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True But Irrelevant

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I see there’s some naysaying about the use of force to protect civilians in Libya. Among various refrains is the claim that “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) doctrine lacks moral strength if applied selectively: the
international community can’t legitimately go after Qaddafi if it won’t/can’t also go after every other dictator.

So just a reminder that the doctrine, as laid out by the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty and acknowledged as a legal principle in several multilateral documents, actually promotes military force for civilian protection not in every case where it might be merited, but rather only in limited circumstances mapping roughly onto just war theory.

The criteria include just cause (which I agree would be fulfilled in a case like North Korea or Bahrain) but also right authority (which in R2P requires multilateral consent – not feasible in Bahrain) and proportionality (requiring a judgment that the overall good to civilians outweigh the potential harm – unlikely in North Korea). In cases not meeting this threshold, the doctrine urges merely non-coercive protection measures, including humanitarian assistance and diplomacy.

In fact one of the key critiques of R2P is that the threshold for the use of force – which is in some cases the only effective response to unfolding crimes against humanity – is so unreasonably high as to render the doctrine useless for the cases in which it is most needed. So it was actually reassuring to see the international community act so relatively swiftly in the case of Libya, in contrast to its months and years of dithering in Kosovo and Bosnia, respectively, or its ultimate inaction in the case of Darfur. R2P as currently constituted includes no normative requirement of consistency.

Now whether or not the intervention was caused or facilitated by the R2P norm itself, that’s another question. Erik Voeten thinks not and is not even sure there is such a norm. My students will be writing their mid-term over it this week, and we’ll see what they come up with.

[cross-posted at Duck of Minerva]

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  • there’s not oil there, right? i’d hate to think that we’re really going to ponder the responsibility to protect civilians so reverently and feel so smug about our swift, decisive action and protective freedom bombs if all we’re really doing is making sure the oil keeps flowing to it’s rightful consumers.

    good thing nobody notices that the freedom bombs always happen fall in order to protect any civilians who happen to survive the actual bombing only in places where all our favorite things happen to be and never anywhere else. (or anywhere somebody might have any chance of fighting back with any effectiveness.)

    maybe we need a smarmy coalition on the responsibility to not bomb people who are not us.

    • joe from Lowell

      Gotcha.

      If there’s oil in a country, the civilians are fair game for the government if they dare to get out of line.

      Thank you for coming down off the mountain to lecture your moral inferiors.

      • Holden Pattern

        Sure works that way for Saudi Arabia, dunnit?

        • joe from Lowell

          Read the freaking post.

      • wrong. we’re only going to _pretend_ to care about the civilians in a place where a) we have a resource or commodity interest and b) the local civilian-abusers don’t have an effective way to resist our explosive benevolence.

      • Dogsbody

        Your smug indifference to those not curerently on your TV is enlightening.

        Thanks for clearing that up, you inferior smartarse.

  • hv

    The trouble with most of these criteria is that they are spoofable. And they are not fault-tolerant — the way to spoof these criteria is to be a worse regime.

    Example: proportionality… to me, this is to rule out cases like Haiti, lighter on the tyranny, smaller population, so the cost of defeating their reasonably-sized army might not be net beneficial. North Korea is spoofing this by raising the ante of army size so ridiculously high that proportionality is effectively invoked by the regime rather than as a calculus among the right authority. And North Korea’s giant military isn’t a benign outcome — so the spoofing is worsening the problem.

    I request more details on how Bahrain fails the “right authority” test. Some ways it might fail also involve spoofing things.

    • It seems to me that it isn’t North Korea’s giant military that puts on the brakes: it is the risk of harm to South Korea (and South Korea’s resistance to applying military force on other grounds).

      • Malaclypse

        Isn’t that risk to SK based on the North’s military?

      • Dogsbody

        China.

    • Jon H

      “I request more details on how Bahrain fails the “right authority” test.”

      I think the difference in Bahrain is that the opposition hasn’t gotten much farther than protesting. In Libya, the opposition made it much farther, a lot of government people switched sides, the opposition had a lot of territory (which they were unable to hold), etc.

      Basically, the Libyan opposition was in a position where success was quite feasible. That isn’t the case in many other countries.

      • hv

        Hmmm, Ms. Carpenter says:
        which in R2P requires multilateral consent – not feasible in Bahrain

        Your explanation lacks referents to multilateralism. I am not sure you have captured Ms. Carpenter’s thoughts on this issue.

      • Dogsbody

        They got far enough to be shot.

  • dsquared

    “Ultimate inaction in the case of Darfur?” This really is close to implying that only war counts as real “action”.

  • JohnT

    So the Ivory Coast goes on the list as soon as the Security Council approves? Even with these strict conditions, I would have thought war would become a common option, especially in sub-Saharan Africa where huge harm seems to typically to be done by small unpleasant armies that any Western armed force could knock over in a week, and where most Security Council members don’t care much either way. I for one am not am not comfortable with the frequency of military action that would seem to be justified by this doctrine, were the Security Council to go along with it.

    • joe from Lowell

      There’s already a UN mission in the Ivory Coast.

      • Holden Pattern

        Which from current reports is completely overwhelmed and, y’know, not picking sides and killing the hell out of one side. So why aren’t we?

        • joe from Lowell

          Oh, my goodness, we picked the protesters over Khaddaffy!

          How DARE we?

          Oh, wait – there was one side about to commit a mass slaughter against the other side. Imagine siding against that! Wo do we think we are?

          These are really easy questions. We’re intervening in Libya, taking the side of the protesters against the government, because it’s the lowest of low-hanging fruit (on the questions of morality and authority, anyway).

          • Brad P.

            We’re intervening in Libya, taking the side of the protesters against the government, because it’s the lowest of low-hanging fruit (on the questions of morality and authority, anyway).

            But when you climb the tree, the next lowest fruit is a lot closer than it once was. Is there a point where we aren’t picking fruit?

            • joe from Lowell

              Yes.

              I do understand your concern about one thing leading to another – there is that tendency – but there are also forces pushing in the other direction.

              For instance, the authority leg of the P2P stool. If the fruit isn’t extraordinarily low-hanging, we’re not going to get that.

              • Brad P.

                Fair enough.

                Since this appears to be boiling down to the same intractable difference over trust and expectations concerning our government that dominates all discussions I get involved in, I will leave it at that.

                Besides, this blog just filled up to the brim with cynical of government libertarian types.

              • Malaclypse

                Besides, this blog just filled up to the brim with cynical of government the military libertarian types.

                Fixed for those of us who start with difference assumptions.

              • joe from Lowell

                The difference between cynicism and skepticism:

                The skeptic has doubts, and responds with demands for more information before being convinced.

                The cynic has his story and he’s sticking to it. Information only exists to confirm that story, or to be denied.

              • Brad Potts

                Apples and oranges, Joe, and they are not mutually exclusive.

                How would I ever be skeptical of government proclamations if I were not cynical of the source?

                Cynicism is an attitude, skepticism is a level of belief. I am personally way more interested in pushing for a more cynical society than a more skeptical one.

                Briefly, hold on to your beliefs as strongly as you wish, but just make sure they are your own.

          • JohnTh

            We’re taking the side of the protestors who are out protesting with AK47s – i.e. rebels. We’re not doing anything about protestors being shot down in government-occupied cities because we can’t. The situation in Libya seems horrendously unclear, and I strongly suspect that any action based on picking a side is almost certain to end badly. Even in Kosovo the death-toll being inflicted by the ‘bad guys’ turned out to have been overplayed as was the state-building capacity and general good behaviour of the ‘good guys’.

  • Malaclypse

    It strikes me that all this boils down to “If the Great Powers agree that some dictator is no longer useful, that dictator can be overthrown. If that dictator has gotten nukes beforehand, then that changes things.” This is not a responsibility to protect, it is a condescension to protect, if convenient.

    • Brad P.

      That’s what makes it such a confusing topic to me, “condescension to protect” is still an urge to protect.

      I interpret it the same way you do, and likely have the same feelings about our foreign policy, but it seems like a tremendous waste to stop our typical foreign policy before it does one of the few things it can do that is beneficial.

      Of course, I am also skeptical that the intervention will actually accomplish anything.

      • Malaclypse

        it seems like a tremendous waste to stop our typical foreign policy before it does one of the few things it can do that is beneficial.

        Of course, I am also skeptical that the intervention will actually accomplish anything.

        Unless it is a lack of coffee on my part, I see a certain tension between these two sentences.

        • Brad P.

          Unless it is a lack of coffee on my part, I see a certain tension between these two sentences.

          You do. Like I said, a very confused topic.

          We have built an incredibly large military with no shortage of social sacrifice, and that military is actually capable of incredible good. And it appears to me that there is some good that can be performed by our military in Libya if done correctly.

          The counter, of course, is that past results have shown those in charge of our military to be incapable or unwilling to use it to accomplish “good” results in similar situations.

          An analogy: I am walking down a park trail and see a child drowning. I know how to swim and I have the physical capability, but the last time I tried to save a drowning child, somebody had to dive in to save me, and the child drowned anyway.

          Do I jump in again and try to save this child, or do I stand on the bank with the resigned to the belief that I would probably just manage to make the situation worse?

          • Malaclypse

            And it appears to me that there is some good that can be performed by our military in Libya if done correctly.

            Dear Cthulhu, I cannot believe you have backed me into this corner: “Hayek doesn’t stop at the water’s edge!”

            Libertarianism made it clear how absurd the idealistic case was. Supposedly, wise, firm and just American guidance would usher Iraq Libya into a new era of liberalism and comity. But none of that was going to work unless real American officials embedded in American political institutions were unusually selfless and astute, with a lofty and omniscient devotion to Iraqi Libyan welfare. And, you know, they weren’t going to be that.

            • Brad P.

              EXACTLY!

              Next time you support some grand US state intervention into anything, reread that over and over and over again.

              • Malaclypse

                Not all interventions are created equal. I’m particularly skeptical of claims our military can accomplish humanitarian goals based on the fact that that goal is not what militaries are designed to do.

                When the nice person at the post office tells me they would like to help me, I believe them. When the nice person in camouflage says the same thing, I tend to be concerned by the fact that their main area of expertise is blowing shit up.

              • Brad P.

                When the nice person at the post office tells me they would like to help me, I believe them. When the nice person in camouflage says the same thing, I tend to be concerned by the fact that their main area of expertise is blowing shit up.

                I think by this point you should be well aware that I am not concerned with post offices and other local/community oriented government activity.

                I am more concerned about grand plans to rationalize health care markets and build high-speed rail. Those people are just as self-interested as military officials, and since you are a socialist, I know you understand that dollars can be apply harm just the same as bullets.

                But anyways, I’m getting close to being a problem, so I will bow out with my point being made more or less.

              • joe from Lowell

                Blowing up the shit of people about to commit a massacre IS the accomplishment of a humanitarian goal.

              • Brad P.

                Blowing up the shit of people about to commit a massacre IS the accomplishment of a humanitarian goal.

                No it is not.

                The humanitarian accomplishment would be to prevent death and suffering on a major scale in Libya.

                The onus is on you to explain how turning our military loose to blow up the shit of the aggressors actually will do that.

                I believe such an action will result in an exacerbation of the violence in the nation, a prolonging of violence in the nation, and a scenario where other factors keep us in Libya long after the humanitarian factor is accomplished (or more likely given up on because it comes in conflict with other US global interests).

              • joe from Lowell

                The onus is on you to explain how turning our military loose to blow up the shit of the aggressors actually will do that.

                The people in Benghazi don’t seem to share your confusion about how stopping the Libyan military from killing them accomplishes a humanitarian goal.

              • Brad P.

                The people in Benghazi don’t seem to share your confusion about how stopping the Libyan military from killing them accomplishes a humanitarian goal.

                To me, your justification is valid, its your expectations for everything to go as planned that renders me skeptical.

                We don’t have a very good track record of ameliorating civil discord and violence.

              • joe from Lowell

                I agree, Brad, that among the three legs Charli lays out, the “proportionality” argument – will the action do more good than harm – is not as much of a slam dunk as the other two.

              • djw

                I am not concerned with post offices and other local/community oriented government activity.

                I am more concerned about grand plans to rationalize health care markets and build high-speed rail.

                Setting aside health care for a moment, I’m at a loss to see the significant conceptual difference between a post office and high-speed rail. They’re both the government taking responsibility for a functioning infrastructure. Now, there are all sorts of practical reasons why some infrastructure project scheme may be unwise, inefficient or unnecessary, but it seems like you see these two activities as of an entirely different class, in a way that’s so obvious it doesn’t need to be stated. Perhaps I’m dense, but I’m not seeing it.

              • Brad P.

                Setting aside health care for a moment, I’m at a loss to see the significant conceptual difference between a post office and high-speed rail. They’re both the government taking responsibility for a functioning infrastructure.

                Now, there are all sorts of practical reasons why some infrastructure project scheme may be unwise, inefficient or unnecessary, but it seems like you see these two activities as of an entirely different class, in a way that’s so obvious it doesn’t need to be stated. Perhaps I’m dense, but I’m not seeing it.

                I personally don’t see the high-speed rail as an attempt to provide needed infrastructure, but an attempt at changing existing business and travel trends.

                I have softened my opinion on high-speed rail (I was a bit of a libertarian zealot before), but I still see the project overall as social engineering, and I am still pretty zealous in my opinion that projects like that serve the interests of those providing them.

                So to be a little more nuanced than I have in the past:

                Improving and maintaining the Acela is vastly different than starting an initiative that sets aside $50B and handing it out to whoever will actually build high-speed rail nationwide.

              • Malaclypse

                I personally don’t see the high-speed rail as an attempt to provide needed infrastructure, but an attempt at changing existing business and travel trends.

                But, that is what infrastructure does. It makes different things possible. It changes behavior.

              • Brad P.

                But, that is what infrastructure does. It makes different things possible. It changes behavior.

                I will admit that, and that is a large reason why I softened my stance on the Acela and high-speed rail in general (I admit to being unreasonably hard-headed).

                But there are far more markets being targeted where there is a very limited niche that would never justify the expense. And worldwide, high-speed rail has not been the self-supporting transport it would be if there was indeed a bottleneck limiting desired economic activity.

                To me it is more like our governing class has realized the problems associated with subsidizing travel in between and within large population centers through automobiles and air travel are now obvious, and just throwing whatever they can out there to mask the problem, rather than fixing it.

              • Malaclypse

                And worldwide, high-speed rail has highways have not been the self-supporting transport it they would be if there was indeed a bottleneck limiting desired economic activity.

              • djw

                If there were a high speed rail network in the midwest (or, hell, even medium speed), that allowed me to conveniently get to Cincinnati, Chicago, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Indy, Columbus, etc with relative ease and less expense/hassle than flying, I would probably not even consider buying a car. As it is, if I don’t want to be stuck in Dayton every damn weekend, a car is probably a practical necessity in the medium term, even though it’s going to drain my savings, and I don’t want or need it for day to day use.

                In other words, the massive investment in highways over rail networks is social-engineering me into buying a future-destroying anti-exercise machine I have no independent interest in wasting my money on.

                To make this less about my own issues (I’m still furious about Kasich giving the rail money back), there’s a pretty vast amount of conceptual and practical space between “fixing” such a large scale problem as our massive and unsustainable over-reliance on fossil fuel-based transportation (which is, frankly, a task so Herculean I can’t imagine any one initiative could ever hope to do it) and merely “masking” such a problem, and HSR investment obviously lies somewhere in that middle space. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a very modest correction to what now appears to be a pretty unfortunate error in past choices about infrastructure development.

              • djw

                …and, I would add, one that is obviously non-coercive, and in a practical, everyday sort of way, enhances freedom, insofar as I become more free when I have more viable choices rather than fewer.

              • Brad Potts

                And worldwide, highways have not been the self-supporting transport it they would be if there was indeed a bottleneck limiting desired economic activity.

                Agreed, but I didn’t intend to offer justification for highways either.

              • Brad Potts

                …and, I would add, one that is obviously non-coercive, and in a practical, everyday sort of way, enhances freedom, insofar as I become more free when I have more viable choices rather than fewer.

                I understand what you are saying, although I am a little skeptical that there are many people really itching for rapid transit between Dayton and Columbus.

                Regardless, the original question was concerning why I consider high-speed rail to be in a class with health care reform and not post offices, and I think you understand why I said it.

                I would consider high-speed rail to be a relative success if it managed to fit into that post-office style infrastructure class of service provisions, and I have no love for the post office.

          • dsquared

            I know how to swim and I have the physical capability, but the last time I tried to save a drowning child, somebody had to dive in to save me, and the child drowned anyway.

            in such a situation, it is perhaps appropriate to reconsider your self-assessment that you are able to swim.

  • John

    How is proportionality being met here? I’m completely unclear on what our goals are in this conflict, and how they will actually improve things.

    As to right authority, that seems practically circular in the case of Bahrain. We have right authority in Libya because western governments wanted to attack it; we don’t have right authority in Bahrain because they don’t. I’m not sure how that is a useful guideline.

    • joe from Lowell

      The entire Security Council – not just the permanent members, but all of them – have to assent in order for a resolution to pass.

      Last time I checked, Russia, China, India, Gabon, Nigeria, and Lebanon were not western governments.

      • Malaclypse

        The entire Security Council – not just the permanent members, but all of them – have to assent in order for a resolution to pass.

        Simply not true. Not only was this resolution not unanimous, not only did two permanent members not assent to this resolution, but only the permanent members have veto power.

        • joe from Lowell

          Voting in favor: Gabon, Nigeria, Lebanon, South Africa.

          Damn imperialists.

          Oh, and yes, abstaining from a vote you know will pass IS assenting to it.

      • Anonymous

        That’s not true at all. You need a majority of the non-permanent security council members, not all of them. And I find it hard to believe that Russia, China, India, and Gabon would stand up for Bahrain but not for Libya, if the western powers wanted to attack Bahrain.

        • joe from Lowell

          Yes, I was wrong about the non-permanent member.

          Nonetheless, Gabon, South Africa, Lebanon, and Nigeria voted for it, and China and Russia let is pass.

          And I find it hard to believe that Russia, China, India, and Gabon would stand up for Bahrain but not for Libya, if the western powers wanted to attack Bahrain.

          I do. The list of people that Khadaffy has managed to piss off is truly impressive.

          • Dogsbody

            He certainly pissed you off, and that seems to be the main thrust of your arguments.

  • IM

    Since then is this a legal doctrine? Some self-appointed commission (notably light on jurists) doesn’t make a international law.

    A (desirable) policy is not a law.

    And as others mentioned, the rightful authority of the policy seems quite circular.

    I always understood the right to protect as more serious, to prevent genocide etc. and not applicable to every kind of violence.

  • rea

    I’m no big fan of the use of force for ostensibly humanitarian purposes. I have to say, though, that the notion that we ought not to save anyone unless we save everyone is pernicious

    • Davis X. Machina

      Which is why Robert Scheer is calling for an invasion of Saudi Arabia today… yeah, it’s pernicious, but it wins debates.

      • joe from Lowell

        No, he doesn’t!

        Did you think nobody was going to read the link you posted?

        Scheer absolutely does not call for an invasion of Saudi Arabia. That is a complete fabrication.

    • Dogsbody

      When we start saving people who don’t have anything to offer in return (oil, strategic placement) you may see less cynicism.

  • Kal

    “right authority (which in R2P requires multilateral consent – not feasible in Bahrain)”

    That’s fucking ludicrous. People are accusing the US of hypocrisy for intervening in Libya, allegedly to stop a dictator from massacring protesters, but standing by the king in Bahrain. Your defense is, the US is following R2P, which says the Security Council has to grant authority to act, which it did in Libya but won’t in Bahrain… because the US is on it?

    And “naysaying”. Like we’re trying to do something beautiful here by blowing a bunch of people up, and all these nattering nabobs are just so irritating in their suggestion that maybe this obviously desirable goal isn’t achievable.

    • NonyNony

      I’ve come to the conclusion that you’re not allowed to be considered a “serious” US foreign policy wonk if you don’t have the ability to tie yourself into moral and logical pretzels at a moment’s notice.

      I have no doubt that if suddenly it became popular internationally to intervene in Bahrain, Dr. Carpenter – and not to pick on Dr. Carpenter, but any other left-hawk foreign policy wonk as well – could come up with an exact policy argument for why the right policy decision is for US intervention in Bahrain, even with previous paragraphs still sitting out in print for everyone to read.

      I think the obvious answer as to “why Lybia and not Bahrain” is the utilitarian one – there is a lot of Western and Arabic leadership who perceive that if Qaddafi were taken out they would benefit. There are also a lot of Western and Arabic leadership who perceive that if the King of Bahrain doesn’t suppress his uprising, Iran will increase their influence in the region and the House of Saud will see their influence decrease.

      There have been pages and pages of electrons spilled on what in the end comes down to a “Cui Bono?” argument. But then I have also come to the conclusion that a lot of left-leaning hawkish foreign policy wonks really don’t like to believe that they’re arguing from the same basis as Henry Kissinger always did (even if their conclusions end up being different than his would) so they like to bring morality into it as well. Which makes it hard because they’re attempting to use black and white morality reasoning to justify muddled gray outcomes.

      • joe from Lowell

        I couldn’t help but notice that you didn’t write a single word finding the slightest logical or evidentiary holes in Charli’s “pretzel logic.”

        But it must be wrong and hypocritical, because she drew the wrong conclusion.

      • Kal

        I’m in 100% agreement that the actual motivation for the US positions comes down to the interests of elites.

    • joe from Lowell

      because the US is on it?

      There would be far more members of the Security Council who would oppose operations in Bahrain than just us.

      It’s only the extraordinary level of violence and the particularly deplorable nature of the Khadaffy regime that produced such unified support for action in Libya, and as bad as the recent actions in Bahrain are, they don’t begin to rise to the same level. Unless you believe that it wasn’t the actual events in Libya, but some heretofore unpredicted enthusiasm among SC members like Nigeria and China, as well as the Arab League, to foster western powers’ access to Lybian oil.

      Like we’re trying to do something beautiful here by blowing a bunch of people up

      “Anti-imperialist” morality: it’s better for a Libyan tank to fire fifty shells a day into Benghazi than for a French plane to shoot that tank. Who, and how many, people actually get blown up? Irrelevant.

      • Brad P.

        “Anti-imperialist” morality: it’s better for a Libyan tank to fire fifty shells a day into Benghazi than for a French plane to shoot that tank. Who, and how many, people actually get blown up? Irrelevant.

        Is this what you think, that both sides agree that military action will consist of UN on Libyan military conflict, and that “anti-imperialists” are opposed to pure military conflict?

        • joe from Lowell

          No, I think “anti-imperialists” are quite fine with Libyan military on Libyan civilian/protester conflict.

          And I think both sides agree that that conflict was happening before this intervention, and will continue to happen in its absence.

          To go further into “anti-imperialist” logic: the certainty that a Libyan tank will fire fifty shells a day into Benghazi is better a French plane bombing that tank, because of the chance that the French plane might miss the first time, and send one shell into Benghazi.

          • Uncle Kvetch

            No, I think “anti-imperialists” are quite fine with Libyan military on Libyan civilian/protester conflict.

            Yes. In the same way that everyone who opposed the Iraq War just loved Saddam Hussein and wanted to bear his children. Remember?

            To go further into “anti-imperialist” logic knocking down strawmen

            Fixed.

            • joe from Lowell

              Yes. In the same way that everyone who opposed the Iraq War just loved Saddam Hussein and wanted to bear his children.

              Nope.

              I wrote “quite fine with,” not “supportive of.”

              I’ll be happy to continue this discussion further if you’d care to come down from that cross.

              Fixed.

              I’m not sure you know this, but the definition of “straw man” is not “phrasing my argument in an unflattering but accurate manner.”

              So-called-anti-imperialists are NOT denouncing the attacks on Khadaffy’s troops as worse than allowing him to proceed with his slaughter? Really?

              • DocAmazing

                We’ll leave aside your bales of well-attacked straw (you might provide an example of leftists supporting or making excuses for Khadaffi’s actions, but that would get in the way of your centrist drooling) to point out that the situation in Bahrain is quite a bit worse than you’re painting it. The Saudi military operators and the Bahraini security forces have been murdering people at demonstrations–publicly and in broad daylight. If we’re pointing out Khadaffi’s murderousness, we need to acknowledge the Emir of Bahrain’s murderousness as well.

              • joe from Lowell

                You know, as it turns out, the phrase “straw man” doesn’t actually mean “phrasing my argument in an unflattering but accurate manner.”

                Go ahead, tell me I’m making it up that anti-interventionists consider it worse to bomb Khadaffy’s forces than to allow them to go ahead with their slaughter.

                Let’s see if you have any vestigial connection to the reality-based community.

                you might provide an example of leftists supporting or making excuses for Khadaffi’s actions

                Now THAT’S the straw man. I have written not a single word about so-called-anti-imperialists actively supporting Khadaffi’s actions. I guess my actual argument – that they consider them preferable to UN intervention – was a bit too much for you to handle, so you fell back on that.

                the situation in Bahrain is quite a bit worse than you’re painting it

                The sum total of my “painting” of the situation in Bahrain is to describe it as not as bad as Khadaffy’s air force, tankers, and artillery firing HE ordinance at peaceful protesters and civilians in contested cities. Yes, as a matter of fact, the killing of several thousand people and the possibility of the killing of tens of thousands is worse than the killing of dozens or hundreds.

              • joe from Lowell

                Man: “Anti-imperialist” morality: it’s better for a Libyan tank to fire fifty shells a day into Benghazi than for a French plane to shoot that tank.

                Straw Man: your bales of well-attacked straw (you might provide an example of leftists supporting or making excuses for Khadaffi’s actions

              • DocAmazing

                I note thqt you still don’t provde a source, a quote, a citation or a link.

                Straw. Beaten all to shit. Didn’t stand a chance.

              • John

                When did we start going with “Khadaffy”? I’ve pretty much never see “K” versions until, well, this thread (also the New York Daily News issue I saw the oher day). A “G” version (Gaddafi or Gadhafi) seems to be predominant, with “Q” versions (Qaddafi, etc.) close behind.

      • Kal

        “the extraordinary level of violence and the particularly deplorable nature of the Khadaffy regime that produced such unified support for action in Libya”

        Do you really think that what determines where the US intervenes militarily and where it doesn’t is the level of violence and how deplorable the regime is? Really?

        As for Bahrain, I don’t think the US should bomb there either. I’d settle for cutting off the supply of weapons via Saudi Arabia.

        “a Libyan tank to fire fifty shells a day into Benghazi than for a French plane to shoot that tank”

        The case for military strikes does become a lot stronger when you bracket out all political context, pretend there’s no tomorrow, and reduce everything to “at this moment the bad guy is in front of you with a weapon”.

        But we’re not debating some abstract pacifism here, so reductive thought experiments are really not helpful. Although I want to see Gaddafi overthrown, I think the worst case scenario for a Qaddafi victory is going to have a lot smaller death toll than, say, Iraq.

        • joe from Lowell

          Do you really think that what determines where the US intervenes militarily and where it doesn’t is the level of violence and how deplorable the regime is? Really?

          Among other factors. There’s this writer at a web site called “Lawers, Guns, and Money” who recently wrote a post on this subject.

          That was a terrific superiority pose you struck, though. Very convincing. The double use of “really?” – just primo.

          The case for military strikes does become a lot stronger when you bracket out all political context,

          Wait wait wait – you think the political context of the Libyan protesters vs. the Khadaffy regime weakens the moral case here? I have to disagree.

          pretend there’s no tomorrow

          In point of fact, “tomorrow” was the complete suppression of the protest movement, complete with mass slaughter. Not just that one day of shells raining down in Benghazi, but the storming of the city and the retribution against protesters and residents alike. And then the next city. And then the next.

          Although I want to see Gaddafi overthrown, I think the worst case scenario for a Qaddafi victory is going to have a lot smaller death toll than, say, Iraq.

          Good think no one’s proposing another Iraq, then. Unless you define any military action as another Iraq, and then yes, we are talking about abstract pacifism.

          • Kal

            Among other factors. There’s this writer at a web site called “Lawers, Guns, and Money” who recently wrote a post on this subject.

            Does that mean you think R2P is, in fact, the guiding principle for US policymakers? I’m sorry, but I really don’t know how to respond to that except with incredulity.

            Wait wait wait – you think the political context of the Libyan protesters vs. the Khadaffy regime weakens the moral case here?

            I think US intervention will provide an immense boost to Gaddafi’s legitimacy among a large swath of Libyans. It makes his allegation that the protesters are foreign puppets much more credible. And it makes it likely that even if Gaddafi is exiled or killed – which the US can certainly accomplish if it is sufficiently determined – his overthrow will not end the civil war. It may also do damage to the movements for democracy in other countries across the Middle East.

            complete suppression… mass slaughter… retribution against protesters and residents alike. And then the next city. And then the next.

            We don’t know that. From news reports it sounds like Gaddafi would have taken Benghazi and killed some number of people. But we don’t know how far he was prepared to go with massacres, nor do we know how far his troops were prepared to follow his orders, nor do we know whether the rebels might actually have been able to hold out in Benghazi or elsewhere. You don’t get to assume the worst case scenario absent air strikes and then dismiss the possibility of another Iraq on the grounds that “no one’s proposing” it, as if anyone proposed the actual outcome in Iraq back in 2003.

            • joe from Lowell

              Does that mean you think R2P is, in fact, the guiding principle for US policymakers?

              I don’t think that “US policymakers” as an undifferentiated mass throughout time is useful. I don’t think “war for oil” is the guiding principle for the US policymakers who supported joining this intervention.

              I’m sorry, but I really don’t know how to respond to that except with incredulity.

              Yes, I know that. “War for Oil” is an irrefutable, assumed proposition for many people.

              I think US intervention will provide an immense boost to Gaddafi’s legitimacy among a large swath of Libyans. It makes his allegation that the protesters are foreign puppets much more credible.

              I think this would be a greater concern if we’d intervened at the beginning of this uprising. Since it went on for weeks on its own, and turned violent on its own, long before we got involved, I don’t think there is as much of a threat of this – particularly if we don’t send in ground forces. I think the rebels have established their perception among the Libyans already.

              We don’t know that.

              You’re sticking your head in the sand. We saw what he did to the protesters with his air force and tanks, and we all heard him talk about “No mercy.”

              and then dismiss the possibility of another Iraq on the grounds that “no one’s proposing” it, as if anyone proposed the actual outcome in Iraq back in 2003.

              You’re using deliberately vague terminology to avoid the point. No one is proposing ground troops this time, as opposed to Iraq, when ground troops occupying the country was the plan and the point from the beginning. In addition, there are structural forces – the presence of very anti-occupation governments in the coalition – that will work against any western occupation.

              • Kal

                “War for Oil” is an irrefutable, assumed proposition for many people.

                I didn’t say this was “for oil”. Honestly I’m not 100% sure why the US intervened. Clearly a year ago our leaders had no problem living with Gaddafi. But regardless, I think we have very good evidence that US policymakers – yes, even under Obama – are not very concerned with humanitarianism. Witness the historic and in many cases continuing support for dictators across the Middle East and the world, the seige of Gaza, bombings in Yemen & Pakistan, not to mention the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Guantanamo, Bagram. The embargo of Cuba. And on and on.

                This isn’t an argument that because “we” didn’t do the right thing in one case, “we” shouldn’t do it in another. It’s an argument that US government – yes, even with Obama – has lost any right to the benefit of the doubt with respect to its intentions.

                I think this would be a greater concern if we’d intervened at the beginning of this uprising

                We’ll see. I hope you’re right and I’m wrong.

                You’re sticking your head in the sand.

                Rather, I’m trying not to deny any agency to Libyans other than Gaddafi.

                structural forces… will work against any western occupation

                We’ll see. And my concern is not only occupation, its also prolonged civil war. But again, I hope you’re right and I’m wrong.

              • rea

                The thing about War for Oil . . .

                The truth of the matter is that Qaddafi used Libya’s oil to buy forgiveness for his involvement in terrorist acts like Lockerbie. Not War for Oil, but Peace for Oil. Cynical calculation would have us safeguard the oil supply by propping Qaddafi up, not helping depose him.

  • I think I agree with everything in the post as far as it goes: I agree that the Security Council authorization makes it legal under international law, and the fact that the U.S. won’t intervene in cases where the humanitarian case is as or more compelling but it would mean displacing “our bastard” is not, in itself, a reason not to attack Libya if the attacks would produce substantial humanitarian benefits at an acceptable cost.

    What I’m still lacking from the hawks is a convincing argument that it will be possible to produce substantial humanitarian benefits at an acceptable cost.

    • Would you accept an argument that we don’t know for sure, but it will probably create more humanitarian benefits than costs? Because that’s what proportionality requires. It doesn’t require that we know in advance that the humanitarian benefits will vastly exceed the costs.

      • Malaclypse

        Cost of Libya just in dollars spent by coalition members, excluding cost of death and destruction born by Libyans: $100M on day 1, with costs expected to rise to over $1B.

        I wonder how much clean drinking water could be funded with $1B? How many malaria nets? How many vaccines?

        • Unlike the hyprocrisy argument, the opportunity cost argument is logically valid.

          • Brad Potts

            It is undermined by the other arguments presented on here.

            Judging from Mal’s prior statements, I doubt he really expects that billion would actually go to providing clean water or vaccinations if we weren’t involved in Libya.

            • Malaclypse

              But it could. If you ask how to make the world better, then vaccines > cruise missiles.

              • Brad Potts

                But as you have aptly pointed out to me, the best choices are not always on the table.

                (I am playing devil’s advocate here)

              • Malaclypse

                A fair critique. It strikes me that still leaves a lot of reasons to not like cruise-missiles-for-freedom ™.

      • At what level of confidence and by what degree over what time frame?

        I don’t need exact probabilities, e.g., I’d settle for whether we needed a preponderance of evidence or beyond reasonable doubt or some similar, reasonably well understood, formulation.

        Re: more benefits than costs, even putting aside the uncertainties (e.g., what happens in the worst case scenario? I’d might prefer a do-nothing that had a chance of being slightly worse than a do-something that would be at best slightly better but at worst a calamity), we need to have enough probable overall benefit to 1) offset the risk of overall harm and 2) to justify any harm shifting. Consider a corner case: 1 net person would be saved (short term). That is, no-intervention, 400 people die; with-intervention 399 people die. If the 400 were combatants and the 399 protected, I think it would be harder to justify.

        Now, I believe that in the Libyan case lots of these (in the short term; best case) are easy to answer affirmatively. But getting beyond the short term and best case is where the uncertainty goes wild and we move from even a mere balance of evidence to something closer to hoping for a pony.

        • I think the standard for propritionality has to be balance of probabilities. Uncertainties exist whether you impose a no-fly zone or let Gaddafi massacre the residents of Benghazi. Both courses of action/inaction will have long-term and unforseeable effects.

          • So 50.1% triggers? Is this with error bars? I.e., if it’s 45% +-10% does that put me in?

            While I don’t hew to a strong omission/commission distinction in general, I do think it matters and in these cases it matters quite a lot. (Esp. given the many alternative, less risky, high benefit things we could put the same effort to (as people have pointed out in this thread).) If you tell me that by walking home one way I’m at risk of killing someone but if I walk home another way I’m at risk of failing to prevent someone from being killed…I think I have some obligation to select the second one (ceteris paribus).

            • The uncertainties are symmetrical. The West in general and the US in particular cannot at this point in history choose not to have the power to intervene, nor can the UNSC choose not to have the legal authority to authorize intervention.

              • The responsibilities are not symmetrical, thus the risk of doing wrong are not. Which was my point.

                I’m not so certain that the uncertainties are clearly symmetrical esp. if you consider the total space of possibilities. But that’s a hard hard question.

              • hv

                The uncertainties are symmetrical.

                Nonsense!

                One potential worst case with no intervention: Libyan soldiers & mercs die, civilians die, many (local) assets wasted in war, damage to local environment.

                One potential worst case with intervention: same as above, Libyan soldiers, merc, and civilians die; but intervenor troops also die. More assets wasted, more damage to local environment.

                See the asymmetry yet?

                (Once you can see the asymmetry, a second question presents itself: see how embarrassingly obvious it is? How not-very-hard I had to work to construct it?)

              • In a no fly zone scenario, it is unlikely that very many Western military people will die. Every human death is a tragedy, but they are volunteers and I cannot see why their lives should be weighed massively more than the citizens of Benghazi — who would undoubtedly have been massacred without the no-fly zone.

              • Malaclypse

                I think hv is proposing not that Western deaths count more, but rather that Western involvement will lead to more deaths in total.

              • If he’s right, then obviously the UNSC was wrong. No one knows for sure, but it seems very unlikely to me that he’s right.

              • Malaclypse

                If he’s right, then obviously the UNSC was wrong.

                This assumes that members of the UNSC are genuinely interested in humanitarianism.

              • hv

                No one knows for sure, but it seems very unlikely to me that he’s right.

                I do know “for sure” that those are potential worst case scenarios. If neither of those turn out to be the outcome, I won’t have been wrong. You see that difference, right? I’m not making a prediction. I am listing risks.

                These worst cases might be deemed very unlikely by UNSC… or me! But we can dispense with assertions about “symmetrical-ness.”

        • Long-term uncertainty is relevant to the “right authority” point. The UNSC is obviously flawed, but there is no more legtitimate authority in the world. They play a role of giving a positive law determinacy to the natural law imperative of taking proportionate steps to save the innocent.

          Of course, positive law authority does not justify taking action that is clearly disproportionate. But since we are condemned to make deicsions without knowing for sure what the results will be, legal authority justifies where there is a plausible case that the action is proportional.

          • I’m confused by where you’re going. I agree there’s a connection, not least in practical decision making, between right authority and long term uncertainty. I agree that there’s no more legitimate authority, but…I guess I don’t know what that has to do with either the current case or the general case. Obviously, one way to lose legitimacy is to be seen as either too timid or too reckless (or unprincipled, or feckless).

            I don’t mean to suggest we should be hugely rule bound in some narrow way, but it would be nice if there were some tangible consistency in the judgement structure.

            That all being said, I might well accept an argument that the reasonable term benefits outweight the costs, esp. if some opportunity costs were factored in in a standard way. I’d also feel better if policy pre-intervention didn’t seem to make lots of things worse (e.g., supporting a bastard in specific ways).

            Hypocrisy is highly relevant at least insofar as it impugnes judgement: Republicans who say we’re too broke for vaccinations but flush enough for another war are obviously to unreliable to accept either their judgement or that they’ll carry through an action in a way to give a good chance of success. It doesn’t matter if they are stupid or evil, neither bodes well.

            • I guess what I’d say is that without UNSC authorization, there would be an additional moral argument against intervention, namely that intervention undermines such international legal order as we have. That’s necessarily fuzzy from a consequentialist perspective, but I found it persuasive in Iraq.

              On the other hand, I wasn’t really happy with an international legal order in which states have impunity to do whatever they want to their own citizens. R2P limits that impunity. There are all kinds of reasons it is difficult to get an R2P intervention through the Security Council, so if that happens, it seems significant.

              Whether the Republicans support this or not is irrelevant to whether you should support it. That’s sheer tribalism. (In fact, they are divided.)

              • Sorry my phrasing was imprecise: Hypocrisy is potentially a signal (whether Republican or whomever; I picked Republicans because they are pretty blatant about it and, recently at the very least, very much not using hypocrisy for good aims).

                Hmm. I wasn’t that imprecise. I didn’t say that Republican hypocrisy was relevant to assessing their case both at a first order and second order level, not that it was consituative of a case against.

                To put it another way, I think there was some bite to Chomsky’s case against Kosovo intervention (I’ve varied a lot on this) by us. It’s worth asking, why this one, esp. when someone is inconsistent with prior or articulated principles.

                It’s not conclusive, of course. You can end up in situations where the right(est) action is taken by dubious people.

                I generally agree with you that lack of UNSC authorization is itself a prima facie reason against. There is a world where UNSCesque authorizaiton would be a strong prima facie reason to engage in the action. I’m not sure we’re there yet with the US. (Although, I think the default is much closer to obligation.)

              • I don’t get it. If the Kosovo intervention was good but inconsistent with other US actions, then that’s a reason for criticizing those other actions, but not a reason for criticizing the Kosovo intervention. If you are using those other actions to predict bad consequences from the Kosovo intervention, then fine. But otherwise, they are irrelevant and Chomsky’s argument is just plain wrong.

    • hv

      What I’m still lacking from the hawks is a convincing argument that it will be possible to produce substantial humanitarian benefits at an acceptable cost.

      The picture is far worse than that. Once it becomes apparent that the intervention is for humanitarian purposes, any intelligent regime responds by trying to change one of the legs of the R2P tripod. And it’s Somalia all over again.

      Do humanitarians think that dictators are stupid?

      Once intervention takes on a humanitarian justification, we have incentivized dictators to “pull the goalie” — ratchet up the humanitarian impacts as fast as possible to flip the humanitarian justification. The R2P model then becomes counter-productive.

      =========

      Also, our armed forces might be assembled wrong for this approach. Our readiness posture is to project force, not protect civilians. The first step for any R2P advocates is to improve/create a military that is capable and willing to bear these burdens. When all you have is a hammer, R2P discourse doesn’t change screws into nails.

      • I agree that military doctrine has to change. There aren’t going to be any more great power wars, but there are going to be lots more Libyas.

        I think R2P can take into account dictator incentives.

        • Dogsbody

          There aren’t going to be any more great power wars

          And everybody will get a unicorn that farts rainbows.

  • Pathman25

    The US conveniently intervenes for “humanitarian” purposes when the real issue is access to oil or other resources. The other half of this equation is we spent $100 million on the first day of this [email protected]*k while simultaneously cutting off unemployment benefits for millions of people. The US has some seriously deranged priorities which will eventually bring this house of cards crashing down. Violently.

    • joe from Lowell

      Khadaffy was happily selling his oil to the west before this episode.

      So, no, the presence of oil in a country does not mean you’ve got a “Get Out of Moral Reasoning Free” Card.

      • Brad P.

        Perhaps the US is aware that Qaddafi won’t be happily selling oil to westerners for long if current trends in the region continue?

        The people in charge are more interested in keeping the status quo and normalized relations than anything, and I would imagine the US is very concerned with having a “close” relationship with whatever eventually replaces Qaddafi.

        • joe from Lowell

          Since the protesters were about to be crushed and Khadaffy consolidate his power even further, that wouldn’t seem to make much sense.

          We had a perfectly-happy oil seller in power, and then we (meaning the west, not the US – this is Europe’s show more than ours) intervened in a way that increases the chances that 1) an angry Khadaffy will cut us off, or 2) a new regime that doesn’t want to sell us oil will come to power.

          It just doesn’t make sense to postulate this as an oil war, even if there is oil in the country.

          • Malaclypse

            Except the oil flow was being disrupted before we intervened.

            Also.

            • joe from Lowell

              Except the oil flow was being disrupted before we intervened.

              A disruption that would have been most quickly ended by the impending victory of the Khadaffy forces.

              Instead, we chose to prevent that victory and continue the situation contributing to the disruption.

              Preventing the outcome that would have turned the oil spigots back on, and continuing the situation that led to the disruption, proves that we’re in it for the oil?

              Does not compute.

              • elm

                I think this is the best point you’ve made on this thread: if all we cared about was access to oil, we would have supported Khadaffi once he was on the verge of victory since that would not only have restored the flow of oil but made Khadaffi more supportive of us and the West.

                Unless I’m missing something, this seems to suggest to me that this action is not about oil, but something else, and that something else is quite possibly humanitarian concerns.

                Like Rob and Scott and many others though, I’m not yet convinced that this action will actually accomplish those goals in the long term, but I hold out hope.

              • wengler

                You’re missing the fact that Gaddafi is one of the most erratic world leaders of the past 40 years and an unreliable client.

                How many other clients blew up a commercial plane full of their current patron’s people?

          • Brad P.

            It just doesn’t make sense to postulate this as an oil war, even if there is oil in the country.

            I’m not concerned about it being an oil-driven war, I’m concerned about an oil-driven resolution to war.

            Without public appropriation of the nations oil reserves and infrastructure, the factors that caused unrest will not be resolved. Do you think we will allow that to happen?

            • joe from Lowell

              I’m not sure what you’re asking.

              I think the absence of an occupying army is going to place a major limitation on what we “allow” or do not allow.

              And I think the rebels, upon taking power, will decide that selling oil is a good idea, all by themselves.

              Perhaps I’m misunderstanding what you asked.

              • Brad P.

                As far as I can tell, oil revenues in Libya have basically gone to maintaining the state and placating the masses by keeping prices artificially low.

                If you want to fix the economic conditions that caused the 30% unemployment, you are going to have to oversee the reorganization of the financials and distribution of oil and oil revenues.

                Even if the goal is democratization of a nationalized oil industry, I would imagine the transition is a very long, difficult, and domestically disruptive one.

              • Malaclypse

                If you want to fix the economic conditions that caused the 30% unemployment, you are going to have to oversee the reorganization of the financials and distribution of oil and oil revenues.

                Even if the goal is democratization of a nationalized oil industry, I would imagine the transition is a very long, difficult, and domestically disruptive one.

                And doing that requires occupation. Failing to plan an occupation did not lead to good results in 2003.

              • Brad P.

                And doing that requires occupation. Failing to plan an occupation did not lead to good results in 2003.

                Absolutely.

                It will be at least a marginal failure if two criteria aren’t met:

                1. The political will is present in Libyan society to make the necessary changes.

                2. The political will is present in US government to allow Libyan society to make the necessary changes.

                I am inclined to say that (1) could be met, but (2) will fall incredibly short.

              • hv

                And I think the rebels, upon taking power, will decide that selling oil is a good idea, all by themselves.

                Perhaps he fears that we will choose which rebel factions to award the regime to based on their position on oil, rather than their humanitarian merits. Y’know, once a little bit of fatigue has set in.

                Treating the “rebels” as monolithic is an error.

        • Hogan

          As long as he sells it to someone, isn’t the result exactly the same? Is there something special about Libyan oil that makes it more valuable to the west?

          • Brad P.

            I’m basically just assuming that a democratic society that uses oil revenues for investment in social welfare would tend to be more cost sensitive, and therefore tighter and less flexible on the terms of exchange.

            I could be very wrong about that, and I am open to correction.

            • joe from Lowell

              I think that’s a good assumption.

              It would also seem to be an argument against the notion that we’re opposing Khadaffy and supporting the uprising for reasons related to our desire for oil.

              If your assumption is correct, then doing so will make Libyan oil more expensive.

              • Malaclypse

                If your assumption is correct, then doing so will make Libyan oil more expensive.

                Supply and demand dictate price. Whether run by democrats or dictators, sellers always desire the highest price. However, democrats might need to sell in order to fund social welfare. That would make prices fall, all else being equal.

              • DocAmazing

                Actually, what we’ve seen of late is that supply and demand can be upset by market manipulation. One reason that petroleum prices are so high at the moment is the trade in oil futures. Keeping the oil flowint is necessary to ensure the profits–indeed, even the viability–of the futures market.

                The pressure to keep the oil flowing is even higher than it was before. Price is a secondary concern, as the price of Iraqi oil after our invasion showed.

              • Brad P.

                I think that’s a good assumption.

                It would also seem to be an argument against the notion that we’re opposing Khadaffy and supporting the uprising for reasons related to our desire for oil.

                If your assumption is correct, then doing so will make Libyan oil more expensive.

                I believe this is a strategic move to protect oil production in a society suffering from civil discord.

                In other words, I think western governments are intervening to make sure oil production and sale do not become more difficult post-Qaddafi.

                In a sense, that is why I am not taking my hardcore libertarian tact: in this situation the interests of those in directing the military action coincide with the interests of those they are protecting. I’ve always been a common goals make common friends sort of thinker.

                But if I am actually right, the foreign military presence will become a major opposing force to Libyan democracy as soon as it declares “Mission Accomplished”.

              • Malaclypse

                In other words, I think western governments are intervening to make sure oil production and sale do not become more difficult post-Qaddafi.

                For once, we agree.

          • IM

            While there is a global market, location matters. Venezuelan oil e. g. is sold to the US and US refineries are tuned to the type of oil Venezuela sells. The same could be true with Libya and Italy etc.

            That said, these practical considerations weigh on both sides: Venezuela is still selling most of its oil to the imperialists. Libya has to sell oil and I don’t think any Libyan regime would got to the bother of selling all its oil to the Far East instead of Europe.

            So access to oil can’t really matter in this conflict.

    • Is anyone going to call out the deranged nationalism that would say that the US unemployed are more wothy of moral concern than the civilians of Benghazi once Gaddafi got his hands on them.

      • wengler

        Exactly. Because our unemployed will take matters into their own hands and blow their own heads off.

      • Malaclypse

        Is anyone going to call out the deranged nationalism that would say that the US unemployed are more wothy of moral concern than the civilians of Benghazi once Gaddafi got his hands on them.

        Let us assume X Libyan civilians will die if we act, while Y will die if we do not. Let us assume that the difference between X and Y, as well as their values, are unknown.

        If someone believes Y-X gives a small number, or perhaps even a negative number, they could reasonably make the case that jobs here > freedom bombs there, without being a nationalist of any sort.

        You keep assuming that fewer innocents will die, because we are acting. The fact that other people do not share that root assumptions does not make them unfeeling monsters, it means they are making different, but hardly unreasonable, assumptions about the end state of this action. Given our current two quagmires, as well as past history, I would again note that the burden of proof should lie with the people who want to drop freedom bombs.

        • I’m not assuming that fewer civilians will die with a no-fly zone than without one. I agree that is the question. I am saying that the arguments about the US unemployed or about hypocrisy are irrelevant.

          I also agree that the burden of proof lies with those advocating intervention, provided that the burden is not placed so high as to be practically impossible to ever meet.

          I do in fact think that fewer civilians will die with a no-fly zone than without one, but my mian point is that is what we should be arguing about.

          • Malaclypse

            I do in fact think that fewer civilians will die with a no-fly zone than without one, but my mian point is that is what we should be arguing about.

            We have been arguing about that.

      • That’s deranged! I’m happy to call that out! I’m not sure why you aren’t willing to call it out yourself but, what the heck, I’ll shoulder that burden for you.

        Ok, who said or implied this?

        Absent a Singeresque allocation of our resources, there will be (effectively) such tradeoffs. So, I presume expressing concern about that isn’t a problem? I mean, are we morally obligated to maintain the US military in its present or even greater capacity?

        Most of what I see in this vein is the questioning of the hypocrisy (or rather sheer incoherence) of people claiming we can’t fund vaccinations because “we’re broke except for unpaid for tax cuts for the weathy” while we’re able to fund this intervention without breaking a sweat. I think it’s reasonable to observe this esp. as it won’t change the fact of the intervention.

        • The quote is, “The other half of this equation is we spent $100 million on the first day of this [email protected]*k while simultaneously cutting off unemployment benefits for millions of people.”

          It wasn’t about vaccinations in sub-Saharan Africa. It was about Americans. Because they are the world’s most special people. It was foul populist nationalism.

          • Note the referent of “people.”

            • (Take 2; curse you faulty network!)

              This is your smoking gun? I can see why you didn’t want to call it out yourself.

              You know for someone who is quick to cry “Fallacy most fowl!” you do not impress with the carefulness of your reading or the strength of your argument.

              There is, of course, contexts where the quote is part of an expression of objectionable moral preference, but that quote, alone, even with the noted reference of “people”, does not express or connate that objectionable moral preference.

              It could easily be expressing “US elites prefer bombing brown people to helping poor people–even their own citizens to whom they are nominally accountable to”. The term “[email protected]*k” suggests that the quoted author thinks that the result of this intervention will be a net harm. On those readings, one might dispute the factual basis of the claim, but it’s just wrong to impute on the strength of the quote alone that the writer was morally callous.

          • DocAmazing

            If it’s a question of US funds being used disproportionately, then it is a legitimate question. Not to excuse US imperialism or militarism, but if other countries are looking for a global cop, they are welcome to take up the role, as far as most US taxpayers are concerned. That’s not American nationalism or exceptionalism, but the opposite: fatigue at paying for an insanely bloated military.

  • Tom Allen

    “My students will be writing their mid-term over it this week, and we’ll see what they come up with.”

    Well, good thing this is all an academic exercise, or you’d have to take some responsibility for cheering on another endless war.

    • We’ll take responsibility for supporting (not really cheering) a war that may indeed turn out to be endless if you’ll take responsibility for the massacres that would happen without it.

      • Malaclypse

        Does that mean we are responsible for all the massacres that happen every day which “we” fail to prevent?

        Tell you what, I’ll take responsibility for massacres that the US military fails to prevent, when the US military takes responsibility for the countless deaths due to the poverty worldwide that could be prevented with the $847B we spend every year on what we euphemistically call “defense.”

        • The issue isn’t the US military. It does good things and bad things. I don’t see why Charli should have to take responsibility for its misdeeds, so long as she has opposed them or wasn’t born at the time.

          • Malaclypse

            I did not say Charli should be responsible. I was drawing attention to the idea that your wish to hold protesters responsible is silly.

            • The protesters are responsible for the forseeable consequences of their position in the same way Charli’s responsible for the forseeable consequences of her position. Obviously, that doesn’t mean they are culpable in the same way those who pull the triggers are.

              • Malaclypse

                The protesters are responsible for the forseeable consequences of their position in the same way Charli’s responsible for the forseeable consequences of her position.

                Bullshit. People will die. Full stop. No matter what we do or do not do.

                Insisting that we not inflict death ourselves does not make us responsible for the evil of others.

                The analogy is not “should I do CPR on a choking child?” Yes, in that example a failure to act brings responsibility. However, the analogy in this case is “should I get in my car while blind drunk and take the child to the hospital as fast as I can drive?”

              • Obviously, if someone will die no matter what you do, you aren’t responsible for their death. But if they will die if you don’t do something, that’s different.

                Ordinary interpersonal morality makes an act/omission distinction, although even Americans think there is some limit where you actually physically see the child drowining. It does not follow that the same act/omission distinction should applies in foreign policy decisions.

              • Malaclypse

                It does not follow that the same act/omission distinction should applies in foreign policy decisions.

                But the burden of proof should be on the person who says “I’m here to shoot a few hundred cruise missiles, and I’m here to help!”

              • Brad Potts

                There is a proxy problem going on here, as well, Pith.

                None of us are actually going over there to solve the problems going on in Libya, so at worst, we are guilty of not unleashing the greatest human source for destruction the world has ever known to solve the problems in Libya.

                To stick with the bully analogy, its like you are blaming the parent for a child getting beat up because the parent wouldn’t let the kid bring a gun to school.

                Sure, the kid would not have gotten beat up if he takes a gun to school, but the parent isn’t responsible because it acted according to other moral concerns.

                In the meantime, like I said about low-hanging fruit, when you justify this military action, you make it easier to justify further military action, so you can’t completely deny responsibility for other military actions.

              • Macalypse,

                I agree the burden of proof is on the person advocating military intervention. I think it has been met here. Gaddafi said he would slaughter the residents of Benghazi. He was in a position to do so if the no fly zone had not been implemented. Now he can’t.

                It is true that there will be further consequences we can’t yet foresee. There are rosy scenarios (Gaddafi flees and Libya creates a functioing democracy) and bleak scenarios (NATO gets dragged in further and Eastern Libya becomes a permanent protectorate provoking further conflict). No one really knows what will happen. But then no one ever does.

                There’s a difference between saying an R2P intervention must meet some burden of evidence and saying it must meet an impossible burden of evidence.

              • Brad,

                I don’t agree with your analogy. The UN Security Council is the closest thing to a legitimate authority the world has. It is therefore like the principal. If a no-fly zone saves more innocent lives than it kills, it is like authorizing some lesser amount of coercion against the bully than the buly exercises against the victim to prevent further victimization.

                True, UNSC resolutions legitimate the use of force in human affairs. Unfortunately, that’s how human affairs work and always will.

            • The point is just that there is no innocence here. Whatever position you take, people — without the same power you have as a voter in an imperialist democracy — die.

              • hv

                Of course there is innocence. WTF are you trying to sell us, Pithlord?

                When someone else kills someone without my aid, encouragement, or even presence… I am an innocent bystander. By definition. No guilt attaches to me.

              • Guilt attaches to you if you could have stopped it and didn’t.

              • hv

                Does not, infinity plus one.

              • I’ll try a concrete example. Fully armed Southern sherriff in 1952 allows unarmed mob to drag away a black man believed to have assaulted a white woman. Sherriff does nothing. Do you think he’s not culpable?

              • hv

                Are you really suggesting the sheriff’s duty to prevent crimes stems from the morality common to all persons? I don’t want to give anything away, but I can see another source of duty in your example. Can you spot it or should I just tell you?

  • joe from Lowell

    Arguing that there are negative and unintended consequences to interventionism, and then in the next breath feigning outrage that interventionism is reserved for only the small number of cases that score the highest on the three criteria (need, international authorization, and likelihood of success) is breathtakingly hypocritical.

    • Accusations of hypocrisy are what got us here in the first place. I’d prefer “fallacious” or even “disingenuous.”

      It would be a huge improvement if international relations were hypocritical. Thanksgiving dinner conversation is hypocritical. Political rhetoric in democracies is hypocritical. Hypocrisy is a minor sin indeed in comparison to ethnic murder and brutal dictatorship.

      • Eh…it depends, right?

        As I wrote in reply to you elsewhere, sometimes hypocrisy is an indicator of a problem.

        • Sorry, obviously, it doesn’t depend on anything that hypocrisy per se is hugely better than ethnic murder, etc.

          I just don’t see that a big dollop of hypocrisy necessarily yield improvement. A huge dollop of the right sort of hypocrisy, rightly understood, probably would, but so too for frankness and consistency.

          • No argument here.

            The real point is that you can’t argue as follows:

            Situation A fit the Responsibility to Protect criteria (or some of them).

            The UNSC/US/EU/whatever did not intervene in Situation A.

            Therfeore, the UNSC/US/EU should not intervene in Situation B.

            This is fallacious because it is possible either that the UNSC/US/EU should have intervened in Situation A or that it should not because of factors that did not exist in Situation B. Even if it should have intervened in Situation A, and that was wrong, not intervening in Situation B cannot remedy that wrong.

    • Brad Potts

      That absolutely misses the point.

      The point is not to say “If we can’t manage to be universal, we shouldn’t do anything at all”. The point is to isolate the ulterior motives that may be leading us to war.

      If you say we are going to war for X and Y, and I know that X and Y occurs all over the globe, I will be inclined to ask what factor Z is.

      • But ulterior motives don’t matter.

        If war is justified because it will save many innocents, then it doesn’t matter if there are other motives for intervention that wouldn’t count as justifications.

        • Malaclypse

          If war is justified because it will save many innocents,

          Bolded assumption is carrying a lot of weight.

          • Agreed. That’s the issue. US hypocrisy in other situations, not so much.

            • Let’s just stipulate that the brute fact of hypocrisy, itself, is not a factor in the moral case for or against intervention. It may be relevant to assessing the actor (e.g., “Yes, you did good there, but not here, there, and there and you really just had a bit of moral luck here. Thus, I praise the act but not the actor.”), but it’s not a immediately problematic property.

              However, it is relevant to assessing the probabilities for success and it is relevant for assessing legitimacy. One can overstate these points, but it’s not fallacious to mobilize evidence about the actor when trying to assess the actual action..

              • It’s fallacious when the actor is a state or group of states, since states are not individuals who we can decide are morally good or bad. They are institutions.

                Communist Vietnam invaded Kampuchea and deposed Pol Pot. They did so for their own realpolitik reasons. They obviously killed people in doing so. But the result was the end of the genocide, and a citizen of the US or Canada should have opposed our countries’ willingness to criticize that intervention.

              • Whoa! That’s nonsense. Since when can we not decide that institutions are morally good or bad? You can be reductivist about this and talk about institutional constraints and how they affect decision making, if you like.

                As I understand the Vietnam case, they were attacked (and with increasing belligerence). So that puts us in a different situation anyway. I agree their ending the genocide was a great good, but what’s the relevance? I’m happy to celebrate good outcomes whatever the motive (and will be very happy if the Libyan end game is good). But that’s surely orthogonal.

              • Let me try again.

                You can say about an individual that they did the right thing for the wrong reasons and therefore don’t deserve any moral credit. Alternatively, you can say they did the wrong thing for the right reasons, so don’t deserve any moral blame.

                It doesn’t make much sense to talk like that about institutions. If the US Government does the right thing or the wrong thing, undoubtedly the peopel involved had lots of individual motivations which may or may not do them personal credit, but all that can possibly matter with respet to the US Government is whether what it did was the right or wrong thing. It has no body to kick or soul to damn.

                I’m not saying you can’t argue about whether the US Government or Apple Computers is good or bad. I’m saying you can’t distinguish its intentions from its actions.

              • There’s a trivial sense in which this is correct: The US does not have, as a collective, mental states, thus we cannot attribute motives to it in the same way as we do to individuals (baring a Dennettian view).

                But, I can distinguish US policy from enactment of that policy. I can look at how institutional incentives affect choices. Etc. So, when I say that “US hypocrisy” is a signal, it’s shorthand for my belief that structural and cultural factors produce some fairly stable patterns which the inconsistency of behavior and rhetoric is (some) evidence for.

                Indeed, just reasoning about the govt as if it did have motives is usually not so very bad.

                In any case, I’m not so concerned with making a judgement of character good or badness except insofar as its predictive. And that sense is perfectly applicable to institutions.

              • Bijan,

                I think if you make the translation, you will avoid some of the fallacies that we get in these debates, so it’s worth making the translation.

              • Well, I don’t think I am making the fallacies, so I feel ok with the original talk.

                I don’t know how many people are making those actual fallacies. Probably at least some.

                As is probably evident, I’m not super convinced by the body of criticism you’ve mobilized here, viz your comments pro-hypocrisy. I think you might have avoided over-correcting if you had expanded or unpacked the sensible versions of such talk rather than just calling fallacy. But meh.

        • Brad Potts

          But ulterior motives don’t matter.

          If war is justified because it will save many innocents, then it doesn’t matter if there are other motives for intervention that wouldn’t count as justifications.

          If there are ulterior motives involved here, such as stabilizing oil production, then I would say the ultimate result of saving innocents is in jeopardy.

          If we are both bullies, and you beat me up and tell me to quit being a bully, I’m sure it would matter to all concerned whether you are standing up for the bullied or just trying to be the only bully in school.

          • As Hobbes pointed out, a school might be better off with one bully than a hundred. As Locke pointed out, it would be even better if there is some legal process as to when that bully beats someone up. If you are not an anarchist-pacifist, then you think that’s the best we as a species can do.

          • Anyway:

            -What’s wrong with stabilizing oil production? It’s not a moral reason for war, but it’s not bad.

            -What evidence is there that the no-fly zone was intended to sabilize oil production. Surely, it had the opposite effect, and this was forseeable.

            • Brad Potts

              -What’s wrong with stabilizing oil production? It’s not a moral reason for war, but it’s not bad.

              My basic ethical rule is that I should never, ever treat someone as a means to my ends, but rather an end to themselves.

              I’m finding it hard to come up with a more egregious violation of that principle than engaging in mass violence in order to ensure a constant flow of a country’s exports.

              -What evidence is there that the no-fly zone was intended to sabilize oil production. Surely, it had the opposite effect, and this was forseeable.

              Other posters have done a decent job at this point to counter that assertion. But I still believe Joe missed the point of that line of discussion.

              • Brad Potts

                I mean to counter the idea that our actions to this point are about oil.

              • I agree that it would be wrong to go to war to ensure a constant supply of oil exports. I thought that was clear. I’m just saying that if a war was justified by saving innocent lives, it wouldn’t be unjustified because it also ensured a constant supply of oil exports. If the US Civil War freed the slaves and maintained the tarriff, it still freed the slaves.

      • For example, Karl Marx supported the North in the US Civil War because it was a war against the slave power. He thought (correctly) that it would lead to emancipation even though that was not part of the North’s initial war aims. He didn’t doubt that there were other motives that wouldn’t count as justifications for war by his lights.

        Almost every war, no matter how just we might view it, involves questionable motivations. Actually, it is hard to see any important realpolitik motives in the Libyan case, but if there were some, it would hardly make it less justified than it would otherwise be.

  • Uncle Kvetch

    Not all interventions are created equal. I’m particularly skeptical of claims our military can accomplish humanitarian goals based on the fact that that goal is not what militaries are designed to do.

    Thank you.

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  • Malaclypse

    Fafblog gets it about right:

    The situation is fairly straightforward, after all – Libya faces a humanitarian crisis, and the only way to address a humanitarian crisis is to bomb it with hundreds of cruise missiles.

    • brandon

      Ooh, bombing Libya got Fafblog to post again! That’s a humanitarian benefit!

    • As everyone knows, the effective way to deal with threatened mass murder is through snarky blog posts. Worked against the Nazis.

      • Malaclypse

        Worked against the Nazis.

        Because every war is just like WW2, if you just ignore all the many, many ways that war was pretty well unique in human history.

      • hv

        Ah, Pithlord, you also have to count up the number of times throwing the US military at the problem failed. Snarky blog posts may still be ahead of the US military in solving problems. If we wanted to measure such things.

        PS: Wasn’t our entry into WW2 non-humanitarian? I seem to recall December 7th is a day that shall something in something.

        • I’m not actually an American. My country entered World War II because Germany invaded Poland.

          • hv

            The Nazis did not lose because of humanitarian intervention.

            The US military often fails and makes things worse than a snarky blog post when it comes to humanitarian matters.

            Forgive me for using the wrong pronoun.

            • Dogsbody

              Correct. They lost because Hitler was insane and Uncle Joe threw in enough meat to clog up the grinder.

          • I can agree that WWII was not undertaken for humanitarian reasons. I can also agree that wars may be undertaken for humaintarian reasons (or humanitarian reasons may be alleged) and cause more harm than good.

            The theoretical issue is whether any war may do more humanitarian good than harm. WWII is a conventional example.

            The more immediate issue is whether this no-fly zone will do more good than harm. I think it probably will, but I admit that I could turn out to be wrong.

            • hv

              I still don’t get how WW2 is a humanitarian win. Don’t Hiroshima and Nagasaki and bombing civilians in London and Berlin add up to something?

              Also, a war that ends in nuclear strikes is not a typical example to prove any proposition.

              • Hogan

                I think the question is how the humanitarian costs and humanitarian benefits net out, not whether anything bad happened to any civilians. Yes, civilians bombed; also civilians saved from death camps etc. Not saying Pithlord is right about the math for WWII, just that that’s how you should ask the question.

              • Malaclypse

                Yes, civilians bombed; also civilians saved from death camps etc.

                Also a needed part of the equation: yes, the United States models all later military action on the idea that we will forever be seen as the good guys who liberated people. Yes, the US does not demilitarize.

              • hv

                Hogan, agreed. The net math governs, of course. (Notice that I used “add” in my remark!)

                Nuclear strikes make me very skeptical of the math, as does the infamous fire-bombing.

      • Arguing against absolute pacifism is an exception to the Godwin principle. If you are an absolute pacifist, you have to be willing to bite the bullet of non-resistance to the Nazis.

        • Malaclypse

          If you are an absolute pacifist, you have to be willing to bite the bullet of non-resistance to the Nazis.

          No. You need to espouse non-violence, even against Nazis. Not all resistance need be violent.

          Beyond that, WW2 was pretty much absolutely unique in human history in that you had one side that 1) really was objectively evil, and 2) could have conceivably conquered the world. Deciding every war is just like WW2 is not only woefully wrong, it is arguably what has turned our society so militaristic.

        • I don’t think it’s unusual that one side in a conflict is objectively evil. In fact, it’s not unusual that both sides are objectively evil. Certainly, there have been a lot of genocides and mass murders and some of them have had more victims than the Shoah.

          The Nazis were in a position to take over Europe, not the world. Admittedly, at that point much of the world was under colonial rule by Europe, but there was no real prospect of either Germany or Japan “taking over” the Western Hemisphere.

          Anyway, a single counter-example is sufficient to address a universal proposition. Fafblog is saying war is never a humanitarian proposition. Either that’s wrong or Hitler should have been resisted non-violently.

  • Robert Farley

    I’d just like to point out that this thread has reached 109 comments in less than a day without the intervention of Meade, Big Gay Al, or any other well known trolls #vindication

  • the purpose of the u.s. military is not to protect foreign civilians. duh. in the absence of any proportionate military opponent, the military’s purpose is to project force in order to protect u.s. interests. double duh.

    it’s all good fun to riff on theoretical doctrines regarding an extremely theoretical–and risible–responsibility to protect civilians while actively killing them and whether or not we could be nicer to women and children in far away places that we’re bombing. we’re all better off precariously perching on our 2, 3 or 4 legged stool of intervention and writing our papers with the favored platitudes to get that grade than we would be if we honestly considered the realpolitik history of humanitarian bombing.

    • Why is the purpose of the U.S. Military not to protect foreign civilians? I thought its purpose was to coercively execute US policy when directed by the civilian leadership. If that policy includes protecting foreign civilians, then that’s part of its purpose.

      • hv

        I believe virag means, as currently instantiated. Knowing your toolkit should have a screwdriver doesn’t turn your hammer into one.

        • Robert Farley

          Even a currently instantiated, relief helicopters can be flown from the decks of aircraft carriers, just as Harrier fighter-bombers can be flown from the decks of amphibs. The entire “purpose of” narrative is stupid; the military is a tool that can be used in a lot of different jobs, and is better at some and worse at others.

          • Malaclypse

            Even a currently instantiated, relief helicopters can be flown from the decks of aircraft carriers,

            Yes. One price is the further blurring of combatant and non-combatant roles, a distinction that is often pretty useful.

          • hv

            … the military is a tool that can be used in a lot of different jobs, and is better at some and worse at others.

            Do you think the military is ever culpably bad at some jobs relating to humanitarian intervention?

            • Yes. Do you think it is ever good at some jobs relating to humanitarian intervention? People in Sierra Leone do.

              • hv

                Sure, sometimes the problem really is a nail, and your hammer works just fine. Wasn’t my answer to this clear from the metaphor?

                My point is that Farley’s replacement narrative (lots of jobs, only difference is better/worse tool) also leaves a little something to be desired.

          • i completely disagree. the military does have a singular purpose, and it is assuredly not a technical training organization for underprivileged youth or a relief delivery service. i’m sort of disheartened to encounter such a provincial mindset here but not surprised given the milieu.

        • The US military does disaster work in floods and earthquakes. Should it stop? What kind of insane teleology is virag peddling?

          • Cross-posted with Rob Farley’s post making the same point.

          • nice try, but inane. the fact the u.s. military might do something does not at all imply that function is the purpose of its existence. if you’re not sophisticated enough to understand the value of some cuddly public relations and photo ops for a planet-girdling military infrastructure and its masters, well, i’m not sure i can help here.

            • Your argument takes the structure:

              1. The function of the US military is X.

              2. Humanitarian work isn’t X.

              3. Therfore, the US military shouldn’t do humanitarian work.

              That argument is an example of the teleological fallacy. It is not assisted by pointing out that the US military is interested in public relations.

              • again, wrong. in fact, completely wrong. i’m sorry about this, but read what i wrote. should or could never entered into it. the u.s. military can cater kiddie birthday parties, but that’s not what it is made for. i never said the u.s. military couldn’t do humanitarian work. instead, i said that is not it’s purpose. the humanitarian work it may or may not do is absolutely ancillary to it’s purpose and function, in addition to being mostly a pubic relations exercise. i understand why it seems like a good idea to use ships and aircraft to aid some humanitarian efforts; one is it allows them to make absolutely asinine tee vee commercials. i’m sorry you’re having such a hard time with this. are you absolutely sure you understand what a teleoligical fallacy is?

              • The fallacy comes from saying that it has a purpose and therefore shouldn’t do anything contrary to its purpose. It is very similar to question-begging arguments about gay marriage.

  • wengler

    It’s interesting to watch people in the country that has possibly been responsible for the most deaths through military violence in the last decade speak endlessly about the ethics of “intervention”.

    Perhaps when Fallujah was surrounded in November 2004, China should’ve come and taken out the US armored columns all ready to wreak havoc throughout the city. Maybe when Baghdad was being ethnically cleansed in Spring 2007, Russia should’ve started taking out the command and control at the US Viceroy’s office in the Green Zone.

    Reform thyself.

    • owlbear1

      Now you hush, that hat is PURE White!

      • Dogsbody

        As was the phosphorus.

  • Crooked Timber seems to be having a similar debate. I found Conor’s variant to be more starkly and forcefully put.

    • Malaclypse

      That is an interesting distinction. Usefully distinguishes Iraq from Libya. Still does not prove that Libyan intervention is a good idea.

      • I think there’s an analogy between what is being done now in Libya and what ocurred in Iraq before 2003. The US/UK did create a de facto separate state in Kurdistan and protected it with planes. Personally, I supported that (not so much the sanctions), but was opposed to the 2003 invasion.

  • owlbear1

    “Somalia has no proven oil reserves, and only 200 billion cubic feet of proven natural gas reserves.”

    But lots of Pirates…

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