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Monday, May 31, 2004

Why can't we all just get along?

According to a poll reported in the Montreal Gazette, a majority of Canadians, especially Quebecers, think war is an outmoded way of "settling differences". I'll preface my comments by suggesting that this poll, like most "attitude" polls, asked manipulative and leading questions based on the presuppositions of the pollsters and/or the prevailing social mythology of the time and place, and is therefore likely not an accurate reflection of public opinion. That being said, if what this poll says is true, I suppose then, conversely, that the appeasement of, and pandering to, dictators, thugs, banana republics and murderers must be, for Canadians, the path to peace. I think certain of our enemies (al-Qaeda comes to mind) would be happy to negotiate with Canada. We'll have a rap session, man, while they express their culture by holding knives to our throats. Groovy.

[Occam’s Carbuncle]

Posted by Alan Rockwell on May 31, 2004 | Permalink


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"Why can't we all just get along?"

I hear this alot from lefties. The answer is...

"because we can't"

Posted by: Boudica | 2004-05-31 8:46:09 AM

War is "a lousy way to resolve differences".

Well there's the whole damn problem all summed up.

We don't fight wars to "resolve" anything. Here in the Western World, we fight them to save our own hides or someone else's. Nobody's expecting the people we're fighting to roll over and adore us (re. expectations on Iraq; we weren't _fighting_ those who we expect would greet us positively).

We can only "resolve" things only with people that will listen to us: there is no resolving with those who don't listen and are bent on our deaths.

When we can't even agree with what we're dealing with here, how can we be expected to agree on specific policy issues?

Posted by: Kelvin Chan | 2004-05-31 9:51:59 AM

There may be more than merely two options here: either go to war or appease. Trade restrictions, and embargoes, are poor options that come to mind, and are generally countenanced by prevailing neo-conservative opinion.

Rational choice theorists would be loathe to rank fear as *the* primary motivator. To be sure, fear *is* a motivator (cf. Hobbes' Leviathan, for instance). But Hobbes, and fear-theorists in general (of which both Bushes--senior and junior--as well as their obstreperous entourage) was wrong to suggest that fear is the sole, or even most reliable, motivator (see his "Lawes of Nature" for a counterargument to his main claim). Fear, in the form of external sanction, is less stable than mutual interdependence, for instance.

What's my suggestion, then? How about self-interest and capitalism (and fries with that)? The "Democratic Peace" thesis says that no two democracies have gone to war with one another, and wouldn't. This is open to all kinds of objection: here's a website listing all the democracies that have gone to war (and the response of those who still want to argue that "real" democracies weren't really involved): http://users.erols.com/mwhite28/demowar.htm

A better thesis has it that no two nations with a McDonald's franchise have ever gone to war with one another. This is because, in part and contrary to much popular wisdom, smashing windows and blowing up buildings is not good for the economy (Frederic Bastiat exploded this myth with what he called the "broken window fallacy"(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Broken_window_fallacy )--although some lefties, and, what's worse (because they should know better) free market types--continue to insist that World War I and II were boons to the economy). It is also true that, as a Cato Institute editorial had it: "Free trade raises the cost of war by making nations more economically interdependent." (http://www.cato.org/dailys/12-31-98.html) The "Big Mac Thesis"--as New York Times columnist, and originator of the thesis, Thomas Friedman called it--is more air-tight than the democratic peace thesis (with a few exceptions: like the 1999 NATO bombings of Yugoslavia that forced the shutdown of McDonald's in that country).

In the short-run, war and brute force get us what we want. In the long-run, things like that are likely to spark future antagonisms. I don't need to cart out all of the nations that were "pacified" that later rebelled. In order to attain a stable, long-lasting peace, we had better take a look at options that don't include death and destruction.

Posted by: Peter Jaworski | 2004-05-31 10:48:37 AM


I hate it when someone puts far more thought into a comment on my post than I did into the post. If I may just up the ante of facetiousness a bit, though - I'm perfectly happy to have war get us what we want in the short run, when what we want is to stay alive or remain free for the time being. Future antagonism? Sold! I'll take it.

Posted by: alan | 2004-05-31 10:58:23 AM

Alan: Right. Me too. But notice that we aren't under any sort of likely threat at the moment, and that you're changing the subject. Of course I would fight for my liberty and in defense of my own life (not exclusively, mind you). But that wasn't my point, and I didn't think it was yours either.

I took your point to be that war is an effective way of getting what we want in situations where we aren't directly threatened (like in Iraq). There's a difference between self-defence (I don't know of anyone--including hardened doves--who dispute the legitimacy of this sort of fight) and wars fought for *other* reasons (democracy in Iraq, say, or for the abstract love of liberty all over the world, or to make an example of some group to bring other rogue nations in line or whatever).

It's wars for other reasons that are problematic and, in my opinion, will, in all probability, *not* yield us what we want even in the short run (when I said that it *may* get us what we want, I was granting the possibility--however implausible I think it is--of this outcome). We don't know that it will, while knowing that it *is* going to cause antagonism, and will cost us truckloads of money and lives.

Iraq, for instance, is far from stable at the moment, and it is pretty likely to remain unstable for a long time to come. In fact, what we want--and we all want an honest-to-goodness democracy in Iraq with free markets and, ideally, free minds (though it would be naive to think that that's going to happen any time soon)--is probably not going to come to pass. Patrick Basham of the Cato Institute has me convinced of the pessimist position on Iraq (that democracy will fail in Iraq, at least in the short to medium term): http://www.cato.org/pubs/pas/pa-505es.html

Anyhow, the point is that we have to consider all of the definite costs (money, lives, potential future conflict), against the possible, but not guaranteed, benefits. (There may be cases when the benefits outweigh the costs, or when the cause is of such momentous importance as to require action). And I'm suggesting that instances when war is a solution are rarer than hitting two grand slams in the same inning. (And, hey, it *did* happen: http://www.dodgerblues.com/content/features_moments.html#tatis )

Posted by: Peter Jaworski | 2004-05-31 12:47:53 PM


Points well taken. I suspect we differ on the closeness of the connection between freedom and democracy in other parts of the world (particularly the Middle East) and our continued well-being in the West. Whenever I think of Iraq, in particular, I always run through a "consider the alternative" analysis. All I can ever see is sanctions gone, a rejuvenated and triumphant Saddam, Iran-Iraq, Round II, open warfare with Israel, resurgent Iraqi WMD programs. I never intended to suggest that war is always the answer to every international dispute. I simply objected to the notion that the poll seemed to be promulgating, namely that mature nations don't feel the need to fight over anything. That kind of maturity gets you the Sudetenland, circa 1938.

Posted by: alan | 2004-05-31 1:28:41 PM

"...war and brute force get us what we want. In the long-run, things like that are likely to spark future antagonisms."

Yeah, like WW3 and WW4 and WW5 we fought against Germany, Japan, and Italy. What, we didn't fight World Wars 3, 4, and 5 against those countries. Rather, those countries have been allies of Britain, the US, etc., going on 60 years now. Hmm, could it be that actual history just doesn't want to fall in line with a particular theory. Wouldn't be the first time. Been then again, WW2, and its aftermath, was one of those tiny, relatively unkown bits of history -- kind of like the Pig War between British Columbia and the Washington Territory back in the 1850's.

Posted by: David Crawford | 2004-05-31 1:55:14 PM

Alan said:

"All I can ever see is sanctions gone, a rejuvenated and triumphant Saddam, Iran-Iraq, Round II, open warfare with Israel, resurgent Iraqi WMD programs."

So what? America *initiated* some 200 armed conflicts in the 20th Century. From a pure empirical/scientific and philosphical perspective -- independent of ideological and cultural prejudices -- history suggests that the world is safer with Iraq in possession of WMD than America. Consider: country A has initiated 200 conflicts and has WMD, country B has initiated under 20 and has WMD. Which country should have its WMD removed to promote world peace?

This may sound absurd but it shows that when America and her supporters complain that Iraq potentially has WMD it is little more than the pot calling the kettle black. Not to mention, having the more aggressive nation initiating force to remove the WMD of the other is rather hypocritical.

Now, of all of what I've said presupposes that Iraq had no intention of attacking the United States. If Iraq was planning to attack America, the situation changes. But Iraq was not planning anything and so America's war was aggressive.

Also, Iraq was better off under Sadam than it is today under America. Iraq had an economy, an infrastructure, and social stability. Today, Iraq has no economy, no infrastructure, open combat, and regular terrorist attacks. Further, America has not brought Iraqis any more freedom than they previously had. They jail people arbitrarily, shoot dissenters, and torture and kill prisoners. The Americans have even lowered the Iraqi *civilian* firearm ownership rate. So much for bringing freedom.

What does does it matter if Iraq attacked Israel a second time? What would it have to do with Canada? In principle, it's no different than Rwanda attacking Somalia. It's none of our business. For conservatives and libertarians the primary rationale for war is, and always has been, self-defence. Of course, its tragic when any people die, but in a free society government's only role is to defend those who 1) bear the relation of citizen to her and 2) those who pay her bills. It's not government's job to defend the freedom of foreigners or to make the world safe for democracy. That is the talk of big government liberals.

Posted by: Michael Cust | 2004-05-31 10:23:52 PM

The US initiated 200 armed conflicts in the 20th Century? Really? I'd be interested to see how you managed to stack the list so high, exactly.

In any event, what the U.S. did or didn't do in 1910 would be relevant to who is more trustworthy today exactly how?

Consider that perhaps the reason saying you trust Iraq with WMD more than the U.S. may sound absurd is because it is absurd.

Posted by: craig | 2004-06-01 3:44:48 AM

Many thanks to Michael for the Coles Notes version of standard left wing bilgewater mythology on Iraq and America - a fat liberal scallop wrapped in a bit of libertarian bacon. You were playing devil's advocate, right? Right?

Posted by: alan | 2004-06-01 6:20:35 AM

Alain said:

"You were playing devil's advocate, right? Right?"

Mike says:

Now I wasn't. America's foreign policy represents the worst of the socialist instinct and I'm embarassed that it wears the "conservative" label.

It's being led by a bunch of former liberals who joined the conservative movement because they saw an opportunity to push their jingoist military leanings.

Ask yourself why the neo-cons celebrate FDR (the father of American socialism), Woodrow Wilson (who sounded like Lyold Axworthy currently does), and Abraham Lincoln (who started a civil war to maintain and increase the power of the US central government). The neo-cons aren't conservatives and they never were.

Their commitment to the free-market is wanting at best. Bush is the biggest spending US president since Lyndon Johnson. (For Pete's sake, even Chretien made fun of his wild spending and red (as opposed to balanced) books. Chretien!)

Bush's domestic record reads like a Democratic platform: nationalization of pharmacare, increased police and federal government powers, and a new government department.

Canadian conservatives have this weird instinct in that they think whatever the American Right does is somehow correct. This is not true. We need to use discretion in assesing them. America should be praised for what she does right: gun rights, lower taxes, and greater free speech. NOT what she does wrong: drug war, world's largest prison population, and a foreign policy of interventionism.

I spent last summer as an intern in Washington and I can tell you that a greater percentage of the American Right opposes Bush administration than the Canadian Right. That doesn't even make sense.

Posted by: Michael Cust | 2004-06-02 2:11:41 AM


I have searched up and down in my post and comments for any blanket approval of Republican policies and for the life of me, I just can't find one. I assume your survey of the "American Right" (which apparently doesn't include neo-cons) was conducted scientifically. I look forward to seeing the published results.

Posted by: alan | 2004-06-02 6:54:48 AM

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