Why Doves Are Cautious

Michael P.F. van der Galiën has responded to my post on Fallacies Regarding Doves, Iraq, And The Use of Military Force, quoting from my post and then stating:

And that is – of course – where Ron is wrong. There are quite some progressives who are now calling on politicians to rule out using military force against Iran. They are not just talking about not using military force now, they are talking about not using military force ever. You can even hear them argue that Iran with a nuclear weapon will not be as bad, as dangerous, as hawks suggest. Next ‘argument’: Israel has WMDs as well, if Israel is allowed to have them, shouldn’t we allow Iran to have them as well? All in all, these people would never support using force to prevent Iran from developing WMDs.

Of course, there are also the ones who simply believe that the West should not strike against Iran now, but we are not talking about those people here (I mean, I am one of them). We are talking about people like Ezra Klein who believe that we should not talk about the bad things Iran does, because doing so might encourage haws to attack Iran.

I was initially responding to a statement from Michael that, “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.”

There certainly are progressives who oppose any military force. There are also hawks who advocate using military force at the drop of a hat. Looking at the extremes misses the greater complexity of views and targeting such straw men avoids looking at the real issues.

The experience under Bush has also influenced the view of what we would tolerate hearing from politicians. In an ideal world I wouldn’t even take the threat of a nuclear attack off the table in terms of what is said out loud, in order to put additional pressure on the other side, even if not having any attention of going that route. If we could trust our political leaders not to go to war unnecessarily, and in manners which undermine our national security as in Iraq, we might be more tolerant of allowing them to bluff.

The problem we have now is that we experienced a President who was given that type of leverage and violated the trust placed in him. Democrats gave Bush the authority to use force in Iraq as a last resort, primarily as a stick to get the inspectors back in and to achieve a diplomatic solution. Bush claimed that he was seeking a diplomatic solution in order to receive their vote.

Subsequently, despite the claims of Mitt Romney, the inspectors were back in and there was no need to go to war. Regardless, Bush abruptly ended diplomacy and announced he was going to war. The Downing Street Memos, as well as reports from former members of the Bush administration verify that Bush had already decided to go to war even when telling Democrats that he was seeking a diplomatic solution. It was also disappointing that more Democrats like John Kerry, who initially voted for the IWR, did not protest its abuse and come out to oppose going to war before the start of the war, as opposed to waiting until this became the politically popular decision. This experience has left many liberals with less trust of politicians of both parties, and less willing to allow them to avoid clearly stating their intentions.

After this experience, as well as seeing Republicans out doing themselves to appear hawkish (and John McCain singing about bombing Iran), liberals are cautious. For some it might be a reluctance to go to war at all, but for many it is fear that the Republicans will go to war too soon. We see two joint threats–both from Iran (even if realizing that war might be necessary in the future) and from the Republican right wing, which underestimates the negative consequences of going to war. Keeping war off the table for now does not mean there are no circumstances under which it might be considered.

It is always possible to find extremists to point to, but this is not representative of large number of liberals who do not “oppose using military force, because it is military force.”

(My post only dealt with one aspect of the blog exchange. For those interested in the entire discussion, Andrew Sullivan also comments today with a response from Ezra Klein )

Update: Kevin Sullivan also has more to say. Sullivan plays the label game himself arguing that “the LIBERAL sees a moral obligation in staying in Iraq, whereas the progressive isolationist seems more interested in ‘gotcha’ politics.” He also asks, “So tell me, if we pat you on the back and tell you that you were right about the invasion, will you stop handicapping our foreign policy?”

Just as with the falacies on hawk versus dove I discussed in the previous post, recognizing we need to get out of Iraq does not make one a dove or isolationist on other issues. Not only is getting out of Iraq the actual liberal position, it has become the opinion of the majority of the American people. This is not because we are isolationists or are shirking any moral obligations. It is because getting out of Iraq is what is best for both the United States and for Iraq.

Don’t just pat us on the back for being right about the invasion from the start. Look at the arguments for not going invading, and see that the same arguments against the invasion apply to staying in Iraq. Iraq is not like South Korea or Europe as Kevin argues. Staying in Iraq only gets us more bogged down in a civil war. At the same time this helps al Qaeda recruit more potential terrorists, and continues to turn moderate Muslims against the United States.

We have yet to see any strategy which provides any hope of changing the situation for the better. After all this time, if the Iraqi government cannot stabilize the country over the next year, it is doubtful that staying additional years will make any difference. There’s no doubt there will be serious problems if we leave in the next year, but there will also be serious problems if we leave in two years, five years, or ten years. In the meantime, we will have more dead Americans, more money wasted, and far more people hating the United States.

Update II: Kevin has responded this morning, but I won’t have time until later to reply. His comments call for further discussion of how labels are being used (or misused), the differences between Iraq and countries such as Europe and North Korea, and the impact of the war on hindering the spread of democracy. (The response got delayed as I got in late and then got tied down in responding to other matters as appears above. The response is now posted here.)

Update III: My response to Kevin’s response to the post noted in the last update is Argument By Labels Rather Than Logic on Iraq

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1 Comment

  1. 1
    b-psycho says:

    My view would be “tell you what: the day that the Iranian government either comes up with plans to attack the US or endorses & provides material support for plans by a 3rd party to attack the US, and we have credible proof of such, they will become a target, not a second before“.

    There appears to be an inability, on the part of both our leaders & the Iranian regime, to tell the difference between empty bluster for political points & actual threats. Considering the size of the gap in military power, only a complete nutjob could look at Ahmadinejad’s rantings and think that means an imminent threat: modern warfare means most of the world needs the element of surprise if they even THINK about attacking a 1st-world country. Disagreement with our worldview doesn’t mean that they’re suicidal.

    As for whether Iran with a nuke would be a threat: in principle, I’m skeptical of arms control in the first place, as the implementation seems intended merely to entrench the strategic status quo. I’d rather they not have one (in the respect that I’d rather NO ONE had one; a single weapon being powerful enough to wipe out millions isn’t a good thing for any State to have), but don’t see an angle that doesn’t sound to them like yet more favoritism to Israel. Besides, whether we like it or not, it’s a regional matter, and we’re in effect goading them into building one as it is.

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