June 8, 2008


Planning ahead for terrorism: Terror and Consent: The Wars for the 21st Century by Philip Bobbitt (Alasdair Palmer, 6/08/08, Daily Telegraph)

While appropriately critical of many of the stupid and damaging policies that the Bush administration has followed since the initiation of its 'war on terror', Bobbitt is also rightly contemptuous of the idea that America has slid into something that remotely resembles a 'terror state'.

He agrees with Bush that America and its allies are indeed at war with Islamist terrorists: more than that, he thinks this is the fundamental insight that needs to be accepted and appreciated before anything useful can be thought or said about how we should deal with terrorism.

He insists that Bush and his acolytes have been wrong to dismiss the role of international law, but he agrees with them that international law, as it stands, is quite incapable of dealing with the seriousness of the situation that confronts us.

Devised to stop nation states going to war again as they did in the Second World War, the current framework of international law is, claims Bobbitt, out of date in a world in which wars are increasingly between nations and terrorists.

Bobbitt argues forcefully in favour of pre-emptive strikes against terrorists and the states that harbour them. He hopes that we can achieve sufficient international consensus to re-write international law in a way that would allow the US to intervene pre-emptively in other countries, and which would also mean that the US would have broad international support when it did so.

I share that hope - but I have to say I don't see the slightest chance of it ever coming to fruition. The fault-lines that stop agreement on critical matters such as who has a right to intervene, when and where, are often the result of profound differences.

It is a beguiling illusion to think that globalisation has made all nations in the world share the same fundamental values, but it is an illusion none the less.

Even if globalisation does eventually lead to common agreement about the right to 'life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness', there remains the fact that much, perhaps most, violent disagreement between nations is the result simply of the inequality of power that defines relations between them.

The sense of humiliation that this inequality generates, together with the need to 'get even' for that humiliation, cannot be overcome by arguments but only by equalising power-relationships - something that I cannot see ever taking place.

There's a broader insight about the Left/Right divide there and how it applies to affairs foreign as well as domestic. The Anglo-American model--the End of History--proceeds from the premise that the liberty undergirding liberal democracy/capitalism/protestantism empowers all peoples, not least by making them affluent. Central to this ideal though is the belief that so long as men are equally free to pursue happiness, they can be satisfied and well-adjusted without achieving some sort of absolute equality. Indeed, such mere material concerns are really rather secondary to our fulfillment, particularly once prosperity becomes so generalized.

On the other hand, the French (or Marxist) model assumes a zero-sum universe that requires forcible redistribution and equalization of wealth. According to such a materialist worldview, one can only be satisfied where absolute parity exists.

As applied to the question above, we men of the West have, for the most part, sought to use our greater power and wealth to afford others the opportunity to live under the same system that we enjoy and that made us superior in the first place. Our enemies--and, make no mistake about it, the egalitarians are the enemy--advocate transnationalism or "equalising power-relationships," which is to say, taking away power from us and making inferior nations with failed systems our peers. Under the guise of humantarianism they not only attempt to subvert our spectacularly successful system but would make it more difficult for us to aid those who are trapped in poverty, dictatorship, and the like.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at June 8, 2008 8:12 AM

Elegantly summarized, OJ.

The quixotic quest for "equality," if allowed to continue, would never end, because its zero-sum premise is flawed out of the gate. Its ultimate goals can never be achieved, because reality dictates against them.

You have outlined the macro view here, but it's something we constantly see on the micro scale in day-to-day American life now too. Each bit of "progress" in the egalitarianism game prompts ever-more picky and finicky "issues" that "must be addressed." Each time one problem gets cleared out, the new one is allowed to loom large.

It's the reason we can go, in the course of four decades, from something as essential as ending government-sanctioned racial segregation to the notion of medical care as a "right." Once they've done what they do with health care, of course, it'll be on to the next one. There will never be any satisfaction for these people, because the reality of human existence, decoupled from spiritual transcendence, can never satisfy.

Liberty, on the other hand, is inherently satisfying. And not nearly as convoluted or complicated.

Posted by: Tom at June 8, 2008 12:28 PM

Welcome back to Kipling's World. For you all love the screw-guns; and the screw-guns; they love you.

Posted by: Mikey at June 8, 2008 6:37 PM