Saturday, December 20, 2003

rhetorical cage match

Some quotes from the Cerebral Bypass guest post by ForensicHorologist on all that was wrong with the Iraq war and what we're doing now, with special attention to transnational progressivism (hereinafter "TP"):

On the question of the permissibility of the use of force and who is to decide, as long as there is a legitimate world body whose decisions are discussed democratically, and these decisions are respected by its member states, and this body has enforcement powers of its own, then the answer is elementary. But if the U.N. wishes to be this body, then they cannot depend on the United States to be its principal enforcer. As long as the U.S. continues its go-it-alone, cowboy attitude, irregardless of what this world community says, then it further robs the U.N. of any credibility that it may have once had. If the creator of the U.N. refuses to heed the U.N.'s opinion, who else is likely to?

'Preventive war' is a convenient phrase for 'first strike'. Up to this point in history, the U.S. reputation for never attacking unless attacked itself has kept us out of trouble. This form of [detente] has now been trashed, and any respect we once had has been severely sullied. I remember shortly after the attacks on Iraq started how other nations voiced great concern that they might be next. There would have been none of this if the war had even hinted at the smallest legitimization in the world view. If this were the case, then maybe other nations might know where they stood. Any way you slice it, the attack on Iraq cannot be justified. Don't get me wrong- Saddam Hussein is a despot, and the Iraqi people are better off without him. I am not against him being deposed. I am against the way he was deposed- specifically, the way this war has been conducted. 'Preventive war' is a [coward's] excuse. It would be no surprise to me if sometime in the near future, another country or group of countries (or even a certain terrorist group) decided that they would launch a 'preventive war' against US because we MIGHT be coming after them next. What's good for the goose is good for the gander.

Regarding state sovereignty and the international community's responsibility to intrastate human rights violations- as long as the world community holds human rights as dear, if a country's people (as opposed to a country's government, in this instance) ask for interdiction, then they should have it or at the very least have interdiction on their half considered. We are not so naive as to believe that a government, ANY government, always has its citizen's best interests in mind. There must be enforceable accountability of some sort held to all governments.

Let's pit this against Steven Den Beste's dim view (which I now share) of TP:


I think those commentators have made the mistake of taking the leftists at their word. For example, Tacitus comments acidly on leftist claims that Saddam's trial would lack "legitimacy" unless it was handled by some sort of international tribunal. But that's only what they say. What they're thinking is that if this is not handled by an international tribunal, then the concepts of "international justice" and "international law" will themselves lose legitimacy.

For a long time now, transnationalists have been working to establish a world government. Their goal is nothing less than world conquest, but since they do not intend violent conquest, their means has been persuasion. What they hope is to create embryonic manifestations of world government and then to try to talk about them as if they were already established. If they can convince enough people (and the right people) that there even is such a thing as "international law", then it becomes true.

So they push that idea by hiding it. When discussing a nation which refuses to go along with them, they talk about that nation as a scofflaw rather than openly acknowledging the philosophical disagreement about whether there even is such a thing as "international law".

But the events of the last two years have not been kind to the transnationalists. There have been events which they think should properly be dealt with on the international level, but it's all gone wrong.

There was, for instance, their attempts to use the UN as a sort of international parliament. From their point of view the UN is deeply flawed, since the General Assembly has no practical power, and the US has a veto in the Security Council. But it was the best they had, and in a time of World War they demanded that the UN be involved in all decisions about where to fight and what to fight about.

But the US and its (true) allies fought in Afghanistan without even a token consultation with the UN. When the time came for the next major battle of the war, in Iraq, they did consult the UN, but after months of apparently pointless wrangling, they ultimately kissed the UN off and attacked without formal UN approval.

For transnationalists, both results were terrible. And they were reduced to hoping that somehow each of those operations would turn out to be a debacle for the attackers, somehow hoping that the course of events would do what no human agency seemed capable of: punishing the "unilateralists" for their failure to submit themselves to world governance.

"Unilateralism" is a term which the transnationalists have used pejoratively to label many of the actions of the US and its closest allies, who should instead of have embraced "multilateralism". Taken literally, the application of those two terms has been nonsense, since America had the support of many nations both in Afghanistan and in Iraq. But they're being used as code words, with new meanings. "Multilateralism" means submitting yourself to world governance and ignoring your own narrow self interest; "unilateralism" means a refusal to sacrifice sovereignty and an insistence on acting out of self-interest.

When America was wakened from its slumber by a brutal attack on its number 1 city, and when in response it seemed to become pugnacious, nationalistic, and "unilateral", it was a profound threat. America is the most powerful nation on the planet, the sole remaining superpower left standing after the Cold War. Its military power was unmatched; its economy was immense; it led the world in science and engineering; its diplomatic influence was felt everywhere. It was the hyperpuissance and without American acquiescence and submission, the transnational goal of world government could not be achieved.

The US had long been viewed as the biggest problem facing transnationalism, for there seemed little hope that Americans would lose faith in the system which had been so successful. There was an ongoing effort by many transnationalists to try to colonize the future by capturing control of the agenda in America's schools and indoctrinating America's children with the basic transnational concepts, but success was only partial, and it had not progressed very far. Transnationalists had hoped that some major setback might shatter American pride and confidence, and the 9/11 attacks seemed to have that potential. It was perceived by transnationalists that most Americans were oblivious to the negative effects that the transnationalists saw the rest of the world suffering because of American policies, and because of the very existence of the American system. Perhaps now that there had been backlash, Americans might wake up, might start to think about what their government had been doing, might feel shame, and might recognize that they had to stop being "unilateral". For about a week after 9/11, there was an outpouring of sympathy and support, but that rapidly faded when it became clear that Americans weren't reacting the right way. They were not treating the attack as being a clear consequence of prior American policy, and were not thus acknowledging failure. On the contrary, what transnationalists saw was what they viewed as the worst, most atavistic response imaginable. Not only did Americans not come to doubt the wisdom of their system and begin to consider the obviously more-enlightened possibility of world governance, they rather seemed to become militantly nationalistic, with an emphasis on "militant". Their determination and self confidence swelled, and they girded for war.

America was the most important battlefield for the transnationalists. Without political victory in America, they had no hope of success overall. Their only hope was for the "American Street" to lose heart, to become dejected and depressed, to be defeated in spirit. Transnationalists tried to push defeatism and doubt and feelings of failure, but also knew that this was futile unless American actions were met with failure. After the 9/11 attacks didn't make Americans lose heart, they hoped that each successive major action by America might be the one which might deflate these brash, confident, overbearing unilateralists. Thus they found themselves in the position of hoping that America would face defeat.

But I think that was an uncomfortable position for many of the transnationalists, because it put them in the position of hoping that America's enemies would win. Problem was that the two specific enemies we intended to take down-- Taliban rule in Afghanistan, and Baathist rule in Iraq-- were monstrous. The transnationalist goal of a world government is predicated on the idea that establishment of a world government would make the world a better place.


Groups like the Taliban had been a source of discomfort for transnationalists for a long time. If they truly believed that a world government formed of representatives of all of its various nations should have binding power to rule, even to the point of being able to force particular nations or particular governments to forgo their own self interest and to adopt policies intended for the benefit of the world, how could such a thing be possible when so many of the world's governments were corrupt, brutal, and sordid? It was a nagging doubt, a problem where their high ideals didn't somehow seem to survive encounter with the real world. This real world failure was an experience they would face many times as the War on Terrorism progressed.

But before September of 2001, the existence of governments such as the Taliban was a gnawing long-term problem which was not urgent, something which could be rationalized: "Eventually they'll have to be reformed. Once we're victorious and the world government is a reality, we'll be able to use the world government to pressure those nations to improve." However, 9/11 made the issue of the Taliban immediate and undeniable, and presented the transnationalists with an unpalatable choice. They opposed both sides in the looming conflict, but which did they oppose more?

On a strictly moral basis, there was no question that the Taliban were incomparably worse than the Americans. But pragmatically speaking the Americans were far more of a threat to the transnationalist goal of establishing world government, and if the Americans triumphed it would only reinforce American self-righteousness and self-confidence, nullifying decades of slow work aimed at convincing Americans to yield sovereignty to the nascent world government as it already existed in embryonic form. Ultimately the transnational movement swallowed its moral repugnance for the Taliban and embraced the pragmatic judgment that in the long run more people would suffer if America won than if the Taliban won.

For some this was not really much of an internal struggle. Their world view was highly abstract; their compassion was for symbolic groups rather than real people. Not to put too fine a point on it, a lot of leftists had embraced transnationalism mostly because it was an alternative to what they viewed as an ongoing creeping dominance of the world by America. It wasn't so much that they really were dedicated to the transnational agenda as that they hated America and everything it stood for, and would support any alternative that had a credible chance of success.

But there were many in the transnational movement whose dedication to the movement's goals was genuine and was motivated by ethics, and whose ultimate opposition to America was a consequence of their dedication to transnationalism. Whether that meant their political positions were any more coherent or any more grounded in reality is a different question.


...the emergent result was a ceaseless drone of demands for "multilateralism" and a constant wail of doomsaying, a combination of negative spin on events as they unfolded and dire warnings of horrible consequences in future.


It was rather the case that the transnationalists were trying to position themselves to claim "I TOLD YOU SO!" if any of the many dire predictions actually came true. But the problem was that none of them came true; the campaign in Afghanistan was totally unorthodox and amazingly efficient and effective, destroying the Taliban in months, with negligible American/Coalition casualties and an equally amazingly small number of Afghan civilians killed. About the best the transnationalists could do was to try to focus on the few things that didn't go perfectly. (Others resorted to outright lies, such as a notorious leftist attempt to quantify the number of Afghan civilian deaths to show that the number was higher than the number of civilians who died in New York and Washington.)

I think that panic and fear began to affect leftist public discourse strongly in the final stages of operations in Afghanistan. For some it resulted in public hysteria; in others there was incoherent anger. (That's a common reaction to unresolved cognitive dissonance.) Still others turned their eyes to the future, and the next fight.


Thus after Afghanistan there was the ironic dire warning that "Iraq is no Afghanistan." Supporters of the war responded derisively, "Yes, but Iraq is Iraq."

And there were yet again a rising tide of warnings of catastrophe. There would be mass civilian casualties resulting from American bombing. There would be an immense flood of refugees. There would be mass starvation as the flow of supplies was interrupted, plague, an overall humanitarian disaster of epic proportions. The US military would suffer huge numbers of casualties because the Iraqis would defend in their cities, where our advantages in equipment and airpower would avail us nothing. Saddam would use the WMDs he didn't have to slaughter American troops. It would take forever, and besides which the Iraqi summer was even more ferocious than the Afghan winter. Saddam's military was the biggest in the mid-east and would fight hard; the Americans would be forced to pay a steep price in blood for victory. And any attack would be "illegitimate" without UN approval.

The transnationalists had considerable success in selling the idea that many nations would not be able to cooperate with the attackers without passage of a UNSC authorization for war. But the reality is that the US only actually required cooperation from one nation: Kuwait. Any other nations which might cooperate (who actually had something to contribute that we could use) would be welcome, but none were necessary-- not even the UK and Australia. As long as Kuwait was willing to permit its territory to be used as a staging ground for military buildup in preparation for invasion of Iraq, America had the military power to win.


Transnationalists had been trying to push the idea that international-governance/international-law/international-justice already existed as practical realities and that all nations were already required to be subject to them. Yet the events up to that point had made graphically clear that it wasn't true, and such nascent mechanisms of international governance as did exist had not showered themselves in glory even when given the chance to participate.

After the collapse of Baathist government in Iraq, and the transition from conquest to pacification and rebuilding, transnationalists began to demand that post-war administration and rebuilding of Iraq be controlled by the UN. And yet again we saw rhetoric about legitimacy: administration of Iraq would only be "legitimate" if under UN auspices.

But what they really feared was that the legitimacy of the UN would further suffer if it was not included. If the UN was not to have the power to control when wars took place, and not to participate in that kind of rebuilding process afterwards, just what in hell was the UN actually for?

There was also fear by transnationalists of what the US and UK intended for Iraq afterwards. In particular, if fate would not cooperate by handing the Americans disastrous failure in Iraq to shake their self-confidence, it was at least vital to make sure that America did not gain anything. If America largely controlled the rebuilding process and the process of creating a new government there, it was likely that the result would have tangible value to America. If the UN were in charge, that could be prevented.

However, anti-American forces even in the UN were in an increasingly poor bargaining position, and when the US and UK went back to the UNSC they were able to present a "take it or leave it" proposal whereby the UNSC meekly acknowledged the fact that the US and UK were in charge and weren't going to give up control.

Yet again, all the transnationalists could hope for was help from fate. This time it was the insurgency they pinned their hopes on. Any remaining qualms about rooting for the bad guys were long gone; they'd been doing it so long that it no longer felt strange. There were yet more dire predictions, yet more ongoing efforts to portray the situation there as negatively as possible.


Now they face two crises, because their principles are once again coming into contact with reality and once again will fail, and because they will be forced to publicly advocate positions which will discredit them.

They demand that an international tribunal try Saddam, and claim that an international tribunal would have "legitimacy" and an Iraqi tribunal would not. But it is in fact the entire concept of international tribunals whose legitimacy is in peril.

The tribunal which is supposed to try upwards of 50,000 people in Rwanda has been almost completely useless. At the rate at which they've been beginning trials, most of their prisoners will die of old age before facing a court.

Milosevic has turned his trial into a circus. It's been going on since February of 2002 and was originally scheduled to end last May, but it's no longer clear when it will end, unless it ends because Milosevic dies of old age.


Capture and trial of brutal heads of state is a rare event, almost a once-in-a-lifetime situation, but that's what we've got now. If "international law" is to have any legitimacy at all, it must be involved in this trial. If it is left out, its legitimacy will be seriously damaged. Transnationalists who are pushing the entire idea of international law and international justice are in big trouble if Saddam is tried before a tribunal which is not perceived as being "international".

Based on performance in the recent past, there are serious questions of whether international tribunals are capable of holding such trials efficiently and effectively. That's what the Rwanda and Milosevic processes seem to suggest. There's also a non-trivial question of whether such a tribunal would be non-partisan; would it be subject to the same kind of divisive forces as were clearly present in the UNSC?

As many have pointed out, the demand that Saddam be tried internationally is also inconsistent with other rhetoric coming from the transnationalists. As it became increasingly clear that there was no chance of any significant UN role in administering Iraq, there were increasing demands by transnationalists that the coalition turn control over to the Iraqis themselves as soon as possible. Yet when it comes to this trial, those same people, who wanted Coalition administration in Iraq to end by December of 2003 (i.e. now) are also saying that the Iraqis are not capable of giving Saddam a "fair" trial, as part of their arguments for why he should be tried before an international tribunal instead.


The transnationalists have reached the point now where their pronouncements no longer even pass the horselaugh test. Their credibility has been seriously eroded, where key groups which were once thought [to be] honorable advocates, the conscience of the world, are increasingly viewed as partisan hacks. And overall support for their political position has drastically eroded, especially in critical "mindshare markets" like the US.

Which is why it is not really accurate to characterize transnationalist demands that Saddam be tried before an international tribunal as a "power grab". It is rather a last ditch effort to avoid marginalization, irrelevance and total political defeat.


Den Beste's thought this through way more deeply than I ever could; I'm still learning the issues. But I'm basically in agreement with Jean-François Revel, the French thinker who has long contended that utopianism is always the wrong road to take, and transnational progressivism, the idea of creating a world government whose authority transcends the individual sovereignty of nations, definitely falls under the rubric of utopianism.

A couple remarks, though: I'm not willing to condemn transnational progressivists as thoroughly as Den Beste, who, like many conservative thinkers, appears to make a point of questioning their patriotism and ascribing America-hatred to many (if not most) of them. I'm also sympathetic to ForensicHorologist's concerns about diplomatic capital: this isn't an issue we can ignore, nor is it reducible to a simple question of not being afraid of world opinion. There are practical consequences to the loss of diplomatic capital (think: just-averted trade war), and we need to remain mindful of this. I'm not saying we should shrink from the challenge of world opinion, but I do think it's in our interest to discern which fights are necessary and which are wasteful.

But where ForensicHorologist and I probably differ most is in the question of when to ignore world opinion. In the case of North and South Korea, where no solution is palatable and there exists the possibility of nuclear crisis on American soil, it's only right for us to think in terms of our own self-interest, and that's going to mean ignoring not only NK propaganda, but SK screaming as well-- along with Russian pouts, Chinese threats, and all the rest. Backbone is called for. That means friends and enemies alike will get pissed off, but them's the breaks.

And as people like the Air Marshal were preaching long before I believed this gospel, the UN's central irony is the incorporation of member states that, while thoroughly undemocratic and having no real interest in human rights, use the UN's parliamentary format to further their own goals. Until the UN ejects such states (and perhaps this should be up to and including the Chinese tiger), its legitimacy is almost zero in my eyes. The war clarified that for me.


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