Wednesday, March 23, 2011

War and Peace

One of the reasons I voted for Obama in 2008 wasn't because I loved him as a candidate. No. The deciding factor in my decision was the saber rattling in Iran's general direction that McCain started towards the tail end of his campaign. I thought even contemplating another front for our military forces to fight on was incredibly stupid and reckless, no matter how much we might dislike Iran and what they are doing.

Here we are, almost three years later, and we have stepped into another conflict in the Middle East while we are still heavily involved in Afghanistan and Iraq...wars that have dragged on for almost 10 years and 8 years respectively with no clear end in sight.

What are we to do?

Should the U.S. be responsible for enacting global "peace" through war? Should we assume the responsibility of always being available to stomp out fires?

I don't see how we can. We simply don't have the manpower or the money. This is one of those things that strikes me as odd amidst all of the talks of budget cuts by Republicans. No one ever seems to mention the fact that these wars, and the resources we need to fight them, are incredibly expensive. At some point we will simply have to acknowledge that we can't enter any more conflicts because we don't have the wealth to do it.

Going into debt to protect the world, and then having to pay the world(mostly China) back for our efforts seems like an illogical operation.

I was encouraged that France chose to intervene first in Libya. So often we are jumping off cliffs headlong into war and we have to drag our allies in through persuasion and arm-twisting. It's nice to see someone else diving in, taking on the role of enforcer, and intervening in a bloody conflict.

What do you think?

What are your feelings about our ongoing military conflicts and our role in Libya?

13 comments:

D'Ma said...

The war part is just the beginning of the expense. After we've torn everything up we'll have to rebuild it, too.

I'll be glad to see our position in Libya handed off to either NATO or one of our allies.

james said...

Wars cost, and not fighting wars costs (sometimes more). I hold no brief for Qaddafi--his incessant trouble-making killed a lot of people around Africa in invasions and in civil wars he helped start (Liberia comes quickly to mind here).
But what in the world is going on? Who's in charge and what are the goals? "No fly zone" sounds very sanitary and low risk and relatively cheap, but it also isn't usually adequate.
Do we plan to destroy Qaddafi and let the chips fall where they may? That's dubious ethics and risky strategy, what with Jihadist groups all over the place.
France may be serious about this war, but I don't get the sense that our leaders are: and if true that's despicable.

terri said...

D,ma...oh yeah...the "nation-building" that follows is usually quite costly!

james....what exactly do you mean when you use the word despicable? Despicable because we entered into this so lightly and without much forethought, or despicable because we've entered it at all...or a third option I haven't thought of yet?

My main concern is not that we have entered into it but that we seem to do these things reflexively. Non one wants war or bloodshed or tyrannical leaders like Qaddafi.....but we haven't really come up with a good way to get rid of those things in these regions because the next leader is almost always as bad as the one we got rid of.

We helped Saddam Hussein, during the Iran-Iraq war, before we got rid of him.

We don't have avery good track record picking less brutal regimes to back.

I watch the Middle East with trepidation during all of these revolutions and fights...wondering if very much will be different in the next few years.

It so often seems like the same game is continually played only with different players.

james said...

I mean that I think entering a war frivolously is despicable. These are life and death issues, and an attitude of "Let's shoot up the Libyan air defense system this morning and decide tomorrow what we're trying to do" is treating our warriors (and theirs, and the inevitable bystanders) like toys.

I'm not saying Qadaffi wouldn't have been a valid target. It is too bad we missed him back in '86; some people I knew in Liberia might still be alive if we'd hit a little closer. Right now though, I have no idea if what takes over next would be an improvement for us or for Libya. (My money would be on an extended civil war, good for nobody except maybe Iran.)

I don't actually see us acting reflexively. Rwanda, Cote d'Ivoire, Sierre Leone, Congo, Liberia and many other places had disturbances and/or leaders as bad and we did nothing. Most of the time that's probably the best we can do--getting involved wherever there's trouble is beyond our physical and moral and mental capacities.

We obviously don't have the physical resources to have a presence everywhere there's trouble.

As to moral capacities: I fear the call to help "police the world." Who gets to decide the right and wrong in a civil conflict? I'd not trust us to take up that judgment reliably (and I'd for sure not trust the UN). There's something corrosive to the soul about presuming to judge the nations (yes, I noticed my attitude to Qaddafi above); it rots your soul and nobody else can stand you either, even when you help them.

And as for understanding how to solve the world's woes: It doesn't inspire me with confidence in our own insight into the world's conflicts when our leaders mistake means for ends and think that elections make everything good.

God help us all: self interest seems more honest and humble a motive for fighting than presuming to be a policeman.

terri said...

james...re: reflexively...I guess that could be true. There are a number of places in which we could have acted but didn't.

And, I most certainly agree with this part of your comment:

God help us all: self interest seems more honest and humble a motive for fighting than presuming to be a policeman.

I think that Germany's Chancellor, Angela Merkl, took some flak a while back, in some other context, by declaring that whether to act or not act was tied to determining what was in Germany's own self-interest. I can't remember the exact situation....but I remember thinking that she was just saying out loud what every country must consider when stepping into outside conflicts and decisions.

I think that, as a nation, we are addicted to our role and power...rightly or wrongly...I can't really say.

I do believe in American Exceptionalism to a certain degree...yet how far do we take that? Do we really believe that we have the moral insight, authority, and ability to shape the world militarily?

Anonymous said...

T-

When you said you believe in American exceptionalism to a degree, what did you mean? I think of American exceptionalism as filled with priviledge (as in, 'I want as many rights as possible, and as few duties as possible.')

Scott Gray

terri said...

Scott,

Well that's certainly not how I would define American Exceptionalism...at least the way that I think of it.

What I mean is that I think that America has unique aspects to it that have made it successful and that I believe in.

That doesn't mean I think that the US is always right...I do think that many of our principles should be emulated. I don't think we can force people to try and emulate them, however.

Anonymous said...

Teri--

That's a nice way to think of it. In particular, what American principles do you believe in, eapecially those that result in success? What American principles would other nations do well to emulate?

Scott

terri said...

Scott,

Sorry that I overlooked your last comment. I meant to come back and respond but I kept forgetting.

Freedom of speech, religion, the right to peacefully protest, democracy....you know, the big ones!

There are many ways that the US is imperfect and very strange....but I would still rather live here than anywhere else.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Scott Gray - I hear people make such comments about American exceptionalism, and have to pause and collect my thoughts before I dare comment. "I think of American exceptionalism as filled with priviledge (as in, 'I want as many rights as possible, and as few duties as possible.')" What possible basis do you have for that meaning? No one uses the term to mean that, and those who accuse others of meaning that are pretending that cynicism is mind-reading.

Refusing to be taken in, you have been taken in all the more.

Anonymous said...

Teri—

Thinking out loud:

There are four things in our American social soup that point toward one of the current understandings of American exceptionalism:

1. There is a virtuous list (in your case, the Bill of Rights, which is a good example to work with here).

2. A critical mass of the people who are affected by the virtuous list assent to the value of the principles in the list.

3. The principles are treated as laws, in that there is some sort of enforcement of the principles.

4. A critical mass of people who are affected by the enforcement assent to the enforcement.

It doesn’t mean that everyone assents to every principle on the list (there are those who don’t assent to the value of the second amendment, for instance) or that everyone assents to the enforcement (think about the recent case of the ‘God Hates Fags’ people that went all the way to the supreme court). It just means that there is a critical mass that assents to the value of the principles, and to their enforcement.

If there weren’t a critical mass, we’d have resistance, or revolution.

In the case of Libya, I would argue that this is exactly what is happening. A critical mass of people do not assent to the value of the old regime’s virtuous list (what principles do you suppose are on the old regime’s list?) or to the laws and enforcement regarding this ‘old regime’ list. They’re looking at a new list.
What principles do you suppose will be on the ‘new regime’ virtuous list? I’d bet dollars to donuts that the new regime’s virtuous list won’t look like our bill of rights. I’m betting the new virtuous list is very different from what Americans hope it would be. Some will find it worse than the old regime list (Sharia principles and their enforcement, for example).

If we were, as Americans, exceptional at evangelizing our virtuous list, we’d influence situations and events in such a way that the new Libyan virtuous lists would look like our bill of rights. But we (as an acting government, not as individual people or critical mass of people) are:

1. not aware of effective methods that would result in this new configuration,
2. aware of effective methods for this outcome, but the methods would be judged unethical by other nations whose opinion we value,
3. aware of effective methods for this outcome, but judge them too expensive or taking too long,
4. aware of effective methods , but actually have a different agenda than Libya’s generating and living with a new virtuous list (access to oil resources, for instance).

Because there’s not a serious national dialogue about these items in the news, I can’t really judge what is going on, or what we should do about it. But I’m reasonably sure that a no fly zone, and arming the rebels, are not going to result in a way of life in Libya that looks like the four-point bill of rights setting I described at the opening of this comment.

Scott

Anonymous said...

Hi assistant—

The word ‘exceptionalism’ has two meanings:

1. We are exceptional in a special way; and

2. Rules and regulations apply to us, except for XYZ.

It is the second meaning that leads to a sense of privilege. In particular, that American governmental decisions/actions are not bound by the same set of rules as all the other nations in the UN. This meaning surfaces whenever we act in the world in such a way that other nations want to change our actions, and can’t, or want to influence our actions, and can’t.

If we (American government) agree to be bound by a set of principles, and then we act contrary to these agreed to principles, and then we justify the action as being above the law, we are ‘exceptional;’ we are privileged.

Teri focused on the first meaning, which is a richer place, I think, to have a discussion than the one I first chose. But the second meaning does apply to American actions in the world.

Scott

terri said...

Scott,

I mostly agree with the comment directed at me. We are exceptional because we have values that most of the people in our country assent to and want enforced.

And....I think those specific values which allow diversity and peaceful dissension and fair treatment of those who do not wield power are the bedrock of American Exceptionalism.

There are many Western countries who have similar liberties and rights....but I am prejudiced to think that we do it best for the most part. ;-)

We've had more practice at it.

As far as Libya goes. I'm sure that one tyrant will simply be traded for another....though there will be a brief interlude in which someone gets elected in a mostly democratic process. That freely elected person will find a pretext for establishing their own stronghold on the country....all for Libya's stability and best interests of course! :-/