Surge Overkill

John McCain is set to deliver a speech at 11:30 Mountain Daylight Time arguing (according to the prepared remarks) that his support for the surge in Iraq qualifies him to be commander in chief, while opposition to it disqualifies Barack Obama.

We both knew the politically safe choice was to support some form of retreat. All the polls said the "surge" was unpopular. Many pundits, experts and policymakers opposed it and advocated withdrawing our troops and accepting the consequences. I chose to support the new counterinsurgency strategy backed by additional troops − which I had advocated since 2003, after my first trip to Iraq. Many observers said my position would end my hopes of becoming president. I said I would rather lose a campaign than see America lose a war. My choice was not smart politics. It didn't test well in focus groups. It ignored all the polls. It also didn't matter. The country I love had one final chance to succeed in Iraq. The new strategy was it. So I supported it. [...]

Senator Obama made a different choice. He not only opposed the new strategy, but actually tried to prevent us from implementing it. He didn't just advocate defeat, he tried to legislate it. When his efforts failed, he continued to predict the failure of our troops. As our soldiers and Marines prepared to move into Baghdad neighborhoods and Anbari villages, Senator Obama predicted that their efforts would make the sectarian violence in Iraq worse, not better.

And as our troops took the fight to the enemy, Senator Obama tried to cut off funding for them. He was one of only 14 senators to vote against the emergency funding in May 2007 that supported our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. He would choose to lose in Iraq in hopes of winning in Afghanistan. But had his position been adopted, we would have lost both wars.

I'll let smarter and/or more partisan folk debate the comparative merits, successes and failures of the surge (which I, for the record, opposed, though I'm glad it turned out better than I thought). What interests me here is McCain's classic trait of personalizing all policy debates. If you disagree with him, it must be because you are dishonorable, and placing politics ahead of country. He, on the other hand, continues to be motivated by a love of country more pure than Karen Carpenter's singing voice, at a severe political cost that only a torture-surviving stoic would be willing to bear.

There is plenty of horsepuckey on both counts. First of all, as mom always said, when you assume the motivations of your opponents, you make an "ass" out of "u" and "me." Though I give Obama zero benefit of the doubt, I know plenty of people who have taken his exact line on Iraq over the past few years that he has, and it certainly wasn't out of political calculation or a desire to see American defeat.

Second and more interestingly, at the time of the surge, there was zero political cost to McCain supporting the surge. He was running in a Republican primary, and not particularly well, so his ironclad support for troop escalation was largely seen by many Republican stalwarts (in a season where the only anti-war candidate was being treated like a leper) as one of the best things going for the guy, given his various transgressions on other counts. The only people who thought McCain was taking a practical political hit for supporting the surge in early-primary season were non-Republicans, especially journalists. And even the latter were busy praising his return to Straight Talk. Here's what I wrote at the time:

The John McCain presidency effectively began on January 10, 2007, when George W. Bush announced the deployment of five more combat brigades to Iraq. [...] [T]he plan was nearly identical to what the Republican senior senator from Arizona, nearly alone among his Capitol Hill colleagues, had been advocating for months: boost troop levels by at least 20,000, give coalition forces the authority to impose security in every corner of Baghdad, and increase the size of America's overburdened standing military by around 100,000 during the next five years.

For the purposes of the 2008 campaign, Bush's surge announcement was almost the perfect gift: McCain got to solidify his case with primary voters even while giving himself operational deniability. ("We've made many, many mistakes since 2003, and these will not be easily reversed," he said on January 11, while reiterating his call for even more troops.) [...] [I]t also allowed McCain to recapture some of his lost reputation as a straight-talking independent. "I would much rather lose a campaign than lose a war," he said with a grin on Larry King Live right after Bush's speech. The press, which had been souring on the candidate during his noisy lurch to the right, breathed an audible sigh of relief. "Defiant McCain back as maverick," declared the Chicago Tribune.

And note that his whole "rather lose a campaign than lose a war" shtick is almost word for word how he described his reasons for delaying his official entry into the 2000 campaign, in deference to building support for the Kosovo intervention. How did that hurt McCain politically? Let's go to David Brooks, on Feb. 27, 2000:

We don't know where Arizona Sen. John McCain's campaign will land, but we can pinpoint when it took off. About a year ago, Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic was cleansing Kosovo of ethnic Albanians. There were reports of massacres and gang rapes and forced marches. The Clinton administration was gearing up to do something about it. The House Republicans were at cross purposes−pretty sure that whatever President Bill Clinton did, they'd be against it. Texas Gov. George W. Bush did the politically prudent thing−and disappeared off the radar screen. Among Republicans, only McCain rushed to declare himself. He criticized the way Clinton was taking us into Kosovo. But he argued vehemently that the world's superpower could not stand by as civilization unraveled in the middle of Europe.

Suddenly, McCain was being quoted all over. He emerged as the most prominent GOP voice on foreign affairs. As the Carnegie Endowment's Robert Kagan noted, Kosovo was the first primary and McCain won it.

Advocating for more boots on the ground has not been an unpopular position in American politics this past decade. Indeed, McCain never took much of a hit for saying about Bill Clinton's Kosovo strategy much what Obama said about the surge: That it was heading us toward failure. Here's McCain on the Senate floor, April 13, 1999:

I think it is safe to assume that no one, including me, anticipated the speed with which Serbia would defeat our objectives in Kosovo, and the scope of that defeat. Yes, the war is only three weeks old, and yes, NATO can and probably will prevail in this conflict with what is, after all, a considerably inferior adversary. But victory will not be hastened by pretending that things have just gone swimmingly.

Worse, unless we all, administration supporter and detractor alike, look critically at both why we went to war in the Balkans, and why we have failed to achieve our ends, I fear the administration and our NATO allies might commit the gravest mistake we could make at this time: changing our ends to make our means more effective rather than employing more effective means to achieve our ends. [...]

For air strikes to have any chance of preventing Milosevic's awful atrocities they needed to be, from the beginning, massive, strategic and sustained. No infrastructure targets should have been off limits. And while we all grieve over civilian casualties as well as our own losses, they are unavoidable. When nations settle their differences by force of arms a million tragedies ensue. That's why we try to avoid it. War is a much more terrible thing than cruise missile attacks on Iraqi radar sites. But losing a war is worse.

How would Kosovo look today if we had sent in ground troops and massively bombed the shit out of Serbia? Hard to say, though surely a lot more people would be dead. The point is that you can win most any military victory you want using maximum U.S. force, but that doesn't in and of itself make sacrificing troops and blowing up countries a good idea, let alone indicative of a politician's superior patriotism.

I don't know about Obama (literally), but I can tell you this: The next time we face what McCain hyperbolically described as "a crisis as profound as any in our history," President McCain will argue − stoically, and with patriotic sadness more than nationalistic anger − that the only thing he hates more than war is anyone daring to suggest that escalating troop levels yet again isn't the answer to the transcendental crisis du jour. Will such sentiments work politically in 2008? I don't know. But it's likely his only hope.

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  • ||

    Am I the only one expecting the insurgency to mount a little October Surprise?

  • ||

    I hope they bring cake.

  • ||

    Am I the only one expecting the insurgency to mount a little October Surprise?

    Expecting or hoping?

  • ||

    So the surge is successful because it shows higher troop levels lead to more colonial stability?

    Common folks, stop passing them the KY, the surge is a complete disaster because it ever more entrenches us into the colonial project.

    Remember all those shrill campus liberals who cried wolf about empire all those years? Well now its come, and its about time libertarians start using it, because fortunately we haven't exhausted the term.

  • EJM||

    For those expecting a UO song, here's "Positive Bleeding".

  • ||

    One more thing, Washington is assuming that the insurgency is not a rational actor capable of strategic thought.

    Given the tiniest bit of intelligence and strategery the insurgents could just wait until after the election and savage the new president with a Tet like offensive.

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    The use of empire is still goofy. I'm a linguistic conservative, so until we have an emperor, we need a better term.

    Of course pacification of warring factions required more troops. I've said before that someone owes General Eric Shinseki a massive apology (and we can all agree that Rumsfeld is a stone-cold moron).

  • Nigel Watt||

    I love the nonsensical nature of the "I'm making a politically stupid statement because it's the right thing to do" shit. So because you don't want to "lose in Iraq", but Obama does, you will take an action that you believe may hand the election over to Obama, which by your logic means the country will "lose in Iraq"...Sounds like you shouldn't be trusted with more than a GI Joe action figure.

  • ||

    TAO,
    The British Empire had a parliament and no emperor. In the later years of the Empire, their monarch was pretty much as week as it is today.

  • GG||

    This whole bit is full of win but the McCain clip at 5:22 is just too much:

    "We will succeed, we have succeeded and we will win the war in Iraq. And we are winning."
    -- John McCain

  • Les||

    Expecting or hoping?

    Thanks, Joshua, for illustrating Matt's point so well. If you wonder about the success of a strategy, you must, therefore, be hoping it fails.

    It's a really juvenile form of argument.

  • ||

    I don't think the insurgency is entirely a rational actor. That is its weakness. There are different factions and no central strategic planning. Zarqawi, for some reason, decided to trigger a civil war between Sunni and Shi'a, and then somehow his successors managed to piss off their fellow Sunnis as well. That's not rational, if your goal is to drive out the Americans.

    I'm impressed with one thing about McCain; he will occasionally insert details into his speeches that do not serve his purpose and may even reflect well on his opponent. In the speech quoted above, he mentions something about Obama hoping to win in Afghanistan. He could have easily avoided mentioning that at all, as it undercuts the caricature of Obama as an isolationist peacenik.

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    For air strikes to have any chance of preventing Milosevic's awful atrocities they needed to be, from the beginning, massive, strategic and sustained. No infrastructure targets should have been off limits. And while we all grieve over civilian casualties as well as our own losses, they are unavoidable.

    Isn't bombing purely-civilian infrastructure a war crime?

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    Barack Obama can win this fight with McCain, or at least fight it to a draw, but he has to be willing to actually engage, present an alternative viewpoint, and argue for it.

    He can't just ignore it and try to change the subject to health care and gas prices, like so many other Democrats have tried to do when Republicans have put forward national security arguments over the past few years.

  • Justin||

    I believe the correct phrase is:

    "WHEN YOU MAKE AN ASSUMPTION, YOU MAKE AN ASS OUT OF U AND UMPTION!"

    -Samuel L. Jackson, The Long Kiss Goodnight.

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    I'm still adhering to the idea that Americans are schizophrenic about Iraq. They want it over, but they want it to be over with a win. If McCain can convince Americans he has a "peace with honor" plan, he's going to win.

  • Colin||

    I'm not sure we should consider the Surge a success just because less soldiers are dying. We're still spending just as much (if not more), and we're really no closer to leaving. One can even make the argument that it would've been easier to leave before the Surge.

    We bombed plenty of civilian infrastructure during WWII. On purpose.

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    Doesn't matter what he says. No one from the media will be there to report on it anyway. He could stand there and show nudie shots of the congressional summer picnic from the Clinton years and no one would ever know.

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    I don't know how many people realize this, but the so-called "Surge" was really a cover for permanently stationing more troops in Iraq. We went from 110,000 to 150,000 troops, but because there were 10,000 combat troops who will be drawn down (or have been) but the accompanying 40,000 support troops can't be drawn down until much deeper combat cuts come.

    It's a trap!

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    I couldn't help but notice how much more articulate John McCain's statement from 10 years ago was in comparisson to the ones he makes today.

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    Chloe exaggerates, but not too badly.

    John McCain stepped off a plane in New Hampshire a few days ago, and was greeted by a gaggle of one (1) journalist, from the Manchester Union Leader.

    It becomes difficult to frame the public debate when the only journalists repeating your frames are from already-discredited, partisan media outlets.

  • ||

    whoops, that should have been 30,000 combat support troops.

    Math is fun(damental)

  • TallDave||

    Second and more interestingly, at the time of the surge, there was zero political cost to McCain supporting the surge.

    Except if it failed, which quite a few people thought it would, including Obama, in which case it would have been a huge albatross. It was also the unpopular position generally speaking.

    Advocating for more boots on the ground has not been an unpopular position in American politics this past decade.

    Except when it has, such as when McCain was advocating it.

    How would Kosovo look today if we had sent in ground troops and massively bombed the shit out of Serbia?

    I'm sorry, are you arguing we didn't massively bomb Serbia, or that ground troops defending Kosovar civilians would have somehow made the situation worse for Kosovars? Neither is very sensible.

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    He not only opposed the new strategy, but actually tried to prevent us from implementing it. He didn't just advocate defeat, he tried to legislate it.

    This is one of the gaping holes in McCain's narrative--an abyss traversed by the wildly irrational (and popular among right-wingers) assumption that opposing a particular favored strategy or tactic is tantamount to opposing success. Obama should drive hard at this claim for what it is, an execrable slander that has no place in the debate.

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    Except if it failed

    That's not true. A little game theory:

    John McCain is the pro-Iraq War candidate, and by the time of the Surge, he couldn't run as anything else even if he wanted to, which he didn't. He owned that position.

    There are four possibilities: McCain supports the surge and it works; McCain supports the surge and it fails; McCain opposes the surge and it works; McCain opposes the surge and it fails.

    If the surge failed, it wouldn't matter what McCain was saying about it. He's the Iraq War candidate, and if things are bad there, he loses.

    If McCain opposed the surge and it worked, he loses. He was on the wrong side of the issue, and was advocating for "staying the Bush course" instead of the policy that succeeded.

    But if McCain supported the surge and it worked, he gains from that.

    Ergo, there was never a downside to McCain for supporting the surge, while the only possible upside can be achieved by supporting it.

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    ...My choice was not smart politics. It didn't test well in focus groups. It ignored all the polls...

    So, by this logic, shouldn't McCain be praising Obama for his vote against the war in the first place? Oh, right, that won't happen, because that would reveal that McCain's mistake in supporting the war was a far greater error in judgment than Obama's error in opposing the surge. In fact, it is too soon to judge the surge, but that the invasion was a colossal blunder is a practical certainty.

    Ergo, there was never a downside to McCain for supporting the surge, while the only possible upside can be achieved by supporting it.

    Yep.

  • Matt Welch||

    I'm sorry, are you arguing we didn't massively bomb Serbia

    Yes, I'm arguing that we didn't massively bomb Serbia. Belgrade was minimally affected, for example.

  • ||

    Saying "The Surge worked, and I was right about it, and Obama was wrong" is not going to be enough to win over most voters; even if McCain can convince them that such a statement is true.

    Most people want to see some "light at the end of the tunnel" for Iraq, and the Surge doesn't do that by itself. Increased troop levels can help provide security. But there is a need for something to enable the Iraqi government to keep things from going nuts after the troops leave.

    McCain's mantra of "I;ll keep the troops in Baghdad 100 years if I have to..." or what ever he said is no good. Nobody wants to support a century-long-surge.

    By the way, my pre-surge opinion of the idea here:

    http://www.reason.com/blog/show/117298.html

  • ||

    Even if we were to ssume that the substance of McCain's argument could win over the public, throwing out the same old tropes about "surrender" and other smears about people's patriotism and decency isn't the right way to do so. Most Americans - on the order of 70% - have come to the anti-war position, and had already done so by the time the surge was being debated.

    It's a very tricky business convincing people you were right and they were wrong, and they should support you for being smarter than them. Accusing them of disrespecting the troops, wanting America to lose wars, and advocating defeat isn't the smartest way to go about that effort.

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    One more thing, Washington is assuming that the insurgency is not a rational actor capable of strategic thought.

    Given the tiniest bit of intelligence and strategery the insurgents could just wait until after the election and savage the new president with a Tet like offensive.


    If the goal is to get the US to leave, why wouldn't they just launch an "October Surprise" as Warren suggests, to get voters to vote for Obama?

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    "Isn't bombing purely-civilian infrastructure a war crime?"

    As far as I'm concerned, it is. As Colin said, we did it in WWII on purpose. Israel also did it on purpose in the 2006 Lebanon war. But, I guess the killing of innocent civilians doesn't matter to warmongers like McCain.

  • ||

    I guess the killing of innocent civilians doesn't matter to warmongers like McCain.

    Define "innocent".

    The enmeshing of the economy with the government means that we are all complicit in our government's actions, regardless of our cognizance of it.

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    I guess a better word would have been "noncombatants".

    If I vote for McCain, knowing what a warmonger he is, and if he gets elected, I will feel responsible for the deaths he will cause. But if I don't vote for him, I will not be responsible for any deaths he causes.

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    If I vote for McCain, knowing what a warmonger he is, and if he gets elected, I will feel responsible for the deaths he will cause.

    Why? Odds are, either way, that your single vote did not make a difference.

    if I don't vote for him, I will not be responsible for any deaths he causes.

    Your tax dollars would be directly funding any foreign adventures McCain (or Obama, for that matter) would undertake. Your vote doesn't really matter...your money is what's needed, and it's what you're "giving" them.

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    Define "innocent".

    The enmeshing of the economy with the government means that we are all complicit in our government's actions, regardless of our cognizance of it.


    Bullshit. If your actions have no bearing on whether the government does or does not do something, then how can you be guilty of crimes they commit?

    Phrased another way, lets say someone is born in Sudan, and for economic reasons this person does not have the option of leaving. In order to pay the bills, the person needs to engage in some economic activity that is taxed. What should this person to in order to not be "complicit" in the Darfur genocide?

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    Given that you've deliberately emptied any kind of meaningful moral or ethical discussion in your contrived example, I would be forced to say that said person has no complicity.

    However, you had to go through some hoops to find an area where a person has no meaningful moral agency. That kind of lifeboat ethics doesn't mean much in 99% of cases.

  • ||

    Ok, so lets say the person can move, but only by incurring considerable economic hardship. There person will survive such a move, but his/her life will suck for a while.

    If the person decides not to undertake such a move, is he or she "complicit" to any significant extent? Consider how many people in such a situation would have to either move or engage in a tax revolt/strike to make any difference. The responsibility of the average person for actions of his or her government, if it exists at all, is miniscule. An individual in that situation would have to disrupt his/her life just to make a slight impact.

    You said "Define 'innocent' " in response to bookworm's statement about "killing innocent civilians". So I think I should ask, what degree of complicity would a non-combatant need to have in order to be a morally acceptable target in a military operation? Would selecting such a target ever be acceptable in your opinion?

  • Metal Messiah||

    It annoys me to no end whenever I hear or read about the "surge." It's an escalation. "Surge" is just a stupid euphemism/buzzword that was test marketed for the media to feed to the ignorant masses.

  • ||

    Angry Optimist,

    I'm not sure if you're aware of this, but your line of argument parallels that of al-Qaeda when they justified the World Trade Ctr as a legitimate target for retaliation against the US military. That doesn't necessarily mean you're automatically wrong, but I'm interested in whether you feel the same about American noncombatants' degree of complicity as you apparently do about foreign ones.

  • ||

    Occam's toothbrush. Good point to Angry Optimist.
    He is as good as saying that the people who died in NY on 9/11 deserved it because their government upset someone.

    I think he can only see one side (his side) on this. Anyone opposed to American way is automatically guilty and if bombed so what.
    But when others have the same attitude he will argue that the victims of 9/11 were innocent and didn't deserve it.

    Either all civilians are innocent or none.

  • ||

    I think he can only see one side (his side) on this. Anyone opposed to American way is automatically guilty and if bombed so what.

    Peggy - I've been around here a good long time. I don't hold the positions which you are attributing to me.

    So I think I should ask, what degree of complicity would a non-combatant need to have in order to be a morally acceptable target in a military operation? Would selecting such a target ever be acceptable in your opinion?

    This is a well-framed question, but any answer I would give would be entirely arbitrary (or, would reflect what I believe reality dictates is the right answer, but I couldn't prove it). I could take a crack at some general guidelines:
    - Open support, fiscally or through propaganda, of the offending regime.
    - Should the regime act particularly egregiously, failing to protest it/ move to change it / move to remove it.
    - Active assistance in the production of material that will assist the State or the aggressor (this does not just mean ammunition; even if you're supplying "War Toothbrushes" you're assisting the "fight).

    I think it's an interesting question. I'm interested to hear your opinion.

    Either all civilians are innocent or none.

    How about, "Some are...some aren't? Especially incapable actors like the mentally deficient or children?"

    That doesn't necessarily mean you're automatically wrong, but I'm interested in whether you feel the same about American noncombatants' degree of complicity as you apparently do about foreign ones.

    Well, I never made a distinction; I just happened to see an opportunity to express it WRT foreign wars, but if anything I was saying that we Americans would at least be somewhat complicit in the Government's actions. After all, if we thought that said actions were that terribly wrong, why aren't we in the streets?

    Of course, I'm not as inclined to equate, say, German support for Hitler with America's support for the regime change and interference that resulted in 9/11. For one, drawing the correlation and the causation of America's action is really just a theory at this point (one I think has a lot of validity, however); also, a lot of the actions our Government undertakes are not necessarily well-known to the public at large.

    The Taliban was out and out hiding Al-Qaeda; they were complicit. OTOH, many of the actions that led to the rise of AQ weren't even on the publics radar screen.

  • ||

    I see all noncombatants equally. What makes American ones less responsible if we are to apply the same formula to all?
    This is all about who you trust and believe.
    According to propaganda from any side you will see yourself as the good guy and the other a bad guy. This is human nature. We don't want to believe the worst about ourselves.

    9/11 victims were innocent whether they worked in a factory that made boots for American soldiers or not. They are people just making a living. But you have to give the same degree of innocence to others as well.

    I agree, some civilians are not as innocent as others but how do you distinguish that when you are dropping bombs like it was a video game?

    So what I understand you to be saying is that 9/11 victims were innocent but the Iraqi civilians were guilty and Serbian population is as well so McCain was right when he said the bombing should've been more severe.
    I smell double standards here.

    Correct me if I am wrong.

  • ||

    Cont., Targeting civilians is a crime. No exceptions.
    It's against international law and no country should be exempt from it.
    You cannot possible justify this by any means.

    McCain is wrong. Who made him judge, jury and executioner? By what right can he just order indiscriminate strikes against a country?
    Iraq was not approved by the UN, therefor it's illegal and excusing indiscriminate bombing of that country is plain murder. If you support this sort of talk then you are in no way an innocent civilian.

  • ||

    Peggy - I'm not saying anything about the KFOR, SFOR, OIF or any other military operation. Nor 9/11. I'm just bandying about thought exercises.

    For me, I think war should be total war. Instead of pussyfooting around and trying to "humanely" destroy your opponent, wars should be brutal so they come to a swift end. You have to be cruel to be kind sometimes.

  • ||

    Iraq was not approved by the UN, therefor it's illegal

    Ready....neither was Kosovo.

    I don't give a holy damn what the UN thinks. That organization is a corrupt joke. Any so-called "leadership organization" that puts Saudi Arabia on its Human Rights Commission isn't worth spit in the sink.

  • ||

    I think it's an interesting question. I'm interested to hear your opinion.

    It would only be in very rare circumstances that I would favor targeting a civilian or civilian object.

    Obviously, one case would be when the person is technically a legal "civilian", but has some significant decision making authority which is relevant to the crimes the government is committing. One example would be Milosevic, who I believe was a civilian but was also the head of state, during the Kosovo war. Here a further, but hypothetical, example: if Bush launches a nuclear first strike against Iran (or any other country), I'd be in favor of assasinating him (we may have to take out Cheney also if that happens).

    So how about lesser degrees of responsibility?

    One issue is that we need to distinguish between a civilian target, and a military target that is likely to have some civilians in it. So for example, a munitions factory might employ civilian workers. If it is important to the war effort in a just war, I could support bombing the factory even if there is no way to do this without killing some workers. But I would not support bombing the houses of the the factory's employees. The factory is the crucial thing that is contributing to the war effort of the enemy country directly, the employee is no longer making such a contribution once the factory is inoperative.

    I don't think propagandizing for such a regime is enough to make one a legitimate target (Hell I'm sure we have apologists for N. Korea in this country). Same for factories and people manufacturing things like "war toothbrushes" (Can an SS member commit atrocities more efficiently if his teeth are clean?).

    With fiscal support, I'd have to think about where I'd draw the line. If it is just the average person paying taxes (which they aren't given the option of refusing to pay), I don't think that is enough. If it is the head of a major business empire who devotes a large potrion of his revenue to the government's volutary "genocide fund" - or whatever - then probably, if killing that guy will help stop the atrocities.

  • ||

    For me, I think war should be total war. Instead of pussyfooting around and trying to "humanely" destroy your opponent, wars should be brutal so they come to a swift end. You have to be cruel to be kind sometimes.

    The Kosovo war was not an all-out total war. But it still ended fairly quickly and with relatively few casualties.

    Afghanistan and Iraq have both gone on longer than WW2. But we still probably have had far fewer civilian casualties and far fewer casualties in our own military.

    How would you have responded to 9-11 in light of the philosophy you have argued for here? And if you would have invaded Afghanistan, what would that war have looked like?

  • ||

    BG - I'm thinking of "war" in its more anachronistic sense where field armies, navies and air forces went at each other. The World Wars, more accurately, should have been total wars.

    And comparing nation-building exercises to WWII isn't a productive exercise.

    The proper 9/11 response was just what we did...of course some libertarians are upset (understandably) at nation-building exercises. But if you topple a regime and create a power vacuum...what else is to be done?

  • ||

    This total and swift war is just mass murder.
    You are presuming that America would start that war and win it.

    What if it was the other way around? What if in future there is another superpower capable of totally destroying America? Would you all be in favour of that sort of a war?

    Who decides who is right and who is wrong. Remember people, this is still only politics and your politicians will tell you what they want you to know. News can be edited. I have seen how news can be edited like photoshop.
    So by watching propaganda on your TVs and reading biased articles in the papers you think you can tell who the bad guys are?

    I have seen footage of certain events on our TV screens which I know for a fact are false. I have read articles in foreign papers which totally contradict what is written in my country.
    So how can we give our leaders immunity and total support in declaring total war on another country because we don't like it's leader. Mass murdering the citizens of that country who themselves might be victims of their own government, or worse their government isn't that bad. It's only crime is to stand up to our mates.

    Get real here people. We are not in a position to make such decisions and give our leaders that right. Do you truly trust your leaders that much?

  • ||

    The Angry Optimist

    Fair enough. While the regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq had armies, fighting them was a far cry from world war 2. We aren't likely to fight an enemy as formidable as the axis powers any time soon.

    The World Wars, more accurately, should have been total wars.

    Are you saying they should have been, or they were? In world war 2 the allies caused alot of collateral damage (hard to avoid in those days) when they went on raids, but until near the end of the war they usually had a legitimate target.

    However, when they did get to the "bomb like crazy everywhere" phase, you could say that what they were doing was total war. Its my understanding that the US firebombed something like 67 cities in Japan. Would you call that "total war" and do you think things would have been worse overall if not carpet bombed any cities?

  • ||

    I have seen footage of certain events on our TV screens which I know for a fact are false. I have read articles in foreign papers which totally contradict what is written in my country.

    Any examples we should know about?

  • ||

    Cont., Let me tell you how much wrong information finds it's way to our screens.

    More recent history, Balkan war. I have watched footage of a "Muslim funeral" with all the usual sympathies and commentary. As I was watching it I noticed that the people attending the funeral were carrying crosses.
    I think this might be a small detail but how many small details have gone unnoticed?

    How much footage went on with bogus information? How much information have we been bombarded and how much of it is really true?

    When they are presenting a story do we know for certain that things weren't taken out of context to make it look worse for the other side? How much do we get to hear from all sides equally?

    These are all relevant questions and until we get real answers we are not in any position to judge another country or race. Our governments have to convince us to be on board with what they want to do. The best way is to manipulate the truth and throw in some propaganda.

    No total wars. Who's to say our governments are noble and not invading and destroying for their own best interests?

  • ||

    * if they had not carpet bombed any cities?

  • ||

    Examples like John Pilger. Has anyone read his books?
    Noam Chomsky comes to mind.

    Gregory Clarke (former Australian diplomat) now a president of the Akita university in Japan.

    These people have contributed material which has not been published in the main media. You have to go online or buy their books to get the other side.

  • ||

    All I am saying is that there is always the other side. Let's not blindly trust our governments. Let's look for information. It's out there. Once we have information from all sides then we can hope to form an opinion.

    Before then we are too ignorant to judge anyone.

  • ||

    Peggy - for Galt's sake, I'm not talking about giving America or any other nation carte blanche to start a war. I'm just saying that when war, real war, breaks out, it should be brutal so that there's a strong incentive to end it. Arbitrarily declaring certain things off limits when one nation goes to war with another is just a way of prolonging hostilities.

    And FWIW, Chomsky and Pilger are cranks. Pilger pretty much invented the "Michael Moore style", that is, shriek and holler in so-called "documentaries" until you reach your foregone conclusion.

    BG - I would say that dropping the atomic bombs was the ultimate form of "total war", and yes, I think things would have been much worse (as do most historians who conjecture on this topic) had we not done that very thing.

  • ||

    The Angry Optimist. So in your mind dropping those bombs on Japan was a good thing.
    What if Japan had the bombs and dropped them on America. Would that have been a good thing too?

    Like I said, you presume that America will always be in the position of superiority.
    Will you change your mind if tables turned?

    We as a civilized society must have rules and not behave like barbarians.

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    I would say that dropping the atomic bombs was the ultimate form of "total war", and yes, I think things would have been much worse (as do most historians who conjecture on this topic) had we not done that very thing.

    Well an invasion of mainland Japan would have sucked alot. Not sure if I'd agree that avoiding it justified the nukes though.

    Also what about carpet bombing Japanese cities before the a-bombs? Its not clear that that helped end the war sooner

    And what about the prospect of blockading the coutry, negotiating some kind of peace deal through backchannels, continuing conventional raids on military targets to gradually wear down Japan's ability to resist, etc. Could such a combination of tactics produced an acceptable end to the war - one still allowing for regime change and necessary occupation, but maybe not unconditional surrender?

  • ||

    You dismiss anyone who contradicts your illusion that everyone else in the world is wrong and America is right.
    Anyone who dares to be critical of your world must be a crank.
    Can you dispute their knowledge and tell us where they have been wrong? Please give me some examples where Pilger's information is wrong.
    I would not compare Pilger to Michael Moore.
    Just because you don't like the message, don't shoot the messenger.

    Maybe you think that General Lewis MacKenzie is also a crank. He doesn't go along with a lot of what's said in western media.

  • ||

    Like I said, you presume that America will always be in the position of superiority.
    Will you change your mind if tables turned?


    Peggy, try to pay attention. You're presuming I'm American, for one, and I haven't said either way. Secondly, I'm talking in generalities, not about America's current and future power-projection capabilities.

    We as a civilized society must have rules and not behave like barbarians

    Civilized warfare? Look, Peggy, war is barbarous...let's not kid ourselves. If you're in a fight for your own survival, I think you should scratch, claw, gouge and twist whatever the fuck you have to, to survive. When faced with an existential threat, there's no questions of ethics with which to be wrangled any longer. Your first and foremost priority is to survive.

    BG - from the perspective of the warfighters at the time, I am sure that a fanatical nation that would give farmers just enough flight training to crash into the nearest carrier probably scared the bejeebus out of us. If there was a nation that knew how to fight a war, it was the death-and-victory worshipping Japanese.

    Of course, there isn't a lot of evidence to say that beating down civilian morale helps facilitate the end of wars better. And I think there's an argument to be made that fighting smarter wars is quicker and less-casualty-producing, in that quickly disabling the enemy's ability to fight is smarter than having an out-and-out meat grinder on the ground.

    But that's a question of strategy, not of morals. Once the bullets and bombs come out, I don't know if there's a proper "right and wrong" anymore, other than say, torture and rape for the purpose of torture and rape.

    "Morality ends where the gun begins" (Ayn Rand)

  • ||

    You dismiss anyone who contradicts your illusion that everyone else in the world is wrong and America is right.
    Anyone who dares to be critical of your world must be a crank.


    If you want to persist on playing mind-reader and psychologizer, this conversation is over.

    FWIW, I think that ol' Pat Buchanan, Ron Paul and the other paleos have *some* (note: *SOME*) insightful and correct things to say about American foreign policy. I don't dismiss them as cranks.

    Pilger and Chomsky are cranks because....well, that's what they are. Look on the front page of this blog for Chomsky's "progressive" sex-negative criticism of porn.

  • ||

    The Angry optimist. I apologize to you for assuming anything about you.

    This whole discussing started with indiscriminate killing of civilians. Yes, we all know that war is brutal and one would do anything to survive. But that's the key word here, survive. If you are attacked you will do whatever it takes to preserve your life.

    I am talking about nations attacking other nations because they simply don't like the regime over there.
    I am talking about strong countries attacking weaker ones in order to exploit them. If we allowed total war then these small nations wouldn't have a hope of survival, because we are then talking about genocide.

    Killing on that scale is genocide and we do and must have rules for that.

  • ||

    If you believe that I am playing some sort of a psycho analyst then by all means do stop.

    I don't believe that I am analyzing your state of mind any more than you are mine. We have strong opinions and they are very opposite.

    Bottom line here is that you support total war which equates to genocide and I don't.

  • ||


    Killing on that scale is genocide and we do and must have rules for that.


    Why? And how are the "rules" enforceable?

    I'm not saying you're psychoanalyzing me because we disagree; you're just presuming that I dismiss out-of-hand anybody critical of American foreign policy, which I don't. I just have a tendency to dismiss ill-formed, emotional lefty thought, because it generally sucks.

  • ||

    Angry optimist, It looks like you presume as well. You presume that people who disagree with you are ill-informed. What makes you think that you have all the knowledge?

    Let's just leave it at that.

    If we are getting our information from the same sources how come we come to such different conclusions?

    If we are not getting the information from the same sources, whose sources are right?

  • ||

    If we are getting our information from the same sources how come we come to such different conclusions?

    What are you talking about? Coming to different conclusions about the morality and ethics of total war has nothing to do with what information each participant gets.

  • ||

    Angry optimist, I happen to think that information you get can influence your decisions and to some degree your ethics.

    Just one more point I would like to make. You seem to think low of Noam Chomsky. You put him in the the same category as Michael Moore, although I happen to agree with some of Michael's beliefs. He presents his ideas in an entertaining way but that's only because some people are willing to receive the information that way.

    Noam Chomsky's works are part of curriculum in Australian universities for students studying International Relations.
    Do you still think he is a crank? Do you still think that we should not take him seriously. If the Australian government takes him seriously I think I can too.

  • ||

    War in Kosovo was a greatest victory for US and NATO. I dont know about Iraq.

  • ||

    If you believe in establishing Islamic countries in Europe which have connections to Bin Laden a victory then you are right.

  • ||

    Killing on that scale is genocide and we do and must have rules for that.

    Why? And how are the "rules" enforceable?

    To mitigate the amount of harm done to non-combatants.

    And the rules are not always easy to enforce. Obviously, if you are in the losing party and you violated those rules, they can be enforced against you. The winning party (or a party that has not "won" yet but is clearly not going to be conquered) may or may not prosecute its constituents who committed war crimes, depending on various political factors. In practice, if such prosecutions do occur, they are likely to be less severe and rigorous than they would be against a losing war criminal.

  • ||

    To mitigate the amount of harm done to non-combatants.

    Well, I understand the ostensible purpose. What I don't understand is why mitigating that harm is a desirable goal.

  • ||

    Well, I understand the ostensible purpose. What I don't understand is why mitigating that harm is a desirable goal.

    Because of the whole individual human rights thing. I don't think the rights of an enire population disappear altogether because of the actions of one's government.

    There is also the pragmatic issue. If (as in most modern wars) you want the population of a country to cooperate with you when you have taken certain territory, or perhaps even to rise up against a tyrannical government, then its not a good idea to act on the maxim "kill as many of these people as possible".

  • ||

    The only purpose of a total war is to wipe out most of the population so you won't have to win them over and get their cooperation. What's left will be too weak and frightened to oppose you.

    This will make the country starting total war worse than any regime they claim to be fighting against. Total war is designed for destruction of a certain nation or race and takeover of that country, not for making life better in that country.

    Mr. McCain and his desire to hit that hard frightens me a lot.

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