Rat's Nest
Bloggage, rants, and occasional notes of despair

A real anti-war argument

Unlike the contemptible Hesiod, Jim Henley at Unqualified Offerings has some real anti-war arguments. Let’s take a look at those.

He writes:

The Clinton Administration throughout the nineties, and the Bush Administration since, have said right out that simply cooperating with the inspection regime would not get them to support lifting sanctions - only Saddam's loss of power would convince them to do that. And everything the US has said and done for the last ten years indicates that it expects Saddam to die as part of the "regime change."

Deterrence requires two components:

  1. A sure penalty for noncompliance.
  2. A clear benefit to compliance.

US policy toward Iraq has lacked factor 2 for a decade. Current, stated policy is

  1. If Saddam uses, acquires or conceals weapons of mass destruction, he dies.
  2. If Saddam foreswears use, acquisition and concealment of weapons of mass destruction, he dies.

Here's another policy we have going:

  1. If Saddam subsidizes the families of Palestinian suicide bombers, he dies.
  2. If Saddam stops subsidizing the families of Palestinian suicide bombers, he dies.

Ask yourself: According to the US government's stated policy ("regime change" no matter what), what benefit does the USG offer Saddam for ceasing to subsidize suicide bombers?

Answer: None.

Now, the position that Henley seems to be implicitly taking here is unlikely to delight the Warblogger Watch crowd, and is in fact opposed to his own declared position as a "non-interventionist libertarian isolation". But let’s look at this argument and its implications as an anti-war argument.

Henley is absolutely correct that this policy amounts to "Saddam Hussein must die". Such an attitude can only be justified by the counter-argument that Hussein is so utterly untrustworthy that whatever protestations he might make are utterly unbelievable, that he actually cannot be negotiated with because his word is meaningless. I will leave to the readership to decide whether Hussein is actually so untrustworthy.

We (the U.S.) have also introduced a problem into this situation by declaring at the beginning what the minimum acceptable concessions by Hussein’s replacement would be. As any bazaar haggler knows, one doesn’t begin by saying and meaning, "I’ll pay fifty dinars for this lamp, but not an isar more". The error here is twofold; if one could have gotten the lamp for forty dinars, one has just overpaid. If, on the other hand, the lamp seller really won’t part for it for less than sixty dinars, one ends up with no lamp. This is tolerable if one can just move to the next stall in the bazaar; it is less tolerable if there is only one lamp seller (or vicious tyrant of Iraq) to deal with.

If the only charge were that the U.S. has engaged in spectacularly inept diplomacy, then I will plead nolo contendere (on the U.S.’s behalf) and throw the country on the mercy of the court. However, after that has been said, the question still remains, "But what do we do about Iraq?" It’s perfectly valid – and quite possibly correct – to argue that our history of negotiation with Iraq sucks. But, unless we also advance the argument that the world must lie in the bed that previous U.S. have badly made, this becomes irrelevant to question of what happens.

The difficulty here is in Henley’s non-interventionism. If we drop back on our demands to Hussein (or tell some Iraqi general, "Here’s the deal: overthrow Saddam and meet these conditions, and we’ll you all the goons, guns, and gold that you think you’ll need"), then we are still intervening. Henley worries that we have no realistic carrot, and he is right to do so, but putting forward these demands also requires a realistic stick. Unless we are going to say to Hussein, "Do whatever you please, just don’t do it here", then in any discussion with him (or even a successor) we must say, "We want these thing or else’, and "or else" needs to a bit more than "We’ll sponsor a really nasty resolution about you at the U.N.". The proposal "Do whatever you please, but not here" is actually non-interventionist and isolationist (the principle here is that the U.S. government’s responsibility to protect and serve is limited to the people of the U.S., and can only be extended outside it if it is determined that, say, China is panting to occupy the Ungava Peninsula).

Henley states that he "rather likes" Seth Farber’s (a/k/a The Talking Dog) idea of "Club Med for Dictators", but goes on say that

The problem with TD's humane solution is that the busybodies have ruined it for everyone - after Pinochet's and Milosevic's post-abdication troubles, no dictator can count on retiring unmolested, no matter what agreements he thinks he has in place.

This is not true; Farber’s proposal implies that going outside of "Club Ted" would be at the ex-dictator’s own risk. This is actually a fairly non-interventionist proposal; to follow ex-dictators around with SOF bodyguards would be interventionist. Here, we are deciding that Saddam Hussein partying it up in Waikiki is preferable to Saddam Hussein partying it up in Baghdad, and giving him that choice; whether he should be allowed to take it does not come into consideration.

I fear that Henley’s non-interventionism is confused in his own mind with not fighting the Third Gulf War.

John "Akatsukami" Braue Friday, August 09, 2002