Friday, November 16, 2012

On The Possible Utility Of Recent Wars - Part I

It is my preference to make a more general positive case, so I will only answer terri’s and Dave’s objections briefly.  I hope to suggest lines of refutation, rather than fully argue the points.  As a consequence, you may feel I have not fully heard what you are saying.  Likely so.  But I’m not answering all I heard.

I am not sure how far we can push the equivalence of America and small nations compared to the police and individuals, but there is at least some similarity, so let’s go with it, recognising that it is incomplete. The drawing of a firearm in a confrontation is not the only force response.  When the police surround a place, that they are armed is implied.  When they turn on the blue lights and use techniques to control the situation that people find intimidating, or when they patrol an area to increase their presence, all imply force and possible violence if necessary.  I don’t see that as irresponsible saber-rattling.  Just so with nations.  There are implied force actions or statements that a president might use that his critics might call saber-rattling that I would call wise warning and diplomacy. David’s viewpoint isn’t insane- it is close to the Colin Powell doctrine and Teddy Roosevelt’s, both of whom knew many things I don’t (more on the weaknesses of experts later) – but I still think it is wrong. Abjuring force until it is clearly necessary and then using it fully is a respectable strategy, but I don’t think it is the best, and it certainly isn’t the only. Other strategies might be implemented badly and make things worse, but abuse is not use, and saber-rattling can prevent violence as well.  Show of strength does not always provoke.

There is a growing idea in Western society that because soft answers sometimes turn away wrath, that they are a relatively dependable method of doing so.  I think confirmation bias is very powerful here.  Where I work there are those who believe various soft techniques almost always work better with clients and thus they avoid confrontation.  This is good, generally.  But there are cases where it does not – like our guy in the news this morning - not only as an unfortunate exception, but as a general rule with certain types of clients.

Terri’s second idea I also partly subscribe to – that in response to violence by jet, we make violence by jet more difficult, and continue to improve our techniques in that. Improved surveillance and spy-stuff?  Love it.  Cheap at any price.  Partial solutions, steadily improved, are great – and they are often far less expensive than war to boot.  But England had violence by subway, Spain violence on the trains, boats attacked, lots of places had cars with explosives. What are essentially law-enforcement techniques are indeed our first choice way to go.  But I’m not sure there is agreement that we have gotten that much bang for the buck with Homeland Security.  Response measures are sometimes not distinguishable from shutting the barn door after the horse is gone.  The highlight point, which I will expand in my positive case, it that there were no attacks of any type until recently, because a primary cause was reduced. Going to war with heavy focus on particular networks of enemies has worked to convince them to choose other targets, or none.  We dissuaded people from acting as enemies.

I am not one to make too much of individual incidents as indictments of a particular president’s actions, BTW.  Violent, evil, insane people are by nature not fully predictable.  That Bad Event 227 happened on a president’s watch may or may not be significant.  People make political mileage out of that, but I am more cautious.  Trends matter, not one-offs.

1 comment:

Dubbahdee said...

Agreed - the individual action by LEO and the conduct of a nation are not completely parallel cases. I intended them as illustrative of certain principles. We certainly agree there.

Let me clarify some. I tend to view the term "saber rattling" as somewhat disparaging and indicative of a lack of intent on the part of the rattler. (switch metaphor alert) The reason we take the rattling of a rattlesnake seriously is not because we are impressed by the ability to rattle. It is because we know that fangs and venom follow close behind and unless we move quickly to comply (move!) on our end, the application of fangs and venom is a virtual certainty. (I know whereof I speak here ;-) )

If police surrounded a house, showed their lights, etc, but the occupant did not believe that they were prepared to act in force, then the effect is negated. In national diplomacy that is the effect if mixed signals. If done properly the threat of force is a legitimate deescalation technique. But it only works if the officer/nation fully intends to carry out their threat.

Second point. The cost of war for the victor is higher than we like to think. So if a nation is issuing threats, but NOT counting the cost of committing to force, that is a recipe for disaster. If a nation thinks it can get by on the cheap by skimping on any aspect of war-making (including taking account of what must be done AFTER combat is over) they are deluding themselves.

I am not a believer that war/violence never solved anything. Violence is a powerful tool of conflict resolution and individuals and states both would do well be be proficient in it's use. I would say, however, that we must go into such actions with eyes wide open and with absolutely no illusions or romantic notions about we are getting ourselves into. It may be necessary or even right, but it is always ALWAYS ugly.