Harold Koh on what does and doesn't make for a war:
Koh, a former Yale Law School dean who wrote about the War Powers Resolution during his academic career, said the “narrow” role of U.S. warplanes in the mission doesn’t meet the definition of hostilities.
The circumstances in Libya are “virtually unique,” he said, because the “exposure of our armed forces is limited, there have been no U.S. casualties, no threat of U.S. casualties” and “no exchange of fire with hostile forces.”
With a “limited risk of serious escalation” and the “limited military means” employed by U.S. forces, “we are not in hostilities envisioned by the War Powers Resolution, Koh said.
As an outsider to the political process, it has been absolutely hilarious watching a White House full of children of the 1960's retroactively justifying Nixon's Christmas bombings of Cambodia. It's not a war, they claim, as long as our soldiers are safe and we are mostly just killing citizens of other nations from the air. Of course, by this definition, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was not an act of war.
There are many reasons to put separation-of-powers-type scrutiny on war-making that go beyond just the risk to American lives. In particular, killing people from other countries can radically change our relationship with other nations. I find it ironic that that White House has deliberately put blinders on and declared that the only reason to get Congressional approval is if US soldiers are at risk, since it was Obama who lectured the nation on the campaign trail about how damaging to our world image he felt Bush's wars to be.
I know that this pathetic bit by Kevin Drum was done to death by blogs last week, but I was on the road and still want to get my innings. For those who have not seen it, Drum said (in a post about Obama and Libyan war):
So what should I think about this? If it had been my call, I wouldn't have gone into Libya. But the reason I voted for Obama in 2008 is because I trust his judgment. And not in any merely abstract way, either: I mean that if he and I were in a room and disagreed about some issue on which I had any doubt at all, I'd literally trust his judgment over my own. I think he's smarter than me, better informed, better able to understand the consequences of his actions, and more farsighted. I voted for him because I trust his judgment, and I still do.
A few thoughts
- Leaders on the Left have a strongly arrogant belief that they are smarter than ordinary citizens, and so it is their duty to make decisions for individuals because politicians will do a much better job of running people's lives than ordinary folks would themselves. I have always supposed that for this governing philosophy to be successful, there had to be a deep parallel desire among the rank and file of the Left to be led, to put their own life in the hands of politicians who can be better trusted to make decisions for them. This bit from Drum seems to be evidence of that desire.
- I know of absolutely no one, politician or otherwise, whose judgement I would generally trust more than my own. Seriously, this is just pathetic. Sure there are folks whose judgement I might trust, based on long experience, over my own on narrow issues (e.g. my wife on restaurant choices or my son on who to draft for my fantasy football team).
- Drum completely ignores the issue of incentives (as do most folks on the Left). Even if a politician's judgement were better than mine on a certain issue, could I trust his or her incentives to make the decision based on the same goals I might have? In the case of Libya, Obama has any number of incentives -- his poll numbers, reelection in 2 years, pressure from members of his own party, his legacy, his image in other countries, finding consensus among his advisors, etc -- that might affect his decision-making but which I do not share.
- What in God's name in Obama's pre-Presidential career provided the basis for Drum's staggering trust in his judgement? Where have we ever, ever seen this judgement exercised in any meaningful way, particularly on an issue with this many chips on the table? Even since he has been President, where has this judgement been evidenced? As I have said any number of times in the last two years, having a really, really good speaking voice is not a proxy for intelligence.
- To the extent that Drum voted for Obama based on his foreign policy judgement, Drum's perception of Obama's judgement had to have been based in large part on campaign statements and speeches Obama has made on foreign policy. And those statements basically said that what Obama is doing now is illegal. How can Obama have universally good judgement if he promised to do A in the campaign and is doing not-A today. Both A and not-A cannot simultaneously constitute good judgement.
Looking over the last 35 years of history, I want to make the following proposal: the Dictator Retirement Island.
Here is how it works. The US puts a sum of money in a Swiss account for the dictator. The US moves dictator to a lush island complete with lavish lifestyle complete with personal performances from US pop stars (this seems to be a very popular activity for both dictators and US singers). The US guards the dictator from vengeful rebel groups, human rights organizations, threats if extradition, etc. In exchange the dictator gives up power and allows the US to impose an interim Constitution and supervise free elections.
It used to be that deposed kings/emperors/strong men could find a home in exile somewhere. The promise of exile probably helped prevent scorched-Earth battles by dictators who know that loss of power will mean torture and death. The German Kaiser lived in exile for 20 years in the Netherlands after WWI.
- A whole lot cheaper than military action -- the first 10 minutes of our involvement in Libya when we launched a bunch of cruise missiles cost over $100 million.
- Saves a lot of lives, both citizens and US military
- Increases frequency of positive regime changes
- To say the least, monetary rewards heaped on ruthless dictators are fairly unsatisfying
- Ticks off human rights groups. More importantly, ticks off rebel groups in home country (even giving medical care in US to deposed Shah was a huge problem for Iranian rebels)
- Many still might not accept, even when backed into a wall. It's the power that is compelling, not just the money and lifestyle, and most dictators are really good at denying reality
This week, the US took a step to normalize relations with Libya:
The United States restored
full diplomatic ties with Libya on Monday, rewarding the
longtime pariah nation for scrapping its weapons of mass
destruction programs and signaling incentives for Iran and
North Korea if they do the same
The logic was that Libya still is a sucky dictatorship, but it has taken some important steps forward into the light which we want to reward. Perhaps more importantly, the administration acknowledges that increasing intercourse with the western democracies tends to have liberalizing effects in countries in this world of open communications (see: China). Its a difficult trade-off, but I am fine with this. Certainly we are no virgin in terms of having diplomatic relations with bad governments.
My question is: Why doesn't this same logic apply to Cuba? I think it is pretty clear that embargo and shunning over the past 40+ years have had as much effect as they are going to have. Why not try engagement? I think this particularly makes sense well before the chaos that may ensue after Castro's death. If anything, just by reading the behavior of Cuban expats, Cubans remind be of the Chinese in terms of their entrepreneurship, and I certainly think engagement has worked better than shunning in China.
Of course I already know the answer to my question: Because Cuban expats make up a large voting block in the most critical presidential election swing state and no candidate wants to be soft on Castro. But this seems to make it even more of an opportunity for a second-term president who doesn't have to contest Florida again.
Update: Yes, I did indeed spell it "Lybia" at first. Seems vaguely Feudian. Excuse 1: Blogging is a real time function. Excuse 2: Its just a hobby. Excuse 3: I was a mechanical engineer in school