The Yglesias Doctrine

Sorry I’ve been neglectful this week; traveling makes blogging dfficult, to say the least. But while plenty of interesting things have happened that I haven’t commented on (if one counts Tom Vilsack self-immolating and dropping out “interesting,” which even for someone like me is pushing it), the most fascinating to me was Matt’s revealing of his foreign policy doctrine. Which, not too surprisingly, I disagree with quite strongly:

As a general rule, though, I don’t think Beinart’s idea works. It treats the issue here as fundamentally epistemic — we need a way to check whether or not some invasion scheme is a good one. I think the issue here is structural. The problem isn’t that the United States is insufficiently virtuous to remake the world, but that no country is sufficiently virtuous to wield the level of power that would be required to remake the world. The exercise of power needs to be constrained by some kind of widely acceptable rules. I would propose that the use of force is legitimate when it is either:

  • In direct self-defense.
  • In defense of another country (i.e., we assist Costa Rica in repelling a Nicaraguan invasion).
  • When authorized by a UN Security Council resolution.
  • When called for by a relevant (i.e., the OAS can’t authorize an invasion of Burma) regional organization.
    Obviously, there’s no guarantee that all wars undertaken under those conditions will turn out well. There are always going to be considerations of prudence and efficacy specific to the particular case.

  • I think Matt (and Beinart) make the tragic – and all too common – mistake of assuming that American hegemony is defined by the mess the Bush administration has made of it over the past six years. It isn’t. The United States has a long track record – stretching back to Teddy Roosevelt – that has shown it to be, with a few notable exceptions (Bush II and Nixon come to mind) “sufficiently virtuous” to “remake the world.” A few examples:

  • Organizing the peace between Russia and Japan in 1905, preventing further major regional warfare.
  • Intervening in WWI to ease the bloodshed coming over Western Europe.
  • Initiating the Lend-Lease program in the early days of WWII, and helping destroy Germany despite the fact the only Japan actually attacked us.
  • Starting the UN and the Bretton Woods institutions, ensuring a harmonious economic order and creating an at least somewhat successful diplomatic forum.
  • Stopping British, French, and Israeli aggression in 1956.
  • Defusing the situation in Cuba in 1962 without resorting to invasion.
  • Negotiating the peace between Egypt and Israel in 1978.
  • Deposing – sans occupation – Noriega in Panama in 1989.
  • Protecting Kuwaiti sovereignty in 1991.
  • Re-instituting the legitimate government of Haiti in 1994.
  • Stopping the genocide in Bosnia in 1995.
  • Stopping the genocide in Kosovo in 1999.
    Etc. etc. One can argue that some of these interventions were not motivated by altruism – though that case is next to impossible to make in relation to Bosnia/Kosovo, the Suez case, the European theater of WWII, and the Bretton Woods institutions. But the consequences for the world (which I, as a utilitarian, consider the only relevant variable) have been so overwhelmingly positive that it is just plain dishonest for Beinart/Yglesias to argue that the US (or, in Yglesias’ formulation, any country) is incapable of using its hegemony wisely. We have, for the most part, and the world is significantly better for it. We shouldn’t extrapolate from Iraq that hegemony is evil any more than we should extrapolate from 1939 that appeasement never works; each case is the exception, not the rule.
    And maybe I’m just an unrepentant Benthamite, but Matt’s restrictions on the use of force are far too complicated. I say, if the use of force does more good than harm, go for it. Good includes national economic gain, preservation of human life, an increase of national security, the spread of democracy, etc. Harm includes bloodshed, economic damage, loss of international reputation, dictatorship, etc. A possible intervention into Sudan is justified not by any intrinsic qualities it possess; it just would save more people than it would kill. Similarly, the invasion of Iraq was not justified because more people died than would have otherwise, our international reputation was damaged significantly, we’ve wasted one trillion dollars, etc. So a harmful war could be started with UN approval, and a beneficial war could be conducted without it (see Kosovo).

  • Robert Reich is Dumb

    Not exactly news, but this is rather spectacular in its stupidity:

    Step Two: Encourage developing nations to raise their labor standards as their economies grow. The easiest way to do this is to require that they set a minimum wage that’s half their median wage. With this “minimum half median” standard in place, more of their people will share the gains from trade.

    Median income of the US: $46,326.
    What the minimum wage should be (at least) under Reich’s “minimum half median” formula (assuming 2,000 hours of work per year): $11.58.
    Actual minimum wage of the US, if, as is likely, the Democratic proposal for an increase is agreed to: $7.25.
    Watching Robert Reich inadvertently argue that other states should not trade with the United States: priceless.
    Hat tip: Greg Mankiw.

    Niall Ferguson Plays Dumb…

    …and makes himself look like an idiot in the process:

    Wait a second. Here are two civil wars, each likely to spiral out of control. But in one (Sudan), Obama recommends intervention, while in the other (Iraq), he recommends military withdrawal. Am I missing something?

    Um, yeah, something really friggin’ obvious. Take it away, Isaac Chotiner:

    This has been a big meme on the right lately: How can Democrats and liberals support ending genocide in Darfur while at the same time opposing the war in Iraq? Let’s just leave aside the fact that hundreds of thousands of Iraqis were not being slaughtered in 2003 (and, needless to add, Iraq was still surely a terrible place to live). Regardless of how difficult you think taking action in Darfur would be, the idea that there is something inconsistent about being in favor of armed intervention for humanitarian purposes when it doesn’t include spending hundreds of billions of dollars, invading and occupying a hostile country in the Middle East, and seeing thousands of Americans die, and being against armed intervention when it does, well … call me hypocritical.

    Exactly. See, Niall, that wasn’t so hard, was it?

    Barack Does SC

    John Dickerson’s been following Barack Obama around as he campaigned in South Carolina. Yesterday, he reports that Obama totally owned a State Senator who claimed his race would render him – and all other Democratic candidates – unelectable in a general election:

    Earlier in the week, African-American state Sen. Robert Ford announced he was backing Hillary Clinton. “Everybody else on the ballot is doomed,” Ford said, explaining what would happen if Obama were nominated. “Every Democratic candidate running on that ticket would lose because he’s black and he’s at the top of the ticket—we’d lose the House, the Senate, and the governors and everything.”
    Ford’s endorsement, along with that of another prominent African-American official, was timed to steal a little of Obama’s thunder and presumably contribute to another round of stories about whether he could appeal to black voters. Instead, it was a gift. “I’ve been reading the papers in South Carolina,” Obama said before using a preacher’s cadence to paraphrase Ford’s remarks. “Can’t have a black man at the top of the ticket.” The crowd booed. “But I know this: that when folks were saying, We’re going to march for our freedom, they said, You can’t do that.” The audience roared. “When somebody said, You can’t sit at the lunch counter. … You can’t do that. We did. And when somebody said, Women belong in the kitchen not in the board room. You can’t do that. Yes we can.” (At this point I can’t reconstruct the remarks from my tape recorder because the screaming was too loud.) The crowd responded by chanting: “Yes, we can.”

    Awesome, but then again, when is Obama not? More interesting was Dickerson’s dispatch from today:

    Half of South Carolina’s Democratic primary voters are black which is why Obama spent Saturday morning speaking to the African-American congregants at the Brookland Baptist church. (They wouldn’t let me listen, but they were very nice about it.) At Claflin, House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, introduced Obama by conjuring the memories of civil rights heroes: “Obama is able to run today because Rosa Parks sat down. He is able to run today because Septima Clark stood up.” Though Clyburn is not endorsing any candidates, he concluded his introduction by saying “Run, Barack, run.”

    Clyburn may not be “endorsing any candidates,” but appearing at an Obama campaign event and saying, “Run, Barack, Run,” seems very much like a de facto endorsement – just like the California governor’s appearance with Matt Santos on the eve of the California primary on the penultimate season of The West Wing. And when Clyburn gives you a de facto endorsement, that’s a very good thing.