Libya: More questions than answers

On the question of international intervention in Libya I’m afraid I can’t offer any deep insights or unique wisdom. I have read numerous arguments expressing support or reluctance about this engagement and, unfortunately, I have found both sets of arguments compelling. I’ll list some of those in a bit, but first let me try to explain how I’m trying to go about thinking about this.

I try to view military action primarily through the lens of just war theory. That ancient and wise approach generally makes a distinction between two sets of criteria, one for determining whether or not going to war is justifiable and the second for determining the just conduct of war once that first set of criteria are satisfied and war is under way. This latest conflict raises concerns for me with regard to both sets of criteria, mainly because I don’t think the two categories are as easily separated in practice as they are in the abstract.

One of the jus ad bellum criteria, for example, is that it must have a reasonable chance of success. That is not easily separable from the jus in bello questions regarding the proper conduct of the war in question. It is sometimes said that the question “Is it just?” is separate from “Is it wise?” but I’m not sure those questions are easily distinguished either. If it is unwise, then it seems unlikely to have a reasonable chance of success or to truly be the last resort — since presumably some other, wiser course (including, perhaps, doing nothing at all) is being regarded as wiser because it seems likelier to produce a better outcome (or less likely to produce a disastrous outcome).

If we completely separate the two sets of criteria — bracketing off considerations about the conduct of this intervention, even though I don’t think such considerations can really ever be separated off — then I think a strong case can be made that intervention in Libya satisfies those jus ad bellum criteria. I can appreciate the view espoused by many that this is a just option.

Some go even further, arguing that this is not merely an option, but an obligation. I think that goes too far in the case of the United States, although it’s more persuasive in the case of France, which had already taken the step of recognizing the rebel council in Benghazi as the official government of Libya. I haven’t seen this addressed much elsewhere, but it seems to me that puts the matter into a different category for France than it is in for those nations, like the U.S., that did not officially recognize the new government. (It may be that France was over-hasty in declaring this rebellious bunch the new, legitimate authority in Libya, but I’m not really in a position to say, since I’m an American and if France hadn’t previously hastily recognized the rebellious council in Philadelphia that wouldn’t be the case.)

So I’ll concede that a serious argument can be made that this intervention is justified if we allow for a stark distinction and separation between that question and the question of its just conduct. But I can’t also concede that we should — or can — allow for such a stark separation.

The United Nations resolution authorizing — and, actually, requiring — this intervention calls for a no-fly zone in Libya. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates tried to clarify beforehand what this means: that it would require waging war against Moammar Gadhafi’s forces in Libya. Establishing a no-fly zone means conquering another nation’s air space and that, in turn, means conquering any forces on the ground that could threaten that air space. It means bombs and missiles — lots and lots of bombs and missiles. And that means death — lots and lots of death.

International approval and support for establishing this no-fly zone — the basis for the claim that this intervention is based on legitimate authority — was, I think, premised on a pervasive misperception of modern military air power. That misperception always leads to a backlash when the reality of such power is witnessed, yet even then the misperception is not corrected, but rather is further misperceived as evidence of deliberate malice.

It’s probably wrong to try to trace this misperception to a single time and event, but I think one watershed moment came during a press briefing in the first Gulf War, when Gen. Norman Schwartzkopf stood before the cameras and before the world and showed a videotape that purported to show a laser-guided American bomb dropping into a chimney, destroying its military target and only its military target. It was a powerful piece of propaganda — one that may have helped to save lives at the time by helping to spur the mass-surrender of tens of thousands of Iraqi conscripts. But it wasn’t an accurate representation, and it fostered a warped expectation that haunts us still.

That misperception encouraged by “Stormin’ Norman’s” video continues to shape decisions and reactions not just among America’s enemies and allies, but in Congress, in the broader public and even within the military itself. This has led to magical thinking — the belief that America’s awesome military might is capable of a surgical precision that is almost never really an option.

Our paper ran a local reax story when the intervention in Libya began. It quoted one resident, a reserve officer in the Army, as saying, “U.S. involvement is critical because we’re probably the only country with the capability of launching a cruise missile from 1,500 miles away and hitting a target the size of a refrigerator.”

And we can do that, sort of — provided we know exactly where that refrigerator is, that our intelligence and our maps are 100-percent accurate and trustworthy, that we can be 100-percent certain that the refrigerator is the right refrigerator, that it does not move between the moment we pinpoint its location with 100-percent accuracy and the time it takes that intelligence to travel the 1,500 miles back to the launch site, and that nothing stands between our launch site and the refrigerator, or moves or steps in between them.

But even then, even given those nearly nonexistent ideal conditions, there’s still this: The explosion caused by a cruise missile is much bigger than the size of a refrigerator. Bombs explode and explosions are never laser-precise. Blasts blast. It’s what they do — battering bodies and buildings that fall on top of other bodies as they expand outwards in a messy, uncontrollable, imprecise wave of destruction.

Air power is never wholly discriminate. When we pretend that it is otherwise — when we delude ourselves and others into thinking that air power is precise, surgical and under control — we create a whole host of problems. One such problem is that we wind up killing innocent people because we’ve convinced ourselves that our precise, surgical bombs could never hit the wrong people and that it’s perfectly safe to use them in cities or other areas packed with noncombatants. And the utterly predictable, utterly inevitable outcome of that use of air power — the death of noncombatants — winds up creating a huge backlash because we have oversold the precision of this weaponry. We have convinced others — and ourselves — that collateral damage isn’t a possibility when the truth is that it is unavoidable. So when it occurs, as it will, it appears we intended it to happen.

Bombs and missiles can be used in ways that minimize and reduce their indiscriminate damage, but their use almost never allows us to guarantee with certainty that we are discriminating between legitimate and illegitimate targets, between permissible and impermissible targets, between combatants and noncombatants. That doesn’t preclude any otherwise justifiable military action that might include — or rely on — air power and bombs and missiles. The category of “collateral damage” has often been appealed to as cynical cover for indiscriminate war, but the category, the distinction, is itself legitimate and necessary.

What is not legitimate — and what remains a huge problem for any actual or potential American military action — is the magical thinking about air power that leads international observers and even American military leaders to imagine that it can be used with impossible precision as a clean, neat, surgical instrument of perfectly discriminate war.

Anyway, following are some of the arguments for and against the wisdom and justness of the current intervention in Libya.

First, here’s Marc Lynch, professor of Middle East Studies at George Washington University, responding to Terry Gross’ question about “the pros and cons” of intervention in Libya:

Well, the cons are enormous because, you know, anyone who’s lived through the last 10 years and lived through Iraq can understand all the reasons why we want to be very wary about intervening in another Arab country without a great deal of thought about what kind of role we might have to play in a post-war Libya or post-war Iraq and really having to worry about all the unintended consequences of something which seemed like a good idea going in.

And I think that I, like many of us, look around, and we see that a lot of these questions don’t seem to have been answered or even asked.

On the other side, I spent a lot of time reading Arab blogs, talking to Arabs, watching Arab media, and I can see how important Libya really is to what’s happening inside the Arab world right now.

And you can see that there is this incredible momentum towards change, where the hopes of everybody in the region were being raised, and then when you got to Gadhafi beginning to respond with really brutal violence, it had an effect across the entire region.

And they did look to the United States and to the international community to rescue something which was going badly wrong. And so I think what you have is a real gamble where we see that an intervention is in many ways the moral thing to do, and it could have really positive, region-wide effects. But if it goes wrong, it could actually bring all of this to a crashing halt.

Here is Michael Walzer, with whom I am always reluctant to disagree, arguing against this intervention. Walzer acknowledges the unspoken presence in all such debates over the past 17 years, the matter of Rwanda and the unforgivable international failure to intervene there. Libya, Walzer says, is not Rwanda:

None of this would matter if this were a humanitarian intervention to stop a massacre. But that is not what is happening in Libya today. There would have been a cruel repression after a Gadhafi victory, and it would have been necessary to help rebels and dissidents escape and to make sure that they had a place to go. Watching the repression wouldn’t be easy (though we seem to be having no difficulty doing that in Bahrain and Yemen). But the overthrow of tyrants and the establishment of democracy have to be local work, and in this case, sadly, the locals couldn’t do it. Foreigners can provide all sorts of help—moral, political, diplomatic, and even material. Maybe neighbors, who share ethnicity and religion with the Libyan people, could do more. But a military attack of the sort now in progress is defensible only in the most extreme cases. Rwanda and Darfur, where we didn’t intervene, would have qualified. Libya doesn’t.

Conor Foley responds to Walzer at Crooked Timber, and he too makes some credible points, concluding:

On balance I am in favour of the current intervention in Libya. As I said in my previous post, I think that the UN resolution authorizing it puts the protection of civilians at the centre of its mandate and sends a clear signal to governments of the world that they cannot massacre their own people with impunity.

I do not know what the end game is. I accept that the campaign will result in people being killed by allied airstrikes and I presume that the intervening governments have selfish as well as altruistic motives for their actions. However, I think that the situation in Libya immediately prior to the intervention passed the threshold test that I set out above. I think that the UN is fulfilling its responsibility to protect the lives of civilians in this case.

That’s a much more qualified and nuanced endorsement than that James Kirchick offers in World Affairs. I’m suspicious of his over-eager tone — there’s a whiff here of the thrill-seeking that Chris Hedges diagnosed so well in War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning and Kirchick undermines his case by taking pot-shots at strawmen “liberals” in contrast to whom he imagines he will appear tough — but he does offer a serious argument that this may be more like Rwanda (or Bosnia) than Walzer allows:

The guiding principle of American foreign policy should be to support freedom overseas, when we can, where we can, and however we can. There are no firm rules by which this principle can be implemented. Libya, however, presented a rather obvious case: a murderous dictator who had the blood of many thousands of innocent people—including American citizens—on his hands, who had fomented instability in his region, and who had for many years been a leading sponsor of international terrorism, was suddenly confronted by a mass domestic insurgency. He reacted violently, in a way that rendered moot whatever economic benefit he was providing to the West. He all but announced his intention to commit genocide against his own people, stating that he would “cleanse Libya house by house,” practically rendering international intervention a legal imperative due to the stipulations of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, to which the United States is a signatory. Furthermore, from a basic practical standpoint, and unlike in Yemen and Bahrain, Libya is located on the periphery of Europe, meaning that continued strife would have resulted in a mass refugee exodus onto the shores of NATO states.

I would note that “however we can” pleads for, and implies, a great deal of qualification.

I came across that argument via Jeffrey Goldberg at The Atlantic, who has, in a series of posts, been raising many important questions about this intervention — many of which don’t seem to have been asked, let alone answered. His colleague James Fallows — another person with whom I am always very reluctant to disagree — focuses on just one of those questions, “What Happens Then?“:

After this spectacular first stage of air war, what happens then? If the airstrikes persuade Gadhafi and his forces just to quit, great! But what if they don’t? What happens when a bomb lands in the “wrong” place? As one inevitably will. When Arab League supporters of the effort see emerging “flaws” and “abuses” in its execution? As they will. When the fighting goes on and the casualties mount up and a commitment meant to be “days, not weeks” cannot “decently” be abandoned, after mere days, with so many lives newly at stake? When the French, the Brits, and other allies reach the end of their military resources — or their domestic support — and more of the work naturally shifts to the country with more weapons than the rest of the world combined? …

I hope to be proven wrong in these concerns. I hope the results are swift, decisive, merciful, and liberating, and that they hasten the spread of the Arab Dawn. But I assert that it is much better to be proven wrong in that way, and to have thought too much about “What happens then?” possibilities — than to have thought too little about them, which I fear we have done.

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  • Andrew C.

    First? Regardless, I support the actions taken in Libya simply because of the massacre the situation would have become without military action. Next to the protection of innocent people, protocol can be damned. That said, taking a cavalier attitude towards war is always a recipe for certain, monumental disaster.

  • Idolatry

    I’m a little queasy about the argument that Libya isn’t as bad as Rwanda, Darfur, or other genocides and therefore intervention was justified in those instances but isn’t justified in this instance.

    The main problem is that we won’t know the extent of the massacre until after everybody is already dead and its too late to stop it.

    Even if we were perfectly prescient regarding the extent of the massacre/genocide/whatever, where do we draw the line re: intervention? If a foreign government kills a million of its citizens, do we intervene? What about 50,000 killed? 5,000 dead? 5,000 dead, and 50,000 refugees?

    And, this might reek of adventurism and over-simplification, but I can’t get over the fact that Qaddafi had already murdered thousands of his own people, was about to murder thousands more, and the international community had the capacity to stop it. Its tough to find a moral argument that everyone should just sit back and let it happen. If the Universal Declaration on Human Rights means anything, it means we have a moral and legal obligation to step in when we know a tyrant is about to murder his own people.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=752002772 Andrew Glasgow

    What really seals the deal for me, so to speak, is that the rebels in Libya were begging the international community to help them. That’s something that wasn’t happening before the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

  • Anonymous

    I agree with Andrew Glasgow.

    In Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. attempted to manufacture democracies in places where the political will to implement and maintain democracy did not exist, at least not to the extent necessary to make democracy happen. The U.S. has therefore had to fight insurgents among the common people rather than having most of the people’s support in creating democratic regimes. In Libya, the people clearly DO want democracy. They just aren’t militarily strong enough to defeat Gadhafi. In this case, the countries intervening are feeding off the sentiment of Libya’s people, not trying to create sentiment that was not previously widespread. The widespread support of the Libyan people should also help prevent a lengthy debacle such as happened in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    My main concerns are that other repressive regimes may be getting a free pass while everyone focuses on Libya, as Jesurgislac pointed out, and that a war in Libya may bankrupt the U.S. and possibly other Western countries.

  • Anonymous

    As someone with a friend currently in Libya, I can say that I’m all for the international intervention.

    I don’t think anyone really thought that the no-fly zone would mean no civilian casualties, but Gaddafi was shelling civilian residences and hospitals. He had kill squads driving around in jeeps shooting anyone they saw on the street. He was shutting off electricity and water to cities.

    This wasn’t going to be some sort of mild annoyance to people there, they’re scared for their lives.

    Without the no-fly zone my friend might have ended up unable to ever leave. She was very concerned that she’d be arrested just for chatting online. Even before the uprising there was gunfire every night.

    I refuse to endorse just sitting back and watching that.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=752002772 Andrew Glasgow

    Or, to put it another way: Fred, you’ve repeatedly asked on this blog how anyone could stand by and just watch as the end of the world happens. Well for hundreds of thousands of Libyans the most horrible interpretation of Revelation is what they live every day.

    I wish I’d tried to act about that sooner. ‘Cause for half a decade now I’ve known people from there and just sat here as their own antichrist tries to crush them. The world’s suddenly sat up and realized what’s going on and is fighting back. Trying to save the world for people who considered it all but over.

    Perhaps they’re not doing it for admirable reasons, but I cannot think that they are anything but in the right.
    Flag

    Quoted For Truth.

    Doing the right thing for the wrong reasons, still gets the right thing done.

  • Anonymous

    There are so many reasons why I know that this war with Libya is a bad idea that I hardly know where to start, but let me begin with the simplest and clearest.

    Calling this a “no fly zone” or an “intervention” doesn’t change the plain fact that this is a war, and starting a war – no matter what justification you think up – is always a bad idea. Like starting a fire in a dry forest at midsummer, you may think you’re in control but you have no idea where the war is going. Afghanistan and Iraq should make that plain to the most enthusiastic war supporter, but for some reason the Charlie Browns of the world are still saying “Ah, but it will be different THIS time”.

    The motivations for the war are far from clear, but it’s also clear what it is NOT motivated by.

    It’s not because Gaddafi was moving against the rebellion with unparalleled brutality – the King of Bahrain is putting down the rebellion in his country with the same brutality as Gaddafi, and not only is Bahrain not being bombed by the UK, the King will be one of the guests at the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton in a few weeks. Any protests from France, the US, even from the UK government that this brutal dictator who has summoned foreign mercenaries to kill his own people ought not to be the guest of British royalty at a state occasion? David Cameron, who has made passionate speech in support of attacking Libya for the sake of the rebels, will also be at the Royal wedding, despite the obvious risk of a US cruise missile in defense of democracy. (The talking up of Gaddafi as the Worst Tyrant Ever ought to make anyone remember how Saddam Hussein was talked up the same way for the same reason: to justify war.)

    It’s not because the US or the UK or France are eager to support the cause of democracy in the Middle East. In fact, it’s clear that the governments which have been happy to maintain despots in the Middle East while voicing token support for democracy, are weirdly disconcerted by the discovery that a grassroots, secular rebellion in the Middle East might leave them facing a cluster of new democracies, lacking the convenient despot eager to buy arms and sell oil and keep his people in line.

    I think they want in on the action not for any humanitarian reasons (as previously discussed), but because they want a foothold in the new Middle East – they want at least one of the new governments in the area beholden to Western military power. This may fail, but even if it does, it had still provided a crushing reminder to the fragile defiance of the uprisings across the Middle East, that all their standing in all the Tahrir Squares means nothing against the power of a cruise missile smashing down.

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

    Calling this a “no fly zone” or an “intervention” doesn’t change the plain fact that this is a war, and starting a war – no matter what justification you think up – is always a bad idea…

    …It’s not because Gaddafi was moving against the rebellion with unparalleled brutality

    So wait – if someone WAS starting a war because of Gaddafi’s brutality, would that be okay, or not?

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_Q2FOBXW4HQD3JIHACAFFJOCVKQ Amber

    I think the U.S. is doing the right things here, despite some misgivings. There are several distinctions between this and any other potential intervention — distinctions that both improve the odds of success and make the intervention itself “more right.”

    1) Known madman and massacrist. Gaddafi’s gone much further and used means far more violent than any other current Arab government, no matter how you slice it. (although Yemen continues to backslide, it STILL isn’t as bad atm)
    2) Actual uprising asking for intervention, including high-level defections and an interim (albeit uncertain) government. I think Walzer does a poor job analyzing the strength of the rebel forces here. Just because they can’t deal with fighters and tanks doesn’t mean they’re weak or somehow not a factor in all this.
    3) Fewer other options. I know it’s not popular to say that we should treat our allies different from those who aren’t allies, but it’s a fact that when you have an alliance with another nation, you have more options to constrain bad behavior.
    4) Multilateral action. It may have taken weeks but we managed it, somehow, and it hasn’t fallen apart yet. It’s not certain that we won’t get stuck with this, or that coalition members won’t back out, or that some high-profile event won’t occur that sours Arab public opinion against it… but you know what? These risks come with any coalition action. We could do better on this front, (although expecting Egypt to help is a bit much given other recent events) but we did what was possible and we actually got quite a bit of support for it.

    In short, I think we’ve intervened in the best place possible, in the most effective way possible, even if things are a bit uncertain. I can’t ask any more.

  • Anonymous

    “In Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. attempted to manufacture democracies”

    Well, one, no the US didn’t: and two, you cannot “manufacture” democracy: and three: no, the block in either Iraq or in Afghanistan was not that people didn’t want democratic regimes – in April 2003 Iraqis were demanding free elections and being shot down by US soldiers – the block was that free elections were not what the US was there for.

    “The widespread support of the Libyan people should also help prevent a lengthy debacle such as happened in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

    What makes you think that the Libyan people have “widespread support” for US bombing raids and missile attacks? Widespread support for overthrowing Gaddafi, yes. Widespread support for being killed by US cruise missiles, no.

  • Idolatry

    Jesu, I’ve seen conflicting reports, but generally it seems like the rebels have been asking for military aid from the U.S., France, and Britain.

    Of course, the rebels may not speak for the Libyan people. Everyone seems to be assuming that these rebels are a united, benevolent, pro-democracy organization, but I’m not entirely convinced of that. I still think the international community should have intervened, but I’d feel better if we had more evidence that the Libyan rebels really represented a pro-democracy movement that was supported by the Libyan people.

  • PJ Evans

    Actually, the US did try to manufacture democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan. There were people in the US government who were talking about ‘democracy in a box’, like it was a physical product that could be shipped and put into use immediately (they talked about exporting it too).
    That the people who were talking about democracy that way were more or less conservatives of the ‘we manufacture our own reality’ group didn’t do anything to make me think they had any clues at all.

  • Andrew C.

    Um, the Libyans were outright begging for external military intervention in the days before the UNSC resolution. And no, they did not ask to be “killed by US Cruise Missiles”; that’s just a strawman argument.

    You are completely correct about Iraq/Afghanistan though.

  • Anonymous

    “And no, they did not ask to be “killed by US Cruise Missiles”; that’s just a strawman argument.”

    No, it’s really not, sadly enough: “A U.S. official said Saturday that over 110 Tomahawk cruise missiles were fired at Libyan targets from U.S. and British submarines.” Wish these were just straw man arguments: they’d have killed fewer Libyans.

    “You are completely correct about Iraq/Afghanistan though.”

    Yep. In October 2001, I was completely correct about Afghanistan, while a bunch of people defended it on the principle that it was a humanitarian intervention really, the Afghans welcomed it, and the Taliban were the worst tyrants ever. In March 2003, I was completely correct about Iraq, while a bunch of people defended it on the principle that it was a humanitarian intervention really, the Iraqis welcomed it, and Saddam Hussein was the worst tyrant ever. In March 2011, I am completely correct about Libya, while…

    Gets thoroughly boring being so completely correct all the while. I wish the people who defended their “humanitarian interventions” got bored with always being wrong.

  • http://profiles.google.com/derrylm Derryl Murphy

    I remember seeing a news report online of a young boy, 10-12 years, I think, who had taken on the job as a traffic cop in Benghazi I think it was. He was proud to be doing his part, and was vocal in his support for the rebels. I winced when I watched that, thinking about what would happen when Gaddafi and his thugs watched it and then marched into Benghazi, as I was sure they would. The no fly zone is not a perfect answer, but I note one Tweet from Libya did point out that it was not a new version of colonialism, and anyone who thought so could “Go to hell.” In the meantime, my boys ask about what’s happening over there and I have to tell them I’m conflicted. But that’s a good thing, since they need to remember that the world is not always purely black and white.

  • Rob Brown

    It’s probably wrong to try to trace this misperception to a single time and event, but I think one watershed moment came during a press briefing in the first Gulf War, when Gen. Norman Schwartzkopf stood before the cameras and before the world and showed a videotape that purported to show a laser-guided American bomb dropping into a chimney, destroying its military target and only its military target. It was a powerful piece of propaganda — one that may have helped to save lives at the time by helping to spur the mass-surrender of tens of thousands of Iraqi conscripts. But it wasn’t an accurate representation, and it fostered a warped expectation that haunts us still.

    That misperception encouraged by “Stormin’ Norman’s” video continues to shape decisions and reactions not just among America’s enemies and allies, but in Congress, in the broader public and even within the military itself. This has led to magical thinking — the belief that America’s awesome military might is capable of a surgical precision that is almost never really an option.

    This.

    I tend to assume that whenever I hear of a military strike like this, that there WILL be collateral damage and that innocent people WILL get killed or maimed, until I hear confirmation that I’m wrong.

    I assumed that at the beginning of the Iraq War when I heard about the “bunker busters”. I didn’t buy it. I thought that innocent Iraqis were going to get killed. I don’t want to seem like I’m bragging here, but as it turns out, they were.

    Anyway, if the U.S. gets involved whenever somebody in the Middle East bombs civilians in the Middle East, it’d need to get involved all the time. I’d like to add that if they’re this upset over Gaddafi killing civilians, maybe they ought to rethink their policy re. Israel. Being totally cool with the bombing of Gaza but being outraged by this sends a pretty bad message.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Marshall-Pease/1324310862 Marshall Pease

    I have long thought that a “just war” is an oxymoron. War is when you go ahead and do what you have to do, and if somebody gets run over, too bad for them. There are times when that’s what you have to do, but such a thing can never be “just” and people shouldn’t try to pretend.

    Police kill people by accident sometimes, but I say still, the attitude is or should be different.

    … I was looking up what was said in the Vietnam days, “Kill them all and let God sort it out” when I discovered somebody named Arnaul Amalric said in 1209, “Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius.” (God knows his own). Nothing new under the sun.

  • Erl

    Calling this a “no fly zone” or an “intervention” doesn’t change the plain fact that this is a war, and starting a war – no matter what justification you think up – is always a bad idea.

    I’d like to make a distinction that I think is finicky but important.

    This is already a war. It’s a civil war in Libya; it might have ended itself in a massacre, but at the time the airstrikes began, it was an ongoing war.

    Now, it was a war the West was not involved in or threatened by, and you might expand your principle from “starting a war” to “entering a war voluntarily,” and that would be a fair contention. But it’s not the case that the NATO powers are starting a war. They’re escalating it and changing a preexisting one.

  • Anonymous

    “Just war theory” is not scriptural. It’s an ad hoc theory that fails to address the harm that governments always do to their own people when they go to war, no matter what the cause; and it does nothing to prevent the arrogation of power that always occurs during wars and in their aftermaths.

    Does anyone really believe that any of the political powers getting involved in this conflict give a wet fart for the people of Libya? Do you really think they see this as anything other than a means of maintaining Western influence in the Middle East (and American hegemony in particular)? If so, I have some priceless artifacts from a continent right in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean to sell you.

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

    “Just war theory” is not scriptural.

    Neither is skateboarding.

  • Anonymous

    Skateboarding doesn’t normally get people killed, and so does not require a moral justification. War does. And since Fred is a Christian, I would think that he would require such justification to be scriptural.

    But since his audience is not entirely Christian, I’ll just go ahead and point out that just war theory isn’t *logical*, either. All wars subsume people’s rights to the interests of the political classes that control the warring states. That is the opposite of justice.

    The theory boils down to which forms of politically-motivated murder St. Augustine’s conscience could tolerate. It wasn’t based on any universal, objective ethical or moral standard.

  • http://twitter.com/Ethawyn Kevin Greenlee

    Eh. Most Christians don’t think scripture is exhaustive of all morality, because… well… it isn’t. There’s plenty of moral concern its silent on.*

    Christians motivated towards pacifism are pushed by talk of turning the other cheek, etc.

    Just war is motivated by a notion that its unjust for a stronger man to stand by and let the weaker perish when he can protect him, combined with general notions in scripture regarding the role of the nation, etc.

    You also seem to be a little mistaken as to just what it is just war theory claims about war. Even just war theory recognizes that the war is a devastating thing. War shouldn’t happen, and the deaths in a war are all a problem. However, sometimes, lack of action is a greater injustice, and so one must act, but in so doing minimize harm as much as possible.

    I’m not entirely convinced that Christianity allows for just war, but I certainly think its possible. I’m pretty doubtful that a just war has ever actually been fought (at least, that the intentions of the executing force have ever been just). It seems like just war theory inevitably ends up being a rationalization rather than a reason.

    *Not to mention Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox for whom the tradition is an important part of divine inspiration.

  • Anonymous

    “You also seem to be a little mistaken as to just what it is just war theory claims about war. Even just war theory recognizes that the war is a devastating thing. War shouldn’t happen, and the deaths in a war are all a problem. However, sometimes, lack of action is a greater injustice, and so one must act, but in so doing minimize harm as much as possible.”

    No, I’m aware of that. I just reject the idea that choosing the lesser of two evils is ever excusable. I am not a consequentialist. If I could save a thousand innocent lives by murdering one, I would not do it. As I see it, the blame for the thousand murders would not be on my hands, but on the hands of those who actually committed them them. Sometimes it is possible to act justly and prevent injustice; sometimes it is not. When it isn’t, inaction is preferable.

    Which leaves the question of the justice of war. As you say, it is doubtful that any war has ever been fought justly. I believe it is *possible* for a war to be fought justly – if it is funded through voluntary means, and if force is limited only to those responsible for the aggression (as opposed to the people under their control); and if “collateral damage” is considered to be criminal and fully dealt with as such. But states do not act in such a fashion. They have no incentive to do so, and I doubt that they would be capable of it even if they did. Therefore I consider the concept of a “just war” to be an absurdity.

    On the topic of Libya, I would, given the option, voluntarily fund a fully non-political campaign to liberate its people. But instead, my money will be taken from me without my consent to fund an amoral campaign that will wear the cause of the Libyan people as a cloak to disguise its ultimate objectives, which I would never support if I had the freedom to object in action (that is, to withhold my financial support) rather than in words alone. Or perhaps if I had the courage to object in action despite the consequences.

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

    If I could save a thousand innocent lives by murdering one, I would not do it. As I see it, the blame for the thousand murders would not be on my hands, but on the hands of those who actually committed them them.

    Personally, I’d prefer the thousand people alive and you having a guilty conscience to you having no blood on your hands and a thousand people being dead.

  • Anonymous

    You must be okay with torture then, at least in principle, as a legitimate means of obtaining information.

    If the ends justify the means, then no action is inherently unjust. If they don’t, then they simply don’t. Ever.

  • muteKi

    But one of the problems with torture is that it simply doesn’t work. If your loyalty to your cause is great enough that someone might, for example, pbzzvg fhvpvqr in order to further that cause, is there any reason to believe that given an amount of duress that one would actually give correct information while being tortured, if willing to give any information at all?

    Torture is immoral not merely because it causes harm to an individual, but because it does so with very limited effectiveness.

  • muteKi

    Err, produces little to no positive results for the torturers, I should say.

    Does creating a Disqus account allow one to edit posts?

  • Anonymous

    So you agree, then, that the ends justify the means? I did say “in principle”: meaning, if torture could be effective, it would be justified. On that principle lie such wonderful political maxims as “you have to break a few eggs to make an omelet” and the accompanying regard for humans as morally equivalent to eggs.

    You can’t just use the ineffectiveness of torture as an escape hatch. We’re talking about principles here, and once a principle is established it must be tested at its logical conclusions. Ideas have consequences.

  • Anonymous

    Not this argument again.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    I won’t speak for Deird, but for my part: my objection to torture is not because there’s some kind of “this is evil” tag associated with it, and therefore I ought not do it.

    My objection to torture is that it causes people to suffer more than no-torture does, and I object to that. I want there to be less suffering in the world.

    If a situation arises where no-torture causes people to suffer more than torture does, then I object to rejecting torture in that situation, for the same reason: it causes people to suffer, and I want there to be less suffering in the world.

    For example, if I can alleviate the suffering of a community by choosing to be tortured, I endorse making that choice. (That is: I don’t know whether I’d actually make that choice or not, having never been in the situation, but I believe that’s the choice I ought to make.)

    If my understanding of what is just or right or legitimate or justified forces you to make choices that maximize people’s suffering, that’s generally a red flag for me: an indication that my understanding of those things is flawed.

  • Madhabmatics

    The problem with this is that every torture advocate says that the situations are situations where “no-torture causes people to suffer more than torture does.”

    If you are going to grant them that, you may as well grant them the whole thing based on that horrible ticking time-bomb hypothetical they all love to use.

    edit: “Torture is alright if it prevents more suffering than it causes” isn’t even opposition to torture! Geez.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    @madhabmatics:

    In my experience, torture advocates who say that “in this situation no-torture causes people to suffer more than torture does” are wrong. Not just morally wrong, though that too, but factually incorrect: they say that in situations where torture in fact causes more suffering than no-torture.

    I’ve never come across a scenario where someone is advocating torture and I’ve judged that they’re saying something true. I don’t expect that I ever will.

    For me, that is not some optional irrelevant sidebar to my opposition to torture. It’s part of my opposition to it. They are wrong, and it matters that they are wrong.

    Truth matters. Falsehood matters. And part of my responsibility is to look at the situation and try to judge truth and falsehood.

    Of course, it would be much simpler if truth and falsehood didn’t matter, and my responsibility were simply to oppose torture whether it causes more suffering or not. I sympathize with the desire to live in that world.

    But I don’t believe that I do live in that world.

  • Madhabmatics

    The ability to look on torture as an issue of “truth and falsehood” is a luxury of someone who isn’t ever actively threatened with torture.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    Yes, that’s true.

    I suspect that if I were ever in the situation, I’d be scared and angry and hurt and I would want it to stop and I wouldn’t want any situation even remotely like it to ever arise again, not for me, not for anyone, ever, whether it was right or wrong or true or false or good or bad, ever, ever, ever.

    Not, of course, that I’ve ever had occasion to feel that way about anything. At least, not as far as you know, or as far as I’m interested in talking about.

  • Anonymous

    So basically you’re a utilitarian? Interesting. But there’s a good reason why utilitarianism didn’t last as an ethical system. Besides the obvious fact that it disregards individual rights, it also ignores questions such as:

    Whose value system is used to determine what is utility, and what is suffering? Why is their value system superior to that of anyone else?

    Even if such questions could be answered satisfactorily, how does the party that makes such decisions intend to quantify “suffering”? How do they intend to account for psychic disutility that may result from their actions in bringing about material utility?

    The only way to answer such questions is to base one’s system on an universal ethic; something which can be applied equally to all persons at all times and in all situations. Such a system must account for individual valuations and hence must recognize individual rights. And it would render all coercive acts against those who keep it illegitimate. Namely, it would forbid the use of violence against the non-violent, no matter what is meant to be accomplished by it. And it would make all who violate it accountable, without regard to their intentions.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    I don’t want to derail into a whole discussion of philosophy of ethics here, but you can approximate me as a preference utilitarian.

    I agree with you that the choice of values is a key question, as is some way of comparing utility and disutility, and that these are hard and not-yet-solved problems. That said, I have not been convinced that basing one’s system on a universal ethic is not itself plagued with equally hard and not-yet-solved problems.

    All that said, I certainly agree with you that we do best to hold people accountable for the suffering they cause, regardless of their intentions.

  • http://twitter.com/Ethawyn Kevin Greenlee

    I hate to keep defending just war, since it’s most certainly not something I’m convinced of, at the same time I do see it as a viable option.

    Yes, if ends justify the means then no action is inherently unjust. However, just war does not have to be a simply consequentialist ethic. It needn’t be (though it certainly can) a simple matter of “More people will die if we do this than if we don’t.”

    If just war is motivated by a specific ethical maxim, such as “the strong should defend the week” than it is not simply a matter of consequentialism. This is why just war sets limits as to the conduct of the war, etc. In other words, one does not enter into a just war because the consequences would be worse if you didn’t, but because one is ethically obligated to protect the weak.

  • Anonymous

    There are two problems with that particular maxim. In the first place, it begs the question: who is strong, and who is weak? If America smashes Gaddafi and his army, doesn’t that make Gaddafi “the weak”? It also doesn’t say against what, exactly, the weak must be defended.

    With those two problems, it doesn’t contain any internal limitations against the weak being harmed in the name of “defense”, and that is exactly what states do when they go to war for such abstractions as “freedom”, “democracy”, “unity”, et cetera. What stops “the strong” from putting, say, the citizens of Dresden, Germany in the category of “the strong” and carpet bombing them to protect the “weak” Londoners (who were never threatened by a German toddler)? What stops them from declaring every Iraqi who exercises his right to keep and bear arms a “terrorist” and gunning him down? What standard is there to limit the actions they take to maintain their position as the almighty defender of the weak, or the World’s Policeman?

    A better ethical maxim would be a prohibition against initiatory force, by anyone, against anyone, under any circumstances. With that, we know what is wrong (aggression) and what is right (non-aggression); we know who, in any given circumstance, is to be denounced, and who defended – the aggressor and the victim, respectively. But this would require people to recognize individual rights, and apparently that’s just too hard to do. So much easier to shuffle people around between nebulous classes as political convenience dictates and avoid all that messy stuff about examining the justice of our means.

  • http://twitter.com/Ethawyn Kevin Greenlee

    Sure it’s complicated. Yes, it should be nuanced and given clear guidelines (don’t hurt the weak in your defense of them), but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Life is muddy, ethics are complex. Sometimes there is no good choice to make, only too bad ones, and maybe there isn’t even a principled way of choosing between them.

    I don’t think the identity of the weak and the strong are as vague as you think they are. The weak is the one without power who is being abused by a stronger one for the stronger one’s own benefit. The one who comes in to defend is acting on behalf of the weak.

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

    You must be okay with torture then, at least in principle, as a legitimate means of obtaining information.

    No, because I don’t think information is worth torturing people for. I also don’t think torture works.

  • http://twitter.com/Ethawyn Kevin Greenlee

    I think I understand the motive here. America is powerful militarily, and that makes it seem like we should aid those weaker than us who are being brutalized.

    And maybe that’s the case. I tend to waffle between Just War Theory and pacifism.

    But this thing we’re doing, trying to play a game of governments… it never works. Trying to improve the world, make it a better place by aiding this party, or that, arming this party or that… we never get the intended result. Things are too complicated.

  • Madhabmatics

    Welp, guess the Libyans better get used to having American troops shooting up their backyards for the next 20 years no matter what the outcome of their civil war.

  • Nenya

    I just can’t see this turning out well. “We should go in and save them,” and then it turns into how many of their civilians it ends up that we shot. Especially since this is the same army that has been in Iraq and Afghanistan, isn’t it? Are they suddenly going to have less twitchy trigger-fingers? (Reactions they no doubt acquired under a great deal of stress, but there is a documented history of the US army fucking up pretty badly recently.)

    I don’t think there’s much I can do about it either way, so all I can hope is that it is less of a disaster than it could be. Maybe it’s a good sign that the rebels are calling for aid. I don’t know. I have a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach–though I would be glad to be proven wrong.

  • Anonymous

    I’d recommend Digby’s blog except she seems to be channelling Mark Twain at the moment:

    http://digbysblog.blogspot.com/2011/03/give-yourself-no-uneasiness-it-is-all.html

    “LOVE, LAW AND ORDER,JUSTICE,LIBERTY, GENTLENESS, EQUALITY, CHRISTIANITY, HONORABLE DEALING, PROTECTION TO THE WEAK, MERCY,TEMPERANCE, EDUCATION, – and so on. There. Is it good? Sir, it is pie. It will bring into camp any idiot that sits in darkness anywhere. But not if we adulterate it. It is proper to be emphatic upon that point. This brand is strictly for Export – apparently. Apparently. Privately and confidentially, it is nothing of the kind. Privately and confidentially, it is merely an outside cover, gay and pretty and attractive, displaying the special patterns of our Civilization which we reserve for Home Consumption, while inside the bale is the Actual Thing that the Customer Sitting in Darkness buys with his blood and tears and land and liberty. That Actual Thing is, indeed, Civilization, but it is only for Export. Is there a difference between the two brands? In some of the details, yes.”

  • Anonymous

    Another doubtful but undecided here.

    I’m hugely skeptical about the very idea of another war in the Middle East, but there are various things that make the picture look more complex and maybe – just maybe – the intervention could be justified.

    Most of the messages I have happened to hear from Libyans over the past week or so have been in favour of international intervention, and that includes unofficial sources like GDwarf’s friend. Yesterday the BBC was playing a recording of a Libyan doctor saying that despite his professional commitment to preserving life, in the face of what he was seeing from Gaddafi’s forces, would the international community please, please keep up their campaign.

    So far the objective of the international military action seems to have been to systematically destroy first the air force and then the ground forces opposing the rebels. As far as I can see, without sending ground troops in, the best that they can do is reduce the overwhelming balance of power on the government side.

    If things stopped there (perhaps keeping the no fly zone up until the situation on the ground is resolved) then I think, maybe, it’s worth while. It gives the rebels a chance.

    I’m not an expert in any of this stuff, but I can’t help wondering if the main difference between Libya and Bahrain, say, is that in Libya the rebel forces were strong and organised enough to take control of most of the country, even if they have lost a lot of the territory they gained. That suggests that they have a chance, with outside support.

    Also, in this case, the US didn’t move until the Arab League did, and didn’t try to force the negotiations before the war. That seems to me to be pretty important. The request for action came from near neighbours as well as the rebels in Libya, not from the other side of the world.

    Another reflection: once any nation has committed any forces to any conflict, their stake in that conflict increases enormously. Real success in Libya has to come from within Libya, and international support should probably be withdrawn as soon as possible. But there won’t ever be a position where that withdrawal contributes to an obvious victory, so it’s going to be tremendously difficult to go ahead with it.

    tl;dr: Given the uncertainty of any successful outcome, I just don’t know. Praying for the best, rather expecting the worst.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ouri-Maler/1017109188 Ouri Maler

    Count me as another “this is the right thing to do, even if for the wrong reasons” vote.
    Near as I can tell, the situation in Lybia is a genuine will-of-the-people revolution, which unfortunately couldn’t get past Gadafi’s military superiority. Yes, providing the rebels with air cover is not a perfect solution, but there ARE no perfect solutions. This solution, at least, is likely to result in a whole lot less deaths…and, quite possibly, much-needed goodwill, which the West could USE after decades of propping up dictators.
    This doesn’t answer the problem of the dictators the West is STILL propping up, unfortunately. But turning against them all at once may do more harm than good by creating a huge geopolitical mess.

  • http://twitter.com/maradydd Meredith L Patterson

    I live in Belgium. On the train a few days ago, I sat across from a Belgian infantry sergeant major and we struck up a conversation, which naturally turned to Libya. He mentioned that Belgium is sending six planes as part of the UN forces, and added that the Belgian rules of engagement — which apparently the entire military is fanatical about adhering to — require pilots to use their guns rather than bombs if at all possible, in order to cut down on collateral damage.

    I’m conflicted about the intervention, but it’s not so much “should we or shouldn’t we”. Real Libyan people asked for our help. Unless the US military’s astroturfing efforts are much farther along than the recent HBGary leaks have indicated, I believe that these requests — on Twitter, on Facebook, on blogs, on every communication channel that regular ordinary Libyan people have — are real. With great power comes great responsibility, and so on and so forth. Where the cognitive dissonance enters the picture is that I am equally confident that our government will fuck it up. Our track record at “nation-building” has been pretty pathetic since the days of the Marshall Plan, and I don’t think we have the political will to engage in that kind of effort beyond “remove the power by force, creating a power vacuum, and … have no idea what to do with the resulting mess, so slap together an ad-hoc ‘solution’.” Or the capital, to be honest, since we’ve blown so much of it already on these failed wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    With this degree of pessimism, the risk analysis becomes rather depressing. We know that a crapton of people are going to die if we don’t intervene. We know that a crapton of people are going to die if we do intervene, and the lives of the survivors are going to be materially worse for a long time if we exhibit the same degree of sophistication in rebuilding Libya as we did in Iraq. Given that … is it worse to let the revolution be crushed? What would the survivors’ lives be like if that happened?

  • http://twitter.com/sotonohito55 sotonohito

    I’m more than skeptical, I’m cynical. Of course Qaddafi is a bad guy, that rather goes without saying.

    But the argument that we’re intervening for humanitarian reasons is a blatant, pathetic, lie.

    There are revolutions which are being brutally crushed, such as in Bahrain, where we not only don’t intervene despite the killings but actively support the brutal dictator.

    There’s the the dictatorial slaughter going on in the Ivory Coast, a clear cut example of a situation crying out for humanitarian intervention and it isn’t mentioned anywhere.

    To argue that the US is intervening in Libya for humanitarian reasons is to lie. To accept that argument is to be a sucker.

    The US is intervening in Libya for exactly one reason: oil.

    You can make the argument, from a cold blooded realpolitik standpoint, that intervening for oil is a good thing for our national interest. You cannot make the argument, as anything but a liar or a sucker, that the US is intervening in Libya for reasons other than oil. Not when the US is actively supporting dictators as bad as Qaddafi (or even worse), and ignoring other situations with the potential for much more bloodshed.

    A humanitarian argument can be made for intervening in Libya. The US is only making that argument as a cover for it’s actual agenda, the evidence for that is in its mix of support for, and apathy about, murderous dictators in other areas.

  • Anonymous

    We’re intervening in Libya because of oil, but not in Bahrain or Ivory Coast, both of which also have lots of oil?

    Want to try that again?

  • http://twitter.com/sotonohito55 sotonohito

    I’d guess it’s because we’re supporting the dictator of Bahrain, so we already have secure access to their oil.

    I **KNOW** that it isn’t humanitarian reasons for Libya because there are other, equally or more pressing, humanitarian needs for military intervention elsewhere. We don’t give a rat’s ass about the humanitarian crisis in the Ivory Coast, therefore humanitarian needs are not the goal in Libya. QED.

    We were semi-friendly with Qaddafi before this, suddenly we have a policy shift. Given that humanitarian questions are, as demonstrated by our utter indifference to them elsewhere, not the driving force, I’d presume that oil is the goal. Perhaps we were nervous that if other nations supported the rebels and the rebels win the other nations would be in a better negotiating position for the oil? I don’t know.

    All I know is that the stated goal is self evidently a lie. We are not getting into a war in Libya because the US government cares about civilian casualties. That explanation is patently, grotesquely, false. There is, therefore, another explanation. Oil would seem to be the most obvious explanation for our true motive.

    As far as oil goes, per the CIA World Factbook, Libya is the 15th largest oil exporter on the planet, exporting 1.79 million bbl/day. Bahrain is 50th, with a mere 238,300 bbl/day. The Ivory Coast is in 64th place at only 115,700 bbl/day. Which do you think is more important to US interests?

  • Lori

    We were semi-friendly with Qaddafi before this, suddenly we have a policy shift.

    This is quite it. Semi-friendly is overstating the case WRT our recent dealings with Qaddafi. The deal that he cut after 9/11 lead us to believe that we had gotten him corralled well enough that he wasn’t a problem for us and that we could have more normal relations with Libya (in foreign policy speak “normal” sort of looks like a synonym for “friendly”, but actually isn’t).

    His recent behaving puts him back out of the box (or is a demonstration that he was never actually in the box, depending on who you ask) and there’s no way that the US wasn’t going to view that as a bad thing. That, combined with the negative effect that the crisis has had on the global oil market, creates a US interest in realpolitik terms, which is the major reason we now find ourselves fighting yet another war in a Muslim country.

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

    I **KNOW** that it isn’t humanitarian reasons for Libya because there are other, equally or more pressing, humanitarian needs for military intervention elsewhere.

    Uh-huh. So, if one day I see a beggar on the street and give him five bucks, you KNOW it isn’t because I feel bad for him, because of all the beggars I’ve ignored before?

    You’re not allowing for inconsistency or someone changing their mind.

  • http://twitter.com/sotonohito55 sotonohito

    If you have a history of kicking beggars, encouraging people to steal from beggars, etc and you then give $5 to a beggar I’d assume you have a goal other than sympathy for beggars.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    It seems more complicated than that to me.

    Sure, the existence of other humanitarian trouble-spots in the world where we don’t intervene, or where we even support the governments responsible for the abuse, belies the idea that the U.S. is exclusively motivated by the moral impulse to intervene militarily in humanitarian trouble-spots.

    No question.

    Similarly, the existence of other stockpiles of resources (such as oil) in the world where we don’t intervene, or where we even support the governments controlling the resources, belies the idea that the U.S. is exclusively motivated by the impulse to control resources.

    It seems to me that both factors are involved.

    Also, public relations are involved… that is, part of our motivation is to be seen as acting in certain ways and motivated by certain things.

    Also, geopolitical diplomatic considerations are involved… that is, part of our motivation is to manipulate the behavior of other players by manipulating their estimates of the U.S.’s willingness to make this sort of move under the current administration.

    And probably other factors I’m not thinking of.

    I’ve seen how complicated and multi-faceted even completely trivial decisions, like whether to schedule a product rollout in Q2 or Q3, can get in the real world. I find it utterly implausible that the decision to commit ourselves militarily in Libya was simpler than that.

    The decision might well be wrong… but I don’t believe its motives were simple.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    I don’t have a lot to say about this specific instance, but I do want to respond to a vein in the comments.

    I am sympathetic to the many voices here saying that war can never be just or justified, that many innocent civilians will be killed as a direct consequence of our actions, that the motives of the “warring classes” are never pure, and who reject our intervention in Libya on that basis.

    I’m also sympathetic to the many voices in my head reminding me of how many of the people I was raised alongside lost family in Germany in the 40s, and how many managed against all odds to hold on to that family, and the not-inconsiderable role that the U.S. intervening in a foreign war seems to have played in the latter, and how utterly hypocritical it would be of me to endorse the result but not the actions that led to it or the philosophical stance that justified those actions.

    Of course, now someone will tell me how this situation is very different from that one. And I’ve no doubt that it is different, and meaningfully so. It would be very strange if, across a gulf of a large chunk of both a century and a planet, there weren’t important differences.

    So, I don’t know yet what I think about the situation in Libya. But whatever it is, I doubt it will get me to endorse the idea that intervening militarily in foreign affairs always makes the situation worse, either pragmatically or morally.

    If we are to reject our involvement in Libya, I think it has to be on more specific grounds than those.

  • Ursula L

    I’m also sympathetic to the many voices in my head reminding me of how many of the people I was raised alongside lost family in Germany in the 40s, and how many managed against all odds to hold on to that family, and the not-inconsiderable role that the U.S. intervening in a foreign war seems to have played in the latter, and how utterly hypocritical it would be of me to endorse the result but not the actions that led to it or the philosophical stance that justified those actions.

    People in the US like to look to WWII as an example of why it sometimes important to intervene in the wars of other nations. But WWII was extraordinary in the history of wars, in terms of the politics involved and the extreme evil being perpetrated.

    There is also the lesson of the beginning of WWI to remember – the way that what could have been a smaller regional war grew to something enormous and awful by nation after nation being pulled in through alliances and the desire to help the “right” side.

    One of the reasons we’re so clear that WWII was necessary is that great effort was made to avoid a repeat of WWI, so that it was unambiguous that nothing short of war could stop Axis aggression before the war began.

    There is also the problem, in the US, that going to war means going to war. When the US gets involved with a war, at least for the last century, it happens elsewhere. Soldiers and equipment are lost, but the homeland stays safe. The vast majority of the costs – civilian lives, cities ruined, etc. are externalized.

    And if the US engages in aggressive war – the kind that would, if waged by any other nation, lead to sanctions and international intervention to stop the aggressor – there is no nation or group of nations powerful enough to stop the US, or to make the US feel the full consequences of its actions. So, for the US, there is an extra need for caution in starting or intervening in wars, because if we’re wrong, there is no one to stop us.

  • http://twitter.com/mattmcirvin Matt McIrvin

    I’m skeptical largely because Fallows is against. He wrote the definitive skeptical analysis of the prospects for Iraq before the invasion, and he’s got the same questions now.

    I fully understand the motivation. I have no doubt that if we didn’t go in, Qaddafi would commit atrocities and we’d be blamed for standing by when the rebels were asking for help. But this isn’t sufficient reason to go in. Reasonable chance of success is key, and success is political.

    How does this end? It seems to me the most likely outcome is a stalemate similar to pre-invasion Iraq: Qaddafi digs in and commits atrocities in Tripolitania, we get a rebel government established in Benghazi or somewhere under cover of the no-fly zone, and we get years and years of periodic air attacks (which will kill some civilians) and sanctions starving out the people on Qaddafi’s side of the line, providing a rallying point for his popular support. Eventually, maybe some future administration feels the pressure to cut the Gordian knot by invading Libya and we’re deep in it all over again. Whether or not that happens, in the meantime we’ve got yet another active American military presence in the region for local tyrants and firebrands to rail against.

    Meanwhile, Qaddafi today is not an external threat; this is actually clearer than in the case of Saddam.

    I do like that the intervention is happening with UN approval and broad international support. Still, I ask myself whether I trust the British and French governments who are leading this–Cameron, Sarkozy–and I find that I don’t.

  • Lori

    In Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. attempted to manufacture democracies in places where the political will to implement and maintain democracy did not exist, at least not to the extent necessary to make democracy happen. The U.S. has therefore had to fight insurgents among the common people rather than having most of the people’s support in creating democratic regimes.

    This isn’t really an accurate statement about either Iraq or Afghanistan. In both cases the situation was More Complicated Than That. To the degree that people are basing their judgement about Libya on this understanding about Iraq and Afghanistan things are going pretty much bound to be very murky.

    I’m skeptical largely because Fallows is against. He wrote the definitive skeptical analysis of the prospects for Iraq before the invasion, and he’s got the same questions now.

    I’m not sure I’m following your point. Are you saying that Fallows was against the Iraq war and that Iraq turned out to be a success therefore Fallows’ position is questionable or invalidated? Because calling the Iraq war a success requires using a really, really “interesting” definition of success. That’s certainly the position favored by the people who started the war (Bush administration officials and their supporters in Conservative media and think tanks), but that’s not a good reason to accept that position.

  • http://twitter.com/mattmcirvin Matt McIrvin

    The opposite. I’m skeptical of the Libya intervention because Fallows was right about Iraq.

  • Lori

    Ah, I understand now.

  • Anonymous

    Actually, I’m pretty sure that this particular massive screw-up in the making has nothing to do with oil. I think saying that “we’re not intervening in Ivory Coast or Baharain!” has the made the assumption that the US can do something effective there.

    The United States has a very large, very powerful hammer in the form of it’s basically absolute air and naval superiority. The difference between something like Ivory Coast, where the oppressive forces are mustering a single (as in 1) attack helicopter to attack the now-rightful government, and the situation in Libya is that in Libya it appears that the problem is actually a nail. Qadaffi’s superiority here is “solvable” by killing his soldiers and breaking his fighter jets and tanks. We can’t break the fighter jets and tanks in Ivory Coast because there aren’t any, and we can’t kill the soldiers in Bahrain because they are down on the square among the protestors.

    The mistake that BushCo made in Iraq wasn’t one (in my mind) of bad intentions but of falling for the old “When all you have is hammer…” trope. Sure, it would be awesome if we could utilize American air-power to quash injustice and oppression wherever it raised it’s head (and couldn’t be talked down or reasoned with) but if you pound on a screw with a hammer, all you do is dent the wood all around it and ruin the screw. Too often the US government has a problem with recognizing the difference between just beating shit with their hammer, and actually using it on nails.

    So far, we’ve been doing this right – hopefully we won’t get carried away with our hammer.

  • Parisienne

    What I find interesting about the whole thing is how quickly the French jumped on board with it. Sarko was there from the start, chomping at the bit to blow up Libya,* which is mildly surprising to me because the French wanted nothing to do with the invasion of Iraq.

    The reason for the refusal to invade Iraq, as I understand it, is basically this: the French generally have quite a good relationship with a lot of Arab countries like Syria and Lebanon** and large parts of North Africa, and there are lots of Arab people in France. So: faced with a choice between pissing off the Americans and pissing off the entire Arab world, they made a foreign policy decision that the consequences of pissing off the Americans were going to be much less bad for them. For the US neocons, pissing off huge swathes of the Arab world was not such a big deal because they’re hardly flavour of the month there anyway. But the French are quite well liked there, and have a sizeable Arab minority in their own country. If the Arab League had been opposed to action against Libya, I think it’s a fair bet the French would have stayed at home again.

    Anyway the fact that Sarko (who is in the same political camp as Chirac was) is so keen to blow an Arab country to smithereens says to me that this is a quite different situation to the second Iraq war. And for better or for worse, having the French around does give it some kind of legitimacy in the eyes of certain Arab countries that it wouldn’t otherwise have.

    FWIW, the French air force are now claiming to have shot down one of Gaddafi’s planes.

    My biggest worry is what’s going to happen afterwards. The opposition aren’t an organised government in waiting by any stretch of the imagination. They’re an ad hoc group of dissenters who rose up demanding revolution. I’m not even sure how well they get on with each other.

    *there’s part of me that suspects Sarko might just be a bit peeved about seeing the Americans now in charge. On the one hand, the support of the US was essential to get UN backing, on the other, I think Napoleon was rather hoping to boost his domestic popularity by leading the charge, looking like an international leader and getting the credit for taking on an eeeebil dictator.

    ** e.g. the elites of these countries traditionally all have a French-language education.

  • Anonymous

    I’m rather surprised at all the comments here about how this must be bad because we don’t know the motives of all involved. This is practically the home of “intent isn’t magic”, and while I’m sometimes unsure of that in some situations it gets used in, I certainly agree with it here.

    I don’t, currently, care why the international community is fighting a dictator. The fact is that they are doing so and until we have at least some evidence that they intend to make the situation worse after I don’t see much ground for prophesying the end times.

    Now, what will happen in Libya after is an excellent question, my friend was pretty certain that they wouldn’t be able to set up a working government before all this got started, and I don’t see a military campaign changing that.

    But we can’t know what the outcome will be, not even in a vague sense. What we do know is that people were being slaughtered. Murdered. Gunned down for daring to leave their houses. And we’re stopping that, at the request of the people being shot at.

    To deny help now because the future might end up worse (unlikely, given what life under Gaddafi was like) is to say that you should never help anyone, ’cause they might go on to be the next Hitler.

    This is a situation where the world has a clear objective: Shut down Gaddafi. What happens next is explicitly up to the citizens of Libya, and is not our concern unless they end up with another brutal dictator. I find it difficult to believe anyone could end up bogged down given the clear limits everyone is operating under.

  • Madhabmatics

    The thing is “what happens next” isn’t going to be up to the citizens of Libya. Have you seen the results of all our other “liberations”? What happens next is going to be up to our military, and the Libyans they’ve just “freed” will only be able to determine which U.S. approved politicians will bow down to our generals.

  • Lori

    I’m rather surprised at all the comments here about how this must be bad because we don’t know the motives of all involved.

    For the record, I don’t think that this must be bad because we don’t know the motives of all involved. I’m concerned that it will turn out badly because it seems to have been ill-considered and ill-planned, leadership isn’t clear, there’s no apparent theory of success and the margin for error for American military involvement in the Muslim world is razor thin. That seems to me to be a dangerous combination. I want the best for the people of Libya, but I’m deeply concerned that this action isn’t going to get them there.

  • danA

    Too add onto what TheFaithfulStone was saying, I think there are three primary reasons why the US is doing something in Libya.

    First, it was very highly exposed in the media. This led to substantial popular pressure to “do something” about it, both in the US and in the Arab world. This allowed the US to gather a certain amount of international support. Contrast this to the situation in Cote d’Ivoire, which has received paltry press coverage if at all.

    Second, it was a fairly simple situation – at least on a map. The population in Libya basically lives in a line of coastal towns. With only two main groups (pro- and anti-) it was easy to draw out for public consumption where the “good guys” and “bad guys” were, and easy to point to a few simple points where the action was happening. Contrast this to the DRC, where the alphabet soup of government agencies, political parties, rebel movements, local militias, and companies has grown so much that they’ve had to switch to four letter acronyms so they don’t start repeating themselves. Whereas in Libya you can make a difference by blocking traffic on one stretch of road for one day, I can’t point to a single place in the DRC where putting a set or orbiting planes would make a significant impact on the problems of just one province.

    Third, it fits what the US can do. The US military is not very good at nation-building (in an absolute sense), but it is very good at smashing other militaries remotely. Libya, where the issue was Gaddafi’s massive advantage in artillery, armored vehicles, planes, and helicopters, was a situation where the US could intervene successfully. Hitting air defense sites and armored columns from the air and from the sea is what we’re good at, as opposed to trying to go in and straighten things out on the ground. It’s easy to find tanks and planes moving from one town to another. Contrast this with Cote d’Ivoire again, where what we know about most of the political violence is that it was committed by men in Abidjan, sometimes wearing civilian clothing. You can’t even find them, let alone shoot at them, from hundreds of miles away. Put this way, I know that I could make a substantial difference in Libya with 160 cruise missiles. I don’t know what I’d do with 160 cruise missiles in Cote d’Ivoire except hope I hit something important.

    This is not to say that it was a good idea. This is to say that it was an easy thing to implement, and I believe that the US intervention was motivated more by the ease and the perceived importance then the oil. I think the way that it proceeds for the US depends on the next few days. There are indications that the US may be thinking of pulling out of the combat end of the operation. Certainly the French, Canadians, and UK are in a position to take the operation over, and the US has already done it’s part. If Obama can withdraw the US to purely logistical support then the narrative of Libya will be very different. The US will have provided support to an allied western and Arab operation, suppressing Libyan air defenses to allow UN operations, and then withdrawing once that job was done, leaving Libya in the hands of others. If the US hands over control (and combat operations)to other nations, we should be able to avoid the eventual morass of nation-building that someone will be involved in.

    But given that the rebels seem unable to take back Libya themselves, or even to provide rather serious organization, it looks like someone’s going to be in this for the long haul. I really hope that it’s not us.

  • http://twitter.com/sotonohito55 sotonohito

    I don’t particularly mean to say that the explanation is simple, if I implied that it’s purely the result of bad writing on my part.

    I’m sure that there are complexities involved. But I’m sure that humanitarian goals are not the driving force(s). They make good cover for whatever the driving force(s) actually are, but with the exception of WWII the US has pretty much never deployed its military for any but purely imperialistic goals. I see no reason to suppose that the war in Libya is any different from the dozens of other wars we’ve waged.

    Oil is, I feel certain, a major factor, but I’m sure there are other factors as well. I’m just certain that those other factors are not humanitarian.

    TheFaithfulStone, I think you’re making a mistake in thinking that we can do anything effective in Libya either. I’ve no idea if we could do much good in the Ivory Coast or Bahrain. I’ve no doubt the US military could cripple the organized military of the dictators in question, but whether or not that would be enough to achieve victory for the revolutionaries is far from sure.

    But can we really do any good in Libya either? The revolutionaries are in chaos, there isn’t a leader, and they don’t have any real way to fight Qaddafi’s ground forces.

    I’m not a pacifist, I don’t like war at all but I recognize that there are times it may be necessary. But the lies told to justify this war don’t work. It is self evident that we don’t care about humanitarian concerns.

    Remember this is the USA we’re talking about, when it comes to intervention in foreign nations my country has never worked from pure motives, and has never once cared even slightly about humanitarian concerns. Remember Chile? Remember Panama? Remember the Philippines? Remember Iraq (back when we supported Saddam Hussein that is)? Remember Iran? Remember our long and bloody support of the dictator in Egypt? The US is not merely indifferent to humanitarian crises, our foreign policy seems to revolve around encouraging them.

    Maybe oil isn’t the motive. I don’t know the motive. But I do know that it isn’t humanitarian concerns.

  • https://profiles.google.com/ravanan101 Ravanan

    @Rob Brown Re: Gaza That’s because we have an incredibly powerful pro-Israel lobby in the US (can you think of anything else the KKK and Anti-Defamation League agree on?)

    I think the real reason we’re going in there (pretty obviously not for humanitarian reasons) isn’t oil, though that is certainly a factor. It’s stability. To discuss Bahrain for instance, the uprisings there do not have anywhere near the organization, manpower, technical power, or basically anything else to be able to succeed. In Libya, however, the rebel forces have X-wings…sorry couldn’t resist. In all seriousness though, they have set up an interim government (which is to my understanding a popular government if not a democratic one, the key difference being the status of minorities [sub-Saharan Africans, for instance, are being rounded up on charges of being mercenaries, with the proof being a secret Gaddafi intelligence report that was captured by the rebel forces and that they haven’t chosen to share with anyone; Joe McCarthy would be so proud]), they have a huge force of people who are taking up arms…all they lack is the technology to take on tank battalions and fighters. What this means is that while they will probably lose without outside intervention, it will take a very long time for them to do so, and the longer it goes on, the worse for us. The judgment that’s being made here is that the cost to us from intervening will be less than the cost for us to let it resolve itself. The real test will be after Gaddafi is overthrown, whether a new dictatorship will arise (last I checked, that seems to be happening in Iraq), or whether a government with a constitution protecting the rights of everyone will be developed, or somewhere in between.

  • Anonymous

    I admit I’m not at all well-informed about the situation, but what happens if we maintain the no-fly zone and the rebels lose anyway? Do we just go “Welp, we tried, sorry about all the bombs” and go home? Or will we be obliged to step up our game and get involved on the ground to prevent that from happening? If so, I can see that situation descending into quagmire very quickly.

  • Anonymous

    No, I’m aware of that. I just reject the idea that choosing the lesser of two evils is ever excusable. I am not a consequentialist. If I could save a thousand innocent lives by murdering one, I would not do it. As I see it, the blame for the thousand murders would not be on my hands, but on the hands of those who actually committed them them.

    Yet they’d still be dead.

    Further, if you could save a thousand lives and do not do so then the blood is as much on your hands as if you’d killed them yourself. Or do you hold that killing someone through negligence is alright?

  • Madhabmatics

    Let’s not pretend that our government is capable of guilt, here.

  • Lori

    If I could save a thousand innocent lives by murdering one, I would not do it. As I see it, the blame for the thousand murders would not be on my hands, but on the hands of those who actually committed them them.

    So, as long as your conscious is clear I guess the 999 additional dead people is just the way things have to be?

    The argument from keeping one’s own hands scrupulously clean at all costs is pretty much the reason that I’m not personally a pacifist. It’s definitely an issue where mileage varies.

    Yep. In October 2001, I was completely correct about Afghanistan, while a bunch of people defended it on the principle that it was a humanitarian intervention really, the Afghans welcomed it, and the Taliban were the worst tyrants ever.

    We didn’t go into Afghanistan for humanitarian reasons and anyone who thought that’s why we went was deeply confused.

    That said, the vast majority of the Afghans did approve of the initial invasion and were happy to see the Taliban go because they really are that horrible. Even after the tremendous mishandling of the war, US approval ratings in Afghanistan remain higher than in most Muslim countries and certainly far higher than I think we deserve. (Sadly, history has left the bar in Afghanistan really low in this respect.)

  • Ursula L

    So, as long as your conscious is clear I guess the 999 additional dead people is just the way things have to be?

    The problem with killing one to save a thousand is that no one can see the future. You may think or expect that the thousand would be killed. But you can’t be sure.

    So no one can really kill one person to save a thousand. Because those thousand deaths are hypothetical, while the one murder you commit is real.

    Making a yes/no question about killing one to save a thousand is one of those hypotheticals that distract from real moral issues. It’s like going back in time to kill Hitler as an infant – if you have that time machine, rather than kill a baby, why not kidnap him and have him adopted into a good and loving home? Or give a messed-up young artist who can do landscapes but not portraits a commission to travel the world and paint landscapes for you?

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    I agree with you: of course I can’t be sure. Of course I can be wrong. Of course I can make tragic, horrible, soul-crushing mistakes — either by choosing to act, or choosing not to act.

    And that’s awful, and scary, and things I don’t have words for.

    But I believe that what matters is whether there’s more suffering or less suffering going on, whether there’s more joy or less joy. If at the end of the day I’ve decreased suffering and increased joy, I count that a pretty good day.

    And it’s pretty clear to me that, in order to do that, I have to make choices. And I make those choices in the knowledge that I might be making mistakes.

    I don’t know of a better path.

  • Ursula L

    It’s a good guiding principle, to try to decrease suffering and increase joy in the world.

    But it is also easy to be mesmerized by hard choices. The odds are pretty good, that if you think you have to do something wrong or harmful in order to achieve a good end, then you’re missing something important. Perhaps you don’t have enough information? Perhaps you’re jumping to conclusions? Perhaps you haven’t thought about possible solutions with enough imagination, to see a better way out?

    If you think you’re in a situation where you have to kill one person to save a thousand – you have a thousand possible allies, who have the ultimate interest in stopping the one person. And you plus a thousand people, working together, can stop that one person without having to kill them.

    But if the situation isn’t clear enough so that you can convince those thousand to be your allies, and that you can’t convince many other people that the one needs to be stopped, then you really don’t have enough accurate information to decide that you must kill one to save a thousand.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    > The odds are pretty good, that if you think you have to do something wrong or harmful in order to achieve a good end, then you’re missing something important.

    Yes, absolutely agreed.

  • Anonymous

    But it is also easy to be mesmerized by hard choice.

    Too true. It’s easy to forget (on both sides of the equation) that hard cases make bad laws. Okay, so there’s never actually going to be a ticking time bomb scenario, but WHAT IF you had Evil McEvil O’Evilstein at your mercy, and his radioactive killamatron was barreling toward Sleepyville, and unless you use his deep seated fear of pinky-toe amputation against him, the peaceful bucolic residents of Sleepyville are soon to be converted into a slightly chunky pink soup! An ethical system that privileges Commandant O’Evilstein’s pinky toes over the lives of a million Sleepyville children isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on either.

    The point is that drawing conclusions about your ethical system based on the hardest case you can possibly imagine is kinda pointless because hard cases always have to be approached on a situational basis. The chances that that Commandant O’Evilstein just detonates the killamatron before you can even catch him are about 10,000 times greater than the chances that you’ll need to torture him in order to obtain the passcode to the reactor chamber – so really you ought to worry about something else.

    But all ethical systems eventually have to answer the question of “which baby do we lock in a broom closet and starve to death?” Everybody is always complacent in it at some level. I mean – that baby is going to get locked in that broom closet the only thing your “ethical” system does is help you choose which baby. Even if you walk away from Omelas, that baby dies alone and terrified in a filthy dank closet. This is a given fact of life. People who don’t deserve it die and get hurt, everybody gets to make decisions where there isn’t a good outcome. The situation is impossible. Everything you do is wrong. Trying to make ethical decisions on some universal syllogism isn’t going to help you when the killmatron hits Sleepyville and reduces it’s residents to blowing ash, and it’s not going to enable Commandant O’Evilstein (or you) to ever have another night where he doesn’t wake up in a cold sweat, crying for a mother who will never, ever come.

  • Madhabmatics

    So you are putting forth the idea that hypothetical scenarios are stupid (which is true and one of the reasons it’s stupid to support torture in the first place) and then you use the exact same ticking time bomb scenario you just decried to point out that torture could actually be okay and outlawing torture would be just as bad as torturing people?

    holy shit

  • Anonymous

    No, not at all. People will tend to generalize from difficult decisions, but that’s the wrong approach – you generalize from EASY cases. If you make a case hard enough – you can make ANY decision seems acceptable, because ultimately, any decision IS acceptable given enough caveats and extenuating circumstances. Given a less charged situation – try this:

    If you find a wallet full of money, you should return it to it’s owner. (Yes, true.)
    Now, imagine your children are hungry. (Well, maybe.)
    Now, imagine it’s Donald Trumps wallet. (Well, okay, maybe a little more.)
    Now, imagine that Bernard Madoff’s wallet. (Okay, I’m getting on board here.)

    You can raise the stakes until it seems immoral NOT to steal the wallet.

    See what I mean? You can always imagine a situation where any action is acceptable. You can always imagine a situation where the outcome of not acting “badly” NOW is worse LATER. And regardless chances are good that whichever decision you make can run just as foul in the opposite direction. (What if the money from Bernie Madoff’s wallet could be used to keep a now destitute Grandma alive for her only granddaughters first birthday, if only she could afford one more month of pills?)

  • Madhabmatics

    Any ethical system that even leaves the option for hooking people’s genitals up to batteries for whatever reason isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on and I can’t believe some of you are seriously going out on a limb to say “maybe torture is okay sometimes, I mean what if it would prevent later suffering?!”

    Oh wait, I can totally believe that because none of you belongs to a group which has anything above a laughably small chance of being tortured by the U.S. Government, please carry on telling us about the arcane rules that determine when slicing people’s thumbs off is okay and when it crosses the thin, thin line determined by 18th century Utilitarian philosophers, thanks.

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

    I can’t believe some of you are seriously going out on a limb to say “maybe torture is okay sometimes, I mean what if it would prevent later suffering?!”

    By “some of you”, are you including me? Because I’m definitely not arguing that and never would, but I’ve only seen one person who is, and I suppose you could look at my comments as saying that I agreed.

    For the record: I do not think torture is okay. Ever.

  • Madhabmatics

    Yeah I’m not including you, sorry! I just thought it better to include the plural just in case.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    I do not endorse soldiers threatening to disappear/shoot/torture you.

    They were wrong to do so.

    I’m sorry that happened.

    It appears that I came across as endorsing it, or as somehow claiming that it’s OK or acceptable or not worth opposing or something along those lines, and I’m sorry for that as well.

    I don’t endorse it.
    It is not OK.
    It is not acceptable.
    It’s very much worth opposing.
    I do in fact oppose it.

    But, yes: I oppose it on the grounds that it causes you and others like you to suffer, and I want you not to suffer.

  • Lori

    The problem with killing one to save a thousand is that no one can see the future. You may think or expect that the thousand would be killed. But you can’t be sure.

    So no one can really kill one person to save a thousand. Because those thousand deaths are hypothetical, while the one murder you commit is real.

    Judgement calls are part of life. Some hypotheticals are more likely than others. Categorically refusing to deal with anything but the harm one knows for sure is, IMO, a strictly surface morality. I’m aware that people disagree on this issue and I respect that.

    Which has nothing to do with advocating torture. I’m not inclined to go all through this debate again, but it’s my opinion that torture is ineffective and when people torture they’re doing it for reasons other an a search for information. I’ve heard the full range of convoluted scenarios that torture advocates use to justify their desire to torture and I’ve yet to hear one that was convincing.

  • Madhabmatics

    Look, here’s my problem with the whole “I oppose torture, not because it’s evil, because it doesn’t work” scenario.

    If someone said “I oppose curing gay people, not because stripping someone coercively of their identity is wrong, but because it doesn’t work” everyone would immediately recognize the unseen clause: “But if it works, I’m totally switching to the pro-cure side! Yeah!”

    Saying you oppose torture because it doesn’t work isn’t saying you oppose torture, it’s saying you want to wait until we are good enough at torture to make it work and then it’ll be okay.

  • Lori

    Saying you oppose torture because it doesn’t work isn’t saying you oppose torture, it’s saying you want to wait until we are good enough at torture to make it work and then it’ll be okay.

    Or we’re saying that we think torture never works and we’re trying to avoid exactly the sort of didactic slippery slope argument that this is rapidly turning into. Thinking that actual outcome has a bearing on morality doesn’t mean believing that torture is OK and yet that’s were this topic goes every single time the issue comes up.

  • Madhabmatics

    Do you think people that say “The only reason I don’t kill people is because God said not to” are moral?

    How is it any different than “The only reason I don’t torture you is because the last academic paper said it wasn’t very efficient?”

  • Anonymous

    Do you think people that say “The only reason I don’t kill people is because God said not to” are moral?

    I think they’re behaving morally despite themselves.

  • Madhabmatics

    I wouldn’t because as soon as someone convinces them God doesn’t care they are willing to throw me into the meat-grinder.

    Just like people who would be willing to throw me in Guantanamo as soon as some study pops up saying “We’ve found a way to make Muslims squeal like a pig, news at 11”

    How can you possibly respect someone who’s only excuse for not trying to ruin your life is so paper-thin and open to change?

    edit: in this case it’s literally paper thin since the only thing stopping you from approving torture is a paper proving it can work.

    edit edit: and I don’t mean you or even necessarily Lori (since you haven’t thrown in an opinion besides “Oh Lord not this conversation again), I meant the general you.

  • Anonymous

    Hence why I said ‘behaving morally despite themselves‘.

  • Lori

    How is it any different than “The only reason I don’t torture you is because the last academic paper said it wasn’t very efficient?”

    I’m sorry that I’m not giving you what you want. You clearly want an absolute declaration that, even if it would work, torture is everywhere, always, for all reason so morally wrong that it can never be the morally correct choice under any circumstances.

    I can’t say that about torture because I don’t think I can say that about anything. Principles absolutely matter, but IMO so do outcomes. As I said, I’m not sold on the idea that the only thing I’m responsible for is keeping my hands clean. My behavior is the only thing I can control, but IMO that doesn’t make it legitimate to only consider my personal “purity” when I make decisions.

    The “curing” gays example doesn’t apply to the torture discussion because being gay isn’t wrong. The thing you’re trying to prevent with torture may or may not be wrong. Apples and oranges.

    Setting aside wild hypotheticals, in the real world I believe torture is always wrong. I doubt very seriously that will ever change. We’re far more likely to perfect non-invasive brain scan technology that will allow us to painlessly determine if people are lying than we are to invent a torture method that can be relied upon. I don’t foresee ever being in any circumstances where I would consider the torture or don’t torture decision to even be a hard call and no matter what that ass Dick Cheney says I don’t believe it’s actually been a hard call for anyone else either. Cheney likes torture for reasons that have nothing to do with protecting the country or preventing crimes or any of the other weak ass excuses he has invented in the last decade.

    I’m fully aware that what I just said will convince some people that I’m a moral monster. FWIW I’m not so sold on their morals either. People have been debating the appropriateness of various possible systems of ethical decision-making for thousands of years and I think that’s unlikely to change.

  • Madhabmatics

    :( I really don’t think anyone in this thread is a moral monster or anything, honest. It just really freaks me out that people I respect support it even in hypothetical, even though people like GDwarf have made some very good and admirable posts about it and obviously aren’t going to snap and become torturers or anything. I’ve been indicting everyone here and I feel pretty bad about that because I really do like ya’ll.

    It’s hard for me to operate on a hypothetical level having friends who still have torture scars. Especially when that hypothetical support is the same one that people use all the time to justify torture, even though you guys obviously aren’t for it.

  • Lori

    It’s hard for me to operate on a hypothetical level having friends who still have torture scars. Especially when that hypothetical support is the same one that people use all the time to justify torture, even though you guys obviously aren’t for it.

    I absolutely understand that.

    FWIW a major part of the reason that I tend to approach this issue at a rather high level is that if I get very specific my rage and horror and shame over what has been done by representatives of my country in the last 10 years tends to result in me simply spewing out a wall ‘o text filled with cursing and invective. I will never forgive Bush & Co. for what they did. Never.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    For what it’s worth, I don’t think it’s helpful to berate yourself for it, either.

    You’ve been traumatized, and your reaction is an entirely common one to trauma.

    That said, I don’t think we’re going to make a lot more progress on this thread. You are hearing me and other people endorsing (under some utterly implausible circumstances) an activity that you can’t conceive of it ever being OK for anyone to endorse (under any circumstances, however implausible), and I don’t think we’re going to find a point of contact across that gulf today.

    Perhaps it’s enough for now to accept intellectually that, while our position isn’t one you can accept, you can nevertheless believe we aren’t monsters or fools to hold it?

  • muteKi

    In my case my response would be that due to the way that torture works, I don’t think it’s possible to “get good enough at torture to make it work”. It underestimates many individuals’ commitment to a cause; if it’s a cause they’re already willing to die for I doubt it ever can work for them.

    That is, for me, many of the reasons that make torture/curing gays/racial profiling ineffective are the same reasons that make them immoral.

  • Bumperpflug

    “Watching the repression wouldn’t be easy (though we seem to be having no difficulty doing that in Bahrain and Yemen). But the overthrow of tyrants and the establishment of democracy have to be local work, and in this case, sadly, the locals couldn’t do it. ”

    It was this question that ultimately nudged me in favor of the invasion, with obvious reservations. Surely the overthrow of tyranny is something that must be [i]initiated[/i] and [i]led[/i] by the locals, but I can’t jive with the idea that those locals that fail are somehow less deserving of self-determination and freedom from reprisal than those who succeed simply because the bad guys had more/bigger guns. At the risk of sounding downright smarmy, the United States would likely not have achieved independence were it not for a military intervention by the French on terms roughly analogous to how the Libyans have asked for UN assistance.

  • Anonymous

    If torture worked then I would have to seriously debate being fine with its use, yes, and so would everyone. I don’t know that torture is innately wrong (I don’t think anything can be innately wrong, there are things that I am and always will be opposed to, but that’s not the same thing) and I don’t think that, without divine knowledge, one can claim that it is always wrong to torture.

    That said, I can think of no situation in which torture works. So it is simply increasing the harm in the world for no net gain. It’s the same objection I have to punching random bystanders in the face, but if it turned out that a spree of face-punching would save lives then I’d like to think I’d do that.

    The phrase “the ends justify the means” gets thrown about as a sign of ultimate evil, which is ridiculous. Every decision we make compares the ends against the means. Giving money to the poor has good ends but a means that hurts you. You decide that the good end justifies the means.

    The question is what ends justify what means. I say that if your ends have good odds of doing more good than your means do harm, then your action is probably moral. Note the uncertainty: life is complex, and there are always exceptions, but in general, if I can act to help someone(s) immensely by hurting someone(s) slightly then I’ll do so.

  • Anonymous

    Oh, and on the: “You’d be all for ‘curing’ gays against their will if it worked!!!111”

    No, I wouldn’t, because in that case you’re, once again, harming people without improving anyone’s life.

    I would, however, be all in favour of voluntary ‘treatment’ for any sexual orientation or fetish because there’s nothing innately wrong with changing that, it’s only forcing people to change it against their will (or, in voluntary cases, the fact that it doesn’t work) that makes it wrong.

  • Madhabmatics

    I’m not saying people everyone who is only against torture based on efficiency would also be for curing gays, just that their argument has the same structure as one regarding curing gays and that the flaws are much, much more obvious in that one since most of us recognize that “curing” people of homosexuality would be wrong for reasons besides “It doesn’t work.”

    If someone said “Well, I’m against it because it doesn’t work” we’d all flip out on them because that’s coming really close to tacit support.

    See, you are against forcing people to change things against their will because forcing people to change against their will is wrong. So why is it that when it comes to torture inflicting pain on someone against their will is only wrong because we can’t make it give accurate information yet?

  • Anonymous

    Because in the hypothetical torture situation the good outweighs the harm. Saving thousands of lives at the cost of torturing one person? Moral, if very, very, very upsetting.

    Torturing one person for no gain? Immoral.

  • Wells

    On Torture.

    People don’t torture for information. Torture produces negative information, as it allows your intelligence chain to be contaminated with bullshit.

    People torture to create useful lies, break the psyches of the opposition, to intimidate the non-tortured, and to get their rocks off. That’s why people torture.

    Why do you think the focus of torturers is on confessions and fingering others?
    A confession obtained from torture is a useful lie, as it can be used to convict the tortured in a court of law regardless of if said person is guilty or not. The contents of the confessions can also be used by the state to argue that there are certain conspiracies afoot that require even more resources devoted to the military and intelligence services.
    When names are named, regardless of if the fingered actually have anything to do with anything. It causes people to be afraid of associating with prescribed groups or people not members of prescribed groups but who have unorthodox opinions. Great for breaking the social bonds between oppressed people. Not so good at actually fighting war against people who shoot back.

    Why do you think people don’t care if you torture someone innocent with no information? (Who, by the way, is the type of person most likely to die under torture)
    Because people who torture see innocence as not relevant. Anyone can sign the confession, right? Anyone can say that they and their friends were plotting and planning, right?
    Even you.

  • BaseDeltaZero

    “Does anyone really believe that any of the political powers getting involved in this conflict give a wet fart for the people of Libya? Do you really think they see this as anything other than a desperate, last-ditch effort toward maintaining Western influence in the Middle East”
    Actually, I think they *do* care about the people of Libya. It may a determining concern in itself, or even a particularly major concern. (But at least, they need to *pretend* it’s a concern…) And they probably see it as a somewhat reasonable method of gaining influence in the Middle East.

    “But since his audience is not entirely Christian, I’ll just go ahead and point out that just war theory isn’t *logical*, either. All wars subsume people’s rights to the interests of the political classes that control the warring states. That is the opposite of justice.”
    All forms of government subsume people’s rights. And for reference, Anarchism is transhumanism in a clown suit, to put it nicely.

    “No, I’m aware of that. I just reject the idea that choosing the lesser of two evils is ever excusable. I am not a consequentialist.”
    Then you’re a fool, and a hypocrite. You are causing trouble for others elsewhere in the world. The computer you are using consumes electricity that could be used for more worthy causes.

    “If I could save a thousand innocent lives by murdering one, I would not do it.”
    Perhaps… but what if one was going to kill a thousand others, and you could stop that one by killing him/her? Would you still not do it?

    “Which leaves the question of the justice of war. As you say, it is doubtful that any war has ever been fought justly.”
    I hope you’re Aryan. And a sufficiently obedient member of the communist party. And not in the way…

    “If you are going to grant them that, you may as well grant them the whole thing based on that horrible ticking time-bomb hypothetical they all love to use.”
    The ticking bomb is stupid for entirely unrelated reasons. If you could find the bomb by, say… using telepathy, though? (Hey, it’s only slightly less likely)

    “And you plus a thousand people, working together, can stop that one person without having to kill them.”
    Theoretically. Of course, that would mean more of the thousand people die. Is it really beter to let a dozen people get machine gunned to death rushing instead of just shooting the perpertrator? Or what if the situation is that the one is about to detonate a bomb, and only you can prevent it, by acting now?
    (Also, note that the question doesn’t actually say the one is going to cause the other deaths. In which case I’d be a bit more opposed.

    “Namely, it would forbid the use of violence against the non-violent, no matter what is meant to be accomplished by it.”
    Because Ghaddafi’s army is so peaceful.

    “A better ethical maxim would be a prohibition against initiatory force, by anyone, against anyone, under any circumstances. With that, we know what is wrong (aggression) and what is right (non-aggression); we know who, in any given circumstance, is to be denounced, and who defended – the aggressor and the victim, respectively.”
    Well… this isn’t that bad. But is it necessarily wrong for one group to act against aggression perpetrated against one group? Or is this under the theory that you should never even fight back? In which case, ‘good’ people will shortly be extinct.

    “The ability to look on torture as an issue of “truth and falsehood” is a luxury of someone who isn’t ever actively threatened with torture.”
    Being able to look at things neutrally isn’t necessarily a bad thing… but yeah.

    If someone said “I oppose curing gay people, not because stripping someone coercively of their identity is wrong, but because it doesn’t work” everyone would immediately recognize the unseen clause: “But if it works, I’m totally switching to the pro-cure side! Yeah!”
    There is nothing morally wrong with being gay.

    Just like people who would be willing to throw me in Guantanamo as soon as some study pops up saying “We’ve found a way to make Muslims squeal like a pig, news at 11”
    Exactly what benefit would anyone gain from that?

    “I would, however, be all in favour of voluntary ‘treatment’ for any sexual orientation or fetish because there’s nothing innately wrong with changing that, it’s only forcing people to change it against their will (or, in voluntary cases, the fact that it doesn’t work) that makes it wrong.”
    Hmm… what about involuntary treatment for, say… pedophilia. Just out of curiosity.

  • BaseDeltaZero

    Correction: May *not* be a determining concern in itself.

  • Anonymous

    Hmm… what about involuntary treatment for, say… pedophilia. Just out of curiosity.

    I…don’t know. It evokes all the horrors of past and present “gay therapy”, but paedophilia is also something that’s potentially quite harmful. But then not all paedophiles in any way hurt children…

    I think that, for now, my stance would be a tentative yes, depending on side-effects of the treatment and how effective it is.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    >>I am not a consequentialist.
    > Then you’re a fool, and a hypocrite.

    I have to admit, you’re now making me regret having identified as a preference utilitarian on this thread.

    > what about involuntary treatment for, say… pedophilia. Just out of curiosity.

    I’d really be curious about the specifics… that is, what causes this person to refuse the treatment? But yeah, I can imagine endorsing involuntary treatment for pedophilia.

  • Anonymous

    Anarchism is transhumanism in a clown suit, to put it nicely.

    LOL. Thread over. You win.

  • Ursula L

    The thing with torture, is that it isn’t an either/or between whether its wrong or whether its work. Rather, it’s a three point process:

    1. Torture is evil, and using it makes you an evil person who needs to be stopped, and any claims that you’re using torture for good are invalid,
    2. AND torture doesn’t work to gain accurate and useful information, because you’ve no way of knowing whether the person you’re torturing is telling the truth or telling you what you want to hear
    3. AND the hypotheticals about “what if torture would get you useful information in this or that horrible situation” are stupid and unrealistic and playing along with such hypotheticals merely distracts from finding real-world solutions that are both moral and work.

    It’s the same with killing one person to save a thousand. If you’ve got good, reliable and accurate information that killing that one person will save a thousand, then you’ve got enough information to organize people to stop that one person without killing them. If you don’t have information good enough to convince others to help you stop this person in a humane way, then you don’t have convincing information, and you need to rethink your assumption that this single murder would actually help you save a thousand lives. And the various hypotheticals intended to get people to think about deciding about whether they’d kill one to save a thousand either ignore these points or introduce so many unrealistic variables to get around these points that wrecking your brain over what you’d do in that hypothetical situation is a waste of time, and you’re better off thinking about how you’d persuade and organize people to solve the problem in a sensible way.

    There are times when hypothetical questions are useful and interesting. But when it comes to moral dilemmas, the most important thing is to remember that reality and morality have to work together.

    Tidy hypotheticals can be used as a distraction in a debate. Someone who wants to torture can easily imagine hypothetical situations where torture might theoretically be useful, if it worked the way they imagined instead of working on human beings who are real people and who can as easily lie to stop pain as tell the truth. Someone who wants to excuse murder can come up with hypotheticals where being a lone, heroic murderer seems the right thing, if you ignore the nature of how life really works.

    But there is no reason for sensible people to play along with these sorts of games. Particularly when it comes to consideration of real-world policy and what to do in life-or-death real-world situations.

    Omelas is another unrealistic and distracting hypothetical, like the ticking time-bomb for torture or killing one to save a thousand. People don’t work that way! If you find yourself in Omelas, the thing to do is not to stay or leave or destroy the system, but to study what is going on, because whatever it is, knowing one child is being tortured does not make people behave well. So figure out what is really going on, and share that information, and stop the child’s misery. It’s one more example of “if you think you have to do wrong for the greater good, you don’t have enough information.”

    Give Hitler that commission to travel the world and paint landscapes in 1908. Spare him the horror of the trenches in WWI and the misery of being rejected by the great art schools, and give him the chance to do something constructive that he enjoys, distracting him from his worse side. The world can handle having a few more pretty but unexceptional landscape paintings. Don’t think that the only option for stopping evil is to do evil yourself.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    My own experience of the story of Omelas is that reading it and thinking about it forced me at a relatively young age to face the question of whether I’m (hypothetically) willing to accept the benefits of a society built on inequality and the suffering of others.

    Which led me pretty ineluctably to the realization that I am accepting the benefits of a society built on inequality and the suffering of others. And so is pretty much everyone else I know.

    And while realizing that doesn’t somehow make it all better, it nevertheless seems to me that realizing it is better than failing to realize it.

    So I don’t agree that Omelas is an unrealistic hypothetical that merely distracts people from the important questions, or that the best thing to do when faced with the story of Omelas is simply dismiss the child’s treatment as evil and not think about it further.

  • BaseDeltaZero

    “Which led me pretty ineluctably to the realization that I am accepting the benefits of a society built on inequality and the suffering of others. And so is pretty much everyone else I know.”
    Well… actually, this ties into what Ursula said pretty well. ‘Inequality’ could be argued (in a ‘drive to succeed sense’), but society *isn’t* built on the suffering of others. It’s just that our society happens to include inequality and the suffering of others. These are bad things. They make it less rich (in multiple senses), not more. The child’s suffering has no meaning. You don’t *have* to choose between its misery or your own.

    Conversely…

    “It’s the same with killing one person to save a thousand. If you’ve got good, reliable and accurate information that killing that one person will save a thousand, then you’ve got enough information to organize people to stop that one person without killing them. If you don’t have information good enough to convince others to help you stop this person in a humane way, then you don’t have convincing information, and you need to rethink your assumption that this single murder would actually help you save a thousand lives.”
    Are you arguing that in *any* situation, you can *only* use nonlethal force? That’s not always a trivial thing to do. Yes, it’s better to take a third option, and in this sense, all ethical scenarios are invalid… but these questions are about generalities, not specific situations…

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    I feel like I’m completely missing your point, so I’m going to take a step back and try to clarify my own, so we can more clearly identify where the divergence is.

    It seems pretty clear to me that if tomorrow my society were altered such that it wasn’t causing significant numbers of people in it to suffer, it would be unrecognizable. In that world, pretty much any institution I am familiar with would not continue to exist in any form I am familiar with.

    Do you disagree with that? If so, can you mention a few existing institutions you think would be mostly unaltered by that change?

    Assuming we agree so far… I infer from this that, insofar as I benefit from those institutions in their current form, I am receiving benefits from the suffering they depend on, and am therefore complicit in that suffering. I’m not endorsing that, but I am acknowledging it.

    I’m also not asserting that I receive net benefits … which might be where the confusion comes from. By way of analogy: if I work for Evil Inc and make $10 an hour, then I’m benefiting from (and helping to sustain) evil. This is true even if Good Inc. opens an office down the block would pay me $20/hour for the same work.

  • BaseDeltaZero

    “I feel like I’m completely missing your point, so I’m going to take a step back and try to clarify my own, so we can more clearly identify where the divergence is.

    It seems pretty clear to me that if tomorrow my society were altered such that it wasn’t causing significant numbers of people in it to suffer, it would be unrecognizable. In that world, pretty much any institution I am familiar with would not continue to exist in any form I am familiar with.”
    Hmm… well, I suppose it depends on exactly how you define ‘suffering’. Is just having bad things happen suffering? Recieving less than you otherwise might? What about hardship you volunteer for? If we’re just talking about suffering brought on by the state of society; I don’t know about zero, but it could be significantly reduced while leaving the basic institutions intact. Not unchanged, but not utterly unimaginable.

    “Do you disagree with that? If so, can you mention a few existing institutions you think would be mostly unaltered by that change?”
    Depends on what you mean by ‘mostly unaltered’. If you mean ‘minor cosmetic changes only’, then… well, maybe the Fire Department? But a lot of institutions have severe problems, but they’re not inherent in the system. An ‘optimized’ society could still have the basic structure of a republic, for instance – albeit with considerable systemic changes (a more educated/attentive electorate, term limits (probably), something to deal with bribery. Its industries would have to pay a fair wage, but they’d still be industries… etc, etc.
    Yes, I don’t exactly know *how* to achieve all these things, but it’s not ‘Post-Scarcity Hivemind/Weirdness/Technocracy/Etc or nothing’ either.

    “Assuming we agree so far… I infer from this that, insofar as I benefit from those institutions in their current form, I am receiving benefits from the suffering they depend on, and am therefore complicit in that suffering. I’m not endorsing that, but I am acknowledging it.

    I’m also not asserting that I receive net benefits … which might be where the confusion comes from. By way of analogy: if I work for Evil Inc and make $10 an hour, then I’m benefiting from (and helping to sustain) evil. This is true even if Good Inc. opens an office down the block would pay me $20/hour for the same work.”
    Yeah, this is probably the source of the confusion. In Omelas, the city is literally fueled by suffering: there is a direct correlation between other’s suffering and your happiness. This, I would say, is not the case. Modern institutions may cause suffering, but this is side-effect, not the source of their power. In other words, you don’t *have* to choose between the happiness of others and your own. You can have both.

    Now… actually *doing* it is another thing, and… apparently something we have trouble with. But civilization is not inherently a zero sum game.


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