Friday, August 24, 2007

Raimondo on "why (military) intervention fails"

Raimondo's primary concern in this essay is the War in Iraq. But he argues against it by talking about intervention in more general terms-- and thus, critiquing both government activism in general and our current military activism in Iraq in particular.

Along the lines of the framework in my book, Raimondo is first concerned with that which is ethical. In his first paragraph, he argues that:

Anti-imperialism is, first and foremost, a moral position, especially for Americans, who have always utilized the world stage to dramatize their own virtue.

But beyond that, he gets to practical concerns with his second paragraph: just doesn't work. Not because the wrong people are in charge, not due to incompetence, the wearing of ideological blinders, or some other disability or shortcoming on the part of policymakers – but because it is simply not possible, no matter who is in charge.

He points to the sheer complexity of the problem and notes that apologists for the war who criticize its execution are only partly correct. Better planning is a significant problem, but planning cannot be, in practice, improved enough to make a difference.

As Raimondo points out, the oddity here is that central planners in the old Soviet Union (and their apologists here) would often say that the system could work with better people. Well, even if that were the only concern, the problem is that there aren't enough of such people. Moreover, conservatives have long recognized this in the context of economics, but often fail to see the same conceit in the contexts of social policy and foreign policy.

What's interesting is that this has been recognized by conservatives as a conceit, and a potentially fatal one, when it is exercised on the home front: massive social engineering projects like the so-called Great Society, the New Deal, etc., have traditionally been rejected by American conservatives, who see the dead hand of government as hopelessly incompetent and dangerously empowered by these ultimately quixotic gestures. Yet, today, they have their own New Deal for the Middle East.

And so, I mostly agree with Raimondo's conclusion:

As a libertarian, I am opposed to central planning on principle: it couldn't work in Iraq for precisely the same reasons it didn't work in the Soviet Union, and doesn't work anywhere. However, at least the domestic advocates of economic planning in the US are reasonably close to, and knowledgeable about, the people whose fates they would hold in their hands (my emphasis added). In the case of our "conservative" planners, who would map out the future of a foreign country on their drawing boards, they are treading on largely unknown terrain, without any first-hand knowledge or experience to guide them even provisionally. This is worse than hubris: it is sheer stupidity.

I would add a distinction between nation/democracy-building and war/defense. We won the War in Iraq; that was the easy part. But the likelihood that we'll construct a nation or a democracy in the Middle East is far, far smaller.


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