Topic: Foreign Policy and National Security

Fukuyama on Secrecy: Read the Whole Thing

A few days ago, the New York Times ran a piece by Francis Fukuyama called “The American Way of Secrecy” [registration required] in which he deftly interweaves the twin scourges of threat exaggeration and secrecy.  He also recites the damage they have done to U.S. foreign policy, national security, and domestic tranquility.  No one quote captures this rich, brief essay, so I will indulge in a blogger cop-out and encourage you to read the whole thing.

(HT: Bruce Schneier)

WSJ Weighs in Against ‘REAL Bad ID’

This morning’s Wall Street Journal opinion page blasts Republicans for passing the REAL ID Act.  [subscription required] 

Keyed to a recent report showing the costs of compliance at $11 billion, the piece notes that all Americans will have to reapply for their drivers’ licenses and ID cards if states go along with this unfunded federal surveillance mandate.  It also addresses whether a national ID protects against terrorism or provides effective immigration control and finds REAL ID wanting on both counts.  My book Identity Crisis shows why.

Sooner rather than later, Congress will recognize its error in passing the REAL ID Act.  Most likely it will try to kick the can down the road.  Look for a quiet attempt to change the deadline for getting a national ID in everyone’s hands. 

But that is not the solution.  If Congress wants a national ID, it should have hearings, markup and pass legislation, then fund and implement a national ID itself. 

Congress didn’t have a single hearing or up-or-down vote on the REAL ID Act.  This much exposure would kill a national ID plan, of course.

War and Terrorist Recruitment

On first reading, I could have sworn Andrew Coulson was saying that it’s cheating to point out that the Iraq War is defeating its own stated purposes. The recent National Intelligence Estimate doesn’t matter because “efforts to create a free and democratic Iraq are ongoing — the war is still in progress”? Well, efforts may still be ongoing three years and 2,500 more dead soldiers hence; just when will it be permissible to point out that the Iraq war has given Al Qaeda a recruitment boost?

The second time through, my reading comprehension improved, and now I take Andrew to be objecting to something like the following syllogism:

If a campaign in the war on terror increases terrorist recruitment while that campaign is ongoing, the campaign has failed.

War X has increased terrorist recruitment.

Therefore, War X has failed.

OK, if that’s the argument on offer from “antiwar liberals,” then I agree that it’s a faulty one. You could use it to condemn the war in Afghanistan, which, I think on balance probably improved American security despite perhaps enhancing terrorist recruitment. And it doesn’t do the work it needs to do to refute the case for war with Iraq. After all, if Iraq turns into something that passes for a liberal democracy, and if that in turn causes a reverse domino effect in the Middle East, transforming other autocracies in the region into (relatively) free and open societies, and if that in turn dampens the terrorist threat by replacing hatred with hope–then the short-term costs in terms of enhanced terrorist recruitment will turn out to have been worth it.

And I guess that’s right. But if the mere description of that Rube-Goldbergesque chain of causation doesn’t make you skeptical about whether the benefits are ever going to outweigh the costs, I don’t know what will. After all, it’s really, really hard to turn societies into liberal democracies through military nation-building, especially when those societies, like Iraq, are poor, violently heterogeneous, resource-cursed, and lack an independent middle class. But the liberal part of creating liberal democracies—the part that we don’t know how to do—may be essential if you can’t be talked out of embarking on this sort of mad enterprise. Because given popular support for Hamas, Hezbollah, and Muqtada al-Sadr in the Arab world, expanded suffrage all by itself may well make the problem worse.

Call it hindsight bias if you want, but it seems to me that the Wolfowitzian case for the Iraq war was never a promising bet. Even supposing the federal government had the world-transforming competence to reliably create liberal democracies by force of arms, I’m still not sure how that solves the terrorism problem. There was always something odd about conservatives jumping from “they hate us because we’re free” to “if we make them free, then they won’t hate us.” What was the evidence for that proposition? Even advanced liberal democracies produce terror threats.

But whether or not it was a bad bet from the start, it certainly looks like a losing proposition now, with violence raging across Iraq and no clear sign of the democratic future promised by the administration. Given all that as a backdrop, is it possible that antiwar liberals aren’t making the simplistic “recruitment up/war bad” argument that Andrew attributes to them? Isn’t it possible that they’re saying “given that the war is enhancing terrorist recruitment—and that there is no plausible account of how it’s going to dampen terrorist recruitment in the future—the Iraq War is a failure”? They may be leaving the parenthetical unstated, but perhaps they can be excused for doing so, given current events in Iraq and the failure of the war’s remaining defenders to construct anything like a convincing case for how this is all going to make us safer in the end.

The case that the benefits of the war aren’t coming has been clearly and abundantly made. By now it’s fairly well understood. If opponents of the Iraq War don’t feel the need to restate that case each and every time they point to things like the NIE, it seems to me less an error of logic than a sense that one shouldn’t belabor the obvious.

Considering Coulson

In less than 24 hours, Andrew Coulson’s recent post on criticism of the Iraq War has sparked an angry reaction across the blogosphere. It’s all exciting vitriol — and completely misplaced.

Coulson’s post is neither a defense of the war nor a criticism. He claims neither that the war is justified nor unjustified. He does not challenge the fundamental positions of many Iraq War critics. Coulson’s post is an appeal for better thinking; for war critics to drop a voguish but flawed argument against the war, in favor of stronger, more rigorous arguments.

Unfortunately (if understandably), people have become so emotional and politicized over the war that they misunderstand and misconstrue such appeals. They are not distinguishing between sloppy reasoning and good reasoning, and are equating appeals for better arguments to “dumb” and “retarded” opposition. But it would be worthwhile for those critics to take the time to understand what Coulson is arguing, because it would help the critics make their case.

Coulson’s post involves the recent National Intelligence Estimate that includes the claim that the Iraq War has become a recruitment tool for terrorist organizations. Several anti-war critics have seized on this claim to make the following argument against the war:

  1. It is not in a nation’s interest to increase the number of enemies who want to harm that nation. (Call this the Enemy Recruitment Premise, or “ERP.”)
  2. The Iraq War is increasing the number of enemies who want to harm the U.S.
  3. Thus, the Iraq War is not in the nation’s interest. QED

Coulson offers a potent challenge to this reasoning: Many nations, engaged in what have broadly been considered just wars, have violated the ERP. The American colonies, in opposing the British crown, made enemies of the Redcoats and the Hessians. The U.S.’s support of the British in WWII put us on the wrong side of the Axis. The Union’s opposition to secession led to hundreds of thousands of Southerners flocking to the Confederate cause (or, for Southern sympathizers, the Confederacy’s efforts to secede led to hundreds of thousands of Northerners rallying to the Federal cause).

Indeed, it’s difficult to think of any war in history that would pass the ERP. So either (1) no war in history has been in any nation’s interest, or (2) the ERP is wrong.

Coulson’s claim is that the ERP is wrong; creation of enemies is not a sufficient condition for a war being against a nation’s interest. This does not mean that the U.S. will be justified in going to war if we end up “winning” in Iraq. It simply means that critics of the Iraq War need to rely on other arguments for their position. Hence, it is to completely misunderstand Coulson to believe that he’s claiming that what has happened since the war doesn’t matter.

So, what anti-Iraq War arguments could work? Coulson explicitly gives one in his post: “Critics are welcome to argue that we and freedom-loving Iraqis will ultimately lose there, and be worse off if we do” — call this the Loss Argument. Another is that the Iraq War may be winnable, but it will be extremely costly to do so (in blood and treasure) — call this the Cost Argument. A third is that there are alternative, less-difficult ways to promote the nation’s interest in the Middle East — call this the Alternatives Argument. There likely are many other effective arguments.

The Iraq War’s production of more anti-U.S. fighters is a serious concern. But it is not a sufficent condition for the war being wrong — instead, it is a part of a Cost Argument against the war (i.e., those combatants can inflict a terrible cost on both U.S. troops in the Gulf and civilians here at home).

Coulson’s argument is not some obscure semantic point or a straw man argument. It is philosophically significant. For a topic as important as the Iraq War, we should be rigorous in our reasoning. We should not let passions cloud our ability to understand and consider other people’s points of view about the war — especially when those points of view may not conflict with our own.

Posner on Humanitarian Intervention

Below Andrew criticizes the claim that our Iraq intervention has failed because it has increased the risk of terrorist attacks.  While I, as a caveman lawyer, have little expertise on matters of foreign relations, I am an expert on what other lawyers have to say about foreign relations. 

Here, Chicago law professor Eric Posner (and son of Richard Posner) argues that the Iraq war has revealed a different trade-off:  the uncertain payoff of humanitarian military intervention.

Logic Is Not the Enemy; Let’s Be Kind to It

Today’s Washington Post suggests that the reaction of some “antiwar liberals” to a recent leak from the National Intelligence Estimate may have been unjustified. The NIE allegedly asserts that the war in Iraq is creating more terrorists than it is eliminating, and many Iraq war critics responded that they had always assured us it would — and that the war therefore is (and always was) a bad idea.

The Post dismisses this “I told you so” reaction as the product of “hindsight bias,” arguing that the critics hadn’t (and indeed couldn’t have) been certain of this outcome from the beginning — that they have only convinced themselves, retroactively, that they were.

Whether or not the Post’s observation is valid, it ignores a much more fundamental error in the critics’ reasoning: It is never the waging of wars that makes you safer, only the winning of them.

The U.S. was not safer in 1942–1945 than it had been in early 1941. We entered World War II because winning it would make America safer. In trying to win it, we suffered over a million casualties.

Part of the argument for toppling Saddam Hussein’s regime was that a beachhead for freedom and democracy in a Muslim Middle Eastern nation would, in the long term, weaken militant Islamism and promote peace. It was never suggested that the process of trying to create that beachhead would itself make anyone safer — no more than it was suggested that Americans would be safer during our participation in WW II.

Hence, it is fatuous to argue that a current rise in terrorist recruitment proves that toppling Saddam was a bad idea. Efforts to create a free and democratic Iraq are ongoing — the war is still in progress.

Note that none of this is to say that freedom and democracy are sure (or even likely) to take root in Iraq. Critics are welcome to argue that we and freedom-loving Iraqis will ultimately lose there, and be worse off if we do. But can we please treat logic and common sense as non-combatants, and stop assaulting them with fallacious arguments such as the one described above?

Sending Up Security

People are highly tuned risk managers. Daily, we make decision about risky things like crossing streets. To do so, we analyze the speed and density of traffic, light conditions, our own physical skills, and myriad other factors to determine whether to cross in the middle of a block or at a controlled intersection.

Five years since 9/11, people are getting better at assessing the risks of terrorist acts. And people are growing increasingly skeptical of the risk choices being made for them by the Department of Homeland Security. The evidence? Their willingness to see security lampooned.

The writers at The Onion are undoubtedly finding a good reception for this send-up of the Transportation Security Administration’s liquids rules.

And people are diverting themselves from their exasperation with airport security using this fun game

A basic indictment of government-provided security is in daily newspapers’ comic sections this morning. Syndicated cartoon Bizarro by Dan Piraro is titled “Orientation Seminar at Homeland Security.” It depicts a teacher at a chalkboard that says “Inconvenience = Security.” (Available online here early next month). 

The funny bone is a highly tuned instrument, and it’s showing the dissonance in air security today.