Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Comment on The Belmont Club,
"Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum"


We have allowed the lawyers to create a series of conditions in which people in combat situations will have strong incentives not to take prisoners. The taking of prisoners is something to encourage for several obvious reasons. Taking them provides intelligence, it encourage others to surrender, it strengthens the chain of command, and it permits Justice to be exercised in public by the formal organs that are vested with a dignity and formality that can be displayed to good effect.

Obama's magical mystery tour was an exercise in assuring the entire planet, formally our Nato allies but effectively everyone who can find a microphone, that they get a vote now on any use or threat of force by the United States. That is in fact nonsense on stilts. Obama had the bad taste when in England to ridicule the memory of our alliance with the old empire again when he disparaged the time when Roosevelt and Churchill could solve the world's problems over a brandy. There were good reasons for the special relationship and they had little to do with Jenny Churchill's parentage. First the world is an essentially lawless and violent place and no act of will can over-ride the basic differences between law within a sovereign civil society, and the use of precepts and codes to regulate conduct between states in the larger world, and finally the use of force by a state or states in response to actions by players where there is no legal remedy available. Specifically there is not a level playing field in the international arena, not all players are in fact fully in possession of a monopoly on the use of force within their territories and not all actors are equally legitimate or can be considered reliably as subscribing to the basic principles that any legal order depends on. Therefor there is no good reason to give free riders a veto over the use of power by those actors who both subscribe to the legal and moral principles desired and who have the physical capacity to act. There are still, indeed there may be growing, places on this planet that are simply not covered by a functioning legal and moral structure that would permit violence to be responded to by domestic forces.

This means that despite all the post modern preening and conferencing and shuffling of papers by well groomed advocates of inclusiveness the old system existed for good reasons in response to real world conditions and we have not improved on it. Pirates are "Against All Flags" and once their status is confirmed they should be executed. "Unlawful Combatants" are not the same as Prisoners of War and can be treated more peremptorily. Bush and Cheney were correct.

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