Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Bullet the Blue Sky

I have seen a lot of references to a new Blog from two University of Chicago academics - Gary Becker, an economist and Richard Posner, a federal judge. A lot of the right-wing bloggers that I've been reading have stated how much they were looking forward to this blog. Well I've just read their first piece and all I can say is that I'm pretty-damn scared if these two are considered opinion formers in the US!

Becker decides to use a crime analogy to support the principal of pre-emptive war. He states that the principal of Mutually Assured Destruction - MAD - during the Cold War no longer applies in the fight against terrorism...

"The only really effective approach is to stop them before they engage in their attacks. This is accomplished by tracking them down and imprisoning or killing them based on evidence that they intend to engage in suicidal attacks. Those planning such acts can also be punished on the basis of intent.

"The same argument applies to dictators who are willing to use weapons of mass destruction to attack their enemies when they do not care if many of their populations are killed and maimed by retaliation from other countries.

"Admittedly, the evidence is usually more imperfect when trying to prevent attacks than when responding to attacks. Mistakes will be made, and the evidence of intent must be analyzed carefully. But criminals are convicted too on less than 100% certain evidence."

Wow. Track down terrorists and kill them. The evidence may not be up to scratch, no crime commited, no trial, no jury but they MIGHT be a threat so they get a death penalty. I hope they get the right guy!... Convicting a bloke on circumstancial evidence for planning a robbery or planning to deal drugs being equated to declaring war on a nation state? And to think the right wingers accuse the left of inappropriate moral equivalence! Becker also states that "...the power of weapons continues to grow, and to become more easily accessible. Critics of preventive wars and other preventive actions against rogue states and terrorist groups ignore these major changes in weaponry and their availability." And there was me thinking that the worst terrorist attack carried out on US soil in history was managed with carpet knives and flying lessons.

As for Posner, who rambles on with a cost/benefit analogy as if international relations and people's lives are just glorified business decisions for the US to make, he decides that, as the probability of an enemy attack is always less than one (one being the actual attack) a preventative war is always justified as the potential for the probability of an attack can increase!

He then states "A historical example that illustrates this analysis is the Nazi reoccupation of the Rhineland area of Germany in 1936, an area that had been demilitarized by the Treaty of Versailles. Had France and Great Britain responded to this treaty violation by invading Germany, in all likelihood Hitler would have been overthrown and World War II averted. (It is unlikely that Japan would have attacked the United States and Great Britain in 1941 had it not thought that Germany would be victorious.) The benefits of preventive war would in that instance have greatly exceeded the costs."

Maybe, but can you blame the British and French for not being ready to stomach a new fight 18 years after the cataclysm that was WW1? And, more pertinent for Americans, if you want to start some alternative histories, would Hitler have ever risen to power if the Allies hadn't insisted on humiliating and ruining Germany at the Treaty of Versailles? I don't believe that America brought the 9/11 attacks on itself. I do, however, believe that they could be doing a far better job of defusing the white hatred for the US that has developed in the Middle East. It would do them no harm and save American lives in the long run, yet they've gone for the stick and stick approach. The Brits tried that in Northern Ireland and look where it got them.

I've just checked again and I realised that the Law guy was the one with the dodgy business analogy and the economist had the crime analogy! Nothing wrong with that, I suppose. Still, last word, what if America's enemies (or the Russians or Chinese, for example) ever decide to follow a similar train of thought?...
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