Fallacies Regarding Doves, Iraq, And The Use of Military Force

Ezra Klein has written about the writings of liberal hawks to avoid admitting their mistakes on Iraq with a response from Kevin Sullivan which quotes heavily from John Kerry. Michael van der Galien weighs in (here and here) but inadvertently demonstrates the whole problem of speaking of hawks versus doves. Michael writes:

The problem with the doves is that they oppose using military force, because it is military force. For us hawks, military force is a tool – a tool you will only use when all other tools fail on you, but a tool nonetheless. I find it incredibly strange that there are people who want the US government, or individual candidates, to rule out (supporting) the use of force.

The first fallacy here is to define hawk and dove in a manner favorable to his own position and unfavorable to the opposing viewpoint when they do not accurately describe the views of those labeled. Doves would counter that they are willing to use force when needed, but that hawks turn to force before exhausting other remedies. In other words, doves could also quote John Kerry, including the passage linked above, his warnings that war should only be used as a last resort, and his pre-war warnings at Georgetown for George Bush not to rush to war.

In having both sides quote John Kerry we see the ultimate fallacy of declaring some people to permanently be hawks and the others doves. While perhaps true of some, for many it depends upon the particular circumstances. Currently dove might be applied to those who oppose the Iraq war, while those in support are considered hawks. This is misleading as many of us who opposed the Iraq war supported the war in Afghanistan, and part of our opposition included the fact that the war was a distraction from the more important war against al Qaeda following the 9/11 attacks. Are those of us who supported one war and opposed another hawks, doves, or just sensible individuals?

Even looking at Iraq, it wasn’t an absolute question of hawks versus doves. Before the war John Kerry and Howard Dean, despite all the pollitical posturing of the primaries, held essentially the same view. Both argued that if Saddam had weapons of mass destruction which threatened us, or if he refused to allow the inspectors in, we should use force. Once the inspectors were allowed back in, and no evidence was found of WMD, both opposed going to war based upon the conditions actually in effect. Howard Dean’s position was labeled dove, partially as he did not have to vote on the WMD and many did not know of his support for a similar resolution. John Kerry was initially described by the media as an “ant-war candidate” but this changed when Dean’s political campaign was successful in distorting the view of the IWR into being a litmus test on support for the war.

Regardless of the politics, the fact remains that both Democrats had essentially the same position. Both were willing to support going to war under some circumstances, and both realized that going to war in Iraq during the final lead up to the war would be a mistake.

Labels such as hawk and dove simply fail to describe the views of many individuals, and when used it is a mistake to claim that doves “oppose using military force, because it is military force.” Statements such as this belittle all the arguments used against going to war, which is especially erroneous considering the degree to which the events which have unfolded have proven us right.

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    INTJ says:

    It occurs to me that the primary problem is the definition of “exhausting other remedies.” Hawks believe Iraq, for example, had 12 years of opportunity, in which it stonewalled, obfuscated, and even offered casus belli when it fired upon American aircraft. Doves believe that further diplomatic and economic pressure could have produced the desired results and forced compliance. The problem, of course, is in pinpointing the “tipping point,” at which you can no longer afford to wait for other solutions, where the expected utility of diplomacy becomes negative. That point is, unfortunately, an unknown. Hawks are the ones who are willing to err on the side of force, potentially killing our soldiers and others, to avoid risking harm to our national interests, and Doves are the ones who are not willing to risk blood, either American or otherwise, until they feel they have tried everything else, and accept the risk that they may have waited too long.

    But even this is too simplistic, because not everyone is consistent. Hawks who believe it was right to go after Saddam, regardless of his possession or not of WMD’s, and pave the way for democracy, may have protested President Clinton’s unilateral use of force in Haiti, his redefinition of the American role in Somalia, and his invocation of the self-defense article to send NATO against Serbia, which never attacked the U.S. or its allies. Doves who oppose the Iraq war with all their might, may have insisted on force to end a perceived genocide in Kosovo, to force regime change against the warlord Aidid, to reinstall democratically elected Aristide, or to stop the violence in Darfur.

    Since priorities and principles shift depending on the individual perception, the only set definition I can offer is that Hawks are generally more disposed to allow the use of military force to defend narrowly defined national interests, while Doves are generally less disposed to allow the use of military force, and only to defend broader, more humanitarian, interests.

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