Borrowing again from that young Harvard punk, I have to confess to many of the same hawkish sentiments. This isn’t the first time that we’ve discussed how judging a position by the worst arguments made in its favor is unfair, but I think that the tendency deserves a second look.
Two, as my roommate at the time Jeff Theodore pointed out to me the other day, we were both bouncing around Harvard hearing all sorts of factually or logically deficient anti-war arguments. As this was the immediate context of our lives, it tended to harden our views in the opposite direction — “look at all these silly anti-war people!” If we’d been hanging out in Red America, of course, we would have been hearing all sorts of silly pro-war arguments. In general, the person on the street does not have an especially nuanced defense of his or her favored stance on national security issues and the fact that the people on your street may happen to all think one thing is no reason to go adopt the reverse position.
I didn’t read Matt at the time, so I don’t have a sense of how far he went into the dark side. I know that one of the hardest obstacles I had to overcome in adopting an anti-war position on Iraq was the recognition that I would be on the same side as all those dumbass hippies I knew at the University of Oregon, as well as those dumbass hippies I know in Seattle. At the time, I always strove to distance my arguments from theirs, and one of my deepest regrets about the whole affair is that hawkish liberals have really lost all credibility in the face of this war. It will be very difficult for us to convince people in the future that THIS intervention is sensible and good, as opposed to Iraq or Vietnam.
One of the most important foreign policy articles ever written is by Arnold Wolfers, titled National Security as an Ambiguous Symbol. Be warned that the link is to JSTOR, which is usual available only through university servers. The article is also available in Discord and Collaboration, a collection of Wolfers’ essays. Wolfers makes the point that the “national interest” is an empty term, and cannot be used to justify any kind of action without further specification of precisely what we value and what we’re willing to do to defend those things that we value. When the implications are worked out, this means that there really are no “wars of necessity”, and that every war is a “war of choice”. The only thing left to debate are the conditions under which war is an appropriate course of action. Since military resources are finite, and because everyone but a pacifist believes that war is sensible under some conditions and not under others, the discussion then escapes the common dichotomy between hawk and dove.
I’m building my Military Intervention class around that article. We’ll see how it goes.