Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Power and fear

Evidently there's a 70% chance that the United States will be attacked in the next 10 years by weapons of mass destruction--massive, destructive weapons--destructive weapons of great mass.

Is this reckless fear-mongering, or it is a sincere desire on the part of our leaders to warn us of danger? I would say both. (I am tired of the cute WMD acronym, though, and wish it would go away.)

Articles like this remind me of the Cuban missile crisis, for two reasons: one, proclamations of imminent danger from our leaders; and two, most citizens pretending that we have no causal role in the grievances of our enemies. People forget that before the Soviets and their shoe-pounder stepped up to the plate to put missiles in Cuba, Europe was armed to the teeth with missiles pointed at Moscow:

"Similar missiles aimed at the USSR were [already] in place in Europe (sixty Thor IRBMs in four squadrons near Nottingham, in the United Kingdom; thirty Jupiter IRBMs in two squadrons near Gioia del Colle, Italy; and fifteen Jupiter IRBMs in one squadron near Izmir, Turkey)."

The same principles applies to 9/11. Did we deserve 9/11, or did our actions abroad justify it? No, and no. 9/11 was an act of war, a terrorist strike, and a mass murder; Bin Laden deserves to die because of it, and I'm nearly positive that military action in Afghanistan was just. (I still have some reservations about our choices of targets.) But did some of our actions play some causal role? Of course they did--we armed Bin Laden and Hamid Karzai during the Soviet-Afghan War, and have had troops and ships all over the Middle East for decades, inflaming fundamentalist Muslims. (Energizing, galvanizing, and catalyzing them as well.)

This report implicity plays the innocent victim card, and that makes me sick. We're not the morally bankrupt pirates the left says we are, but we're not who W says we are, either. Iraq II is completely unjustified, and there is plenty of blood to go around.


At 4:06 PM, Blogger RedHurt said...

Hmm. Well, I don't think it's reckless fear-mongering. While I think the percentage might be a little high, I'm often surprised we haven't been hit with something yet. A dirty bomb would be SO easy to make...and we haven't had so much as a homicide bombing here on US soil.

And that's what I think Iraq was partly for - to keep the attacks localized to the middle east instead of here in the US. We gave all of the upset terrorists an easier target to strike, so they did. And Iraq suffers for it, and we can debate whether or not they're coming out ahead in the long run by being rid of Saddam.

On the Cuban Missile crisis: I'm ok with what you've said so far, but I want to argue against the implication (not purposefully made I'm sure) that the Soviet Union had some right to put missiles close to us just because we had missiles close to them. When it comes to war, cold or otherwise, there's never any good reason to give up advantage for the sake of diplomacy, decency or to be fair. We had missiles on their back doorstep and there's no good reason we should let them have missiles on ours.

In modern times, I think this translates to things like throwing away the SALT treaty. I think we're perfectly justified in doing everything we can to stop nations like NK from getting nuclear weapons while keeping our own and doing everything we can to develop defense systems against ICBMs. Is it fair? Absolutely not. It never has been and it never will be, and we have absolutely no reason to work to our own detriment in the name of "fairness."

At 10:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So, I guess I'd like you to talk about why you think it is reckless. I'm assuming you mean that it is 'reckless to publish such frightening results', but...what else do you do with them?

Also-- I totally agree with Redhurt's 2nd paragraph. I'm just hoping that the next generation of suicide bombers realize that bombing the hell out of their own nation is a somewhat effective way to harm American interests, and an incredibly effective way to ruin their own culture.

At 10:56 PM, Blogger RedHurt said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 10:56 PM, Blogger RedHurt said...

Gary, would you just make a blogger name already? Or at least check "other" and make something up. :)

At 11:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Who's Gary?


At 11:42 PM, Blogger Jackscolon said...

It seems a bit of a stretch to me to think that people 25 years ago should have recognized militant islam as the next big global threat to freedom (aka- America), especially during the later stages of the cold war. I haven't seen the poll numbers, but I'd bet that a majority of Americans supported assisting the Afghanis against Mother Russia, making inaction a tough sell to an elected official. (I'll concede that not all policy should be left up to the will of the masses, but that is beyond the scope of this post.) I agree that the government can be short sighted at times, but I'll argue that the nature of having short-term leaders invariably leads to what I'll deem as "instant gratification foreign policy". I think besides underestimating the desire for power, it's a bit unrealistic to expect elected officals to sacrifice their career to push or back an unfavorable idea now in the hope of future benefit. The system is flawed in my opinion, and I don't think it's an easy fix. As for a current example- look at Iraq. You may choose to disagree, but I think the goal of creating a bastion of democracy in the Middle East could prove great for America in the long term. However, it came close to costing Dubya the election (had the Dems not chosen a troglodyte to run for them and pushed a message other than Bush=hitler, I think we would have been recounting again). I know you can argue that Dubya went about it poorly, but I don't think there is any way he could have done it without the opposition fighting him every step of the way.

As for our prescence in the Middle East "inflaming fundamentalist muslims", I believe they'll find sufficient cause, until the bactrian and dromedary replace the donkey and elephant as symbols of our political parties. (sorry for the gratuitous arab/camel joke, but it's late and I couldn't make myself delete it)

At 8:49 AM, Blogger CharlesPeirce said...

redhurt wrote:

"We had missiles on their back doorstep and there's no good reason we should let them have missiles on ours."

You're missing one of the points of my post, and that's that the Soviets would have been less likely to put them in Cuba if we had not had them in Europe--or do you not agree with that?

I don't get it--has America never provoked anyone to do anything, ever? Can you name me an instance of aggressive military action by the US that was unjustified, or do you think every last one has been justified?

you also wrote:

"I think we're perfectly justified in doing everything we can to stop nations like NK from getting nuclear weapons while keeping our own and doing everything we can to develop defense systems against ICBMs. Is it fair? Absolutely not. It never has been and it never will be, and we have absolutely no reason to work to our own detriment in the name of "fairness."

The underlying idea here seems to be that the principles that apply to individuals--fairness, consistency, coherence, avoiding fights--don't apply to nation states. But you fall into a hopeless contradiction--if we're perfectly justified in keeping nuclear weapons no matter what, how in the world is North Korea not justified? It seems to me that if you throw out fairness as a principle, then every nation state gets to do what they want.

At 8:51 AM, Blogger CharlesPeirce said...

If NK doesn't get to have nuclear weapons, then there must be some set of conditions that a nation can satisfy in which other nations prohibit it from developing them. But you also seem to think that the United States could never satisfy these conditions (despite the fact that we're the only country that's ever used a nuclear weapon.) That's relativism.

At 10:49 AM, Blogger J. Morgan Caler said...

As much as I want to agree with Charles on this one, I think that he is missing (or at least not explicitly acknowledging) the fact that states are not concerned with justification, but with power-manipulation. I think if you were to ask Donald Rumsfeld (or Bill Cohen or any other Defense Secretary for that matter) about why we are justified in holding nuclear weapons and NK is not, his response would be something along the lines of, “We aren’t justified any more than they are, but it is in our best interest to have them and for NK not to have them. And, at the end of the day, that is all we are concerned with. And, if that upsets people around the world that we aren’t being fair, it doesn’t matter. The reason it doesn’t matter is because our business is consolidating power so that we can manipulate anyone, anywhere, anytime, for any reason that we might think is to our benefit, with force if necessary. That is why we keep nuclear weapons and why we cannot let NK have them.” You can't call a foul for charging unless everyone is playing basketball.

At 11:07 AM, Blogger CharlesPeirce said...

But you're talking about what people WILL do, and I'm talking about what IS right. Apples and oranges, my friends. You're saying "This is what the people in power WILL do, because they can." I agree--I don't expect Donald Rumsfeld to play by any rules. I'm not missing anything. I'm just pointing out that when redhurt says "We're perfectly justified in keeping nukes," he's wrong--no one is justified in having nukes. Does that mean that people will stop making them? Nope--but that wasn't my point.

j. morgan, you wrote, insightfully, that "states are not concerned with justification, but with power-manipulation." Yep--and that's pure Nietzsche.

At 11:09 AM, Blogger CharlesPeirce said...

It's like this.

"We are justified in keeping nukes and North Korea is not."

False statement.

"Nation states will continue to do things based on power and not on fairness."

True statement.

Anyone care to dispute that?

At 11:16 AM, Blogger RedHurt said...

J. Morgan - absolutely; that's just what I was saying, minus the part about using our military advantage to minuplate other nations and use our advantage aggressively (although that might be true.)

In the interests of national defense, we are not motivated by a sense of global fairness, but rather by a sense of responsibility to defend our country as best we possibly can. We do that by maintaining stronger weapons and tighter defenses than other countries. It's not about being fair - it's about being safe.

I don't think you can say the Soviet's would be "less likely" to put missiles in Cuba if we hadn't had them in Europe because they were operating under the same "get every advantage you can" mentaility we are. They weren't placing the missiles as a reaction to the unfairness of the situation - they were doing it to try to gain military advantage. I think it's more likely that they'd have tried to put them there regardless of our missiles.

At 11:18 AM, Anonymous dadman said...

Let's go back to the link at CNN for a moment. There are many interesting tangents here. But the link is talking about an attack "somewhere in the world" not in the U.S. alone. That bears noticing and thinking about.

At 11:19 AM, Blogger RedHurt said...

I suppose it depends on what you mean by "justified".

Are we ideally justified in keeping nukes and trying to keep NK from having them? No.

Are we justified given that NK will work for their own military advantage, and thus the weakening of our national safety, if we don't? I'd say yes.

Given that all other nations will continue to act for power rather than fairness, I think that makes us justified in maintaining our advantage.

At 11:36 AM, Blogger J. Morgan Caler said...

Charles, I understood your argument and agree with you. I was just trying to get at what redhurt was conveying: I don’t think he wasn’t talking about justification in a legal or ethical sense, but in a self-interested sense. Here is the issue that I want to bring up, though: to attribute causal status to these policies when dealing with other nation states (“the Soviets would have been less likely to put them in Cuba if we had not had them in Europe”) probably doesn’t work. They were playing GPP and would have put nuclear weapons in Cuba regardless of our actions because they, like us, weren’t interested in fairness, but in advantage. Now, for Bin Laden, it probably does work – I disagree with jackscolon that the reason Muslims hate us is because they are haters. That is stupid. They are attacking us and our interests in response to a long history of provocations. So, I am just making the point that Muslim fundamentalists aren’t a very good comparison to the USSR because of the differences in motivation for “aggressive” action (in disagreement with your original post). NK, on the other hand, definitely is a good comparison with the USSR (in agreement with redhurt’s response).

At 11:43 AM, Blogger CharlesPeirce said...

All metaphysics aside, your argument, redhurt, seems to rest on this premise:

America is less likely to be attacked by WMDs if we possess massive quantities of WMDs.

Forgetting all of our flowery wallpaper about ideal justification and the Pokey and the Mon and the wah wah wah, I just think that premise is false. That's all.

At 11:47 AM, Blogger CharlesPeirce said...

Thanks for the support, j. morgan. That is what I'm talking about. I also like your point that the USSR is more like Korea than Muslims, and I agree with you that we have a long history of provocation in the Middle East.

Technically, you're right: I can't reify "the Soviet viewpoint." But Khruschev definitely called a lot of shots back then. So, I think this statement:

The Soviets would have been less likely to put nukes in Cuba had we not had all sorts of missiles in Europe pointed at them

Is true. Key to note is the phrase "less likely"--I didn't say that they absolutely wouldn't have.

I can push your argument back on redhurt, though. There are people at the top levels of government making all these decisions. No one says we "must" have nukes, or that we "had" to go to Iraq. That was a contingent decision made by real people.

At 12:02 PM, Blogger J. Morgan Caler said...

I agree, and I think you said it really clearly if I can splice two quotes: "There are people at the top levels of government making all these decisions" who think that "America is less likely to be attacked by WMDs if we possess massive quantities of WMDs." Credible deterrents and all that shit. And the reason they think that, of course, is because they refuse (or, because of their career history, are unable) to see the difference between the USSR and Al Qaeda. And, that is also why they release reports like the one you mentioned in your original post.

At 12:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

People, people, people. The report cited in the link to CNN was warning, among other things, that the Iraqi so-called insurgents would set off a dirty bomb in Baghdad if they could make one. That would make what we have already done in Iraq even worse, and we should try to prevent it.

At 4:47 PM, Blogger Jackscolon said...

I don't really have time to fully post what I want to say, but I think I need to get something up before the conversation passes me by or dies.

First, relating to "Islamic haters”, let me rephrase. I believe that the Muslim world will find sufficient provocation in the fact that America exists under the tenants of western liberalism. The fact that the Koran preaches jihad against other faiths, our loose morality, or a number of other reasons will all lead to their struggle against the Great Satan. As to who started it, it’s a chicken or the egg type question. Whether the conflict is Rocky vs. Drago, or Rocky vs. Osama- theological differences pick the fight and subsequent political and military actions promote it. In fact, I would wager that most of the provocation from us toward the Middle East is either related to the protection of Israel, or some type of non-military influence (generally economic) trying to force equality for women, or some other Islamic custom we find morally reprehensible (like the exploitation of camel jockeys, no joke).
It’s irrelevant whether Rocky starts throwing the jab because Osama slaps his female property in public, or Osama throws the first punch because Rocky doesn’t.

Sylvester Stallone aside, fundamentalist Islamic dictators are going to need to find someway to exploit their population without starting a revolt or an immigration frenzy. Would John “Herbie” Hancock, Patrick Henry and the gang have signed on the dotted line if George III had convinced him that the Russians, French, and Spanish wanted to recrucify Jesus? (a ridiculous analogy yes, but you get my point) The minute that the Arab masses realize that education and industry can feed their children better than a backpack bomb is when they start removing the Taliban/Ayatollah/Caliphate on their own. Until that happens, Democracy and Islam will get along as well as orcs and ents.

On a personal note, if you find that less ridiculous analogies would serve my argument better- tell me and I'll leave them out.

At 5:47 PM, Blogger RedHurt said...

I liked the "orcs and ents" analogy the best.

I think J. Morgan's hit the nail on the head a number of times here, most explictly by siting the incompatibilty of Osama and the Soviets. I absolutely agree with that. My original statements that started this flow of discussion were only addressing the Cuban Missle Crisis and not related to insurgents whatsoever. I stand by these statements and apologize for cluttering the blog with comments not directly related to the purpose of your post, however fruitful.

I stand by the statement that we in America are less likely to be attacked with WMD's by another government, like North Korea, if we retain massive amounts of them. I do not think this serves as any sort of deterrent whatsoever to individuals operating without the obvious support of a government. J. Morgan, please correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think anyone in the Bush administration is talking about our WMD stockpile as a deterrent to terrorists. It's a deterrent to North Korea or China, but not to Osama Bin Laden.

At 11:56 AM, Blogger CharlesPeirce said...

I guess I have nothing further to say to redhurt about WMDs as deterrent. I think we can both agree on the hypothetical statement that IF they are a deterrent, they are much moreso for rogue states than they are for Islamic terrorists. Now I have to take on something that jackscolon said that I think is totally ridiculous:

"I believe that the Muslim world will find sufficient provocation in the fact that America exists under the tenants of western liberalism. The fact that the Koran preaches jihad against other faiths, our loose morality, or a number of other reasons will all lead to their struggle against the Great Satan."

jackscolon gives way too much unity to the supposed Muslim haters in these sentences, as if they're the war-mongering Indians and we're the good cowboys. The last time I checked, we'd started plenty of destructive wars (for civilized reasons, of course) and sold plenty of weapons around the globe. I'd attempt to refute anyone who tried to judge the morality of a country, because that is reification up with which I will not put; I just have to point out the fact that in the 1980s we happily sold arms to Iran and Iraq, to Afghanistan, and started several wars ourselves.

Part of the reason they think
we're the Great Satan is--the military bases we have strewn across the Middle East, and not just the ones in Israel. We have a significant presence in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the rich, non-terror promoting gulf states like the UAE, and the 'stans, like Uzbekistan, where we completely tolerate their dictator.

Bases Muslim states have in the US at last count: ZERO.

At 11:58 AM, Blogger CharlesPeirce said...

So while SOME of their hatred is certainly blind, Bin Laden's reason for hating was our presence in Saudi Arabia. While that doesn't make it RIGHT for him to murder, it makes it understandable. There's nothing blind or insane about him.

At 4:38 PM, Blogger Jackscolon said...

This might be something we just have to agree to disagree on, but...I don't for a second believe that America shoulders as much responsibility for the current situation as the leaders of the muslim world. As for the supposed Muslim "haters", I think they are more a product of fundamentalist propoganda than literal interpretations of the Koran or American provocation. Islamic leaders don't offer comprehensive economic strategy or social progress to motivate their population, they offer religious ultimatums and hate (drawing some eerie parallels to the Howard Dean campaign- well minus religious ultimatums except for this nugget... "From a religious point of view, if God had thought
homosexuality is a sin, he would not have created gay people.") I think it's fairly safe to say that any government derived from totalitarianism is forced to create enemies and vilify them out of political necessity in order
to consolidate power over the people and deflect attention away. You have to realize that our cultures cannot coexist- The very existence of western liberalism threatens tyranny. The Soviets realized the powerful attraction of freedom, so they published Pravda to demonize America and built the Berlin Wall. Arab leaders also realize it, so they label us the "Great Satan" and hide their peasants behind a wall built of ignorance and religious ideology.

At 4:46 PM, Blogger RedHurt said...

1.) The UAE, while not on the level of Iran or Iraq for producing terrorists, is "terror promoting" in the same sense that you've said we're responsible for things in Africa: if you watch a child drown and do nothing, you're responsible. Right? And while the UAE has become remarkably anti-terror in recent years, it hasn't always been so nice.

2.) While I agree with what you've said about Jack's unilateral (I've been using that word a lot lately) assumption that all Muslims will be destructive haters, I think his point is more valid than you're allowing. Remember that we've said the anti-US propaganda is largely promoted by elitist clerics who inflame the masses and then sit safely in the un-assailable holy sites while their followers bomb themselves to death. The problem isn't so much that every Muslim in the middle east is an extremist - the problem is that the loudest and most convincing voices in many areas are. These clerics will find sufficient reason to incite their followers to war against us ideologically until their power is removed or threatened by such action.

At 8:48 AM, Blogger CharlesPeirce said...

What I'm about to say probably isn't going to get us anywhere, but does it mean anything to you (redhurt and jackscolon) that we've invaded Iraq twice, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, and Iraq and Iran fought a war in which over a million people died?

While redhurt and I fundamentally agree that "anti-US propaganda is largely promoted by elitist clerics who inflame the masses and then sit safely in the un-assailable holy sites while their followers bomb themselves to death," aren't we more of a threat not just to the totalitarian/hater way of life in the Middle East but to people's actual lives? How many American civilians have Iraqis killed in the past 50 years? Zero!

At 9:57 AM, Blogger RedHurt said...

Iraq has published a report in which they predict a 75% chance of American's striking somewhere in the world in the next 10 years.

Yes, we most certainly are. I don't know where to go with it from there. I think we need some new posts on both blogs.


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