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When Should We Kill Foreigners?
Posted by: Dale Franks on Thursday, September 14, 2006

An email correspondent has apparently been looking over some our old Neolibertarianism writings, and has asked me the following questions:
[Y]ou declare that neolibertarians support: "a policy of using US military force solely at the discretion of the US, but only in circumstances where American interests are directly affected."

Now, ironically, that sounds like something a paleoconservative might say. Supporting humanitarian intervention, only when it affects YOU. Does that mean that the US should not end the suffering in Darfur if you had the option with no large loss nor large gain? Does that mean that you should not have fought Milosevic if it wasn't for US interests? Does that mean that FDR was right not to bomb Nazi gas chambers and railroads that were used to ship Jews? Democrats today, from George McGovern to Ed Koch, claim that bombing the camps and railroads was the right thing, even if it did not directly benefit the US war effort. It was right because it could have saved countless of non-American Jews.

Do you support US interventionalism because it benefits the US or because it benefits human beings?
Because it benefits the US. Period.

The job of the United States Government is not to save the world. The job of the United States government is to defend the United States from its enemies, and to secure the rights of its people. (It does a moderately competent job at the former, and hardly even attempts the latter.)

The American government—or any government for that matter—is not really a moral actor. It acts solely in defense of its interests. And I wouldn't want our government—or any other—to presume to act as a moral agent. Governments who do so inevitably turn out to be troublesome. The USSR saw itself as a moral agent in world affairs. For that matter, so did Nazi Germany. That was not a good thing.

What you want, it seems, is a government that acts as a moral agent for the particular system of morality that you like. But even if I grant, arguendo, that your system of morality is superior to all others, you run into the serious problem that, once you make moral actions the sine qua non of military action, other governments, whose morality might be quite different from yours, are legitimized to act as moral agents as well. For instance, let's take the first question you posed.
Does that mean that the US should not end the suffering in Darfur if you had the option with no large loss nor large gain?
The level of loss or gain doesn't enter into it, because other concerns come into play that, in my mind, are more important.

First, if we decide to go into Darfur, where does it stop? What, precisely is the measuring stick we should use to decide when to start killing foreigners for doing nasty things to each other? The world is full of nasty foreigners who do nasty things to each other. Under Hafez al-Assad, the Syrian government razed the city of Hama to the ground, killing 20,000 or so of their own people for being insufficiently servile to Mr. Assad. Should we have invaded Syria? What bright-line rule do we use to determine when we can kill foreigners in situations where US national security interests are not affected? Surely there must be one, since we have neither the military nor economic power to, say, occupy and transform the entire continent of Africa into a collection of liberal democracies. Just how many countries do you propose to send US troops to, and how often, and in what numbers, in order to serve humanity? (Oh, and just out of curiosity, what logistical plans do you have in mind to keep our boys fed and armed all over the world?)

Second, if we can go to Darfur, and stop Muslims from killing animists in order to assert our own moral vision upon them, then why aren't Muslim states equally justified in sending troops to the US, in order to force us to stop drinking, listening to pop music, and letting our women flaunt their sinful bodies like whores? For that matter, why shouldn't the Canadians descend on us like locusts, to try and force us to provide socialized health care to all, because their morality proclaims it to be a basic right? Obviously, there are military disparities that would prevent those outcomes, but the moral justification is the same.

Third, how successful will we actually be in stopping the horrific things that foreigners do to each other? Many of these conflicts are the result of ethnic and tribal hatreds that go back hundreds of years. What if they don't want to stop killing each other? Even if we manage to stop them while we're there, what do we do if they start killing each other again a few months after we leave? Do we go back? Do we try and prevent it by imposing a WWII level of death and destruction on the disfavored portion of the populace? I mean, are we prepared to commit genocide on the offending party to prevent them from committing genocide on the other party? If so, I'd be hard pressed to come up with a moral, rather than a utilitarian argument for doing so. The bottom line is, will US military intervention accomplish anything other than a temporary respite to the killing? If not, what do we do? Occupy some hellhole in West Kaplokistan forever? If so, what do we do if they want to kill each other so much that they all start trying to kill our guys in hopes of driving us out, so that they can get back to the serious business of eradicating each other.

Look, even in NATO, you can't have an exercise where Greek and Turkish troops get within artillery range of each other, and they're theoretically Allies, for cripes' sake.
Does that mean that you should not have fought Milosevic if it wasn't for US interests?
Yes, it does. Milosevich was a European problem, not an American one. Old Slobo was never going to be a threat to the US, but I suspect the security concerns for the Italians, Austrians, et al. were significant. In the best of all possible worlds, that was a problem the Europeans needed to solve, although, clearly, they didn't have the stomach to do so.

Now, the problem in Yugoslavia was compounded because of our NATO treaty obligations. Had the Europeans decided to invoke the NATO Treaty, we would have been obligated to take part in the operations there. But it would've been as a function of defending European security interests, and supporting the alliance—and hence, our interests—not because it was the right thing to do.

I might've made the call to bomb the Yugos in order to prevent the conflict there from having a destabilizing influence on Europe, but not simply because Serbs and Croats were killing each other. Historically, that's what Serbs and Croats in the region do. The only reason they didn't do it from 1947 to 1990 was because Tito ran the country like it was his own, personal dog kennel, and shot or imprisoned anybody who looked like they might make trouble.

I remain unconvinced, also, that the violence in the Balkans is over. That region has been a perennial hotbed of conflict and hatred for a thousand years. They're still incensed at each other because someone's ancestor did something mean to their ancestor back at the Battle of Plchsvkcz in 1287. The place is still a tinderbox in many ways. We're fortunate that a) the Balkan states are all just too poor to build up any significant military power, and b) that Russians are helping to keep the Slavs mollified.
Does that mean that FDR was right not to bomb Nazi gas chambers and railroads that were used to ship Jews?
Again, this is a different situation. Nazi Germany and the United States were at war. FDR could bomb anything he damn well chose to bomb. We were already carpet-bombing Germany for a variety of reasons unrelated to the government's treatment of Jews. In that case, you can make any moral decisions you like about which foreigners you prefer to kill. One notes, however, that whatever bombing was done to discomfit the Germans who wore ominous black uniforms, it was not done at the expense of killing those who wore field gray.

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This is not to say that there is nothing we should do to show our disfavor to states that act in nasty ways. We don't have to have trade or diplomatic relations with them. We can say nasty things about them at the UN. We can work to isolate them as pariah states. We don't have to abandon our principles.

But, once you start saying that what we should really be doing is to send our boys over to Kaplokistan to start killing foreigners, you risk opening up a Pandora's box of death and destruction that can spiral out of control. How many Kaplokistanis do you want to kill to stop the Kaplokistanis from killing each other? And, how many Americans do you want to kill while doing it?

Your fundamental mistake is that you are a moral actor. Your sense of right and wrong is offended when you see foreigners doing nasty things to each other. And because you are offended, you assume that the government should be equally offended. And do it should do something.

But your concerns are not the government's concerns. The government's concern should be to defend you, and to secure your rights. Once you expand the government's allowable concerns beyond that, you put at risk the government's ability to defend you, and secure your rights, by reducing the concentration on those essentials, and increasing concentration on the peripherals.

So, then, the question becomes, if you're really concerned about Darfur, or Somalia, or whatever, what should you do?

As it happens, there is an answer for that. In the 1930's, a civil war erupted in Spain when the fascist elements, led by Generalissimo Francisco Franco rebelled against the left-leaning Republican government. Hundreds of Americans, at their own expense, traveled to Spain, supplied themselves with weapons, and volunteered to fight against Franco's troops, forming the Abraham Lincoln brigade.

There's nothing, as far as I know, stopping you and like-minded adventurous and hearty individuals from buying airline tickets to Cairo, and making your way south from there, to present yourself in Darfur as a volunteer.
 
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Interests extending to mercantile interests?
 
Written By: unaha-closp
URL: http://warisforwinning.blogspot.com/
"the Battle of Plchsvkcz"

According to google this battle never took place.

I think maybe you misspelled it. Perhaps you have transposed some letters?

;)
 
Written By: Harun
URL: http://
Hello. I wrote this email that is presented here. I think that an important thing I should have noted, but didn’t, is that I’m actually an Israeli. I’m very interested in US politics, and support interventionalism because it benefits THE WEST. As far as I’m concerned, we are all together in this. Just like you, Dale, see Californians and Texans as a part of the same body, I see the west as one body that is under attack. Obviously the connection between France and the US is more loose than the one between California and Texas, but still.
And obviously the French don’t GET that we’re all at war, but it doesn’t mean that the French isn’t at war. They are, only they don’t seem to realize it yet.

I’m concerned with OUR civilization. All of our civilization. When the terrorists attacked the WTC in 9/11, they did it because they are located in the country that is most prominent in the civilization they have attacked. It could have been the Buckingham Palace or Chirac’s place if THEY were the most prominent. As a westerner, I see 9/11 as a direct attack on me, and want OUR civilization to be successful in the battle we’re at.

Also, I’m interested in what’s going on in the US. I love the US and want to see you guys win, whether the war you’re at has anything to do with me or not. In this case, it has anything to do with me.

I think that the difference between Paleocons and Neocons is the fact that the Neos of the right actually do support other democracies worldwide, and want to see them do well, and want to see their people free. It might be somewhat about pragmatic gain to the US, it might be somewhat about religion in the case of right wing Christians supporting Israel, but I think that a true will to see other democracies remain free is a large factor as well. Call me naive.
 
Written By: Tomer
URL: http://
When Should We Kill Foreigners?
Early and often.
 
Written By: kyle N
URL: http://impudent.blognation.us/blog
And obviously the French don’t GET that we’re all at war, but it doesn’t mean that the French isn’t at war.
agreed, but there is no hope for the French. There comes a time in every nation where they loose the capacity to defend themselves. Sometimes they get swallowed up like the Southern Chinese became part of the Chin Empire. Sometimes they are partitioned among rival powers, sometimes they still exist as a separate people, but have no autonomy, like the Kurds. And sometimes they simply disappear from history. France and most of western Europe have become so effected by Marxism, nihilism, and multi-culturalism that they have neither faith, nor affection towards their own history or culture, they are not willing to fight for it, they are not even willing to remove the enemy in their midst, and they will not even reproduce themselves!
They will be finished in another generation, and will cease to exist as we know them. They are a non-factor, can never be trusted, and should have zero effect on our political calculations.
 
Written By: kyle N
URL: http://impudent.blognation.us/blog
Dale,
Nicely done. I agree with your proposition that Vital American interests should be at stake. Reasonable people can argue about what those interests might be.
 
Written By: Roci
URL: http://rociburden.blogspot.com
According to google this battle never took place.
Of course it did ... right in the middle of Kaplokistan.
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/blog
I think you mean *Serbs* and Croats — they’re all Slavs.
 
Written By: kenB
URL: http://
When Should We Kill Foreigners?
Early and often.
I second that. We need to start with the well-marbled, tasty ones first, though...
 
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
There are those who demand that we fight Iran before Iraq, and North Korea before Iran, and Iraq before North Korea, and Sudan before all of these. I sometimes wonder whether such people are incapable of logic, or incapable of making choices of one moral or common-interest good over another. But mostly, I figure that they are simply hoping that there will never be war, and are willing to make disingenuous arguments in order to induce paralysis, thus leading to their desired end.

I am with Dale, with an extension to his logic. We must act in our own interests, which sometimes do in fact include "humanitarian" military actions to end genocides, because one way to prevent a potential threat from actualizing is to foster environments in which those threats cannot actualize. (President Bush’s attempt to democratize the Middle East, removing the oppressive environment that spawns much of the jihadi problem, is such an attempt.)

We must also prioritize our actions to minimize the threats to the US. We cannot invade so many countries at once that we cannot defend ourselves elsewhere. Nor can we rely only on the military; we need to be using every aspect of our government to minimize threats to the US. In fact, as expensive and risky as military action is, it should be the last resort.

But I believe that "the last resort" should, if possible, come to prevent a threat actualizing, rather than to respond to an already-actualized threat, which is an even more expensive and risky proposition than using the military in the first place. Failure to respond to jihadis with force between 1979 and 2001 is what has caused us to have to fight large campaigns now, and what is causing us to fight a probable decades-long war now. An appropriate use of force in 1979 could well have prevented much of today’s threat.
 
Written By: Jeff Medcalf
URL: http://www.caerdroia.org/blog
I agree with Dale and with the above poster. The U.S. should only act when its interests are directly involved, and that includes calculated pre-emptive strikes to ensure that these interests are not threatened in the future. With that being said, regime change in states that sponsor terrorists is clearly in the U.S.’s interests.

We cannot begin a campaign of going after each of these regimes one by one, as that would indeed bog down our resources. Instead, we went into Iraq, which I still believe was a well-calculated move regardless of how badly it was executed after the initial invasion. I remain optimistic that a moderate democratic Iraq will act as a hemorrhaging force against Iran and Syria, respectively the radical Shia terrorist sponsor and the sole remaining Baathist state (we got rid of the other one).

However, that still leaves Sunni/Al-Qaeda. They currently do not have a prominent state sponsor after the Taliban in Afghanistan was overthrown. But it is important that we make sure that another one does not pop up. Al-Qaeda has a history with Sudan, and an Islamist Sudan will likely become exactly that. Thus, it may be necessary to intervene in Darfur not for moralistic purposes but for the strategic reason for preventing another terrorist sponsor.
 
Written By: Alex
URL: http://
This is a smarter line of foreign policy than most. Frankly, I agree.

My first- not my only, but my gut-instinct two second reason for opposing the Iraq invasion was - is that, generally speaking, wars of choice are bad ideas.

On the other hand, in a vague and broad but still real sense, failing states, totalitarian states, and states with angry populations are, increasingly, an indirect security threat all by themselves. Their existence increases the odds of direct security threats to us. That doesn’t make military force the right tool, but the seed is there.

The above goes double when you’re the systemic hegemon.

 
Written By: glasnost
URL: http://
Sure, let’s only fight when our National Interests are at stake. But can’t we always find a National Interest that requires whatever war we’re contemplating? Whether it is encouraging our European allies and discouraging a Soviet attack in Europe by fighting in Korea, or protecting the US from drug warlords by invading Panama, or preventing Darfur/Sudan (or Somalia) from becoming a terrorist haven, or to make us safe from weapons of mass destruction related program activities, or preventing dominos from falling, there will always be some rationalization for any intervention we can dream up that invokes our National Interests.
 
Written By: Retief
URL: http://
That is true Retief, but one has to start with a principle to extend. How we extend it is another question and is where the debate would begin. Dale is arguing that we don’t begin the calculation with a principle other than our own interests. Making the world safe for democracy or other such goals Dale is saying is the wrong place to start. Obviously it may be a choice to make some efforts to extend democracy if we can reasonably determine it is in our interests. The same with other goals such as trying to stop genocide, etc. The desire to end genocide or extend democracy however would not be the reason. That acts as drag on any such discussion, keeping us from charging off and neglecting our armed forces true mission. It sets the ground rules, it doesn’t answer all the questions.

That being said, Dale’s formulation isn’t mine, but it has a lot to do with mine. I have a couple of posts delving into this stuff further to come, but I have explored some of the issues here and here.
 
Written By: Lance
URL: http://www.asecondhandconjecture.com
The American government—or any government for that matter—is not really a moral actor. It acts solely in defense of its interests. And I wouldn’t want our government—or any other—to presume to act as a moral agent.
This just day after McQ wrote a post titled
Iraq: The moral argument for "finishing the job"
Honestly, if it were unquestionably in our best interests to get out of Iraq immediately, would McQ still argue for our staying? I’ve come to have grave doubts about our assumption of the Pottery Barn rule of warfare. We should revert to the old classic mode of go in, remove the offending government, and exit, leaving the survivors to start over on their own with a not-so-veiled warning of "don’t make us come back."

And if there is no offending government, that probably means that there is no significant threat to U.S. interests.
 
Written By: ondigo
URL: http://
We should revert to the old classic mode of go in, remove the offending government, and exit, leaving the survivors to start over on their own with a not-so-veiled warning of "don’t make us come back."
Please ezplain how that helps us. Picture it’s 1945, we "remove" Hitler and the Imperial Japanese government, and LEAVE. It would be your contention that in such a situation would have produced a GOOD outcome? Please, explain this to me...
And if there is no offending government, that probably means that there is no significant threat to U.S. interests.

No government in Lebanon or Somalia or Sudan at times, and from those areas "NO significant threat" emerged there, did they?
 
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
An appropriate use of force in 1979 could well have prevented much of today’s threat.

Worth an entire book devoted to the wild innacuracy of that statement, but if I had to start with a sentence, it would be: since the people that actually attack America are the ones we trained to fight the Russians in 1980-1992, I can only imagine you’re suggesting that we’d counter-invaded Afghanistan directly, right?

Otherwise, you’re just talking out of your a**.
 
Written By: glasnost
URL: http://
Here is another example I could have written in my email:

The US did not find it in its interest to let Jews enter, and they eventually turned back and most of them were murdered in the holocaust.
Now, do you think that was the right choice?
A couple of years later, that war was over.

During the war in Yugoslavia, many countried did not fight, yet offered humanitarian help to the Albanians. Israel did the same, with no political gain. Israel was also greatly appreciated by Turkey for its help during several earthquakes, but I don’t think we did it for political gain. Sometimes when countries can provide shelter to people who suffer, they just do it because it’s the right thing. And if refugees from Darfur would come to Israel, we should let them in.
If we don’t fight for what is right, and we’re 100% utilitarian, what makes us the good guys? I support the US and Israel in their wars because we are superior to Al Qaida, Hizbollah and the Republican guard, culturally.

Dennis Prager said that both paleocons and neocons ask: "what’s good for America?", but the paleocons stop there, while the neocons also ask: "What is good?"

I know, you gotta be pragmatic. You gotta be utilitarian. You can’t fight 12 just wars all at once. You can’t invade Iran and North Korea tomorrow. I don’t want to fight a million just wars and lose. I want to fight as many as I can and win.


 
Written By: Tomer
URL: http://

Worth an entire book devoted to the wild innacuracy of that statement, but if I had to start with a sentence, it would be: since the people that actually attack America are the ones we trained to fight the Russians in 1980-1992, I can only imagine you’re suggesting that we’d counter-invaded Afghanistan directly, right?
You’re not very familiar with bin Ladin’s teachings, are you? If you were, you’d see the very direct line of cause and effect that connects our response to the Tehran Embassy seizure with his jihad. Perhaps you should do some reading before you contemplate such writing.
 
Written By: Pablo
URL: http://
"since the people that actually attack America are the ones we trained to fight the Russians in 1980-1992,"

Given the casualty rates and the effects of time, I doubt it.
 
Written By: timactual
URL: http://
Hereçs an idea to find out just how moral the general citizenry of the United States is:

Simply stop buying anything from teos states who offend the US on a moral basis. No more of anything that the Saudis produce or, for that matter the Venezuelans.

And refuse to trade with any states that offend the US in any way.

Get the US out of the UN and the Un out of most countries.

Where in the constitution does a provision exist for the defense of any other nation? Change teh treaty signing authority of the Senate and the presidency to reflect the idea that treaties are not valid pst the term of those who signed it. Require the reaffirmation of any treaties with each session of congress and donot permit mass reaffirmation. Make it such that every member of conrgess must individually reaffirm each of the treaties.

 
Written By: FJE
URL: http://
The job of the United States Government is not to save the world. The job of the United States government is to defend the United States from its enemies, and to secure the rights of its people. (It does a moderately competent job at the former, and hardly even attempts the latter.)

And just how has the US government done even a plausible job of national security? The war of 1812 was fought to establish the US Right to sail the open occeans after the British(arguably the most belicose entity in modern history) kidnapped a number of US citizen merchantmen and pressed them into service against one of the few nations that assisted the Fledgling US in any way, the French.

The explosinon of the Maine was used as the excuse to go to war with Spain. There is good reason to believe that that explosion was occasioned by poor design and seamanship as much as an attack by anyone.

December 7, 1941 and September 11, 2001 speak for themselves.

The major factor in the current WARS, read invasions, of Afghanistan and Iraq are more in keeping with the bully who gets taken down in the David and Goliath scenario and is avenged by his big brother more out of outrage than of moral realism.

Mr. Bush reacted to his daddy losing his second bid for the presidency by commissioning his vice president and Secretary of Defense to find reasons to invade those countries.

To initiate their involvement in WWI ths US Secretary of the Navy and His counterpart in England staged the sinking of the Lusitania. The Lusitania was carrying munitions and was listed in Janes Registry as an auxillary Cruiser in the British Navy. It was a legitimate target in any sense of the word.

Now, after the outrage committed on September 11 2001 Mr. Bush and his infamous National Security Advisor, now Sectretary of State, went before Congress to try to recreate the FDR speech of Dec. 8, 1941. When the National Secutiry Advisor stated that No one ever thought of using an airplane as a weapon I almost cried. The sheer idiocy of the satement was overwhelming. It showed the absolute stupidity and ignorance of the entire governemtn. Why she wasnçt charged with outright treason is unknown. Didnçt she ever hear of WWI, WWII, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Korea, VietnNam, Gulf War I or any other US incursion into a foriegn nation since 1910?

Could someone explain to me exactly what national interest other than a government colusion to get the US into WWII that was served by shadowing German submarines who were attacking weapons conveoy headed for England?

And last, it is one of the base premises of the Democracy that the US is forcing on the rest of the world through organizations like the World Bank, financed by the extortion of funds from US citizens and the other financial organizations similarly funded that private proerty is an absolute. It appears that that concept is only for US corporations rather than the citizens of the US or the currently targeted countries since ther does no appear to be any private property , security or privacy in the US itself.

Thanks for bearing with through this tirade but it is about time someone said it.

Sorry about the typ÷os, I am diabetic and have nerve damage to the fingers. They just donçt go where I want them to anymore - at least not without some serious proofreading.

 
Written By: FJE
URL: http://

 
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