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Rebirth of Reason

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Monday, September 30 - 8:53pmSanction this postReply
I think Professor Machan, in a recent post, asked if a Nation even has a 'self.' Whatever the answer to that, the question about when a nation should go to war remains. That is a question about what standards, relative to what events or conditions, do we act on to let loose the dogs of war? It is not done as individuals, or private organizations, but as a nation. Because of that, this becomes a question of what powers can or should the federal government exercise, since only the federal government can wage war on behalf of the nation.

The simple answers come in two different forms. One is the about legality. We have a government which is limited to those enumerated powers in the constitution. The constitution grants the government the power to wage war and the only limit or condition it places on exercising that power is that the people's representatives in the House must have a majority agreement to declare the war.

But there is no limit on what would constitutes adequate national interest or grounds for going to war, so this doesn't answer the basic question. And, congress has taken to authorizing the use of military force, and that isn't precisely the same as declaring a war. Certainly it doesn't carry the same spirit of seriousness or commitment.

The form of the other attempt to answer this is moral, and I take the Objectivist position that it is immoral to initiate force against another, be it done by an individual, a group of individuals, or a government, be it against an individual, group of nation, unless it is in self-defense (with the understanding that "self-defense" can include reactions to an initiation of force that is imminent, or against initiated force that has recently ended, i.e., retaliation).

But this doesn't answer the question either, since we would have to describe what constitutes an attack on the nation, as opposed to an attack on an individual. If we leave that aspect of this fuzzy and undefined, we could end up with an understanding that an attack on an American individual, or group of American individuals by anyone, anywhere would meet the requirement for declaring a full out war. Or, more precisely, we would likely find ourselves declaring war when we shouldn't, and not declaring war when we should. We must have an understanding of what constitutes an attack on the nation.

There is also the issue of who the war is declared against. It is very simple when we declare a war against another nation. But it isn't so easy when it is a multi-nation organization that hides and where it is difficult to attach responsibility to nation states for the attacks of the organization. And if it is just an individual or group of individuals without defining characteristics that make them an ongoing organization, it would seem to be a case for police actions, not for military.

Pearl Harbor was an attack by another nation, and it was clearly an attack on our nation, and it was substantive. It was easy to declare a war in that case. But with some other attacks, say one that can't be tied to a nation, then it is harder to declare war - such as when the attacking party is a loose association of Islamic fundamentalists. If the attack isn't on our nation, like for example the bombing of a shopping mall in another country where their were only a few Americans that were victims, then it is even harder to justify as defensive any response that is at the level of a declared war. It would require us to say that this exact group in Somali will come after us - soon - and that we must find them to engage in retaliation or a preemptive action.

There is still another prong to this issue. Whose rights are we defending? What about the individual rights of those who are neither American citizens nor are in our country? Clearly, there are occasions where their rights have been violated, and what if there are large numbers of them, like the 100,000+ non-Americans who were killed in Syria?

The legal and moral go there separate ways when it comes to jurisdiction. What is moral arises out of our nature as humans and doesn't change at a border. And it doesn't change based upon ethnicity or race or place of national origin. When a person is under attack - finding themselves a victim of initiated force, then they have a moral right to defend themselves, and anyone has the moral right to aid in their defense. But that isn't the same as saying that a Syrian has a legal right to be defended by American intervention, or even a moral right to demand others sacrifice for his defense.

And, nothing said so far would give the American government the moral right to use American resources in defense of Syrians. For example, it is wrong for the government to take tax money from Americans and to give it to citizens of another country as foreign aid. The same thing applies if our government uses tax funds to give citizens of other nations democracy or safety.

Because this argument is about when to use force, which can only be used to defend against force, it can not include purely economic concerns. I can defend my money from a thug, that is an issue of force, even if the thug is a sneak thief. But it wouldn't be right to argue that we optimize our GDP with this military attack but not that one. We have a global economy with export, import, and we outsources services and products, but none of that should play a part in the decision to declare a war. The national interest does not include allowing our representatives to declare a war that doesn't involve defending against an initiation of force that rises to the level of a threat to us as a nation.

I might have the moral right to be safe from corrupt government officials in some foreign land, but I don't have the legal right when the laws I want end at our borders.

If I and my neighbors hire a security guard to patrol our block, we would be right to be upset if he decides, on his own, to expend our resources to aid people in different neighborhoods. That's jurisdiction. And it plays a key role here. Government can't be spoken of in these discussions without reference to something as fundamental as its purpose. It's purpose is to protect individual rights - but not everyone's rights, just those inside of the jurisdiction of the government - those who own that government.

The argument has been made that it is a form of self-defense to attack them there, to save us from having to fight them here. And another analogy is that crossing the street to stop a thug who is violating rights is proper and that it is also, therefore, proper to cross the ocean to stop a thug that is violating rights.

When we go to metaphors or analogies we have to be careful to keep it apples to apples. Crossing a street is presumed to be in your neighborhood, and a fellow citizen, and a thug is in the same jurisdiction. But when we leave the area our government is in charge of, when we are spending American tax dollars to address the rights violated in other countries, when we assume that the people in one group (like the group from Somali) is going to launch an imminent attack on us (something requiring SOME evidence, not just a possibility), we have broken the analogy. We no longer live within the prescribed purpose for government. We no longer have the number of bright lines, or explicit hurdles, needed to ensure that war is only waged when it should be and not whenever an elite in Washington want to.

When the Barbary pirates were attacking American shipping, President Jefferson sent the navy - something that took months and months in the day of the sailing vessel. Many of the pirates were independent agents, but acting with the support of Barbary states, and others worked directly for the Pasha of Tripoli. The Pasha of Tripoli declared war on the US, on behalf of the pirates and because America wouldn't pay demanded ransoms and an annual tribute. Jefferson's instructions to the Navy before they left was that they were free to attack but only if a state of war existed when they arrived. It did, and they attacked. Jefferson took the position that the navy ships could only act in defense of American shipping unless there was an act of congress authorizing other force. Congress authorized action against Tripoli and that gave us the First Barbary War.

Fred suggest these hurdles before we go to war:

1) A majority vote by the House to declare war. I agree with that, and would extend it include named and identifiable groups (like Al Qaeda). If they are able to launch attacks that are national in nature, then they should be subject to a declaration, or some form of clear and concise direction to the President to command the military in defensive, retaliatory, and preemptive attacks.
2) The attacks should only be made by volunteer forces. And those being called upon to go to war should be able to resign rather than join that particular war. I'm not sure I agree with last part. Certainly we should never have anything but a volunteer military, but when someone joins the military they have a contract that extends for 4 years from the time of signing and they should be held to honor it - as long as all of the proper hurdles are met.
3) When we meet the total of the proper hurdles that need to be met, then our response should be as effective and credible as possible. When it is possible, we should never settle for less than an unconditional surrender. There should never be "limited" engagements - those are immoral.

I agree with Fred on each of those 3 points.

But I have other hurdles that I believe must be met:

1) The attack must be national in nature. It must be of such consequence that the kind of mobilization of the nation to be on a war footing, and that the congressional declaration of war are warranted. The funding of the war has to be calculated and budgeted for up front - with an increase in taxes or the sale of war bonds that provide no interest. It can't be a limited attack and the nation can't fight it as if it were free.
2) It must be the attack on an organization or a nation, not a single individual or a group of individuals without an organization. This is the proper difference between a criminal act and an act of war. A nation or an organization that initiate an attack that warrants a declaration of war, is also criminal, but you don't send police after a nation, or after Al Qaeda. Just as you wouldn't declare war and mobilize the military for a lone bomber that is part of no organization.
3) Congress shall not authorize the use of American forces to defend citizens of other nations on foreign soil. There must be substantial American lives lost or at imminent risk to justify the authorization of military force.

Fred discussed the Islamic Terrorists from Somalia that attacked the Mall in Nairobi. There were not enough America lives lost to make that an act of war on our part, but that attack was done by an affiliate of Al Qaeda and the Congress gave our government authorization to use military force against Al Qaeda and their affiliate. For me, this means that the military should use their own judgment as to when and how to put Al Shabaab into the mix - the authorization is already in place, and it's part of an on-going organization that has already proven itself to have initiated force warranting the use of the military.

Fred discussed the way his list of hurdles applied to Syria: Actually, the only hurdle I see in what he mentioned is Obama's credibility (and by extension, the credibility of the nation). I see no threat to American lives that is imminent enough, or credible enough to even bring the issue up in Congress. We aren't under attack. The chemical weapons aren't targeting us.

These hurdles become the bright lines for deciding that we have a national interest in declaring and pursuing war that would be legal and moral.

Following my bright lines, I don't think we should go into Syria, we shouldn't have gone into Iraq, we should have gone after Al Qaeda and their Taliban supporters in Afghanistan (but for an intensive 6 months, not a decade), and we should have been hitting Somalia really hard to end the Al Qaeda affiliates and the pirates that have been preying on American (and other) shipping. We should seriously step up pressure on Iran, including things like putting a cruise missile into their one and only refinery, and stop the entry of any imports and stop all exports - to force the people to throw out that fundamentalist terrorist regime. The Saudi's have to held accountable for financial support of terrorists who have attacked the US and those who have supported Al Qaeda. These, I believe, are all decisions that meet all the hurdles, mine and Fred's (except that Congress' authorization was focused only on the 911 attack and not on the organizations and nations involved which would have been a wider target).

Post 1

Tuesday, October 1 - 2:31pmSanction this postReply

When a nation does not control the violence within its own borders-- when rats in its own swamps are spilling across borders and causing mayhem, does that nation bear any responsibility for not draining its own swamps? As in, a loss of sovereignty when another nation crosses borders to drain the swamps.

That is kind of what happened in Afghanistan. We can argue it wasn't happening in Iraq, but moot...because the rat droppings showed up in Libya when Qaddaffi coughed them up, after watching swamps get drained and sovereingty lost.

Another example is Hezbollah in Lebanon; is there a 'Lebanon' north of Israel, or is that Hezbollastan? Does whatever is left of Lebanon bear any responsibility -- or at least, in a negative sense, have no basis to bitch -- when others pour over their borders to drain their swamps?

Your neighbor has a swamp in their backyard. You share an inneffective fence, and the suggestion they keep their swamp vermin on thweir side of the fence. Is your recourse left to building an ever more effective fence? As your neighbor's swamp gets ever more over-run with unofficial vermin spilling over onto your property, is only their heartfelt apologies sufficient? Or at some point do you just hop the fence and drain their swamp for them?

That is for sure part of what America has been doing; draining swamps, for fun, profit, and an extended free-fire training exercise. There is a perverse aspect to this swap draining. It starts out as an enraged response to some act of vermin running loose in the world-- some dark agers hold a knife to the throat of defenseless women in a plane and convert them into flying missiles to take down the WTC, killing just under 4000 Americans.

But face it...that is like a month on our highways. A bored America does that to each other every month and never bats an eye. And then that same bored AMerica, freshly licensed, heads off to some part of the world to make hovels bounce and rebounce, to conduct free fire missions across vast ranges of dusty lands, to use dark agers for target practice... because the nation is otherwise bored, and the dark agers have granted us half an excuse to appease our boredom and fly our drones and press our buttons and make them bounce and twitch and expel their lungs...for as long as our nation remotely tolerates the extended free-fire exercise with no mission other than to do all of that...

The dark agers don't appreciate this aspect of their pathetic little Jihad. America is bored, and they are providing the endless half an excuse necessary to exercise Ike's MIC and scratch that bored itch. We wave the flags and get the blood pumping and the M2s burping ... for as long as we can, not as short as we can. And there is the evidence of our boredom.

'Thousands' lost in these conflicts..over ten years+? Military trianing anywhere, even in peacetime, is dangerous. They are being lost in a free-fire excercise, just as they would in peacetime.

America lost over 400,000 in WWII, fighting an actual war. And that was a nation half our size.

Anyway, that odd aspect of our curent thrill-junky national psyche is another reason to make the hurdle much higher.

And for all of that, we still kill more of each other on the highways every month than we have lost in tens year of 'war.' In some ways, those serviceman are safer overseas than they are on our highways.


Post 2

Tuesday, October 1 - 3:03pmSanction this postReply

Yes, a government is responsible for protecting the individual rights of its own citizens... because that's the only valid purpose for a government.

When you talked about draining swamps and who has responsibility and others pouring over borders and ineffective fences and vermin... Well, I got lost in all the metaphors and analogies. Couldn't follow it.

Here is what I think. Sovereignty belongs to individuals. They delegate some of that to government for the purpose of protecting their individual rights. The jurisdiction of that government can't extend beyond the border of the country because that is the nature of government and the application of laws and the requirement to tie a government to a set of laws. There is one exception to going over the border and that is in cases of national DEFENSE.

So, if swamp vermin, showing up here or being very rambunctious over there, rise to the level of meeting each of the valid hurdles then we declare war. If they miss on one or more of those valid hurdles, then it is either illegal, immoral and/or not in our national interest to declare war.

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