Posted by: theoptimisticconservative | May 3, 2011

Palin outlines doctrine for use of force, picks new foreign policy adviser

Politics being a funny beast, we tend to readily accept the idea of a retired state governor, sometime pundit, and non-candidate for president having a “foreign policy adviser.”  Ben Smith of Politico reports that Palin this weekend unloaded what he calls the “neocon” advisers who have been with her since the 2008 campaign (when she was assigned them by the McCain organization), in favor of Hoover fellow and political author Peter Schweizer, who wrote two seminal volumes on Reagan’s handling of the Cold War (Victory and Reagan’s War), and writes at Breitbart’s Big Peace.  (H/t: Israpundit)

This is informative news – and on the whole, good news.  As Israpundit observes, Palin outlined a doctrine for the use of force in her speech to military families in Denver Monday evening (2 May).  He quotes the following passage:

A lesson here then for effective use of force, as opposed to sending our troops on missions that are ill-defined. And it can be argued that our involvement elsewhere, say, in Libya, is an example of a lack of clarity.

See, these are deadly serious questions that we must ask ourselves when we contemplate sending Americans into harm’s way. Our men and women in uniform deserve a clear understanding of U.S. positions on such a crucial decision.

I believe our criteria before we send our young men and women, America’s finest, into harm’s way, I believe that our criteria should be spelled out clearly when it comes to the use of our military force. I can tell you what I believe that criteria should be. I can tell you what it should be in five points:

First, we should only commit our forces when clear and vital American interests are at stake, period.

Second, if we have to fight, we fight to win. To do that we use overwhelming force. We only send our troops into war with the objective to defeat the enemy as quickly as possible. We do not send our military and stretch out the mission with an open-ended and ill-defined mission. Nation-building, a nice idea in theory, but it’s not the main purpose of our armed forces. We use our military to win wars.

And third, we must have clearly defined goals and objectives before sending our troops into harm’s way. If you can’t explain the mission to the American people clearly, concisely, then our sons and daughters should not be sent to battle. Period.

Fourth, American soldiers must never be put under foreign command. We will fight side by side by our allies, but American soldiers must remain under the care and command of the American officers.

And fifth, sending our armed forces should be the last resort. We don’t go looking for dragons to slay. However, we will encourage the forces of freedom around the world who are sincerely fighting for the empowerment of the individual.

When it makes sense, when it’s appropriate, we’ll provide them with support and help them win their own freedom. We’re not indifferent to the cause of human rights or the desire for freedom. We’re always on the side of both. But we can’t fight every war. We can’t undo every injustice around the world.

But with strength, and clarity in those five points, we’ll make for a safer, more prosperous, more peaceful world. Because as the U.S. leads by example, as we support freedom across the globe, we’re gonna prove that free and healthy countries, they don’t wage war on other free and healthy countries.

The stronger we are, the stronger and more peaceful the world will be under our example.

Many volumes could be written on the distinctions between the prevailing ideas on the use of force overseas, but this passage of Palin’s speech, combined with her taking on Peter Schweizer as an adviser, argues for a more Reaganesque than progressive-activist view.   I don’t find the “neocon” label particularly useful; Reagan was advised by neocons from the original group dubbed with that label in the 1970s, and so were both Bushes, but this did not make for perfect consonance in their approach to using force overseas.  “Neocon” had a particular meaning when it was first coined to describe people of a generally liberal background, especially on social and domestic issues, who held hawkish positions on the Cold War.  That meaning has long since gone by the wayside.

To call something “neocon” now is not to put it in the context of any consistent thread in policy.  Bush 41, for example, used force for regime-change in Panama in 1989, but didn’t use it to regime-change Saddam in 1991.  He restricted himself to evicting Saddam’s forces from Kuwait.  He also dispatched military force to supervise the delivery of aid to Somalis, with no intention of resolving the chaotic political situation there – this last enterprise an open-ended use of force on the progressive-activist model.

Reagan used force to regime-change Grenada, ironically in the middle of dealing with the bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut, which was a consequence of improperly scoping the purpose and requirements of force in a particular situation.  Again, the latter (the Marine barracks debacle) is more characteristic of the progressive-activist model – which is what is currently developing in Libya.

Bush 43 used overwhelming force for regime-change in Iraq, and induced regime-change in Afghanistan with less than overwhelming force, but both were cases of politically justifying absolute regime-change and pursuing it without temporizing.  Unifying Afghanistan under new rule has proven to be the insoluble problem in the aftermath, although the regime-change of Iraq has been much more heavily criticized throughout.

Which of these episodes were the result of “neocon” policies?  There are plenty of people today who call the Libya intervention “neocon,” because it is expeditionary and related only indirectly to US security.  Samantha Power and Susan Rice wouldn’t thank those pundits for calling their humanitarian intervention a “neocon” operation.

Schweizer is a fan of Reagan’s approach, which had no compunction about trying to undermine oppressive governments, but did so by supporting freedom movements where they were indigenous, and arming the insurgents under Soviet occupation in Afghanistan.  The commitment of US force was a matter of coming to blows very rarely under Reagan: besides invading Grenada, Reagan conducted a reprisal against Libya in 1986 after the Berlin nightclub bombing, and another one against Iran in 1988 for mining the Persian Gulf and inflicting mine damage on USS Samuel B Roberts (FFG-58).  The US armed forces had a high and very active profile during the Reagan years, but the actual use of force was considered necessary very seldom.

I tend to share Israpundit’s view that Schweizer’s advice will involve the sparing and summary use of force – in a shooting role.  If you haven’t read his books on the Reagan approach – a comprehensive one that emphasized political and economic campaigns against the Soviet Union – I can highly recommend them.  Meanwhile, compare Palin’s five points to the “Weinberger Doctrine,” a rubric that played a major role in US decisions about the use of force in Desert Storm.

As is typical of her, Palin is talking in the terms on which we need to be carrying on the public discussion of national security, our national interests, and interventions overseas.  There has been a very long and extensive national dialogue on these topics over the last 100 years; we have never settled most questions as if there were a single answer.  Palin – alone among potential GOP candidates – is harking back to the philosophical discussions launched by presidents and candidates like Reagan, Goldwater, Adlai Stevenson (agree with him or not, he launched a substantive debate that colored Democratic positions for the next 40 years), Wilson, and Theodore Roosevelt.

I believe people intuit the need for this debate, as overseas interventions seem to be stalemated in Afghanistan and Libya, and the world begins to behave as if there is no US power.  Palin apparently recognizes the need to talk about fundamentals – and love her or hate her, I don’t see anyone else out there doing it.

J.E. Dyer blogs at Hot Air’s Green Room and Commentary’s “contentions.”  She writes a weekly column for Patheos.



  1. #2 and #3 seem redundant, unless we accept other reasons for using military force besides winning. I should also add that #2 begs the question as to how “winning” is defined.

    #1 — determining just what is and what isn’t a “clear and vital American interest” is the Brazillion-dollar question. Without clear interpretive guidance, it means whatever you want it to mean.

    As a recovering academic, I am skeptical of the ability of academics, however well-meaning, to construct models (in this case, a “doctrine” for the use of military force) that can have practical utility. Moreover, I am skeptical of the presumption that it is even desirable. There are benefits from being unpredictable. When Reagan tested his mic saying, “The bombing begins in five minutes,” it was useful that some people were not sure of his intentions.

  2. Anyone who thinks these “rules” will do any good when a crisis hits is deluding themselves, but I guess a doctrine is necessary these days if you want to sound “Presidential.” And since none of these rules really means anything, the unpredictability desired by Richard Belzer is maintained–maybe we’d prefer that things not be quite so unpredictable for those making the decisions, but that probably can’t be helped either. The only “doctrine” you need is supporting allies and opposing enemies, and along with that the intangible gift of knowing one from the other.

  3. Interesting responses so far. I’m not a believer in a single doctrine for the use of force, but neither do I believe it isn’t possible for an outline like this to have some value.

    What I am certain of is that there are diferent ways of using force and different reasons for doing so, and some combinations are wise and prudent and others are stupid and imprudent. Force is not something that you just fling out there, hoping it will achieve something, and occasionally get lucky with. It can be used well or poorly, and the intentions and policies of the user are always — always — at least as important as any other factor, and very often the most important.

    I commend Palin for talking about it. Obama hasn’t. There is an increasingly untethered idea out there that we somehow all know what we’re talking about when it comes to principles for the use of force, and people who are on different sides of a given force deployment are either ill-intentioned or well-intentioned, but never meaning different things when they speak. That is a false proposition. It’s time to talk again, in terms of fundamentals, about why we would use force, and what the way to do it should be.

    What is likely to happen with Obama’s uses of force won’t happen because force can’t be handled better, it will be because Obama’s methods and premises are flawed. There is no such thing as disembodied “force” wielded in some policy-neutral way. But the public debate is so far from coherent that one might think there is. The approach to the debate implied by Palin’s outline is not by any means too basic. Americans need to hear it and think about it. There is nothing wrong with reviving old discussions. Almost no one could recount their points from memory any more. We are not operating from the common understandings today that many people think we are.

  4. But I see all this as Polonius-speak–neither a lender nor a borrower be, stay out of debt, all things in moderation, etc. Whatever the function of such talk is, it’s not to guide you in actually making decisions. For example, “how clearly defined goals and objectives…”–well, whom are you arguing with here–those in favor of vaguely defined goals and objectives? Who is against clarity? But we don’t just know “clarity” when we see it, what starts off “clear” becomes “foggy” as things proceed, etc. It’s easy to be against “nation building,” which has become one of the great bogeyman of foreign policy-speak–but anyone can easily imagine plenty of circumstances in which it would be the least bad alternative (assuming we all agree on what “nation building” is, as I’m sure we don’t, since the very term is just a cudgel for beating your enemy with when he has taken on responsibilities that you can mock from the sidelines. Anyway, does someone want to argue that after winning strictly military engagements we must leave immediately and completely? If not, what does one mean?)

    I take your point in your comment to be that it’s a way for Palin to smoke out Obama in this game of inside baseball where he can’t even issue these generic, meaningless statements without offending someone on his side. And I’m not against putting your opponent in a tough spot–it’s all part of the game, and for Palin it’s a way of signalling “seriousness.” But there are allies, and there are really close allies, there are enemies and there are really determined and ; dangerous enemies, and there are our capabilities and their capabilities, and there are the risks we (politicans and citizens, each in their own way) are willing to take and prices we are willing to pay, and consequences we can see slightly, but not too far, ahead of us. Build relations with your allies and seek out new ones, real ones, whenever you can; foil your enemies in whatever way seems feasible at the time; and enhance your capabilities. For me, showing that you understand this would be enough to set you apart from pretty much everyone else out there.

  5. By the way, I probably sound dismissive or uncomprehending of your concerns, but when you say:

    “The approach to the debate implied by Palin’s outline is not by any means too basic. Americans need to hear it and think about it. There is nothing wrong with reviving old discussions. Almost no one could recount their points from memory any more. We are not operating from the common understandings today that many people think we are.”

    I just understand that a bit differently than you. I don’t deny that there need to be “common understandings,” or, really, commonplaces, formulas, even cliches, and the ones Palin recites are as good as any others. You need to get through the the stump speech, the press conferences and the Sunday morning interviews. And over time the formulas take on a kind of tacit shared meaning–even if “no nation building” doesn’t really mean anything, after it gets repeated enough times in conjunction with specific decisions it will take on a kind of meaning. As long as you don’t fall into the trap of thinking that any of this will tell you what to do when you need it.

  6. It’s very nice that someone is finally attempting to teach Palin some serious things.

    • It would be nice if someone tried to teach Dear Leader some such but either he isn’t being taught (a probability) or isn’t learning (an absolute certainty).*

      The Osama call was very fine as far as it went but however satisfying it is quite limited in significance (as our dear Hostess has written bellow) and has in any event been royally #$*$$ up pretty much from after the speech on Sunday.

  7. Understanding that circumstances change and decisions made under stress are, or can be, altered by that stress, it is a fundamental issue that someone who has the desire to lead should have core beliefs and the people have a right to know what those beliefs are. I see this declaration as a statement of core beliefs on Mrs. Palin’s part. Nothing more or less.

    • Welcome, TGSG. Sorry about the one-time “approval” process, which keeps down the spam. You’re “approved” now, so don’t be shy. I think you’re right that Palin intended this as a statement of core beliefs.

  8. Sounds like Palin has been reading Karl von Clausewitz, “War is regarded as nothing but the continuation of state policy with other means.” Maybe BHO should pick up a copy of “On War”.

    • I couldn’t possibly agree more but so devoted a disciple of “Rules for Radicals” would is preoccupied with other things and be quite appalled by the idea of taking up the work of Clausewitz.

      In any case the application of that famous quote is quite often misunderstood.

      Dear Leader certainly hasn’t seemed to grasp the reality that “Arms Control” is “War by Other Means” and thus allowed Gospodam Putin and Medvedev to steal his lunch.

  9. As is the case with most things human, a unified “path” or checklist is fairly useful, but often gets tossed out the window when events dictate responses not considered.

    Here is where it gets tricky and we (JE and I in past forums) have discussed.

    We operate on a diplomatic warfare model (motivational and functional) that is counter-factual. It is a relatively new development that has been, for lack of a better term, the Westphalian model.

    Westphalian Model Diplomacy
    1. Physical sovereign territories are claimed, staked out, agreed to, and settled by treaty. National boundaries are not only physical but governmental barriers. Within the agreed boundaries the nation is free to operate as it pleases outside of those boundaries a balance of power provides stable treaty enforcement within the bounds of some formalized behavior.

    2. When a dispute between nation-states arises the first obligation of the formalized behavior is to negotiate. Whether their is an arbitrator, mediator, or the negotiations are head to head (meaning Head of State to Head of State) there is a civilizational expectation that such confrontations be debated, negotiated, and accommodations reached. There is an expectation that good faith will bring to the table the use of force, only as an absolute last resort, and then only after the negotiations prove so futile that any “neutral arbiter” cannot assist in settlement.

    3. If warfare is embarked upon it is of smaller, limited armies of professionals who perform their tasks with some degree of reticence and willingness to immediately disengage when ordered by the civilian authorities. Those authorities, are still bound by custom to continue the diplomatic efforts even during a state of war. Once these efforts gain some purchase with the adversary, combat operations are suspended or attenuated to accommodate further negotiations. The bias is always toward “peaceful” settlement.

    4. As soon as treaties are agreed to, hostilities cease, remunerations and reparations made, and the entire process of “normal” relations resumed. Above all the Westphalian map is maintained. Conquered territories are ceded unless as as sovereign exchange of reparation, and only after the Map is updated and agreed to.

    (Of course anyone would see that the last 500 or so years has been a less than perfect execution of this model. The point is that the diplomatic and social expectations for such ideal conduct has been “socialized” into Western Civilization.)

    Ancient Model Warfare

    Note: I did not say Diplomacy, I noted it as WARFARE

    1. Nations, nation-states, territorial holdings, and other functional boundaries are tribal, ethnic, cultural, linguistic, and the “nation” is an amorphous structure that will often overlap between those groups of competing and or cooperating assemblies. Nations are governmental entities more akin to protection rackets. A citizen of one “nation” might live in the apartment above the citizen of the “other nation”.

    2. A slight or dispute is registered only within the confines of the particular “national government” and the first impulse is to assemble some level of military structure, and strike at the adversary. Once the blow is delivered, then terms are demanded. Warfare is conducted with a demand for concession across whatever lines are present. The man upstairs from the other nation is not likely to knock and announce himself and his intentions… he’s going to bore a hole in his floor/your ceiling and drop a grenade through it.

    3. Only if the upper hand in the battle is encountered are emissaries dispatched for negotiations. Those negotiations are conducted only to bide time, martial forces, replenish supplies, and firm up positions. Surrender is only embarked upon as a last resort, and is never “meant” as a permanent statement of fealty unless the adversary has won an overwhelming victory to the point of functionally destroying the other.

    4. External recognition of the new situation and negotiation is of only commercial need. Disapproval or approval of tribes outside of one’s own is unnecessary for any justification for having conducted the war. Diplomacy is only to settle the scores, issue the conditions of the adversary’s surrender, and dictate terms of his subjugation. Since “maps” were not important before the conflict, they certainly have little relevance afterward, save for the distribution of spoils to the victors, without encountering further counter claims from other external sources.

    Currently the Western ideal (where we have driven the Westphalian Diplomacy model over the last 70 years) is faced with the Ancient Warfare model that is still the prevalent construct in the ME, and that construct is enforced by the socio-religious model that dictates it as Holy Writ.

    We present weakness to their strength, and then stay our hand when our strength begins to take advantage of their weakness.

    That Palin is trying to come up with an organizational structure that leaves some “wiggle room” and looks Diplomatic… well good for her.

    I have few quibbles with the list, 1 and 2 are not redundant, they serve very different roles, one internal, one external. The adversary must know as a matter of policy that there will be no “negotiations” once warfare is embarked upon.

    If we are to win against any Ancient Warfare Model nationstates, then we are going to have to step outside of the Westphalian ideal, and demand unconditional surrender of all adversaries.

    That level of commitment is difficult in a culture of ease, plenty, and lack of metal discipline.

    Good step along the campaign trail.


    The Mighty Fahvaag

    • interesting. perhaps you could elaborate on how a national govt for a society that accepts the Westphalian model deals with an armed challenge from a small and weak group that is neither a govt nor confined to a single nation nor comprised of a single nation’s citizenery.

  10. Interesting take, TMF. One thing your points remind me of is that it’s not enough to say the rules go out the window when a crisis hits, because the rules themselves are integral to determining what is a crisis and what isn’t.

    There is almost no set of circumstances in which reasonable people could not DISAGREE that there’s a crisis. Some big reasons they disagree are that they have different concepts of what it means to use force, and different ideas about what justifies it.

    Probably everyone would agree that it constituted a crisis for the United States if Russia or China launched a nuclear missile at us, or if China sent an invasion force to assault California. But in any set of circumstances short of that, there will always be disagreement that we have an actionable crisis and that force is called for.

    That is especially true with expeditionary operations, which constitute virtually everything we do these days. Expeditionary ops take place by definition abroad, and typically occur for reasons other than defending our own territory against an organized, state-based military threat.

    Palin’s list — similar to Weinberger’s — is not a bad rubric for decisionmaking in such cases. Using it as a thinking aid helps keep discussion on an intelligent level. (Doesn’t guarantee that, of course.)

    It would have been a good idea to apply it to the Libya operation before committing to it. As it’s being executed, the Libya operation violates points 2, 3, and 4, and those are exactly the reasons why the operation has reached a stalemate, with Qaddafi still in power, the rebels committing atrocities and extremely vulnerable to a leadership takeover by Islamists, and Libyan civilians still being killed.

    I would argue that points like Palin’s do NOT go out the window when a crisis hits. The case, rather, is that a president like Obama did not use this “checklist” at all, whereas presidents like the Bushes did, and considered the wars they undertook to meet the list’s criteria.

    Clinton fell somewhere in middle; I know for a fact that some of the points from Palin’s list were considerations in his decisions in the Balkans, but there were among his advisers those who dismissed such considerations (e.g., Madeleine Albright), and he did end up using force at times in ways that did not envision any decisive outcome. The repeated Tomahawk strikes are examples.

    Obama is not using force in a responsible, well-considered way in Libya, and now is not too early to revive the public discussion on what does constitute a proper use of force. It’s too easy to deploy the world’s most capable military, and the attitude of the people is perilously close to cavalier about the prospect — except, of course, among the military, which is who Palin was talking to on Monday evening.

  11. adam — my response to TMF covered most of the points I would use in responding to your comments, I think. What I would add is that your question about what constitutes clarity of goals is exactly the point. It’s not something we just have to throw our hands up about because humans are incorrigible. The context here is the use of force in national policy, and in that context, it is possible to set a standard for clarity of goals.

    Force is a discipline with its own set of criteria and limits. It doesn’t work when you use it in some ways, such as when you mismatch it to goals. Vietnam was a really good example of that. The goal there was never, at any time, to achieve a decisive outcome — one that would bring a sustainable resolution to the political problem — yet the full panoply of force suitable for achieving such an outcome was deployed, and then used in a temporizing, attenuated manner. The result was a prolongation of conflict at a very high level.

    Weinberger’s rules were written with Vietnam in mind, as well as the Marine barracks incident in Lebanon (it was in the wake of that bombing that he developed the “doctrine”). Since he wrote them, we have generally adhered to them in our major ground operations, with Somalia as the outlier. But in Libya, Obama is not adhering to them, and does not seem to have even considered them.

    It would be possible to do certain things in Libya with military force, but it was not and is not possible to “protect civilians” in Libya with military force while a civil war rages. In the context of using force for national policy, “protecting civilians” in the middle of a civil war is not a clearly defined goal.

    The goal could be defined as “protecting civilians by disarming Qaddafi and forcing him to surrender, or killing him, and securing a resolution in Libya that involves a new government, to which we will provide backing as it assumes responsibility and arranges for a new constitution and elections.” Obama not only hasn’t been this explicit, he has specifically disavowed intending to oust Qaddafi. He has said Qaddafi needs to leave, but has categorically stated that we will not use force to eject him.

    Obama’s pronouncements on Libya are not executable objectives for military operations. We are not just learning that for the first time, nor is it typical of presidents to inaugurate military operations in this manner. It is telling that reports are coming out about Obama demanding that the military give him options for Libya that they could not give him, because military force doesn’t work that way.

    What Palin stated on Monday is an affirmation of understanding about how military force does work. It is possible to state goals for it that are clear and well defined — and, however clear it may sound to the civilian ear to state one’s goal as “protecting Libyan civilians in the middle of a civil war,” for the purposes of wielding military force, that is NOT a clear or well defined goal. It is possible to say so in the abstract, and to be correct.

    • I agree with you that Obama’s war aims in Libya are “not executable”–they are bizarre, and that’s what happens when your war aims are determined by phrases torn out of international law manuals. But we don’t need these principles to see that (and, by the way, they seem pretty “clear” to me–protect civilians. “Executable” is not the same thing as “clear,” unless I’m missing some point in military jargon.) My objections are implicit in your defense–if a particular “rule” was written after a very specific event (the barracks bombing in Beirut) then it obviously doesn’t represent some general principle but only political positioning aimed at future blame shifting (I’m not ever going to be accused of not using enough force…). What about, say, landing an expeditionary force in a country in the middle of a civil war just for the purpose of getting American citizens and citizens of friendly states out–we’re not there to win, but we might have to do some fighting, and we’re not sure how long we’ll have to stay–how do these principles help? Or we decide to take out Iran’s nuclear facilities but don’t want full scale war with the Iranians; but maybe while we’re there (we need men on the ground) a rebellion breaks out and we decide to help them win. How does that fit? There’s no substitute for thinking things through. But if we want to talk general principles, how about some tough ones: What are “American interests”? Let’s see politicians start taking stands and issuing manifestoes on that–that would be interesting and, we might find, fairly controversial, once we got past the vague phrases about “stability,” etc. What are the “clear and vital” interests as opposed to the foggy and feeble ones? How do we know? If Palin or anyone else would explicitly repudiate international law or international institutions as a source of legitimacy for military action–that would be interesting. But recycling Weinberger isn’t.

      • “If Palin or anyone else would explicitly repudiate international law or international institutions as a source of legitimacy for military action–that would be interesting.”

        Hmm. Especially so as what passes for “International Law” and “International Institutions” tend, generally, to be quite lawless, anti-democratic, and anti-American. Wether it is wise to explicitly refudiate (sic) such I’m not sure but it would be nice if the President and his advisers didn’t actually take them seriously to the point of making a fetish of them, as the current Team seems incline to do.

        • And not just the current team–it was Bush I and then II, in their respective wars with Iraq, who gave the impression, probably not intentionally, that a UN imprimatur was necessary for such military action.

          I’m also not sure about the wisdom of such a repudiation–but it would, at least, be a real position, worth discussing, and not a rehearsal of pre-approved cliches.

          • think you’re wrong about Bush II and the UN. there wasn’t much doubt that the previous admin held the UN in contempt.

            not only sent Officer Bolton there, but had our SoS get up in the UN and sell as big a bunch of bs as any of the pisspot dictatorships ever did.

            • And yet he put a lot of time and effort, according to some accounts enough to substantially alter his original plans for the Iraq invasion, in order to secure the legitimating resolutions (and he made a point of referring to them constantly). I know that it was for the sake of satisfying allies, especially the British, and to secure Democratic support, but I’m talking about the effects, not the intent–the next time a President is considering potentially long term military action he will (if he’s a Republican, at least) be asked why he didn’t get the resolutions as per the previous “precedents.” It has become part of the “process.”

            • Fuster is partially. The esteemed the U.N. at its approximate moral and practical worth and dispatched an representative with a firm grasp of the realities of the organization and U.S. interests so as to protect the latter from the former to the greatest extent possible.

              This is precisely the burden of my comment: whereas some, at least the more sensible, in the Bush administration regarded the U.N. as an occasionally necessary evil, the Obama administration regards it as a positive good, and entity capable of conferring real moral authority as opposed to the approbation of a corrupt, capricious and immoral membership.

              • cav, you have some reason to think that the Obama admin believes in the moral worth of the UN rather than as something sometimes utile?

                the Obama admin has little hesitation in disavowing some of the bs spouted by some of the UN organs such as the UNHRC, but has the idea that condemning them isn’t good enough. Participating and turning their bullpoop “investigatory” agents on Iran is about what the US is up to currently.

                Practical not reverent.

        • some of what is called “international law” is exactly as you describe it.

          other things are not.

          and the US is quite far following the first set, has long been and long will.

          • far FROM following.

            • Are there things that we would ordinarily do, from a strategic perspective concerned only with our interests, that we would nevertheless not do without UN support? I’m not sure of the answer, but if it’s “yes,” then international law and institutions have too much influence on our decisions.

              • depends on what you mean by ordinarily.

                would we ordinarily try to impose sanctions on Iran without using the UN to secure some international support?

  12. Yes, that’s a good example. Obviously, others need to join in if sanctions are to be sanctions. But it is a real question whether you take it for granted that such sanctions must be blessed by the legitimizing power of the UN or can be organized through diplomatic means outside of the UN. I doubt the latter could be done now, but I think it’s a real question whether we would want to move towards a world in which things are, indeed, done that way. Of course, we would then speak about it differently–we would try and convince the Europeans, Chinese, Russians and anyone else to support sanctions not because Iran is in violation of some treaty, but simply because it would become very dangerous (to all of us) with nuclear weapons. Whether this would be an easier or harder, better or worse, way to proceed, I don’t know–but, remembering the context of this thread, this would, at least, be a real discussion.

    • the sanctions pretty much were organized outside of the UN and finalized and formalized within the org.

      it’s not always a single choice of in or out, adam. there are more things in the real world than are found in a dichotomy.

      • Not much could be organized within the UN, so I’m sure you’re right about that (even though, despite all the stuff going on outside, there seemed to be quite a few actors who absolutely required that UN legitimacy), and I don’t have any firm anti-UN position here–I think it does more harm then good, but as long as it exists and others look to it, we have to make what use of it we can. I have been, within the terms of this post and this thread, giving an example of what a Republican candidate who really wanted to talk principles and rethink our foreign policy might propose. But I can still hope that as time goes by, we’ll be more out than in.

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