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To my friend who posted an Open letter to those who are offended by [her] stand on U.S foreign policy about 6 weeks ago following an argument she and I had about foreign policy:

Friend, we have a very strong disagreement about certain aspects of this topic, and our argument — in my mind, at least — was heated but not personal.  I am still deeply frustrated with your position — not because of you necessarily, but with the position itself.  However, don’t let my intensity make you think that I am personally offended.  Of course, all else being equal I’d rather you didn’t think I’m brainwashed, but I’m not going to hold that against you.  That would be quite small of me.

In any case, there’s no reason to worry about any offense.

Proverbs 10:12
1 Peter 4:8
Proverbs 17:9

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Listened to some of the debate last night (GOP Presidential nomination debate in Mesa, AZ hosted by CNN). Someone in the audience asked – my paraphrase – “How would you, as president, deal with the threat that Iran poses?” Totally lame question, because it’s been asked and answered dozens of times. However, I think it was instructive to hear the answers again. Ron Paul, being Ron Paul, made good points about not being careless about going to war, insisting on the formalities of doing so, and that there’s scant evidence that Iran is weaponizing their nuclear program, but also ranted nonsensically about having undeclared wars (such a tired old trope), exaggerating their expense, and that if we would just leave Iran alone, they’d have no need of a nuclear weapon (or any other aggression). He also raves on and on about how all the wars we’ve been involved in were unconstitutional, which I think is just batty. The constitution doesn’t regulate foreign policy all that much, and I think he likes to pretend that it does.

Anyway, Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, and Rick Santorum all proceeded to agree with each other on conventional arguments about the unacceptability of Iran being in possession of nuclear weapons and that it’s in America’s vital interests to prevent that scenario, even if by force.

I wish that Ron Paul weren’t so insane unacceptably irrational and naïve* in some of his views so that his better points could actually be heard. Most importantly:

  • We have to stop skipping the logical leap between Iran having a nuclear “program” and having nuclear weapons.  I’m inclined to believe that if they have one, they will have the other – but to make the case to the public (and more importantly, justify war), one has to connect the dots.  You can’t just roll your eyes at the GOP’s crazy unacceptably irrational and naïve old uncle.
  • Ron Paul is absolutely, 100% right about the formalities of going to war.  I think he’s wrong about the Iraq War being undeclared, but he may not be wrong in Libya or other conflicts in which we find ourselves.  I also think his skepticism of “pre-emptive” wars is justified.

Above all, I wish that we could have an honest political dialogue about why the Middle East is so volatile, and why it matters to us.  It’s all about oil, and we’ve let it get worse for us than necessary by choosing (through environmental and economic policy) to over-rely on oil imports rather than developing our own energy base (including renewables of all stripes).  I think energy subsidies have retarded our ability to make real progress in that area, not to mention the direct blockage of efforts to exploit domestic conventional energy sources.  It’s gotten lip service since the 80s, but the best long-term strategy for our handling of the Middle East is to make them into an irrelevant backwater by making their oil not matter.  It serve us and them better in the long run.

For that matter, I’d also like to see us get our act together on missile defense so that nuclear weapons themselves don’t matter so much.

 

(strikeouts at the request of a buddy who objected to the use of the word “insane”)

There are many bits transmitted (ink isn’t really spilled much these days) over the issue of whether to treat international terrorism as an act of war or as criminal action that should be dealt with in civil courts.   Heretofore I’ve been staunchly in the ‘war’ category, but I’m beginning to rethink that proposition.

Obviously there are differences between a terrorist act of the international sort (particularly the Radical Islam variety) and what we typically consider to be criminal acts, and I’ll come to those shortly (I’m hoping to keep this whole post brief).  However, I think there are also enough significant differences between “terrorism” and “war” that I’m no longer certain that they should be treated in the same way.  Most importantly, with a traditional war, there is a discrete endpoint at which violence no longer persists.  It ends and peace ensues.  Perhaps not an easy or prosperous peace, but peace.  The end of violence is one of the primary goals of a real war, if not the only goal.

Our “War on Terror” cannot be seen in those terms, much like a “War on Drugs” (in fact, this post by Andy McCarthy, of whom I think highly, is what triggered mine).  It has a potential for being everlasting, and the goal is not particularly war-like: you may never have real peace as such, but rather a sort of tolerable containment.  Of course, in some abstract sense, it is possible that we could kill every person on the planet that has designs for violence against America and her people, but it doesn’t seem like a practical goal to me.  I’ve said otherwise in conversations, but at this moment, I don’t think so.  I’m certainly no progressive (I have a rather strong antipathy to progressivism, as anyone who’s read much of my writing could attest), but I do think it is prudent to try and understand some basic things about the motives of the enemy in this case.  I don’t claim to be the expert on this, but I think there are a few things we can reasonably observe:

  • Radical Islam hates the West and America in particular as an existential matter, not because of something it did.  Some believe this to be a hatred of something in the essence of the West, and others believe it to be mere scapegoating of the West whereby it’s easier to say “they did it” than to face honestly the failures of one’s own civilization.  The latter seems like the best explanation to me.
  • Radical Islam wants to establish an Islamic empire

Here we have actors with very war-like aims, but manifest their tactics and strategy in a way that the methods of war don’t seem to be particularly well-suited to handle.

Anyway, the point is that the aims of these enemies are unlike those of criminals, who seem to be to be more focused on material gain and less willing to sacrifice their lives to some larger goal or movement.  Traditional law enforcement institutions are suitable for this kind of criminal.  Individual rights of the criminals themselves are honored to avoid abuse of the innocent and justice is the primary goal because peace was never in jeopardy.  Punishment is meted out in the interest of justice, establishing a broad deterrent, and secondarily with the goal of rehabilitation (if everything works out just perfectly).   Little of this sort of criminal justice approach applies.  Firstly, the goal isn’t to contain what we can and achieve some sort of post-facto justice for what we can’t like we do in civilized society – the point is to prevent harmful acts in the first place.  As in a traditional war, the goal is peace.  The enemy in this case won’t be deterred by punishment, and won’t be rehabilitated (the most recent near-successful attempts at terror attacks were perpetrated by educated, middle class, Westernized Muslims).

These aren’t anything like new conclusions, if you can call them that. I think the Bush administration, through the wisdom of some sharp military thinkers, came to recognize this in the latter stages of the war in Iraq and shifted its military strategy accordingly and prevented the invasion and subsequent occupation there from being as bad for the Iraqi people (and us) as it could have been. I also think the approach of using military tribunals is probably a pretty good idea, and a good way to protect some core human rights for the enemy combatants without allowing them access to privileges they have no claim to or allowing them to take advantage of opportunities for abuse that our system so readily presents. Effective counter-terrorism campaigns and military tribunals really don’t address the issue of peace. I think the things we’ve been doing up to this point (trying to freeze financial assets, international law enforcement and intelligence agency cooperation along with targeted combat, all of which is aimed at destroying the ability of the enemy to make war) represents the best approach we’ve been able to come up with, and after thinking through as many of the issues as is practical for a guy with a day job, I’m not sure I have anything better to offer.


† I tend to agree with Jonah Goldberg’s thinking about these things in many ways. The above observations bear resemblance to fascism, properly understood.

‡ Let me add here that I don’t necessarily approve of or endorse every tactic or government activity employed in the course of dealing with the enemy in our “war” against Islamofacism. Those are topics for another day. For example: in my opinion, the Patriot Act goes too far and our foreign policy objectives don’t define our “interests” narrowly enough. “Torture” is a minefield because our language and thinking about it is very muddled. Definitely deserves its own entry.