Conor Friedersdorf reminds us that going to war against evil doesn’t always mitigate evil. We shouldn’t need this reminder. But we do. We always do.
Edit: G+ refused to post the actual link, so:
Michael Tiemann August 27, 2013 15:16
Indeed! This is precisely the point of the rebooted Star Trek movie, “Into Darkness”. A point that I think they made rather well.
Michael K Johnson August 27, 2013 18:12
To be clearer; I’m not a pacifist. Joining good to fight evil is right; though no country was perfect in WWII, it was undoubtedly both good and right for the US to join the Allies. But when we fight evil, the innocent die. Not because of incompetence, but because of the nature of war. If we make a judgment call between evil and evil, we have a bad moral case for a just war and limited historical basis for an assertion that we are effectively aiding the innocent.
Terrible things are happening in Syria. It’s not obvious to me that we have the ability to improve things, and I am dubious so far of the argument that we have a moral imperative to try at this time.
The question in my mind is not whether the Assad regime deserves an offensive military response. I’m guessing it does. I’m doubting our responsibility, moral authority, and effective ability to punish.
And I do not trust our current president to make that decision wisely. Also, it is not right that we have effectively vested our president to independently launch us into a state of war.
Michael Tiemann August 27, 2013 19:43
I’m not a pacifist either, but I don’t believe in waging wars on abstractions, be they evil, terror, or whatever. I wouldn’t wage war on Syria because it’s evil. I’d wage war only if it advanced a specific tactical or strategic objective.
When I hear John Kerry talking about “moral obscenity” I can only shake my head in wonder at the language of diplomacy. Of all the standards we should be policing, “moral obscenity” has to be among the most arbitrary (and therefore subject to its own reflective moral obscenity). We should police the Geneva conventions. We should should do our duty as members of numerous security councils. But to justify war as a means to stamp out a “moral obscenity”? The horror! The horror!
Michael K Johnson August 27, 2013 21:11
Kerry is using “moral obscenity” where I would use “evil”; as a description of a specific act; here, deploying chemical weapons against civilians in violation of the Geneva conventions. (It’s an adjective masquerading as a noun phrase…) To argue that he shouldn’t opprobriate this act is rather repressive. I don’t think he’s arguing that we should police “moral obscenity”; I think he is using rhetorical technique to emphasize that the Geneva conventions are morally relevant. Treating rhetoric as logic — and vice versa — always leads to absurdity. I think that the “war on drugs” and “war on terror” are examples that would demonstrate our agreement in fact about wars against abstractions, and my point about WWII was not meant to suggest it was against an abstraction; that would be disrespectful to those who served as well as factually wrong. But I don’t have to agree with Kerry that we should go to war (by whatever name) with Assad just because I perceive him as calling for war against something concrete (Assad’s regime).
I can agree with Kerry thus far: gassing is evil; it is a harm that most nations have agreed is never just under any circumstances. But the enemy of my enemy is not necessarily my friend, and there’s no reason to think that we can ultimately reduce suffering by attacking, so I don’t see either a compelling tactical or moral justification for the US engaging in another war here.
Where this all went wrong for our political leadership was making ill-considered threats and implied promises much earlier in the conflict. These have since boxed us in and invited both sides to treat us as feckless. But a desire to disprove an earned reputation for fecklessness is not a good justification for war.
The BBC quotes David Cameron as saying “Any response would have to be legal, proportionate and deter future use of chemical weapons” (emphasis mine). It’s that last point that I doubt most strongly.
Michael Sports August 27, 2013 22:05
I agree. This administration is sounding a lot like the Bush administration.
Roger Rowe August 28, 2013 10:22
I appreciate your clarity of thought. May I add that for whom would we be supporting, and why should we support whomever that is? Have we not learned our lesson in Iraq and Libya where we had support of neither the people or their leaders. It will not be any different in Syria.
Fighting “evil” for evil’s sake is both impossible and a dead end street. Evil is everywhere and no one has the resources to eradicate it. Of course, there are differences of opinion on exactly what is evil, but we all agree on the extremes. At best, we can only hope to keep it in check a little, but even that only works for a while.
There is no solution between fighting factions of the Islamic religion than between Israel and Islam. It has not happened in 4000 years and it will not happen now. Someone must dominate and it is best we get out of the way.
A similar comment was made a couple days ago by a prominent analyst that in Egypt, a reconciliation between the Muslim Brotherhood and the secular military is not possible, and one must dominate - period. Thank goodness the US government chose not to enter that conflict.
As a point of discussion, what has happened in Egypt in the past few weeks is quite remarkable. This is the first time Muslim people have risen up against Islamic fundamentalism in recent times. Will we see this elsewhere? Up till now, extremism has seemed unchecked.
In Egypt, apparently the populous has decided for themselves they do not like certain folks interpretation of what their religion entails. Good for them, and that is their right. It is not our right to decide for them.
Personally I don’t see anything wrong with Islamic fundamentalism if that is what the people want. Who are we to say anyone cannot practice religion in any way they see fit. I believe the war in Afghanistan was as much about changing an established religion to western standards as it was about fighting terrorism. And then there is this ridiculous western attitude that democracy is for everyone, which fosters war.
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