Foreign Policy, Then and Now: A Conversation with Thomas Woods, Jr.

Brian Saint-Paul speaks with Dr. Thomas Woods Jr. about isolationism, non-interventionism, the foreign policy of the Founders, and how we got where we are today.

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Brian Saint-Paul: In the realm of foreign policy, what’s the difference between isolationism and non-interventionism? The terms are often used interchangeably — and incorrectly — in the current presidential race.

Thomas E. Woods Jr.: An isolationist — if words have any meaning at all — is someone who wants to isolate the country from interaction with the rest of the world. We’re not talking simply about disengagement from foreign conflicts but also drastically reducing our trade relations around the world — and perhaps, initiating trade wars. So the real isolationist is someone who wants the military budget limited to what’s required to defend the country, but who also wants national self sufficiency and isn’t interested in diplomatic engagement.

When you put it that way, very few people would qualify as isolationists. We should remember that the term itself wasn’t actually invented by those critical of U.S. foreign policy. The term ‘isolationist’ was actually invented by their opponents to smear them in the 1930s, and frankly, I can’t think of anybody who would take a totally isolationist view.

So the Founders were not isolationists?

No, they were in favor of non-interventionism, which is a different thing.

Non-interventionism means that while we do want to isolate the country from foreign conflicts, we don’t want to roll up into a ball and sit in the corner. Non-interventionists don’t want to intervene in the internal affairs of other countries and we don’t want to get involved in wars that are none of our business. And we want to define what is our business in a reasonable, non-insane kind of way. After all, not everything in the world is our business.

In other words, the non-interventionist wants to follow the advice of John Quincy Adams:

Wherever the standard of freedom and independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will [America’s] heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.

Beyond that, a non-interventionist supports international trade, cultural exchange, diplomatic contact, etc. A lot of the people who are smeared with the label ‘isolationist,’ actually hold this view. Non-interventionists say we do want to interact with the rest of the world, we just don’t want to bomb them.

That’s a nice difference.

It’s odd to me that the guy who doesn’t want to bomb people is considered the isolationist, while the ‘internationalist’ is the one who wants to go bombing. In the 1990s, did the Republicans become isolationists because they didn’t want to bomb Serbs who had never done anything to Americans? Were they suddenly isolationists then?

Incidentally, a non-interventionist posture would also generally refrain from using sanctions as a weapon. Sanctions almost always hurt the target population and do not hurt the regime. In fact, the regime is usually able to exploit the sanctions and position themselves as the great anti-American martyrs, outrageously put upon by the wicked Americans. It gives them every rhetorical device they could want to pose as the great heroes of their country against the Americans and their sanctions.

And since these regimes aren’t usually loved by their people, we may be unintentionally delaying a popular revolt by making ourselves a bigger irritant than their dictator.

Right. Just look at Cuba. What have the sanctions against Cuba accomplished? Is Castro out of power? It’s taking about 48… 49 years, and counting. Come on. The policy has had no effect other than to allow Castro to become the great martyr who thumbs his nose at America. But since the issue is so politically sensitive, you can’t even raise this obvious point.{mospagebreak}

And what about the view that we never negotiate with hostile foreign leaders anymore? Almost no conservatives ever took this view. It was understood that you even had to talk to the Soviet Union — it’s a geopolitical reality. But today, it’s considered evidence of weakness if you meet with a foreign leader with whom you’re having a feud. This is not a conservatism that the intelligent conservatives of yesteryear would have recognized.

In my thinking, that’s the isolationist position. Refusing to engage diplomatically and imposing sanctions that isolate you from other countries.

It’s as if anything short of military engagement is considered isolationism. It’s remarkable.

Murray Rothbard reminded us that Richard Cobden — one of the great classical liberals of the 19th century — opposed all of the military interventions of his government. And yet, he was not called an isolationist; he was called the International Man. And it makes sense — he didn’t want international conflict if it could be avoided.

You mentioned that the foreign policy of the Founders was clearly non-interventionist. We see that with Washington, Jefferson — and you mentioned John Quincy Adams. They encouraged us to take advantage of the ocean separating us from turbulent Europe. But of course, the modern world is different and those oceans aren’t as big as they once seemed.

Is non-interventionism even possible today?

It’s not only possible, but it’s more urgent than ever. One insight that conservatives have long had is that when you intervene in the domestic market, you always have unintended consequences. Put a price control on milk and make milk less expensive and pretty soon, you’ll have shortages, because no one is producing milk anymore and the discounted milk was bought up. That’s what happens.

Foreign affairs are even more likely to have unintended consequences. Woodrow Wilson did not intend to exacerbate every existing problem in Europe by intervening in World War I. But that’s what he did, and he helped create the fertile soil for the rise of a hyper nationalistic party like the Nazis.

So then how does non-interventionism fit with the terrorist threat? Terrorism has no borders.

Well, let’s take terrorism — the strongest objection. My thinking on this would follow very much the lines of what Mr. Republican, Robert Taft was saying in the late 1940s, when he thought the Truman administration was actually provoking the Soviet Union. No one in his right mind would question Taft’s conservative credentials. But Taft, as a conservative, was not a utopian and rejected the idea that American military might could solve all problems, or that the military budget was infinite.

He didn’t want to be needlessly belligerent.

Right. Now apply that to terrorism. Obviously, the terrorists themselves bear the moral responsibility for what they do. The person who sets off a bomb is responsible for setting off a bomb — we all understand that. However, it is at least logically possible that the person setting off the bomb feels like he’s behaving in a defensive way, or that he’s responding in a guerrilla fashion to policies he doesn’t like. That’s at least possible.

Now, let’s say that for half a century or more, our government has in a bipartisan way been stirring up trouble in the Middle East. I think that’s clearly true. So for the sake of argument, could this not be a contributing factor for why people are committing acts of terrorism against the United States, as opposed to Switzerland or some other country?

A lot of people don’t want to hear that.

Well, it’s not a matter of saying that we’re to blame. No one is saying that we’re somehow responsible for terrorism. All we’re asking is this: If our foreign interventions can cause these possible consequences, is it worth the risk? It’s possible that we may conclude that — for the sake of our security — we need to have bases all over the world, no matter what the cost. At least we’d be acknowledging that there’s a cost/benefit angle to this.

That’s what gets missed. So in raising the question, we’re not “blaming America” or removing the responsibility from the terrorists. We’re simply saying that these acts will happen as a result of our doing this, so are we still sure we want to do it?{mospagebreak}

So why are we being attacked?

In the 1980s, the Ayatollah Khomeini called for a jihad against America, on the grounds that we were degenerate, had filthy movies, our women didn’t know their place — all the reasons that we’ve been told are the causes of the current attacks. The result was absolutely nothing. No one blew himself up. No one did anything. Khomeini issued the call and there was no interest. It was a total flop — no one wanted to sacrifice himself on those grounds.

Then the 1990s come along, and we have Osama bin Laden. He does not make that fundamental cultural critique — obviously, he doesn’t like those aspects of American culture, but that wasn’t his main critique.

His criticism is actually very specific. He says the U.S. is responsible for propping up police states around the Arab world; exercising undue influence over oil markets; showing undue favoritism toward Israel; supporting countries that oppress their Muslim minorities; basing American troops on the Arabian peninsula, and on and on.

This is the sort of thing he offers as a rationale. So while there may certainly be the potential for Islam to be violent, what sparks that fire? It’s the combination of practical grievances and the Islamist ideology. Some people will do battle on behalf of an abstract philosophy, but most people will only fight and die for a specific grievance. For example, when you look at the Al Qaida recruitment tapes, they don’t simply quote from the Koran. They actually show images of people killed by U.S. weapons.

Why are they making those tapes if there’s no connection between U.S. foreign policy and what the terrorists are doing? It just doesn’t make sense.

You mentioned the foreign policy of the Founders and its incompatibility with what we have today. What happened? Who was responsible for this new, interventionist — almost imperial — America?

A conventional answer, but a good answer: Starting in the late 1890s, the political and intellectual elites latched onto the idea that the United States needed to have more of a foreign presence.

Of course, in the 1890s, a lot of the argument was economic. ‘We need international trade for the sake of our prosperity, and in order to secure our trade we need to have a big navy,’ they said. That meant refueling stations, coaling stations, and naval bases, all the way to the coveted markets in Asia. It became very useful strategically to have a position in Hawaii, Guam, and the Philippines, because then you have a forward position to be able to penetrate those markets.

This is the rationale offered by many today — that we need a stable world so we can have stable trade.

Right. It was thought that the free economy required some level of foreign intervention. But there were other people like Theodore Roosevelt for whom the economic arguments were secondary. For him, it was just a good thing for the U.S. to be one of the Great Powers. And to be a Great Power, you need to be overseas, prying your way into those markets.

That became known as the Large Policy. The Large Policy was the policy by which the United States tried to acquire bases and colonies — in the case of the Philippines — for the sake of projecting itself into contested places like Asia, where the European powers were carving out exclusive trading areas for themselves.

Was there no outcry? This is a significant shift in foreign policy.

Yes. The United States acquired overseas colonies after the Spanish American War. It got Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines. That involved the brutal suppression of the independence movement in the Philippines, and there was a lot of soul searching about that on the part of Americans. They started to ask, “Here we are, a country born out of colonial revolt. And now we see our leaders suppressing an anti-colonial revolt. Should we really be doing this?”

Was the concern bipartisan?

Actually, historians of the anti-imperial movement of the late 1800s and early 1900s have noted that it was primarily made up of conservatives. These were people who believed they were conserving the old America, which “goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy.” We’re talking about people like former president Grover Cleveland — and there were other former presidents involved. Mark Twain was in there, as well.

I think we’re going through the same kind of soul-searching today. There’s a cross-ideological movement that’s not represented on the cable news networks or the small range of opinion that you see from the New Republic to The Weekly Standard. There seems to be a meeting of the minds that maybe this isn’t what America is supposed to be. Maybe she’s just supposed to set a good example for the world.

In the 19th century, that’s what everyone assumed. Henry Clay was voicing that when he said, in effect, ‘We’re not doing the world any good when we bankrupt ourselves fighting wars all over the place. We will extinguish the great beacon that we are.’ He said we need to unfurl the banner of freedom here and show the world how it’s done. But ultimately other people have to fight for their own freedom.

As Lord Byron said, “Who would be free, themselves must strike the blow.”

Brian Saint-Paul


Brian Saint-Paul was the editor and publisher of Crisis Magazine. He has a BA in Philosophy and an MA in Religious Studies from the Catholic University of America, in Washington. D.C. In addition to various positions in journalism and publishing, he has served as the associate director of a health research institute, a missionary, and a private school teacher. He lives with his wife in a historic Baltimore neighborhood, where he obsesses over Late Antiquity.

  • Joe Marier

    Mr. Woods, what about Beirut?

  • James Pawlak

    Although mentioning John Adams, this article did not note his very forceful works as to Islam and this nation’s history as to direct and military conflict with Muslim states—Who have the same disregard for the rights of Christians today as they had in the 1800s.

  • vinnie

    Beirut? The real question is what were we doing there in the first place? Why put troops in harms way? It only makes sense if you’re trying to maintain and expand and empire.

    Jihad? As far as I can see, the Muslims have confined themselves to the middle east and their main problem is the Palestinian issue. Ask yourself where the justice is for those poor people and see if in their situation, you too might not have a reasonable complaint about how they’re being treated.

    Remember, gentlemen, that with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the welfare/warfare state needed another enemy to keep up the fear level so as to control the American public. What better way to do so than with a war on a tactic and an ill defined enemy that can carry us for another generation or two.

    Ask too how the mightest nation on earth can be attacked by 19 guys with box cutters? Ask how a guy in a cave half way around the world can get the entire air defense of the US to stand down while four planes fly around with their transponders turned off? How come the most heavily defended place(the Pentagon) could be attacked and none of the survaillance tapes can be shown to the public? Where are the black boxes of the two planes that struck the towers? And how do two planes implode three buildings at free fall speed? What about the serial numbers on the wreckage of the planes and why won’t the govt release that information? Have you looked at Norm Mineta’s testamony before the 911 commision on the strange commands of Dick Cheney? Who shorted the airline stocks? How did Silverstein know enough to take out a double indemnity for terrorist attacks against his buildings? Why was the attacks against Afgananistan and Iraq already planned before 911? Have you read any of the papers that PNAC published in the 1990’s where they call for a “Pearl Harbor” event to get the public to accept American intervention in the middle east? Where have you been?

    Joe. James. If you aren’t interested in checking into these things for yourselves, then, as a veteran, may I suggest you not be like the chickenhawks who cheer others to kill and be killed while they sit on the sidelines. Why don’t you volunteer and go do the dirty work yourself and see first hand all the wonderful wonders of war.

    Best to you both,
    Vinnie Terranova

    PS If you’re truly interested in the end game, I suggest you google the Aaron Russo interview where he discusses what Nick Rockefeller told him about the plan the global elites have in mind for us peons.

  • Erik McCullen

    Mr. Marier,
    Your question answers itself. What were the troops doing there to begin with, and isn’t this exactly what Mr. Woods is talking about? –the bomber did not have to cross an ocean to attack us because we stationed them in their country.

  • James Hanlon

    We should isolate ourselves from those greedy International Bankers , abolish the Federal Reserve Bank and their collection agency , the I.R.S. thus remove the profits of war . That’s the type of isolationists we should exercise .


  • Joe Marier

    Nice responses! I’ll leave it at that.

  • Jesse

    And the Jihadist plan to attack the Pope in the Philippines, what interventionist policy from the Vatican where the Jihadists “defending” themselves from? We shouldn’t get into needless wars but sometimes the rabid dog needs to be kicked back into its cage.

  • Vinnie

    A few radical muslims planned to kill the pope. The plan failed. It was successfully stopped by intelligence agencies doing their jobs. How does that involve the US in any event? Should the US have gone to war with Turkey because the attacker of John Paul II was a Turk? Or should we have attacked Bulgaria, where the plot originated? Is there any line you’d draw where the US shouldn’t be involved?
    How many wars would you like? Did you think that our interference in other nations, overthrowing governments and having bases all over the world might not be an open invitation for radical groups to strike back at? And how might we feel if we were occupied and had puppet governments installed?
    We also need to look into who and what El Queda is and who created it and to what purpose. Look up false flag operations and see for yourself if many times things aren’t as they’re presented to us.
    As I told the other two gentlemen, you can feel free to join up and defend western civilization but don’t ask me to pay for it or to call you a hero. War is a racket! Read two time medal of honor winner, Marine general, Smedley Butler. Then we can talk.

    Vinnie T.

  • Teri Bohlinger

    50Brian St Paul,

    Very interesting interview.
    I like to hear another world, historical, political voice. You must pursue more intervies with contemporary voices.

    The comments made show that you hit a nerve. I hadn’t heard some of those comments, however abusive of the Eng language some of them are. I like the male response. However guided and myopic as to experience it can be, it is visceral, strong, and to the point. Conversation shows human nature magnified, educational, timeless and explained… a good thing.

    I’ve got a dog in this fight. He suggests we all read “Generation Kill” by Wright. I haven’t but will.

  • goldhorder

    Heeding the advice of then-national security adviser Robert McFarlane, President Ronald Reagan authorized the USS New Jersey to fire long-distance shells into Muslim villages in the Bekaa Valley, killing civilians and convincing Shiite militants that the United States had joined the conflict.

    On Oct. 23, 1983, Shiite militants struck back, sending a suicide truck bomber through U.S. security positions and demolishing the high-rise Marine barracks.

  • Martin Lutz

    My own view is that a doctrinal position on this matter is difficult to generate or sustain given the variety of circumstances and factors, but I’d like to point out a troubling inaccuracy in the comments of Mr. Woods–one which has surprising relevance today.

    It is inaccurate to call the founders non-interventionists, by the standards Mr. Woods proposes. This is particularly true of Jefferson, who sent US troops abroad for the first time (and he purposely did it when Congress was out of session to avoid the political battle that might arise). He sent troops to what was then called the country of Tripoli, ruled by thuggish chaps who raided US shipping and enslaved all passengers and crew. (At the time, there were more Christians enslaved in north Africa than there were Africans enslaved by our own thuggish chapes in the US even.) Then the bruts in Tripoli had the nerve to demand of the new US government that we pay them a tribute every year. Jefferson had occasion to protest this during his tenure as US ambassador in Paris when he met with emissaries from Tripoli. Jefferson was told by these jihadists that they had not only the right, but a religious duty to enslave non-Muslims and make them subservient to faithful Muslims.

    So, by the time that Jefferson became president, he knew it was not US empirialism or provocation that motivated these jihadists, and he knew there was only one way to deal with them. He literally sent in the marines in their first venture abroad, and before long US shipping was no longer subject to attacks from Tripoli.

    Surely Jefferson was not seeking foreign monsters to slay, but even 200 years ago Muslim extremists were attacking US interests without the slightest provocation. Even 200 years ago leaders with non-interventionist sentiments found it necessary to defend the US by venturing abroad. That’s just the way the world works, unfortunately.

    This is not to say that all of what Mr. woods has said is incorrect, but one suspects he’s bending facts a bit to make his case, which is a difficult one to make. As I say, it’s not easy to have a dogmatic doctrine on these matters, and pragmatic responses to threats abroad are the best one can hope for. Sure, many overseas adventures by the US were anything but pragmatic, and many did indeed have unforeseen negative consequences, but not all.

    Finally, the historical case Mr. Woods attempts, even if he succeeded, says little about how to deal with biological and nuclear weapons. It may be that we do indeed need to venture abroad to slay foreign monsters if those monsters are scary enough.

  • bedwere

    Dr. Woods wrote about Jefferson and the 1st Barbary War here:

  • Austin

    I am a Non-Interventionist, and to imply that we, as Non-interventionists are Nazi Sympathizers is nonsense.Our recent policy of invasion and occupation of so many countries is insanity. We are not the World’s policeman. Read pat Buchanan’s latest column about getting out of Japan and South Korea. Scale back in the Middle East as well. We should be a Republic, not an Empire.

  • I am not Spartacus

    This interview was a great idea and you asked pertinent questions to a man of enormous and varied talents and, as expected, his answers are worth thinking about.

    Kudos to both of you.

    I would note that nine men in the West are paying attention to The Geert Wilders trial in The Netherlands where, btw, there has been significant terrorism; and The Netherlands can hardly be said to be a major player in Satan’s Sand Trap.

    Wilders is on Trial for speaking the truth about Islam and those few allowed to speak in his defense (out of an impressive, but not lengthy, list) must do so behind closed doors. The people will not be able to hear him present his defense.

    Wilders is on trial in the West for speaking the truth about Islam and he is not going to be allowed to defend himself.

    Our media is isolationist in that nobody,outside of Gates of Vienna and a few others, is covering the trial which is a harbinger of things to come in America.

  • Pammie

    Mr IANS, I usually agree with you but aren’t you confusing things a bit here? The Wilders trial is a result of globalist thinking , unrestrained immigration and postchristian euro politics. Nothing really to do withhow the Dutch conduct themselves in their foreign policies. Certainly we in the West need to stand up to attempts to islamicise (is that a word?) our culture but we must also leave them to their own devices in their own countries to conduct their affairs in their own islamic way. Isn’t that the point Mr. Woods is making? BTW have you ever thought of doing your own blog? It would be very interesting I think.

  • R.C.

    The difficulty of this piece, indeed of the whole topic, is a failure to acknowledge the fact that (a.) it’s a fallen world; and, (b.) it is in the very nature of the topic (foreign policy, involving relations between governments) that the impact of the world’s fallenness will be felt in an amplified fashion.

    Does that sound a bit abstract?

    Then let me be more succinct: There is no foreign policy philosophy or system or approach which will usually produce good or even neutral results. They will all produce results which are inconsistent over time, except for being consistently worse than neutral.

    Interventionist or non, Zionist or pan-Arabist, multilateralist or unilateralist: These things matter, but only inasmuch as they make the difference between somewhat distasteful outcomes, mostly distasteful outcomes, and entirely distasteful outcomes.

    That is how it’s going to be for the foreseeable future, barring the Return of Christ.

    So pick a philosophy, any philosophy. Yeah, it matters, but not as much as you think.

    Be an non-interventionist. Very well: You’ll get a lot of third-world dictators running amuck inside and outside their borders, resulting in death and starvation and oppression. This will damage your economic interests and will gradually cause your electorate to amass discontent at how there’s injustice in the world, it’s in our power to stop it, and we never do anything about it.

    So then you become assertive, even neo-colonial. Very well: Now you’re spending blood and treasure in third-rate dusty hell holes to which only the locals could possibly muster any sense of attachment, mostly of the dysfunctional abused-spouse variety. At this point your electorate will amass discontent about your bloodthirsty militarism, your grasping, greedy war for oil or trade rights or uranium or to give reconstruction contracts to your corporate cronies.

    The point is not that the electorate is ignorant, mercurial, and forgetful. It is. It’s all that and a bucket of fried chicken, but that’s not the point.

    The point is that foreign policy is where you tend to see the worst of the world’s fallenness because you’re dealing with governments, where…

    (a.) In most of the world, some of the most-fallen (least saintly) people are precisely the folks who achieve dictatorial power (which only exacerbates their tendency to behave like demons); and,

    (b.) Even in slightly better parts of the world, where you have democratic republics instead of dictatorships, government remains government: The organization in a society which necessarily exercises force to get its way. This tends to isolate decision-makers from the consequences of their decisions, promote corruption of character, and encourage those in power to see their fellow citizens as numbers or cogs rather than beings with intrinsic dignity.

    So in even the best countries, where you don’t get a President For Life in an unearned military uniform and a funny hat having journalists shot and promoting illiterate second cousins to the judiciary, you still get Exaggerated Venality from Drab Bureaucrats and Preening Politicians exhibiting the usual hubris of Decision-Makers Who’re Blissfully Out-Of-Touch With How Bad Their Decisions Are Since They Usually Aren’t Affected.

    Now in normal life, an adult who has come to terms with the fallenness of the world understands that when it comes to making tough decisions, there are never any ideal options. Adult decision-making in a fallen world is not like that. Every decision you make, all day, is between options which contain a mix of benefits and drawbacks. And the more important the topic of the decision, the more you find that the benefits and drawbacks are so evenly balanced (or so difficult to accurately measure) that making the right decision involves frightening amounts of guesswork and what-the-hellism.

    But, as described above, the mere act of being in government tends to bring out the worst in folks. And foreign policy is not about managing relationships between normal folk, but between governments and the armed idiots running them.

    Which is to say: Making the right decisions in foreign policy is a lot like making the right decisions would be in your daily life if every human being you ever encountered was either (1.) a backstabbing fairweather friend, (2.) a self-righteous narcissistic hypocrite, or (3.) a raving psychopath.

    You think there are no perfect options in your life now? Just imagine what life would be like if every person in the world was one of those three things.

    Do you think you could possibly come up with a philosophical system to gracefully navigate a world like that?

    Could you design a simple set of rules or guidelines which, so long as you followed it consistently, would allow you to interact with others — those others –in a safe and beneficial fashion?

    No. Of course not. In a loony bin like that, you’d be — uh, let me fall back on Sci-Fi swearing, here; the Farscape euphemism was “frelled” and the Battlestar Galactica euphemism was “frakked.” In a loony bin like that, you’d be frelled/frakked, to some degree, no matter what you did, most or all of the time.

    That is what foreign policy is like, all the time.

    This is not cynicism. I am not saying it doesn’t matter what approach you take.

    I am only saying that people exaggerate the difference between the outcomes produced by foreign policy decisions which were actually made, and the outcomes which would have occurred “If Only They Had Listened To Me.”

    If they had listened to you, things might have been a bit better. Or not. Most likely they’d have been better in some ways, worse in others, and, on balance, not much worse or better either way.

    “If Only-s” are a psychological manifestation: The grass always looks greener on the other side of an alternate history.

    But it’s an optical illusion. In foreign policy, the grass is pretty much yellowy-brown, on both sides.

  • georgie-ann

    i knew that was you, R.C.,….brilliant!

  • R.C.

    Aw, shucks, Georgie-Ann.

    If only people said such nice things when I was being an overly-wordy grumpy blowhard in person.

    Glad you appreciated it, though![smiley=happy]

  • I am not Spartacus

    Mr IANS, I usually agree with you but aren’t you confusing things a bit here? The Wilders trial is a result of globalist thinking , unrestrained immigration and postchristian euro politics. Nothing really to do withhow the Dutch conduct themselves in their foreign policies

    I didn’t explain myself very well. I was trying, but failed, to indicate that the nature of Islam is such that it must try and expand and dominate everywhere, which it will whether or not a country has troops in Satan’s Sand Trap or not.

    Another interesting, but unremarked upon reality is that Islam terrorised, invaded, killed and subjugated pacific Christians all over the ME and Islam now claims those lands are eternally Islamic; and even more bizarrely, that all history in those communities, cities, towns, provinces, states, etc essentially had NO history prior to Islam.

    No. I don;t have a blog but I thank you for your kind words.

  • mike m

    “Should the u.s. have fought WWII? yes or no?” No. “Would he (me) then of been happy with a nazi controlled europe? yes or no?” NO, but not any less happy than with a Soviet/Stalin controlled 1 we got. “Does he (me) think a nazi controlled Europe would of been a good thing? yes or no” No,, but not any worse than a Soviet/Stalinist controlled 1. The rest of the world will find it’s equilibrium.

  • mark

    The plot to kill the pope had ties back to the Soviet Union.

  • Pammie

    Perhaps I am a bit thick,but I can’t quite get what R.C.’s point is. Do you mean that it doesn’t matter what our foreign policy is, because someone will not be best pleased ? Or that it really doesn’t matter because we mortals cannot forsee all of the consequences of our foreign policy so that it is somewhat like a throw of the dice either way?

    And Mr IANS, I can agree with you about the nature of the hard core Muslim fundamentalists . I have no blinders about how miserable that world is and can become. But I think it is well worth noting that this fundamentalism found it’s political rebirth in the latter part of of the 20th century due to, IMHO, European and US encroachment upon and interference with majority Moslem territories. Up until then most Moslems seemed to be like most Western Christians, slightly bored with the whole subject of religion. When one whacks a beehive enough though, one will surely be stung.This is basically why I prefer we mind our own political business and leave others to mind theirs.

  • I am not Spartacus

    I would love to argue with you about that but because Friday is a Universal Day of Penance I am forswearing the banquet of bumping heads over this smilies/smiley.gif

    Besides, you are way too likeable to disagree with and not just because what you wrote is largely accurate.

  • Pammie

    Very kind of you to say so Mr IANS and thank you for the reminder. Another time perhaps.

  • R.C.


    My last post intended to provide an explanation why foreign policy makes for messy outcomes no matter what we do. It also meant to recommend an attitude that acknowledges our near-helplessness.

    We like to tout one or another philosophical approach to foreign policy: “I’m a neoconservative” or “I’m a non-interventionist” or “I’m an isolationist” or “I’m a realpolitik pragmatist” or whatever.

    These are descriptions. But the description is often accompanied with an assertion that our particular approach to foreign policy is superior to all the others.

    It’s okay to assert your particular approach to foreign policy is superior to all the others. (It would hardly be yours if you didn’t think so!) But it’s only okay to assert that up to a point. Be careful not to exaggerate the degree to which your approach consistently produces better results than the other approaches. The more realistically you’re thinking about things, the more you realize that degree of superiority is actually pretty small.

    Claims of the superiority of your approach, and the inferiority of other approaches, are unrealistic except when claimed degree of difference is small. Bombastically declaring the obvious idiocy of the other guy’s approach and the flawlessness of your own just shows ignorance of how tough foreign policy is.

    It’s okay to say: “I’m a non-interventionist because I believe that, while the best response to difficult international circumstances is not always the response indicated by non-interventionism, the non-interventionist response is often the best response and, even when it is not, it is usually one of the least-harmful of the not-best responses.”

    It’s okay to say that kind of thing because it acknowledges the fact that foreign policy is too messy to be navigable by a set of simple rules.

    (An Aside: The reason for the unusually severe messiness of foreign policy is a combination of the fallenness of human nature and the way that fallenness is exaggerated by the nature of government, leading to maximum exaggeration in the realm of foreign policy which consists of governments relating to other governments. This was a major topic of my previous post.)

    It is not okay to claim that it is obvious idiocy to be anything other than a non-interventionist, and that if only we’d been following non-interventionist policies up until now, everything would have been peachy keen and we would now be looking back with pride and contentment at the outcome of our string of unbroken non-interventionist responses to world events.

    It’s not okay — it is in fact foolish — to say that kind of thing because the foreign policy world is (a.) too messy for the same philosophy of responses to produce the best response every time; and (b.) sometimes even the best response results in outcomes which, while marginally better than the outcomes which would have been produced by different responses, are still awful.

    If we had made all our foreign policy decisions in the last 100 years according to the playbook of Foreign Policy Philosophy X, we would not be looking back with pride and contentment at the outcome of our consistent approach. We would instead be looking back with occasional pride, occasional befuddlement, and occasional horror, at the result of our decisions.

    (Kind of like we do now.)

    Moreover, we would probably conclude that our consistent philosophy, while it had often led us to the correct response, had often led us to a less-than-optimal response. We would also note that, as soon as we started being consistent, other countries whose interests conflicted with ours immediately adjusted their tactics to take best advantage of our predictability. Our very consistency worked in some ways to our disadvantage.

    If, after all of that, we still concluded that the philosophy we’d chosen was, after all, the best one, we might then observe: “How odd. We’ve been following the best philosophy of foreign policy decision-making for a hundred years now…yet the world is still a basket case! If we’ve been doing it right all this time, how come the world is still such a heartbreaking mess?”

    And that is when a dawn of understanding and humility would emerge: In the realm of foreign policy, almost more than any other, all the natural systemic forces are such that they tend to shove the world towards heartbreaking basket-case status. The world’s most powerful nation has about as much ability to unilaterally reverse the flow of that tide through mere correct decision making as does the world’s most powerful aardvark.

    We will know that understanding and humility have started to take hold when an isolationist says to a neoconservative (or vice versa), “Y’know, we opted for your method on that last crisis, and while I think it didn’t work out as well as my method would have, I must admit your way had some advantages I didn’t expect, and my way would probably have had substantial drawbacks which, not being God, I couldn’t even predict. I could be disingenuous right now and rave about how, after following your method, the situation is a mess. But rather than criticize you overmuch, I’m going to be honest enough to admit that had we done it my way, it’d be a different kind of mess, but still a mess.”

    That is the kind of attitude I’m recommending.

    I’m not saying we shouldn’t still have spirited discussions of the comparative advantages and disadvantages of every approach from neocolonialism to isolationism. I’m not saying a person can’t come to the conclusion that one philosophy, followed consistently, might produce outcomes slightly better than those produced by any of the other philosophies, if they were followed consistently.

    All that is very well, provided we carry with us this gracious and realistic attitude that acknowledges our predicament: We’re trying to build houses of cards outdoors in a hurricane, and we can afford to be gracious when criticizing the strategems that others employ in building their card-houses, because, y’know, our own strategy doesn’t keep our card-houses standing for very long, either.

    Make sense?

  • mike m

    To argue against a noninterventionist foreign policy, 1 would have to state an interventionist case. For example,1 would have to state a Wilsonian “keep the world safe for democracy case, or it’s current neocon preemptive war case. 1 can’t have it both ways. If 1 says that no foreign policy posture yields any specific benefits, then clearly, the 1 that expends the least blood & treasure is superior. Hence a noninterventionist foreign policy. All this besides the fact what Christ/ the church would say & what’s morally right.

  • Austin

    The old Wilsonian “Make the world safe for democracy” and the modern neo-con pre-emptive war philosophies are a failure. They have led us down the road to constant war in country after country and financial ruin. There is a difference between a strong national defense and unnecessary wars. You only fight when you have to. War is not Option A on a PowerPoint presentation. The chickenhawks in both parties need to understand that. Have the Bushes, Cheneys, Krauthammers, Poderhotzs, Liebermans’ etc lost any children in Iraq and Afghanistan? I don’t think so. Chickenhawks who have never heard a shot fired in anger in their lives, but are so quick to sacrifice other people’s children. Moral and physical cowards all.

  • R.C.


    I should point out that Austin’s last post stands as a good example of the type of attitude I was not encouraging.

  • Pammie

    Yes R.C. , eminently so. I too think that a civilised and learned attitude toward any topic of disagreement is conducive to improving the quality of discussion. A humble recognition of human limitations will never go amiss in any situation be it in private judgement or politics.

    That being said and agreed to there are just some topics that seem to “hit a nerve” with more people than others. Generally when one has had experience with the topic, one is far more likely to be passionate pro or con, what ever position resonates most with the person’s experience.

    For example Austin and his family members have seen the horrors of war and have suffered because of it. He will naturally be unlikely to ever favor a war, unless absolutely necessary. I give more value to his opinion on that topic than to those who have never “put their money where their mouth is” so to speak.

    At the risk of being too personal (never good to form a premise on the merely personal) I have seen the consequences of random,intrusive political action in the ME, for example. I’ve looked into the eyes of a mother whose child was doing homework one minute and lying in a pool of blood the next, never to recover. Something that’s a statistic on telly for most,is a hole in the heart of one family forever.I understand that what is an intriguing topic of disagreement for most of us, results in consequences for many people intensely painful and life changing. And why it is so important to get it right as much as possible.

    So we continue to debate and that is how it must be. We should always remember to have charity towards one another and never forget our human limitations , as you have nicely reminded us.

  • Austin

    Is there a problem with my attitude about unnecessary war? The Neo-Cons try to smear those of use who oppose unnecessary war as being “unpatriotic.” Nonsense. The true patriot does not lead his nation into unnecessary war. Only a fool goes to war when he does not have to.

    Also, those “interventionists” are assuming that our intervention will work out exactly as intended. Rarely does this happen. Vietnam did not work out well and Iraq has not worked out well. A rational person would think that this would cause the neo-cons to think a bit priot to attempting to invade and occupy other nations. Perhaps this is the problem? They are not rational.

  • R.C.


    If you don’t see the source of my objections, after both reading my earlier posts and your post to which I was reacting, then it suggests that you think that not only the overall thrust, but the tone and specific arguments of your post were entirely reasonable, and that you have no regrets about them, even after a second reading. Is that right?

    If so, I will likely not be able to convince you otherwise.

    And if I try, it will require me to argue against your criticisms of “neo-cons” and “chickenhawks” and whomever. But I do not myself agree with all the things said by the people to whom you apply those two invectives. In disagreeing with you, I will wind up seeming to champion things or people with which I myself disagree with, albeit in different ways. That’s always difficult to do.

    So what should I do?

    I find myself wincing as I say this, but: Alright, dammit, I’ll try to make the case. All I can say in advance is: If you’re less than convinced, or even less than impressed, at what follows, then consider that in certain ways, I feel similarly.

    Okay. [Deep breath.]

    Your first statement:

    The old Wilsonian “Make the world safe for democracy” and the modern neo-con pre-emptive war philosophies are a failure.

    Hmmm. What defines success, for either one? There are at least two ways we can go, here:

    1. We can base the threshold for success on whether the reality after War X meets or fails to meet the expectations of how nice the outcome was supposed to be according to those who sold us on the idea of going to war; or,

    2. We can base our definition of success on whether the reality after War X is better or worse than it would have been had we opted for any other policy.

    I myself believe that while option 1 is reasonable to use as a criterion for re-electing particular politicians, option 2 is the better standard for judging the policy overall.

    But when judged by Option 2, the wars you decry are hard to judge. Aslan tells Lucy “No one is ever told what would have happened.” And in fact the correct standard for judging the morality of someone’s decision is different from the standard for judging its wisdom: For the latter, it’s fair to take into account what actually happened, but for the former, one is obligated to stand in “the decider’s” shoes at the time the decision was being made and judge him on the basis of what his best available predictions told him would occur if he did, or didn’t, go to war.

    But they’re also hard to judge because there’s sometimes good reason to believe the outcome of going to war was really significantly better than the outcome of doing otherwise.


  • R.C.


    Take the Vietnam War. Had it not been for cultural shifts in the U.S. inadequately understood by those conducting the war, that war was quite winnable. And the obvious comparison is to contrast what happened to South Korea, where we managed to preserve half the country, with what happened in South Vietnam, where we gave up the whole place.

    By that standard, it was a horrific human rights abuse that we left South Vietnam. How much better off would those millions of Vietnamese been, had their outcome followed the model of South Korea, with its high incomes and astounding per-capita number of PhDs? Not many PhDs among the refugees.

    But there are counterarguments against that. I am only offering it as an example of “what might have been”: The only optimal standard for judging a policy, but one which requires a lot of guessing.

    Your next statement is:

    They have led us down the road to constant war in country after country and financial ruin.

    The first half of the statement (constant war) bears scrutiny. The second half (financial ruin) does not. There is obviously no causal connection between the war in Iraq and the fact that decades of negative real interest rates, together with perverse incentives generated by bad laws and regulations, produced a binge, a bubble, and a bust in recent years. And the expense of recent wars is tiny compared to the upcoming collision between entitlement spending and revenues which can’t be sufficiently increased because we’re already near the tipping point of the Laffer curve.

    But I don’t know that you were trying to make a substantive argument there. I think you were expressing emotion.

    There is a difference between a strong national defense and unnecessary wars.

    No one disagrees with that statement. Are you attacking a straw man, here? A fictional neo-con who would disagree with that statement?

    To engage helpfully in a debate, you must attack or defend a point which is actually in contention.

    For example, you could make an argument for how to tell (without benefit of hindsight) when a war is necessary or unnecessary.

    Or you could argue that only necessary wars should be fought. Depending on how strict your standards were for what makes a war “necessary,” you might find yourself arguing that the U.S. War of Independence should not have been fought, or that the U.S. should have made a pact with Hitler. (Remember: Your standard applies only to what is known by the decision-makers at the time they must make the decision to go to war.)


  • R.C.


    You only fight when you have to. War is not Option A on a PowerPoint presentation.

    In the first half of this quote, you’re making a useful statement, albeit without definition (a set of conditions that must be met to equate to “have to”) or supporting argumentation.

    But the second half is a straw man. Not Cheney or Wolfowitz or Krauthammer or any of those folks ever regarded war as their first choice. They just thought it was a better choice than the alternatives, after disregarding alternatives which you, perhaps, regarded as real but which they regarded as fantastical.

    The chickenhawks in both parties need to understand that. Have the Bushes, Cheneys, Krauthammers, Poderhotzs, Liebermans’ etc lost any children in Iraq and Afghanistan? I don’t think so. Chickenhawks who have never heard a shot fired in anger in their lives, but are so quick to sacrifice other people’s children.

    See, now, there you really lose all your credibility. It’s difficult to take a person seriously after they drop troll-bait in that fashion. Pammie makes reference to some biographical details which work to excuse this kind of thing in your case: But don’t push it.

    A near-perfect comparison is with dissenter Catholics who say that priests have no call to criticize people for using contraceptives because they aren’t married, and that the Pope can’t possibly be right to teach that, because he isn’t married either.

    The response to this is that it’s a logical fallacy (at least one). If X is correct, then X is correct even if the person saying it lacks some personal involvement which sometimes discourages other people from saying it.

    And notice that your argument works both ways: We often prefer to have the person making a decision be someone utterly devoid of personal involvement so that their judgement is rendered coolly and disinterestedly (as in the case of judges).

    And the term “chickenhawk” contains the word “chicken,” with connotations of cowardice. Lest anyone think this was accidental on your part, you emphasize it: “Moral and physical cowards all.”

    But you have no evidence of any of the above exhibiting moral or physical cowardice. To exhibit this, you would need to show that one of these persons (a.) knew it was morally obligatory to do X, and (b.) failed to do so out of venality or fear for their personal safety. You have provided no such evidence, and I doubt you can. If you can’t, this is just name-calling.

    I particularly think it’s unwise for you to call Charles Krauthammer a physical coward. It’s difficult to judge the cowardice of a wheelchair-bound man, but my own inclination is to give him the benefit of the doubt.

    Austin, you seem sensitive to being called “unpatriotic” for not supporting the Iraq War. I personally have never encountered anyone among the Iraq War supporters who leveled that charge against someone who opposed the war on the merits. (The rare times I’ve seen it leveled, it was usually against someone who exhibited a distaste for America, and a preference for almost any other country in the world, as a sort of general attitude.)

    But, assuming someone has called you unpatriotic for your stance, then not only were they wrong to do so, but you have some justification for being sensitive about it.

    That said, some of the things you said in the post I’ve been challenging were at least as unjust. And parts of it just didn’t sound very bright.

    But look. I don’t wish to be ungracious here and I want to be mindful of the biographical details to which Pammie alluded. I think there are very good arguments to be made against the opinions of neoconservatives — if you’re willing to know their arguments well enough to challenge what those arguments really are, and not straw-man versions of them.

    I exhort you, therefore, to make the good arguments. I don’t think the conversation is advanced by the things you said, which I challenged. But it can be advanced. The persons you listed are neither moral nor policy idiots. They have reasons for their opinions. Those reasons are not flawless: Learn the weak points and attack them!

    After all, to win an argument, you must defeat the best available form of the other fellow’s argument, not some caricature of it. But better yet, you can also opt to win the debate while remaining classier than your opponent. Substance and style: That’s the best of both worlds.


  • mike m

    Exactly. I hope you undertand that that was my point. I’d also suggest that we should never fight a war that we could afford to lose. (for the record. i support neither side of the aisle. you mentioned bush, cheney, poderhottz, krauthammer, liebermann. hope you understand that it goes to both sides . from wilson, to fdr, to truman, to jfk, to lbj,(macnamara) to clinton (in bosnia),& all their bankster sponsors, etc, mass murders, all of goes on & on & on & on…

  • mike m

    Addendum to my last post. Forgot to mention the “peace” guy Obama.

  • Austin

    One never really knows what the outcome of a war will be prior to launching a war. It may work out exactly as intended, or it may not, which more often is the case. Perhaps those in authority should be considering the consequences of not acting vs. the consequences of acting, when the outcome does not work out?

    Let’s talk about Vietnam, since we have the benefit of years of hindsight. You mention that Vietnam was “winnable.” Well, that depends on your definition of winning. Perhaps we could have propped up a corrupt, incompetent South Vietnamese puppet government for decades, at the cost of more tens of thousands of American lives, not to mention millions of Vietnamese lives, both North and South. Or perhaps the eventual outcome would have been the same as what actually happened. Remember the North Vietnamese did not have to actually defeat us in the field, they only had to hang on and knew that eventually we woould grow weary of the war and go away.

    We botched Vietnam for many reasons, not the least of which is our failure to know our enemy. Ho Chi Minh was a Communist but he was first a Vietnamese nationalist who wanted a unified Vietnam. He was not a Soviet or Chinese puppet. Quite the contrary. Had we treated him more like say Tito, we may have been able to use him as a counterweight to the Chinese. We will never know, but I think a better outcome would have been a nonaligned Vietnam (like Yugoslavia) without all the bloodshed.

    Regarding Iraq, you mention the neo-cons did not want a war. I think perhaps you are being generous here. From what I have read and seen, they did in fact want a war, they wanted a US base in the Persian Gulf, a US puppet government in Iraq. Well, we got that, but are we really any better off? Are we any more secure? I think not. When you consider the costs, I believe that Iraq was an enormous mistake.

    You say that those who have not served have just as much right to speak their mind as those who have served. You are correct. One thing though, having served and seen war first hand, you do get some idea of the horrific cost of war. This tends to temper your judgement more than a little.

    You seem to think that we made the right call with all of our wars: well, I tend to agree with WWII and Korea, but I disagree with Vietnam and Iraq. If we had not gone into Vietnam and Iraq, would we be much worse off? There is no way to know this, but one thing for sure, there would have been a lot less death and destruction for everyone concerned.

    R.C. you are obviously a smart guy, but you remind me of former Secretary of Defense Robert S MacNamara, the man who knew the price of everything, and the value of nothing. War is not just words and numbers on a piece of paper. It is flesh and blood people, Americans and others being killed and maimed. Visit a VA hospital and see a 20 year old being fitted with prosthetic arms and legs and then ask Cheney and Wolfowicz what other countries we should invade.

    This is not a high school debating society, it is the real world, and actions have consequences. I don’t need your patronizing “assistance” to make a point. You seem to have some qualms about the neo-cons, but you refuse to really go after them. Where do you stand?

  • Pammie

    R.C. I’m going to read your last post over and over. I would like to improve the effectiveness of my arguments and to be able to see the weaknesses inherent in them. Personal experience has the potential to “fire one up” as it were , but by it’s nature does not have the power to convince others of the validity and desirability of one’s position on any debatable issue.Thank you for taking the time to better illustate how to accomplish that.

  • Mark

    “..well, I tend to agree with WWII and Korea, but I disagree with Vietnam and Iraq”

    Pat Buchanan believes that we should not have entered the war in Europe. On an episode of the McLaughlin Group a few years ago, he stated that our war was with the country who attacked us (Japan) not Germany or any of the “isms”

    Why do you believe he is wrong?


  • R.C.


    I think this is one of those cases where it doesn’t make sense for me to reply to your various points in the order you wrote them.

    So, to address your final item first:

    You seem to have some qualms about the neo-cons, but you refuse to really go after them. Where do you stand?

    A fair question.

    I think the U.S. government, including the Democrats in Congress, made judgement calls about the likely outcome of the Iraq war which were ill-informed by bad intel. I think the bad intel was partially the fault of earlier mishandling of the intelligence community by left-leaning politicians, but also that when the time came to decide on invasion, elected officials of both parties didn’t exercise sufficient due dilligence in fisking the intel. That part was their fault.

    I think the Bush administration didn’t fisk the intel because they were disgusted and out of patience with Saddam after a decade of cease-fire violations, ongoing pot-shots at U.S. pilots, funding and training of terrorists, the corrupting of the oil-for-food program into a payola scheme for Saddam’s supporters at the U.N., and of course the assassination attempt on G.H.W. I also think they felt obligated, after so much speechifying, to really implement the Bush doctrine, and were tempted by the fact that Saddam had repeatedly violated the ceasefire agreement, giving the U.S. ample justification for resuming hostilities.

    I think the loyal opposition didn’t fisk the intel because they weren’t quite convinced of their own loyalty, and sensitive to Clinton’s relative inaction after the Cole bombing and the Black Hawk Down incident, and in a post 9/11 world they wanted to demonstrate more testicular fortitude than had been their usual habit.

    I think the region in general, and the Iraqis in particular, are better off (in the long run) for having Saddam gone, even at the cost of so many lives. (Innocent Iraqis lost to date probably exceed those lost over a similar period of time to Saddam’s usual purges and genocides, but had he lived another decade or so practicing his business-as-usual, he’d have easily caught up. We forget he tended to burn through sometimes a couple of percentage points of his own population annually.)

    But I do not think the U.S. is better off than it would have been had we chosen not to invade. Therefore, while Iraqis may ultimately have benefited from all this trauma, the U.S. should not have done it: I believe that decision makers in the U.S. are required to balance the impact of decisions on the U.S. more heavily than the impact of those decisions on people elsewhere. It’s true that people are people, with equal dignity in the eyes of God, but the people of the United States are the specific responsibility of the elected officials of the U.S.; consequently in making decisions those elected officials are obligated to attend to the needs of the U.S. first.

    You say that I “refuse to go after” the “neo-cons.” If by “go after” you mean excoriate, you are correct. I believe criticism, not excoriation, is called for. I believe that criticism should not be false; that is, it should not criticise those who supported the invasion for opinions or ideas or motives that they never held. I do not think that such falsehoods are justified.

    And so when the impact of the error is weighed against the impact of letting Saddam stay; I find myself wishing he’d stayed…but finding that a pretty distasteful outcome, too. When the actual motives of those making the decision to invade are considered, I find them unwise, but given the information they had at the time, I am not confident I would have acted differently. I think I would, but I am not confident of it. I would in particular have been sorely tempted by the fact that the U.N. Security Council was opposed. So many things in history could have been decided well by looking at what the U.N. Security council wanted and doing the opposite, that this would have seemed to me to recommend the invasion pretty strongly.

    Anyhow, I am not afraid to judge my fellow man when I am using a standard that I think I can easily meet or exceed. But when I have reason to fear being judged by the same standard, I am more reticent. (Seems to me Jesus made a relevant comment about judging.)

    So I criticize, but do not excoriate.

    I’ll respond to your remaining items in my next post.

  • Austin

    Mark, Buchanan is wrong about WWII because Japan attacked us and Germany declared war on us, and was in fact already sinking US ships in the Atlantic. Buchanan is however, right about a lot of things: A republic, not an empire.

    R.C. So you criticize neo-cons but do not excoriate them. As if excoriating them was somehow cruel, like say, waterboarding?
    Given the consequences of their (neo-cons) errors, I think a little excoriation is not so very bad, and may well be perfectly justified.

    Yes, Saddam was a “bad man” but must we invade and occupy every tyrant on earth? Or just the ones who we perceive to be a threat to Israel? Oh my, there I said it. The Elephant in the room, defending Israel to the last American soldier and last dollar. I agree that we should support Israel, but must we blindly follow their orders? They want us to attack Iran. Here we go again, Two wars is not enough, we must have another war, against an even bigger nation. I think my statement about constant war is actually very accurate.

    The neo-cons have taken us on the road to ruin. I believe it is only “fair and reasonable” to question their policies which do not appear to be working. We cannot be at war in the entire middle east. Also, I hear this talk of “surgical strikes.” What makes the neo-cons so sure that the Iranians will not hit back, right here in the US? Deter them, do Not attack them.

  • R.C.

    To deal with the other points you raised in your post:

    One never really knows what the outcome of a war will be prior to launching a war. It may work out exactly as intended, or it may not, which more often is the case.

    No argument, there. No plan survives contact with the enemy.

    Perhaps those in authority should be considering the consequences of not acting vs. the consequences of acting, when the outcome does not work out?

    What makes you think they didn’t? To have considered the alternatives and to have estimated the outcomes incorrectly is different than to have not considered the outcomes at all.

    You mention that Vietnam was “winnable.” Well, that depends on your definition of winning. Perhaps we could have propped up a corrupt, incompetent South Vietnamese puppet government for decades, at the cost of more tens of thousands of American lives…

    I think you go awry there when you say “decades.” The early years after the Korean conflict were similar to that, but it didn’t last decades. There are differences, but the comparison between the two conflicts are about as close as you can get: Similar cultural and racial and economic and strategic background. We’d have propped up the South until they got their feet under them, as we did in Korea; after that, the differences between a free South and an enslaved North would have begun to reveal themselves over time, as in Korea. I don’t know that the Vietnamese would have produced as many PhDs as the Koreans did, though I know of no particular reasons why not. I suspect by the early 90’s they’d have been another Asian Tiger like Taiwan.

    But it’s hard to say, so you try to account for the uncertainty by saying, “What if there’s only a 50% chance that they turn out that good, and a 50% chance they remain a basket case like Austin’s crystal ball seems to suggest?” You can’t make a decision that way. So to combine the two, you say, “Fine, assume they only advance half as well as the South Koreans did: They wind up less like South Korea, more like the Philippines. Is that good enough?” It’s a close call, but I lean “yes.” It’s certainly far better for the South Vietnamese. The only question is, when U.S. decision-makers exercise their responsibility to prioritize U.S. needs first — when we’re more internationally selfish than internationally charitable — is improving the lot of the South Vietnamese by that much worth that much effort to us? Probably not.

    This is not a high school debating society, it is the real world, and actions have consequences. I don’t need your patronizing “assistance” to make a point.

    I’m sorry I came across that way. Perhaps when one adult feels they must criticize or exhort another, it inevitably risks sounding condescending. I apologize.

    All the same, I don’t see the point of observing, “This is not a high school debating society.”

    For of course my criticisms of your earlier post were largely a plea for accuracy, and for staying classy (which builds credibility).

    Now when a debate matters a lot it becomes even more important that it generate more light than heat, and that one’s credibility not be undermined unnecessarily by appearing to be a “troll.”

    Maybe it’s easier for a high-schooler debating water quality policy (about which he doesn’t give a frog’s fat fanny) with some other high-schooler (who also doesn’t give the aforementioned weight-challenged amphibian’s hindquarters) to remain cool and disinterested throughout the debate. You’re right: National policy is consequential. People’s lives hang in the balance.

    But, again, all the more important to do it right.

    I think that’s about it. Most of your other points were prior to my declaring my own criticisms re: the Iraq war, and assume that I don’t think it was a mistake. As I stated above, I do think it was an error, but of a less inexcusable kind than you seem to think.

  • Mark

    “In October 1998, removing the Hussein regime became official US foreign policy with enactment of the “Iraq Liberation Act.” Enacted following the expulsion of UN weapons inspectors”

    – Saddam brought the whole thing upon himself

    – “neo-cons” must include the Clintons (see date 1998 above) and Barack Obama because of his escalation of the war in Afghanistan. Seriously, the term “neo-con” has virtually no meaning any longer since there is nothing conservative about Barack Obama.

    – Approx. 400,000 Americans were killed during WWII and 4000 in Iraq. That’s 1% of the loss in Europe to remove Saddam. I find it more than a little ironic that a man who constantly rants about the loss of lives in Iraq seems to be just fine with 100 times that number lost in Europe… over a couple of ships? Oh, and like Hitler, Saddam declared war against America.

    People with 20/20 hindsight regarding “Iraq not being worth it” often forget their predictions:

    – Iraq has the FOURTH largest army in the world!
    – We will see body bags coming home in the tens of thousands.
    – More U.S. soldiers will be killed in Iraq than were killed in Viet Nam
    – We could never win a war in Iraq

    Austin, why do you believe that the Korean War was a good idea?

  • Austin

    R.C., you are very charitble to say that Iraq was a mistake, but
    less inexcusable than I think. Perhaps you are right, but if I had family who had been killed or maimed I might tend to think Bush & Co, should not so easilly be forgiven. I am glad you think it was a mistake though, albeit not as big of a mistake as I seem to think. Nonetheless, prior to launching a war, I think that we agree there should be at least a better than 50/50 chance of success, or else, don’t go there.

    Mark, Yes, I think WWII was necessary and this is coming from a man who never got to meet his grandfather due to him being killed in WWII. To compare the 400,000 KIA in WWII vs the 4,000 in Iraq is not a good comparision. Yes, some people seemed to think that our casualities would be far more, but of course, our truly crackerjack military was able to pull it off with a minimum of casualities. The heavy losses really occurred after the “war” during the occupation.

    I believe the Iraqi war was a mistake. Does this make me a traitor? A man who does not support the troops? I don’t think so. You can love your country, support your soldiers and not agree with the politicians who run the Government.

    You are right about one thing though: neo-cons are not true conservatives. There is nothing “conservative” about unnecessary war. Also, the Catholic Church maintains a “just war” policy, and I do not believe that the Iraqi war was a “just war.” Remember Pope JP II did not categorically define the Iraqi war as an “unjust war” but he cautioned W Bush against launching it and was against it. I will put my trust in Pope JP II and Pope Benedict before I put it in politicians who tend to be a bit less than strict about the truth.

    Personal Note: My grandfather was KIA in WWII, my father served in WWII and Korea and I served in Vietnam. I do not want my children getting killed or maimed in some foolish war. None of my children have served and that is just fine with me. I wore the uniform and wore it with pride in harms way, and would do it again. I value the lives of my children more than my own and want them to live and provide me with grandchildren (selfish old man that I am). I do not want my children killed or maimed for a mistake or for some phony, balony, macho politician.

  • Mark

    “I believe the Iraqi war was a mistake. Does this make me a traitor?”

    Not at all, and I hope you didn’t infer that from my comments.

    “You can love your country, support your soldiers and not agree with the politicians who run the Government.”


    “My grandfather was KIA in WWII”

    I’m sorry to hear that.

    Not to be tedious, but I really would like to know why you believe that the Korean War was a good idea.

    As always, thank you.

  • mike m

    War is health of the state.

  • mike m

    “Whereever the standard of freedom & independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will be America’s heart, her benedictions & her prayers be. But she goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well wisher to the freedom & independence of all. She is the champion & vindicator only of her own.” John Quincy Adams