Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Thoughts on Iraq, Cont.

It's post Valentine's Day blogging! Now that the bottle of white Burgundy (that's just so much fun to write) has worn off, the coffee has kicked in and the morning run has cleared out the cobwebs, maybe I can say something semi-coherent. Or as semi-coherent as anything that I write here ever really gets.

Anyway, in my last post, I mentioned John Edwards' new proposal for Iraq. I said a few things about the proposal, mostly just making stuff up as I went. Oddly, however, a couple of people took it seriously enough to write about, so I guess that I should say something in response. Matt, writes in favor of setting a timetable for withdrawal arguing that
1. Do what the Iraqis want us to do. Not only is this our responsibility as an occupying force, but it's the only thing we should care about if we're doing this to "help" the Iraqis. 70% of all Iraqis think we should set a solid timetable for withdrawal regardless of the security situation. Um... so what exactly do we have to argue about?
Scott then points out that it would make a paternalist of anyone not on board with Matt's suggestion. As Matt is objecting to my post, I guess that's Scott's roundabout way of calling me a paternalist.

I find the criticism odd, as paternalism is hardly what I intended. Indeed, I meant to be pretty much endorsing the same point that Matt makes. I'm in favor of phased withdrawals from Iraq. So when I wrote
If the options really are
  • A: Low-level civil war for 12-18 months followed by bloody civil war.
  • B: Low-level civil war for more than 18 months followed by bloody civil war.
Then I'd say that (A) is better.
what I meant was that a plan for withdrawal seems better than what we have right now. Maybe it would actually clarify things a bit if I included more detail. And more options.
  1. The George Bush Plan: Continue with the status quo. Maybe add a few more troops. Wait for liberal democracy to break out. Or at least for a new election.
  2. The Hillary Clinton/John McCain Plan: Continue with the status quo. Maybe add a few more troops. Add a stronger, more competent President. Wait for liberal democracy to break out.
  3. The Still Waiting for a Prominent Sponsor Plan: Set a timeline for withdrawal. Show the Iraqis you're serious by reducing troop levels immediately. Tie reductions to specific benchmarks.
  4. The John Edwards Plan: Set a timeline for withdrawal. Show the Iraqis you're serious by reducing troop levels immediately. Set an absolute leave-by date up front.
  5. The Dennis Kucinich Plan. Get out now. Withdraw the troops as quickly as is consistent with maintaining their safety.
I think that pretty much everyone is in agreement that (1) is a pretty lousy option. Unless GWB has a hidden supply of fairy dust somewhere, the gap between "continue what we're doing" and "wait for liberal democracy to break out" seems unsurmountable. And we all know how GWB feels about fairies, so that's really not too likely. I'm thinking that (2) doesn't really seem all that much better. Certainly I'd prefer McCain or Clinton to Bush in the Oval Office, but I don't think that their mere presence there will really make all that much of a difference.

At this point, I'm not sure how much difference there is, really, between (4) and (5), at least not in the specific incarnations I mention above. Massive redeployments (military speak for "Retreat!") do require some time if they are to be done safely. Lining everyone up to wait for helicopters courts trouble. Besides which, given the recent track record of our helicopters in Iraq, it's not clear that helicopter evacuation is all that much safer than dodging IEDs in a Humvee.

So really the only question is whether we ought to say, "All troops absolutely to be home by X" or "All troops home once Iraq has met condition Y."

Now Matt and Scott may well be correct that the latter is paternalistic, particularly if (as happens to be the case right now) polls show that huge numbers of Iraqis are saying, "Thanks so much for coming by. Let's do this again sometime, really. Maybe at your place next time." Okay, actually, they aren't saying that last part. Gotta be careful or the Office of Special Plans will decide that my blog post constitutes evidence for another invasion. Still, the point is that Iraqis want us to leave. And not just some of them. A lot of them. Shouldn't that, as Matt says, be an argument for leaving pretty much right now?

Honestly, I don't think that I know enough about the specifics of Iraq at the moment to say for certain about that particular case. But I can answer the more general form of the question, namely, if most of the people in a country want a foreign military to leave, does that not imply that the foreign military ought to leave? And the answer is a resounding...usually. But not always.

The sorts of cases that I have in mind are those generally known as armed humanitarian intervention. Yes, I know that's something of an oxymoron. "Hey, we're here for humanitarian reasons, and we brought an ass-load of tanks with us." Still, in some cases it's appropriate. Such as those cases in which a sizable minority of the population is being slaughtered by the majority. Darfur, say. Or Rwanda. Oh, hell, a large percentage of Africa. If a nation is intervening to stop genocide, then it's justified in staying until the threat of genocide has passed. And, I think, it's justified in staying even if most of the residents of the country would prefer the soldiers to leave. Because in this sort of instance, the majority wants the soldiers to leave so that it can get back to the business of genocide. That's democracy in action. But it's not a morally legitimate use of democracy. So, in that sort of case, it's not paternalism at all to refuse to do the will of the majority.

I'm not at all claiming that our presence in Iraq is all that prevents genocide. My point is only that the will of the people is not an automatic trump card. Nor is rejecting the will of the people automatically paternalistic. One must first show that the thing that people are demanding is something that they are morally entitled to demand. And that's why I think that Matt's analysis is too simple. If our leaving Iraq really would lead to the systematic slaughter of a whole people, then we should stick around regardless of what Iraqis want. I don't know the truth of that conditional, though. Until I feel pretty certain that Iraq won't end up in a genocidal horror, then I'm not all that concerned about what ordinary Iraqis want.

If that seems paternalistic, then so be it. I don't think that it really is; after all, paternalism is forcing people to do something for their own good. I think that staying might be justified if it's about forcing people not to harm others. I'm pretty sure that liberalism allows that.

(NB: I don't favor an open-ended commitment; I lean more toward the benchmarks option. But it seems to me that 18 months might well be a reasonable time-frame for relevant benchmarks.)


Anonymous Wild Pegasus said...

If 18 months is good, now is better.

- Josh

11:03 AM  
Blogger Matt said...

Genocide and Humanitarian Intervention... It's an interesting question, and one that you rightly acknowledge is irrelevant to Iraq.

I suppose that the most pressing question is this: whose word should we trust? If you look for a case in which an occupying force didn't loudly proclaim humanitarian goals (and/or defense, if you consider those distinct) you simply won't find one. When the Russians invaded Afghanistan, when Japan invaded China and so on they always claimed that they were doing it for the good of the oppressed suffering people. The US is no different. That's not to say that Humanitarian Intervention doesn't exist (though good luck finding a serious modern case- Walzer sure doesn't.)

Anyway, there's a danger to your "if that's paternalism so be it" and it's very similar to the danger of state paternalism that the catallarchs probably recognize: declarations of benign intentions are largely meaningless. Tell a Commissar that the Afghan people don't want him there and he'll bring a tear to your eye about how they simply don't understand all of the good we're doing for them. Once we recognize that all countries will use the humanitarian defense, what are we left with?

PS- Do you think it's case that 70% of the population of Sudan wants to be left alone "in order to commit genocide"? I can't find a poll, but I ask because I think your example of this is rather outlandish. I'm not sure how much you follow the Sudanese situation, but I would be mightily surprised if a vast majority of the population was in favor of continued violence (as would be implied in your example.)


12:11 PM  
Blogger Joe Miller said...


That's not to say that Humanitarian Intervention doesn't exist (though good luck finding a serious modern case- Walzer sure doesn't.)

I'm not sure that I really buy that claim. If you are arguing that there are no cases of pure humanitarian intervention -- IOW, if you're asking for a sort of Kantian-inspired instance of AHI done for humanitarian reasons -- then I'll agree with you that there are no such instances. I'm not sure, though, that that's really relevant. After all, if you take that standard, then there may be no just wars at any time ever, since nations rarely engage in a just war merely because it's a just war. Instead, they typically go to war for all sorts of self-interested reasons. But that doesn't undermine the justice of the war. Whether or war is just depends on reasons that are independent of motive, reasons like aggression and self-defense.

My position, then, (and it's one that I share with Walzer) is that wars are justified (or not) for reasons having to do with aggression. Wars are actually waged (or not) for reasons having to do with national self-interest. I don't think that this is such a bad blend of theoretical and practical concerns.

Now you may not like this assessment of just war theory. Maybe you think that having the proper motives is a necessary condition for acting justly. I disagree, but then I'm a consequentialist, not a Kantian. I don't really care what your motives are; I care only that you do the right thing.

Thus, I do think that there are plenty of cases of real humanitarian intervention, and I'd start with many of the same ones that Walzer offers (India in East Pakistan is perhaps the best, but I'd say the U.S. in Bosnia and Kosovo are decent examples, as well).

Tell a Commissar that the Afghan people don't want him there and he'll bring a tear to your eye about how they simply don't understand all of the good we're doing for them. Once we recognize that all countries will use the humanitarian defense, what are we left with?

We're left with ascertaining whether or not said Commissar is full of shit. That's not always an easy task, but it's not an impossible one, either. And the mere fact that in some cases it might be hard to tell whether or not something really is an act of AHI doesn't entail that all instances of AHI are illegitimate. Nor does the fact that lots of nations claim to be acting from humanitarian motives entail that there is an actual humanitarian crisis. Again, I think that the two are distinct. I don't care what your motives are; I care only about whether certain conditions have been met. That's a factual claim, one that's entirely independent of motive.

1:12 PM  
Blogger Matt said...

I don't disagree with many of your points here, and i think you rightly take a suspicious view of actual Humanitarian results (including, I assume, the present case in Iraq which doesn't even belong in wild conjecture on the subject.) Bosnia (to a degree) and India in East Pakistan are, in fact, good examples of Humanitarian results. Kosovo i think is not.

I don't think that true benign intent is necessary, but rather that it's cause for extreme suspicion about the efficacy of military action. I mean, there's almost a randomness aspect to these consequences and since they are (as we both admit) largely unintended consequences that seems perfectly logical.

I think we both know that these are not simple issues, but if one gives out guns to suicidal people in hopes that they will commit suicide, BUT a few of them happen to use the guns for self-defense... Well then I suppose we could debate retroactively about whether the gun-giving was humanitarian, but certainly isn't to say that it's good policy for the future or the present, dig?

I agree, of course, that there is a one-in-a-trillion case in which non-international Humanitarian Intervention is justified but we hit a brick wall (as does Walzer) when we start to discuss real-world examples.

PS- It's been suggested that Vietnam's invasion of Cambodia in the late 70's was humanitarian in its outcome and from the bit I've looked at it that seems a plausible suggestion.

2:10 PM  

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