August 07, 2002

WORTHY OF NOTE There's something


There's something very wrong going on here. The attitudes the administration brought to handling criminals and alien detainees are seeping into the way it treats other branches of the government, even if it is now only slightly and at the margins. It's not simply that the administration is indifferent to civil liberties, there is a contempt for constitutional propriety. They seem to believe that 9/11 frees them from any concern with precedent or discretion.

--Josh Marshall, in a piece on why the FBI was demanding their Congressional overseers take polygraphs

Posted by BruceR at 11:47 AM



The usually reliable analyst William Arkin looks at the recent major Pentagon wargames and concludes that "Country X" is really Iraq... reinforcing conclusions, if there was any doubt, that the American military is actively planning for an invasion. Only one problem... the diagram Arkin prints, apparently lifted from some Pentagon document and the only direct evidence he has... is actually a map of Iran. Must be one of those crazy "rope-a-dope" things...

Posted by BruceR at 11:28 AM



Like Steven Chapman, I too have about had it with the United Nations. It is an organization desperately in need of reinvention or supersession... you just have to go see the tired old, slowly disintegrating headquarters in New York to see there is no real energy in the higher echelon, and what moral suasion it once had has largely been subverted by the tyrants and the thugs. Case in point today is a National Post story by Steven Edwards about the UN's criticism yesterday of Canada for its record of racism. Whatever.

Personally, I think the whole thing should be torn down and replaced by a United Democratic Nations organization (combining NATO, ASEAN, and anyone else who meets the fairly strict membership requirements).

Meanwhile, Jim Henley is fighting the good fight as far as offering a good argument against war with Iraq. Like Chapman and Henley, I'm in the "war if necessary but not necessarily war" camp... I do believe on the balance an American offensive in Iraq would improve things in the Middle East in the short-term, although I suspect, as in Afghanistan currently, the Bush government would ultimately bungle the reconstruction, leading to an ultimate loss of those gains. It would be, in and of itself, a good thing though, to see Mr. Hussein off.

My problem is more with the Bush Doctrine itself, which I believe I recognized as problematic from the beginning. Narrowly construed, it would be sound policy... adding "those who harbour [terrorists]" to the list of actions by states that deserve military retaliation, equivalent to invading one's neighbour really, would have been a signal improvement in international discourse. But advocates of war are now taking a much broader view of Bush's words, that the U.S. reserves the right to take ANY action that they believe in the long run will forestall terrorist attacks... an interpretation so broad as to be impossible for other nations to either follow or comply with. Iraq has scrupulously avoided having or harbouring terrorists... it is playing by the rules in the narrow interpretation. So the pro-war camp must go broader, and declare Husseinite Iraq an ipso facto threat to the U.S... a case that is very difficult to make without drawing on intangible suspicions and hunches of what the Iraqis might do, as they've done nothing outrageous recently. Certainly the Iraqis have laughed in the face of the UN and its arms inspectors, but the U.S. would never do something solely to bolster that institution's credibility, or accept the resulting UN meddling that would follow.

What the Bush doctrine rejects is the notion of casus belli... that a civilized state requires a good reason to go to war on another country in advance. For the last 50 years, U.S. policy has been that it's right to go to war for one of three specific reasons:

1) If American citizens have or are likely to soon be harmed (Libya, Grenada, Panama);
2) If America itself has been attacked (WW2, Afghanistan);
3) If the Security Council and/or NATO have endorsed military action (Serbia, Kuwait).

As I stated, adding #4 (if a country's harbouring terrorists) to that list would not be a bad thing. But discarding the "capital offenses of states" so entirely (by basically saying war is acceptable whenever America feels threatened) is... imperiousness, nothing more or less. In the early nineteenth century, the Royal Navy justified forcing American citizens to serve as British sailors basically because, well, they could... America rightly protested at the time. If we are true to those early American ideals now, then war in the absence of internationally accepted justification, war because one can, really... even if the shoe's on the American foot now, then this war must be protested as well.

Let me put it another way. The need for an internationally accepted casus belli is one of the pillars of today's international system. If America can go to war solely because it feels threatened, it will have difficulty reining in other nations who claim they feel threatened from going to war with their neighbours. It is possible the sum total of war, and thus misery, in the world could then increase. (The narrow construction of the Bush doctrine, the one with the specificity about harbouring terrorists, doesn't have this problem, as it's adding a rule to the list of International Commandments, rather than exempting the Americans from them.) Leading by example does mean something in international affairs...

If the Americans wanted to tear down one of the pillars of the existing international order, rather than the casus belli I'd have suggested rejecting the Wilsonian idea of "borders for all time" would have been a better one... rather than fighting for a whole, artificially constructed Iraq, one wishes they had recognized an independent Kurdistan and then fought Iraq and the rest of the Middle East to defend it. THAT would be a game worthy of the candle. (This obsession with existing borders is propping up useless NATO missions in Bosnia and Kosovo, and prolonging the Israeli conflict, among other things... it is time we all accepted again that lines between peoples have to move from time to time.)

When will the war be? Dailypundit says September, Mark Steyn says August... if I had to pick, I'd go with January, for sundry climactic and logistical reasons that were evident six months ago. (And if I'm pressed as to method, I'd say conventional ground assault from Kuwait, as I've yet to read of a logistically plausible alternative). I'm still reasonably confident there won't be a war, at least one in the conventional sense... however I'm less confident than before, I'll admit, as the congressional midterms, which I was certain would precede them, look to be less of a stumbling block for the Republicans than I had thought. One thing is certain: Mr. Hussein will not give the Americans the gift of a traditional casus belli in the meantime... the Americans will likely have to break the existing international order some more in order to dig him out. In that case, the long-term damage (at least, from a non-American perspective) may far outweigh the benefits.

Last point: the one organization that did give the Americans a clear casus belli this week was Hamas, with the Hebrew University bombing. Has the Iraq debate, and the concomitant need to play to the countries like Kuwait whose support will be needed, so hamstrung American policy in the region that it can no longer protect its citizens abroad by retaliating against their killers?

Posted by BruceR at 08:54 AM