Token Dissonance

Black & gay, young & conservative. A Southern gentleman writes about life and politics after Yale


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War, Peace, & Rockets

“They blame the irresponsible dolts who started the war for all the consequences of the war and they admire Israel’s strength and its resolve for dealing with the appalling blood lust of the unhinged loons who start a war they can’t win, and then cower behind the corpses of the children their foolishness has killed.” –Walter Russell Mead

Terrorism has consequences.

Hamas had launched nearly 1,600 missiles into Israel this year and already over a thousand in the last week. It is largely thanks to Israel’s American-funded Iron Dome that hundreds of these deathly probes were prevented from striking civilians. Unfortunately, this small solace is somewhat mitigated by an expanded target range that now puts densely-populated Tel Aviv and Jerusalem in sight of rockets.

Given that Hamas hasn’t yet figured out how to direct the missiles, you might think the Palestinian leaders in Gaza would avoid the possibility of striking Palestinian children or Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem. You would be mistaken. The Israel Defense Forces indicate that roughly a hundred Hamas rockets have already exploded in Gaza, for which casualties Hamas conveniently blames Israel. Moreover, the ongoing belligerence is preventing Israel from delivering humanitarian aid to the strip. There is also, of course, the matter of Hamas hiding behind the civilians they claim to protect. It’s almost like they’re ideological fanatics or something.

It would seem a question-begging exercise to argue over the origins of the chicken-and-egg cycle of violence at this point, so it might be more useful to focus on more pragmatic concerns. Shockingly (to nobody), Hamas instantiates its violence through the largesse of Iran. Put another way, a government that dreams of wiping Israel from the map is arming a terrorist regime that denies the Israeli right to exist. It would be arguably suicidal for the only stably liberal democracy in the Middle East to appease a genocidal neighbor seeking freedom to arm, especially at a time when Iran aggressively pursues nuclear power and Islamists have replaced erstwhile partners in Egypt and Turkey.

The majority of Americans believe, as President Obama argued, that Israel is in the right to defend herself against the rain (and reign) of terror. It should perhaps be expected that most civilized people would agree that perennial rocket-fire makes for rather unsavory ambient conditions. As it happens, however, the numbers tell another interesting story: conservatives, moderates, Republicans, and Independents overwhelmingly support Israel’s measures of self-defense. Among liberals and Democrats, however, the yes-no split on whether military action is justified falls within the margin of error.

The finding is consistent with posts from my left-of-center Facebook feed (four years at Yale will have that effect, and I should add that some who disagree with me have already accused me of calling them anti-Semites). Opinions range from deranged dismissal of rigorous self-defense to predictably tendentious “fact checks” in favor of a terrorist organization to more well-intentioned if impractical paeans for “proportionality”. To the first two sentiments, I have neither interest nor patience. To the last, it is worth remembering that war is not an old gentleman’s game but an elemental struggle between peoples:

“Certainly if some kind of terrorist organization were to set up missile factories across the frontier in Canada and Mexico and start attacking targets in the United States, the American people would demand that their President use all necessary force without stint or limit until the resistance had been completely, utterly and pitilessly crushed. Those Americans who share this view of war might feel sorrow at the loss of innocent life, of the children and non-combatants killed when overwhelming American power was used to take the terrorists out, but they would feel no moral guilt. The guilt would be on the shoulders of those who started the whole thing by launching the missiles.”

At the crux of it, calls for Israeli proportionality privilege a willingness to succumb to slow but constant bleeding over attempts, however imperfectly aggressive, to heal the wound. This is not to say Israel has committed no atrocities or is otherwise free of blame. Such a situation is rarely the case for any side in any hostility. As a certain American general once famously observed and argued, “War is hell.” But there are worse hells than a flawed defense of the liberal democratic union of liberty and security.

Pacifism—the “principled” refusal to prosecute a worthwhile cause—is a beast from the pit, and its advocacy is a false prophecy inscribed with malice or idle nihilism in the blood of innocents seen and unseen. In the first place, it reifies concepts like “justice”, “freedom”, and “peace”, while denuding the moral universe of the resources to maintain such lofty ideals. In the second place, appeasement—or idly negligent “humanitarianism”—is the apotheosis of the Last Man, breeding contempt for the resolve to reckon with a dark and vicious world that will never care either for intentions or proportions.

This is not a game. A constitutional republic of the Free World is at war with a terrorist regime abetted by a den of Islamists on the one hand and clerical autocrats on the other. Every drop of blood spilt in eliminating senseless violence is upon the hands from which that evil came.

My sympathy is with the Palestinians. I hope their leaders will think of them, too.

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The Drones of Fall

“War is not nice.” –Barbara Bush

Drones don’t kill people; we have people for that!

There’s been much ado about the purported moral hazards of drones. Much of it has come from the Left, but there have been some conservative reservations. As you may recall, I addressed liberal compunctions on this topic not too long ago, reminding the Left of its moral and political complicity in the Obama status quo. But on this occasion, we’re going to discuss the practical validity of drones in our defense strategy.

For this second discussion we thank my friend Leah Libresco over at Unequally Yoked. In detailing her key political qualms with this election, Libresco described the morality of the use of drones as follows:

“We are endorsing an indiscriminate, terrifying way to prosecute a war that is above all inhumane because it leaves the humans in each side of it in isolation.  Death from above robs the killer and their target of the mutual recognition and love that is their natural relationship.  It’s not only murder, it’s murder that fosters a lie.”

The crux of this argument—an essentially Catholic rendering of familiar secular reservations—is the conviction that deploying troops into the path of harm is a moral requirement of war. In other words, it is wrong to deny an enemy combatant the opportunity—which Libresco calls love and other liberals deem “due process”—to face down his would-be killer. To put it more charitably, opponents of drones seem to believe that such remote targeting results, perhaps inevitably, in greater civilian casualties than conventional troop deployment would cause, and these greater casualties are exacerbating ill will toward the U.S. and our allies.

To clarify something up front, this issue is not about whether you’re for or against the war in Afghanistan or what you think about the 2014 withdrawal date favored by both President Obama and Governor Romney. This discussion is about the moral and practical realities of war. The primary question here is how to minimize collateral damage and protect our allies while successfully fulfilling goals and eliminating enemies.

In the last several years, the Taliban and their terror networks have aggressively increased killing sprees throughout the country. For the sake of undermining the civilian government & attacking NATO troops—to the end of repressively commandeering the country—terrorists are willfully injuring and killing thousands of innocent people. For NATO, a shift in strategy from troop deployment to drones allows for, among other things, less danger to civilians who would be harmed through the kind of broad targeting of troops that produces heavy civilian casualties. In short and against the reigning criticisms, drones allow for less—not “no”—combat among innocents.

According to the United Nations, civilian death from terrorist attacks has sharply increased since 2006, whereas casualties from coalition forces declined. Any nonzero number of innocent dead is a vicious tragedy, and many would argue that the current numbers could and should be lower. I’m not disagreeing with that analysis. But as it stands, civilian deaths from pro-government forces are believed—by the U.N.—to be at their lowest levels in half a decade. By contrast, terrorists murdered more civilians in 2011—nearly six times as many killed by American allies—than in the last six years. This comes even as casualties from aerial attacks, which do account for the bulk of deaths, are down.

Are there problems with U.S. drone policy? Absolutely. But given the numerical trends in casualties and the reality of a protracted war, drone critics must do more than enumerate flaws. The opposition ought to promote and defend a better way to defeat our enemies and keep our allies safe.

I commend our military leaders for continuing to defend us from enemies we may never see, even as the chattering classes drone.


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A Song of Drones and Values

“You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” –Harvey Dent

When you play the game of drones, you win or you die. Or your president stabs you in the heart and twists. There is no middle ground.

Life and death can make for compelling deal breakers in politics. More often than not, we face this reality in the ongoing disputes over abortion law and single-issue voters. But there’s nothing quite like the games of war in a wearily introspective superpower afflicted by enduring frustration and quixotic performance art of leadership. Over the past decade, so many thousands of lives have been lost to terror and the fight against it. Even as the Iraq War has finally ended—for the United States, anyway—American-led campaigns across the Middle East continue the Sisyphean task of eradicating violent extremism.

Enter the drones. As though by miraculum ex machina, the U.S. can target and eliminate enemy combatants without deploying a single boot to a warzone of the whole. But as with all developments in war, there are costs. Some induce nightmares. For liberals who cannot reconcile the costs with the values, the totality of these issues constitutes a moral event horizon for Obama. Many of these disaffected are understandably wary of jumping on the Gary Johnson bandwagon. But I’ll go out on an olive branch and suggest a Romney presidency has more to offer the progressively malcontent than meets the gag reflex.

The persistent criticism about the current administration’s approach to war, which is only partly about drones, is that Obama is the same or worse than “the neo-conservative policy” of George W. Bush. It demands the question, if Obama is already so terrible—even while he promised to be otherwise—what exactly is so frightening about a potential Romney administration? Last I checked, it was Barack Obama who established a framework for killing American children without due process and formalized indefinite detention. And these new bureaucratic tools will be, in the words of the ACLU’s Jameel Jaffer, “available to every future president against every future enemy or purported enemy.”

Love or hate him, Mitt Romney is upfront about his foreign policy ideas and concerns, from confronting our enemies to defending human rights. At most, he will do what he says. Otherwise, he will pleasantly surprise you. Compare this to the promise of a big game to earn a premature Nobel Peace Prize. President Obama has reduced you, his liberal base, to enabling the legitimacy of policies you fought so hard to destroy, from waiving sanctions on countries that use child soldiers to waging another war abroad—ignoring congressional oversight for either—to codifying military commissions and extraordinary rendition to escalating warrantless surveillance of Americans. (For the record, even “prominent neoconservative” Charles Krauthammer is arguing for limits on drones and surveillance of Americans.)

We all know that war is neither painless nor clean, and collateral damage is as heartbreaking as it is inevitable. But which would you prefer, the rhetorical embrace of a friend who stabs you in the back—from the safety of a remote machine—as you shield his treachery from criticism, or the political opponent who, at the very least, will put his cards on the table and allow you the opportunity to defend your values, such as they are?

I don’t know about you, but I prefer my devils where I can see them. It makes for an easier kill peacekeeping.