Sunday, October 16, 2016

bruce wilder 10.16.16 at 8:00 pm

LFC @ 317

Dropping the heavy mockery for a moment to get at the logic of my view:

I think that if Y wants to stop Z from happening, Y might consider as a first expedient, self-restraint: not doing Z, itself. That is, discipling its own forces and reforming its own strategies, when it finds itself either doing Z or creating the conditions where Z happens.

Your strawman summation of my view is actually not half-bad:

. . . we know a priori that X [the U.S.] cannot act without committing war crimes because X [the U.S.] is an imperial power bent on maintaining its global hegemony, therefore any employment of any military force in any way by X [the U.S.] anywhere necessarily constitutes a war crime, because every aspect of X’s [the U.S.’s] foreign policy is criminal and therefore every act taken by X is criminal.

What makes this a strawman is the “we know a priori“. I don’t think we know this a priori. I think we know this, a posteriori, that is, from ample recent experience and observation. I think there’s a pattern of choice and strategy that we ought to recognize and, if we recognize it, there might actually be an opportunity to choose differently and realize less horrific consequences.

I would not precisely characterize the recognizable pattern of American choices and strategies — that is, of American policy — as that of “an imperial power bent on maintaining its global hegemony” without further qualification. I would say the pattern is that of a global hegemon approaching imperial collapse. There are important differences, with immediate relevance.

A global hegemon in its prime is all about reducing the risks and costs of armed conflicts and coordinating the cooperation of allied, nominally neutral and even rival states with the elaboration of international law, norms, conventions and other agreements. The U.S. in its prime as global hegemon was all about sponsoring the formation of organizations for global and regional multilateral cooperation, even where its direct participation was not welcome. It is true that the political autonomy of states was respected only to the extent that they adopted sufficiently reactionary and economically conservative or authoritarian governments and the political costs to any other course could be large. Back in the day, a Gaddafi or an Assad or a Saddam had to balance on an international tightrope as well as a domestic one, but it was doable and such regimes could last a long-time. Anyway, I do not want to litigate the mixed virtues and vices of (Anglo-)American hegemony past, just to point out the contrast with our present circumstances.

The turn toward a palsied expedience is a distinct symptom of impending imperial collapse. That the U.S. cannot seem to win a war or bring one to a conclusion in any finite period of time is relevant. That a vast “deep state” is running on auto-pilot with no informed instruction or policy control from Congress is a problem.

When commenters decry the failure to observe the norms of international law, they are not just being moralists in an immoral world; they are decrying the erosion of international order, an erosion that has been accelerated by the U.S. turn toward futile expedience as a foreign policy justified by groundless self-righteousness.

“It’s complicated” shouldn’t be a preface to ungrounded simplification and just rounding up the usual policy suspects: let’s declare a no-fly zone, then find and train some moderate faction of fierce fighters for liberal democracy (as if such exist). If we demonstrate the will and commitment and stay the course . . . blah, blah, blah.

And, the R2P doctrine has been ruined not just by hypocrisy but by the demonstrated incapacity to match means to putative ends. It is not just suspicious that the impulse to humanitarianism emerges only when an opportunity to blow things up arises, it’s criminal. Or should be. (sarcasm) But, of course, it is not criminal, because atrocities are only a problem when it is the other guy committing them. Then, we can exercise our righteousness for the good, old cause. (end sarcasm)

The situation in Syria is chaotic, but the chaos is in U.S. policy as well as on the ground. But, the immediate question is not whether the U.S. will intervene, because, as other commenters have pointed out, the U.S. has already involved itself quite deeply. The creation of ISIS, one belligerent in the Syrian conflict is directly attributable to the failure of U.S. policy in Iraq and the U.S. is actively attacking ISIS directly in Syrian as well as Iraqi territory. The U.S. provides military support to multiple factions, including both Turkish-backed forces and the forces of a Kurdish belligerent, which are in conflict with each other. Meanwhile, our great good allies, the Saudis and Qataris are apparently funding Al Qaeda in Syria and maybe ISIS as well.

This chaos, I repeat, is inherent in the organization of U.S. policy — it is an observable pattern, not a property by axiomatic definition as your strawman would have it, but it is very worrisome. It is a symptom of what I rather dramatically labeled “imperial collapse”. That the next President of the U.S. cannot work out why a no-fly zone in a country where the Russians are flying might be a bad idea is not a good sign. That the same person was a proponent of the policy that plunged Libya into chaos is another not-good sign. That’s not an argument for Trump; it is an argument that Trump is another symptom.

The chaos, the breakdown of rational, deliberate and purposive control of policy, means that policy and its rationales are often absurd. I mock the absurdity as a way of drawing attention to it. Others seek to normalize. So, there you have it.

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