On Foreign Policy (The War Sort)


Patrick is a mid-40 year old geek with an undergraduate degree in mathematics and a master's degree in Information Systems. Nothing he says here has anything to do with the official position of his employer or any other institution.

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12 Responses

  1. LeeEsq says:

    I see military intervention as something like fire, a tool that could easily get out of hand. A big problem with pacifism and non-violence though is that they have three very big foundational problems. The foundational problems are that deep down everybody wants the same thing but doesn’t realize it, that most conflicts have a reasonable compromise solution that could come about by discussion and negotiation, or that in the instances where one side is nearly or completely in the wrong a display of non-violence will get them to think rightfully. I think a quick glance of human history can disabuse a person of this notion.

    I guess a fourth foundational problem with pacifism is that it assumes that everybody really likes kindness, gentleness, and peacefulness as virtues but this might be related to the first foundational flaw. Many people see the pacifist virtues as deeply naive at best or vices and weaknesses as worse. To them life is about fierceness and competition and they are going to be the top dog. This isn’t going to change any time soon.

    So this creates a dilemma when it comes to humanitarian disasters. Many people want to help but do not want military intervention. Yet, doing nothing can appear is venal self-interest of that antipathetic variety. “It ain’t my problem and it doesn’t concern me.” Using military force can get out of hand very quickly though and escalate things. It is a problem with no good solution.Report

  2. Kolohe says:

    I don’t think Americans, on the whole, in numbers electorally significant, care at all who the American military is bombing or if they deserve it.

    Americans only care if Americans are dying in measurable numbers across a short enough time frame.Report

    • Tod Kelly in reply to Kolohe says:

      Sadly, I think you’re only describing part of “Americans.”

      I can think of a few debates I’ve seen over the past year where the places that got the audience cheering suggested that quite a few Americas do care if foreigners are killed whether or not they deserve it, and are totally looking forward to it.Report

    • Patrick in reply to Kolohe says:

      Whelp, and there’s also the depressing fact that Americans seem generally okay with troops dying somewhere else as long as it’s only a few of them, it seems to be acceptable, and nobody they really know.

      A handful of Marines get killed in a chopper helping out as “military observers”? That happens. Regrettable. Two sentences in the nightly news one night.

      A handful of Marines get killed when somebody drives a suicide car bomb into one of our embassies? That’s an Attack on America, something that drives the news cycle for a while.

      When everybody knows somebody who has lost somebody, people get tired of war. When most people only know somebody who knows somebody who lost somebody, Americans seem willing to push on.

      The dynamics of how the American public *accept* casualties is part of the problem with choosing military intervention as a foreign policy option. It very distinctly skews which types of military interventions are regarded as “currently on the table”.

      I imagine this has a very deep and significant impact on the likelihood that our interventions will actually work.

      This is why we can send a big bunch of troops to Haiti (everybody forgets that one) or Granada (that one, too) and two decades later nobody much remembers it. Folks in Haiti and Granada weren’t going to fight back the way folks in Afghanistan were, nor did they have the weapons or equipment to do so at the time.

      Nowadays it is very difficult to send large groups of troops anywhere we might want to send them that doesn’t have a substantial quantity of dangerous devices ready-to-hand. Most of the spots in the world that might be “troubled” nowadays appear to have decent stockpiles of all sorts of things that go “boom” or “bang” (much of which they got from us.)

      So, we are left with light risk (in terms of troop loss) military interventions that require special operations, drones, or air strikes.

      There’s only so much you can do, constructively (or destructively, to be more accurately), with those three options, and their failure modes (accidentally targeting a hospital or a wedding) are repeatable. That makes for the same bad news repeated on a cycle… “we bombed ‘accidental target A’ again?”

      I think part of the disquiet with the drone program is rooted in this. General folks don’t much care that there is collateral damage, because folks haven’t much cared about collateral damage in forever.

      But when you hear the same sort of collateral damage, you pattern-match it, because finding patterns is what humans do. And then it appears to be a problem to more people.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Patrick says:

        It’s ironic that people don’t remeber troops being sent to Grenada, because that was done so that people wouldn’t remeber the troops that had just been killed in a mass bombing in Lebanon.Report

      • greginak in reply to Patrick says:

        All true, yet somehow this all gets lost when demagogues go on and on about National Will and our vitality as a people and not getting pushed around by other countries.Report

  3. Michael Drew says:

    I agree there is reason to worry whether you think we might be doing too much, or too little. It’s just that the first worry seems like the vastly more important worry to heed.

    If you don’t implement a bias in one direction or the other, there is still every reason to worry, because in all likelihood you’re still getting it wrong. You’re just much less sure in what direction! That doesn’t seem good to me.

    And it seems like there is every good reason to take on the worries about a bias toward intervening too little over those of intervening too much. Hubris about what we can accomplish. Certainty in almost every instance that intervention means adding to total human destruction in the conflict at least for a short period. Uncertainty about what medium- or, ugh, long-term commitments intervention could mean for the U.S. and whether there is any interest on the part of the public to meet them. Lastly, just what seems to me like what should be an natural inclination to be more skeptical of than interested in military intervention in foreign conflicts.

    This against the speculative case in each instance that use of force by outside powers is going to be an efficacious addition to the toxic mix of circumstances that caused us to contemplate it in the first place.

    I do want interventionists to make that case on a case-by-case basis. But it should always be met with a bias more toward skepticism than toward intervention by (most of) the public. Sure, we should then have nagging worries that we’re not saving the world from enough of the carnage that’s in it. But those worries should be much more muted than if we weren’t applying that bias.Report

  4. InMD says:

    I call BS on the equivocation of a preference for intervention with a preference for non intervention. Maybe that would make sense if we lived in a country that had largely stayed out of other people’s business but it isn’t. The history of post-war American foreign policy is messy interventions in simmering civil wars and messy ethnic disputes in the developing world. The morality of a given intervention may vary somewhat but the result has always been to set the stage for reprisals and mass killing by the victorious side. More often than not one intervention lays the seeds for the next crisis which naturally will require yet another intervention.

    The Rwanda situation is an outlier only because we did not intervene. However, given the results in places like Libya, Iraq, and Afghanistan there is no reason to think that American military force would have resulted in a better long term outcome. Instead of this type of hand-wringing we should try to be more humble and grapple with the limitations of what military force can achieve, not stage a make-believe debate in the establishment press before sending in the war machines.Report

    • LeeEsq in reply to InMD says:

      I keep wondering why people think that non-intervention in Afghanistan was politically possible after 9/11. We were attacked by Al-Qaeda. The Taliban were harboring Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda. It would be political suicide for any politician not to respond to 9/11 without some form of military intervention. Does anybody really think that any politician could withstand a decision to do nothing in the response to massive terrorist attack even if doing nothing was the best possible decision?Report

      • InMD in reply to LeeEsq says:

        I think you’re probably right that doing nothing may have been politically impossible but I think that point dodges the issue. I mean, where did bin Laden come from? Oh yea, that other civil war in the 80s where we fed weapons to a bunch of fanatics because they were the enemy of our enemy’s friend (and ultimately our enemy himself). That intervention laid the seeds for our current intervention which with mission creep has become a 15 year long nation building project that the supposed beneficiaries of probably don’t even want and is certainly going to fail.

        At some point we have to break the chain and stop going in. Maybe that won’t work out either or will come with other tough moral quandaries but let’s not pretend that we’ve actually tried it and that such a position has any real establishment political support. Even Obama who was advertised as smarter than this has given God knows how many weapons to God knows who in Syria. When one of those people uses those weapons and training against Americans in some capacity will it be cause for another intervention? As always, it will be politically impossible not to intervene. And do it again and again and again.Report

  5. Oscar Gordon says:

    I wouldn’t call myself a peacenik, but I’m pretty non-interventionist (not absolute, but I have a pretty high bar for what I deem acceptable for intervening).

    I would never have committed any military resources to Rwanda or Bosnia. I was in Somalia and I was pretty damn certain we had no business being there, nor were we particularly wanted there. I mean, it would be nice if we could go in whenever other people start killing each other in job lots, and make it stop, and deliver perfect justice to the evil men, but we can’t. We don’t even get close most times.Report

  6. Jaybird says:

    Every problem a trolley problem.

    For whom do you pull the lever?Report