A Confession of Bias
In my lifetime, whenever the U.S. gets involved in military action abroad, the resulting changes in rhetoric on both sides of the aisle, the changes in public opinion polls, and the media coverage all respond it pretty predictable ways.
It all disgusts me. I look at the public pronouncements of folks on all sides of the political spectrum and I just want to yell at them incoherently. Even the politicians I support the most have a tendency to fall into this category.
I realized when I was in my mid-twenties that I am in a astonishingly small chunk of the American populace when it comes to what we euphemistically call “kinetic action”. By the way, there are a lot of weirdos here, many of them have other hard principles I strongly disagree with. If you’re a pretty liberal/progressive sort, you may have been mystified by the presence of a decent chunk of libertarians in my circle of friends. I disagree strongly with a lot of them on a lot of issues, but when we start bombing things I find all sorts of agreement with them.
My preferred method of dealing with conflict elsewhere is not to get involved other than to create a safe space where the civilians can flee, and then pick them up and bring them over here. It is legitimately the least immoral choice. Exported self-defense, in defense of the powerless.
This is… unfortunately… an untenable position in American politics, a complete non-starter. It has been a non-starter for forty years.
Maybe 5% of Americans agree with me on this. Many more will claim that they do, but start talking about practical outcomes and necessary steps and all of a sudden folks get very, very reluctant to support what is necessary to accomplish this sort of thing. Only a very small number of folks are willing to put the men and women of the armed forces in harm’s way to create a funnel of “folks who are from somewhere else” to move into their backyard, and to deal with the acculturation problems inherent there.) With the rise of nativism and populism and nationalism in the recent years, this is probably moving farther away from possibility, not closer. As a side note, this is why I have a deeply serious problem with nationalism, on the whole. But that’s a conversation for another day.
The idea of “measured response” is the only politically tenable position you can have without alienating a substantial portion of folks (enough to get you voted out of office, usually), and “measured response” is virtually always militarily ineffective, politically ineffective in the international politics sense, expensive, and suffers collateral damage problems… meaning we bomb the crud out of some area, kill a few dozen or a few hundred civilians, accomplish nothing significant from a military standpoint and politely allow everyone to believe that we’ve done something at low cost to our moral character.
It’s a fiction. It’s a useful fiction in an internal political sense, but that doesn’t make it acceptable. It still astonishes me that the most frank depiction of the true nature of “measured response” comes from fiction, rather than a statement made by an active, actual member of our political class.
War is hell. We always seem to think that if we manage it right, this time, it won’t be hell… and we spend all of our time trying not to make it hell…usually at the expense of actually making it possible to end the thing. And we wonder why folks who serve in the military have a tendency to hold politicians in disdain.
They shouldn’t. They should hold us in disdain. We’re the ones who accept the status quo.
So, for all you folks who voted for “not Hillary Clinton” because Hillary is too much of a hawk, here we are again. For those folks who voted for Hillary Clinton for all sorts of good reasons but knew that she was too much of a hawk, here we would have been again. For folks who voted for Donald Trump because you thought Obama was screwing up the middle east, here’s Donald Trump doing exactly what Obama wanted to do, and what the GOP congress prevented him from doing. For those of you who thought Obama was too quick to unilaterally get involved in kinetic action, here we are.
Let’s take a moment here to recognize that the folks who are responsible for all this?
That’s us. Not “them”, our “feckless politicians”, and leadership.
We demand this of them.
That’s all of us, including peaceniks like me, who are utterly ineffective at arguing our position and thus have to either give up entirely on having our ridiculously over-militarized foreign policy as a factor at all, in how we vote, or we have to sacrifice all of the rest of our preferred outcomes and register a protest vote, where we lose everything else at the alter of our moral purity.
We need to fix this. We need to have a conversation about how we can fix this. We need it to be an honest conversation, where people can look themselves in the mirror and tell themselves that pictures of dead children shouldn’t be what it takes for them to say war is a good idea or a bad idea… because war is always a bad idea.
We need to stop pretending that there’s a glossy rational case to make, for a set of policies that can produce outcomes, instead of what they really are… a set of policies that fit our sensibilities.
We need to be welcoming and compassionate to the folks who are trapped, elsewhere, in this hell that in many cases we helped create by our action or inaction or by agreeing to sell guns and bombs and tanks and places to X but not to Y, or to X and Y. Because if we don’t welcome them here, there will be pictures of dead children.
And then there will be war.