Jonathan Chait Shakes His Head at “Younger Liberal Friends”
I really can’t help myself. The latest from Jonathan Chait is just that bad. It lacks rigor, evidence, and any sense of humility. He never really even lays out an argument–just a series of complaints about what non-interventionists seem to say every time the U.S. rolls up to the brink of another war with another country in the Middle East.
The merits of intervening in Syria strike me as both a closer call and a lower-stakes matter than what we think of as “major wars.”
How wonderful that it strikes you that way Chait. But please do tell us why it’s actually lower-stakes.
“The apparently forthcoming operation has much more modest ends than the intervention in Libya, which I supported and that succeeded in its aim.”
Does it now? And what exactly are those “more modest ends?” And while you’re at it, what exactly was the aim of the intervention in Libya, since you obviously don’t feel confident it calling it a success outright?
“We will not be toppling a brutal regime or preventing an imminent massacre.”
Interesting. So what exactly will be our reason for “intervening?”
“The purpose of air strikes is to impose a cost on regimes that deploy chemical weapons against civilians. Attacking the Syrian regime won’t stop all future massacres of civilians, or even all chemical attacks on civilians, but it does strike, on balance, as better than doing nothing at all.”
How wonderful indeed that “it does strike,” presumably you, as being better than “doing nothing at all,” which I guess you have a good reason for assuming is the only alternative. But again, why does “it” “strike” you this way, and why should I care how something strikes you, rather than whether it’s accurate and/or true?
“I’m continually struck…
…by the ideological cleavage between myself and the Iraq War–vintage smart center-left writers, who generally agree with me on domestic policy but sharply diverge with me on foreign policy.”
Perhaps this is because issues between countries must necessarily play out very differently than issues between citizens of the same country, bound by the same rule of law and powers of coercion. Is it at all surprising that two people might agree about how to treat family and yet disagree about how treat complete strangers?
“This piece of [Mattew Yglesias’s] argument, making the case that the Libya intervention failed, is really striking:”
Chait, I really hope you’re wearing a helmet.
“The argument for intervening in Libya was not that doing so would turn the country into a peaceful, Westernized democracy moving rapidly up the OECD rankings. It was that it would prevent an immediate, enormous massacre of civilians.”
Was that the argument? Who made that argument, and where? Welcome to the Internet where hyperlinks are your friends. And what qualifies as an “enormous” massacre of civilians? How many civilians were saved as a result of the ones killed during the NATO-led intervention? Was it worth the cost?
“Libya remains an ugly place; it would have been so regardless of whether NATO intervened.”
Chait, you should have told us you had the ability to see into the future of alternate timelines!
“It’s telling that, rather than arguing that the overall costs exceeded the benefits, opponents are resorting to listing any bad things that have happened since.”
It’s interesting that, rather than demonstrating that the overall benefits exceeded the costs, Chait merely resorts to asserting it.
“An even worse argument is that, if we want to prevent the deaths of people in Third World countries, we should use humanitarian aid for things like anti-malarial nets rather than military force against people who are massacring them.”
And why is this an even worse argument?
“Anti-malarial nets have taken on a strange place in liberal anti-interventionist rhetoric.”
They have? And what about this phenomenon makes it a bad argument exactly?
“They appear on the scene, as they did at the outset of the Libya operation, when somebody is proposing a humanitarian military intervention.”
But surely they don’t only appear on the scene during those times. Several writers at Ordinary Times, including Jason Kuznicki and myself, have made these arguments before, completely outside the context of debating the merits of military intervention in other countries, as have others.
“It’s not unlike conservative interest in health-care reform, which exists only when it can be used to oppose a Democratic health-care-reform plan that stands a chance of passing Congress.”
Chait, are you claiming that people who argue in favor of non-violent forms of humanitarian aid only do so to be argumentative and posture, and don’t actually believe what they say? Or perhaps only that particular people do that? In which case hyperlinks are still your friend.
“The two don’t have anything to do with each other, of course. Intervening or not intervening in Syria won’t change the dynamics that prevent an increase in anti-malarial aid.”
“I don’t like killing Syrians. And a lot of Syrians are getting killed.”
I don’t like killing children, and a lot of children are dying of malaria.
“I don’t see any plausible way to stop that from happening.”
I see a plausible way to stop that from happening.
“I do think that killing some of the Syrians who are soldiers wantonly killing civilians will probably lead to a net decrease in killing.”
I know that spending billions of dollars on nets and medical supplies will actually lead to a net decrease in children who die of malaria.
“But I continue to be amazed that some of my younger liberal friends find it so easy to dismiss any weighing of pros and cons by venturing arguments structurally identical to ones that, in a domestic context, they recognize as absurd.”
I honestly have no idea where Chait’s non-existent explanation for how the argument that money used to intervene in Syria to save lives could much more efficiently save lives by being spent differently is at all similar to conservative and libertarian arguments that Obamacare sucks would even begin.