Posted by Brad @ 5:17 pm on March 22nd 2011

Deincentivizing dearmament

Stephen Littau, Steven Taylor, and Jonathan Schwarz are all pointing out the obvious: Libya was, of course, the one great success story in the neoconservative domino theory of Middle East intervention, as they were, post-Iraq, the one country to explicitly state they were giving up their quest for nuclear and chemical weapons so as to not get invaded by America. They are also, post-Iraq, the one Middle Eastern country to get invaded by America. An irony probably not lost on Iran, et al.


  1. It was also the only country led by Qaddafi and the only country that was deploying its military in a fullscale slaughter of the citizenry protesting 40 years of dictatorship. It’s abject stupidity to posit any connection between the abandonment of those programs and an international military action designed to save thousands of lives and accelerate the demise of of a leader that the people of that country are dying (literally!) to get rid of.

    Schwarz is idiotic to suggest that the conclusion that matters here is to never give up CNB. The conclusion to be drawn here is that you need to be a better dictator if you expect to avoid getting your ass kicked. What the hell are we supposed to draw from his argument, that we shouldn’t intervene to stop that kind of slaughter as some sort of prize for giving up those programs? That’s one of the stupidest things I’ve ever heard.

    This action in Libya has NOTHING to do with deincentivizing disarmament. Iraq, however, makes that case a helluva lot more than this does.

    How can you even tolerate this kind of idiocy?

    Comment by Jerrod — 3/27/2011 @ 8:35 am

  2. OK, I think I was a bit overboard with my criticism there. I still think that argument entirely misses the point and is rather worthless though.

    Comment by Jerrod — 3/27/2011 @ 9:14 am

  3. then count me among the idiots. Your reactionary dismissal of points of view that lead to different preferred foreign policy actions is more noteworthy. You also do a disservice to the protesters in Iran, also suffering under an authoritarian regime, and also subject to terror and horrid repression.

    Comment by Jack — 3/27/2011 @ 10:35 am

  4. It isn’t a reactionary dismissal of point of view that lead to different preferred foreign policy actions at all. It’s a dismissal of an argument that is designed to stir the pot/ throw fuel on fire/ generate page views/ and just rabble rouse. It’s unconstructive at best. I admit I really flew off the handle in that response but I stand by the gist of my critique.

    Suggesting that these attacks are counter-incentives to disarm is akin to saying that the US shouldn’t have attacked LIbya because they gave up their weapons a few years back. I don’t really have a lot of patience for that kind of argument, honestly. It’s pretty vacuous logic, I think, and doesn’t really stand up to any kind of scrutiny.

    Even if you try to argue that it’s just an observation that one of the consequences of these attacks will be to reinforce the desire to build CNB weapons systems and that you aren’t saying that we shouldn’t suppress the slaughter of people, what’s the point of that? Everyone knows that nations build weapons for strength and defense. Everyone knows that the U.S. attacked the axis of evil’s weakest member in part on that basis. Korea isn’t ever going to be attacked by the US simply because of its strategic position (more of the artillery zeroed in on Seoul than the nukes, but whatever)

    What’s the point of saying that we’re disincentivizing disarmament by these attacks, seriously? Either we believe that these people deserve protection or they don’t. Whether or not one of the parties did something good or bad in the past just doesn’t belong in the calculation, I don’t think.

    Taken further, what are the incentives if we take Schwartz to heart? Start a weapons program, publicly renounce it, then be immune to foreign interventions regardless of how fuckedup crazy we are? Ultimately these regimes could get the same protection from foreign intervention they would have if they developed these weapons without any of the expense or need to actually go through the hard work of developing them. I don’t get it.

    As for Iran, how am I doing a disservice to them with these arguments? I don’t think we should be bombing Iran just yet as I don’t see how that makes the situation better, but I’m fully behind efforts to transition to a more representative government there, absolutely. I don’t see how a critique of Schwartz is anti-Iranian protestors.

    BTW, I really don’t think you’re idiotic at all. I don’t even think Schwartz is. But I do think that idea is not well thought out at all and is designed more to be provocative in the blogosphere than actually a substantive contribution to the dialogue.

    Comment by Jerrod — 3/27/2011 @ 2:28 pm

  5. It is utterly a convenient dismissla, and you are absolutly doubling down on it. You are accusing those who come to a different poitn of view with regard to the wisdom of the Libyan intervention, and in the process point out inconvenient aspects of our foreign policy, as arguing not illogically, but dishonestly and in bad faith. ” designed to stir the pot/ throw fuel on fire/ generate page views/ and just rabble rouse.” Screw that and your implications with them.

    Comment by Jack — 3/27/2011 @ 5:45 pm

  6. There are, quite literally, dozens of dictators and tyrants with whom we deal in the international arena, and some of their regimes are just as horrid, or even more so than Libyas. Frankly I think the Saudi’s would be a contender, as are some of our other allies of convenience. Further, we have failed to intervene in hundreds of civil populace slaughters and acts of large scale barbarity. I can respect the view that Libya became, through careful diplomatic manuevering, and organic uprising, and a bit of luck, the one that was at least feasible compared to other potential interventions. I cannot respect the willingness to utterly ignore the unintended consequences and potential negatives, and the lessons that other would be tyrants might take from this event.

    Comment by Jack — 3/27/2011 @ 5:52 pm

  7. I do think Jerrod’s question has merit. Should Gadaffi’s decision to forego nuclear armament prevent us from using military force against him? If not, what purpose does the raising of the “disincentivizing disarmament” point serve? If it’s not an argument against intervention, then what is it, exactly?

    Comment by Rojas — 3/27/2011 @ 8:29 pm

  8. I’m not throwing down against arguments against intervention in Libya as a whole, Jack. I’m just saying that while its important, even essential, to fully consider the range of implications and consequences of our actions, it’s not really very useful harp about how attacking LIbya now is somehow anti-disarmament. If you want to argue that if we fight Qaddafi we should be fighting the Sauds or if we protect Libyan protestors/rebels (an interesting distinction to dissect, btw) we should (have) done the same in Iran, I’m fine with that.

    In line with what Rojas said at the end of #7, it seems to me the only response to Schwartz is “yeah, so?” The impact on disarmament programs just doesn’t seem a relevant factor to me when considering these attacks. I’m not saying that there’s no way to criticize these attacks, not at all, just that I don’t see how this is a valid criticism.

    Comment by Jerrod — 3/27/2011 @ 9:13 pm

  9. It seems to me you are conveniently suggesting that additional interventions are worth considering, but arguments against this one, not so much. The counter-incentivization argument may not be logically logical or accurate, but my entire argument has been that your response was ENTIRELY emotional and devoid of a any willingness to even consider that someone might make the argument in good faith, much less the core point of the argument.

    Comment by Jack — 3/27/2011 @ 10:17 pm

  10. My initial post was apoplectic and not well constructed. The utility of that argument was so vapid that I just about fell out of my underwear. I was dismissive of it because it just doesn’t seem to have been well conceived, thus my suggestion that it wasn’t really a serious critique as much as one that makes the author feel smart.

    I am open to alternate views on this. If they are as bad as this one was (or at least appears to me), I’ll do what I can to squash them so we can focus on the better ones. This process should help separate wheat and chaff.

    To get back to talking substance, do the implications for disarmament mean anyone who’s disarmed gets a free pass? If so, how does that not incentivize the creation and then destruction of programs in order to get a shield that requires no actual investment in defensive systems?

    Comment by Jerrod — 3/28/2011 @ 5:15 am

  11. I was posting admittedly a pretty throw-away point. I think, of the authors I quoted, Schwarz takes it too far (he starts getting conspiratorial about it), but the point – which is not, by the way, an argument against intervening in Libya per se – is that in the Middle East, we have a stated interest in dearmament. It was, in fact, the chief justification for the War in Iraq (at the time). Not very long ago, we held up Saddam Hussein – and specifically his obstinancy to dearmament – as What Happens. Libya, meanwhile, a mere three or four years ago, we held up as the flip side of that, as the paragon. Obstinacy on dearmament = regime change. But proactiveness on dearmament = you can get off the shit list.

    That latter message is, at the very least, further muddled now. Now of course you can’t run foreign policy off a single axis, which is why the argument isn’t against intervention per se. It’s just as important, for instance, to not take the machete to your protesting citizens. Except, as Jack pointed out, that’s further muddled too – Syria and Yemen make the case (if Somalia, Rwanda, et al haven’t already), even as we enter Libya, that human rights violations in the face of civic unrest is also not a controlling interest in terms of our intervention threshold. So, in practice, it’s something closer to if you pursue dearmament and you don’t commit human rights abuses or support terrorism, except in cases where other economic or political interests prevail, then we won’t possibly intervene to regime change you.

    Which is fine, except with the one drawback is that part of the point of having a stick-carrot program like we tend to pursue with nuke/chem/biol weapons programs is some measure of clarity – a rule, a clear delineation of cause-effect. Or, to put that another way, when your policy is predicated on drawing a line in the sand, that line has to be reasonably clear for it to be effective.

    I understand the objection that this is sort of academic and, as I’ve already admitted it’s not necessarily a reason to NOT intervene in this case, a bit irrelevant. But that doesn’t mean, particularly at the man-on-the-street level in the Middle East, that it isn’t true, or that intervention in Libya, even though it is theoretically entirely removed from dearmament, does not nevertheless send some out-of-tune signals to others in the region we want to persuade like, say, Iran. At this point, if you’re then, a policy of super-armament is really the only rational choice.

    Comment by Brad — 3/28/2011 @ 9:51 am

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