Friday, August 30, 2002

Upon surfing around different blogs, I had wondered what my old "friend" SDB was up to... he hadn't been linking to me for a while, and those twin shibboleths (anti-pseudonymity and TransProg) had died down as topics of debate over the last while. So I headed on over.

Some things never change.

Rothschild presents the case as a choice of two alternatives: go to war in Iraq, or stay home and be at peace. I see it as these two alternatives: go to war in Iraq, or stay home and wait for the war to come to us. There will be war; it's only a question of where it will be fought, and who will do the dying. Innocents will die, if for no other reason than because our enemies do not care about killing innocents. Our choice is not whether to spare innocents; it is to choose whether it will be our innocents who do the dying. All other things being equal, I'd prefer it wasn't.
Hesiod has done a good job of dealing with this argument from one end (why would Saddam attack us?) and Scott Ritter has done a good job of dealing with it on the other end (how could Saddam attack us?) So I'll let it be for now, except to note that he's (still!) operating from assumptions that are far from proven.

(He then brings up the question of constitutionality, but Jeff Cooper is the authority there, so I'll just link to him and let that be as well.)

Unfortunately, it seems that our little back-and-forth session hasn't really affected his arguments one whit. He quotes Matthew Rothschild (the target of this article) as saying this:

International law is quite clear: Country A cannot attack Country B unless Country B has already attacked Country A or is about to attack Country A. Iraq has not attacked the United States. And it's not about to. Saddam, as brutal as he is, loves to cling to power. He knows that attacking the United States would be suicidal.

Actually, under international law, Saddam Hussein may have a better case for attacking the United States today than Bush has for attacking Iraq, since Bush is threatening an imminent war against Iraq. But no one wants to hear that!
None of this is substantially incorrect- that concept of "defense, not attack" has been around since, yes, the Treaty of Westphalia, and is a bedrock principle of the United Nations Charter. Rothschild even has a legitimate point with that latter paragraph, as unsettling as it might be to those who believe that the United States has the authority to preemptively attack whomever it wishes.

Steven, unfortunately, doesn't agree, and revives several common SDB arguments to back that up:

Unfortunately, this argument is also totally wrong, because imminent military attack is far from the only reason that such wars, big or small, take place. I suspect Rothschild probably objects to all the cases where such wars have been fought for other reasons, but that's beside the point. Ignoring his sensibilities and looking at the actual practice of war, imminent attack on self is far from the only acceptable justification. There are several others.
Rothschild probably does object to those other wars. And? He'd be justified in doing so. Odd little bait-and-switch... Steven switches the normative for the empirical. International law doesn't ignore that other reasons for war exist, it merely proscribes them, just as national law doesn't pretend that motives for assault don't exist.

What are these "other reasons", though? Let's see:

First, it is considered acceptable to go to war to defend an ally or to satisfy a treaty obligation to an ally. Second, it is considered acceptable to go to war against a nation which consistently and unrepentantly refuses to carry out its obligations under treaties it has signed. All diplomacy is backed by the threat of force, but that requires the willingness to apply force when all other means of persuasion have failed. Finally, "self defense" covers far more territory than simply the issue of "imminent attack".
Hrm... well, let's see. The first case is pretty simple, and perfectly allowable- it falls under the category of "self-defense", exchanging a collective for a single nation.

The second case is a little trickier, but if it's a question of security, it actually still fits under the concept of collective defense. If one nation enters into a collective security agreement and then exploits it, that can threaten the security of other nations. This could possibly justify some sort of retaliation. Rarely if ever does that retaliation include actual warfare, though... the threat is usually the cutting off of trade ties or breaking off of collective security agreements. This threat is a very serious one; an isolated country is dangerously weak. Yes, there are cases where breaking a treaty might provoke violence, but it's telling that Steven fails to name a scenario where this has actually legitimately happened in the past, that wasn't condemned by international law, and that doesn't fit under the heading of "collective response to an attack on a member" . In any case, this is kind of a bait 'n switch as well, because there's no way that failing to live up to obligations prompts the invasion and eviction of the legitimate state, and therefore is inappropriate as a defense of an invasion of Iraq.

Third is this notion that "self defense" covers far more territory than "imminent attack". Indeed it does- but you can't go to war over it, or else everybody and his dog would be attacking their neighbours, under the rubric that it's "self-defense". The entire point of having an international system is so that arms-race cycles of "self-defense" don't turn into massive conflagrations. If somebody is making threatening noises, then you can complain to international bodies, cut off diplomatic ties, move troops around on the off chance that they really do invade, get your allies to gently suggest to the other party that attacking is a really bad idea. You can't, however, invade them first.

But all of that is moot, because there isn't any such beast as "international law", in the sense that he invokes it.
This was accompanied by links to earlier articles. I think I'll do the same. Failing that, go read Yuval Rubenstein decimate this line of argument. (Permalinks not working... do a page search for "According to Steven den Beste" and you'll find it). Yuval was responding to the very articles that Steven linked to, so it's quite relevant, and definitely asks some questions that Steven has yet to answer outside of referencing a quickie response from G. Hill that was quickly and decisively rebutted in Yuval's comment section.
Furthermore, for the United States to take this aggressive action without the approval of the U.N. Security Council would be a violation of the U.N. charter, which the United States has ratified.
Again, true, and oddly not contradicted by Steven's response:

I think you'd be hard pressed to find any organization whose members give more lip service and less actual compliance with the terms of its charter. I don't consider the UN charter to be binding on the US any longer because few other nations on Earth bother obeying it, either. To play a game by the rules when nearly everyone else is cheating is idiocy.
Indeed.. nobody wants to play the sucker. Odd, though, because extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and I'm not seeing anything even remotely resembling that (nor, actually, variations of this particular argument on his website.) This is certainly an extraordinary claim, and prompts a simple response- if the U.S. is not bound by the charter, then why be a member? Why claim the presidency of the Security Council, and why participate in the workings of the U.N. or any aspect of it at all? After all, as long as the U.S. is a signatory to the charter it is bound by it to the extent that it is constitutional, so if the U.S. should not be bound by the charter, then shouldn't it withdraw from the United Nations?

(For that matter, who exactly is breaking the charter, and why? Steven argued there were "other reasons for war"... if others are breaking the core principles of the Charter, then why exactly should we believe that those "other reasons" don't come into play?)

In any case, there's a simple answer: some parts of the Charter are followed and enforced more strictly than others, and obeying those that are followed and enforced strictly doesn't make you a sucker. Disobeying them, on the other hand, makes everybody else suckers. Hence Rothschild's valid argument- nations don't go invading each other and changing each other's governments- when they do, they're rightly condemned by everybody else. That includes the United States.

There's more, of course, but much of it falls under cultural generalizations and assertions that Hesiod and Ritter (as well as many others) have already addressed (those interested in the former can go here, and those interested in the latter should google up the guy and will easily come across lots of interesting stuff- this is a good start) so I'll just leave it at that. One last quotation, though:

"killing" doesn't equate to "murder". Not all killing is murder, and the death toll in war isn't "mass murder". It's not that we're going to send in the 82nd Airborne to go in and round up and slaughter Iraq civilians just because we want them dead, as much as that it isn't possible to fight a war without at least some civilians getting in the way and becoming victims of it.

Perhaps that, too, is still unacceptable. But if that is true, it would be equally true of all wars, anywhere, fought for any reason at all. When, exactly, would Rothschild ever support any war?
Killing isn't necessarily murder; sometimes killing is sadly necessary if a war is necessary. The reverse is also true, however: if a war is unnecessary (a distinction Steven misses), then those deaths are unnecessary; and if people die unnecessarily in a necessary war, then those deaths remain unnecessary. Whether an invasion of Iraq is necessary or not is the question at hand here. If it isn't, there will be a lot of unnecessary blood on American hands. It may not be murder, but it sure as hell isn't just.

(Yeah, yeah, I know; I'm flogging a dead horse here, and I'm getting the rotting crud all over my hands. It's still worth addressing, though.)

Edit: fiddled around with the wording, fixed a link or two, etc., etc. No substantial additions, except a link to G.Hill's response and the subsequent message board discussion.

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