Saturday, May 14, 2011

Response to "The Neo-Cons Won"

Blogger, the platform (owned by Google) on which this Slog runs, has been having severe problems, which is why the "The Neo-Cons Won" entry disappeared for a while. It's back, and Google promises to restore the comments which were lost, but, meanwhile, I'm replaying the comment discussion below.

Posted by
Jim, do you at least acknowledge the nature of the choice Obama was faced with in receiving the information that OBL was hiding out (and quite possibly being harbored by) Pakistan? Presumably, the strictly correct thing to do under international law would be to present Pakistan with the evidence on where he is and ask them to turn over the criminal. If you're Obama at this point, you have to assume there's a good chance that OBL gets tipped off and escapes in that scenario, in which case you're facing almost certain electoral defeat at best and an attempt at impeachment at worst, with resignation looking like a good option.

Let's imagine a scenario where a terrorist blows up the Eiffel Tower, killing thousands, and the CIA harbors him on American soil. The French find out and send a commando team to get the guy. Sure, a lot of Americans would be outraged, but could you really say the French would be unjustified in their actions? I think the discussion changes depending on whether or not Pakistan was knowingly harboring OBL.

I hate to bring Nazis into it, but was the Mossad justified in going into Argentina to get Eichmann? If they'd killed him rather than capturing him, would the answer be different? At what point do other considerations trump sovereignty?

Posted by Jim Leff:
Totally agreed that if we'd notified Pakistan, he might have been tipped off. Totally agreed that he's a very bad, dangerous man...a worst case scenario. And I'm personally content - though not exultant - with his being dead (his family, not so much). So that's that.

"Let's imagine a scenario where a terrorist blows up the Eiffel Tower, killing thousands, and the CIA harbors him on American soil"

If you have proof of that, you declare war on America and go in, yup. But we don't have proof the ISI harbored him. It seems possible or even likely that the more assholey elements of ISI knew or even aided. But it's not at all likely that the gov of Pakistan at large knew/helped.

If in your scenario a rogue element of the CIA may have aided/abetted the Eiffel Tower guy (no conclusive proof), no, I wouldn't be happy with French troops blasting in. Would you?

I don't mean to just pick away at your example. If you want to present another, I'll ponder open-mindedly.

Nazis are actually a good example. The overwhelming majority of them were extradited, not grabbed. And they were dangerous criminals against humanity. Re: Argentina, yep, I disapprove. As a former philosophy major, I have a deep aversion to slippery slopes. The phrase ".....yeah, but this guy was really extra egregiously bad" won't move me past my moral stops (just as I didn't think 9/11 justified curtailment of civil liberties e.g. the Patriot Act).

But, look, this is all somewhat off-point for me. What I've been trying to express in my 3 or 4 OBL postings isn't that we did clear wrong. What I'm saying is that reaction has been, IMO, unthoughtful. The fist pumping and chants in the streets was savage and distasteful (and brought us down to the lowest level). The use of the word "justice" - even by Obama! - in reference to a summary execution was troubling. And the inability of Americans to recognize the complicated and dangerous precedent we increasingly set with our blithe incursions into other people's territory, just because we (including me!!) happen to have an important goal....well, that can only be explained by feelings of American Exceptionalism, I think (though I'm open to other interpretations!).

Thanks for posting!


Ghalib Suleiman said...

Right from the beginning, America was founded on the very idea of exceptionalism, no? This is why it's so ingrained in the culture. See for example

Jim Leff said...

Perhaps. Hard for me to know, being right in the middle of it. '

Weird being both Jewish ("Chosen People", yadda yadda) and America (exceptionalism). I actually feel pretty damn prosaic, strangely enough.

Steve said...

I was going to thank you for expanding on your thoughts in response to my comment when Blogger flipped out. Just a couple additional thoughts:
I think the idea of Bin Laden as an active threat may have been a stronger justification for unilateral action than the idea of justice for past crimes. I wonder if the distortion of what constitutes a "clear and present danger" in the invasion of Iraq explains why Obama felt the need to emphasize the justice angle. Was he afraid of sounding like a neo-con by talking too much about self-defense even if he had a more legit case to make? I'm still not totally convinced that the neo-cons have "won", but they've certainly changed the climate in which foreign policy decisions are made and talked about.

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