my doxy

Orthodoxy is my doxy; heterodoxy is your doxy.
--William Warburton

Commentary on politics, finance, and sometimes other tidbits when I can't restrain myself.

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Saturday, September 21, 2002
The Washington Post has a piece on possible consequences of the newly announced national security doctrine

I think I agree with the arguments as to why this doctrine could be dangerous, but I found the apparently-included-for-balance, contrary argument dubious:

"Brussels-based analyst Robert Kagan believes the dangers of the new doctrine can be overstated.

'I don't think we're moving into the age of preemption, ' Kagan said. 'I don't think other nations are being restrained from taking action by the fact that no one has set the precedent of preemption. That's not why China is not attacking Taiwan. That's not why India is not attacking Pakistan.'

'They're making calculations based on their own national interest and the relationships of international power,' he said."

Well, true enough. But perhaps whether one's behavior is considered normal or aberrant might have some impact on calculations of that behavior's impact on "national interest and the relationships of international power?" For instance, if the use of chemical weapons were an accepted part of modern warfare, wouldn't that affect the behavior of states? Wouldn't Iraq's diplomatic position be considerably better? Isn't it much less likely that the UN would have required Iraq to destroy its chemical weapons?

I claim that the idea that international norms are irrelevant to these calculations is nonsense. The idea that the US can promote (and I do mean promote, not just abide by quietly) a significant new doctrine justifying pre-emptive attack without affecting such norms is also nonsense. That doesn't mean that the "age of preemption" is upon us, but it certainly doesn't mean we can exclude the possibility either, especially with a US Administration seemingly eager to get that age started ASAP. And it isn't obvious that the US will end up more secure in such an age than it was before, for the reason I mentioned yesterday, for the reasons in the WP article, and for other reasons I hope to get to in the future.

For those of you who thought that just because you were too smart or too honest to fall for the Nigerian money transfer fraud, it would never cost you any money, here is a story that might make you think twice. Apparently a woman sent $2.1 million dollars of her law firm's clients' money to fraudsters, without anyone noticing anything amiss.

Friday, September 20, 2002
People interested in the rebuilding Iraq idea should also probably look at the James Fallows article in the Atlantic on this subject. I wish I believed that the US had the determination to stick with a project like this for the long, long time it would probably take. But I don't see it.

I am trying to understand how the policy enunciated in the national security policy document released today is going to be a good idea. I'm OK with the idea that new times may require new measures, but the policy that this document appears to outline has tremendous potential to undermine US interests.

For example, in conjunction with this interpretation of Donald Rumsfeld's press conference on the 16th this seems to me like a large incentive to covert nuclear proliferation, either by internal development or transfer of actual weapons. (Why? Because previously states that didn't actually attack anyone could assume that they wouldn't be attacked by the US. Now they can't assume that, but if possessing nuclear weapons will deter preemptive US action, this increases the desirability of having them substantially. Of course, you have to not get caught, but that was probably true already.)

If nothing else, since this document is unlikely to convince anyone who isn't already with the program, why even release it? It seems a lot more dangerous than telling us how many people are being held at Guantanamo.

I'll probably have more to say about this after I have time to give it additional thought.

Steven den Beste responded to my objections in my last post in an update to his post of the 18th. I take his point on the restrictions on the free flow of information, but while I think we still disagree about some of the specifics--how "restrictive" the religion was, and perhaps what it means to accept responsibility for collective failure--I don't think that is in fact the key difference in our thinking here.

Japan was a functioning society which had already made the transition to modernity, and although it had some serious and destructive quirks, fixing it didn't require creating a whole new way of life and thinking on top of a pre-modern base. Nor did the reconstruction of Germany.

It seems to me that a better comparison might be US governance of the Phillippines (certainly did some good, not enough) or perhaps our time in Haiti (completely useless). Something like Puerto Rico might be a possible goal, but that has been a century in the making, it is a lot smaller and nearer, and it is still massively subsidized after 100 years.

So I continue to think that making Iraq (and then apparently much of the rest of the region) into a functioning society is probably both beyond our capabilities and our attention span.

Wednesday, September 18, 2002
Steven DenBeste suggests at length that more-or-less the whole Arab world needs to be remade, and until then we will not be safe from al-Queda type threats. He then uses the rebuilding of Japan as an example of how such a threat was removed. The points he makes to support the idea that this is necessary are debatable, but what I found surprising was the idea that we had the power to do this remaking.

He lists 7 major problems of the Arab world that lead to its current difficulties, as per Ralph Peters:

  • Restrictions on the free flow of information.
  • The subjugation of women.
  • Inability to accept responsibility for individual or collective failure.
  • The extended family or clan as the basic unit of social organization.
  • Domination by a restrictive religion.
  • A low valuation of education.
  • Low prestige assigned to work.

    As far as I can tell, post-Meiji Restoration, pre-war Japan didn't have any of these problems, except the subjugation of women (to a lesser extent than is common in the Arab world now) and possibly restrictions on the free flow of information--I'm not quite sure what that is supposed to mean. Japan was already a highly-functional society before we attempted to change its institutions. I strongly suspect that what we mostly did in Japan was encourage the Japanese to agree with an idea that most of them already had--that militarism had been tried and failed, and that commerce would be a more successful avenue of competition and enrichment.

    I don't see how that could translate to the Arab world, which is basically uncompetitive in all areas. I would suggest that it is unlikely that we know how to fix the Arab world, or would be willing to put the effort required into it if we did. So I hope I am right in thinking that it won't be necessary.