Doctor Cleveland's picture

    Libya, Obama, and the Just War Theory

    Barack Obama's decision to join the attack on Libya is very much of a piece with his Nobel Prize acceptance speech. There are various grounds on which a reasonable person could object to the Libya strikes (diplomatic reasons, military reasons, pragmatic reasons, reasons of consistency, even Constitutional reasons). But the decision absolutely fits within a coherent and very traditional moral philosophy. Obama walked through most of the key points of that position in his Nobel Prize speech, with one important omission. That omission is perhaps the key to understanding his conduct as a war leader.

    The "just war" position is a theoretical framework dating back to the Roman Empire and elaborated by early Christian thinkers, based on the "necessary evil" or "lesser evil" principle. If choosing the lesser evil sounds like a bad thing to you, let me propose that choosing the greater evil is worse, and that choosing a randomly selected evil is an abdication of morality. (There are those who feel that such an abdication relieves them of responsibility for whatever consequences follow, because they did not positively assent to such consequences. I could not disagree more.) Most Western medicine works on the lesser evil principle: surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatments all cause you real harm in the best-case scenario and kill you in the worst; they are only worthwhile if they eliminate, or offer a reasonable hope of eliminating, a much worse danger to your health. On the same reasoning, just war views violence as acceptable, under sometimes perhaps obligatory, in order to prevent much worse violence. If someone walks into a workplace with an automatic weapon, a police officer is allowed to shoot that person, and should. If there were a way to disarm the shooter non-violently, that would be preferable, but if there is not, and often there is not, it is better for the shooter to be killed than for many other people to be killed.

    The just-war idea should not be confused with the idea of a holy war, which suggests that violence can be redeemed, or even redemptive, if done in the service of one's god or of some other "transcendent" or "noble" belief. Violence is never imagined as a good in itself; it can only ever be an attempt to lessen the overall violence. Neither does just-war theory suggest that violence can be justified by the wickedness of one's opponents. No one can be killed because they are bad people who deserve it. They might justifiably be killed as a last resort attempt to prevent them from doing a very, very bad thing. Muammar Qaddafi was an evil person last year, but that was not a justification for murdering him. He is currently killing and poised to kill many, many people, and if killing him would prevent that it would be extremely defensible from the just-war position. On the other hand, if Qaddafi managed to kill hundreds of thousands of his countrymen and then flee to Geneva and live peacefully, there would no longer be a necessary-evil justification for killing him. (Obviously, there would be reasons to try him, and there might even be coherent moral reasons proposed for executing him, but those are not lesser-evil reasons, because Qaddafi would no longer be a threat to others' lives.)

    The Crusades were never imagined or seriously defended as just wars. They were Holy Wars. They were justified not as attempts to prevent worse evils, but as tributes to the glory of God. (Also, they were imagined as good things because Muslims were infidels and therefore The Bad Guys.) These two basic Christian conceptions of war, the Just War and the Crusade, have coexisted in Christian thought for the last thousand years, and occasionally borrowed each other's favorite metaphors, but they are profoundly different. In a crusade model, you commit acts of terrible bloodshed and tell yourself that they are acts of virtue, because your enemies are godless and because you have such good values. In a just war model, you remember that there's no such thing as a good war. There are only bad wars and even worse wars, and the only reason to fight a bad one is to stave off a worse one. War is like amputating a limb to save a patient's life: something to be done in extremis, when other options are gone.

    George W. Bush is a Crusader, deep in his bones. His Iraq war flunks every test of a just war, six ways to Sunday. Bush operates out of the Crusade model where violence is absolved and redeemed by its lofty spiritual purpose. Barack Obama operates, mostly, from a Just War position, which is aimed at achieving as much good as practically possible and salvaging what can be salvaged from terrible situations. His Nobel acceptance speech walks through most of the basic conditions of the Just War theory, which follow logically from the underlying "necessary evil" principle.

    The first condition of a just war is the magnitude of the evil being prevented. If you're going to fight a war, costing tens and potentially hundreds of thousands of lives, as the lesser evil, the threat of a greater evil has to be pretty huge. You don't amputate a broken arm; you only amputate an arm that will cost the patient his or her life. You don't attack another country over any bad act they've committed; it has to be an attempt to prevent massive bloodshed. There's a traditional self-defense clause here (you can fight an invading army rather than permitting them to kill your fellow citizens), but for third-party interventions there should be a reasonable certainty that many, many, many lives will be lost if you do not intervene. Clinton's interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo followed basically just-war rationales; they were fought to prevent large-scale deaths of civilians in "ethnic cleansing."

    In the Libya case, it's very clear that Qaddafi intends to massacre large numbers of civilians for resisting his rule. That's a very reasonable justification for the rebels' armed resistance to him, and by extension for assisting those rebels.

    The second condition is that the violence used be proportionate. You don't stop bloodshed by committing vastly more bloodshed. If they only way you can prevent the deaths of thousands of innocents is killing millions of innocents, there's really no way to say that you're choosing the lesser evil. You can't destroy the village in order to save it. You might be able to destroy a few houses in order to save it, but if you're going to do more damage than you prevent, you've lost your way. A related concept should be that the military conduct must discriminate between the enemy soldiers and the civilians who the war is meant to protect. A just war can only be just if it kills as few civilians as possible. Disproportionate and indiscriminate violence takes away any rationalization for a just war. There is no moral point to killing a bunch of unarmed civilians. You can't say they're better off. You can't justify killing them as an attempt to minimize bloodshed.

    How Obama passes this test in Libya will be seen on the field, and it can be murky. But leveling Tripoli would be completely unjustifiable. And the American habit of using guided ordinance shows a simultaneous embrace of the "proportionate and discriminate" principle and failure to execute it. It's true that many of our weapons can be guided fairly precisely, but our dependence upon air power, cruise missiles, and predator drones also leads to inevitable civilian casualties.

    Perhaps most importantly, a just war is a last resort. It's not okay to kill a lot of people because you're preventing even more death and violence. It's only acceptable to kill a lot of people because it is the only possible way to prevent even more death and violence. If you have another option for averting the violence, you should take it. You must take it.

    Part of the last resort condition of imminence. War can only be justified if there is genuinely no time for any other kind of interference. You can't attack a country to stop them from massacring an ethnic minority someday. You can only attack a country to stop a massacre that's already getting underway. This is also logical ... the longer the time scale, the more chances you have to prevent the violence by peaceful means. This is why a police officer is authorized to kill a person who is committing a crime, and not someone who is merely likely to commit a felony someday. It's also why the "weapons of mass destruction" argument for the Iraq war, even if the weapons program had been underway, was not legitimate in just-war theory; even if Saddam Hussein had a weapons program, it was very clear that he was nowhere near completing, say, an atomic bomb, and therefore there were many different options for forestalling and preventing any such bomb. You don't get to bomb a country because you don't have the patience for sanctions and inspections. You only have a legitimate cause to bomb when it is genuinely now or never.

    Whatever else is happening in Libya, it's happening in real time, and any intervention had to be timely. The regime is killing people right now. You can't save those people with six months of patient diplomacy; they will be dead by then.

    The final major condition for a just war is realistic likelihood of success. This sounds like a practical rather than a moral reason, but we are discussing practical morality. If we're going to commit one evil to avert a greater evil, we need to have a realistic chance of actually averting that greater evil. And the more force we use, the better hope we need to have that it will pay off.

    This is the condition that Barack Obama did not mention at the Nobel ceremony, and the one he apparently doesn't like to talk about. If you are going to fight a war to prevent even greater violence, you need to be able to prevent that violence.

    Even the most scrupulous just war means committing a guaranteed evil, the violence that you will commit, for a chance of averting a larger one. Success in war can only ever be a probability, not a certainty, and if you fail to avert the greater evil you set out to fight, you will have only added more bodies to the pile. So you need to be damned sure of your chances.

    If this sounds abstract, let me phrase it as a question: Why didn't Luxembourg try to stop Hitler? The answer is obvious: they could not. If they had attacked the German army in 1939, they would have been destroyed and the Germans would have gone right back to their destruction. They would not have lessened the evil that the Germans were doing; they would have added to it.

    It is flatly immoral, in the just-war framework, to attack without any hope of success. Only success, or a good-faith expectation of success, can justify a war fought on the grounds that it is the lesser evil. In the same way, a just war must be planned in a way that permits success. If you send an expeditionary force to stop a genocide in a foreign country, but you send only a handful of troops, you are no longer fighting a just war. You're simply killing more people. And if the goal of your war is fundamentally unachievable, then there is no way to justify it. George H. W. Bush's intervention in Somalia was purely humanitarian and generous; the goal of distributing food and aid to the starving is fundamentally just. But there quickly turned out to be no way to achieve that honorable goal in that place by force of arms. And just wars are not about good intentions. They are about relieving suffering and deterring bloodshed.

    Obama does not wish to discuss the expectation of success condition, because he is bogged down in two wars where success can no longer be achieved. Iraq is obviously something he has been saddled with, and it's clear to the whole world why he's there; he's there because his troops are hard to extricate. Afghanistan, on the other hand, is a war that Obama explicitly defends as a just war, fought for an appropriate cause. And one could certainly argue that the initial invasion of Afghanistan was a perfectly orthodox just war: the United States was responding to an actual threat to its citizens' safety, and the goals of driving al-Qaeda out of Iraq and disrupting their terrorist operations were eminently feasible. But there are no longer any obviously feasible goals in Afghanistan. What we hope to achieve by remaining, or reasonably can believe we might achieve by remaining, has become a mystery. Obama can't justify the continuation of his "good war" in the just-war framework, and he knows it. So he doesn't try.

    The question is not whether we should use our military to protect Libyan civilians from wholesale murder. I think that goal, taken just on its own terms, is unimpeachable. The question, which has yet to be answered, is whether our military power can protect those civilians from violence. That's the most important question of all.


    This is brilliantly argued but I'd add a few some more conditions.

    The public and its representatives must form a consensus in favor of the war for it to be just.

    The public and its representatives must be informed of the risks and requirements of the operations in order to give considered consent.

    I'm arguing here that a dictatorship can never participate in a just war, since its people would never be polled or brought on board in any way.  I'm also arguing that though I believe Obama acted within his own moral framework and though I credit him with putting a praiseworthy amount of thought into this decision, that he was entirely deficient about bringing the public into the discussion.

    The decision making here was too unilateral for me to support.

    All important political considerations in a democracy, destor, but nothing to do with whether a war is just or not. And since an absolute monarchy is a dictatorship, you're saying the UAE, Qatar, saudi Arabia can't ever take part. The theory of just war was developed when there were nothing but absolute monarchies around, so your conditions couldn't have applied; no just wars were possible. You make a good argument for not supporting the intervention, but not against its justice.

    I have to admit, I don't think that the UAE, Qatar or Saudi Arabia can ever take just military action.  I don't even think they can have just foreign policies.

    I disagree public consensus impacts the nature of the "Just War" framework. It is a formula based on morality balance, outcomes and reasonable expectations not public opinion. In fact, it seems impossible for a decision subject to the whim of public emotion and media manipulation to have been based on a true weighting of the moral imperatives DC lays out.

    You aren't really talking about "Just War." You are talking about the participation of America in specific international military intervention in Libya and how you feel about the political process in the context of being an American citizen. This isn't an American war. This is an international war. The "Just War" analysis would be no different with the participation of America than it would be if the other nations proceeding without our support (obvious impact on "likelihood of success" notwithstanding). Your personal approval or rejection doesn't really change the immutable facts surrounding the decision.

    We have international obligations under the UN charter. The UN is the forum in which the ethical and other issues were decided by the representatives of all people. In this  forum the representative of the American public actually is Obama - not our legislature. So in that regard, you really did get to pick who would be doing this for us when you voted in 2008. So did I. That's not where Obama screwed up.

    He screwed up at home. I agree the American decision making was entirely too internally unilateral for me to support as well. I see this as crucially important in terms of American governance. That's why I continue to assert that I hope Obama gets slapped down for it (although I am also skeptical this will happen). That is a matter of internal politics and expectations based on our own policies. My complaint isn't with a moral deficiency in the decision to intervene, my complaint is with the PROCESS by which our contribution to the decision was finalized.

    I don't find any moral inconsistency wanting to fix the problems in our own political system revealed in the process of our approach to meeting international obligations while totally supporting the underlying reasons and final decision adopted by the international community of which we are a part.

    I think there is a difference between just wars and politically legitimate wars. Both questions are important, but they are also separate.

    Some versions of the just war theory add a condition about "legitimate authority of the war-maker" but I reject that as not growing from the basic necessary-evil premise. Furthermore, I think insurgent groups can and even sometimes have waged just wars.

    I'm not going to Godwin out this thread, so let me say that if, hypothetically, Mobutu Sese Seko had unilaterally intervened to stop the Rwandan genocide, that would have been just. Mobuto would still have been tyrannical and illegitimate, but the moral foundation for military action would have been sound.

    On the other hand, many wildly unjust wars have been deeply popular. World War I (which, face it, couldn't have been a just war on both sides) was feverishly popular among European voters until, well, it started. But they were all for it. They demanded it.

    I agree that our wars should be democratically legitimate as well as just. But those are two goals, not one.

    I don't know if I can separate the two in my mind, though I accept that some do.  To me, the idea of a dictator, benevolent or not, launching a "just war" is a bit like me launching a charity with stolen money.  Perhaps I ultimately did more good for the world than my victims would have had I not robbed them, but it'd be hard to call my actions "just."  A dictator has simply robbed people of their own rights and authority, just as I would be a hypothetical robber of money.

    Very sharp as usual, Doc. I do think, however, that you miss two other important motivations for war: self-defense and retaliation.

    In discussing imminence, you compared the U.S. to a police officer. That's an appropriate analogy for American intervention in Libya, but I don't think it fits our invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq nearly so well. When enemies attack a non-strategic foreign country, you're unlikely to see much enthusiasm for war except under extreme circumstances, such as genocide. But when they attack the U.S., it doesn't take many casualties to provoke a wildly disproportionate response with very few moral qualms from much of the population.

    The better analogy would be an intruder coming onto our property an assaulting members of our family. While the legality of self-defense actions may be narrowly defined, I think you would find most people to be fairly permissive about the virtue of a disproportionate response, especially in the absence of credible authorities. Such a response might even include retaliation against the attacker's cohorts. In the True Grit, for example, I doubt many audience members were terribly concerned about the ethics of killing off Ned Pepper's gang along with Tom Chaney.

    Of course, the war in Iraq was neither self-defense nor punitive retaliation, but the point is that Bush offered both rationales. It was these dishonest appeals rather than a pious appeal to righteousness that made the war so popular at the time.

    I don't think "Just War" is the only kind of war can be justified as moral. It doesn't seem possible (or perhaps even desirable) to create a unified theory.

    Neither Iraq or Afghanistan appear to qualify under the "Just War" paradigm as I'm interpreting it. With Iraq being an unjustifiable/immoral war in my opinion.

    I think self-defense, and retaliatory self-defense (to make future attacks less likely) are generally covered by just war theory, which always permits self-defense. (You don't have to let an invader kill ten thousand of your people because repelling him would kill fifty thousand. You don't have to accept terms pressed upon your nation by force, or allow other people to kill your citizens.)

    But, as kgb says, just war theory does not cover all situations. It doesn't easily describe revolutions or wars of independence, for example. (Not surprising, considering that this framework was developed in a deeply imperial culture.)

     "The question is not whether we should use our military to protect Libyan civilians from wholesale murder. I think that goal, taken just on its own terms, is unimpeachable." Dr.C.

    Does "Just war theory" address the situation where a third party which was not threatened but which has a conflict of interest in the outcome then chooses  its favored side and initiates an attack using methods which expose its forces to very little risk but have a certainty of killing many?
     Also, I realize that in theory that there could be a just war which had unjust actions within it. Stardust posted the following link in another thread. If the quoted paragraph is accurate was the action "just"? Could a war that was otherwise considered to be just still be so if that action was acceptible procedure?

    A Marine Corps officer said that the grounded pilot, who was in contact with rescue crews in the air, asked for bombs to be dropped as a precaution before the crews landed to pick him up. “My understanding is he asked for the ordnance to be delivered between where he was located and where he saw people coming toward him,” the officer said, adding that the pilot evidently made the request “to keep what he thought was a force closing in on him from closing in on him.”

    And, is it possible for both sides in a war based, on their own evaluation of a situation, to be waging a "just war"?

    I think there are certainly situations where both sides believe themselves to be just, woith varying degrees of realism. Many aggressors talk themselves into believing they're in the right, and really do convince themselves. And some groups have a plausible but partisan case that simply looks weaker if you're from another group.

    But I think the cases where both sides have legitimate grievances are long-standing conflicts where the "proportionate and discriminate" rule got thrown overboard a long time ago, leading to a cycle of escalating retaliation. Which largely flunks the just war test.

    I can't help but believe that self-interest figures prominently in "just" wars, too. We aren't really the world's policeman, we just play Superman when it suits us.

    This is an excellent summary of the basis of the just war. 

    I would only add that part that truly get tricky is:

    Perhaps most importantly, a just war is a last resort. It's not okay to kill a lot of people because you're preventing even more death and violence. It's only acceptable to kill a lot of people because it is the only possible way to prevent even more death and violence. If you have another option for averting the violence, you should take it. You must take it.

    I am thinking of Afghanistan here, and not in terms of what will happen to Afghanistan.  It has been posited that one the reasons, if the not the primary reason, we are staying there is because of the situation in Pakistan.  And that if things aren't dealt with as they are now, that things could (would) unravel so quickly that we would find ourselves in a situation where the success factor of a just war would be thrown out of the window.  From this perspective, looking at the potential consequences for the region and the global community, it is practical and just to keep the forces in Afghanistan because it is the closest thing we can get to impeding the disasterous unraveling.

    Now this brings in the condition of imminence. Except in a few rare incidents, imminence is still a judgment call.  Most of the time when a sniper takes out a hostage taker, the hostage taker's finger is not one millionth of an inch from the trigger and moving closer.  The decision that hostage taker will likely kill the hostage(s), so when the sniper gets a clean shot, he or she takes it, even if it when the hostage taker has a brief moment to pause and pick his or her nose.

    While the development of WMD can be closely gauged as to their imminence, the recent "Arab Spring" shows that things in the streets can happenly very quickly without much warning.  They are like earthquakes, in that all the conditions are there, but the "pop" could be tomorrow or 25 years from now.

    I agree that judging the imminence of a threat is a sticky problem. But judging proportional response and chances of success are both also very tricky.

    The framework sounds clean, but it gets messy very, very fast. One reason to have the framework is to build a clear overall structure for sorting out the messy details. But those details still have to be sifted on their own, and it is nothing like easy.

    Going back to the original post , it defines away the crucial need to incorporate consideration of matters of degree.. For example

    The question, which has yet to be answered, is whether our military power can protect those civilians from violence.

     should read

     protect a large enough number of those civilians from enough violence for long enough


    Yes, that's a good point. I should not have defined those aspects away.

    But I also wanted to suggest other potential problems ... that the intervention would not, itself, suffice to create stability or forestall violence in a post-Qaddafi Libya, for example. Military power is our only tool in this situation (considering how fast events are moving), but that doesn't mean it's a sufficient tool.

    Altho it read that way I didn't mean to critcize your formulation. It was already complicated enough

    I think it was fine as far as it went but should have been titled Obama's Just War, Section 1. 

    No worries, Flav. Thanks.

    This is a mellifluous argument, Doctor Cleveland, well written, well reasoned, and still full of too many holes for me to leave alone (against my better instincts, as I know in advance that I won’t talk you down one iota from your lofty ‘just war’ perch.

    I really dislike what we are told is going on in Libya lately, and kinda loved it when the rebels were routing the Gadaffi forces.  And part of me wanted to cheer the idea of a ‘no-fly zone, even though the Military (in the form of Gates and others) told the press (tacky, IMO) that it would be difficult and not terribly productive.

    (This is going to be, of necessity, a bit out of order as my thoughts coalesce; sorry for that.  My mind is awash with contradictions to what you have presented here.)  You’vbe presented an argument that might stand in some imagined world of your creation and belief, and I may too, on the other end of the spectrum.

    The topic of the UNSC 1973 was brought up by kgb, and I will say that when first commenting on the boards I’d thought that the War Powers Act covered the Pres.  Turns out I was wrong, as there had to be clear and imminent danger to allow him the sixty days (plus 48 hours to notify Congress, not ask for a Resolution, to be in the clear Constitutionally.  The potential instability of the Arab World as imminent danger is in the eye of the beholder, but almost silly, even if you were to factor in the recent Jasmine/Arab Spring Revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt.

    In my further hunt for the Constitutionality of the Lybian War, I found a man who believes adamantly that this 1945 law concerning the Prez and the UN had merit, i.e. , The United Nations Participations Act, though when I posted it to (alleged) scholars, they said it wasn’t quite it, and had been since amended (see links).

    Another point you seem to miss is that there isn’t any end game spelled out.  We now know that the no-fly zone has killed Gadaffi’s chances of any air war.  Great.  But he is still blasting people and buildings apart with tanks, which he/they have been for several weeks, though the bombs were scary and sounded horrid, I think did far less damage than the tanks did.  Where now then?  Gadaffi hasn’t left, the President erred weeks ago, IMO, saying he needed to be gone, then doing nothing to back it up, effectively emboldening him (he is a psychotic narcissist, after all).  No one seems quite in agreement about what’s next: kill more tanks, kill more infantry, train more rebels (Tripartate soldiers or Blackwater dudes?). 

    Kgb had been upset that at FDL (dunno, really), that anti-war commenters were upset that we don’t know who ‘the rebels’ are; maybe they are thugs, tribal thugs, and former Gadaffi military thugs we are helping.  I kinda agreed that was odd.  The I heard a Hillary  Clinton re-run of Senate Intel or something a month ago saying she thought they might be allied with Al Qaeda.  Well, there went that argument.  We don’t know; does it matter?

    Well, yeah; it will once the dust settles, and either We or They try to put a government together, or rebuild a shattered economy.  Will we be there helping?  Is that why Hillary and Sarkosy like Mustafa Jalil who’s been friends with Sarkozy, appealed to Hillary?  We the West set up another puppet government like in Iraq?  (oops; that didn’t work out so well…)

    I suppose I’ll leave it you assess whether or not Obama should have been schmoozed into all this by Susan Rice and Samantha Powers and their guilt over not going into Rawanda  to end that genocide, and Clinton being convinced by their solidarity, now aiming to quit Obama she’s so pissed at his…lassitude over this.  I’ll give him credit for making it a wider mission, but really: who will lead the NATO forces if they put ‘boots on the ground’ as many are already contemplating?

    Last thing I’ll ask you to consider is this: if it’s a mission of mercy for an emerging Democratic movement, why is Obama and the reat of the West giving the finger to those in Bahrain and Yemen whose movement participants have been killed so much more viciously, and in greater numbers, than in Libya?  We know what Gadaffi said he’d do; in those other nations, their leaders were doing it.

    Some op-eds to consider:

    Stephen Walt (FP magazine):

    Richard Falk :

     and Michael C. Hudson on what it’s like in Bahrain: 

     In the end, I think you maybe haven’t explored the darker sides of military misadventures in the ME, and aren’t nearly cynical enough.  This reads like you still live in Yesteryear, when we truly thought we could save the world with the proper application of our Military Might.  (Stephen Walt addresses that, by the by.)

     And an Oldie But Goodie from Walt: 'Why do they hate us, and how many Muslims have we killed in the last thirty years?' 


    Actually, I don't think that it's a good idea if it's a just war. I think meeting the just war qualifications is a minimum requirement, not an all-sufficient pass.

    And while I agree that there's no clear endgame, I also think that calls the justice of the war into doubt. Feasibility is one of the necessary conditions, and that includes a plan for success. The Underpants Gnomes can't wage a just war.

    Where Obama falls away from the just-war paradigm most is in feasibility and the need for reasonable hope of success. (See: continuing in Afghanistan in order to achieve ...?)

    The definition of success will be Qaddafi no longer attacking citizens in Libya with heavy military hardware.

    I think you are confusing that with the question how long we'll need to maintain a presence to ensure unacceptable conditions do not reemerge - if we interpret the mandate to require such.

    ensure unacceptable conditions do not reemerge

    That's where the freezing of financial assets and blockade on weapons is supposed to come in. And that's why talking about arming the rebels above small arms is real problematic.Remember Rep. Charlie Wilson's "war" (though actually, come to think of it, for a long time we were afraid one of his hand-helds would show up bringing down a civilian airliner or a US plane in Iraq. Did that ever happen? It wasn't needed-all they needed was sucidal maniacs with flight training and box cutters. And for the vehicles, they didn't need the fancy stuff either, they make up their own IED's.)

    Back to the money. Turns out Gaddafi had a lot of cash set aside. But he has to run out of it eventually.

    After Charlie's war, the U.S. spent many millions of dollars buying back all the unfired Stingers they'd freely handed out to the Mujahideen. Looks like maybe they got them all.

    thanks--truly, I had stopped paying attention a ways back when it just never seemed to happen, didn't know for sure. Shouldn' speak too soon, maybe some Tea Bagger is working on trying to get one back to working condition in his garage as I write, you never know....

    Thanks for the effort. . Irrespective of your time zone it seems to me that you should now turn off the computer , let the comments accumulate over night and sort themselves into main categories and then do whatever you normally do.

    I briefly considered going back to Michael Walzer but I think I'll start David Grossman instead.

    There are lots of ways to San Jose.One is working the problem. Another is not working the problem and letting your subconcious act on it for a while which is my plan. Besides I want to get into Grossman's book.


    kgb had been upset that at FDL (dunno, really), that anti-war commenters were upset that we don’t know who ‘the rebels’ are; maybe they are thugs, tribal thugs, and former Gadaffi military thugs we are helping.

    Actually that was never one of my criticisms of FDL. My criticism was that up until the second we started intervention FDL was cheering on the rebels as freedom fighters (just as they continue to do with Yemen and others). The makeup of the rebel force didn't change when we started intervention. The fair-weather support did.

    Sometimes i really do suspect when I see that kind of thing that it is part and parcel of a continuing kind of Bush Derangement Syndrome, that political blogging was basically born of derangement about Bush, and that a lot of blogging people that just can't get out of that box, everything is still framed by his tenure. They have a sort of vested interest in reacting/writing that way,just because it's become comfortable, it's easy, and it's hard to go into thinking about nuanced differences when they see something similar but not exactly the same...

    Let's pull this apart a bit, instead of everybody going on with the big paintbrush against all those (unnamed unquoted) anti-war types, shall we? 

    1. It is absolutely possible to support a group of rebels, but NOT support armed intervention in their support by major world powers and global alliances. There are a number of countries presently reduced to rubble where local citizens initially welcomed external support, but which process of becoming a scene of global attention resulted in their world turning to complete shit.

    2. It is also entirely possible to support, in general, the rebels and rebellion in the Middle East, and in particular against Gaddafi, but when you see a major nation step in to back one side, decide to pause and look very closely at who, precisely, is leading that rebellion. This is , again, because we've seen rebellions starting with "the people" but ending up being led by individuals who turned out not all that different from the status quo. Indeed, major world powers often attempt to support precisely this maneuver, of having their guy run to the front of the parade. 

    3. It is also is entirely logical to change one's view of the rebels based on who joins their side. This is widespread throughout the history of the 20th Century. You know, if Stalin swapped teams, then so too did our views of entire nations. This wasn't just personal hatred - its a simple fact that when one obtains major league backing, those backers then shape where you go.

    In this particular case, it is entirely logical to change one's views on supporting the rebels after Obama backs them, because of changes the situation might well make in HIS political situation, HIS wider decision-making, HIS chances of re-election. That is, I might wish for a rebel group to succeed... but if a George W Bush was going to be able to claim credit for their win, and thus gain popular support, it is entirely possible that I might find that outweighs my support for the rebels, and in my mind, places the world at greater risk. 

    So, 3 completely logical ways people can change their minds, based precisely on the linkages you folks are discounting.

    4. It is also possible that the people at FDL you're referencing are just idiots, tools and fanatics. I tend not to hang there. However, this is why I really prefer to have therm quoted directly if they're being asinine, because we can then agree or disagree and not get painted/smeared with their particular words as part of being "anti-war" or "progressive"or whatever. It's a bit like not painting every person with a libertarian bent as being into Ayn Rand. Or Rand Paul. 

    Or even, Da Do Rand Rand.


    It is absolutely possible to support a group of rebels, but NOT support armed intervention in their support by major world powers and global alliances.

    Yep. And it's possible to support a group of Union workers but NOT support going on a legislative-executive offensive to push-back against union busting.

    With all this support the freedom movements of the world should be right spiffy in no fucking time.

    I'm not asking you to support the war. I never asked you to support the war. That post you flamed like an asshat didn't ask you to go to war ... it simply asked you to stop screaming and fucking hollering at the top of your lungs about the deficit in the exact frame the republicans are using to attack my national social security while you make your case against it. That's it. Obama hasn't done SHIT to justify trusting him if you reduce this an Americanized action exclusively. I disagree with you -but GOD man.

    And if you want to dispute my characterization of FDL from yesterday; you should swing by a few times a day and check out the articles and the comments. If "Rayne left Feb 27 and nobody will tell me why." doesn't mean anything to you ... let it go.


    Just stop referencing anti-war people and progressives and then hurling little girls and flowers and all that nonsense into the fray, and just refer to the argument that some people at FDL are making. Keep it restricted to them.

    Otherwise, your blog reads like a flame. Which, in my books, it was. You were pissed at some people somewhere else, and you basically did a rant on them, over here. 

    See, when you write, still, today, "it simply asked you to stop screaming and fucking hollering at the top of your lungs about the deficit in the exact frame the republicans are using to attack my national social security while you make your case against it. That's it." Well, all I want to say is that I, and a whole lot of other people, aren't screaming and shouting about anything on this war, much less about the deficit. YOU were the one wound up. As for the case on using the deficit argument, I made my reply to that.

    That blog wasn't your norm, I get that. You're a sane blogger, and smart. 

    On the war, I've made clear, explicitly, by naming other countries and their leaders and (some of) their sins, that I am not reducing this to an Americanized action. What I am doing is saying the US makes or breaks this action, both on the ground and at the UN. And I hoped the US, led by a party nominally of the Left, and a Peace guy, would pause and think through what it means to get involved, again, in a really murky Middle Eastern set of events. Both in terms of seemingly accelerating use of the military which BOTH parties are now engaging in, as well as because of international consequences. As in, if I hear one more idiot go off about how swiftly it'll be in and out, and others left to carry the thing on, I'm gonna throw myself of a bridge. Seriously. Like, they imagine we're gonna do this in secret, and nobody will remember, and surely, nobody would hold this against us, and the Russians and Chinese won't keep pointing at this as the US becoming almost addicted to military solutions, etc. Ah well. Nuff.

    Trust me, it's going to be swift.

    (Just doing my bit to address the over-population problem. Did you know that we've already passed the 6.9 billion mark?)

    Little Known Fact: No Canadian bridge is more than 18" above the ground, as their primary use is as a passageway for the gentle wildlife, when they wish to cross the burbling streams and brooks. 

    Quite frankly we don't know anything about who's rising up in any of these countries.

    Okay, Egypt got a lot of play, so we can be pretty sure it wasn't just Muslim Brotherhood, and that  El-Baradei put a secular stamp on the whole thing.

    But who rebelled in Tunisia, in Bahrain, who's in the street in Syria?

    I have no idea. There were 1000 rebels in eastern Libya? Okay, of a country with 10's of millions, that sounds tiny (we don't support Shining Path as a freedom movement just because they exist, do we?).

    Did it make any difference to anyone that Benghazi has long supported independence because they were cobbled together by British subterfuge to be part of Libya? So that perhaps their freedom-fighter sentiment is not about "Gaddafi the tyrant" and more about "Cyrenaica free forever"? I.e. will we fire cruise missiles to support a breakaway republic/independence movement in addition to firing cruise missiles for a democracy movement? Are they really a dangerous fundamentalist Islamic movement? Does that/should that change our response?

    Where will these revolutions go? I was originally thrilled when the Ayatollah flew from Paris to Tehran. Oops, so much for youthful glee.

    So yeah, even if we momentarily are excited about yet another Mideast uprising, they don't all look the same, and while I as an individual can give high-fives all I want and not affect anything, I expect my government to be more careful in its long-term diplomacy and military actions.

    Sorry to tangle up your original criticism.  Actually, there has been some change in the rebel forces and leadership, which fact I hadn't known.  The original Gadaffi opponents have been somewhat supplanted by military or regime supporters defecting to the rebel side, and I suppose that elbowing each other out of the way is what frequently happens in similar situations, as the quest for power and influence are pretty human.

    Having said that, I won't defend FDL per se, as I'm often turned off by comment threads or being attacked for voicing a different prespective.  I'm a bit cross-wise with management, too, so that flavors my opinion.  ;o)  One diarist this morning gave a h/t to Rayne, though when I checked her activity log, it hadn't been updated, so it beats me.  I admit I'm at the point I don't care much if I get banned.  But again, I don't see comments as monolithically critical of the rebel forces as you, but waaaay too much testosterone on some threads, especially from former military.  Ish.

    Re Bahrain: What specific intervention would you like to see? How would it be carried out and what would the objective be?

    It's not an either/or situation. Present a plausible way military intervention could help in Bahrain and I'll back you up on it if you feel strongly we should be intervening there.

    The more I read, the less equivalence I see between the two cases. Just read the two UN resolutions and try to put the Bahrain situation in there. It doesn't fit. There's no need for a cease fire, there aren't refugees and the threat of more, there haven't been threats to destroy a whole segment of their population, there have been attempts at dialogue with the protestors--pitiful as they are--there's no telling the Security Council to take a flying fuck as to its first resolution, there's no mass defections of their diplomats, etc. Though all the relevant human rights language is in the resolutions about executing civilians, torture, fear tactics, etc., which could also be applied to Bahrain, the UN doesn't attempt to remedy those problems, it's just saying: cut that shit out, too. (Like it does very haplessly with the majority of countries in the world including our own at times.) More and more the best equivalence looks to be Kosovo, though it's not a perfect match either. I think  Juan Cole is correct to point it out as a useful comparison, and that out of the Kosovo no fly zone, refugee problem solved, continual civil war problem ended and eventually a state was born. (Should there be a need for an equivalent KFOR, Obama has already pretty clearly implied that we aren't going to be it.) As problematic as it remains today, you don't see a lot of complaining in the EU about Kosovar refugees with no home to go to. Maybe there'll be two Libyan states for a while, methinks tho that the population of one could be extremely low.

    I did answer on another thread that no, I'm not asking for military intervention in Bahrain, Yemen, or Syria, which in the past two days more than 40 protestors have been killed.  Ironically, King Abdullah has apparently asked Saleh to stand down now that the Chief of the Army has deserted him.

    Obama and Clinton could have issued warnings to the Saudis and the GCC nations that they would pay a price if they involved themselves, withollding aid, cancelling billions in arms deals, but of course, they won't.  Observers agree that Gates/Obama greenlighted the Saudis to enter the fray.  The administration has chosen to back away from working on an I/P peace; our old friend MJ Rosenberg writes about it at AJE (hint: he's writing better these days, and with a bit more calm).  But again, he won't; he'll continue to take shit from Bibi and Barak.

    Well crap; I took a toast break and lost my train of thought.  Bygones.

    I lose my train of thought every time I get toasted, too.

    LOL!  And tippling so early is a veddy bad sign...  Better than the alternative?

    Choo-a-chooo!  I remember: I'll say again that another choice for Obama would have been to let Sarkozy, Cameron, Rice and Clinton know that the US would abstain on 1973, and let the other countries take care of this.  By recognizing the provisional govt. in Lybia, you could make a case that France had grounds to interfere (which Sarkozy arguably arranged on purpose, given his friendship with Jalil, whoever he really is), but I ain't buying the RtoP doctrine here, as we so selectively choose it.

    The coalition this time was better, especially gaining the African and Arab Union's (not the right names, sorry) support, at least at first.  But that the US chooses very flawed tactics in regard to the Pottery Barn rule is important to my thinking here.

    Update on African Union and Arab League: it seems they are backing way away from this now, as their original agreement was broadened by SC 1973.  And the AU support was chimeric from the start, it seems.

    The Baronness Catherine Ashton's deputy at EU Foreign Affairs desk supported Bahrain,, in crushing their rebelious folk, saying:

    "I'm not sure if the police have had to deal with these public order questions before. It's not easy dealing with large demonstrations in which there may be violence. It's a difficult task for policemen. It's not something that we always get right in the best Western countries and accidents happen."

    Deputy Cooper said back in 2002, reminding me that the Elites of the Western World are framing Bahrain as a fiscally important place to keep stable, plus the Fifth Fleet and all:

    Cooper, a former British diplomat and a writer, said in an essay in 2002:

    "The challenge to the postmodern world is to get used to the idea of double standards. Among ourselves, we operate on the basis of laws and open co-operative security. But when dealing with more old-fashioned kinds of states ... we need to revert to the rougher methods of an earlier era - force, pre-emptive attack, deception."   Tut-tut, and all that rot!

    I kinda agree with you that the is more anger from some of us because we feel so let down by Obama's continuation of Bush's wars and foreign policy and unConstitutional actions, and the fact that so many Dems give him such wide leeway over things that would have driven them wild under Bush, not so much about any Deranngement Syndrome.  And anger is natural, but some threads at FDL are kinda redundant.  Sometimes I imagine DD avoiding the comments, but Marcy's threads usually receive more thoughtful ones, even if angry.


    It's this sort of thing which made me argue earlier that the U.S. should sit itself out of these sorts of decisions and actions for a while.

    What I man is that the 4 conditions listed above are a select subset of the wider Just War debate. What's interesting is that selecting this subset manages to entirely remove serious questions and considerations about the decision-maker and potential warring nation - the US - from the moral calculus. Rather, the U.S. gets to act as an external or (perhaps better) "above it all" arbiter, judge and decider.

    I'm sure this goes down well in US foreign policy discussion circles, but as a full discussion on the morality of this war, I'd argue these omissions pretty much ensure the debate never much gets much deeper than a Sunday afternoon wader and his underwater farts. 

    For example, in my view, the past actions and present intentions of those making the decision to go to war have to be included in any moral calculus. It is not just about the "Evil" of the guy you are fighting, or the way it's fought ("Proportionate"), or the alternatives ("Last Resort"), or the probability of Success - it's about YOURSELF, as well. This set of issues is raised in many Just War discussions, I'm not just being randomly bad-temered here.

    To put sample names to faces here (with the aim of bringing out the importance of the person/nation intervening), simply imagine if Stalin invaded a country to save it from a local tyrant... versus, say, the UN under Dag Hammarskjold and Lester B. Pearson. Or better, if Sweden and Canada under those two leaders invaded, versus Stalin. Stalin's track record and intentions would lead one to decide very different things even if the nature of the country being attacked and the odds of success were the same.

    So, a genuine weighing of one's own intentions - and one's previous actions, which one is often known by - must come into play. And this is no trivial thing, looking for "cleanliness" or perfection in intentions, it's about how many will die, and when and how.

    The Wiki discussion captures some of this as "Right Intention,"  and mentions as a nice example, that "revenge" not be a primary determinant. I think we all remember Iraq, and sense that there was a bit of revenge in play there. 

    Iraq, in fact, being an interesting case. It's actually quite possible to see it passing the 4 bare conditions set out in your blog, if that's all there are to a Just War. Good chances of success (yup)... when launched, ensure the violence is proportionate (doable)... we'd already been doing the no fly zone thing for years, so last resort... and Saddam was an evil butcher, same as Gaddafi (probably worse)... 

    The only thing one might argue is that the risk of Saddam performing an immediate "slaughter of the innocents" wasn't quite as obvious, perhaps. Unless, of course, Saddam actually had those nasty big-time weapons. And if that was the case, their mere possession - combined with the ability to launch them within seconds - means we'd better act, right? And I'm not just referring to WMD's and their ability to be used against us, I'm referring to gas and air forces and things like that, which can be used - and regularly are - against their own citizens. 

    Oh dear. 

    Because then, if we're only ever using just these 4 conditions, we're into a world where any of dozens of the world's frequent butchers should - if we can - be taken out. Because pretty much any tyrant worth his/her salt is responsible for the indirect and direct death of thousands of their own people these days. Are we sure we feel that much "Justice" in our sails?

    One obvious additional problem that's arising here is that should a nation take it upon itself to launch a series of Just Wars, even against real-world tyrants, then... we may have just created a bit of a monster. 

    Back to Libya. The thing is, by using only these 4 conditions, and thus clearing ourselves from having to own our moral responsibility for anything, we avoid some nasty conclusions. For instance, is there any evidence at all that the United States of America, in its modern war-fighting mode, will avoid the large-scale death of innocent civilians? You can say "yes, it tries very hard." In reply, I might say that a method of fighting a war - surgically and all that - which has left hundreds of thousands dead can only be considered to be "avoiding" killing civilians if one's brain has turned to drool. And then there's the ugly, but more one-on-one examples, such as torture and the sorts of killings as are in Der Spiegel.

    Looking back, for many decades the US armed, trained, funded and protected some of the worst torturers and murderers in the world. See: Central American history. But it was only because we could position it against the much-worse Soviet Union that it became tolerable. (For us.) 

    But today? War on Terror? Really? Nobody sensible believes that stuff.

    How about our motives, then? We turned Gaddafi into one of the world's great bogeymen. Sure, he's a psycho. So were dozens of others, with 60% of them being put in place or propped up there by us. 

    Then, more recently, though it's being wiped from the memory banks, just as we did with Saddam, we made him... our buddy. Huge big contracts. Condi Rice, Blair, Sarkozy coming in for cozy visits. 

    So. I would argue that the evidence is  that we go to war far too often, and for vile, and often hidden, motivations. Revenge. Pride. Domestic political gain. Oil. Reconstruction contracts. Anger. Fear of the Other. etc. And, I believe the evidence is also that we kill enormous numbers of innocents when we fight. And when we leave, it is not even clear that we are leaving the nations we fought to "save" in better condition than when we entered. I believe the daily life of Iraqis, for instance, is clearly worse than it was pre-No Fly Zone. 

    Now. This is actually a polite way to put all this. The harsher way is to say that there's a nation out there which is inflicting hundreds of thousands of deaths on citizens of a series of nations...  a country which then installs drug-lords and torturers and the criminally corrupt on the local thrones...  which enriches its private interests in the process... which has shown an inability to use its legal system to prosecute its failures in these wars, and has blocked international efforts... which seems to have created a political dynamic whereby even "peace-loving" Presidents escalate and initiate war.

    In Just War terms, mirrors are a requirement.

    Which brings us to the question of the other nations the US is going to war with. The Europeans and the Canadians (and similar Canuckistani slime.) For starters, we hear a lot of tripe being tossed around about the UN, and its noble processes, and how the US has to follow along. This is from those whose memories apparently fail to go back much further than 2 weeks or so. The "morality" of an act cannot be determined by a process in which one's own vote, actions and influence actually DETERMINES the outcome. And if the US wished, the whole UN vote would have gone the other way.

    Second, we often hear that the US is going to war with "France," and "Italy" and "Britain" and "Canada" at its side, or at their behest. Apologies, but this is not so - and that's of real moral consequence. If Silvio Berlusconi and David Cameron and Stephen Harper and their ilk - men whom I regard as moral monsters, men who have shown already that they will support the immoral and the unsupportable, men who presently lack strong public support and who would claw to regain position - the simple fact that these men maneuver to bring forward votes behind war, does not in any way lend moral weight to the actions of the US. Shorter: those in alliance with that nice Mister Hilter are in no ay cleared of making up their own minds.

    In sum, we may agree on a goal, Doc. But the idea that these 4 conditions alone enable us to say the US is entering a "Just War" is not so. In the same way, I can see no clear support for a "Just War" argument in nations such as Canada, the UK, France and Italy. Blood dripping from our hands from the recent and ongoing wars, appalling and immoral leadership, duplicity and secret double-dealings with the "enemy" in question - sorry, we're not cutting it. 

    And sometimes - though I rarely argue this - the lack of a clearcut case is, in fact the answer. Seen more widely than on these 4 narrow clauses, a clear case for Just War does not exist.

    This sort of thing does little to increase anyone's confidence that this will be another Just War.

    I just lost a long comment by hitting paste on my word program instead of copy. I want to kill something.
     The jist of my lost comment was: Who [that matters] gives a big rat's ass whether any war ever fought meets the qualifications of being a "just war"?  By "who" I do not mean who among us engaging in this intellectual circle jerk interesting conversation but rather who among any group who is influential in deciding one way or another whether to go to war. Did any leader ever decide against war because it might get a bit disproportional or did every one of them hope they would have a little shock and awe to whip out when the time came?
     Oh yeah, the idea that we are not trying to kill anyone, we are only trying to protect a certain group of people by shooting down airplanes, and blowing up tanks, and bombing columns of vehicles, that idea needs some examination.
    I could be for intervention and despise the leader who made the decision if I believed he made it for wrong reasons.

    I am back to comment on my own comment because I just love to get hits no matter where they come from.
     I read the root blog and every comment it evoked and I did so with interest. If I offended anyone by calling the discussion a circle jerk I can only offer the explanation that I was completely sober last night and that tends to affect my thinking as well as make me a little cranky. And I am often a jerk. I would be a bit more diplomatic if I really thought anyone really gave a big rat's ass.
     After my comment I turned off my computer and found my copy of "Just and Unjust Wars, A Moral Argument with Historical Illustrations" by Michael Walzer. He has a chapter on humanitarian intervention which I read before jumping around and sampling some other parts. Like this conversation, I found it interesting and valuable in many ways. I would argue that any examination of the ideas and morals and [usually] crass political motives that surround and affect decisions to kill are worth having.
      What I did not find in either place is how compliance with "Just War Theory" is ever applied in a constructive way by  any leaders or by the populations they lead. I do not see any example of a war in my lifetime that met, by my evaluation, the criteria of being "just" according to the theory. I don't expect that I ever will. And I would ask, "So what?" And I might answer that I suppose that, to ineffectual and hopefully unaffected bystanders, an unexamined war is just no fun having.

    I don't think "Just War" as a concept explicitly engages our leaders at the moment of decision. 

    But I do think its component pieces are definitely looked at - e.g. can we win? have we tried other methods of solving things? are we really going after something important, or someone evil? etc. 

    And yes, sometimes people will use these individual arguments to try and persuade/calm/dupe the public.

    But somehow I'm doubting that Berlusconi and Sarkozy and such are staying up nights worrying. ;-)

    Hits???  A-man says punches are okay, fuque-yous not-so-much.  Have one on me!


    Feel better?  But hey: I think you must have forgotten Granada: the Ultimate Photo-Op.  Seriously, it was named Operation Urgent Fury.  (The story of a horse, and a boy who loved him...starring..)  Never a jerk, Lulu; always a jerkmaid...

    Sorry you were so sober; what may qualify it as a circle jerk is that we are so unlikely to change one another's minds; otherwise, we hone our own arguments.  Or not.

    I'll see your KA-POW, and raise you one.... KABLOOEY!

    Whoops. Donno my own strength.

    Goddam it, you got 'Kabloc' all over my rifle sight, just as I was honin' in on Obey's Eames chair!!!!  He's in Belgium, isn't he??  Lulu made me do it!!!!!  On accountta not havin' no gin!

    You two should maybe tone down the violence. You're giving us anti-war types a bad rap.

    Don't make me come down there and....


    Shoot; TBTF kablooeys?  You must be American, not a Texan...

    And anyway, Doc's gonna make you resize that sucker, er else...

    Good hit. Thanks, I needed that.I gotta say though that real horses don't have fur. The only ones that do are those little defective ones that resulted from giving Canadien cops something to get around on. They call those cops Mounties for a reason.

     As for being sob3er, I know how to cure that situation.

    Acanuck keeps this one in his backyard...all rarin' ta go... he thinks anti-war folks gotta be wimps...


    Cute. But my pony actually has more sparkles than that.

    Who [that matters] gives a big rat's ass whether any war ever fought meets the qualifications of being a "just war"?

    At the risk of being cynical, I think the question that most modern quasi-democratic leaders are really asking themselves isn't whether it's a "just war", but rather whether they can convince their constituents that it's a "just war". So, yeah, although the reality of whether it's just might not matter to them, the perception of whether it's just often does. As such, that doesn't render the question irrelevant, but it might color how one answers the question.

    There are a lot of comments here, so let my boil down my end-of-thread thoughts into three points:

    1. If your moral position leads to lots more people being killed, you need to rethink it.

    The various tests of a just war only boil down to this: since the justification for fighting such a war is that it will save lives, it has to actually save lives that could not be saved any other way. Proportionality, last-resort, and so on are just corollaries of the basic idea. If your "good war" doesn't clear these minimal hurdles, it's not good.

    On the other hand, many of the objections to the Libyan interventions on moral grounds don't have anything to say about the civilian deaths that have actually been prevented. If not for the air strikes, Qaddafi's loyalists would be using tanks and planes to kill large numbers of civilian. If taking the moral high ground leads to many thousands of people being killed, it's not moral. High principles that allow bloody massacres do not impress me.

    2. I believe that the test of  morality is practice and not principle.

    Quinn and Stardust decide halfway through the thread that my position is "pragmatic," or else that the terms of the debate had sneakily switched from morality to pragmatism. What was clarifying to me about that moment is that Quinn and Stardust view "pragmatic" and "moral" as diametrically opposed. I, to put it mildy, do not.

    I believe that morality is meant to be put into practice. Thinking about morals, and working through moral positions, are preliminary steps to action, not goals in themselves. The ultimate question is, "How can we do the most good?" And that question is pragmatic: it is about achieving the good.

    I am ambivalent about the intervention myself, and not sure it will end as a just military action. (I would never call a military action entirely just until it's over, because a big escalation would change the moral nature of the fight.) But my qualms are "pragmatic." I am afraid that the people it's meant to protect will not be saved, or that the military action will escalate until it is as dangerous to the Libyan people as Qaddafi is. But those questions are about how many people live or die. I don't view other questions of purely abstract morality as moral at all.

    3. "Who am I?" is never the question when lives are at stake

    Quinn argues that the history and the identity of the war-making nation are key questions. That strikes me as strange. If we are talking about military occupation, then the history of the occupied and occupying nations is a very important practical question. But Quinn's argument is that a nation (or individual leader) who has done bad things in the past is disqualified from military action in an emergency.

    Are lives saved by evil people not saved? Are people killed in a massacre better off because they weren't saved by a morally-compromised rescuer? Of course not. Those people are dead. If the ethnic cleansers are coming to kill everyone in your town, the important thing is that someone stops them. Who stops them does not matter.

    Stalin's troops were not wrong to liberate Auschwitz. The Soviet conduct after the war was abominable, but fighting the Germans was entirely just (and self-defense). Was Stalin a monster, before World War II and after? Yes, yes, yes. Should he have been "disqualified" from driving the Germans out of Eastern Europe and freeing the remaining prisoners in the death camps? Should the prisoners in Auschwitz I have had to wait six more months, while the Germans tried to finish executing them all, for a more ideologically correct liberator?

    Speaking of the Germans, they had every right to help intervene to prevent ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and Serbia, even though the Germans had once been a malevolent occupier in that very place. The Germans are allowed to stop a genocide. The idea that since the Germans once perpetrated a genocide it would be wrong for them to stop one gets things backwards.

    If Haiti, God forbid, degenerated into a situation where the army was going to kill tens of thousands of civilians to put down an uprising, the United States should intervene, even though it has a long greasy history as an occupying power in Haiti.

    The Italians are allowed to keep Qaddafi from killing unarmed Libyans on an industrial scale. Never mind that the Italians used to be the colonial occupier. I don't think anyone in Libya wants to be under Italian rule again, but I don't think anyone would prefer to be killed by the home team than saved by a bunch of people they have bad history with. Is Berlusconi a terrible human being? Sure. That's no reason for the population of Benghazi to get slaughtered. Is having the Italian military come by really terrible symbolism? Oh, yes. But symbolism is a luxury. Keeping civilians from being killed is an imperative.

    I might have used the word 'academic' if I said 'pragmatic'.

    As far as this goes, it echoes Flavius's argument: "1. If your moral position leads to lots more people being killed, you need to rethink it."

    Short term, you and he undoubtedly are correct that lives will be saved; that's wonderful.  It's the longterm about which we don't know, as so often foreign intervention brings civil war, which ususally brings more deaths.  We know this because of Iraq and other places. 

    I will also ask again why the US couldn't have abstained on 1973 and allowed the other nations in whose interests it was to help the rebel forces, or who stood to benefit from the same, to help them.

    America’s and Europe’s tactical actions using military and economic tools during their long hegemony in the region have played a big part in creating the situation as it now stands. Are any of the weapons Khadaffi’s army use made in Libya? It is right and good that we try to prevent slaughter in Libya and if looked at only from that perspective anyone should support it. Judged only from that perspective, bombing Libya’s army could be considered just. If the bombing is done as a tactical action in support of a larger strategy of maintaining the hegemony which we need to continue our current way of being rich and powerful enough to stay rich and powerful, then the actions are not morally pragmatic, IMO, but cynically pragmatic. If that is the case, then our leaders assertion that the bombing is for a “just” purpose and done out of the good in our hearts is oraly pragmatic as long as their bullshit is believed.


    1. Pleased that your global focus just happens to have landed, oh... precisely where the cameras happened to show up! Zooming in on the civilians cowering before the madman Gaddafi. That's awesome, the way high moral principle just happened to show up.... there. Surely, you and others watching on American TV and seeing this massacre about to happen must be on the moral high ground here. Especially when you can wrap it up in terms like "Just War."

    Coupla nagging questions though. Starting with the fact that your cameras aren't in a dozen other nations where - right now - even more civilians huddle and crazed militaries await. Maybe those nations lack the requisite madman leader who starred in made-for-tv movies back in the 80's, and ummmm, oil. Because it's not as though Gaddafi is gonna take over the Middle East, with his 6 million citizens stuck in North Africa, and we just made business and political deals with him to get rid of any nasty big-time weapons. Nope, it's basically "civilians at risk" facing Famous Madman (with oil.) That's the equation. And if you don't have those things, you're really just... Africa, aren't you?

    Odd as well, that camera-placement thing. There seem to be almost none left in places like... Iraq, and Afghanistan. Where the daily death toll from the destruction just keeps on coming. And on a web-site populated by people whose party and President is right now engaged in ongoing war, deals with warlords and torturers, and run on a daily basis by the worst thieving corporations the world has to offer - all of it led in Cabinet by the worst of Reagan's old thugs (Gates) - well, you know it struck me that maybe that might enter into a Just War discussion. Seeing as how they're ongoing wars.

    Present tense.

    But you know what? People keep referring to them... in the past tense. As "history." So what am I to do, when Gaddafi's history (and present-day actions in his war) counts, but... ours doesn't? Shorter: If the US media, political and military leadership, democratic decision-making, courts and justice processes cannot right the ship on the wars already launched and continuing today, then how can people possibly feel it will decide rightly on this new one, and they won't be misled? How can anyone have faith that the war will be properly prosecuted? Not driven by financial considerations and poll-seeking? How can we know it will be exited sensibly?

    And - the point of all this - what gives us confidence that this does not bring down more death on the Libyan people than the deaths it sought to avoid in the first place, as it has so recently done in other nations, leaving them with even greater death and misery?

    It seems to me Doc, that it is your side which is operating without real-world ground beneath your feet, in this game of pragmatics. Seemingly everyone on this site, on every day, will tell me quite seriously that their national media, political decision-making and corporate structure is broken, not just in terms of its war-launching/fighting/ending capacity, but on every. single. other. issue. 

    So to not see even this risk - of ongoing death and suffering beyond the lives saved it this moment - to not weigh that in, is to be unpragmatic, unrealistic.

    In sum - and to toss your bomblet phrase back in your own lap - high principles, political parties and Presidential leaders who permit the continued operation of massive ongoing wars do not impress me either, Doc. "If your moral position protects those who killed lots of people, and sustains their ongoing suffering, you need to rethink it."

    2. Here, you have the right point - but the wrong people. It was your friend who set up the morality vs. pragmatics opposition, in his own inimitable style.  It was he who opposed "the practical question" and the "pragmatic" against a thread that "turns into an exploration of the moral virtue or not of actors or speakers"; and again, the "practical question about intervention" as opposed to a thread "about virtue and hypocrisy, and looking back at mistakes and supposed inconsistencies."

    You and he believe yourselves to be wrapped in pragmatics, your boots firm on the high ground of Just War, and yet are unwilling to consider any possible implications of the present-day wars being fought by your very country. This strikes me as remarkable. As though the American political equation has just put out its other (Democratic) eye.

    Pragmatics requires a clear sense of what one's own country is doing - that's relevant, not high moral talk. It also requires looking at one's own leaders. Seriously, we're at this same site that I've had to fight through fierce defences of Obama for putting Gates in charge (when I predicted - based on his decades of work - he would, come rain or shine, manage to preside over the continuance of war-making.) Same with McChrystal, who was elbow deep in torture when he was hired, but then people are shocked that somehow we're not only in the murk in Afghanistan, but also... that he was psycho. But somehow, the fact that I would look at our people, our leaders, their character and the actions which flow from it, is irrelevant... but we are to fear and tremble at the name Muammar? 

    I have no problem at all with being pragmatic. I just believe you and some others have no idea what "pragmatic" includes. 

    And if I may be irritable for one moment (ha!), when you do step in to sum up, please try to at least get the sides right in the argument. My argument was that the very questions set in opposition to pragmatics (and thus marginalizing) them, these questions of so-called "moral virtue" and "historic accident" --- are actually central to pragmatic, war-making, decision-making. 

    3. "Who am I?" is absolutely a question when lives are at stake. But I'm quite astonished that you stepped explicitly into the example of Stalin's liberation of Eastern Europe. [And BTW, yes, I'm glad they liberated Auschwitz, and fought the Nazis. Really.] But the evidence is also extremely clear that he and his troops and local allies hauled away not just a few hundred or a few thousand people to camps and eventual death, but... millions. And it was exactly this which made the people at risk maneuver so frantically to be in the right place for liberation, to support some troop movement and not others. Who... matters.

    The root difficulty between us strikes me as being that you and some others have zoomed in so tightly on the citizens facing Gaddafi that the larger or longer picture is seen as being (quite harshly) both "not moral" as well as "not practical." Seriously, read these concluding sentences from your last comment: 

    - High principles that allow bloody massacres do not impress me.

    - I don't view other questions of purely abstract morality as moral at all.

    - But symbolism is a luxury. Keeping civilians from being killed is an imperative.

    That's fairly harsh stuff, when what is being requested is their inclusion within the bounds of what is felt to be "pragmatic." 

    So, how about we bring it down a notch and look briefly at an example, of how what you and have labelled as symbolism, abstract morality and high principle come into practical play?

    --- Zoom in. You guys want to talk about avoiding a massacre. Great. But. Something - some thing - will happen after they've been saved. So, let's imagine it triggers an extended civil war. By preserving the rebels, but without being willing to put boots on the ground, this is not just possible, but a real probability. And see, the no boots on the ground thing? Putting that into the equation requires knowing one's own nation, how far it is overextended, what public opinion will support. i.e. It's not about Gaddafi, it's about us, and what we're willing to do.

    Am I moving too fast? 

    If so, do let me know, because we have to act, fast, and if we act so as to balance the two sides and thus create an extended civil war, we could easily be in the realm of not just thousands dead, but tens of thousands. More.

    So if this happens, should I pose these deaths back to you? 

    What's that? Another example? Ok, how about the Italians?

    So, is Italy's history, position and leadership merely just irrelevant symbolism? Ummm, #1, they used to be the colonial occupier, #2, they are just miles away across the water, #3, Gaddafi is a man with a record of bringing the terror/war home to his enemies' shores, and #4, Italy's leader is a fascist with a huge media network, presently facing jailtime.

    Not much that could go wrong there, pragmatically, now is there? And note, again this is all about these irrelevant factors - about Italy's history, make-up, location and leadership.

    Roll the film. What happens if Gaddafi tries to save himself by turning this into a larger conflagration, by, for instance, sending teams across the water into any of 1001 Italian ports and blowing the shit out of them. After al, damned hard to stop those little light boats across the water, eh? 

    Oh my, and there's France - so close-by as well!

    And bang boom, we're into a whole new level of the War on Terror, with a whole new wave of Axes of Evil, and places we need to be concerned about and fight in, and then, oh yeah... oil price hikes big enough to drive the price of food through the roof globally, and knock us all deeper into recession, and that means people starve and riot and governments worldwide fall and generate 101 other pressures to respond to.

    THESE are precisely the real-world concerns that politicians and military planners have to deal with. And they stem from having some sense of who Italy is, how they have acted, who is in charge, how they would react. The same way as a Libyan Civil War becomes a different game if we can't/won't put boots on the ground again - a factor relating to us, and who and where we are, and what our population will take.

    Thus, if I may reply in kind to your comment on how unimpressed you were, let me just say that a "Just War" discussion which exiles considerations of intention, character, history, experience and even present-day war-fighting is not in danger of soaking my boots with its depth... especially when followed in the comments by the sort of tarted up tough-talking nonsense we've all come to know and love from liberal intellectual circles, but which works especially well when it's led by CNN zooming in on our brave/pragmatic/moral (and just) pilots as they save the women and children of Benghazi. 

    Hint: Remember Tony Blair? He talked the same. sort. of. shit.

    quinn, you must have missed the part of the Doctors last comment where he said, "Class dismissed".

    Oh, that's right. I'm a college teacher.

    Since I am a college teacher, no lives are actually at stake in these questions.

    Since I am a college teacher, the question "will civilians die or not?" is just a schoolteachery question.

    Since I am a college teacher, the question of whether or not Silvio Berlusconi is a good person must be more pressing than the question of whether civilians die or not.

    But I'm not in the classroom today, and the question of whether people will get killed or won't seems pretty real world to me. The question of Berlusconi's moral authority strikes me as a seminar-room question. If you strip it down to what it really means, it's just this:

    Those people would be better off being killed than being protected by a guy like that.

    Nuts to that, I say. Sorry if that's too academic for you.

    Stardust's fear that intervention will lead to civil war also strikes me as a little, ah, academic, since there was already a civil war before the intervention.You can't start stuff that was already happening when you got there.

    It's true, as you said upthread, lulu, that we face many, many problems at home. I'd certainly like to spend a lot more money on our real domestic issues. That's why I said, in the original post:

    There are various grounds on which a reasonable person could object to the Libya strikes (diplomatic reasons, military reasons, pragmatic reasons, reasons of consistency, even Constitutional reasons).

    "We can't afford it," is a good reason. If that's your objection, I have no argument. Never actually offered one.

    But since I'm not in a classroom today, I have only one question: how many civilians die?

    Oh, that's right. I'm a college teacher.

    Since I am a college teacher, no lives are actually at stake in these questions.

    Did I suggest anywhere in this or any other thread that it wasn't a question of life or death that deserved due consideration?

    Since I am a college teacher, the question "will civilians die or not?" is just a schoolteachery question.

     Did I address anything you said with less than an honest attempt to debate it or otherwise present salient points?

    Since I am a college teacher, the question of whether or not Silvio Berlusconi is a good person must be more pressing than the question of whether civilians die or not.

    Did I ever say the name  Silvio Berlusconi? Did I mention the specific character of any leader in any of my statements? The only reference I find to my personal feelings about leaders is in the following quote of myself where I addressed a hypothetical. "I could be for intervention and despise the leader who made the decision if I believed he made it for wrong reasons."

    But I'm not in the classroom today, and the question of whether people will get killed or won't seems pretty real world to me. The question of Berlusconi's moral authority strikes me as a seminar-room question. If you strip it down to what it really means, it's just this:

    Those people would be better off being killed than being protected by a guy like that.

    Nuts to that, I say. Sorry if that's too academic for you.

     Sorry if your pissed off knee jerk reaction causes you to lose your ability to read. .

    It's true, as you said upthread, lulu, that we face many, many problems at home. I'd certainly like to spend a lot more money on our real domestic issues. That's why I said, in the original post:

     I never said anything about many domestic problems up this thread.

        There are various grounds on which a reasonable person could object to the Libya strikes (diplomatic reasons, military reasons, pragmatic reasons, reasons of consistency, even Constitutional reasons).

    Did you see me anywhere on this thread saying that the intervention was wrong? I only asked questions about "Just War Theory" and then later made my assertion that I do not see how the theory affects reality.

    "We can't afford it," is a good reason. If that's your objection, I have no argument. Never actually offered one.

    But since I'm not in a classroom today, I have only one question: how many civilians die?

    You got me on that on, teacher. I don't know even though I did some extra home work all on my own. I got out a text and did some reading on your subject, "Just War Theory". [Extra credit?]   I hope you will read ME before you give me too harsh a grade.

    You know what, LULU? I apologize for that. I was responding to your "class dismissed" line as an extension of  quinn's long comment. I read you as saying amen to his comment.

    And I should have addressed your earlier specific comment, up the thread, and separate your points from quinn's.

    As far as the previous comment goes, I would agree that I'm only with the bombing as long as it's about stopping the current bloodshed, and not with it if (or when) it turns into a long-term effort to shore up the international status quo.

    The "class dismissed" comment clearly did get under my skin, as it was intended to.

    What is it about naming an individual that somehow - in your mind - magically moves the discussion from one of practicality... and over into (apparently) irrelevant personal morality?

    I mean, do I really need to spell this out? 

    If you go to war with a monster and a mobster, then the conduct of your war changes. For instance, if Canada goes into a war led by George W Bush, are you telling me that there is absolutely no material difference than if it is led by Barack Obama? Seems to me that's the view of the most extreme Bush = Obama fanatics.

    In the same way, I mentioned that all 4 Allied leaders named are in tenuous electoral positions, and thus, are looking desperately for things that will make them look leader-like, in the face of poor domestic performances. It is widely disussed in American politics how Presidents who don't have the ability to pass domestic legislation may look for foreign policy gain. I can assure you, it's the same in the 4 Allies countries.

    As for Berlusconi, the Wikileaks documents show the US Government itself is highly concerned with his extraordinary personal links with Putin, who is a tyrant-mobster not just of real power, but of great canniness. Ally their seeming desire for personal wealth with great media empires, roles inside and outside NATO, and you have a recipe which makes for serious distrust.

    But you - and others here - keep explicitly labelling these real-world pragmatic issues as having to do with "moral authority" (or "moral virtue") and being best discussed in seminar rooms.

    At this point, I'm just going to say, that... is ludicrous. 

    It has nothing to do with whether he personally is a pervert and molester of teens (though that makes his "humanitarian" reasoning appear a biiiiit weaker, I must say), but has everything to do with --- how the war will be waged, how it will be continued if/as it is handed off, what the risks are of leaks and double-dealing, how much short-term political and PR concerns will over-ride actual war-fighting and citizen protection, etc.

    In short, it is not whether the people in the firing line are better off being killed than protected by a guy like that... but whether more of them WILL be killed as a result of "protection" from a guy like that.

    That is no seminar question, but hey - pose on.

    Uh-oh, Quinn; don't look now.  "Canada to lead Libyan Mission".  (along with "But who leads Canadia".)

    (Nice picture of your friend Harper, though.)


    Yeah, tell me about it. We have two of the worst assholes in Canadian politics running - psychopath Harper, and Iggy-Lurch, the ego that walks like a man. We're in hell. Minority governments are great in that they don't let anyone do too much damage, but it sure would be nice if we'd move into a stage of some sane leaders. 

    Yeah, but then there's No-confidence vote.  Where will that get ya?  Elections?  Could we rent you some candidates?  We are over-stuffed with them.  What will you bid for a Tim Pawlenty?  A Ging-rich? 

    I think quinn might be more interested in a Sarah Palin (like new!) instead.

    I think he'd rather shut down his blogsite, shoot himself in the head, and ship his body to France.

    Accepted and I will only add, for now, that I have skin too, and it was once  pretty intensely invested in the game when I would have much preferred being in college. And my  skin too got worn thin in a few places. I do not take any of these questions lightly and I certainly do have strong feelings about questions, the answers to which have life or death consequences, be they academic questions or otherwise.

    I was a litlle bit spare on words, sorry, but I guess I would have thought you'd take my meaning.  I was wrong.  What I meant was that if Gadaffi is brought down, then the hard stuff starts in building a new nation, and often the factions, tribes, fight each other, equally bloody civil wars.  It may not be as hard as in Iraq, which is still horrid from all our 'nation building', but even now no one is quite sure who is whom in the rebel force.  Insurrection, civil war; I dunno.

    But it will be interesting to see which nations participating want to exert influence, especially since there are arguably plenty of potential benefits to reap, both resources and geopolitical.

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