April 24, 2017

A better argument against interventionism: "We're incapable of imposing our will"

Now that the moldy Bush-era "Axis of Evil" framework has taken over the foreign policy agenda (against Trump's wishes, but in line with Deep State), it's worth taking a new approach against interventionism.

Interventionists portray the US as a force for the greater global good, whether they think of the role as more of a policeman or a guardian angel. Such a police-angel must be morally upright, or else it will deliberately punish the innocent and neglect the needy; it must be highly knowledgeable, or else it cannot know who deserves punishing and who deserves saving; and it must be capable and powerful enough to translate its intentions into results.

Usually the objections against this stance are that the US government is not so morally upstanding, choosing to reward wicked people while punishing good people. This is too subjective of an argument, and it never convinces anyone who was not already susceptible to the conclusion.

When we were empowering the Mujahideen in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union during the 1980s, who was relatively more wicked -- the jihadists or the Communists? That depends on where you're coming from in values, and there is too much disagreement to reach a consensus about whether we were morally in the right to choose the jihadist rather than the Communist side in that war.

Somewhat less subjective is the objection that we rarely know enough about the situation in order to make the right choice, even assuming we were morally pure. In foreign affairs, we are often in the dark about who represents what values and goals, who their allies are, who their enemies are, the histories and reputations of all involved, and so on and so forth. Let alone what can be taken at face-value and what is deceit. That makes it hard to know who the good guys are and who the bad guys are. Intervening under such opacity? -- "Forget Jake, it's Chinatown."

This argument is also easy for the interventionists to dismiss, though, by saying that our intelligence agencies, consultants, academics, etc., collectively know "enough" to achieve our goals. The key is that it's subjective how much knowledge is "enough" knowledge for any particular case.

They may also argue that when it looks like we "didn't know" and picked the "wrong" side, maybe you're just objecting to which side we chose, for reasons of differing values (back to the first problem). That is, the CIA and others knew damn well who the Mujahideen were, and what they were all about, and our Deep State simply preferred their values and goals over the Communists -- not that they were blind, lazy, or duped by the jihadists.

I think the most compelling argument against interventionism, here and now, is the abysmal track record we've had since the end of WWII of actually proving capable of imposing our will on those who resist us, and then enjoying the spoils of war. We tend to destroy the places where we intervene, preventing us from enjoying any spoils at all. If we can't enjoy it, then nobody else can either.

After supporting the Mujahideen, did we enjoy the spoils of war in Afghanistan during the 1990s as the Soviet Union collapsed? No, and we still do not after direct invasion for over 15 years. The country is under greater control of our enemy, the Taliban. Our rival, China, is reaping the benefits of mineral extraction in the region. It is another case of being incapable of imposing our will to get spoils, whether material or geopolitical.

This is the least abstract or intellectual argument against interventionism -- avoiding discussions about competing moral worldviews, or decision-making under uncertainty -- but it is also the most straightforward, concrete, and difficult to argue against.

In the next post, I will look at the track record of our success, and then utter lack of success, beginning with the first settlers and going up to the present. That requires some detail, so it deserves a post of its own. In the meantime, don't object to the basic framework by arguing about specific cases -- do that after the next post is up discussing specific cases of success and failure.

Aside from being less of a subjective argument, this approach fits better into the current zeitgeist, where most Americans are exasperated at our continued interventions that never yield any benefits to us.

It's like Trump kept saying during the campaign -- "we don't win anymore". He was not saying we should try to cheer up and let loose on the battlefield, and then maybe we'll start winning the wars we're already in. He was saying we keep foolishly thinking that our military is an unquestionable magic wand, but it doesn't ever end up actually delivering the goods (spoils), so let's stop kidding ourselves about our omnipotence, and just declare victory and come home -- where we can actually produce some real results.


  1. Indeed, Afghanistan is America's longest war and it has been for nothing.

  2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GiPe1OiKQuk


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