Jonathan Chait Shakes His Head at “Younger Liberal Friends”

AP10ThingsToSee Mideast Jordan US KerryI really can’t help myself. The latest from Jonathan Chait is just that bad. It lacks rigor, evidence, and any sense of humility. He never really even lays out an argument–just a series of complaints about what non-interventionists seem to say every time the U.S. rolls up to the brink of another war with another country in the Middle East.

The merits of intervening in Syria strike me as both a closer call and a lower-stakes matter than what we think of as “major wars.”

How wonderful that it strikes you that way Chait. But please do tell us why it’s actually lower-stakes.

“The apparently forthcoming operation has much more modest ends than the intervention in Libya, which I supported and that succeeded in its aim.”

Does it now? And what exactly are those “more modest ends?” And while you’re at it, what exactly was the aim of the intervention in Libya, since you obviously don’t feel confident it calling it a success outright?

“We will not be toppling a brutal regime or preventing an imminent massacre.”

Interesting. So what exactly will be our reason for “intervening?”

“The purpose of air strikes is to impose a cost on regimes that deploy chemical weapons against civilians. Attacking the Syrian regime won’t stop all future massacres of civilians, or even all chemical attacks on civilians, but it does strike, on balance, as better than doing nothing at all.”

How wonderful indeed that “it does strike,” presumably you, as being better than “doing nothing at all,” which I guess you have a good reason for assuming is the only alternative. But again, why does “it” “strike” you this way, and why should I care how something strikes you, rather than whether it’s accurate and/or true?

“I’m continually struck…

Ugh…

…by the ideological cleavage between myself and the Iraq War–vintage smart center-left writers, who generally agree with me on domestic policy but sharply diverge with me on foreign policy.”

Perhaps this is because issues between countries must necessarily play out very differently than issues between citizens of the same country, bound by the same rule of law and powers of coercion. Is it at all surprising that two people might agree about how to treat family and yet disagree about how treat complete strangers?

This piece of [Mattew Yglesias’s] argument, making the case that the Libya intervention failed, is really striking:”

Chait, I really hope you’re wearing a helmet.

“The argument for intervening in Libya was not that doing so would turn the country into a peaceful, Westernized democracy moving rapidly up the OECD rankings. It was that it would prevent an immediate, enormous massacre of civilians.”

Was that the argument? Who made that argument, and where? Welcome to the Internet where hyperlinks are your friends. And what qualifies as an “enormous” massacre of civilians? How many civilians were saved as a result of the ones killed during the NATO-led intervention? Was it worth the cost?

“Libya remains an ugly place; it would have been so regardless of whether NATO intervened.”

Chait, you should have told us you had the ability to see into the future of alternate timelines!

“It’s telling that, rather than arguing that the overall costs exceeded the benefits, opponents are resorting to listing any bad things that have happened since.”

It’s interesting that, rather than demonstrating that the overall benefits exceeded the costs, Chait merely resorts to asserting it.

“An even worse argument is that, if we want to prevent the deaths of people in Third World countries, we should use humanitarian aid for things like anti-malarial nets rather than military force against people who are massacring them.”

And why is this an even worse argument?

“Anti-malarial nets have taken on a strange place in liberal anti-interventionist rhetoric.”

They have? And what about this phenomenon makes it a bad argument exactly?

“They appear on the scene, as they did at the outset of the Libya operation, when somebody is proposing a humanitarian military intervention.”

But surely they don’t only appear on the scene during those times. Several writers at Ordinary Times, including Jason Kuznicki and myself, have made these arguments before, completely outside the context of debating the merits of military intervention in other countries, as have others.

 “It’s not unlike conservative interest in health-care reform, which exists only when it can be used to oppose a Democratic health-care-reform plan that stands a chance of passing Congress.”

Chait, are you claiming that people who argue in favor of non-violent forms of humanitarian aid only do so to be argumentative and posture, and don’t actually believe what they say? Or perhaps only that particular people do that? In which case hyperlinks are still your friend.

“The two don’t have anything to do with each other, of course. Intervening or not intervening in Syria won’t change the dynamics that prevent an increase in anti-malarial aid.”

What?

“I don’t like killing Syrians. And a lot of Syrians are getting killed.”

I don’t like killing children, and a lot of children are dying of malaria.

“I don’t see any plausible way to stop that from happening.”

I see a plausible way to stop that from happening.

“I do think that killing some of the Syrians who are soldiers wantonly killing civilians will probably lead to a net decrease in killing.”

I know that spending billions of dollars on nets and medical supplies will actually lead to a net decrease in children who die of malaria.

“But I continue to be amazed that some of my younger liberal friends find it so easy to dismiss any weighing of pros and cons by venturing arguments structurally identical to ones that, in a domestic context, they recognize as absurd.”

I honestly have no idea where Chait’s non-existent explanation for how the argument that money used to intervene in Syria to save lives could much more efficiently save lives by being spent differently is at all similar to conservative and libertarian arguments that Obamacare sucks would even begin.

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77 thoughts on “Jonathan Chait Shakes His Head at “Younger Liberal Friends”

  1. Johnathan Chait is… huh. My age. Which would mean that his “younger liberal friends” are probably 35 or lower. (Older than that would probably be categorized as “my age” or “about my age”, I reckon.)

    So. We’re talking about folks who were coming of age, politically, around Somalia, maybe Kosovo, at the oldest and the even younger ones were completing myelination around 9/11.

    Pretty much for their entire aware existence, we have been involved in one kinetic action or another.

    This is the way it has always been.

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      • It’s the last awesome thing your body does before everything turns to crap.

        But we’ve got a whole generation of young people who don’t remember the few short years of not being at war (indeed, not having an enemy).

        They just don’t realize how awful journalism is when we’re not killing people. How boring. How you have to make stuff up like Stephen Glass.

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    • It’s pretty amazing when you stop to think about it. I was a sophomore in High School on 9/11. I was 13 during the Kosovo War. In other words, we’ve been shooting people in the Middle East on a constant and ongoing basis since before my political coming of age, and seem to show no signs of stopping.

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  2. I can appreciate Chait’s frustration with the malaria nets argument. “AIDS, malaria, TB, starvation, and poor sanitation” were brought up to me in response to the Waiting for Halabja piece. Frankly, it is a non sequitur. What does it have to do with the use of chemical weapons last week Wednesday and crafting an appropriate response to that? Just for the record I’m both pro-intervention in Syria and pro-malaria nets. The two don’t have very much at all to do with one another though.

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    • If you think we should choose to do humanitarian interventions that are more effective before doing ones that are less effective, then mosquito nets have something to do with intervention in Syria.

      If you want to attack Syria, and your justification is that it is the most humanitarian action you can think of doing, it is perfectly reasonable for someone to point out something even more humanitarian to do. If you are genuinely interested in humanitarianism, you would actually thank the person for pointing it out so you can do that one too (or perhaps instead).

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      • and your justification is that it is the most humanitarian action you can think of doing

        This would seem to be arguing against a straw man. The argument isn’t: Please list humanitarian actions in order of least difficult to more difficult.

        Saying you should brush your teeth after meals isn’t related to every discussion of public health just as malaria nets aren’t related to every discussion of humanitarian intervention – especially since humanitarian intervention in this context is about using or not using military force, not necessarily humanitarianism writ large.

        This last point is pure speculation, but for what it’s worth, supposing I asked someone like Samantha Power or Susan Rice about malaria nets I don’t think they’d say they were against anti-malarial programs.

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      • If the stated justification for action is *only* that it is a humanitarian thing to do, then listing “humanitarian actions in order of least difficult to more difficult” is very very reasonable thing to ask to be done.

        If I can find something that better accomplishes your stated goals but you persist in preferring the inferior solution, then I think it is valid to think you either have some goals that you aren’t admitting to or you have some sort of irrational attachment to your solution that prevents you from adopting the better one.

        (When I say “you” above, I don’t really mean you since you said you support both policies.)

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      • This last point is pure speculation, but for what it’s worth, supposing I asked someone like Samantha Power or Susan Rice about malaria nets I don’t think they’d say they were against anti-malarial programs.

        I’d also ask the followup of why they aren’t using the administration’s political capital to support that.

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      • Getting increased foreign assistance through this Congress will go precisely how far do you estimate? Just to underscore the point, there are Senators and members of the House who currently want to use the full faith and credit of the US and/or shutdown of the federal government as a bargaining chip to dismantle/defund Obamacare. Also, as far as the US Mission to the UN goes, my understanding is they’ve got a good track record on supporting UN Security Council attention being devoted to humanitarian issues beyond the guns and bombs variety to include thematic issues.

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    • Creon, it’s pointing out that there’s a huge political faction which is willing to spend tens to hundreds to thousands of billions of $$ in ‘humanitarian’ wars, but is unwilling to spend millions for things which are almost certain to save more lives and more directly.

      It’s like ‘R2P’. It’s a lie, and it’s important to point that out.

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      • Because nobody’s willing to really do what it would take to protect. “Lie” may be a word better suited for rhetorical impact than precise meaning here, but as far as what states say about R2P and what they actually do, there’s certainly a real disconnect, and no indication–at least as I see it–that it’s going to change.

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      • J@m3z Aitch,
        There’s a big difference between “lie” and what I’d call an emergent norm. Unevenly enforced, yes. It has been only 12 years since the ICISS report, and General Assembly endorsement was in 2005. As someone deeply interested in human rights I’d sure appreciate if the principles ICISS articulated were even more evident in the world today. But French President Francois Hollande has already mentioned R2P in reference to Syria and with Libya R2P was also a touchstone. For international law that’s not a snails pace. And apparently, the US, UK, France, and past members of coalitions of the willing have demonstrated that some nations are prepared to take steps towards implementing R2P. There’s a big leap from uneven enforcement to “nobody” though.

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      • Creon, I don’t want this to come off as just flippantly dismissive, but “mentioning” and “prepared to take steps” are in fact exactly the kind of phrasing that one might hear in a “Yes, Minister” episode. Which doesn’t mean you’re wrong, just that there’s a vast perceptual disconnect between you and those more cynical about the concept.

        Honestly, I’m one of those who are more cynical, for at least two reasons. One, more powerful countries have always been willing to intervene in less powerful countries. I’m unpersuaded that doing so under a new label will change the traditional dynamic. Two, responsibility without capacity is a recipe for disaster (as anyone who’s ever been in a job with those characteristics can avow).

        I’ve been reading Christopher Coyne’s Doing Bad By Doing Good: Why Humanitarian Action Fails. As he notes in the first chapter,

        “Instead of focusing on whether there is a responsibility for outside state actors to protect and assist in order to remove suffering, my focus is on the ability of outsiders to effectively engage in humanitarian action whether or not there is a moral imperative to do so.” (p. 13)

        As Coyne notes, many people (not implying you, I hasten to note) think it’s just a matter of having the “political will” to accomplish the goal. He uses several quotes as examples, for example:
        “Our readiness and capacity for action has been demonstrated to be inadequate…owing to the absence of the collective political will” (UN Report on Rwadna).

        But it takes so much more than just “will” to build actual capacity to achieve constructive results. (If I may be totally snarky for a moment, we should ask Hitler how easy it is for will to triumph over real capacity.)

        I doubt that the will actually exists, or will anytime soon. It’s much easier for nations to announce that they have the will than to actually make good on it–the difference between cheap talk and credible commitment. And right now what the U.S. and Britain are talking about is “punishing” Assad. That’s cheap talk, not commitment.

        And even with will, it’s doubtful we have the capacity to reliably accomplish good through massive outsider interventions, because situations in which people need protection are not merely technical problems for which we can engineer a technical solution. This isn’t an anti-humanitarian position, mind you. It’s a question of whether our good intentions are backed by real capacity to achieve our humanitarian goals.

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      • J@m3z Aitch,
        I love “Yes, Minister” and “Yes, Prime Minister”. Sir Humphrey Appleby is an absolutely great character. Though I wouldn’t aspire to communicating like him. I think sometimes you write like what you’ve been reading (I believe you and Jason Kuznicki had observed this recently), and I’ve been reading Security Council Report and What’s in Blue, so I blame them for inserting diplo-speak into my lexicon. I’d prefer them to Hegel though.

        there’s a vast perceptual disconnect between you and those more cynical about the concept.

        Yes. This is true.

        the ability of outsiders to effectively engage in humanitarian action whether or not there is a moral imperative to do so

        Wait, do we agree on the moral imperative? That’s like three quarters of the battle from my perspective. But then again I take the term “moral imperative” rather seriously.

        As for “ability”, to quote Madeleine Albright, “What’s the point of having this superb military that you’re always talking about if we can’t use it?” The US has plenty of capacity to nudge events towards a favored direction. Part of the issue has been the will to use it – all that Bill Clinton State Department briefing hemming and hawing about deeming Rwanda a genocide at the time. If I recall correctly, the Clinton administration State spokesperson was eventually willing to say “acts of genocide” but drew short of genocide for some time because that’d actually mean the US would have to do something about it. Not their finest hour.

        The coverage of Rwanda that’s at the forefront of my mind is that of Samantha Power in her A Problem from Hell, when she argues that there’s a continuum of options and many are short of boots on the ground level intervention. Jamming the radio stations that was dispatching marauders to target individuals is a common example, or the fact that phone calls, mere phone calls, from the State Department helped protect some individuals from targeting by extremists. I personally would favor going for full bore regime change with Assad, but it is also fair to say that punishing Assad for chemical weapons use will help to reinforce the sanction against chemical weapons. Certainly the US has the capacity to do that.

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      • Creon,

        Well, you’ve got good taste, I’m happt to confirm.

        No, I’m not agreeing on the moral duty. It’s an “even if that, then there’s still this” argument.

        I despise the Assad regime, but going full bore for regime change only looks at step 1. This was our problem in Iraq. Getting rid of a regime is the easy part, the part we have capacity for. It’s the part after that for which capacity is lacking, because it’s a fundamentally different and far more complex job.

        As for “ability”, to quote Madeleine Albright, “What’s the point of having this superb military that you’re always talking about if we can’t use it?”

        Yeah, that scares the shit out of me. It’s not so different from local police forces deciding to use swat teams to serve warrant because “what’s the point of having these specially trained teams if we don’t use them?” But it turns out that swat teams aren’t reallu suitable for swrving warrants. And likewise, a big part of my point is that massive military power does not equal capacity for humanitarian action, and thinking so is a fundamental category error that leads to mistakes.

        Note I’m not a strict non-interventionist arguing against all action, but I am arguing that seeing the military as equivalent to capacity for humanitarian fundmentally misunderstands the nature of the problems that need to be solved and so applies the wrong tools.

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  3. +1 to the nth power, Ethan.

    a humanitarian military intervention.
    Hey, if we stick the word humanitarian on the front, suddenly it’s all good! Because Libya! (Just don’t ask how well things are going there right now.)

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  4. Yet another example of how casual and nonchalant the journalist class is, about events that they know will never touch them.

    Here lobbing bombs into another nation is discussed as a minor, piffling matter, not like we were going to war or something.

    Part of me- just a part, mind you- wishes that tomorrow China decided they needed to lob missiles into the Georgetown, Manhattan, the Hamptons, or wherever it is that people like Chait work and play.

    I wonder if we would be treated to cool, scholarly essays discussing the surgical strike that took out half the people on Sally Quinn’s rolodex.

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    • LWA, I agree with you on Syria but would make the same argument against journalists who advocated taking a more militant stance against Nazi Germany from the invasion of Poland to Pearl Harbor. Yes, I realize that I’m invoking Godwin but armchair pacifism is just as annoying as armchair militarism at times.

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      • Lee, but what if it’s not armchair pacifism as much as armchair pragmatism? Is there anything to sneer at in sitting in our armchairs saying, “can you at least develop clear goals and a practical strategic plan first?”

        A week or so ago some of us were discussing the “SMART” concept for goal-setting.
        –Specific
        –Measurable
        –Attainable
        –Relevant
        –Time-bounded

        I’m not a strict pacifist, but I want to know that in addition to our smart bombs that hit them where it smarts that we have smart goals.

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      • James, fair enough. Even though I’m against intervention in Syria, I’m also really not a fan that people who are arguing for intervention are doing so in bad faith or out of stupidity.

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      • I think that’s a fair position. But I have a hard time understanding how anyone looking at our string of actions in the Middle East could, without great hesitation, encourage intervention now. It’s not fair to call them stupid, perhaps, but it’s hard not to question whether they’re really looking at our track record with any care.

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      • Armchair militarism is more dangerous, by far. The armchair peacenik has the benefit of logic: wars do not solve political problems. They are expressions of political problems.

        When did a war actually solve a political problem?

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      • Vikram, it depends on the situation. Like Orwell said, pacifists who opposed WWII were fascists by default. War is always destructive but sometimes not participating in a war is just a call to let atrocities happen.

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      • I don’t think it’s stupidity, so much as a lack of concreteness – the logic sits of the level of “this is bad, let’s do something!” This thinking isn’t unique to military intervention, but it is a problem. It’s not enough to do something, you have to do the right thing.

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      • James K, I can agree with that and thats why I’m opposed to intervention in Syria. It will only make a bad situation worse. I just can’t bring myself to support non-intervention in all cases.

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      • 70 years from now, no one will remember Friedman’s name. Or Hitchens’s either, for all that he considered himself the 21st Century Orwell.

        “Hack” is a strong word, Murali. Do you really see nothing in Animal Farm, 1984, and Homage to Catalonia than hackery?

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      • I agree that reflexive anti-interventionism is bad, but then again, relfexive anything probably is.

        Being the one here with attitude, I am a lot more willing to accuse Chait and others of stupidity. Specifically, that thunderous blinding stupidity that only brilliant well educated people are capable of.

        I don’t get the impression from Chait’s article that lobbing missiles is a deep and grave thing, but is nonetheles correct; It is treated as something small and trifling, not a real war at all.

        Yet 9/11, which was actually small and trifling (compared to the slaughter that has engulfed Syria) was cause for a decade of shrieking and pants-wetting, that isn’t over yet.

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      • Well I only read the first two and I won’t deny that they are good reads. But his non-fiction stuff were just callow expressions of national cultural chauvinism and a kind of crude socialism.

        In particular, I’m looking at England your England, Shopkeepers At War and The Shopkeepers’ revolution.

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      • I’ve probably read all of those, but the only one that rings a bell at the moment is England Your England. (The one that starts “As I write this, highly civilized people are flying overhead trying to kill me”. right?) That’s intended to be nationalistic; Orwell, as an Englishman, is trying to explain to himself and his audience (of Englishmen) what it means to be English at a time when that was in danger of being ended. As to crude socialism, sure, he was no economist and didn’t claim to be one.

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      • Murali,

        Well I only read the first two and I won’t deny that they are good reads. But his non-fiction stuff were just callow expressions of national cultural chauvinism and a kind of crude socialism.

        It’s been a while since I’ve read his nonfiction (and I think I’ve read the ones you’re referring to), but I really don’t see those works as chauvinistic. I think the apparent chauvinism comes from the fact that one part of his audience were adherents to internationalist socialism that denied distinct national attributes, positing that they were mere epiphenomena of “objective” forces that worked to keep the proletariat down. Orwell seems to be arguing (again, it’s been a while since I’ve read) that these internationalists are wrong to ignore the contingencies of place. In effect, he’s accusing them of “crude socialism.”

        Not that he didn’t admire England, but he was steadfastly critical of its imperialism, and he also feared that the emergence of an English-style fascism was a (regrettably to him) real possibility.

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      • As long as we’re Godwinning up the joint, I’ll point out that at least after the fall of Poland, and especially after the fall of France, it should’ve been clear to anyone that the only measures that would stop Hitler would be all out war of tremendous sacrifice, not the half-measure escalations that prewar FDR gradually adopted (a quasi-anti-uboat war, lend lease, occupying Greenland, other things I’m probably ignorant of).

        What I’m saying is, in that case, the only kind of intervention that could’ve worked in 1939-1941 was what the US eventually did, at great cost in lives and money (not that other countries, like the USSR didn’t pay even more dearly).

        In a sense (and with due declarations of my ignorance of Syria and international relations), I suspect that’s true in Syria. The “humanitarian” case for intervention is in my mind different only in degree and extent from the “humanitarian” case for intervention in 1939-1941. Innocents are, apparently, being killed arbitrarily. I’m not trying to draw an equivalence with the Holocaust, but I am saying that at a certain level, arbitrary killing is wrong and in the best of all worlds ought to be stopped by those in a position to stop it. I’m also speculating that the holocaust wasn’t the primary reason the US and UK fought Germany (maybe it ought to have been, but I sincerely doubt it was). (The “realist” and “cultural” cases might be different: Syria doesn’t strike me as an expansionist state in the same way that Germany was, a robust intervention in Syria might antagonize a nation-state capable of doing much more harm (i.e., Russia), and fewer Americans identify with the middle east than with Europe.)

        In order to truly stop the outrages going on in Syria, the US would, I suspect, have to commit whole hog into that country with an invasion, followed by a reconstruction of Marshall-plan proportions. And then, hope that unpredictable forces (or predictable ones, for that matter) don’t make it turn out like Iraq.

        I’m not a reflexive anti-interventionist, but I’m close to being one. I subject calls for intervention to “strict scrutiny,” and though I’m far from being an expert in Syria, that burden doesn’t seem to have been met.

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  5. This is a pithy take-down of Chait’s fact-less opinion piece, but it doesn’t really present a cost-benefit analysis either. Is there ever a point where the human right’s violations perpetrated by a state leader justify military intervention? Would such intervention ever be justified if there are still malaria nets to build somewhere? What would it take for Syria to reach this point?

    To be honest, I’m not even sure such a cost-benefit analysis could be carried out. In retrospect, the costs of not intervening in Rwanda (on top of the direct body count) was the complete destruction of social order for at least a generation, as well as the complete disintegration of whatever credibility western powers had on preventing genocides that didn’t involve white people. Those are massive costs, in my opinion. But I doubt any cost-benefit analysis of intervening in a sectarian civil-war that had been going on for four years would have factored these costs (in fact, the Clinton administration’s calculus on Rwanda post-Somalia is not so different from our calculus on the Middle East post-Iraq). The way I think about R2P is that there is a certain moral boundary beyond which nations enter a chaotic state where the scope of their human right’s violations is no longer predictable. At a certain point there’s been enough successful, unanswered violence (committed by the perpetrator) and enough inertia to keep it going that the perpetrator could literally do anything, even the unthinkable (and by definition not cost-benefit countable).

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      • To the extent the Chait’s “younger liberal friends” find Rawls’ veil of ignorance thought experiment convincing skepticism towards R2P* is problematic isn’t it?

        * I’ve been using R2P interchangeably with humanitarian intervention, but here I mean in the technical sense, the fleshed out ICISS version of R2P.

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      • The veil of ignorance deals with domestic justice, not international relations.

        There’s nothing internal to the veil of ignorance thought experiment that says so (though I am aware that Rawls himself, Law of Peoples, tried to draw distinctions). I think it is a perfectly fair question to liberals who find it a convincing route to go in outlining our obligations/responsibilities to one another to press them that R2P is veil-compliant. It also strikes me as bizarre to say, you don’t even have a conception of the good behind the veil of ignorance, but one’s national identity, that arbitrary, luck-based, imaginary line rooted, social construction of national identity still has significance in veil terms.

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      • no its not about national identity, but what the assumptions behind the Original Position are.

        One of the basic assumptions is that the people who may have claims against one another are subject to the same basic social institutions.

        Another assumption is that the parties represent persons and not nations. Why? because the veil of ignorance posits that persons have fundamental interests in the development and exercise of their two moral powers.

        And lastly what ties all of this together is that the original position doesn’t specify people’s duties, it specifies what criteria coercive institutions must satisfy if they are to be just. International law governs relations between nations. But the institutions governing relations between people of different societies is sufficiently amorphous that I am not sure that the kind of relation that justifies the precise features of the original position obtain.

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    • The key issue is the extent to which military intervention will A) stop the human rights violation (as opposed to merely changing who perpetrates it) and B) won’t end up causing more suffering than the human rights violation does. The badness of the status quo is irrelevant if you don’t have a policy that can actually make things better.

      I’m not saying its impossible, but it doesn’t look good.

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      • Ehh, I think Chait (who I adore as a writer) is a bit off mark on this one. Especially now that the Arab League has come out against an attack I think Obama would be crazy to bomb, and especially crazy to bomb without getting Congress on board first.

        In fact I think that’d be ideal, he should punt the decision to Congress and make them agree to declare war. That’d bring him into alignment with his own past rhetoric on the subject and also probably result in nothing happening.

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      • I think that’s exactly the right point. What’s going on in Syria is horrific. If it’s possible for outside action to stop it, we could argue about whether there’s a moral imperative to do so. But if not, that argument is pointless.

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      • But if not, that argument is pointless

        I think ought implies can is relevant here right? i.e. if you cannot make things better, then you have no obligation to. So determining what possibilities there are and their relative feasibility matters in terms of whether there is a moral obligation (at least under some theories of international justice)

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      • The badness of the status quo is irrelevant if you don’t have a policy that can actually make things better..

        This is reasonable, but it’s also very difficult to quantify how much unintended harm a policy is going to cost, and at some point you have to say that the likelihood of the intended good outweighs the likelihood of the unintended harm. Knowing where that line is for a non-interventionist like Ethan on Syria would be highly informative of his general world-view. If, like Murali, the answer is effectively never, then all of the criticism of Chait for not doing a proper risk assessment is mostly moot because there ain’t no risk assessment that would be good enough.

        The problem I see is that just as hawks see intervention as the only solution, neo-isolationists often see intervention as a complete impossibility. If we applied this standard everywhere we wouldn’t be sending out any malaria nets either: the money can fall into the wrong hands, the nets themselves pose a choking hazard for children, and the local populace will see them as jingoistic meddling and grow to resent us, etc.

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      • But the efficacy of malaria nets have been well documented. Significant decreases in malaria infection rates have followed implementation and further studies have been made into ensuring more long term and autonomous take up of the practice of sleeping with malaria nets. The two are hardly comparable in terms of possible risks.

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  6. Oh yes, cause throwing a few cruise missles into the mix of a civil / tribal / religious war is nothing but a calming influence on all parties.

    Maybe people are against this becuase they’ve seen it hasn’t worked in the past and is unlikely to work in the furture for the SAME REASONS. But what really annoys me is that I actually agree with MY’s comments. Dear god, how I hate that.

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