Topic: Foreign Policy and National Security

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. 

Does the Military Commission Act Apply to U.S. Citizens?

Legal scholars are debating whether the Military Commission Act [MCA], passed by Congress on September 29 and soon to be signed by President Bush, applies to U.S. citizens. The answer is more complicated than one would think.

First: Under Sec. 948a(1) an unlawful enemy combatant is “(i) a person who has engaged in hostilities or who has purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States or its co-belligerents …; or (ii) a person who…has been determined to be an unlawful enemy combatant by a Combatant Status Review Tribunal….” Use of the word “person” suggests that citizens may be detained as unlawful combatants.

But second: Sec. 7(a) denies habeas rights only to aliens. Thus, a citizen who is detained as an unlawful combatant would appear to have habeas rights to challenge his detention.

Moreover, third: Sec. 948b states that “[t]his chapter establishes procedures governing the use of military commissions to try alien unlawful enemy combatants.” In other words, only non-citizens may be tried by a military commission. 

My conclusion:  A citizen may be detained (subject to habeas challenge), but not tried, under the MCA.

Return of the Liberal Interventionists

When Chris Preble and I released “Failed States and Flawed Logic,” the Dean of the Wilson School at Princeton, Anne-Marie Slaughter, offered what I thought was a pretty cutting critique. While admitting that “Rhetorically, the distinctions between these positions…are relatively easy to elide,” Slaughter criticized Chris and me thus:

Preble and Logan lump together such unlikely bedfellows as Robert Kaplan, Niall Ferguson, Frank Fukuyama, Steve Krasner, Gerald Helman and Steve Ratner, David Laitin and James Fearon, Sebastian Mallaby, Max Boot, Tony Lake and the entire Clinton foreign policy team as neo-colonialists — all perceiving the principal threat to the U.S. as failed states and the optimal solution as a new era of colonialism, with far more altruistic motives and international supervision. Preble and Logan in turn worry that all of this is a justification for a massive nation-building enterprise that will ignore sovereignty and usher an extraordinarily costly and difficult era in which the U.S. will take on the task of turning all “bad” or weak states into mature democracies to ensure our safety, using military and non-military means.

I thought this was a pretty good point. After all, there’s got to be some daylight between, say, Max Boot, an open advocate of American Empire, and, say, Anthony Lake, no? 

Well, crack open the op-ed page of the Washington Post this morning, and you get this from Brookings’ Susan Rice, Anthony Lake, and Donald M. Payne, on what to do in Sudan. Get ready:

It’s time to get tough with Sudan again.

After swift diplomatic consultations, the United States should press for a U.N. resolution that issues Sudan an ultimatum: accept unconditional deployment of the U.N. force within one week or face military consequences. The resolution would authorize enforcement by U.N. member states, collectively or individually. International military pressure would continue until Sudan relented.

The United States, preferably with NATO involvement and African political support, would strike Sudanese airfields, aircraft and other military assets. It could blockade Port Sudan, through which Sudan’s oil exports flow. Then U.N. troops would deploy — by force, if necessary, with U.S. and NATO backing.

If the United States fails to gain U.N. support, we should act without it. (Emphasis mine.)

All of a sudden, I’m not so sure any more that Slaughter’s critique holds all too well. 

The real difference between the neoconservatives in the Bush administration and the liberal interventionists on the other side of the aisle seems to be that for Bush’s interventions, there’s at least a plausible, not to say persuasive, case that American interests are at stake. 

In the case of the Dems’ preferred guerre du jour, there’s simply no national interest justification; the case for war, in this case, is made in the hazy language of international law and in contravention of the principle of sovereignty itself. (Indeed, Sudan has reportedly provided helpful cooperation in the war on terror, something that does affect the U.S. directly.) 

For liberals, as for neocons, states only get to be states when we say so, and apparently Susan Rice and Anthony Lake have taken it upon themselves to determine that Sudan’s statehood isn’t acceptable anymore.

The tendency to make all the world’s troubles our own, the ultimate disregard for the United Nations and beneath it the entire Westphalian order, the false hope in the utility of military power to solve protracted political problems…these fundamental principles are all shared by the Bush administration. Given that the WaPo op-ed’s authors are representative of the Dems’ heavy hitters on foreign policy, maybe it’s too early to get excited that Dems could bring a less militaristic foreign policy, should they grab the reins from the Republicans. The wars they’ll start will just be further detached from genuine U.S. interests.

Republican Congressman Demands Answers!

Via Doug Bandow, here’s an illustration of the depth of analysis we’ve come to expect from our Congress on foreign policy issues:

Why do they hate each other? Why do Sunnis kill Shiites? How do they tell the difference? They all look the same to me.
Trent Lott

Let’s not wonder why we’re in such a mess overseas. This tells you all you need to know. God help us.