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Posts Tagged ‘Peace’

We are arming al Qaeda-aligned rebels in Syria.  We are doing this because Bashar al Assad is supposedly a bad guy and now we are told there is a cassus belli in that he may have used chemical weapons.

Was it OK, by contrast, when the rebels massacred a Shia village earlier this week or shot government soldiers in cold blood and posted it on youtube?  Under what principle is it worse for the Syrian government to use chemical weapons than it is for the rebels fighting that government to engage in numerous, intentional, very brutal violations of the law of war?

One or another side’s tactics does not logically tell us that we ought to choose a side and go to war.  It matters a great deal what each of the sides are fighting for.  And it is even more important to assess whether assisting one or the other side is in our interest.  There is always the option of neutrality.  It should be adopted in the vast majority of cases.

Assad is no great guy.  He, like most Middle Eastern dictators, has little regard for the rule of law, has enriched himself at the expense of the public, has used disproportionate violence against his opponents, supported our enemies in Iraq, and has associated with Hezbollah, which is undeniably a terrorist group.  That said, he has led a moderately prosperous, orderly, and tolerant regime that is multireligious, protective of Christians, and otherwise stable and predictable. We’ve seen in recent years similar dictators deposed in Libya, Tunisia, and Egypt with totally unpredictable results that are clearly worse than the status quo ante.  We can deal with dictators; we cannot manage anarachy.  Even if Assad deserves to be toppled–and I am doubtful of this–what business is it of ours to sign on with a rebel group that is even more hostile to our nation and its principles?

One may wonder why Russia has become so involved with this conflict, supplying sophisticated arms and a great deal of diplomatic support to Syria.  Two reasons seem clear.  Russia, like the US, has carried on some of its Cold War alliances out of habit, such as its friendly relations with Cuba and North Korea.   More important, Russia  is acting as the protector of Orthodox Christians throughout the world.  This is in line with Samuel Huntington’s thesis in Clash of Civilizations and explains at least a portion of Russia’s foreign policy. This was the chief reason for its support of Serbia during the Kosovo affair, for example.

Why this would be so in Syria is not readily apparent, as the Alawite minority ruling group is a subgroup of Shia Islam.  But there is a pretty obvious explanation.  The Alawaite Ba’athist regime in Syria, like Saddam’s Ba’athist regime in Iraq, grew out of a secular ideology and historically has found its greatest support in a hodgepodge of ethnic and religious minorities. These minorities are all scared of the numerical majority Sunnis and their increasing extremism.  In Syria, the Sunni extremists are part of the broader Salafist/Wahhabi branch of Sunni Islam that finds its most militant expression in al Qaeda.

Thus, we have a war with secular and religious minorities (Christians, Shias, Alawites, Druze etc.) on one side, who favor law and order and the devil they know, and, on the other side, fanatical Sunni extremists aligned with increasingly irrelevant secular enemies of the regime. The rebel platform is essentially one of genocide and religious totalitarianism.  This is what we are supporting, and this is undeniably worse than what Assad has delivered throughout his time as leader, in spite of himself, because of the coalition nature of his minority support and the type of governance that flows naturally from such a coalition.

America and Reagan were criticized for “arming bin Laden” during the fight against the Soviet client state in Afghanistan.  This criticism always struck me as pretty stupid and facile.  It’s like saying we were incredibly wrongheaded in World War II to support the Soviet Union, whom we later opposed, in order to defeat Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.  Things change.  Coalitions come and go. There was no easy way to predict what exactly would come of the anti-Soviet rebels back when there was no Taliban or al Qaeda and, more important, it was worth it at the time to contribute to the devolution of the Soviet regime, even when some risks were apparent.

Whether that criticism of US policy has any merit, it surely is absolutely ridiculous to arm al Qaeda-aligned rebels simultaneously when we’re fighting a war with such people. There is no need for a crystal ball, unlike the 1980s support of the Afghan mujaheddin.  The better analogy would be if the US had adopted a schizophrenic policy during World War II of  aligning with Nazi Germany, while we were fighting Imperial Japan, even as the two remained allies themselves.

Let’s not forget what the real Benghazi scandal is.  Libya spun out of control after the US and European powers in 2011 undertook a totally lawless campaign there, a campaign without UN Security Counsel or Congressional authorization.   The rebels killed Qadaffi in cold blood, when they were not killing black Africans allied with the government.  Soon Libya, like Syria today, became a magnet for the “jihad tourists,” who undoubtedly could not resist the American target. Learning nothing of the very recent past, we’re now going to arm al Qaeda rebels because the regime they are fighting against used one among many nasty weapons in what is invariably the most nasty of wars:  a civil war.

The law of war is important, as is respect for the rights of civilians and other noncombatants.  But violations of the law of war alone are not a reason to go to war.  This is doubly so when the so-called good guys are just as guilty of violating the law of war as those whom we now aim to oppose.  Most important, the people we are proposing to support with arms, in addition to fighting atrociously, are fighting for a goal that is fundamentally atrocious:  Islamist totalitarianism and mass murder of  the Assad regime’s supporters. 

For a guy who appeared to have some sensible, nonideological instincts to oppose a great deal of military intervention during the 2008 campaign, Obama has shown himself to be as deeply wedded to the Washington DC interventionist consensus as anyone before him.  Indeed, he has apparently doubled down in his recent elevation of the interventionist Samantha Power to the post of UN ambassador.

We find the answer to this apparent contradiction in Obama’s lifelong leftism.  Obama is not essentially a pacifist, but rather an anti-American leftist.  He most favors wars that have nothing to do with America’s interest. In the liberal imagination, such wars are far preferable to wars where strategic goods like oil or commerce may be affected, as these interventions are marked by purity of intention.  Thus, he proposed to fold up the tents and scale back the war on al Qaeda earlier this week, even as he propels our forces into messy civil wars in Libya, Egypt, and Syria.  Worse, Obama is willing not only to ignore America’s interest in these cases, but to work directly contrary to it by arming al Qaeda-aligned rebels in the name of “humanitarian war.”

This is more than misguided do-gooderism.  This is treachery that knows no bounds, as it is no ordinary betrayal of the common good, but rather a treachery that imagines itself as a cosmopolitan, universalist morality that transcends parochial and discriminatory notions of mere national interest.

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Like night follows day, liberals oppose wars started by Republicans and shrug their shoulders at those started by Democrats.  Indeed, even when those wars–both Iraq and Afghanistan–were supported by congressional resolutions and UN mandates, there was much talk over the last decade of “illegal wars” and the evils of unilateralism.  All that talk evaporated when President Hope and Change assumed the helm.

The Libyan campaign manifests a certain amount of multilateralism (indeed, France is there, which is apparently the sine qua non of all multilateralism) but there is no authorization at all from a congressional resolution.  Under the War Powers Act, which was instituted post-Vietnam and post-Nixon, American military action of more than 60 days requires consultation with Congress and formal congressional support.  Indeed, this statute itself quite a bow to executive power, as the Constitution does not seem to contemplate any unilateral, executive military action other than in the case of repelling national invasions.  Congress must declare wars.  And, a fortiori must authorize warlike military action in general. Here it has partially delegated that power, but retained its essential role in the process.

Obama is thwarting that role and usurping the powers of war and peace solely to himself.  This is, quite frankly, the traditional mark of a tyrant.  It should have all Americans from every background and political persuasion concerned.

Here we have an action far overseas, that has been subject to minimal explanation to the American people and is based on a very dubious rationale of stopping so-far-nonexistent-masacres, and not a single American legislator has voted in favor it.  The deadline for such authorization has come and gone, and Obama has announced quite lawlessly in my view that he does not have to and does not intend to seek any congressional support for the Libyan campaign. 

Ideological and cowardly as our political leaders are, we’ve seen little institutional concern over Congress’s rights here. Their one trump card now would be to defund the campaign.  But there seems little support for that. If this war is indeed popular, shouldn’t the Congress at least vote to authorize it, if only to preserve its own institutional power? One would think the Congress would ant to shore up its ability to prevent a future unilateral war.  And this war, unlike Iraq, is truly unilateral insofar as it emanates from and is sustained by the will of one man alone, the President, without any checks and balances to speak of!  That he has teamed up with other regimes, some democratic and others less so, is immaterial.

We are witnessing one of the chief evils of a Republican-Party dominated national legislature:  they rarely see a war or military action they’re willing to oppose, which passivity they imagine to be the height of patriotism.  In spite of this imagined seriousness, some completely idiotic wars have come and gone this way (such as Kosovo), and, from a purely self-interested standpoint, it should be noted that Democrats do not return the favor even after they’ve voted in favor of military action, e.g., the ridiculousness that is John Kerry.  While the President deserves some deference on foreign policy, particularly in the age of al Qaeda, that deference can be taken too far.  When the President has no congressional authorization whatsoever and violates a statute to commit a war, that is the time for nonideological action based on the institutional concerns of the legislative branch itself.

The President, like all presidents, quite naturally and predictably changed his tune and supported Bush-era institutions such as the GITMO detainment and related executive rights over foreign policy.  This is what powerful men do; they are jealous over their power and their prerogatives.  But Congress, contrary perhaps to the expectations of the Founders, has proven to be a bit of a pushover, particularly on matters of war and peace.  Why is this? Well, the less they do, the less responsibility they have, and thus the less blame they must endure for failure.  This seems to be part of the problem.  In addition, the rise of ideological politics, where ideologically motivated political parties seek certain ends without regard to which branch may implement them seems to have been an unexpected development of the last 100 years or so.  The Founders imagine a politician to be a proud man, naturally avaricious of power, and therefore unlikely for ideological or other goals to give up that power.  The founders, nearly all lawyers, imagined the genius of the advocacy system writ large, whereby faction would balance faction and each branch of government would be on guard against the others. What they did not contemplate is that ideology and the politics of party would castrate men, rendering them obedient and humble before the President elected by a national plebiscite.  The disaster of Vietnam shook Congress from its stupor.  Let us hope nothing quite so bad is required to get the Congress to check the ambitions of Obama.

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The UN, having obtained US Support, has now moved to create a “no fly” zone over Libya.  Oh, what can we say.

Obama is now getting on the train he couldn’t get off after saying–unwisely in my opinion–Kaddafi must go.  That’s the problem with threats . . . they cascade upon themselves. This appears chiefly an emotional reaction to disturbing and violent news from the region, coupled with a self-fulfilling prophecy of presidential rhetoric.  There is no real moral reason to intervene here and not, say, Iran a few months ago or Bahrain or Egypt or many other places. And the reasons here are many times less compelling than Iran, which has, unlike Libya, been hostile to the US in very recent times.

We should all be concerned that Obama is moving without any congressional authorization.  Indeed, there’s been almost no debate.  It’s weird.  Wake up one day, and we’re at war. This is a terrible precedent, not so different from what the first President Bush tried to pull in the First Gulf War, though he ultimately did get a congressional resolution. Obama spoke out against this sort of thing when he was in Congress.  But like most presidents, he has fought to preserve and expand the power of the office once he was in it, even as he has used that increased power to undermine America the nation.  But even strong presidents have generally recognized in the momentous matter of war, the people’s representatives deserve a say.

Obama is turning against the one thing he had going for him in the last campaign:  relative realism and restraint on foreign policy.  Contra my putatitively conservative brethren, I do not embrace the US-as-global-cop role.  It is expensive, it does us little good, and it allows small regional conflicts to become global ones.  Many Americans agreed in 2008, fed up as they were with the indeterminate outcomes of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the antagonism these wars fueled in the Muslim world.  Now we have a President who eloquently spoke to these themes going down the road to permanent war counseled by the psychotic duo of Senators McCain and Lieberman.  And worse, he is doing so at the insistence of Britain and France, nations whom we should respect, but not nations whom we should follow into every hare-brained European-style human rights war.

Worst of all, we have no strategy here. Though legally required, a congressional debate may not do any good, because, in both parties, we see a reactive, emotion-laden, and vaguely Wilsonian approach to the world that has no end game, cannot distinguish the important from the irrelevant, and, through a misplaced concern for “human rights,” makes no distinction between a genuine threat to the global order from what used to be called “internal affairs.”  So today we go to war with Libya.  Iran, not so much.  We are this big, lumbering, powerful country, but our leaders’ thinking is worse than that of children.  It’s like that of adolescents:  impulsive, overly self-satisfied, contemptuous of risk, ignorant of potential pitfalls, forgetful of recent failures, and a product of peer pressure.

Finally, in Europe and in America we have this confused idea that “no fly zones” are something short of war.  It’s true, they’re much safer for our guys than a land war.  In Kosovo, we had zero casualties, even as we bombed Serbian bridges and cities. In that sense, air strikes are sometimes the right tool to use.  But they are still acts of war, with bombing and killing and violations of another nation’s sovereignty, as well as some risk to the life and limb of Americans.  Yes, Kaddafi is a bad man.  He killed Americans back in the day and was punished for it (or made recompense in the case of Lockerbie).  If this were a merely retaliatory raid, I might be more sympathetic.  But American no longer does retaliatory raids. Every campaign is wrapped not in the flag but in the mantle of concern for democracy. This is the Democratic Party’s version of neoconservatism, plain and simple, where the lack of national interest is held up as proof of our purity of motive.  But this type of “freedom” is no formula for peace, as it makes a potential enemy of every nation on earth that is not governed like us.

While I am no pacifist, for moral and self-interested reasons, I must prefer peace to war.  Peace is not just a state of mind.  It involves something tangible and fundamental:  not undertaking aggressive military action unless it is a last resort connected to national interest.  The concern for the national interest, if widely shared and enshrined in international law, limits the effect of war.  It certainly limits the impact of war on our own nation.

A strong principle once existed for condemning war unless it was a defensive act.  This was the European system of the last 400 years, particularly after the Congress of Vienna.  But it’s been degraded since the end of the Cold War in the name of human rights.  It faced an earlier challenged in the name of ethnic homogenization, as in the Franco-Prussian War.  But even this principle had natural limits, and it was thoroughly discredited (or rendered irrelevant by ethnic cleansing) after World War II.

Now even this limiting principle is gone.  Americans will suddenly go to war for Rwandans and Libyans and Chadians and God knows who else.  We can’t go to war for everyone everywhere, and say we’re for peace.  If we’re engaging in “humanitarian” wars without even a patina of concern for national interest, then our nation is acting like naked imperialists.  Just because a handful of nations, in the name of Europe, team up and say they’re in the right doesn’t make this conglomerate non-imperialist.  It’s just cooperative imperialism.  It doesn’t change the reality.

I genuinely felt sick during the Kosovo War.  I knew what it meant to be “ashamed” of your country.  It was a new feeling for me.  Not only was our nation getting into an unnecessary war, but it was doing so for stupid reasons, badgered by confused Europeans, swindled by propaganda, and we were on the wrong side.  Today it’s the same.  While I feel much less sympathy for Kaddafi compared to Christian Serbia, it’s otherwise a nearly identical situation.

Iraq, at its worst, still had some arguable connection to national interest, even if the war ultimately proved unnecessary or based on a mistaken premise.  Afghanistan clearly had such a connection, even if it’s dragged on too long, having metamorphisized into a democracy-building campaign.  But Kosovo?  Somalia?  And now Libya?  These are the military interventions of an idiotic national leadership, Republican and Democrat.

Obama, after waxing and waning, has made a choice.  He neglected to tell the American people why this is so important. And now, showing solemn regard for the seriousness of war, he is off . . . to Brazil!?!

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