This is true:
It is impossible for a democracy to make peace with a non-democracy. Overthrowing non-democracies is a permanent foreign policy aim of any democracy.
I suppose this can either be taken as a sinister statement or an innocuous one. I lean toward the latter.
What is a ‘democracy’? There is this schoolchild notion, which never made sense to me, that ‘democracy’ is ‘government by the people’, which supposedly was once in place over in Greece (or something). Of course, if that’s what ‘democracy’ means, there’s no such thing, never will be, and likely never really has been (at least among any group of people larger than a few dozen). ‘The people’ and ‘the government’ cannot both refer to the same group, that is a contradiction; by definition, a government is some proper subset of the people whom it is meant to govern. If I ask you ‘who’s the government here?’ and you say ‘the people! all of them!’ then we have to start the conversation all over and I need to find a new word, because I was looking for the actually-governing subset.
But if you think about it, ‘government by the people’ not what anyone actually means by ‘democracy’ anyway, at least not on any level other than the highly metaphorical. Instead, what they usually mean is constitutional republic – that is, a government which is (1) constrained by a constitution (which does not have to be written down), and (2) yes, representative of/answerable to the people via some plausible (often quite weak) mechanism. Usually that way is via elections (no one seems to have thought of a better way), which leads people to mistake the elections for the democracy. But it’s not impossible to imagine some other implementation of ‘answerable to the people’ (say, using the Internet, or decision markets) that doesn’t literally involve what we think of as ‘elections’.
So the point is yes, I think it’s true, that governments as described above – constitutional republics – have essentially a permanent (if often dormant out of expediency) war-status on with governments that don’t fit the above description, e.g. autocracies and the like. That is, they never fully accept such governments as legitimate or worthy of recognition in any sort of permanent sense. Now we need to decide what we think about this.
One answer – perhaps the answer of the post linked above – is that it’s bad because it means that democracies are, like, mean and we should dislike them. After all we’ve just identified a situation where they are essentially permanently belligerent. But belligerent against whom? Surely that’s important. If ‘being consistently mean and belligerent against some identifiable target’ is your metric, well all right, but that doesn’t actually lead to a sorting where democracies are worse than autocracies.
It may help to think of autocracies and similar governments as squatters (if only because, I think this is how democracies treat them). What is an autocracy or dictatorial government? It is essentially a (relatively) small gang of people with guns who, at some point in the past, took control over some geographical region and the people in it and claimed to be its ‘government’. In other words, they squatted on a country and refused to leave. There is no ‘legal’ basis (albeit I am using the term ‘legal’ quite loosely) for their rule. Yes, democracies have a hard time recognizing such squatters or defending them against internal threats to their squatting, and on some level, rightfully so.
A common retort will be that all of this is all just as true of ‘democratic’ governments – they too are men with guns, who claim to rule, and stay in power with the guns. This is surely what a frustrated Qaddafi must be thinking. And there’s something to that. A few years ago there was a video going around of a libertarian bent, done in a kids-cartoon Schoolhouse-Rock style, about how governments were all just pirates, but bigger. I think it is this one. Heh. But that criticism, however seductive, only goes so far. Yes, ‘democracies’ (constitutional governments) can too be likened to just bigger/more powerful gangs of pirates who have taken over and stayed in power and done a bunch of stuff to create this illusion of legitimacy. But this is like saying a cake is just flour, eggs, butter, and sugar; that bunch of stuff leads to a sort of phase transition that ends up making a world of difference. It’s the difference between having some sort of ‘legitimacy’, or ‘rule of law’, to back you up, and not. Or, if you prefer the reductionist attitude of that video – just replace ‘rule of law’ with ‘way, way, way larger gang of people who would back you up’.
Qaddafi has his army and special forces and cousins. But democracies have all that and more: judges, bureaucrats, nonprofit organizations, welfare recipients, soccer mom divorcees collecting alimony, tenured professors, etc., etc., virtually all of whom are committed to the illusion (if you think it is one) that the democratic government, at least in its basic constitution, is ‘legitimate’ and (therefore) unassailable. Autocracies don’t have that (if they did they would be democracies, i.e. constitutional republics). So, when you get into a dispute with an autocracy, your dispute is with their Big Baddie and whatever henchmen he has; but his dispute is, in turn, with not just the President and his army but with a giant long tail that includes everyone from the Department of Education on down to your local librarians. I don’t mean to suggest that any of those people can fight worth a lick of course, but what they do do is perpetuate the illusion of the democracy’s government’s legitimacy, power, authority, and unseatability in whatever it does.
Back to the squatter analogy, the reason the squatter can and would get kicked off the land in a dispute is ultimately because the land’s rightful titleholder (if he felt like it) could go to a judge – a stranger to him – and get an order to get him kicked off. The judge would give this order to the police, more strangers, whose chief would send some cops over to kick the squatter off. If the squatter still refused to leave and shot at the police, the police would shoot back, and everyone involved would say they were right to do so. If the squatter shot back and the police chief or judge relented, and said the policemen were in the wrong, then the policemen’s wives would get very pissed off ‘how dare you do that to my hard-working husband who risked his life for the state!’ and hold bake sales to kick out the judge or the Governor who appointed him or whose party appointed him. And to a large extent this all works not because the people involved are terrorized into acting this way, but because they actually believe it. This is all very approximate but it’s meant to illustrate a loose, perhaps slightly invisible network in place that leads to people in a democracy acting in concert, in a way that is probably not sustainable in a non-democracy, or even achievable other than by use of active state terror. You can call this the ‘rule of law’ or you can call it ‘having a larger, bought-and-paid-for brainwashed gang on your side’ but either way, the squatter is probably going to be out of luck.
A similar dynamic seems to have taken place with the American Indians. It is said that the early United States ‘stole their land’ but (on a very semantic level, I realize) this is factually incorrect: they did not own that land. I don’t think they had a system of land-owning, title and deed, in place at all. So, no matter how nice a person you were back then, you would have had a hard time seeing as immoral the settling on land that wasn’t ‘claimed’ – legally claimed and defended, with a long tail of judges and lawyers behind them – by anyone else. Who, exactly, had the legal right and standing to complain? That land didn’t actually seem to belong to anyone, so why not our settlers? The Indians, ok, but they were basically squatters there. Who were the US settlers even supposed to rent or buy the land from? Who was ‘in charge’?
Why does the squatter have to be bothered at all you ask? Well, he might not be, if the external democrat doesn’t want to have anything to do with the land. And indeed, in the real world, there are plenty of autocracies we don’t bother about. But say someone does want to do something with the land, or wants to buy something from the owner of the land. Being a democrat (I’m using this term loosely), he is a accustomed to a rule of law situation, that is his normality, so he will start to look around for ‘the law’, for who’s ‘in charge’. “Who’s in charge here?” he will ask. The squatter might well step up and say “I am”, and maybe he kinda is, so they strike a deal. But later, other people on the land attack the squatter, and the squatter’s hold on power seems shaky, and he doesn’t seem to obey all sorts of rule-of-lawey things like whether to make good on contracts and such, maybe he starts seizing assets (to fight off his internal challengers). The external democrat gets confused, and disturbed. What’s going on? Howcome there’s no law there? Howcome this squatter doesn’t really seem to be ‘in charge’ like he said he was? This isn’t how it’s supposed to be. I can’t do business this way, the external democrat says. Show me who’s really in charge, once and for all, so I can get this headache off my plate and move on to the next thing. What’s that? You mean no one’s more in charge than that squatter? Well, we must change that, mustn’t we? That’s step one.
And there you go, the foreign policy of democracies.
There is the notion, I don’t know where from, that wars occur when the two parties disagree about their relative strength. And in a way that seems to be all that’s going on here. Autocracies (squatters) all seem to think they are stronger than they actually are. And locally, they are strong (that’s how they got in power), so you can understand why they think this. Similarly, they look on democracies and see them as weak, because they don’t have the trappings of what got the autocrats their power. But in fact it is (or has been historically, anyway) non-democracies that are actually weaker, because they don’t have ‘legitimacy’ (or ‘a long tail of a huge, bribed-and-brainwashed gang behind them’, or whatever you want to call it). And so, this disagreement being always there, war is always ready to spring to the surface, at least unless/until the autocracy flips to democracy (after which, read Rudy Rummel).
In effect, this dynamic does indeed become to a one-way ratchet that has the macroscopic appearance of democracies always seeking to overthrow non-democracies. Which, I hasten to add, is not among the things I lose sleep over.
There are some movie scenes guys can admit to having a hard time watching without at least feeling a swell of something approaching, well, er, feelings. (Ick.) For example, the end of Field Of Dreams. Much of Rudy. “That’ll do pig. That’ll do” in Babe (or is that just me?)
I’ll probably be somewhat alone in adding this to my list however:
A recurring theme I visit from time to time is that sometimes it seems as if the future is in constant battle between things getting better and more convenient, and things getting worse and less convenient. Obviously things like the internet iPhones and so on are magical, wonderful inventions that have improved our lives. At the same time, there are lots of aspects of daily existence that just seem to degrade and decay.
I’ve complained before about the seeming new-orthodoxy for all new developments to have perpendicular, as opposed to angular, parking spaces. A related development: parking garages that have virtually no room to turn.
There is one parking garage in particular that I have to use whose driving lanes are so ridiculously narrow that it virtually leads to nonstop gridlock inside the structure. You can enter the garage and find that it takes 10 minutes to get up to the fourth or fifth floor simply because the cars doing U-turns from one lane to the next inside end up competing with and getting stuck against all the cars that have to do 3-point turns in order to enter or exit a space, blocking both directions. And coming back out on a busy Saturday night can be even worse: I’ve been stuck for over half an hour in the queue just circling down, because of all the dumbasses in gridlock against each other.
Some of this is due to stupid driver behavior. There is a kind of driver who thinks it’s acceptable to idle at 3mph behind an exiting pedestrian to wherever their car is in the hopes of taking their spot, or to stop abruptly and put the turn signal to wait for 5 minutes while an exiting family they’ve spotted lackadaisically loads up in their minivan, regardless of who’s waiting behind them. If you’re one of those people, then f*ck you from the bottom of my heart. A related retarded behavior is to drive extra-slowly on the first or second floors scouring every single spot for an empty spot, when if you’d just f*cking keep driving up to the higher floors you’d almost surely find acres of empty parking spaces easily that don’t require waiting. Apparently these parking garages just need traffic guides to help people avoid stupid decisions.
But the root cause of this annoyance remains simply piss-poor engineering and construction (which smacks of the same small-minded thinking behind limiting toilet-flushes). ‘We’ll make the lanes extra-narrow, then we can fit more spots!’ F*ck you. Cars need a certain radius to turn comfortably. If you don’t give them this radius, there will be three-point turns. Three-point turns lead to slower traffic flow and jams, and indeed, fender-benders (I saw one last night). What the hell do engineers think they’re accomplishing?
I don’t want to live in their future.
Filed under: Uncategorized
One of my worst blog habits is that I’m always linking to earlier posts of mine. Who do I think I am? For example look at the previous post. Just look at it. I linked to some two year old post of mine.
Filed under: Uncategorized
Howcome no one told me that yesterday (or whatever) was Earth Hour? I would have reminded everyone of how to do a REAL Earth Hour.
Until I see buildings razed and people walking around naked cannibalizing each other for (uncooked) food, I refuse to believe that any of these partcipiants sincerely care about The Earth.
I watched the original Bottle Rocket Sundance short on Youtube. I switched the theme back to the old ‘grass’ one, which I missed, and couldn’t remember why I switched away from it. Then I bought a Meat Loaf album online for some reason.
On the much-discussed subject of President Obama’s Libya actions vs Candidate Obama’s stated views on when a President can order war:
The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.
(Obama, Dec 20 2007)
Matthew Yglesias gets points for acknowledging the hypocrisy. Yes, Obama’s a hypocrite on this subject, like all recent Presidents have been, and anyway, it’s up to Congress to reassert their authority, says Matthew.
All fair enough.
But I think there’s something a bit frustrating about this sort of ‘realist’ after-the-fact acknowledgment of ‘hypocrisy’. Suppose that back in 2007 I had commented on Candidate Obama’s statement, on this blog or on Matthew’s. Suppose I had called BS, and said that Obama was being disingenuous, that he was serving up fluffy rhetoric he would not and could not follow through on, that nothing in his statement was supported by any precedent or pattern in recent American history, and suppose that I had cited such dishonesty as a point against Candidate Obama, a reason not to vote for him (however many other reasons there were to vote for him).
Would Matthew Yglesias have
(a) conceded the point and agreed with me at that time? Or would he have
(b) launched into a defense of Candidate Obama’s ethics, his humble stance on Presidential powers, and intimated that this augured quite well for the prospect of an Obama Presidency, which we could (therefore) expect to be characterized by a restrained and careful use of American military force, and indeed, that this statement represented a quite good reason to vote for Candidate Obama and to devoutly hope for his successful election?
We can’t know the answer to that for sure, but I suspect it is closer to (b) than to (a).
The recipe always seems to be to praise and indulge/defend phony statements of your favorite candidate during campaign time, and then (if required) to ‘honestly’ and ‘realistically’ acknowledge their hypocrisy and dishonesty after the fact, once your guy gets safely into office.
On reflection, I don’t think you should get any points at all for doing that.
By the way, I’d just like to point out that on this Libya issue I was way, way ahead of the game on two points:
1. That the West’s decision to say Qaddafi ‘must go’ would inevitably compel them to follow through with no-fly zones, permanent pariah status for Qaddafi’s Libya, and warfare until Qaddafi is gone, if only so that the Western intelligentsia can save face (3/10). The No-Fly-Zone vote of course took place 3/17 and bombing began on 3/19. And Steve Sailer has now made essentially the identical point regarding face-saving and what it inevitably means we’ll be doing (3/25).
2. And of course, the hypocrisy of the ‘anti-war’ faction it illustrates, which I starting noting on 3/18 in a celebrated, likely-to-be Pulitzer-winning series of BLOG posts. Now, of course, virtually everyone in the rightosphere has made the same points.
In a quite literal way, I can honestly say you heard it here first. At least if you actually read this blog.
But do I get the credit? And the GLORY? The BLOG glory?
i.e., an Instapundit link?
Heh. I think you know the answer to that. Or rather, you don’t, cuz I have no traffic, so you’re not reading this.
Lefties, just wondering, is it In Your Name™? It’s always really important to me to know whether this or that foreign policy action is In Your Name™ or Not In Your Name™.
Just for the record, going forward, whenever I’m quoting someone who uses ‘liberal’ where he means to denote ‘leftist’, I’m gonna [sic] that sucker.
There is almost nothing genuinely liberal about leftists that does not involve genitalia and/or recreational chemicals. And even in those areas, over the past 30 years or so they’ve developed some gigantic illiberal exceptions (‘all sex is rape’, ‘no smoking anywhere near anything’)…
Anyone have the link where I can post a picture of myself ostentatiously holding a sign that says I’m Sorry™ to The Libyans?
(Surely there is one?)
More for you lefties:
Has President Obama declared upfront how much this will cost in total when all is said and done? If no: doesn’t that make the action invalid, given that my understanding is (starting in the early ’00s) it’s now a rule that for every military action one is supposed to fully budget in advance for all possible contingencies? If yes: doesn’t that make him a Liar, since no one can possibly know how much a military action, with all the unknowable contingencies it involves, will cost in advance?
Aren’t there Other Bad Men™ in the world besides Qaddafi? Like, what about Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan. The guy who you pretended to be really concerned about for about 13 seconds in 2004 because he boiled people to death? He’s still there! (Also Kim Jong Il, etc.) Doesn’t that mean we can’t attack Qaddafi? Why aren’t you talking more about Islam Karimov like you were in 2004?
Is this, provably and incontrovertibly, the Right War At The Right Place At The Right Time™? Have you checked? All three? Have you done a thorough optimizer search of all possible Wars, Places, and Times, to verify that ‘this war’, ‘Libya’, ‘now’ came out on top?
Sorry, I just can’t resist. It’s just too much fun to illustrate just how fucking stupid 99% of the anti-Iraq-war rhetoric truly was.
Hey lefties, aren’t you sincerely concerned that Libya will just be a Distraction™ from the Real War On Terror In Afghanistan™ (that you totally sincerely care about)?
This is an administration that is filled, after all, with critics of the Iraq War where, it is widely conceded, we paid a heavy price for not doing more to prepare for Saddam Hussein’s downfall. [...] Yet what are we doing to prepare for a similar eventuality in Libya where Qaddafi could be killed in an airstrike tomorrow? Is the coalition now enforcing a no-fly zone prepared to do something on the ground to ease Libya’s transition, or will we just wash our hands of the place and hope for the best?
Everyone knows that anytime you wage war, you must fully plan out what that country and its social structures will be like after the war is over. Preferably the Plan™ will be created in Adobe Acrobat format and distributed to officers on memory sticks. That’s how all wars in human history have proceeded (until Bush broke that perfect record in Iraq, of course).
Seriously, I really dropped the ball in not including this Iraq-war-criticism trope in the below Questions post. I used to know the whole list by heart! I must be slipping.
Filed under: Uncategorized
Should I be upset or relieved that President Obama, Commander-in-Chief of the United States armed forces (and ‘community organizer’ by trade), doesn’t want to remain in charge of the American personnel and materiel he is sending into the field in Libya?
I honestly don’t know. Kinda both.
Steve Johnson in comments:
Actually the Iraq no fly zone worked out great!
It pushed a president with an R after his name into invading the country which was then portrayed as a disaster. That then lead to lots of people with Ds after their names getting into congress which gave us:
We can only hope that Libya works out nearly as well.
This works as a suprisingly apt caricature of American political dynamics.
I suppose an example of the corresponding opposite dynamic would be Rs pretending to care about, and then to investigate and keep on the front page, President Clinton’s extramarital affairs so that they can damage his popularity, which gets more Rs into Congress so that they can pass…TAX CUTS.
Hey could someone refresh my memory, what exactly was President Obama’s Case For War™?
Also, when was the Run-Up To The War™? Did I miss it? (I had been given to understand that the Run-Up To™ was now an official part of the process for any war)
What about Our Allies™ (which, as I recall, denotes these three countries: ‘France, Germany, and Belgium’). France is obviously on board here but Germany still is not. Doesn’t that in and of itself automatically render the war invalid?
Also, it’s great and all that the UN voted on a resolution over the thing. But doesn’t one always need a Second Resolution™?
By the way, has President Obama polled all living current and former generals as to how many Boots On The Ground™ they think we might need there, and sent precisely that number? If not why not, doesn’t that make him irresponsible?
Are we ensuring the protection of all Museums With Priceless Treasures™ in Libya? Are you sure?
Who is Counting The Civilian Casualties there? Will there be a Lancet Study?
Was Joe Wilson sent over there to drink sweet mint tea with some dudes and check into everything, to report his expert findings back to us in a NY Times op-ed? Don’t you have to do that before every war now?
Finally, isn’t this a War Of Choice™? Again, doesn’t that automatically invalidate it?
I could go on and on. But I don’t want to just be all negative here. So let me look on the bright side: At least President Obama didn’t Lie Us Into War™. Come to think of it, he didn’t anything us into war. He just kinda did it, didn’t he?
Well, whatever. Let’s hope it works out.
I’m still trying to work out the moral calculus of the anti-war left so bear with me. But one oddity above all others stands out: when it was on the table to launch military strikes against the government of Iraq, we discussed it for months and months and months (and months). We had a National Conversation about it. Intellectuals and retired generals and university professors and screen play-actors – and, hell, even poets – all weighed in with their (highly important) thoughts. Hastily-written books that were first pitched when the Iraq idea was floated probably made it to Barnes & Noble shelves prior to the US actually launching the first strikes. And all the side debates it launched! Philosophers discussed the epistemology involved: what do we know about Iraq’s WMD, what can we know, what is knowledge anyway? Legal scholars: what is the burden of proof? Terrorism experts: what creates terrorists? Schoolchildren wrote essays. Large groups of people took out full-page ads in the New York Times. Punk rock bands wrote albums about it.
Seriously: I had to sit through a whole freaking YEAR of this stuff, from the time I first heard Iraq whisperings (in late ’01) to the invasion (March 2003). When you stop to consider and sum up all the participants (not just politicians and generals but local politicians and bloggers on down to soccer moms), the invasion of Iraq has to have been one of the most highly-scrutinized, hand-wrung, second-guessed and hotly-debated political decisions in human history. The point is, after Iraq, one could be forgiven for having come away with the impression that not only to the left, but to a broad swathe of the center of Western civilization, ‘attacking a country over there’ was such a grave decision, so momentous, so weighty, so serious, that (a) for it to happen at all without being preceded by a massive, society-spanning year-long debate was utterly unthinkable and off the table, and (b) it was so immoral and horrendous in the unintended consequences that any war has, that it would virtually tear society apart if the hawks’ stance were to gain the day. It would not have been unreasonable, then, to expect that all future war decisions would be met with such a debate, such an outcry, such hand-wringing.
But with Libya, we have seen none of that. Instead, we woke up, like, last Thursday, suddenly learned there was gonna be a UN vote to wage No-Fly-Zone on Libya, the UN had their vote that afternoon, and US bombs were flying within 24 hours. And as far as I can tell, the left – although they surely have mixed feelings – is basically like, ‘well, whatever. Let’s hope it works out’.
So what am I missing?
1) Calling it a “no-fly-zone” really does trick people into not fully considering the ramifications of bombing a country. In which case, stupid Bush, he should have just labeled his proposal a “no-fly-zone” around Baghdad, and we’d have been bombing away happily by January ’02.
2) There is some gigantic moral gulf between the two situations that I am missing. In which case, someone, anyone, feel free to chime in, answer my open letter below, and articulate that distinction (if you can).
3) The ‘antiwar’ left really doesn’t mind war so much as long as it occurs at a time when the U.S. President has a (D) after his name.
I guess it’s no secret that my null hypothesis is #3. Exhibit A: President Clinton’s action in Yugoslavia in the 1990s. Exhibit B: nonstop five-year Iraq whining suddenly ceases with the election of Barack Obama. And now we have Exhibit C: The Great No-Fly-Zone On Libya of 2011. It’s difficult not to notice a pattern here.
But perhaps I am wrong. What does the defense have to say?
P.S. Shockingly, I notice that ‘lcasualties.org’ is still available as a URL. Presumably Western casualties are only interesting to count when the action is initiated by an (R). Or am I wrong?
President Obama’s bracket is doing pretty well. He’s 29-3.
HE SO COOL!
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: anti-war, hypocrisy, lefties, libya, qaddafi
Dear Matthew Yglesias, Ezra Klein, Juan Cole, Brian Leiter, Prof. Dr. Duncan “Atrios” Black, Joshua Micah Joshua Micha Marshall, J. Bradford J. Delong, Kevin Drum, “Kos”, and other professional bloggers of conscience,
Dear Jon Stewart, Michael Moore, Alec Baldwin, David Cross, Janeane Garofalo, Cindy Sheehan, Jesse Jackson, Rosie O’Donnell, and other celebrities of conscience,
Dear Lawrence O’Donnell, Chris Hedges, Paul Krugman (or whoever actually writes the New York Times column under that name), Keith Olbermann, Chris Matthews, and other journalists of conscience,
and Dear any other principled, consistently anti-war lefties I may have missed,
As you may observe from the public record, the United States is pursuing hostility and war ‘On’ ™ a Sovereign MENA country that has done nothing to us in over a decade. There is no Smoking Gun ™ evidence of any Imminent Threat ™ toward us on their part, which (I point out, given that, I gather, you are all Catholics) is a clear requirement of Catholic Just War Theory ™.
This small, Oil-rich nation, which we have tangled with and harassed before (does our President have psychological reasons for pursuing this?), has announced a ceasefire and stated its intention to comply with all relevant UN resolutions. The opposition is fragmented and tribal loyalties dominate, meaning that even if we succeed in ousting the current leader, all that may accomplish would be to take the country to the Brink ™ of a Civil War, requiring an occupation in a murky society where we are not wanted. This will, if anything, Create Terrorists ™ and not Make Us Safer ™ at all.
Yet our President continues his Rush To War ™, with no apparent Exit Strategy ™ or consideration of the possibility that it becomes a Quagmire ™, costing us untold Blood And Treasure ™.
Oddly, I don’t believe I have heard from any of you about any of this. Where are you?
Is your Dissent being Crushed ™?
P.S. Also, there’s no proof that Qaddafi had anything to do with 9/11.