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That old familiar refrain

Remember during the run up to the Iraq war when the warmongers tried to ratchet up the fear factor and kept hammering at us about how if we did not take immediate action to go to war in other countries, we would end up having to fight those enemies in the streets of US cities? Well, those days are back.

Listen to Robert P. George, Catholic conservative and political philosopher at Princeton, speaking to televangelist Pat Robertson on CBN’s The 700 Club who said:

“Let’s hope it doesn’t come to the need to send American troops. But if it does, we’re going to have to stop them. We’re going to have to fight them somewhere. Do we want to fight them in New York? Or in Washington, D.C.? Terrorist attacks? Or should we fight them and defeat them in Iraq, joined with the international community? I say the latter.”

C’mon, George, you can do better than that. Back then there was a certain catchy alliterative trope that was commonly used. Politicians would use any local city that had a name that began with the same letter as an Iraqi city and say things like “If we don’t fight them in Mosul, we will have to fight them in Miami” or “if we don’t fight them in Tikrit, we will have to fight them in Toledo” or “If we don’t fight them in Baghdad, we will have to fight them in Buffalo”, and so on.

To fully bring back those days would require George to look up the names of Iraqi cities so that he can talk of New York vs. Nasiriyah or Washington vs. Washar but surely that is the least he can do to get the war he wants to fight.

Comments

  1. Ed says

    The whole idea of “if we don’t fight them over there, we’ll have to fight them at home” only makes sense if you expect a conventional or paramilitary attack. There are a few cases where preemptive war makes sense.

    Like when another country (usually bordering on its intended victim or at least easily accessible by sea) is known to have the intention to invade and is engaged in the obvious preparation for this attack.

    For example an armada with vast destructive potential is heading towards another country’s shores or the nation next door is clearly moving infantry and tanks toward the border with numbers, speed and formation that do not suggest simply trying to secure their own territory.

    I don’t know the established international law in a situation like this, but I wouldn’t usually blame the nation experiencing such a threat for (after warnings and demands for an explanation had been ignored) “bringing the fight” to the would-be aggressor. It wold be a bit much to expect a country to wait until a certain percentage of their land had been occupied before responding to clear intentions.

    But the West is not threatened by ISIS or other such groups over running its cities with throngs of armed men in pickup trucks waving a big black flag. The threat of terror attacks of the bombing and hostage taking variety is a different type of thing from direct combat.

    The US and its allies could successfully kill thousands of jihadist street fighters and guerillas while doing nothing to diminish the danger of affiliated operatives slipping in (or recruiting or already being in place) and carrying out subway bombings, attacks on civilian air traffic and other horribly familiar acts.

    If there is an increased danger of such attacks, better security would do a lot more good than “victories” in some new quagmire war.

  2. Chiroptera says

    Do we want to fight them in New York? Or in Washington, D.C.? Terrorist attacks?

    George is a bit late; I hear that the terrorists are already here, disguised as 11 year old Guatamalan children.

  3. says

    There are a few cases where preemptive war makes sense.

    Aaaah, really? Because a pre-emptive war is an offensive war no matter how you slice it.

    There are a lot of arguments against pre-emptive war, which are seldom aired. Let’s take a look at your arguments in favor and see what we think, then I’ll explain why pre-emptive wars are most likely immoral under virtually every situation except the most absurdly over-constructed thought experiment.

    Like when another country (usually bordering on its intended victim or at least easily accessible by sea) is known to have the intention to invade and is engaged in the obvious preparation for this attack

    What a co-incidence, I was going to give that very same example as a reason why pre-emptive war is immoral. Thanks for saving me the effort!!

    So, the situation is this: a country appears to be preparing an invasion. Intelligence (satellites, assets on the ground in the putative attacker’s command and control system, political assets in the putative attacker’s government) is excellent and they all agree that there is an attack planned for a matter of days from now. “A matter of days” is extremely unrealistic – mobilizing even a modern military for a national-level attack is exceedingly non-trivial, but let’s give the benefit of the doubt. In the US, of course, such a surprise attack would be being featured on CNN weeks before the jump-off date. Thus the argument is that a pre-emptive attack is “necessary” — except it’s not for a few sound military reasons:
    1) The defender would be in a position to improve their defensive posture substantially and to take advantage of the incoming intelligence to do disproportionate damage to the attacker when the attacker begins their operations. This presupposes the defender has a credible military force and a reasonable parity with the attacker. That’s also a presupposition of the pre-emptive scenario except that pre-emptive scenario presupposes the defender is superior to the putative attacker.
    2) If the defender is superior to the putative attacker, why not use the time before the planned attack to set up a military trap? Consider that the defender ought to be darkening the search radar of their SAM batteries, moving them, setting up camouflaged fakes, etc. Roads could be mined with electrically fired anti-vehicle mines, anti-tank missiles could be emplaced with remote controls, artillery barrages could be pre-sighted, etc. The military reality of modern warfare is that a) surprise is impossible b) the advantage lies with the holder of the terrain in all cases except where the attacker is a superpower and the defender is not (which is not the situation in this branch of the puzzle)
    3) If the defender is weaker than the putative attacker, they are best off engaging in diplomacy – especially international diplomacy, and ought to be reaching out for pledges of assistance in the event of an attack, as well as back-channel diplomacy against the putative attacker.

    In other words, if pre-emptive warfare makes sense, you’re the side that would have won anyway. If it doesn’t make sense, you’re the side that would have benefitted from diplomacy all along. In the case where it’s a close call who’ll come up on top, the defender should be taking maximum advantage of the warning they have been given to make sure the attacker suffers horrific losses while the defender leapfrogs back from one prepared position to another.

    For example an armada with vast destructive potential is heading towards another country’s shores

    This is the case where the defender is going to lose, anyway. There’s no pre-emptive option for the defender at all – it’s a vastly destructive armada, right??? Or, if it’s a typical armada, the defender has a certain amount of time to engage in diplomacy while laying mines, pre-positioning artillery, programming their cruise missiles, and re-positioning their SAMs.
    As I mentioned in #3 above, the defender would do well to engage in diplomacy and get a powerful sponsor to backchannel that “If you attack, we will aid them” while simultaneously preparing for a long-term insurgency. Indeed, mentioning to the putative attacker that “For the last month since we saw you mobilize, we have been repositioning our defenses, as well as preparing a massive insurgency equipped with military weapons including wire-guided anti-tank munitions we borrowed from NATO on condition we’ll return in like new condition them if you don’t attack.”

    I don’t know the established international law in a situation like this

    I do. It’s called “A War Crime” because, rightly, the ICC does not make a distinction between aggressive war fought against a putative attacker, and plain old aggressive war. It’s all aggressive war (which is a violation of the UN rules and international humanitarian law).

    I wouldn’t usually blame the nation experiencing such a threat for (after warnings and demands for an explanation had been ignored) “bringing the fight” to the would-be aggressor.

    Ok, so you’re a militarist and a nationalist, probably a mild fascist as well. It’s good you have that self-awareness.

    If there is an increased danger of such attacks, better security would do a lot more good

    See? You’re not completely wrong about everything!!!

  4. says

    Oh, in case I didn’t make it obvious enough:

    Pre-emptive war is immoral because it presupposes that the pre-emptor is both militarily stronger than the putative attacker, yet the pre-emptor claims that it was “necessary” to attack the weaker force. Going to war under circumstances where you’re superior means you’re the aggressor, not the victim, and aggressive war is immoral.

  5. says

    I hear that the terrorists are already here, disguised as 11 year old Guatamalan children.

    The terrorists are in Washington, setting the US Government’s agenda. That’s where the terrorists are. They’re the clowns who do things like violate UN and international law by threatening aggressive war (e.g.: talking openly about bombing Iran, or now Syria, or Libya…) If “terrorism” isn’t the attempt to alter someone’s political process through the threat of force, what else do you call a superpower that threatens to engage in bomb runs with impunity against weaker nations?

  6. Lassi Hippeläinen says

    Ed #1: ” the nation next door is clearly moving infantry and tanks toward the border with numbers, speed and formation that do not suggest simply trying to secure their own territory.”

    You seem to suggest that Ukraine should launch a pre-empive attack against Russia.

  7. Holms says

    @1
    On top of the points raised by Marcus, bear in mind also that if one nation uses the rationale ‘those guys are doing X with their military, therefore we should do X as well + Y as a precaution’, then the other nation is almost certainly going to see Y and repeat the formula. Each iteration is justified by the last iteration which justifies the next etc. etc. and the result is an increasingly rapid escalation ultimately ending in a war where both parties claim the other started because ‘the other guys did X’ with no awareness that they were both playing the same game.

    I cringe at how often this cliche is brought out, but it is entirely applicable: if the game is serial escalation, the only winning move is not to play.

  8. says

    I’m beginning to think we need to do what we did in response to the rise of Communism in the last century: stop trying to stop radical Islamism, pull out of places where we can’t do anything but wage war, and focus on containment instead. Yes, the US can take out concentrations of force using airstrikes, and take out individual players using drones — but we simply don’t have the tools to alter the basic political culture that creates all this extremism in the first place. All our efforts have amounted to so far is ongoing protracted war and instability, which only further erodes the foundations of civilized society, which, in turn, makes groups like ISIL and the Taliban inevitable.

    We need to stop wasting resources fighting enemies, and focus instead on working with non-adversaries, such as more stable states outside the areas of the worst conflict. Ignoring such players while unilaterally attacking enemies has been proven a failure since 2003.

  9. says

    Or should we fight them and defeat them in Iraq, joined with the international community?

    You mean, the same international community we so arrogantly brushed off the minute they questioned our earlier unilateral actions? Are we really being joined by any such community WRT ISIL?

  10. Ed says

    I was talking about a rare possibility where war has for all practical purposes started, but the defender has the option of diverting the fight from their own territory at least for a time. And I specified that attempting to communicate and clarify the situation and discourage aggression verbally as morally necessary before doing anything violent.

    The unusual nature of such a scenario was the whole point. I’m totally against everything that I’ve ever heard labeled a preemptive attack in my lifetime on the grounds that they really weren’t preemting anything, but were either irresponsibly escalating conflict or in the case of George Bush types being the invader themselves and ludicrously calling it defense.

    Ukraine is dealing with a specific regional rebellion supported by Russia, not a threat to their existence as a nation. Attacking Russia would serve no purpose as there is no evidence that Russia is interested in all out war and thus Ukraine has a choice not to escalate.

    America uses the term “defense” in an Orwellian manner. Such and such a nation may have the capacity to wage an imaginary war at some point in the future, therefore they’re the aggressor now even though they aren’t actually doing much of anything. Or they might give their weapons to terrorists which makes as much sense as a 19th Century nation giving its navy to anarchists.

    I’m not a fascist by any definition. I’m for a limited, defensive military, an increase in spending on welfare, education and social services, a progressive income tax, civil liberties and a completely secular, modern definition of citizenship with no limitations based on ethnicity or other traditionalist criteria.

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