War Is Bad

War is bad. Defending against war, that can be justified. But starting a war, well that is presumably very bad. Not that starting a war could never be justified. Just that the bar should be set really high. Not it sort of seems like war might help something. No you, and those watching you, should really worry that you are accepting excuses to start a war for other reasons.

Among all the policy arguments I accept, the above argument against war seems among the most solid. And among all the things policy can get wrong, war seems among the worst. So for me, war policy tends to trump other considerations. I haven’t said much about how I vote on this blog, but now I’ll say: I often vote on US presidents primarily based on their war stance. I voted against Bush in ’04, and and I’ll vote against Obama in ’12, because they both started wars without meeting the high standards I hold for justifiably starting a war.

I’ve argued before that the US should cut its vast military spending in half. Our spending half the world’s military budget seems to embolden us to start wars – this makes me all the more eager for that cut.

Added:  Bryan Caplan has long had a similar position.

GD Star Rating
loading...
Tagged as: , ,
Trackback URL:
  • effem

    Civilian death toll in Iraq is currently 100,000. That’s equivalent to 30 9-11-style attacks (which Iraq had nothing to do with anyway). How do Americans sit around and ignore (or even applaud) this? The psychology is difficult for me to understand.

    • Daublin

      Part of the argument is that under Saddam Hussein, hundreds of thousands of civilians were killed just because they were Kurds, rape rooms were institutionalized, and honor killings were legal. Some people would say that’s enough to meet Robin’s bar, despite the admittedly dubious benefits for the war on terror.

    • Phil Goetz

      What are you talking about? Americans don’t ignore the Iraq war; they’re very concerned with it. We don’t applaud the civilian death toll.

      Are you under the impression that there’s some obvious course of action we could take that would stop the killing in Iraq? What is it? Since we’re currently staying in Iraq, and you think we’re doing the wrong thing, I assume you think that an immediate American pullout would cause an immediate stop to the killings. But the killings aren’t being done by Americans; they’re being done by other Iraqis.

      • Lemmy Caution

        We could have not invaded Iraq.

      • Saira

        Unfortunately in Iraq, America instated the Saddam dictatorship, funded the dictatorship and then started a war and put in a puppet government because the dictatorship the US funded didn’t follow your orders anymore. And NO – You are told the killings are done by Iraqis – from a good Iraqi friend of mine I know that there are American air raids are a fact of life now that people live with and die with.

        Back to foreign policy: 63% of Americans don’t even have a passport so you know very little about the world outside Pizza and Hollywood. You’re in the Matrix, babies, fed on all the crap that’s being fed into your minds and bodies. If you want to learn about the world you really need to talk to people in these countries that you invade and then you would understand that their people (the general populace) do not want you there, are trying to put their own lives in order – so what are you doing there?

        Lining your pockets apparently. (How many of the post war rebuild contracts have gone to NATO countries (US/UK/France)- for you it’s just another colony)

        Having friends and family in Libya, Iraq, Frankfurt, Pakistan, Columbia, Spain and the Congo, I would say anti-US sentiment is not an imaginary or an accident. You’re not helping yourselves.

        (P.s. I don’t think the Native american’s are too happy with you Guys either)

        A way forward – unfortunately Obama is as good as it gets, (at least he speaks to us!) and it doesn’t matter if you chop the head off, the rest of the machine is still there. It’s up to you to educate YOURSELVES, re-organise YOURSELVES and leave the rest of the world alone. (But where would you get your oil, iron ore, copper etc?) Oh dear, you might have to cope with one less gas guzzler or a few less luxuries in contrast to Afghanistani peasants who’ve never lived beyond their means and are getting crucified and made homeless for nothing.

        Perhaps a better direction to take would not be “what do WE need – self-defence and greed” but how do we wish to EVOLVE within the world. You need to wake up and understand you share this world with others, but in fact America is behaving like the tyrant/dictatorship (does any other country march into the US, bomb your children and tell you what to do? Perhaps you could eat less and watch less TV and have a less satiable appetite for war and violence? NBC publicizes war as a sport/its a vote winner for most of you)

        We are EQUALS (America/Europe vs the rest of the world, native or not) and until this fact finally sinks in, you will always be at odds with those cultures around you that you fail to understand or show any recognition, appreciation or respect for. It’s a shame, you might just learn something, about the world beyond just feeding yourselves entertaining yourselves and socialising. Have you asked elders from the Natives, Africans, Asians, Arabs what your governments have been doing these last 100 years. The enslavement hasn’t stopped – it’s alive and kicking, except the bodies aren’t shipped to you now, they’re working in factories to pay off IMF loans enforced onto them – is that fair?)

        I guess if the situation were to improve it would take genuine efforts within your culture to change for the better, instead of sit in a food/sex stupour whilst your administration just does whatever it wants. You actually have to work within the system if you want it to change – but that would take effort commitment and work, which unfortunately too few people (except the ambition and power hungry) seem to possess anymore.

        Unfortunately the only way out of this that I can see, is independent nations (Africa, Middle East, India, China, Russia – the ones who haven’t sold their souls) galvanizing their solidarity and working to oust the US influence from the rest of the world. So that hopefully one day the White House will understand the meaning of the word “NO” and will stay out of another man’s business.

        And if there are terror attacks or hatred towards the US, with your track record, it’s to be expected, isn’t it? Generations in many countries have suffered from wars that have been started and fuelled by the US.

        P.S. Who makes most of the weapons in the world and Would American arms manufacturers have anything to gain from these wars? 😉

        Personally I just get on with my life work, work with humanitarian organisations (Amnesty International, Stop the War Coalition, Red Cross) and if I die young then I die but with a smile on my face that I’m not contributing to legal genocide.

        No one is personally responsible for the actions of their government, but being blind to their actions because you’re too busy having fun or working to pay their wages makes you culpable and a part of the problem. You have to inform yourselves wisely and speak up on mass if you want the balance of power to shift. Remember that your administration serves YOU (not the other way around) but while the majority of the US public have a “not my problem” attitude, the military can and will do what it likes. Public opinion needs to be changed through raising awareness and challenging the status quo (aka Vietnam protests), if the current state of affairs is to change, but in light of the “war on terror/ 9/11” spin no one is willing to speak up) I mean who gives a shit if you massacre a few million muslims, (for oil) huh? I mean “muslim” is practically a dirty word these days (Is this any different to the hate campaign/genocide organised by the Nazis towards the Jews? But because you guys smile and have good manners and everyone sucks your ****, no one seems to mind!)

        Saira, London

  • http://twitter.com/ramonehanson Ramone Hanson

    Hear, hear for exercising your right to vote and supporting our wonderful democracy! But brother, don’t we want other countries to be as blessed as us? Do we not have a moral obligation to spread our righteous system to every corner of the earth?

    • Konkvistador

      Yes convert the infidels!

      I’m sorry but the universalits bent of the memeplex that many supporters of modern Liberal democracy carry scares me the same way some other unversalits totalitarian ideologies do (including many forms of religion).

  • http://longgame.org/ Matt Warren

    I don’t disagree with this sentiment, but I would submit that retracting our vast military footprint will have repercussions that defy these noble expectations. Without the overbearing pressure of the U.S. Navy – the only blue water navy on the planet – the international trade system will wither. Now, provided the American public is willing to live with the tradeoffs, I say go for it.

    The (even distant) threat of American military might keeps nations from opposing our trade structure. Our policy of proxy-war fighting and disrupting nascent alliances serves the same purposes. It’s the reason we have cheap crap in our stores and so much international manpower trading among corporations.

    Which is why I find your voting on this basis to be perplexing. Foreign policy is the one stance that, by and large, both parties are have uniform stances. Yes, I know what the narratives state, but the reality is much different. Remember the Obama-McCain debates? Their positions on Iraq and Afghanistan were so similar you couldn’t see daylight between them. It was simply a matter of time-frame; in virtually every other respect, rhetoric notwithstanding, they were the same.

    This is why, personally, I vote based upon a candidate’s domestic agenda, because it’s less dependent on the inertia of military institutions (that’s very hard to steer in a different direction). There’s at least the hope of change. Foreign policy? Good luck.

    Again: I do not disagree with this sentiment. Hell, I’m one of those Americans who’s willing to live with the pain of international reorganization. Your stance, broadly made, has the benefit of a much stronger moral framework, and I applaud it. But geopolitics is a web. If you remove the clingy spider, the web will unravel, at least to some extent. And then it will be rebuilt with new concerts of powers and alliance structures.

    It’s a testimony to the invisible nature of our monolithic military that we don’t see the unintended consequences of a rollback. It’s all those dusty words we remember from school: Bretton-Woods and the sort, that make the world we have today. For better and worse.

    I’m horrified by all of it, I just don’t see chopping the military as this pill that only does good things. Tons of good, bad, and more awful stuff would happen, even if the moral stance appears pure.

    Thanks for a short, stimulating post, at any rate. It got my morning started. But, I’m a geek.

    • Jess Riedel

      Yes, I know what the narratives state, but the reality is much different. Remember the Obama-McCain debates? Their positions on Iraq and Afghanistan were so similar you couldn’t see daylight between them. It was simply a matter of time-frame; in virtually every other respect, rhetoric notwithstanding, they were the same.

      Two people can strongly disagree on the justification of going to war in the first place while still agreeing on the US’s responsibility after removing the government of a country.

    • Gil

      In other words, you agree with this sentiment?

    • Konkvistador

      I’m just wondering but has it occurred to anyone that perhaps the US being a policeman of the world also means lobbyists from all over the world will try to bribe him?

      And if so can we really say that the US armed forces will be used in the best interest of the citizens of the US?

  • http://williamsawin.com Will Sawin

    Is there any plausible 2012 Republican candidate who would be less likely than Obama to start wars? It seems to me like they range from equally likely to more likely.

    Have you made a post in favor of backwards-looking/referendum rather than forward-looking/choice voting?

    • http://www.sens.org Jeff Medina

      This. Robin’s stance only makes sense if he has reason to believe Obama’s replacement is a good bit less likely to start or expand wars. Given track records / general Republican foreign policy, it’s not clear that could be the case.

      Robin, do you feel the weight of the negative utility of war is so high that even a presumably very small chance of a less war-starting President to be worth it? Or are you more optimistic about the relative chance of being less-war-starting with a new President?

      • Jess Riedel

        Robin’s stance only makes sense if he has reason to believe Obama’s replacement is a good bit less likely to start or expand wars.

        He could also be taking the stance that warmongering incumbents should be voted out, whether or not the opponent is more of a warmonger. If this were a popular stance, then presidents would always have a strong incentive (at least in their first term) to not start wars. Otherwise, presidents would only need to be less warmongering than plausible opponents, which might not be a high bar.

  • Matthew Fuller

    Yes, this seems entirely consistent with future lives are counter factually real and the more lives the better, regardless of the quality of those lives.

    As one commenter above noted, our policy is to spread American democracy, but who are we, Mr. Hanson, to impose our values on other people? And how can we do that, even if our true Rational american value system requires us to NOT start a war, without a vast defense budget?

    Blogs are of course a means of spreading opinions, and I value your opinion. So what is your criteria for starting a war? And why is nonexistence NOT better than a miserable existence? It can’t be because one has to exist to know one doesn’t want to exist…instead it’s up to us to create lives worth living. But who are we to judge such lives?

    I don’t see any solution.

  • http://blog.printf.net/ Chris

    Seems like a vast overreaction to what’s happening in Libya — if you think we’re at war with Libya, we’re certainly at war with Yemen and Pakistan too.

    All of which is to say, if this is your new criteria, I think you’ll find it hard to come up with a president you can vote for. Presumably Clinton’s intervention in the Kosovo conflict would count as “war” too, since its rationale is almost identical to the Libya rationale?

  • Sandeep

    May be you should be clearer on why you wish to vote against Obama, is it because :

    1. You think a Republican will be less likely to start a new war;
    2. Do you think it will actually contribute to disincentivizing war – the policy of voting against those who start a war, that is.

    If the reason is #2, I wonder why you are silent about whom you voted for in 2008. Probably this is why democracy is defective – so many issues at hand and you have only one vote to express your cumulative opinion (assuming you know what it is).

    • Jeffrey Soreff

      I voted for Obama in 2008 – and would be exceedingly reluctant to repeat the action. A large part is that I agree with this blog post: We really do not need another gratuitous war. The other part is that, economically, Obama has failed to bring unemployment significantly below 10%. Between these two failures, it would take a truly awful Republican candidate to persuade me to vote for Obama again.

  • http://thecandidefund.wordpress.com/ dirk

    I’m with Hanson on this one. It may be impossible to know if whoever runs against Obama will be more or less likely to start a war, but we now know for a fact that Obama has an itchy trigger finger. I’ll vote for the candidate I don’t know for a fact has an itchy trigger finger.

    • http://longgame.org/ Matt Warren

      Your comment makes me wonder: have there been any presidents who haven’t gone to war (in the modern era, at least)? If not, then what’s the criteria for choosing a candidate based on their willingness to use the military? I don’t expect an answer. Indeed, I’d love to think that I even kind of have a bead on more correct thinking. As it stands, I have no clue.

      • http://thecandidefund.wordpress.com/ dirk

        Many are comparing this attack on Libya with Clinton in Yugoslavia but I don’t buy that analogy. In this case the risk of mission creep is an order of magnitude greater. However it plays out, it seems we have committed ourselves to war, perhaps a long one. Also in contrast, Bush 1’s pushing Iraq out of Kuwait was a well-defined, easily accomplished mission, and the rational of defending a sovereign country from invasion by an empire seeking dictator was compelling. By analogy, I think the US would be right to defend Colombia if Venezuela invaded.

        You don’t have to agree my above analysis, but it is the analysis I am going by. My judgement is that Obama, at the very least, has risked a much greater war in the region, something not worth risking. I don’t see how we will be able to extract ourselves from what we have committed to in Libya should this turn into a long war. I’ll take the foreign policy of Clinton or Bush 1 over Bush 2 or Obama any day.

    • dave

      Yeah. We know what we have now isn’t working. I can’t guarantee the other guy will be better, but at least there is a chance. That was pretty much Obama’s entire “change” platform in 2008.

      The more likely scenario at this point, if the Republicans nominate an idiot, is I just don’t bother voting.

  • http://whyiamnot.wordpess.com Salem

    It’s hard to say that Obama started a war in Libya. It would be much more accurate to say he intervened to pick sides in a war that had already started. The criteria for judging that must be very different to “war is bad” because the alternative to the intervention was not peace and tranquillity in Libya. There are many legitimate arguments against the western intervention – “mind your own business” is probably the strongest one – but the criticism expressed here seems to miss the mark.

  • http://omniorthogonal.blogspot.com mtraven

    Since I usually post here to criticize, I should say that here’s a proposal I can completely agree with. To cut the military budget in half, that is. As others point out, voting against or for Obama won’t mean or change much, since apparently no politician can be taken seriously unless they are fully in the pocket of the national security apparatus.

    Maybe you should back a Ron Paul/Dennis Kucinich joint ticket?

    • Lemmy Caution

      Cutting the defense budget in half is a good idea. A big defense budget made sense in the cold war era, but now it just leads us to intervene in too many situations.

  • dave

    Here’s a question for everyone:

    Assumptions:
    I) It’s true the USA has faced problems as difficult or more difficult then what it faces now (civil war, etc.) and has prevailed and grown. Substantial “change” occurred in some degree to solve the problem, even if many institutions and practices remained.

    II) Politicians today seem no more corrupt or dumb then they did back in the “good old days.” Nor does the average person seem more or less innately intelligent.

    III) At the same time, empires have declined and fallen throughout history, even though many of them had #1 & #2 above and plenty going for them. The USA won’t be around forever.

    IV) The technological difference of the very modern era certainly appear to change human circumstances more then the thousands of years of civilization that came before.

    Given all these, how do you tell if a modern empire is on the way to decline and collapse or if such fears are merely overblown hyperbole? It may be our politics are permanently broken and constitution outdated, or we may look back 30 years from now and wonder what we were so damn worried about.

    • richard silliker

      Given all these, how do you tell if a modern empire is on the way to decline and collapse or if such fears are merely overblown hyperbole?

      When you hear the fat lady sing. Until then you don’t have a chance in hell of knowing what is going to happen.

  • burger flipper

    Very surprised you vote.

  • mac101

    Thus, it should be obvious that ‘voting’ is a waste of your time & trust; yet, you plan to repeat that error in the 2012 Presidential election.

    Your vote accomplishes nothing.

    Two-thirds of the American electorate did NOT vote for Obama in 2008… yet he took office and rules the nation (Clinton & Bushes had even worse citizen support).

    Is that democracy ? Is that majority-rule ? Is that just ?

    Practicing the civil-religion & worshiping at the voting booth is counter-productive.

    The game is heavily rigged.

  • Scott H.

    Damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

    How does your worldview/conscience deal with the genocide in Dafur?
    The Saddam crackdown and killing of 100,000+ shia post Iraq War I? What about Patrick Henry’s “give me liberty or give me death!” is that, too, just another form of warmongering?

    Obama is bombing Libya because he couldn’t live with himself if he let Gaddaffi brutally murder the rebels after they were defeated — after all Obama does have the power to stop it. At least, that is what I believe. Disclosure: I did not vote for Obama in 2008, and won’t in 2012 either, but it won’t be because of Libya, Iraq, or Afghanistan.

    • dave

      That may be one of many motivations why he’s doing it.

      Nonetheless, the problem with war is its never black and white. There is no reason to believe the rebels are any better, or that they won’t similarly slaughter Qaddaffi’s tribe or anyone race/group they think aided him when/if they take Tripoli.

      You show me a clear cut black and white policy choice and I’ll get behind it. That is almost never the case with war.

    • Konkvistador

      Actually the idea of Obama is bombing Libya because he couldn’t live with himself if he let Gaddaffi brutally murder the rebels after they were defeated is a very disturbing image.

      God what happened to Realpolitik? What happened to men like KIssinger expressing sentiments like:

      “The emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union is not an objective of American foreign policy. And if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern. Maybe a humanitarian concern. “

  • http://michaelkenny.blogspot.com Mike Kenny

    Would you guess futarchies would be more or less peaceful than the status quo?

  • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com TGGP

    One of the best ways I’ve heard the particular problems with war phrased (via Jim Henley) is that “Hayek doesn’t stop at the water’s edge”. Even if you don’t agree there’s much of a knowledge problem for domestic policy, there is extreme ignorance within the U.S of how things outside are.

    Scott H., Saddam massacred Shia after the gulf war because we encouraged them to rise up and think we’d support them. Our actions now are going to send two messages. 1: Don’t try to mend rifts with the U.S, they will turn around and screw you over in a heartbeat. 2: If you don’t like your governing regime, start shooting and provoke them into killing a bunch of civilians. Your forces will then be recognized as the “legitimate” government and your enemies will be bombed to smithereens. After that you can get to ethnic cleansing (happened in Kosovo, happening in Libya).

    Off-topic: I think @ModeledBehavior’s suggestion might be even more fit for Robin. “The Costs of Living” particularly stuck out to me since you write a lot about our weird institutions around “education, medicine, law, sports, love, friendship, and democratic politics”. Well, maybe not friendship and sports.

  • fuck this blog

    It is posts like this that make me question why I ever subscribed to Overcoming Bias’s RSS feed.

    You say ‘War is bad’ but never present any support to your claim. You don’t even define ‘war’, and your use of the word ‘bad’ is lacking in description. What do you mean, ‘bad’? The world isn’t black and white. Of course war is bad! its also good! There are both positive and negative consequences that result from it.

    Your whole post is written incoherently and in sweeping generalities and lacks basic grammar skills.

    “among all the policy arguments I accept, the above argument against war seems among the most solid.” what above argument? you said war was bad, but then said (after editing out your double negatives) “starting a war could be justified, just that the bar should be set really high.” Where should that bar be set? I can’t even understand your next sentence: “Not it sort of seems like war might help something.” what the fuck? are you saying that war should only be used if it helps something? If so, than that is one of the flimsiest reasons to start a war I have ever heard. Then you say that “you should really worry that you are accepting excuses to start a war for other reasons.” other reasons than helping something? what is “something”? I think you are operating under the assumption that world leaders start wars for shits and giggles. Do you really believe that Obama was sitting in the Oval Office and was like “I’m bored. I know! I’ll start a war!”

    GOD DAMNIT.

    Fuck. fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck. I fucking hate this blog. I’m unsubscibing. here is why:

    * it is pseudo intellectual. The writer thinks that they are smarter then they really are.

    * the ideas presented are often poorly though out and not considered from all viewpoints. This is especially bad because it is often bragged about how they have moved beyond their biases but in reality have not even begun to look past them.

    * the posts are often grammatically incorrect and hard to read. how can i take your ideas seriously if you can’t express them clearly?

    * everytime a post is written about a topic that I am even half informed about I can see glaring errors in the author’s assumptions. This makes me question the assumptions that the authors use when posting on topics I know nothing about. EXAMPLE: the first sentence in the post “missing coordination”: “The main justification offered for government is coordination – that governments help us to coordinate”. who offers this justification? it seems to me like you just made it up. why should i believe that it is a valid assumption? you don’t offer any evidence.

    all in all the point that makes me the angriest is the author’s holier-than-thou attitude. It would be ok if their posts and their ideas could hold their own in the market place of ideas, but there is very little, if anything, that has been written here that can justify this attitude. I hate how smug you are.

    • http://twitter.com/afoolswisdom sark

      Interesting. I always thought Robin wrote this simply/stupidly because he wanted to dispense with the pseudo-sophistication most people who engage such topics bring to it. Perhaps that backfired, in cases such as yourself, such simplicity simply serves to subtract from the aura of credibility some amount of sophistication usually endows upon the author.

  • Buck Farmer

    Could it be that something about the Office of the President not the man who occupies it that determines these kinds of interventions?

    Basically, I observe that Obama’s rhetoric as a senator was very firmly in the reluctant war camp, as well as strongly in favor of civil liberties, and his Presidential behavior on these issues has remained fairly close to Bush II.

    It could be selfish aggrandization of power for him and his party…but I don’t think it is so clear cut. I think the information and psychology of the institution of the Presidency ends up shaping policy, particularly foreign policy where there is less domestic debate, more than is possibly ideal in a democracy.

    Advice given to Kissinger before he got security clearance:

    • Buck Farmer
    • http://williambswift.blogspot.com/ billswift

      Or being the sort of person who wants to be president means you are also the sort that wants to do these things. As Frank Herbert pointed out, it is not so much that power corrupts as that power is magnetic to the corruptible.

      • Buck Farmer

        I’ve always liked that Herbert quote, but have never seen a good study to back it up.

        On the other hand, there are some randomized experiments that show that giving someone even experimentally-induced-and-localized status leads to reduced morality (at least reduced altruism…I think Robin posted on this earlier).

  • stubydoo

    I think this reaction to Obama’s actions is ridiculous. He started no wars. There was already a war going on, and France and Britain were already itching to get involved, with the world press wagging all of the dogs by performing the monumentally easy task of making a monster out of Qaddafi. Sure, Obama could have done nothing as we all watched civilian massacres on TV, but it would definitely have ended his career. He could try convincing people that the rebellion there isn’t really a genuine struggle for “freedom” which should be supported by freedom loving America, but that would be a massive uphill battle, as Robin surely knows.

    Obama probably didn’t want a war, but he got dragged into this one by the public.

  • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

    Ramone, if I drove to the polling place, the goal of getting cars to foreign folks would probably not meet my bar.
    Matt, I expect most sea trade to continue even without US Naval dominance.
    Will, theory says many good things about retrospective voting.
    Salem & stubydoo, an outside nation entering an existing civil war expands it, which is akin to starting a war.
    Scott, our being very selective about which civil wars we enter suggests other goals besides promoting democracy dominate our choices.
    Mike, yes actually I do, as they would make clearer the bad long term consequences.

    • http:/juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com Stephen R. Diamond

      “theory says many good things about retrospective voting.”

      Surely there are many qualifications: it isn’t panacea. If one party stands for war and the other for even more war, I wonder what the effect would be in implementing your strategy.

      My own practice is not to vote at all: it just encourages them. The only parties opposed to war are (some) far-right libertarians and (all) far-left socialists.

      Since I think if you voted, it would be for the rightists, I’m particularly glad you don’t vote.

  • Aron

    I swear I have a precognition for half of Robin’s posts. It creeps me out. I came here after exploring Google for ‘neocon libya’.

    If I have a sufficiently simulated Robin Hanson in my head, then can I torture him with pictures of oblivious asian pedestrians when he pisses me off? That would be a wicked awesome option to have.

  • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com TGGP

    fuck this blog, who here has bragged about moving beyond their biases? There’s a difference between holding something as a goal/ideal, and believing you have actually achieved it?

    Buck Farmer, that’s basically that Megan McArdle said here.

    stubydoo, the general public didn’t turn against Clinton for Rwanda. Samatha Power was a lot more bothered than the public about anything the Serbs did. Most Americans are not that concerned with foreign policy, it’s where the elites have the most “slack” as Caplan would put it. Obama could have declined to participate, as the German government did. And before this, he had already doubled-down on Afghanistan and been launching drone attacks in a number of other countries. Unfortunately few Republicans with a chance of election are even as dovish as John Kerry.

    • http:/juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com Stephen R. Diamond

      “fuck this blog, who here has bragged about moving beyond their biases? There’s a difference between holding something as a goal/ideal, and believing you have actually achieved it?”

      Tell me this: how is it rational for Hanson to base beliefs on positive evidence, while turning a blind eye to negative evidence?

      Such conduct is exactly what the poster said: pretending to rationality, while pointedly failing to practice it (except against opponents).

    • Buck Farmer

      Most Americans are not that concerned with foreign policy, it’s where the elites have the most “slack” as Caplan would put it.

      Assuming this and observing greater convergence among the elites on foreign policy than domestic, what can we infer?

      ‘course it could be nothing more than that conjecture about people fighting more fiercely where the electorate cares…see this post at Crooked Timber on disagreements among economists.

      Yeah, Megan’s mentioned a point similar to this before. She seems to come down on the opposite side from Robin though in giving the President’s greater benefit of the doubt.

    • Jeffrey Soreff

      the general public didn’t turn against Clinton for Rwanda

      Excellent point. In Rwanda, not only did the US successfully stay out, but our ruler at the time didn’t lose personally from the choice. Obama had a real choice to stay out of Libya, and he should have taken it.

    • stubydoo

      The Rwanda example might have been persuasive if there had been a critical mass of other major powers chomping at the bit to get involved there, egged on by the world press, only to be stymied by Clinton. But that’s not what happened.

  • arch1

    Buck Farmer, thanks for the interesting and entertaining Kissinger/Ellsberg story.

  • A.

    I sympathise with Robin’s anti-war stance, but it seems… well, naive – of him to plan voting against Obama without any idea of who the other guy might end up being, or what other platforms he might be standing on; or how much more likely the other guy might be to start new US wars, let alone join existing wars (that have UN approval). I’m increasingly skeptical about the benefits of this war, but still consider it a better prospect than Iraq ever was.

    • http://daedalus2u.blogspot.com/ daedalus2u

      Of course it is naive of Robin to decide to vote against Obama without knowing who he will be running against. It is not naïve to align with the anti-Obama tribe.

      Robin’s declaration can only be seen as a signal that he is aligned with the anti-Obama tribe. He is basing his “decision” on a facile analysis of Obama’s decision to use military force in Libya; war is bad, Obama did something war-like, I won’t vote for Obama.

      Robin’s choice of rationale is also a signal. He won’t vote against Obama because of birth certificates, skin color, religion, taxes, health care, or probably the most important issues the economy, the budget and the deficit.

      Robin is an economist. Presumably in his field he has superior expertise and his analysis of Obama’s economic policies should be above average and should be superior to the analysis of the various main stream media pundits. Yet he is not basing his rejection of Obama on his economic policies. Presumably that means that Robin can’t find sufficient fault with Obama’s economic policies to justify voting against him.

      By choosing “Obama did something warlike” as his justification for voting against Obama, Robin has chosen something that Obama cannot now change. Robin is now firmly aligned with the anti-Obama tribe but gets to signal that his reasons are humanitarian and pure. No matter that more people will die from lack of health care. They are not people in the anti-Obama tribe.

      • http://www.hopanon.typepad.com Hopefully Anonymous

        Daedelus2u, I generally dislike your analysis, but I think it’s solid here. By the way, I think Obama’s race (probably more specifically his phenotype), and his origins are all reasonable reasons to consider him a bad President for the USA imo (I prefer someone like Bill White, former Houston mayor, who matches national charaterstics better without sacrificing technocratic bonafides) –but our social norms are such that it’s self-marginalizing to state that specifically.

      • http://daedalus2u.blogspot.com/ daedalus2u

        Obama is a bad President because of his phenotype? Before he has done or not done a single thing?

        And you post that statement on a blog named “Overcoming Bias”?

      • http://www.hopanon.typepad.com Hopefully Anonymous

        “Obama is a bad President because of his phenotype?”

        I think there’s a relatively large gap in phenotype between Obama and the population he governs, which could making governing more difficult. I think it’s an empirical question, and probably the sort of phenomenon where the theatrical elements of observing it (even good faith empirically) can change it.

        I don’t see how that’s evidence of my personal bias. Your reaction reminds me why it’s relative unusual for us to agree in the OB space.

      • http://daedalus2u.blogspot.com/ daedalus2u

        The idea that phenotype would be the characteristic that someone would use to consciously define a President as good or bad is completely incongruous to me. Usually people try to hide that they are racist, claim that they are not racist, or try to deny that they are racist while doing racist things.

        I don’t know how to interact with those who believe that someone’s phenotype alone is sufficient to make them bad. It is hard to imagine how to have a positive interaction with such people when the most important aspect of how someone does their job is their phenotype.

      • Konkvistador

        The idea that phenotype would be the characteristic that someone would use to consciously define a President as good or bad is completely incongruous to me.

        @Deadalus: You are using phenotype wrong or I disagree with you in principle if not this particular case.

        A phenotype is any observable characteristic or trait of an organism: such as its morphology, development, biochemical or physiological properties, behavior, and products of behavior (such as a bird’s nest). Phenotypes result from the expression of an organism’s genes as well as the influence of environmental factors and the interactions between the two.

        Also its naive to think that people don’t feel more comfortable “ruled” by members of their tribe. Obama has guaranteed support among African Americans not because of his policies but because of his tribal affiliations. Why wouldn’t this make other tribes uncomfortable?

        Note: Nearly anything can be a tribe. Chatolic, Asians, SWPL, ect. And tribal signaling is very important to us humans.

      • http://www.hopanon.typepad.com Hopefully Anonymous

        Konk,
        I think it’s tricky with whites in the USA because I think they’re secure enough that for a large portion signalling superiority to a different large portion of whites is more important to them than signalling white tribal affiliation. I think that’s where white support for Obama comes in. But it’s notable that Obama doesn’t have the support of majority of whites, so it’s different than the general anti-racism signal of a supermajority of whites that like some black athletes, entertainers, and celebrities, and dislike the KKK.

        There’s also a huge anti-elite problem in the USA that may make it easier for a person as smart as Obama (or smarter) to be a competitive presidential candidate if they’re black than if they’re white. I think it’s Prof. Hanson that writes about how luxuries of kings are now hedonistically enjoyed by the middle class masses. Perhaps we can add Court Jew to that list.

      • http://daedalus2u.blogspot.com/ daedalus2u

        Phenotype was not my term. I know and understand precisely what the term means. HA was not using it in a precise way (I think). I took it to be meaning (in that context) the physical features of Obama, skin color, height, weight, etc. What he “is”, rather than what he “does”.

        I appreciate that some people do feel more comfortable being ruled by people with a phenotype more like them. I think that feeling is a shortcut to feeling like they understand someone and can expect that person to make decisions the way that they would.

        I guess what threw me was the use of the term “bad” in a global sense as an adjunctive modifying the term “President” as in “Obama is a bad President” when what is meant is “Obama is different than me so my definition of “bad” has become “whatever Obama does””. Not suggesting that HA has this definition, but that enough people do have it that it constitutes a global “bad President” meme.

        I hadn’t been considering that people would put their tribal affiliations so high they would disregard reality. But I guess that is the whole point, if tribal affiliations didn’t get people to disregard reality tribal affiliations wouldn’t accomplish anything.

        So the tribal “message” being sent is “I hate Obama” and the reason doesn’t matter; because he is black, because he was born in Kenya, because his wife encourages breast feeding, because he started a war, because he didn’t start a war.

        So the members of the anti-Obama tribe have to change their positions if Obama adopts them? Is this why Gingrich criticized Obama for not attacking Libya and then when Obama did attack Libya Gingrich criticized Obama for attacking Libya? Is this why the GOP can’t do anything except oppose what Obama is trying to do? If they propose something and Obama agrees with it, they have to change and then oppose it?

      • Konkvistador

        I took it to be meaning (in that context) the physical features of Obama, skin color, height, weight, etc. What he “is”, rather than what he “does”.

        Like I implied I completley agree that Obama’s physical features (height, weight, skin colour, ect.) are irrelevant.

        Yet I also know the US will never have a bald, fat, disabled or short president again. And I’m pretty sure that if by some chance it did, this would have negative effects on the US however slightly, this is not because I think the person would be in any way less competent at his job.

        However. The presidents ancestry does determine a large part of his outlook and does influence his tribal affiliation as well. This goes for religion, tastes in music or food, race, ethnicity, political affiliation, ect.

      • Konkvistador

        I hadn’t been considering that people would put their tribal affiliations so high they would disregard reality. But I guess that is the whole point, if tribal affiliations didn’t get people to disregard reality tribal affiliations wouldn’t accomplish anything.

        Very well put.

        So the members of the anti-Obama tribe have to change their positions if Obama adopts them? Is this why Gingrich criticized Obama for not attacking Libya and then when Obama did attack Libya Gingrich criticized Obama for attacking Libya? Is this why the GOP can’t do anything except oppose what Obama is trying to do? If they propose something and Obama agrees with it, they have to change and then oppose it?

        Yes, its a observation thousands of years old that humans are political animals, yet its relatively recent that we’ve realized where political apes still thinking about small group dynamics on scales where the models really should be changed.

        I think it’s tricky with whites in the USA because I think they’re secure enough that for a large portion signalling superiority to a different large portion of whites is more important to them than signalling white tribal affiliation. I think that’s where white support for Obama comes in. But it’s notable that Obama doesn’t have the support of majority of whites, so it’s different than the general anti-racism signal of a supermajority of whites that like some black athletes, entertainers, and celebrities, and dislike the KKK.

        Very much so. Whites are in the US a group large and secure enough to use their own cultural standards in determining singling. They don’t care about what signalling is seen by other ethnic groups, they can afford the luxury of ignoring their cultures. Publicly criticizing a certain subset of European Americans or a certain trait of them for example dosen’t trigger “putting down the tribe I belong to cricutry” like it perhaps might be perceived by someone of Middle Eastern ancestry and cultural affiliations.

        As the US becomes more multicultural, the lower and the vanishing middle class will of course become a voting block, not quite rivalling Black political homogenity but perhaps approaching or surpassing Hispanic voting trends.

        The upper classes will also loose the large space of potential signalling affiliations. They will be forced to signal that they are distinct from lower and middle class Whites. This will of course also increase the number of people sitting on higher posts of the metacontrarian ladder. To a extent this might already be occurring.

        Should the US upper class be displaced of WASPs, Jews and White Hispanics this would also change. And it may be possible that this will happen due to Indian and East Asian immigration. However the most likley scenario seems to be that Asians will eventually be considered White in the US.

      • http://www.hopanon.typepad.com Hopefully Anonymous

        Konk, I like your analysis, although I think it shares my weakness of too many words, not enough quant analytical rigor.

        As to this comment “However the most likley scenario seems to be that Asians will eventually be considered White in the US.”

        I doubt Asians will become white, because I don’t think any constituency needs it. I do think the elite of China are likely to expand their sphere of representative influence to all East Asians, the way the Wasp/Ashkenazi elite of the USA are functionally doing for all folks of European descent.
        I do think a global elite with heaviest representation of Wasps, Ashkenazis, Han, and Brahmins (maybe in that order) is plausible, because of the unique combination of high IQ fraction, network advantages, and demonstrated ability to get mass external populations to see them as representative.

  • http://www.hopanon.typepad.com Hopefully Anonymous

    I think this is theater and I don’t buy it.

    First of all, I lived through the ramp up to the Libya War decision, and what I saw was mostly people posturing to protect their social sense of purity. It seemed to me to be a Rwanda/Vietnam type calculation.

    Once the Rwanda outcome seemed to be averted (and thus now only hypothetical) I saw folks making a break for the “pure” anti-war sweet spot.

    Prof. Hanson, you seem to me to fit this model comfortably.

    Second, I think it’s stupid to claim in 2011 that one is going to vote against President Obama because of the Libya War (or the 3+ wars we have going on).

    The USA is a huge enterprise, and there’s a lot going on beside several wars. Finally there is the huge problem of his opposition. I’d like to see Obama challenged by a slate of technocratic opponents Democrat, Republican, and other parties (and challenged techocratically, not just ideologically). However, the opposition seems weirdly starved of technocrats in this nation of 300 million people.

    I’ve been on record (although as a low profile anonymous commenter) for years as preferring Obama be a 1 term president. However, I’d rather him go two terms than suffer a significant decline in technocratic leadership.

    Personally, I don’t think war is bad. Reduction of my existential odds is bad and that goes beyond commission/ommission bias.

    The US war with Libya is complex, may be financially unjustifiable, and seems to lack popular domestic support in the US. At the same time, there seems to me to be a technocratic split about whether it’s ultimately good for the world. I do think the USA should be proportionately recompensated for its expenditures in the Libya war.

    I can’t clearly say that I oppose the war in Libya. I don’t support it as liberal democratization or as vengeance against Khadaffi, etc. I could support it as a technocratic ratchet, involving improved institutional design in that oil-rich region. It comes down to cost-benefit analysis. I dislike charismatic, nepotistic controllers of sovereign nations. I like quantitative technocratic encroachment on their resource control.

    I’m undecided about Libya, but I dislike others who rush to a stance for purity theater, or hold back while making a purity calculation.

    I give glory to those who get their hands dity in a good faith, bayesian type way, not those who target their public stances for maximum purity pop.

    • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com TGGP

      I’ve yet to read a “technocratic” case in favor of the Libyan intervention. The closest thing was a jokey post from Daniel Drezner about distracting Sarkozy from domestic policy. Granted, I spend more time reading folks like Larison, but I think if someone prominent had been making a solid case for it I would have heard of it. Is there a single “realist” (or anyone who says foreign policy should give primacy to something other than altruism) endorsing it?

      • http://www.hopanon.typepad.com Hopefully Anonymous

        Maybe you could call it meta-technocratic, it seems to me as a non-expert observer that an attempt to maintain global administrative legitimacy in the face of some global grass roots energy drove the initial momentum towards the Libyan War. Things got weird and a little more complicated when the rebels started losing badly, and Western momentum and attention was already a bit locked in.

        Of course I’d like to see more smart competent people running Libya, and I think a regime change could provide that opportunity -that’s not to say that the cost-benefit analysis or likely outcome tips in that direction. I don’t know.

      • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com TGGP

        I’m not sure what you are indicating by “meta-technocratic”. Something like Schelling’s rational commitment to irrationality?

        There was some talk about legitimacy, but most western leaders didn’t really have their legitimacy at stake (they continue to support “moderate” Arab regimes to no detriment). Media folks did seem caught up in the excitement of the “Arab spring”, but “to be young then was very heaven” is not a technocratic sentiment. The U.S reaction to Egypt, appearing to accept the demands of protesters while installing a practically identical successor, fits your description better.

      • http://www.hopanon.typepad.com Hopefully Anonymous

        I think “meta-technocratic” iwas a poor word choice on my point. What I’m trying to get at is technocratic in the context of hecklers/the real social geography.

        “There was some talk about legitimacy, but most western leaders didn’t really have their legitimacy at stake (they continue to support “moderate” Arab regimes to no detriment).”

        I think that’s bullshitty on your part. For a complex of factors things got hotter in Libya, and more attention was drawn and then locked in to the narrative. I’m more skeptical of the narrative that there were greater Western or neoconservative grand strategic interests in Libya. As you pointed out yourself, Khaddafi was a functional Western ally and the rebels have more suspect elements. So I think this is the West trying to get in front of a legitimacy crisis initially (a successful Libyan revolution that they weren’t on the side of the “people”) and then ended up caught in their own momentum when things actually broke in Khaddafi’s favor.

        To bring in other regimes where the momentum and and global grassroots attention broke differently seems to me to be at least autistic and at most bullshitty.Here I don’t see selectivity due to grand strategy but rather all-too-human klugey attention and reaction.

      • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com TGGP

        I agree that there’s no grand strategic narrative. I agree that the reaction was very human and klugey. The whole point of technocracy is to avoid that!

        A unipolar power should not have to “get in front” of a revolutionary wave. It may often play more of a role in crushing said wave. Libya was not a longstanding client that we had any deep interests/commitments with. It is a recent Nixon-goes-to-China on a very small scale. Berlusconi may be more tainted by association with Kadaffi, but he isn’t lifting the weight. The U.S has credibility from previously exchanging bombs with Kadaffi, and I’m unaware of any popular perception that our interest is behind him retaining power. At a time when we’re already tied up with Afghanistan & Iraq, I don’t see how taking on Libya is supposed to greatly improve our perception.

        I really have a hard time seeing today’s China, Iran or Russia making a move like this. It’s pretty much what you should expect from a technocrat-deprived administration which acts before it thinks without any clear conception of end-game. I don’t know if I’ll go so far as Larison in saying that it might make the Bush admin look good in comparison, but that’s the order of incompetence we’re talking about.

      • http://www.hopanon.typepad.com Hopefully Anonymous

        “I really have a hard time seeing today’s China, Iran or Russia making a move like this. It’s pretty much what you should expect from a technocrat-deprived administration which acts before it thinks without any clear conception of end-game. I don’t know if I’ll go so far as Larison in saying that it might make the Bush admin look good in comparison, but that’s the order of incompetence we’re talking about.”

        Seems like narrative push to me rather than best faith analysis of the present and recent past.

        But I’m no expert.

      • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com TGGP

        As Tyler Cowen said, even an argument against thinking in terms of narratives is going to be perceived as a narrative.

        If you’re right about technocratic division, I would expect technocratic arguments on either side. The Center for a New American Security is a Dem-aligned think-tank once regarded has having the Obama admin’s ear, closely associated with population-centric counter-insurgency in the vein of Petraeus and (more closely) McChrystal. It’s take on Libya is not about purity but about how poorly thought out how actions were. Is there an analogously technocratic argument to the contrary? I suppose under your “meta-technocratic” framework people might be reluctant to give the real reasons for our actions, but to me this absence of evidence is evidence of absence.

      • http://daedalus2u.blogspot.com/ daedalus2u

        I think a technocratic analysis would favor intervention in Libya. As I see it, a significant risk of regime change in Libya is that the surface to air missiles that Libya has will be exported and used against civilian air liners.

        An air war against Libya will tend to either destroy locations where those missiles are stored and any missiles stored there, or will encourage them to be used against military aircraft which are much better prepared to evade them and which typically have a single pilot and not hundreds of passengers.

        The cost to the US is the cost of the cruise missiles, cost of wear and tear on equipment, the cost of any lost aircraft, the cost of fuel, the cost of any armaments used, and the lives of any service personnel lost. The benefits are that this is fabulously great training. Every pilot and support person that participates will be a little bit better skilled afterward. All armaments have a useful life. This is an opportunity to purge the inventory of older armaments without paying to dispose of them safely.

        The Libyan air defenses are pretty primitive and have been largely destroyed. The plane that was lost was lost due to mechanical failure (as I understand). Mechanical failure is an unavoidable risk (and an acceptable cost) of any training mission.

        Gaddafi is a loose cannon who is erratic and unpredictable. He has sponsored terrorist attacks against civilians in the past. He may do so again. Who will follow after Gaddafi without a no-fly zone is unknown, but is likely to be someone more like him who may also sponsor terrorist attacks against civilians, rather than someone less like him who will not. Gaddafi is pretty old and isn’t going to live forever. There will very likely be regime change within a decade no matter what the external world does. This is an opportunity to have an influence on that process of regime change. I think that the price of that opportunity is imposing a no-fly zone. I think the price is worth it.

      • http://www.hopanon.typepad.com Hopefully Anonymous

        TGGP, you’re deep under the crush of your own bias on this one, IMO. Unlike most topics, it’s hard for me to engage you on this because your bias fastens you so tight to your conclusions that there’s not much of a starting point.

  • Jeremiah Winston

    This post is garbage. Poorly argued,completely lacking insight, and naive. Like the above poster, it makes me wonder why I have this on my RSS feed.

    The argument literally is that “war is bad, so I won’t vote for any candidate who supports a war that doesn’t meet my internal standards of justification for it.” But Robin fails to demonstrate that he has even the faintest grasp of the situation in Libya, the arguments for and against US involvement, the extent of US involvement, and the process by which the US became involved. He simply refers to his “war is bad” rule, which he seems to regard as a profound insight.

  • Rob

    You mean Libya, or the continuation of Iraq/Afghanistan?

  • http://master-of-none.tumblr.com/ Master of None

    How can you credibly pre-commit to vote against Obama, without knowing who/what the alternative is?

    Today, it seems incredible that whomever wins the Republican primary will appear to be less a warmonger than Obama.

    Hope you keep an open mind.

  • Dave

    I would hate to be the President or running a popular blog read by unruly readers.

  • Robert Wiblin

    Seems weird to suggest that the US started the Libyan war.

  • Keith Henson

    Where does war come from in the first place?

    Chimps do something very similar, so it must be *very* old.

    Long form of my thoughts, Google Evolutionary Psychology, Memes and the Origin of War.

    Short form, population growth leads to a resource crisis. The bleak outlook turns up the gain on the spread of xenophobic memes. The warriors are synched up to attack by the memes, they attack and win or lose the population is reduced which solves the resource crisis. Rinse, repeat.

    (I can go into detail about how the human practice of taking the young women of the losers led to the selection of war as a gene strategy if you want.)

    It’s possible to end war, but only if we can keep the population growth lower than the economic growth.

    Keith Henson

    • Robert Wiblin
      • Saira

        the World Bank supplies loans to third world countries (it puts them in spiraling debt), is headed by NATO countries, and is NOT a humanitarian organisation. So its not really a good source to find out what people in Africa, or Middle East or Asia are doing vis a vis poverty.

        In fact, most crises are dealt with by humanitarian non-governmental organisations and are caused by war and genocide (where are these weapons coming from?). We have been campaigning for years to cancel 3rd world debt – how can peasant farmers pay you? and why should they, they’ve been self-sufficient for thousands of years and just because the World Bank/IMF gave some masochist who calls himself president (Aka Mugabe) a massive loan, does that mean the peasants who never voted him in in the first place need to pay the “World Bank” and join your economic system; they’re tribal people, that’s how they lived for thousands of years until Europeans enforced false borders around them and now they cannot migrate and preserve their traditions.

        Did you know that most of these countries are being bled dry because they export most of their produce to pay for debt (cotton, flowers, vegetables, tea, rice) whilst being paid pittance? Due to an unfair system of governance and land ownership imported from – you guessed it – the West. So when will you learn to leave other cultures alone and let them help themselves? We’re not stupid you know!!!
        😉

  • guil

    so true

  • heydonthate234

    you need to give more things plz!!