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Sunday, March 27, 2011

MUST READ

I very strongly urge all of my readers to go to Professor Juan Cole's blog [ www.juancole.com ] and read his long post today on the moral justification of the Libyan intervention. It is, in my opinion, completely correct. This is a must read. If you look for it in Google, try "informed opinion," which is the name of his blog.

7 comments:

Chris said...

Using my phone to read and type, so I had to skim.

I think he gets an argument wrong regarding the lefts call of hypocrisy for intervening here not there.

We call hypocrisy because we intervene either way, but cherry pick when want to back a dictator against a popular uprising: Bahrain, Yemen, and Honduras under Obama. And when we side with the people: Libya. However up until the uprising in Libya, both Obama and bush had escalated trade relations with libya knowing qadaffi was receiving major kick backs. It's the same with Egypt. We support dictators, for economic interest, until it's no longer sustainable, then we support the opposition hoping to save face and retain said economic interest. That's hypocrisy through and through.

What bothers me the most about the intervention is congresses and the populations ambivalence to the executive, who stands at the helm of the most destructive force on the planet - our military - freely walking in and out of combat without oversight and censure. It's a moral hazard. No matter how beneficial it may be this minute, it's an illegitimate form of dire power, that could in the future, and has in the past, led to bloodshed that would make Yahweh quiver.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

I think we are talking at cross purposes, and actually agree. I think it would be far better if the US had a very small military force, capable only of repelling actual invasions. The evidence of the past 70 years is that the US too often uses its military for malign purposes. But given that the military exists, and is massive, I think intervening in this case was the right thing to do, regardless of the motives of those who made the decision. I think that is what Cole is saying as well.

NotHobbes said...

UK goverment authorised sales of stun grenades and water cannons to Libya until recently so more than touch of hypocrisy in this country.

Still, we can always re-arm that nation once the outcome is decided. Good piece of business eh

Chris said...

Well we don't quite agree. I'm too hesitant to say the US should of intervened in Libya, as my fear of our exploding moral hazard in regards to executive military power is only exacerbated by intervention without oversight.

GTChristie said...

I think that article gets it mostly right. The question Chris raises is whether this intervention is hypocritical, by cherry-picking which corrupt dictators/tyrants to oppose or support.

A case can be made that it's hypocritical to intervene in this situation and not others, if you accept, as a moral principle, that we must always intervene against tyrrany anywhere it is found. On that premise, we are selectively applying our principles. But I think that view over-simplifies the problem. (Philosophically, I would say it clouds realities by making them conform to abstractions, but that point isn't necessary to the argument I'm making here.)

Reality check: We have no choice but to selectively apply [whatever] standards (and by extension, selectively intervene in conflicts). Otherwise we are at war with more than half the planet. We must cherry-pick our interventions from both a practical, logistical standpoint and also from a political standpoint ("world cop" or hegemon?).

It's important not to conflate cherry-picking our interventions with cherry-picking our values. (I think we do that sometimes too, viz Bush2, but bracket that for a moment.) The relevant value that should operate consistently is this: True liberals must side with the legitimate interests of the common people (or so I think), especially against oppression by the corrupt. (In fact I believe this is part of the "American creed" that both left and right actually agree on, at least in principle.)

That value can (should) remain constant, even when it raises questions about implementation.

In this case, the contested "implementation" of our values is war (and by extension how such a war is justified).

Now, war is an extreme measure, so it ought (!) to be justified only by extreme circumstances. Libya clearly became an extreme situation -- by most accounts, which I think are credible, Gadhafi was approaching a slaughter of innocents.

It's never pretty, but the alternative to intervention in this case is to put our hands in our pockets, shrug and walk away -- another form of hypocrisy. That's what the article is asking: do we care about the oppressed people in Libya, about to be slaughtered, or not?

Choose your hypocrisy, in other words.

I will choose for freedom from oppression (provided it's oppression, not simply coercion to preserve the rule of law) and especially I will choose against the kind of massacre that was shaping up in Libya, every time. I'd rather be hypocritical on the side of life and liberty.

The question is whether this particular situation is better characterized as hypocrisy or as pragmatism. I think it's pragmatism.

(And thanks for the link, Professor.)

Chris said...

Sorry, I believe you set up a false framework, and thus reached a conclusion that's not quite encompassing my critique of hypocrisy.

I'm going to quote the meat of your argument so I can more explicitly point out the error:

"A case can be made that it's hypocritical to intervene in this situation and not others, if you accept, as a moral principle, that we must always intervene against tyrrany anywhere it is found. On that premise, we are selectively applying our principles."

Reality check: We have no choice but to selectively apply [whatever] standards (and by extension, selectively intervene in conflicts). Otherwise we are at war with more than half the planet. "

You are assuming we only intervene with liberator goals. I have consistently stated the error of hypocrisy comes from the fact that in Bahrain, Yemen, and Honduras (just under Obama, countless countries since our founding), we sent the states aid against the people. We CHOSE TO PREVENT LIBERTY for economic interest. This is going on alongside the Libya affair. I'm not against cherry picking moments of liberation. I'm against backing tyrants and dictators directly, while telling the world we are helping the Libyan people. Clearly, given the former three incidents, we are not there to help the Libyan people. We weren't there to help them when we were ensuring Qaddafi received massive oil kick backs between 2000-2011 under Bush and Obama. The NYTimes just had an article about this a few days ago.

Finally: "Now, war is an extreme measure, so it ought (!) to be justified only by extreme circumstances. "

And this is my REAL grievance. War was not justified by extreme circumstances. As I do not think, and anyone again emphasizing a pro liberty-freedom agenda here should agree, that giving the executive the sole right to justify/not-justify going to war, is a just outlet! Congress has no say in the matter, nor did the American people. This is the moral hazard that horrifies me, when the executive sits at the helm of the most destructive force on the planet.

Finally I admit this whole venture may turn out to be a utilitarian plus for the world. And, I'm more than prepared to admit I was wrong on that charge. However, the moral hazard of our perennially augmenting executive power, will have dire consequences.

GTChristie said...

Well I do agree with you about executive power. Debate before deployment is a good thing and precious little was done. I also see your definition of hypocrisy has some merit, in the purest sense. The govt always seem to make the determination in favor of stability (which often proves unstable in the crucible of history) no matter who provides it, and that is a weakness we definitely need to work on.