Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Ramblings Here and There

Mort Chien isn't his actual name, just as I'm not really Melville's scrivener. Mort's the nom de keyboard of a man whom I've had the pleasure of knowing for some years now. He left a comment a couple of posts down, which he modestly described as "rambling" but I would have been more inclined to describe as a thoughtful counterpoint to my habitual skepticism about international intervention. The "business" part of the comment:
No problem with "in principle" letting the rest of world go its own way. But where does one draw the line and use force? Not crazy about trusting the millenial nut case who runs Iran. Even less crazy about military engagement. Less still letting the Israelis and Persians go at it - but no way to prevent it if thats what they decide to do.

I guess the real question boils down to what kind of isolationism is best? Will it be better to watch the Japanese and SoKos and Taiwan build their nukes since we may not be regarded as a dependable ally rather than maintain some sort of credible military alliance with them?

Will it be better to let the Sunni and Shia escalate their tensions to nuclear orgasm or, in some as yet unknown way, to attempt to head that off.

Power cannot be made to disappear. Seems that the question should be what is the wisest use of that power. And just what source should be used to obtain that wisdom. Unfortunately that seems to be our lot at this point in history. Someone else will have their turn after us.
Well, it seems to me that the government of a nation-state may legitimately use force to preserve the territorial integrity of that nation-state ... I believe that is the legitimate line to be drawn. I think where the trouble usually starts is the use of military force in the furtherance of "the national interest." The national interest (TNI) seems to me to be an amorphous, ill-defined, slippery abstraction. In a nation-state of the size and diversity of the US, there are many ideas of TNI, some of which are in direct mutual conflict. People who are employed in what is left of the domestic auto industry, for example, would have an idea of TNI with respect to tariffs on imported cars that would not correspond to TNI as seen by people who want to buy cars from among the largest range of competing manufacturers possible. TNI in the Middle East is bound to be seen very differently by Americans who are supporters of CAIR and by Americans who support AIPAC. In many cases, there are potential moral problems associated with advancing TNI by force. If TNI is served by a stable supply of crude oil at $35/barrel, how much better would TNI prosper at $0.35/barrel? Is it morally acceptable to shed blood to make that happen? The domestic safety of Americans is presumably in TNI. What if we could kill every single Muslim? Would we not very substantially decrease the probability of terrorism in the U.S. and thus advance TNI? I pause here to note that I've seen that form of the Final Solution suggested, apparently seriously, online.

"Millennial nutcase" may well be an apt description of the current Iranian strongman. In all honesty, I'm not sure it isn't an equally-apt description of the current Washington, DC strongman. Concerning trusting other nation-states that are possess, or are seeking, nuclear arms: I don't know that "trust" is really the operative concept. For half a century, the US tolerated the possession of a very large arsenal of such weapons, with advanced delivery systems, by various strongmen in the old USSR. Were they "trustworthy?" I don't think so. What we did was to maintain a credible deterrent, and avoided gratuitous provocations, and we muddled through somehow. Not an optimal arrangement, to be sure; but as you say, power can't be made to disappear. It seems to me that the same general approach might serve us well vis a vis the Japanese and various flavors of Koreans and Chinese. I would also advocate that the US announce its decision to withdraw -- say, with six months' notice -- from the various entangling alliances which have US troops perpetually stationed in Japan and Korea and Germany et infinite cetera, in order that the lives of Americans might not be intentionally left hostage to whatever foreign strongmen happen to be the least stable (Korea being, currently, a particularly egregious example).

"Isolationism" is frequently used as a perjorative term -- a smear term, really. But I embrace a kind of isolationism: the isolationism preached (sadly, not always practiced) by Washington and Jefferson. It's the kind of isolationism that features honest commerce with all, and favoritism and alliances with none.


Mort_chien said...

Thanks Jim, for the thoughtful reply. I assume that since you are entertaining and responding to opinions and questions that the surgery went well.
Maybe determining what is “the national interest” and how to advance it is a major part of the problem. By the way, I meant no feigned deprecation by my use of the word “isolationism”. It seemed an apt description of what I thought you were inclined toward as an alternative to what you called “interventionism” – a word that also has had its share of pejorative applications.
In the case of the Soviets, we could in a sense “trust them” to do what was in their national interest – and in particular their not risking self annihilation. Their interests and ours coincided at that point. An interesting aside that is relevant to today’s’ international tensions is that Cuba did not share those non-annihilation self interests in the early 60’s and if the recent discussions between the US and USSR principal players can be believed, Castro was quite content to let his little island paradise go up in smoke if it furthered the advance of his brand of socialism. Because of that, the Soviets never again gave up operational control of their nukes as they had to Cuba’s little man.
Which brings me back to my question about what is the wisest course of action in today’s world. Mr. Ahmadinejad, again if his own words are to be believed, is quite willing to let Iran disappear along with hundreds of thousands of his coreligionist Arabs in Israel and neighboring lands, if he can succeed in taking Israel and a piece of us out in the process and hastening the advent of the 12th Imam. Note, I am not advocating any kind of alliance with Israel. From this Christian’s standpoint, modern Israel is a covenant breaking nation, and is in grave danger because of it (Acts 3:19-23 paraphrasing Deut 18:19 and applying it to Jesus).
NoKo’s Kim seems to harbor similar disregard for their own future for other reasons, if indeed they may be called “reasons”. So what is in the national interest in these cases where potential adversaries seem to regard suicide as a virtue and back up their words with appalling acts of self destruction? Pre-emption is an ugly word and an even uglier concept. Is there a middle road between pre-emption and passive waiting for a blow that admittedly may never come? If that middle road exists, is it not too far removed from the diplomatic, economic, and military pressures currently being brought to bear on Iran and North Korea?

Mort Chien

TW said...

Naturally, my line of thinking seems to be along the same vein as Mort's.

Jim and I have delved into this area before as well. One of my contentions in that discussion was that Washington and Jefferson lived in a world in which threats from overseas were literally weeks if not months away. Things like nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons were unheard of.

Also, as Mort points out, mutually assured destruction was a great deterrent with the Soviet Union. The current religious nut running things in Iran seems to believe mutually assured destruction is a great incentive for which to wage a nuclear war. I'm also under the impression that he'd like to begin as soon as the opportunity avails itself to him.

I appreciate Jim's point of view concerning the virtues isolationism and minding one's own business. The question is do we mind our own business and trust the hands of fate or do we act in our own "best interests" and trust the hands of politicians? Kind of a Hobson's choice scenario if you ask me.

BTW, I hope you heal quickly and fully this time Jim.

Bartleby said...

Mort: thank you for your comment. I didn't mean to sound defensive about "isolationism." I do think that, like most abstract terms, "isolationism" requires an agreed-upon definition to be useful. The same certainly applies to "interventionism." I brought it up in order to say, yes, I'm an isolationist, if by that you mean declining to interfere in the internal affairs of other nation-states ... but not if you mean refusing commerce, tourism, and cultural interchange.

I don't know that I agree that the old Soviet regime was more rational than the current regimes in Iran and North Korea. In all cases, if you listened to the words of their chieftains, you would conclude that they were madmen -- remember how Pravda used to talk about the US in the bad old days? Khruschev pounding the table with his shoe? "We will bury you?" I don't think Ahmadinejad has anything on those folks in the crazy-talk department.

You ask if we shouldn't bring "diplomatic, economic, and military pressures" to bear on Iran and North Korea. I would ask a few counter-questions: exactly who are we to bring such pressures? What are our moral qualifications? And what, in concrete terms, does "bringing military pressure to bear" involve?

I certainly don't have a way, from our current situation, by which the US can be perfectly secure from attack. We have gone far out of our way to make enemies -- and those enemies are, by and large, not noted for their rationality, nor for their gentle willingness to let bygones be bygones. I do think that current US foreign policy continues to make more and more enemies for us, perpetuating our troubles into the future.

TW: thank you for your good wishes, and your comment. It is true that there has been technological change since the Founders' time. I have not, however, heard many people say that freedom of speech is an anachronism because Washington and Jefferson couldn't have foreseen radio, television, and the internets. I consider the philosophy of nonintervention to be rather more fundamental than how long it takes a weapon to travel between continents.

TW said...

Well Jim, freedom of speech by itself has never killed anyone and we're talking now about weapons that can wipe out a city of millions in one fell swoop, not cannonballs and musket balls.

Glad your doing better though and able to steer clear of the hard drugs. Hmmm? Would the Viagra Rush was caught with be considered a hard drug? LOL! ;o)