Three Little Words

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In a post titled Fortune Cookie Neoconservatism, paleocon Michael Brendan Dougherty knocks the neocons in a fresh way that doesn't focus on pre-Iraq war naval-gazing. It jibes just as well with any debate over Iran, or Syria, or the Fourth Afghan War of 2017.

Whenever a neoconservative says something should be done, whether it is
democracy promotion, or instilling purpose in an enervated American
populace, or diplomacy you can finish the thought for him by adding
three little words: by killing people.

It sounds fun. Let's try it with, I dunno, Danielle Pletka.

The Palestinians must decide the way forward for
themselves. And no amount of cajoling, strategizing or talking can
change this most basic fact. The United States should support moderate
parties, and encourage pluralistic democracy, by killing people.

I'm not sure if that adds or detracts from the argument. Cool.

NEXT: The K-Tel Candidate

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  1. Killing people is only a stopgap until the DOD perfects the GBU-345 Daffodil bomb, the medium-range surface-to-air guided diplomacy missile, and the teddy bear cluster bomb of love.

  2. It jives just as well

    Yeah man. Cool cats. Swinging chicks.

    Oh, you meant jibes. Sorry!

  3. “It jives just as well with any debate over Iran….”

    That jibes well with my theory on misused words.

  4. Heh heh. albo was just kidding about the Teddy Bear Cluster Bomb of Love.

    That item appears nowhere in the 2007 Unified Appropriations Bill.

    I can say definitively that no one in the Pentagon is researching any teddy bear-based cluster bomb, or any delivery vehicle for same.

    Heavens no.

  5. albo, I think Brendan’s problem with killing people here is that it is enthusiasticly undertaken as a first choice rather than reluctantly as a last resort as self-defense. That and the fact that military action is used when other choices are available.

  6. Anytime anyone anywhere pooh poohs diplomacy in favor of “action”, it usually means killing people.

    Anytime anyone anywhere eschews compromise or negotiation because “that would mean we’re ‘giving in’ to (insert villainous evildoer here)”…it means “we’d rather kill you – and some of our own people too – than deal with you.

    Anytime anyone anywhere hyperbolically labels their opposition as ‘evil’ (or somesuch), it means they want other people to kill (and die) for what they believe in.

    Anytime anyone anywhere labels the opposition as a “culture of death”, they’re really talking about themselves.

  7. The obvious solution is clearly to stop killing people and just ask them nicely. I am sure if we just ask them nicely and explain our position the Palestinians will stop suicide bombing and kidnapping Americans, the Iranians will stop building nukes, European Muslims will stop building bombs and trying to blow up jetliners and trains, the North Koreans will stop threatening to turn South Korea into a lake of fire and the Chinese will stop trying to enslave Taiwan and probably free Tibet while they are at it. When you think about it, why do we even have a military except to give contracts to Halliburton.

    This Weigel guy is just so God damned intelligent. It is amazing the things he comes up with. Why has no one thought of this before?

  8. You can play this same game with nearly any government program, you just have to modify the tag line.

    If its a wealth transfer, you can add “by raising taxes.”

    If its the nanny state, you can add “by throwing people in jail.”

    And it its anything the UN proposes to do, you just have to add “(Not)” (because generally, whatever the UN sets out to do, doesn’t happen). Or “by raping children” (because UN missions have a dismal tendency to turn into criminal enterprises that feature child prostitution). Your call.

  9. Whenever a liberal wants something done : have a meeting, create dialog, but most of all get it done by ‘keep letting people get killed’.

  10. John uncovered this snarky little tag line.
    Could we also add “by letting them continue to kill us.” to every suggestion for compromise, diplomacy, talks, further investigation?We libertarians have to come up with a realistic and principled policy for treating the rest of the world. We know it isn’t to adopt a belligerent
    armed Wilsonism nor is it to adopt a LeFevrian
    pacifism.

  11. “We know it isn’t to adopt a belligerent
    armed Wilsonism nor is it to adopt a LeFevrian
    pacifism.”

    But…you mean there are more choices?!?

  12. I’m in full agreement with John in principle here (and in practice)… but I also recognize the humour in the post.

    It’s funny and you know it. 🙂

  13. One doesn’t have to be a Kristol acolyte to also recognize that the paleos, libertarians, and Democrats, for the most part, implicitly advocate the continuing payment to thugs to enslave people in the Persian Gulf, in return for access to oil reserves for at least the next several decades. Now, it is possible that this may be the least worst option available in a really, really, crappy situation. However, much as it would have been nice for the neos to plainly acknowledge that rapidly reforming the governments of the Persian Gulf by force was a extremely perilous task, and it was not clear at all how ,or even if, it could be accomplished, it would be nice if the neo critics would just plainly acknowledge that, yes, the population of the world, including the U.S., is going to vigorously demand that the oil reserves of the Persian Gulf be extracted, and that absent rapid reform of the Persian Gulf states, this demand inevitably meant paying despots to enslave the population of the Persian Gulf.

    Of course, this also means acknowledging that trying to get despots with control of large, easily extracted, oil reserves to reform themselves through diplomatic or economic sanctions is extremely unlikely to be successful, except in the very, very, long term. Then, one would also have to acknowledge that paying despots, in return for access to oil, for the next several decades inevitably brings us into conflict with the populations of the Persian Gulf, in all the manifestations we see today.

    This entire issue has been lacking, by nearly all parties, across the political spectrum, in frank appraisal of the dreadful realities which exist. For example, somebody in this forum the other day suggested the other day that the U.S. emulate the Japanese in how it engages with the Persian Gulf governments; just send cash and oil tankers. Of course, the Japanese have this luxury because the U.S. makes the Persian Gulf safe for oil tanker transit. If the U.S. military didn’t exist, somebody would have to invent it, and that somebody may well be much less amenable to the interests of the population of the United States, and other places which are governed by consent of the population.

    Libertarianism works very well when there is a broad agreement in regards to what constitutes illegitimate behavior. If a substantial percentage of the citizenry believes murder and robbery are perfectly acceptable behaviors, however, it works less well. Unfortunately, a significant percentage of the actors in the international arena think murder and robbery are just fine, and even those governments that denounce it will practice it when there is enough at stake. The international arena is not like a polity in Wyoming or New Hampshire. Some international actor is going to attempt to control the region where a very large percentage of the world’s most important natural resource is located, and the only open question is how effectively they will do it, and how they will deal with the populations which reside in the Persian Gulf. Right now, it is the U.S. which ensures the oil trade in the region, and for the most part, the U.S. and other oil consumers just grease the despots to do so. If somebody believes that this the least bad state of affairs, fine, but it would be preferable if they just said it openly.

  14. It jives just as well with any debate over Iran….

    Sorry, I don’t speak Jive.

    If its the nanny state, you can add “by throwing people in jail.”

    Absolutely. Including paleocons: “We must restore morality and traditional values in America by throwing people in jail.

  15. “The obvious solution is clearly to stop killing people and just ask them nicely. I am sure if we just ask them nicely and explain our position the Palestinians will stop suicide bombing and kidnapping Americans, the Iranians will stop building nukes, European Muslims will stop building bombs and trying to blow up jetliners and trains, the North Koreans will stop threatening to turn South Korea into a lake of fire and the Chinese will stop trying to enslave Taiwan and probably free Tibet while they are at it. When you think about it, why do we even have a military”

    John, is any of the above our business?

    We have a military to defend America, not to be “Policeman of the World”.

  16. Will Allen,

    Most of our oil comes from Canada, Mexico, and Venezuela. Europe and Japan get most of their oil from the Middle East. It seems that they have more responsibility for policing that area than we do.

  17. John & Will

    I agree. We can’t simply acquiese to whatever lunatic demands are made. We should also not be propping up despots.

    A major part of our problem is that we have been propping up despots for so long that we have lost all credibility with the ordinary people, so they turn to the fanatics. (The famous Rumsfeld-Saddam Hussein meeting in the Reagan era comes to mind.)

    Get the intelligence, hit the right people. Don’t bomb from 40,000 feet and hope you do. Even the best ‘precision guided missles’ have appallingly high error rates.

    And don’t forget the propaganda side. Even if Israel had gotten every single Hizbollah missle, taken out Nasrullah, and wiped out 99% of the Hizbollah fighters, they still would have taken a hell of a propaganda beating. Not because of the ‘lefty’ press, but because of the number of civilian casualties in Lebanon, which were far out of proportion to the initial provocation.

    The fact that they didn’t decimate Hizbollah made the propaganda defeat worse. Hizbollah came out of it ‘heroes’ to much of the Arab world. The fact that Hizbollah has genocide as part of its official platform and is constantly murdering innocents doesn’t even register in most of the Middle East.

    The Arab indifference to the attacks on Israel is an example of a mindset which is quite common. During the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, most North Americans took a rather ghoulish pleasure in the sufferings of the Iranian people, feeling they somehow “deserved it” for having Khomeni as their ruler and the embassy seizure in 1979-81.

    Sometimes you have to negotiate with people you despise. In the reign of James I, [James VI, if you’re a Scot], the English and Spanish signed a peace treaty which was thoroughly hated by partisans on both sides. It was deemed a sellout to the ‘Papists’ if you were English or to the ‘Heretics’ if you were Spanish. The opponents of the treaty damned the signatories and vowed that they would continue their efforts to wipe out the ‘Papists’ or ‘Heretics’, but it stopped the killing – until the “War of Jenkins’ Ear”, which was a farce. By the end of the 17th Century, the English and Spanish were allied against the French.

  18. Herb, due to the fungibility of oil, it matters not a whit if the U.S. gets most of it’s oil from Canada, Mexico, and Venezuela, unless one is proposing that the U.S. invade those countries to take their oil reserves at below market rates, if some hostile hegemon were to control the Persian Gulf. The United States’ economy is inextricably entwined with the rest of the world’s which means the population of the United States is going to demand that Persian Gulf oil be extracted every bit as much as Western Europe’s or China’s.

  19. A major part of our problem is that we have been propping up despots for so long that we have lost all credibility with the ordinary people, so they turn to the fanatics.

    I don’t think American actions are the reason fanatics are en vogue in the Muslim world. Rather presumptious to think that, actually.

    While I love the idea of isolationism, that does nothing to address what to do about foreign religious fanatics who insist on killing Americans in our own country. Further, being isolationist means that we do nothing if, for example, the Israelis decided that life would be a lot easier if Palestinians and Lebanese Shiites ceased to exist. Not our problem.

  20. Aresen, I think you entirely underestimate how difficult it is to “get the intelligence, hit the right people”, especially for popularly elected governments which have electoral incentives to avoid casualties. Describing a problem is insufficient. One must actually advocate the best solution available. You seem to be advocating continuing to pay off the despots, but it isn’t clear, since you also say we shouldn’t prop up the despots. Which is it? Given the unavoidable demand for Persian Gulf oil, how do you advocate that the oil be extracted? Also, keep in mind that in a world in which poverty cases such as Pakistan and North Korea can obtain nuclear weapons, using a multiple-decade model to very slowly allow attitudes to evolve and change carries with it risks that were not present in the 16th and 17th centuries. The world was a much, much, slower place than it is today. Heck, the world was much, much, slower fifty years ago, and that carries with it certain implications.

  21. If somebody believes that this the least bad state of affairs, fine, but it would be preferable if they just said it openly.

    Many do. They are usually called “realists”. What’s your point?

    And before you say that Middle Eastern despots are “enslaving” their people you have to ask compared to what alternative.

    And I don’t buy Arabs being upset over us supporting dictatorships. If we didn’t push for “stability” the region would be in chaos and we’d be blamed for letting that happened too. You just can’t win.

  22. Will

    I wish I had an answer. I’m not sure there is one. I was trying to make the point that whatever solution or workout eventually happens, it will be messy, complex and hated by most people on all sides. It will probably be grossly unfair as well.

    I agree that our support of despots is not the whole reason, I just said that it was a major part of the problem, because it has caused us to be identified with the despots.

    Your point about the immediate risks and the speed of events is well made, but that sword cuts both ways. Much as the risks are urgent, the consequences, including the unintended consequences, are equally important to understand fully, as they could follow immediately upon our actions.

    As a Canadian, I constantly see cheap-shot anti-Americanism, so I know how easy it is to make scapegoats for problems. I don’t enjoy being deemed a ‘traitor’ every time I speak up for the US. But it is much easier for me to be an Ameriphile than it is for someone in most of the Middle East. (that doesn’t sound right. Technically I’m an American, because I live in the Americas.) At least I don’t have to fear for my life. [Except for those times when your hockey team beats ours, but I’m cheering for the Red-and-White then in any case.]

  23. If we didn’t push for “stability” the region would be in chaos and we’d be blamed for letting that happened too. You just can’t win.

    I saw the administration’s rubric for these challenging questions on a bumper sticker today:

    Who Would Jesus Bomb?

  24. Will,

    I have an idea, why don’t we increase our production of oil off the US Atlantic coast?

    Another thing, why do we have to go to war to ensure the free flow of oil? Why don’t we have neutral and free trade relations with all? By supporting Israel over the Palestinians and our other foreign medling in the Middle East, we open ourselves up to blackmail by Middle Eastern countries holding up oil production.

  25. You may have missed it Chalupa, but it was our involvement with Persian Gulf dictatorships, involvement which is about 99% predicated on our desire for oil extraction, which provided much of the rationale for Al Queda attacks on U.S. citizens over the past 15 years. The despotic elites of the Persian Gulf play a double game, wherein they openly or surreptitiously support Islamic groups which wage war on the U.S., because it provides an outlet for popular discontent, while also getting rich by allowing us access to their oil reserves. We allow them to play the double game, because first and foremost we demand that the oil be extracted.

    Also, please point out to me where the realists have openly stated that paying off the despots of the Persian Gulf, in return for access to oil, is the best alternative available. Again , it is possible that this the best possible state of affairs. It just would be preferable if the realists would openly say so.

    Finally, if “enslavement” is inaccurate in describing the common condition of people in the Persian Gulf, please supply a better term for describing a state where an individual can be killed or imprisoned, or forced to labor, simply on the whim of an elite which needs not subject itself to the possibility of removal from power.

    I will agree with you that this is an unwinnable situation.

  26. Another thing, Will:

    It has been determined that the cost of the war is higher than the oil is worth.

  27. Killing people as a means to an end is like using “jive” rather than “jibe,” if the end is effective communication.

    Persuasion is greatly to be preferred to killing.

  28. “While I love the idea of isolationism, that does nothing to address what to do about foreign religious fanatics who insist on killing Americans in our own country. Further, being isolationist means that we do nothing if, for example, the Israelis decided that life would be a lot easier if Palestinians and Lebanese Shiites ceased to exist. Not our problem.”

    Chris,

    The reason why religious fanatics insist on killing Americans in our own country is because we’re meddling in their countries.

    If Israelis decided to kill Palestinians and Lebanese, it wouldn’t be our problem. It would be the problem of the Palestinians and Lebanese. Unfortunately, we’re supplying the arms in which the Israelis use to kill the Palestinians and Lebanese.

  29. Mr. Schaffler, if you have information which indicates that there are enough oil reserves off the U.S. Atlantic Coast to obviate the need for the American electorate to depend on oil reserves elsewhere, I’d be happy to see it.

    If you believe that the U.S. having free and neutral trade relations with all would eliminate the inevitable fact that some entity will ensure that the oil flows from the Persian Gulf, that there are inevitable consequences from which entity does so, and that if the U.S. does not do it, an entity intending harm to the American electorate could perform the task, I guess I don’t understand your reasoning.

  30. The obvious solution is clearly to stop killing people and just ask them nicely. I am sure if we just ask them nicely and explain our position the Palestinians will stop suicide bombing and kidnapping Americans, the Iranians will stop building nukes, European Muslims will stop building bombs and trying to blow up jetliners and trains, the North Koreans will stop threatening to turn South Korea into a lake of fire and the Chinese will stop trying to enslave Taiwan and probably free Tibet while they are at it. When you think about it, why do we even have a military except to give contracts to Halliburton.

    This Weigel guy is just so God damned intelligent. It is amazing the things he comes up with. Why has no one thought of this before?

    Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding!

  31. Determined by whom, Herb? I happen to agree that it would be wise to internalize the cost of securing the Persian Gulf with an oil tax, but I think you underestimate how much oil the American citizenry consumes, in relation to the military budget of the American government.

  32. “And I don’t buy Arabs being upset over us supporting dictatorships. If we didn’t push for “stability” the region would be in chaos and we’d be blamed for letting that happened too. You just can’t win.”

    Grand Chalupa,

    Our support of the Shah led to the Iranian Revolution.

    Are we really bringing stability to the region? Iraq is on the verge of civil war.

  33. Will,

    These countries want to sell their oil, that’s how they make their money. What else are they going to do with their oil, drink it? The only reason they would not sell it would be out of blackmail because of our meddling policy in the Middle East.

  34. “Determined by whom, Herb?”

    For one, Will, is Milton Friedman. He said pertaining to the first GulF War that for whatever reason there was to get involved, economics was not one.

  35. Herb, why is it you suppose that, if the U.S. were to withdraw from the Persian Gulf, the only actors who would seek to dominate the region are the governments with weak militaries which currently rule there? What in human history suggests that would be the outcome, given the value of the oil reserves in that region?

  36. “…Democrats, for the most part, implicitly advocate the continuing payment to thugs to enslave people in the Persian Gulf, in return for access to oil reserves for at least the next several decades.”

    If you ignore the fact that every Democrat that has run for office in the past decade has advocated for substantial investment in alternative energy in order to reduce our fossil fuel consumption, this comment is entirely accurate.

  37. Yes, Joe, and if I advocate that Chevys run on seawater, I suppose the same could be said for me. Being intellectually dishonest enough to imply that substantial investment in alternative energy will reduce our fossil fuel consumption to the point that Persian Gulf oil will not be critical to American enonomy, and thus the American electorate, except in the very long run, is no real accomplishment.

  38. Yes, Joe, and if I advocate that Chevys run on seawater, I suppose the same could be said for me. Being intellectually dishonest enough to imply that substantial investment in alternative energy will reduce our fossil fuel consumption to the point that Persian Gulf oil will not be critical to American enonomy, and thus the American electorate, except in the very long run, is no real accomplishment.

  39. shut my mouth. Will & Herb sum it up. Thank you, gentlemen.

  40. With all due respect to Michael Brendan Dougherty, I’ve been interpreting neocon statements and policies in precisely this way at least since Elliot Abrams was in his salad days in the Reagan administration. Do I get a cookie?

  41. Will,

    You didn’t say that Democrats’ efforts to reduce our purchases of oil from Arab dictators won’t work. You said that Democrats actively supported the continuation of that relationship.

    Your retreat from your earlier position is no less obvious for its lack of grace.

  42. No, Joe. I said that knowingly (“intellectual dishonesty”) advocating something that won’t work is an implicit endorsement of the status quo. The lack of grace entailed in your misstatement of my position is mitigated, of course, if it is simply due to illiteracy.

  43. Well, of course, it is possible that Democrats really are stupid enough to believe that substantial investment in alternative energy will reduce our fossil fuel consumption to the point that Persian Gulf oil will not be critical to American enonomy, and thus the American electorate, in something other than the very long run. I suppose that if I stand accused of crediting Democrats with substantially more intelligence than available evidence warrants, I may have to plead guilty. My apologies, joe.

  44. But the ad says there are only two choices: kill them, or let them kill us.

    Seriously, much of the rhetoric we hear from the Islamists are intended to provoke us. It seems to work. How else could we be drawn into yet another conflict with a guerilla type enemy?
    The idea is to get us to initiate conflict far away from home, consume lots of wealth, and arouse the animosity of the local populace.
    The U.S. government is so predictable (like any government).

  45. When I read Weigel’s entry this a.m., and the neocon fortune cookie “three little words” thingie, I thought it was too glib and below the belt. Then later today, I was directed to this morally obscene, deranged column over at Townhall.com
    by Walter E. Williams.
    Don’t, by any means, overlook the comments section; then tell me that the “three little words” crack is too mean or extreme.

    These people are sick and evil.

  46. later today, I was directed to this morally obscene, deranged column over at Townhall.com
    by Walter E. Williams.

    Since when is using military force to deter people from attacking us and punishing those who do a “neoconservative” idea? Is everyone who isn’t a left-wing pacifist considered “neoconservative” now?

  47. “Herb, why is it you suppose that, if the U.S. were to withdraw from the Persian Gulf, the only actors who would seek to dominate the region are the governments with weak militaries which currently rule there? What in human history suggests that would be the outcome, given the value of the oil reserves in that region?”

    Will,

    Is it our responsibility or is it the responsibility of the countries in the region? If there are bully countries that try to take over these countries for the oil, it is the responsibility of the countries in the region to form alliances against the bully countries, which they will never do as long as they have the U.S. to fight their wars.

  48. Also, please point out to me where the realists have openly stated that paying off the despots of the Persian Gulf, in return for access to oil, is the best alternative available. Again , it is possible that this the best possible state of affairs. It just would be preferable if the realists would openly say so.

    Here’s Henry Kissinger for one,

    I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its people. The issues are much too important for the Chilean voters to be left to decide for themselves.

    Kissinger is more upfront about it then most, but there are people who do make the case. Of course, like all of us they try to put it in the best possible light and not make themselves look like assholes.

    Finally, if “enslavement” is inaccurate in describing the common condition of people in the Persian Gulf, please supply a better term for describing a state where an individual can be killed or imprisoned, or forced to labor, simply on the whim of an elite which needs not subject itself to the possibility of removal from power.

    The US throws countless people into jail for drug use each year. I’d consider that enslavement but I know a government like ours is perferable to 99% of governments in world history, so I don’t call it that. Everything is relative.

  49. Herb, the international arena is not a morality play, with meaningful debates about rights and responsibilities. The only question is whether the United States is best served by securing the Persian Gulf. If you think the United States would be better served by having another power secure the Persian Gulf, make the case.

    Chalupa, I missed it when Chile became part of the Persian Gulf, and started exporting oil. I also missed it when the people who wage the idiotic War on Drugs announced they would no longer make themselves subject to elections, and thus removable from power. If you want to consider the prospect of being imprisoned for marajuana use, by people who do acknowledge that they may be removed from power by peaceful means, on the same level as the prospect of being killed, or being made to do labor, for the crime of blasphemy, or merely for being female, by people who maintain that their right to rule is absolute, you be my guest.

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