has to do with it] removes the one “soft” hammer of sanctions, which may or may not be a good thing, but one most worthy of discussion. But free trade alone won’t swing it and may strengthen tyrannical regimes; advocating human rights is mostly our default position anyway: there’s just a question how much of it you can advocate before it screws up trade [see China], and all “constructive engagement” halts.

        So, what’s left is we look at Syria or Iran and say tut-tut. Perhaps that helps, but I doubt it.Report

        • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

          So what? So Gaddafi remains in power – for a while. So we say tut-tut and eventually the weight of inevitability leads to the atrophy of other totalitarian regimes. The world is changing and dictators are dying off. Our impatient drive to topple them all with American power is stupid and expensive and essentially unnecessary.Report

          • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

            So what, Erik? Gaddafi was in for 40 years–no inevitability of fall. Discussing Iraq is a waste of time—Afghanistan was the “good war” and provides far more clarity on this issue—but Saddam had his two lovely sons Uday and Attila ready to pick up. Tyrannies can have a very long shelf life.

            Sure, Erik, if you take the 1000-year stare, all things must pass. North Korea will be free. someday. Meanwhile millions starve and Ill Kim Jongs spread weapons to terrorists all over the world.

            I’m not delegitimizing your POV: the 1000-yr-stare is helpful to keep in mind. Solzhenitsyn said it was nice we beat the Nazis, but in doing so, empowered a far worse global menace, Sovietism/Communism. Can’t argue with that. On a smaller scale, aiding the Mujaheddin in Afghanistan gave rise to bin Laden. So it goes.Report

            • Avatar Chris says:

              Solzhenitsyn said it was nice we beat the Nazis, but in doing so, empowered a far worse global menace, Sovietism/Communism.

              I find this to be an odd view. It’s true, the Soveits became a world power rivaled by only one other country because they defeated the Nazis (and let’s not forget, they were the ones facing 80% of the German military, not us), and built the largest military in the world in the process, to go along with a production capacity that will probably never be equaled. And the post-war Soviet regimes weren’t particularly enamored with freedom and liberty, and had moments of violent suppression of such things (1968 comes to mind). The worst of the Soviet excesses, however, occurred before World War II had begun. In fact, they occurred at the same time that Hitler was rising to power. Perhaps one might say that if it weren’t for Hitler’s rise to power, the rest of Europe wouldn’t have been completely preoccupied with what was happening in Germany (and the threat that presented to their survival), and therefore wouldn’t have completely ignored the forced starvation of millions in the Ukraine and elsewhere, or all of the disappearances in 1937, but victory didn’t allow these things to happen, as they already had when victory was achieved.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                I suppose it’s true that the defeat of the Nazis allowed the Soviets to take over most of Eastern Europe. But if you see that as an obviously bad thing, then you’re definitely taking the long view. Eastern Europe was the birthplace of the two largest wars in the history of the planet, and was as unstable at the end of World War II as it was at the beginning of World War I. Perhaps the U.S. and the shattered and nearly bankrupt British and French could have kept the peace there, but that’s far from obvious. I don’t mean to imply that living under Soviet control was a good thing for the people, but what was the alternative? Was it better? Short term or long term?Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                And considering the Nazi plans for Eastern Europe (genocide and permanent serfdom for the survivors), it’s difficult to call even Soviet Communism worse.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                Hey, give me liberty, or give me a horrible, horrible death and burial in a mass grave, eh?Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

                Yeah, ignoring Solzhenitsyn, because somebody who escapes an oppessive regime of any sort acts like it’s the worst place ever, but a lot of people truly don’t know how far reaching and f’d up the Nazi’s plans for Europe was post-victory in World War II.

                Yes, the Soviets installed non-democratic governments and made things horrible, but they didn’t liquidize the population or turn them into slave labor.

                Also, as Chris pointed out above, I have many questions about how ‘democratic’ any Western-backed nation that close to the Soviets would be, especially when you look at the stuff that occurred in the run-up to the first post-war elections in Italy. I have a funny feeling the Christian Democrat equivalent in Poland or Romania would somehow manage to maintain control of the government in every election. 🙂Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                > Yes, the Soviets installed non-
                > democratic governments and
                > made things horrible, but they
                > didn’t liquidize the population
                > or turn them into slave labor.


                I’m not absolutely sure that these numbers are accurate, of course, but it jibes with my recollection Stalin killed about 20 million of his own people.

                Mao was worse, of course.Report

              • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

                Yeah, there was really no good option in Europe at that point. The Soviets were guilty of mass genocide, so were the Nazis. The difference is that the Soviets weren’t invading a bunch of our allies. They hadn’t toppled the French government. They weren’t bombing London. They hadn’t aligned themselves with the Japanese or bombed Pearl Harbor.Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

                I meant the populations of other nations, not inside the USSR. When it comes to deaths within your own country, totalitarian governments in large countries with tons of people will always claim the prize.

                But yes, I’ll make the controversial statement. If I’m your standard landless peasant or factory worker in Poland or Bulgaria, I’ll take the Soviet’s over the German idea of turning my country into a very large new subdivision of the volk of Germany while I get to work as a serf somewhere unti l die.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                My point was that the worst of that took place prior to the end of the war. The original claim was that the victory made the Soviet Union, which was worse (according to the quote) possible.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                Let’s get Solzhenitsyn’s entire argument first, that Nazism was limited by its core principle of racial supremacy. By contrast, Communism was a completely virulent ideology that could be taken up across the entire planet. And they took their shot, with only the West—and that means the US—to stand athwart.

                We can attempt to cordon off Stalinism or Sovietism, although the gulag state that Solzhenitsyn endured was plenty enough of what he was arguing against.

                But then we have Maoism and Pol Pot, and of course the Nork regime, all which did their murder of millions after Stalin’s death [and the Norks continue, quietly, non-violently].

                I’m not totally endorsing Solzhenitsyn’s argument, but looking for some perspective to inform the 1000-yr-stare that engaging EDK’s core point requires without going all “hawkish” on him. [“Hawk” being so vague as to almost be a strawman here.]

                The blatant and well-documented inhumanity of the Hitler regime tends to get communism almost a pass. But its butcher’s bill was bigger than Hitler’s, its horrors not as graphic [not so much in the way of film and pictures as the Holocaust]—but no less murderous.

                Our 30-and-unders grew up with the Soviet Union on the ropes, its empire crumbling, the threat of nuclear war fading. I think sometimes the Nazis as ne minus ultra make communism seem not-so-bad.

                But it was that bad. Had there been no Hitler, Communism would rightly stand as our standard for humanity at its worst.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                Tom, I actually agree that, under Stalin, the Soviet Union was worse than the Nazi regime, particularly in the 1920s and 30s. Nineteen thirty-seven is a year that every Soviet citizen who lived through it had/has to reckon with, in much the same way that Germans have to reckon with the Holocaust, and the starving of the “Kulaks” in 1932-33 is perhaps the greatest evil ever perpetrated by a government on its people. There certainly can’t be anything worse (Mao’s forced famines compete for the title).
                Here’s a quote I came across in a NYT article published several months ago, from the “Great Leap Forward” famine. It’s a police report from one of the provinces:

                “Name of culprit: Yang Zhongsheng. Name of victim: Yang Ecshun. Relationship with Culprit: Younger Brother. Manner of Crime: Killed and Eaten. Reason: Livelihood Issues.”

                I should also add that much of what happened in Southeast Asia is as much our fault as it is that of the Soviets. We had a chance to prevent a Communist takeover of Vietnam, for example, but chose to side with the French in their last ditch efforts to maintain their empire over the pleas of the Vietnamese for autonomy. The result was 58,000 dead Americans and millions of dead Vietnamese.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                I stipulated Stalin for you, Chris. History does not reveal its alternatives; North Korea might be one of them.

                As for the Korean War or the Vietnam War, there is much to be said about what the wisest course of action would have been. That’s different than becoming Switzerland, which means “no course of action.”

                We could have stopped Hitler’s buildup in the 1930s and saved tens of millions of lives. It’s quite so that “generals fight the last war,” not the current one, but it’s foolish to declare an “End to history” as Fukuyama did, or the lessons of the 1930s, that a stitch in time sometimes saves nine.

                And I think you’re still minimizing the horrors of communism and what might have happened but for the “hawks” in the West. Stalin’s crimes aren’t vital to my point, which is to say Solzhenitsyn’s point.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                I don’t think it’s minimizing Communism, or at least Soviet Communism, to point out that, compared to Hitler, post-Stalinist Soviet rule was pretty tame. China, Korea, Vietnam, and Cambodia are different issues, and we can’t pin them very easily on the end of the war (or at least, they were going to be messes without the war: Chinese communism was near inevitable even after 1927, and Vietnam could have been avoided with better foreign policy; Korea’s alternative was Japanese enslavement). Solzhenitsyn, a monarchist who openly pined for the late czarist era, had a bone to pick. I imagine if the whole of the European portion of the Union, and most of the rest of Eastern Europe, were run by Nazis who enslaved Slavs, killed the rest of the Jews (and millions more non-Jews too), and took all of the food and material from the locals to supply the Fatherland, he would have been singing a different tune. And that was the alternative that the “Western hawks” prevented.Report

              • Avatar Art Deco says:

                Chinese communism was near inevitable even after 1927

                No. The ChiComs were on the run in 1927 and close to their nadir.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                Not true. Their presence in the east and south east was consistent after ’27, which is why they were able to field a fairly substantial force during the Japanese invasion and occupation.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                compared to Hitler, post-Stalinist Soviet rule was pretty tame

                Chris, my explicit point was that comparing anything to Nazism lessens its own horror. And Solzhenitsyn’s point was explicitly about the adaptability of communist ideology to other places and peoples. Which we saw, to the deaths of tens of millions.

                Not specifically Stalinism or Sovietism. Neither is Solzhenitsyn’s personal experience necessary to his point, for those reasons.

                I don’t necessarily disagree with the ancillary arguments you’re throwing out here about the prudence of this action or that, but they are not what I’m talking about.Report

              • Avatar Art Deco says:

                I think you mean the northeast, not the southeast. They had a consistent presence. That does not mean the defeat of the central government was inevitable for a period of 22 years.Report

  7. Avatar Art Deco says:

    E.D. Kain is upset because something may happen which is incongruent with his worldview.Report

    • Avatar Chris says:

      It looks to me like he’s worried that something might happen that is perfectly consistent with his world view, and which he beleives would be unfortunate.Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

      Art Deco is posting a comment in one of my threads because he is annoyed that what I’ve written doesn’t jibe with his worldview.Report

      • Avatar Art Deco says:

        Nothing you write jibes with my worldview. I often refrain from commenting nevertheless.

        Something potentially salutary (you never can quite tell with these things) occurs and your complaint is its effect on domestic political discussions because it does not act to discredit some rival strain of thought you do not like. That is a stupefyingly misplaced concern.

        There are to many contingent factors in the evolution of political life in a given place for advocates of one view or another to be wholly discredited and thus extirpated from polite society, however much you may wish that to happen. You are likely going to have to contend with Charles Krauthammer and William Kristol for as long as you all continue writing. Get used to it.Report

        • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

          By “contend with” do you mean continue to disagree sometimes in the written word? Because if so, sure, who is suggesting anything otherwise? I’m confused as to your point.Report

          • Avatar Stillwater says:

            I think he means two things here: 1) that the propaganda machine pushing an ‘American Exceptionalism, US-force-leads-to-peace-and-justice, blahblah’ line will always exist, and the push-back in a small corner of the media-world isn’t gonna change that. And 2) that, given the ideological nature of your argument in the OP, what you were primarily concerned with was a rhetorical push-back against Krauthammer-type propaganda, hence engaging in propagandistic yerownself.

            In other words, the OP adopted an ideological world-view approach first, with facts on the ground being largely ignored.

            Not to speak for Art Deco, of course.Report

            • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

              Which facts on the ground? That we are aiding in the internal conflict of a nation by lending bombs and dollars and political cover? The perceived success of the mission has literally *nothing* to do with my point. I have said from the beginning that this operation is wrong-headed whether or not we topple Gaddafi (though according to our fearless leaders this wasn’t the goal to begin with). Which facts on the ground am I ignoring? How is my world-view propogandistic but yours not?Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                The perceived success of the mission has literally *nothing* to do with my point.

                I thought that had everything do to with your point.

                From the OP: I’m concerned that any perceived “success” in Libya … will only strengthen the hand of the neocons and hawks.Report

              • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

                Let me rephrase: the perceived success of the mission has nothing to do with whether or not I see it as a success. Yes, my point in the OP is that the perceived success strengthens a particular world view. You claim that my response to this is propogandistic because I am ignoring facts on the ground – to which I say, those facts do not change whether I view Libya as a success.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                EDK, I didn’t intend to leave this conversation so abruptly, but work got in the way. I guess for me the issue comes down to this: less ideology and more pragmatism. If the intervention leads to good outcomes, or batter outcomes than would have been the case otherwise, I don’t think we should be shy about giving credit where it’s due. And just to be clear here, I was pretty opposed to teh Great Libyan Adventure at the beginning. I’m revising my view based on the results achieved, and in particular the way they were achieved.Report

              • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

                I’m not sure the results are in just yet.Report

              • Avatar MFarmer says:

                Yes, let’s take a utilitarian approach. Let’s judge the outcome of interventions by how well our ends are achieved.

                Let’s get together in 4 years to assess our achievements in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. To say that the Libya operation was successful is like saying a complicated heart operation is successful because the doctor has shown up sober.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                > To say that the Libya operation
                > was successful is like saying a
                > complicated heart operation is
                > successful because the doctor
                > has shown up sober.

                Nicely put.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                To say that the Libya operation was successful is like saying a complicated heart operation is successful because the doctor has shown up sober.

                But you’ve already conceded the largest part of the argument against Libya in this comment. 1) that there was something that required surgery, and 2) that the surgeon was competent and working towards, rather than at cross-purposes to, the prescribed solution.

                By your analogy, surgeons should not operate on people unless there is conclusive proof that it will as a matter of fact be successful four years down the road. If meeting that condition were necessary for surgery, no surgeon would every cut into anyone’s chest.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                “This operation might kill the patient, put him into an irreversible coma, or cure him. The only thing we know for sure is that in the past similar operations have been complete fiascos.”Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                I used to think that political realism was an unadulterated evil.

                I’m beginning to suspect that it’s merely exceptionally cynical after seeing a whole bunch of idealistic shit hit any and all kinds of fans.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                I’m beginning to suspect that it’s merely exceptionally cynical after seeing a whole bunch of idealistic shit hit any and all kinds of fans.

                As happens sometimes, Jaybird, your encrypted subtlety escapes me here, so I’m not sure at all what you mean. But it makes me think this might be a good response:

                There’s a difference between political realism as a prescriptive or normative guide for political decision-making, and using evidence to revise a view of something initially deemed wrong.

                For example, I don’t see any contradiction in conceding all of EDK’s points about how the mere perception of success in the Libyan intervention will be used to justify future interventions, and the claim that the campaign has proved to be much more successful than anyone had hoped 6, 4 or even 2 months ago. And as of right now it actually is much more successful than any had hoped, right?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                the campaign has proved to be much more successful than anyone had hoped 6, 4 or even 2 months ago

                How successful had people hoped it would be?

                This seems to be an issue where expectations management could have this be a wild success or a horrific failure without changing a single fact on the ground.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Still too encrypted, JB. I have no idea what you’re arguing here. Or observing, if it’s merely an observation.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Observing. That’s all.

                I am wondering about the memory skills of those who are working on getting a “Mission Accomplished!” banner printed, though.Report

            • Avatar Art Deco says:

              Actually, that is not what I mean.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Well, I sure made a case anyway, eh?

                Given your phrasing of the issue @ 74, I’d’ve thought I was dead-on. But now I’m curious: what did you mean?Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                Art is a mystery wrapped in an enigma. You have to delve to discover.Report

              • Avatar Art Deco says:

                1. E.D. Kain might concern himself with…

                a. The effect of political change on the quality of life in Libya. At present this is an unknown. (It is also difficult in many circumstances to know to what antecedents to which to attribute a given state of the world).

                b. The effect on this country viewed through the prism of reasons of state. (Likely small given the size and resources of the country in question).

                2. E. D. Kain’s stated concern is with the course of public discussion in the United States. It is puerile to be concerned that a minion of William Kristol might win a round with you. E.D. Kain might object that that does not concern him. He is, however, concerned that the conflict in Libya will communicate bad information. ‘Bad’ in this case is defined as information which might promote a political programme which he has decided antecedently is nefarious. The trouble with this is that any outcome of the conflict in Libya is information which he might use to make incremental adjustments in his understanding (which may or may not mean a more benign judgment of Dr. Kristol’s political project).

                3. There are all kinds of variables involved in any given political situation and usually a very limited sample of cases for comparative study. There is a vast literature on the sociological dimension to political order. It can be a very engaging thing to delve into, but it is doubtful that you are going to find all that many settled arguments (or at least they certainly were not settled when I was studying this sort of thing 25 years ago). E.D. Kain says he thinks the popular translation of some of these discussions ought to be extirpated from polite society. There is a certain excess of amour-propre in that. If you make judgements or predictions about public life, you are bound to be wrong much of the time. (There are fools in public life, but there are many better candidates for the designation than William Kristol or Charles Krauthammer). The question at hand is at what level of generality are someone’s misjudgments. You are seldom going to answer that in a forum like this.

                4. All of which is to say that one reason we argue over many things is that the answers are not all that obvious. (There are, of course, other reasons we argue).Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                That strikes me as pretty much what I attributed to you. Minus the details. Oh well.Report

        • Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

          I admire AD’s sauce, plus he’s very polite!Report

  8. Avatar North says:

    Lets just keep our fingers crossed and hope for a Yugoslavia redux.Report

  9. Avatar 62across says:

    Doesn’t the apparent outcome in Libya undermine the hawks and neocons?

    The hawks wanted Option 2 (see Herb above). Senators McCain and Graham have already apologized to the Libyan rebels that we didn’t end this sooner by hitting Gaddafi much harder from the air. The hawks were claiming the Gaddafi regime would never fall without the US taking the lead.Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

      Not at all. The hawks will point to the success in Libya and say exactly what you’re saying: see, it can be done, but we could do it even quicker and better!Report

      • Avatar 62across says:

        But the hawks would say that regardless of the outcome. The hawks are notorious for the *more might is better* argument.

        Look, it’s all too much military intervention for my tastes, but I’d argue this apparent outcome is the worst possible for the hawks:

        1) No intervention – the hawks argue that if the nation had the will, Gaddafi would fall to our military might (see Bomb Iran for that argument being made)

        2) Full intervention with the fall of Gaddafi – this one truly strengthens the hawks – we can bend the world to our will

        3) Full intervention without toppling the regime – reference Afghanistan for all the arguments you’d hear in that case

        4) Coalition with NATO – um, sure, but we coulda done it betterReport

      • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

        EDK, the counter is that the tough go in Afghanistan [forget Iraq for now] is a “victory” for passivity in foreign policy. [Besides pro forma squawks about human rights, which the Chinese laughingly tolerate from the West. Tienanmen was a victory for the gov’t despite its symbolism.]

        Trying to draw universals out of specific successes or failures is a chancy business either way. It must be recalled that decisions made re the rise of Islamicism contemplated the unspeakable horror of Nazism and Communism. If it was an overreaction [I don’t stipulate that], it was not based on fantasy or unfounded paranoia. Sometimes paranoia is well-founded, per Murphy’s Law.

        I still have not figured out what your pacifistic Rx really translates to in the real world. In numerous trouble spots of the world, we do little but squawk, and disturb tyranny but little.Report

  10. Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

    Exactly, EDK, and the problem with your Rx. No Allies, no Switzerland as we know it. Both sides in WWII permitted it to survive for their own reasons.

    Had it been within reach of the Red Army as were the Baltic States, they’d be speaking Russian as well.

    Switzerland owes its liberty to us. Hawks.Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

      There was nothing particularly hawkish about fighting in WWII. In that war several major world powers had fallen to a megalomaniac. Our own soil had been attacked by the Japanese. Actually, in that instance I think Switzerland was wise but wrong not to resist Hitler. But no, the Swiss do not owe anything to the hawks. The real hawks in WWII were the Germans.Report

      • Avatar Art Deco says:

        Will point out here that American efforts during the Second World War consumed 160% of a contemporary year’s production and cost the lives of over 400,000 soldiers. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have consumed about 15% of a contemporary year’s production and cost the lives of about 6,000 soldiers. The question at hand is whether or not it is worth the candle, and the answers are seldom going to be much better than a gut check.Report

  11. Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

    EDK, then “hawks” has no meaning and we’d be better off losing it in the interest of productive discussion. I’m trying to hang w/you here rather than get all left-right.

    For we have to look at the “hawkish” FDR, who bent the US’ Neutrality Acts [1935-39] to breaking. He saw what was rising in Europe, but the isolationists in Congress [think “Switzerland”] tied his hands.Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

      I’m not speaking directly to FDR’s character or motivations here. But we were attacked by the Japanese. Our allies were attacked by the Germans. These are not facts present in Libya or Iraq.Report

      • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

        EDK, had Switzerland been proximate to the Red Army, they’d be speaking Russian. It’s not about quibbling over factoids.

        We might have been able to offer Hitler a draw. Rudolf Hess parachuted into Britain with that belief. Then what? I’m talking about the whole megillah, not just Pearl Harbor, which removed any moral—or in the case here—ideological ambiguity. Pearl Harbor might be a trapdoor to escape this discussion, but it does not engage the complexity of history.

        If we’re to use the 1000-yr-stare, we must understand what we’re staring at, and Iraq is the smallest sliver of the smallest sliver. But you’re 3/4 out the door on this discussion, so go in peace. I hope there was food for thought. If I am a “hawk,” it’s not for love of war, but for the tens of millions who might have been saved by timely action.

        FDR did his best, a “hawk” of sorts, but hamstrung by the non-interventionists. And neither do I spit on Neville Chamberlain. After the senseless slaughter of tens of millions in WWI, a II seemed the worst conceivable idea in the world. Until a worse one popped up, Hitlerism.Report

  12. Avatar MFarmer says:

    There is no success in Libya so far. They are in the process of a long transformation, and no one has any idea what the results will be. The most likely result will be that tens of thousands die, a dictatorship will reign and the Libyan people will be subjugated in a similar way as under Gadhafi.Report