War, Syria, Leadership and Ethics

Indecisiveness and narcissism makes great drama, bad leaders, and gets people killed , too.

Indecisiveness and narcissism makes great drama, bad leaders, and gets people killed , too.

I try to think about the ethics of war as little as possible, much less write about it. It is too frustrating, and ultimately a waste of time: the same debates and philosophical arguments have been made, eloquently and passionately, for not just hundreds but thousands of years, and only the mechanics of warfare have changed.

My father, a war hero and a man who would have loved to have devoted his life to the military if his wounds hadn’t prevented it, used to say that war was the stupidest of all human activities. “There is nothing good about war,” Dad said. “Yet it is sometimes necessary and unavoidable. And don’t ask me to reconcile those statements: I can’t. Nobody can.” I remember asking him about General Patton, who led my father and his comrades during the Battle of the Bulge. “Patton supposedly loved war,” I said. “He did,” my father replied. “He was insane.” He loathed Patton.

The Syria crisis has triggered all the same arguments again, and I want no part of them. Ethical analysis doesn’t work where warfare is concerned. The conduct of ritualized killing combatants and innocents is, at best, an extreme utilitarian act that always creeps into  ethically indefensible “the ends justify the means” territory before the end of hostilities. So many invalid rationalizations are used to justify killing—“It’s for a good cause,” or the Saint’s Excuse, prime among them, with “They started it!” following close behind—that it is useless to tote them up. The war most often cited as a “moral war,” World War II, still involved the killing of innocent non-combatants by the Allies. ( My father remained amazed at the efforts at “limited war” in Iraq, noting that Allied soldiers were expected to accept civilian deaths as unavoidable and not a matter of concern. He also felt that the current dedication to half-measures just guaranteed longer wars, more deaths, and less satisfactory results. “It’s war,” he said. “You can’t make it humane or sensible; you can only make it shorter. Telling the military that it has to waste time and military personnel to avoid civilian deaths makes no sense. There is no such thing as a humane war.” Naturally, he approved of Truman’s decision to drop the atom bomb, in part, he admitted, because he was slated to be in the Japanese mainland invasion force that was likely to sustain up to a million casualties.) The Allies engaged in atrocities too, such as the fire-bombing of Dresden.

You want to talk about the problem of supporting terrible people and factions to defeat another? World War II is the champion on that score. The U.S. partnered with Stalin, who was a greater mass murderer than Hitler, and defeated Japan, the enemy of China, allowing Mao, a greater mass murderer than Stalin and Hitler combined, to enslave a billion people. The peace negotiated after the Second World War was only slightly less destructive than the one that ended the First World War (and led directly to the Second): The U.S. handed over half of Europe to Communism, laying the seeds of the Cold War that only avoided ending humanity in a nuclear holocaust by pure moral luck. The fact that WWII is the “best” war powerfully makes the case: ethics and war have nothing to do with each other. Each renders the other useless and incoherent.

The absolutist position that war cannot be justified and thus should never be undertaken is no better. Pacifists engage in an intellectually dishonest form of absolutism that argues that if everyone eschews war on moral grounds, the world will be a better place, and thus it is each individual’s moral and ethical duty to refuse to fight or support armed conflict. But pacifists, unless they are deluded, know that everyone on earth will not behave in this noble fashion, and those who don’t will spread carnage without opposition as a result.  I heard Daniel Berrigan give a jaw-dropping interview in which he suggested that non-violent protest might have stopped Hitler, if it had been given a chance. Look, he said, at what Gandhi had accomplished in India! Was Berrigan serious? Gandhi had the considerable advantage of dealing with the British government, which cared about its image in the world; Hitler would have reduced the Mahatma to a grease spot.

To fight evil, sometimes you must engage in evil. Nietzsche was wrong about a lot, but he wasn’t wrong about that….unfortunately. It was perplexing but instructive watching BET’s Tavis Smiley, as a guest on ABC’s Sunday Morning With George Stephanopoulos, protest that calls for strikes against Syria were an affront to the memory and teachings of Martin Luther King. Smiley said that non-violent means should be used to stop the killing. He had no idea how that could be done, or even a coherent argument for why King’s methods could prevail in Syria: he just kept saying that it was a disgrace that there wasn’t a peaceful alternative to violence. Yes, war is a disgrace to humanity. But ignoring reality is neither responsible nor ethical.

What would be, or have been, the most ethical response by the U.S. toward Syria? If I look at Syria, Rwanda, Libya, Iraq and Bosnia as international equivalents of the Kitty Genovese syndrome, or this, or this, I can easily reach a conclusion that the United States is ethically obligated to step in and rescue the innocents who are being slaughtered. It has the power to do good, and the U.S. aspires to be a force for good worldwide, not merely at home. I have always been proud and supportive of that traditional idealistic impulse, first posited by Teddy Roosevelt, but it is hard to deny the evidence that U.S. police actions and international adventures have done at least as much damage as good over the last century or so.

For these are usually not simple rescues, like the individual cases I linked to, but are more like the disastrous rescue in Star Trek’s famous episode,“The City on the Edge of Forever,” where McCoy’s courageous and well-intentioned act saving a courageous woman’s life begins a chain of events that alters the course of history in terrible ways. Ultimately, the ethical act is to let her die, not rescue her. It is tempting to argue that the U.S. should have intervened in the Syrian conflict before 110,000 Syrians had died and over a million refugees had been displaced; pundits like the Washington Post’s Richard Cohen have written repeatedly that the U.S’s failure to stop the killing is immoral. That argument has natural appeal for me, but I am not so sure it is correct.

Post writer Max Fisher assembled a useful and much quoted overview of the conundrum that is Syria; if you haven’t read it yet, it is here. What he describes is a classic chaotic system; indeed, international affairs, and war of course, are all chaotic systems. Chaotic systems are by their nature unpredictable because of their complexity; unintended consequences are not merely likely, but certain. If we define an ethical act as that which is most likely to have the result that will lead to the most good for the most people, then the only honest answer to the question, “What is the most ethical course for the U.S. to take in Syria?” must be, “I have no idea, and neither do you.” Unfortunately, taking no action is also action, and that could be disastrous too.

The individuals who have the courage, fortitude, intelligence and boldness to make decisions under such impossibly murky, risky, uncertain and dangerous conditions are called leaders. Those who are incapable of making such decisions, and who refuse to accept the fact that making them is an essential part of their duty and an unavoidable burden of the job are called incompetent leaders, or perhaps “people who have no business being leaders at all.”  The current turn in the Syrian crisis, regardless of one’s position on the ethics of war or the most ethical U.S. involvement in that nation’s conflict, has exposed President Barack Obama as an incompetent leader, and to a frightening extent I would not have believed possible.

The President’s planned course of action is to a few launch missiles against specific targets in Syria. This is being done, apparently, to avoid the consequences of the massive gaffe the President made, asserting in public that the use of chemical weapons by the forces of Syrian President Assad against the insurgents would cross a “red line” in respect to the U.S.’s policy of avoiding military involvement. This was recognized at the time, at least by media commentators and analysts who were not committed to ignoring this President’s blunders whatever they may be, as a dangerous statement, risking U.S. credibility and international influence in ways that could provoke Iran, North Korea, and China.  Sure enough, Syria’s government crossed that “red line,” and the President initially stalled, as is his habit. Finally, the photographs and the evidence created too much pressure and criticism, and President Obama was faced with the necessity of taking action that Senator Obama would have certainly condemned.

This is not hypocrisy,* as the President’s critics have claimed, any more than it was hypocrisy for Candidate George W. Bush, who famously called for “humility” in U.S.  foreign policy and a retreat from “nation building,” to take diametrically contradictory action in the wake of 9-11. Candidates and Senators, much as they would like us to think otherwise, have no idea what the realities of being President of the United States will be, and it is far, far more responsible that they reject their previous pronouncements and act according to the inconvenient challenges of reality once in office than to seek a foolish consistency.

However, the course of action being proposed—well, first announced, then proposed…also typical of this President’s weak and feckless style—is unethical, even within the ambiguous ethical frameworks of war and Syria. That is quite an accomplishment, one that only the most inept, untalented and unschooled of leaders could manage:

  • President Obama insists that the U.S. should engage in an act of war—shooting missiles at another country is an act of war by any definition—while insisting that it will not constitute an act of war. Dishonest. Unethical.
  • He says the missile attack is “punishment” for the Assad government’s using banned chemical weapons. However, the missiles will not target Assad, nor will they target the chemical weapons, or do anything to limit their use. They will, instead kill Syrians who are not Assad, which, in a context that has already been declared not be warfare, is either terrorism, or murder. They will not constitute real punishment, only a weak imitation of it.  Unethical.
  • Obama had his Secretary of State, John Kerry, make the case that the strike was “urgent,” and make the same case to the British Government, causing a rushed presentation to Parliament that resulted in a humiliating rebuke for the Prime Minister. Incompetent. Irresponsible. Unethical.
  • Gauging the negative polls and seeing the result in Great Britain, the President suddenly did a turnabout while, we are told, consulting with a political advisor,  not his military advisors. He would now seek Congressional approval. Suddenly, the “punishment” was not so urgent. Now, in order to provide political cover, the Syrian government would have an opportunity to move or hide the chemical weapons, and prepare for the strike.  The reversal was widely received as a sign of weakness by the President and the U.S., which it is. Incompetent. Dishonest. Irresponsible.  Unethical.
  • The President has described the missile attack as a warning, and a “shot across the bow.” It is not a warning, however, because the President has already promised that there will be no further engagement. Dishonest. Irresponsible. Incompetent. (Idiotic, but I digress…) Unethical.
  • The authorization the President seeks is far broader than necessary for the action he seeks, and opens the door to wider engagement and presidential over-reach. Untrustworthy. Unethical.
  • The President refuses to agree that he will abide by Congress’s decision, making it appear likely that this is not a bow to Constitutional process, but a political maneuver rooted in cowardice and cynical strategy. Though the perceived need to respond to the crossing of the “red line” in Syria is entirely of the President’s own making, he is forcing Congress to share accountability for the unpredictable results, or, in the alternative, to give him the excuse, when he is accused of making a threat he could not back up, that a hyper-partisan Congress wouldn’t back him. Of course, making threats one is incapable of following through on is still poor leadership—dishonest and humiliating, leading to the speculation that if Congress does not provide political cover,  Obama will shoot the missiles anyway. Untrustworthy. Unaccountable. Irresponsible. Dishonest. Incompetent. Unethical.
  • The President appears to be risking (in the view of many experts) a wider war in the region, an attack on Israel, the killing of innocents, and projecting an image of weakness to Iran and others, all to send a “warning” that is not a warning, since the threat of further measures has already been denied, while intentionally neither weakening Assad nor helping the insurgents, in order to save face personally.

Shockingly, his party appears to be willing to accept that. Here is D.C.’s (non-voting) representative in the House, Eleanor Holmes Norton, in an interview with Bill Press:

Del. ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON (D-DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA): I happen to believe there has to be a response. I do, I do believe in crimes against humanity need to be addressed, and I am, I can’t believe that the only way to address it is a slight bombing which will somehow punish somebody or deter somebody. I don’t know if there’s some way other than a military way to address this.

BILL PRESS, HOST: You’re kind to join us this morning, Congresswoman. Let me just ask you one final question before we let you go. If, as you said, if the vote were held today, the president would probably not win it. If he doesn’t win it, a week from now, do you think the president will be justified in taking action on his own, you know, unilaterally with Congress having voted against it?

HOLMES NORTON: No, oh boy, no. I think it’ll be like the red line trap. He said if the red line you cross it. I think once you say, “I’m going to Congress,” you can’t say, “Okay, I’m going to do it anyway.”

PRESS: Yeah, yeah, I don’t…

HOLMES NORTON: So I think he’ll be in real trouble if he then does it anyway. No president has done that.

PRESS: It’s not an easy decision for any of you, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton.

HOLMES NORTON: Oh, and I’d like to say, Bill, that if he gets saved at all, I think it’ll be because, it’ll be because of loyalty of Democrats. They just don’t want to see him shamed and humiliated on the national stage.

PRESS: Yeah, right.

HOLMES NORTON: At the, at the moment, that’s the only reason I would vote for it if I could vote on it.

Yeah, right.

Let’s kill some random Syrians because Barack Obama is hopelessly over his head and can’t devise or execute a coherent foreign policy strategy in one of the most perilous and difficult periods our nation has ever faced. Somehow, “unethical” fails to express the enormous cynical, horrifying wrongness of this, and the utter debasement of the United States this episode symbolizes on the world stage.

* If you want a sample of why so many critics call Obama’s current position hypocritical, however, you should read James Taranto’s essay here.

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Sources: Washington Post, Newsbusters, Volokh

Graphic: A Piece of Monologue

21 thoughts on “War, Syria, Leadership and Ethics

  1. President Obama has faced resistance from the UN Security Council, Our closest ally Britain, Americans in general, and now Congressional approval is uncertain. So he’s left with France, Denmark and few Middle East countries, notably SA.

    One has to have quite a bit of perseverance when most are not agreeing to the plan, and pundits are heckling from the cheap seats.

    • He’s facing resistance because its a stupid, irresponsible, self-serving plan that is unprecedented and inconsistent with his proper positions, not to mention a Nobel Peace Prize. Perseverance is a virtue…perseverance when there is ample reason to believe you are dead wrong and your course of action is a disaster—think Vietnam, Pickett’s Charge and The Charge of the Light Brigade, is called foolish stubbornness and hubris.

  2. We should avoid Syria like the plague. The US has no obligation to do anything, not the least of reasons being that both sides are God Awful and as a man said during the Iran/Iraq war “it’s a shame they can’t both lose”.

    Just because something bad is happening somewhere doesn’t require our intervention. We have allowed all of Europe – and specifically our NATO allies – to become weak to the point of abject impotence. They can’t even defend their own countries for a few days for us to arrive in force.

    If atrocities committed against the people is the only requirement for US involvement, there are countless places we should already be; Rwanda, Darfur, North Korea, Zimbabwe, the list goes on.

    It isn’t our job. At least in Iraq there was a nation that had been allowing the training of terrorists inside its boarders that had been either hording or attempting to obtain WMDs (fuck you, lefties, because where the fuck do you think Syria GOT those chemical weapons, hmmm?). Iraq was, at least nominally, a threat to US security interests. No such excuse exists for Syria, and even if it did our illustrious President has told us that regime change is not the goal.

    Well, if our goal isn’t to oust the guy responsible, then what the monkeyfuck would we be doing there.

    But hey, at least the left has all but admitted that their protests against Iraq had nothing to do with policy, and everything to do with Bush. So we have that, I guess…

  3. But hey, at least the left has all but admitted that their protests against Iraq had nothing to do with policy, and everything to do with Bush.

    Actually, a majority of Democrats oppose attacking Syria – in the most recent poll I found, in answer to the question “do you support or oppose the United States launching missile strikes against the Syrian government?” 54% of Republicans and 55% of Democrats oppose missile strikes.

    If you dig in deeper, it becomes clear that “liberal Democrats” – what you might call “the left” – are the political group most likely to oppose Obama’s missile strikes. Centrist Democrats and conservative Republicans are both much more likely than liberal Democrats to favor the missile strikes.

    Women oppose missile strikes more than men, unsurprisingly. And Blacks oppose missile strikes a bit less than whites (reflecting greater trust of Obama, perhaps?), while Hispanics are more opposed to missile strikes than other racial/ethnic groups.

  4. HOLMES NORTON: At the, at the moment, that’s the only reason I would vote for it if I could vote on it.

    Yeah, right.

    Let’s kill some random Syrians because Barack Obama is hopelessly over his head and can’t devise or execute a coherent foreign policy strategy in one of the most perilous and difficult periods our nation has ever faced. Somehow, “unethical” fails to express the enormous cynical, horrifying wrongness of this, and the utter debasement of the United States this episode symbolizes on the world stage.
    *****************
    OMG, Stupid Bitch doesn’t even begin to cover this.

  5. I especially appreciated your comments on war and the responsibility and consequences of those kinds of actions. War is never limited.

    I feel sorry for the Syrians, but I can see so ‘winning’ ourcome, short of a Vulcan mind meld to bring leaders honestly to the table to work out a solution.

    I think we must cut back on the idea of being the policemen of the world. We can no longer afford it. If other countries think we should intervene then they should help footing the bill instead of criticizing as much.

  6. Jack,
    Very well done. I may not completely agree with certain points of your analysis but I do with the overall conclusion.

    This point above all else defines how weak the President is.
    “The individuals who have the courage, fortitude, intelligence and boldness to make decisions under such impossibly murky, risky, uncertain and dangerous conditions are called leaders. Those who are incapable of making such decisions, and who refuse to accept the fact that making them is an essential part of their duty and an unavoidable burden of the job are called incompetent leaders, or perhaps “people who have no business being leaders at all.” The current turn in the Syrian crisis, regardless of one’s position on the ethics of war or the most ethical U.S. involvement in that nation’s conflict, has exposed President Barack Obama as an incompetent leader, and to a frightening extent I would not have believed possible.
    Decisiveness, a USMC leadership trait, holds that it is often better that a decision be made promptly than a potentially better one be made at the expense of more time.

    – Justice
    – Judgment
    – Dependability
    – Initiative
    – Decisiveness
    – Tact
    – Integrity
    – Enthusiasm
    – Bearing
    – Unselfishness
    – Courage
    – Knowledge
    – Loyalty
    – Endurance

    How many of these does the President have?

    The Commander and Chief is in a leadership position but has not demonstrated that he is a leader, there is a distinct difference. As it pertains to the Military, his lack of Decisiveness and clear Commander’s intent is more of a danger to our forces then anything that Syria can throw at us. His inability to establish unity of command results in no unity of effort, every time he makes excuses and refuses to accept responsibility it diminishes his (our) credibility not only with other nations but within DOD as well.

    No matter how one feels about President Bush or decisions made by his administration President Bush was a leader and had the respect of the Military because he was.

  7. You hit it out of the park here, Jack – gone, out of sight, a no-doubter. What your Dad said about war is worth more than all the gold in all the Nobel Peace Prizes.

    I would not have such negative thoughts toward our President related to Syria if he would have admitted an error, for once (namely, declaring the “red line,” then doing nothing to secure his position to make his word credible). He could have stopped there, and saved some face by not losing all his face. Instead, he has just dug himself deeper into a hole. It saddens me, honestly. At least he has decided to get a position from Congress. At least we lucky Americans have the luxury, this time, of the opportunity for a President and Congress to “work together” (such as they can or will).

    My opinion: At this time under Obama’s command, the U.S. is positioning itself to isolate itself by “doing something,” even more than it would isolate itself by doing nothing.

    I do believe Obama strengthens his position – and the country’s standing – if he accepts and abides by a “no, you may not” (strike Syria) from Congress.

    There are two sets of information about this Syria situation that I could almost die for (by getting some information that I would have to be killed for knowing):

    1. The diplomatic cable traffic between the U.S. and Russia, and
    2. The plans in work for hitting targets in Syria by (a) the U.S. and (b) Israel – Lordy, I could not be more curious to know (and understand reasoning behind) similarities and differences in those target plans and lists.

    • Yes, Obama will strengthen his position if Congress just says no….but he will more than likely use that against Congress including the Republicans. That is called Washington politics and sadly the way I have seen him operate.

      And yes, if we could live to read and write about the “diplomatic cable traffic between the U.S. and Russia” we both could be contenders for a Nobel Peace Prize if we could be the ones to bring “civility”.

      Does anyone pay attention to the Russian Military? I doubt those that honor the 2nd Amendment have enough stocked ammo…England ain’t got no weapons, their country is filled with radical Muslims, hence the reason they could not afford a chemical attack.

      Hitting Syrian “targets”….not good as the intended “targets” change everyday…and of course they will eventually say “we found no chemicals used”….

  8. Not being a military scholar but having years of conversations with old vets and some very brilliant grads of West Point, this “decision” by the President holds nothing but a huge backlash comin’ our way. I have always said if Obama wants to wipe out Israel then pop out a couple of missiles on Syria. Basically, one of the idiots will just push the button. There is no “plan of action” other than missiles. Kerry (the liar, my opinion) started out by saying “no boots on the ground” but the last he spoke he stated that is a possibility. Our leaders have allowed the borders to remain open thus radical Muslims have entered this country all carrying the “code to act” in hand. Our debt ceiling hits in October, companies are announcing lay-offs due to the high cost of ObamaCare, and the immigration issues yet to be resolved. They say only 47% of the American’s work these days and that includes this old grey head. So they say, “hell yeah, let’s start a frickin’ war so they will forget”. Not sure about you but Russia’s “boots on the ground” is much stronger than ours and that alone should be the very reason “tread carefully” comes to mind. Russia needs the Syrian port during winter…..ummmm so we dig the President out of his bull dog one liner to save face….yep that’s about right coming out of Washington. I just hope they all have read my letters by now. I am certain I am on their “watch list” at this point.

    Great article….but I just wonder what Patton would think? Or even MacArthur?

  9. On the Handling of this Fiasco by President Obama
    From the start of Obama’s Presidency, we have never seen or heard a clear “Vision” for America’s role in the world. Previous administrations have all clearly described their vision and intent for America’s place as well as behavior on the world stage. The best we can do with this President is glean, from a few random sporadic comments, attached with several haphazard actions and reactions what his attitude for our international ‘place’ is.
    It has been made abundantly clear that his guiding ethos regarding foreign policy is that America is just another equal at the table of nations. That is a lazy attitude as it allows him to not have a clear set of guiding principles from which to project strength, confidence, and clarity. It allows him to theoretically avoid any direct confrontations by appearing non-confrontational. However, as Reagan understood: “Peace through Strength” was a non-confrontational attitude that projected the idea that we will confront you if necessary.
    It seems that Obama views the world as just another mass of agitated people. So far he has, on knee-jerk reaction, sided with what he immediately assumes are the oppressed masses yearning to for activism the likes of which he is used to fomenting and agitating. His uninformed and obvious embracing of the so-called Arab “Spring” reveals an automatic general sympathy with crowds of angry people, just as here at home his administration essentially embraced the Occupy ‘movement’.
    Optimistically, Americans should love and be eager in regards to democratic movements. The Arab “Spring” was not a democratic movement, but just another iteration in the cyclic story of the Islamic world – that is of one group of people casting off a set of oppressors, so in turn they can become oppressors, until population demographics and the micro-loyalties of the fractious Islamic society prove beneficial for their in-turn removal from power. Obama’s general attitude to what he programmatically sees as ‘populist’ movements immediately imprisoned him to support of the Arab “Spring”, whereas any previous American leader would have wisely remained aloof and observant of any situation where no immediate American interests exist.
    This general, accidental approach to foreign policy is what inevitably led us to Benghazi, led us to random and not thought out choice in the Egyptian conflict, and has now led us to the Syrian mess. Because Obama realized his capricious vision for international relations simply made us look like children playing at an adult’s game, he felt he had to look Presidential, felt he had to look tough. He figured all the other world leaders were playing around just like he was, he figured they all followed the same political script he expects from leaders here at home: he figured some tough words thrown around would get all the other nation’s leaders to play their parts. He figured wrong; the rest of the world isn’t playing a damned game, they are in it for keeps, not rhetoric.
    So, his imprudent bluff in regards to ‘red lines’ has gotten us into a real fix. A fix we wouldn’t be in if his attitude towards foreign policy wasn’t equivalent to his approach to ‘community organizing’. A fix we wouldn’t be in, if he had chosen the wiser route of vigilance and aloofness.

    On War and Ethics
    “My father remained amazed at the efforts at “limited war” in Iraq, noting that Allied soldiers were expected to accept civilian deaths as unavoidable and not a matter of concern. He also felt that the current dedication to half-measures just guaranteed longer wars, more deaths, and less satisfactory results. “It’s war,” he said. “You can’t make it humane or sensible; you can only make it shorter. Telling the military that it has to waste time and military personnel to avoid civilian deaths makes no sense. There is no such thing as a humane war.”
    I think your father is spot on. I’ve had several discussions with fellow soldiers and determined that our limited approach to war since the Vietnam era has only spawned inevitable failures. The object of war is Victory. There can be NO Peace without Victory. What is Peace? That is for us to decide as a reflection of our civilization’s values. At a minimum however, Peace is not the allowance the central power base of our declared enemy (that is those who harbor attitudes in direct opposition to our definition of Peace) to go unhumiliated. Our failure to lay wholly prostrate the Sunni Triangle in our effort to end the tyrannical regime in Iraq, ultimately sewed the seeds for failure. No, that does not mean kill everybody. But it sure as hell doesn’t mean start including them in the political process before they were compelled to be brought to terms and accountability with the regime they empowered.
    Saddam’s power base wasn’t just the 52 faces we fit on a deck of cards. It was a whole culture surrounding that deck of cards. Why don’t we go at war the way war was meant to be pursued. In summary, a general cultural rot that has eroded the virtues of finishing hard tasks regardless of the sacrifices to achieve complete success as well as rot of the form of impotent feel-good tasks to say “we did something” without really committing to doing anything.
    It is hard to apply ethics to war, indeed. War involves so much cost of innocent lives as well as lives that would otherwise be innocent but were compelled into complicity. I don’t think that automatically defines war as unethical. I do contend that between Commercial Republics, war is generally completely avoidable, and only when one commercial republic stops acting with commerce in mind or with republicanism in mind would you see two such entities engage in war with each other.
    War, essentially being the lethal compulsion of political will on another separate political entity, is obviously an undesirable means to an end. A means which can no-doubt be only labeled as barbaric and thus be pursued only by agents of force. The Founding Fathers understood that so long as barbaric civilizations exist (whose very natures dictate that decisions are made through force) and therefore their militaries and aggressions exist, then all civilized nations must maintain militaries and a willingness to use force, even though the very natures of civilized nations dictate that decisions are made through debate and reason.
    Yes, the fact that ‘other guys started it’ is an ethical reason for war – just like the common man has every right to defend his life if so endangered by another. The question then is, what Scope of War is ethical, and what is not. What are our possible war-like endeavors?
    Aggressive Intervention: I’d submit this is obviously the most unethical war. A state that seeks, by no provocation, but solely to expand their influence, imposes its will on the separate state. I don’t think this requires any expounding. It elevates a ton of non-ethical considerations over ethical ones.
    Active Intervention: This is a cloudy area, one in which we engage in often. The category is one of the best to contain the Syria problem. A state sees events occurring in a different state that it feels are counter to the values of itself or the different state. Can we sit by and do nothing, knowing the heinous travesties being perpetuated in the different state? Can we justify the loss of our own people or the complications of expanding the conflict that may create greater problems than the one we seek to fix?
    Preventative Intervention: This is a semi-cloudy area, one we engage in often as well, but one I feel is more justifiable. A man need not wait for a criminal to shoot him in order to shoot back, the pointed gun is enough provocation to fight to back. A state that sees an immediate threat to its interests has every right to impose itself on the threatening entity insomuch as it removes the threat and replaces the threat with a non-threatening or friendly entity. The murkiness of this category only arises when particular cases are made for intervention, that is to say “are we really sure that the bad guy is pointing a gun at us? It kinda looks like he’s playing with a stick”. I think the Iraq War falls in this category.
    This category is open for a lot of abuse: is the offending state really a threat? What are our real motives? Are we setting a clear objective with clear success criteria and then prosecuting the war WHOLLY to that objective and then withdrawing?
    Closely related would be what I would call Defensive Intervention or Limited Isolationism: That is to say, well they attacked us, so now we will take the war to their soil and utterly bring them to ruin and replace the offending entity with a non-offending or friendly entity. Afghanistan and WW2 fall in this category.
    Strict Isolationism: this would essentially be, sit tight and fight when they come. Absorb all limited and small attacks, even if we know the state of origin.
    I think, based on the previously described categories, as long as we limit ourselves to warlike options that are justifiable for a commercial republic, then the ethical considerations of war get cloudy only in terms of how we handle the inevitable collateral. Obviously collateral is going to happen if a war is prosecuted properly: that is, prosecuted with the intent to achieve complete Victory (as we know, anything less than Victory does not result in Peace). Since we know the destruction of innocent lives IS wrong (Kant’s Universal Imperative), we had better be sure our motivation to pursue Victory is pure and just.
    We cannot sit by and not accept collateral lest the greater evil of the evil state imposes its monstrous definition of victory on the vanquished. Yes, this requires temporarily suspending Kant’s Categorical Imperative that it is wrong to sacrifice individuals for an objective – but we are discussing the opposition to barbaric states. Remember, all an absolute is, is an ethical formula where the rights in the numerator outweigh so heavily the wrongs in the denominator that no other considerations can possibly dislodge the ratio that makes it an absolute. Except for war. War does introduce enough other absolutes and enough other individuals to consider that the Categorical Imperative isn’t so absolute. But, like I said, if you are going to upend an absolute, we had better be certain that our Objective is clean of obvious larger problems and we had damn well make sure that we reach that objective while minimizing that collateral.
    What does the minimization of collateral really mean? To your dad’s generation, it meant, don’t shoot actively destroy civilians, the only time collateral is to be accepted is if direct peril to one of “our guys” exists or if the collateral is in the way of a target whose destruction means an assumed smaller loss of life later, like the bombing the German Industrial centers. Yes, that is cold, cold utilitarianism. But the absolutes balance out. To our generation it means something much different: an almost self-crippling attitude to break off pursuit of target destruction if collateral is in danger. This makes us feel ethically better, even though we don’t see the hidden dangers of not winning.
    This is ethical trade off that civilized states HAVE to accept when using barbarism to impose itself onto barbaric states. To not do so is even more unethical than it is unethical to do so. Comparing negatives sucks. Which is why we have to be certain the barbarism we use does not lead to worse conditions for all involved, which I think full intervention in Syria most certainly will do. Of course, partial intervention may prove effective, non-military or covert-military operations may prove far more fruitful. I certainly know a few random missile strikes of *dubious* motivation and impotent targetting will only cause more problems (I certainly feel Obama is stuck with his idiotic foreign policy attitude that led to his “red line” comment as well this is a convenient bread and circuses to distract us from problems here).

  10. While Obama is puttering around trying to figure out HTML, out of our sight a horrible nightmare is brewing with Iran.

    When it is quietly reported that we are in discussions with Iran and it is claimed Iran is willing to make a deal, we’d better be damned scared. Because we know they will NEVER live up to their bargain, meanwhile we will sit back and ignore them gearing up to nuke Israel and decisively establish hegemony over their Islamic neighbors.

    Who else do they hate? Oh, that’s right, US!

    I know no one will see this, but it’s the most recent applicable thread to post to this in.

    And I now introduce a blog that just reached into my top 5 favorites:

    The Gormogons

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