Monday, August 26, 2013

Luttwak on Syria

Via TBA, this E. Luttwak piece argues that stalemate is the only outcome in Syria that serves U.S. interests. The case may seem logical. However, as the refugee population, already around one million, grows and places more strains on the host countries (Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey), the political situation in the latter may become more tense and in some cases violent, as is already happening in Lebanon and Iraq. The U.S. has a humanitarian and possibly also strategic interest in seeing that the refugee problem does not become even worse than it is now, and that in turn makes an indefinite civil war an undesirable prospect (not to mention the suffering in Syria itself).

It's instructive to compare Luttwak's line with McCain's. For the latter, "our interests are our values." For the former, the 'realist' calculus is all that matters: both A and B are hostile to the U.S., therefore A and B should be encouraged to weaken each other by fighting each other indefinitely. Luttwak and McCain are both wrong. Values are one basic component of interests; the trick is to find a way to accommodate the entire package, so to speak, of interests, without claiming (a la McCain) that values exhaust interests because interests and values are identical, or (a la Luttwak) that values are essentially irrelevant to interests. Easier said than done? Yes.

Added later: And if there are no policy options that accommodate the whole 'package,' which there probably won't be (see previous decisions on Afghanistan, Libya, etc.), then that should be acknowledged, without pretending that the chosen option is better than it is.

Someone please tell me where the **** the English language has gone

Clarifying note (added later): Isn't substance the important thing, not grammar? In general, yes. I'm no grammarian and can never remember certain rules, if I ever knew them. I just have a few pet peeves.    

Grazing through LGM I come upon this post, whose first link leads me to this page from a Politico article, where I see this:
Boot continued to provide POLITICO with email correspondence between he [sic] and Rosen and he [sic] and Roberts throughout the day on Friday.
You don't have to know the rules of English grammar -- "between" is a preposition and therefore takes the object "him," not the noun "he" -- to know that "between he and Rosen" is wrong. It sounds wrong. Someone who has never cracked an English grammar text and whose native language is English should be able to write reasonably correct English if he or she has a reasonably good ear. 

So, all together now: "Between he and Rosen" is wrong. "Between he and I" is also wrong. "Between you and I" is also wrong. Thank you. Jesus ******* *****.

Added later: Technically, it should be "the first link in which," not "whose first link." But some rules can be broken. Other rules should never be broken. The way to tell the difference is to listen. 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

An historian on the '63 March on Washington


(Haven't read this piece yet but the 50th anniv. of the march rapidly approaches.)

Interests and values (continued)

A long, quite interesting comment thread attached to this CT post is mostly about the Vietnam War but it veered off in the later stages to discussing the first Gulf War, and a couple of comments reminded me of the fact that sanctions on Iraq, from the early '90s through 2003, had a huge negative impact on the civilian population. The corruption in the UN's oil-for-food program didn't help and Saddam Hussein himself was of course no beacon of humanitarian compassion, but apart from that the sanctions caused a great deal of suffering. And the air campaign during the first Gulf War, with its destruction of the electrical grid, was (partly) designed to intensify the sanctions' effect, as one commenter noted.

So here is another case where one might ask where Sen. McCain stood. Did he oppose U.S. and UN sanctions on Hussein's Iraq on the ground that harming civilians contravened U.S. values and "our interests are our values"? I doubt that was his position.    

Monday, August 19, 2013

Quote of the day

Having written, somewhat hastily, my short post "A note on 'just war'" (see below), I took a look at ch.8 of Hedley Bull's The Anarchical Society (1977), the chapter on "War and International Order," because I recalled his passing reference to Grotius's three just causes for war ("self-defence, the recovery of property and the infliction of punishment": p.198) but couldn't remember offhand what the second and third were. 

However, something on the previous page proved more interesting: I had forgotten that Bull has a passage about the decline of interstate war and the rise of civil war. This is a point that is now made all the time but Bull made it roughly 35 years ago: "...the obstacles standing in the way of resort to war between sovereign states have encouraged the tendencies making for war or violence within them. International war, as a determinant of the shape of the international system, has declined in relation to civil war."  At the bottom of the same page he refers to "the now circumscribed political role of...interstate war."  (So the next time someone in an article refers to the decline or near-disappearance of interstate war, she or he can throw in Bull, The Anarchical Society, p.197, somewhere in a string citation. It conveys a "see-I've-read-the-classics-I-don't-just-crunch-numbers" message, if the hypothetical author wants to convey that.)     

Sunday, August 18, 2013

McCain's oversimplifications (continued)

McCain on a Sunday talk show: "Our interests are our values."

Oh really? Values are an important component of interests, but values and interests -- both contestable, of course, in terms of their substance -- are not identical.

For decades the U.S. gave more than a billion dollars a year in military aid to Egypt, as it still does. That (arguably) served U.S. interests, inasmuch as it supported the '79 Egypt-Israel peace treaty (or was thought to do so, at any rate). Certainly Sen. McCain did not oppose U.S. aid to Egypt during those years. But did that aid accord with U.S. values? No. The Sadat and Mubarak regimes were hardly models of democracy.

So now the Senator goes on TV and blandly proclaims "our interests are our values" as if this statement is simply a self-evident truth. Even by the standards of TV, that is one oversimplification too far.

Also, McCain seems caught in contradictions on Syria. What he presumably wants is for the U.S. to arm the "moderate" parts of the anti-Assad forces in a robust way. But how to arm them with major weapons without at the same time arming (or helping) the AQ-linked parts of the anti-Assad forces is not something the Senator seems very eager to address.

A note on 'just war'

The recent death of Jean Bethke Elshtain has provoked a bit of discussion of 'just war theory' (at least in the occasional online comment). I should say up front that I mostly disagreed with Elshtain's views about the 'war on terror' (for more on that, see C. Robin here). But this post is not about that.

The WaPo obituary for Elshtain, linked above, refers to just war theory as holding, "in simplified form, that there is a moral imperative to go into battle against forces of unambiguous evil." I'm glad that Matt Schudel, the obit's author, included the words "in simplified form."

It probably would have been better to write that 'just war doctrine' holds that there are certain conditions under which war can be considered morally justified. The most obvious example is wars of self-defense (see Art.51 of the UN Charter), although the G.W. Bush admin's often convoluted efforts to shoehorn many of its actions under the umbrella of Art.51 contributed to the skepticism with which some might view the self-defense justification. (More specifically, the invasion of Afghanistan might have been covered by Art.51; the invasion of Iraq was not.)

The more general point I want to make is that even if one disagrees with the tradition of writing about 'the just war' (which, as Schudel's obit notes, goes back to Augustine [and possibly earlier, esp. if one looks outside the 'Western' tradition]), even if one thinks that there can never, under any circumstances, be such a thing as a just war, there is no point in parading one's ignorance, as a commenter on the WaPo obituary did when he wrote:
"Ethicist" and "just war" make for an oxymoron that proves, once again, that educated does not mean intelligent.
That is a dumb remark. "Ethicist" and "just war" do not make for an oxymoron unless you think that Augustine, Grotius, and everyone else who has ever written about just-war doctrine are people who (a) don't deserve to be taken seriously, even if you disagree with them, and (b) don't deserve to be treated as writers who confronted difficult moral questions. And anyone who believes (a) or (b) or both is foolish. It is possible to be a principled pacifist, it is possible to believe there is no such thing as a just war, without at the same time being like the commenter who wrote the sentence quoted above.

Monday, August 12, 2013


-- Coates writing last month from Paris (h/t). Don't miss the post's poetic last paragraph.

-- The puzzle of evil.

-- Passings: Berthold Beitz; Garry Davis.

Sunday, August 11, 2013


McCain on Fox News Sunday (via C-Span radio rebroadcast): "Al-Qaeda is on the rise" -- failing to distinguish between Zawahiri and the various AQ branches. Even Chris Wallace had a hard time with that: "You're not suggesting Al-Qaeda is stronger now than before 9/11?" McCain: it is "metastasizing." (Btw, Zawahiri recently told Al-Qaeda in Iraq to end its merger with the al-Nusra front in Syria; the order was ignored.)

Update (8/13): WaPo piece today about AQ-in-Iraq (a/k/a the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) expanding its presence in Syria.  

Monday, August 5, 2013

WaPo sale

The Wash. Post is to be sold to Jeff Bezos for $250 million. For anyone even slightly familiar with the paper's history, this must come as a shock (at least it did to me).

The 1970s on screen

A couple of months ago Nils Gilman had a post on best movies of the 1970s.

For reasons that (1) I'm not altogether sure about, and (2) even if I were, might well be too lazy to spell out, I think the movie from this period that sticks with me the most is Apocalypse Now. I also remember some of the era-defining blockbusters, such as Jaws and Star Wars (the 1977 one), quite well. In the case of Apocalypse, in more recent years I saw 'the director's cut' that was released in theaters, with several scenes restored that were not in the version originally shown.

It just occurred to me, writing this post, that there are several movies from the '70s (early in the decade) that I recall that don't show up on N. Gilman's lists: Patton (1970), MASH (1970), The Andromeda Strain (1971), Cabaret (1972), The Day of the Jackal (1973).

(The Andromeda Strain has a sort of special meaning for me, not because I remember it esp. well -- I don't -- and not because it was a great movie -- it may or may not have been, at this remove I can't say -- but for reasons quite extraneous to the movie that I don't want to get into. Sorry to be cryptic. It's not 'first date' or anything like that.)

Note on 'the stag hunt'

Continuing my plod through Rousseau's Second Discourse (see earlier post), I'm slightly surprised to discover that 'the stag hunt' (or the deer hunt), made quite a bit of by Waltz in Man, the State and War (and probably by some other authors who are not instantly coming to mind), seems to occupy no more than one short paragraph: were able imperceptibly to acquire some crude idea of mutual commitments and of the advantage of fulfilling them, but only as far as present and palpable interest could demand, for foresight meant nothing to them, and far from being interested in a distant future, they hardly thought of the next day. If it was a matter of catching a deer, each certainly felt strongly that for this purpose he ought to remain faithfully at his post, but if a hare happened to pass within reach of one of them, it must not be doubted that he pursued it without scruple, and that, having caught his prey, he troubled himself very little about having caused his companions to miss theirs.
(Rousseau's Political Writings, Norton Critical Ed., p.36)