Thursday, March 31, 2011

When principle becomes stupidity

I believe there are valid reasons why someone might oppose the intervention in Libya. After all, foreign policy questions are not simple -- they typically require that one solve a particularly complex set of questions concerning fundamental ethics, particular facts of the case, theories of economics & political dynamics, and who knows what else. But that certainly doesn't imply that all answers are created equal -- to the contrary, many popular answers focus on only one, or even none, of these...and in doing so, they can become stupid. Here's an example.

In my previous post I referred to inane argumentation concerning the Libyan intervention. Consider this, from Charles V. Peña of the Independent Institute: "If getting rid of tyrants and dictators who oppress their people becomes the criterion for using U.S. military force, who do we target next: China? The so-called Democratic Republic of Congo? Eritrea? Iran? Kyrgyzstan? Venezuela? Zimbabwe?"

Good grief. Never mind whether the author has correctly characterized the objective (I am sure he hasn't), what is frankly stupid about this is that he assumes that every instance of trying to achieve a particular goal requires the identical means. Well, it doesn't.

Given the situation in Libya, bombing Qaddafi's troops probably saved thousands or tens of thousands of lives of people who have been non-combative but opposed his dictatorial rule. OTOH, bombing, say, China or Syria wouldn't save anyone, because no massacre is imminent. So much for reason to bomb.

But what to bomb? In Libya, there was a particularly well-defined set of targets -- Qaddafi's troops and the air defense and command & control structures that support them -- while in China or Syria it's unclear what one would bomb, even if one wanted to...and again, that's because the particular facts of the case are different. There's no mass of PLA tanks bearing down on a city of full of people opposed to Hu Jintao, and Hu Jintao hasn't pledged to murder every last person who ever voiced an opinion against him, even if they are hiding in a closet. For that matter, Hu Jintao doesn't seem to have blown up any civilian airliners full of American citizens over Lockerbie, or anywhere else. He's unlikely to attempt it in the future. Qaddafi is.

So why is it so hard to understand why bombing Libya doesn't imply one should bomb China, just because both have oppression?

Or consider Syria. As I documented in my previous post, the situation in Syria is quite unclear, and it certainly doesn't appear that mass executions are being planned. Much as it pains me to say so, Hillary Clinton is absolutely right when she says that each Middle East situation is unique and requires different policy. Why is this apparently impossible for Peña to understand?

I think it's because I am relying on facts here, and his analysis is nearly devoid of them. Simple moral principles are crucial for decision making, but by themselves they are not only not sufficient, they become a self-imposed blindness. The author, Charles V. Peña, has, stupidly, blinded himself. His basic principles might be right, but his application of them is... well, stupid.

In an upcoming post I'll take a look at Lew Rockwell, who goes well beyond stupidity and descends into evil.

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