Monday, February 27, 2006

Israel's tax withholding.

In this article here there is a discussion of tax withholding by the Israelis to the Palestinian authority because Hammas won the election. The tax withholdings are approxmiately $50 to $55 million.
Now should Israel give money to the Palestenians or not? Israel should continue withholding the money from the Palestenians as long as Hammas does not renounce the recognizition of Israel. In addition,Hammas is responsible for killing thousands of innocent Israeli civilians. In addition Israel's Foreign Ministry spokesman blamed the Palestenian authority for not being financially responsible with their money. Israel did say that perhaps money for the humanitarian issues will be given to them.
Hammas and the Palestinian authority are to blame for the money shortage, Hammas because they are still not recognizing Israel and the Palestenian Authority for spending money as they did. It will be interesting to see how Israel handles the transfer of the money to the Palestenian authority.

Anti-Podhoretz Tirade (Part I)

Podhoretz makes a number of outrageous charges in his piece, “World War IV.” In the interest of keeping this blog post short, I’ll only deal with his most offensive statement; I may post again as I compose my general sense of outrage into coherent thoughts.

Podhoretz’s charges against Brent Scowcroft and other conservative opponents of the war in Iraq are absolutely preposterous. He scoffs at Scowcroft for being more concerned by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than the Iraq situation. He charges that “paleoconservatives” like Scowcroft secretly want to pressure Israel to make more concessions, somehow associating a desire to resolve the conflict with anti-Semitic theories of Jewish cabals.

Speaking as a traditional conservative realist (a “paleoconservative” if you prefer), I can honestly say that these charges are nothing short of ludicrous. Anyone not blinded by anti-Semitism can see that Israel offered Arafat far more than it would have received in return; the blood spilled in the latest intifada is on Arafat‘s hands. Most conservatives recognize this; that doesn‘t mean that a desire to deal with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is, in and of itself, anti-Semitism. In fact, dealing with the conflict would LESSEN Israel’s problems; I can’t see how a desire to solve Israel’s foremost problem is anti-Semitism. Yet, on this ridiculous argument, Podhoretz builds a detailed (and jaw-droopingly absurd) argument that Republican opposition to the war in Iraq is based solely on anti-Semitism. I’m not only appalled by the idiocy of this argument, I’m insulted by its implications. In condemning the imaginary anti-Semitic conspirators of the Republican party (I don‘t consider Patrick Buchanan to be related to the Republican party), Podhoretz comes across as quite the conspiracy theorist himself.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

US Aid to the Palestinians

Don't want to pat myself on the back quite yet...but per my "option three" that I proposed during my presentation, it appears that at least half of it has come to pass. That half, of course, being the fact that the US should continue humanitarian aid to the Palestinians. Could it be we have secret negotiations going on somewhere with "pragmatic" Hamas leaders? Could be... But check out this story from 1 hr ago from the AP (have only reprinted half of it for space's sake):

U.S. to Continue Sending Palestinians Aid
By MOHAMMED DARAGHMEH, Associated Press Writer 50 minutes ago
RAMALLAH, West Bank - The United States will continue sending humanitarian aid to the Palestinian people even after a Hamas government is formed, a senior U.S. envoy told Palestinian leaders during the first high-level meeting between the two sides since Hamas' election victory.

State Department envoy David Welch said the U.S. continues "to be devoted to the humanitarian needs of the Palestinian people and we shall remain so."
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Welch told Palestinian officials that U.S. aid would be redirected, but Welch did not specify how.
Erekat noted that hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. aid flow directly into infrastructure projects every year, and not into Palestinian government coffers.
"We urged the U.S. administration to continue helping the Palestinian people, as it did in previous years," Erekat said after the meeting. "They have never transferred a single dollar to the Palestinian Authority' directly. The money was being transferred via non-governmental organizations."

Friday, February 24, 2006

Fukuyama's Conclusions: A Response

As requested, here are my thoughts regarding Fukuyama’s essay from his upcoming book America at the Crossroads. As I already stated in class, I don’t have any major problems with his arguments throughout the body of his essay, besides the fact that I disagree with his opening statement that US efforts in Iraq will ultimately be viewed negatively by history. As to the successes or failures in Iraq following the ousting of Saddam, well, that is the topic of perhaps another blog entry. But in regards to my response to Fukuyama’s essay, my main objections stem from his conclusions/solutions. First, what strikes me is his continued adherence to the goals of neoconservatism stating something to the affect that it would be a tragedy for the US if it dropped the spread of democracy from its foreign policy agenda. Indeed, in an attempt to revise his previous positions, Fukuyama has chosen to retain neoconservative goals but taken out of the equation the very factor that would enable neoconservatism, and any viable strategies that would result from its attempted implementation, to succeed. If one believes, as I do, that neoconservatism is currently the driving force behind US Grand Strategy in fighting the war on terror, then essentially he suggests that the US make its military a supporting effort in its strategy in fighting this war. This is ridiculous in a post-9/11 world. And what’s even more ridiculous is what he recommends to assume the main effort role in the military’s place-international institutions! What??!! Doesn’t he himself admit in his essay that these institutions are woefully inadequate (in their present state) to deal with the types of threats the US currently faces? I quote from his essay: “The world today lacks effective international institutions that can confer legitimacy on collective action.” He goes on further in the essay to sum-up the traditional conservative critique of these international organizations (to which he has no rebuke) stating of these institutions: “while useful for certain peacekeeping and nation-building operations, the United Nations lacks both the democratic legitimacy and effectiveness in dealing with serious security issues.” No kidding. I won’t even try to put it better myself.

Removing the military as our main effort in fighting the war on terror is also a fundamental shift in the United State’s view of the enemy which it is fighting. To not engage the enemy with arms is to suggest that these people can in fact be “managed.” Sorry. I disagree. As I have stated before in class, there is a short term and long term strategy in the war on terror. The short term calls for decisive military action to deal with an enemy that will not come to the negotiating table; an enemy that will again launch vicious attacks against the US if allowed to. It is also not to recognize that we are fighting an enemy that espouses a competing political ideology at extreme odds with liberal democracy. This ideology takes many forms—whether it be based on the Iranian model, Taliban model, or, as al-Zawahiri has alluded to, the establishment of an international caliphate. One ideology must be combated with another. Hence, enter the long term strategy. This is where neoconservatism comes into play. Which ideology would you prefer to be promulgated throughout the world? And I know what you are saying to yourself right now: “Yes, but why should we do it with the military?” To this I will answer, we don’t have time in the post 9/11 world to do it any other way. America always seems to train for the last war it fought. It is then taken off-guard when a new type arises. This war on terror is completely new, but make no mistake about it-it is a war and we must understand it as such. The battlefield is abroad and at home and the enemy must be fought at many different levels and on many different fronts---and it must be fought NOW, not later when international institutions and the international community in general decides its finally ready to confront it. Fukuyama’s insistence that the US should redirect efforts away from military operations to the restructuring of international institutions in order to enable them to achieve what are essentially neoconservative goals is na├»ve and dangerous. Don’t give those in the enemy camp that much credit. They are not interested in dealing with international institutions except, perhaps, for purposes of manipulation. Restructuring of international institutions should be a long term goal. But does anyone truly believe they will ever be able to operate efficiently enough to conduct the type of war that the US and its allies are currently engaged in? Give me a break.

As I stated in class, I’m not an ideologue. I don’t subscribe blindly to neoconservatism because I voted for President Bush or fought in the Iraq war. I subscribe to it because it is an idea that drives a strategy I believe will keep Americans safe while bringing better things, in the long run, to the rest of the world. If there is a better way of doing this, I’m all ears. But the alternatives I’ve heard all pretty much sound the same. They are relatively void of any truly new objectives combined with a softer approach to achieving these goals. This doesn’t cut it in today’s security environment. We must be activist and we must remain sure about the attractiveness of our freedoms and liberties....yes, sure enough to bet that in this shaky world if a dangerous regime that threatens the US, its neighbors, and its own people is toppled militarily we have the ability and courage to see the project through to a successful completion. I for one will never lose faith in either our military's or our nation's ability to do this. Why? Because, again as I have argued against some in class, I believe that the "values" the US and the West embrace truly are universal. Fukuyama apparently lost the conviction of his prior beliefs because things, from his perspective, haven't gone as perfectly as planned. Well, hate to say it, but things rarely ever do...especially in a place as historically volatile as the Middle East. But this doesn't mean we have failed, not by a long shot. In fact, I would argue just the opposite. But as I said at the beginning, that's for another discussion. Fukuyama's position also exemplifies the lack of creativity from those who oppose neoconservatism in establishing alternate strategies. Everybody loves to criticize neoconservatism, but once again, no one has managed to come up with a viable alternative strategy that meets today’s threats at the many different levels at which they must be met.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Fukuyama

Make sure to read this NYT magazine article by Francis Fukuyama. Once a (the?) leading neocon, he has adjusted his arguments in light of the Iraq war.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Memos

All,

Because there have been questions, I think it's appropriate to lay out more clearly my expectations for the writing assignment. First and foremost, I am always available for questions, and I will read any draft that you give me before the day the paper is due. If you are particularly concerned about a paper, this is the best way to allay your fears.

Although the specific form I ask for in the assignment is a memo, there are certain requirements that any good paper must meet. First, the paper must be free of grammar and spelling errors. This is relatively simple in concept, less so in practice. The best way to make sure that you catch basic errors is to read the paper back to yourself aloud. I cannot emphasize how critical it is to be able to communicate free of such errors; in a professional setting, such mistakes can be disastrous.

Second, any paper must have an argument. You cannot simply ruminate about a subject for five pages without some sort of unifying argument. Having an argument helps structure your paper as a readable narrative. This is true of either the policy-oriented memos or the country analysis memos. If you give me a collection of facts about a country without making some kind of argument about that country, I will be unhappy.

Third, you must cite. This is true of virtually any kind of formal writing, and in fact is so prevalent that I'm surprised I have to mention it. Citation indicates to the reader the veracity of your statements of fact and gives the reader somewhere to look if she wants to read more. Citation is an absolute requirement.

Fourth, the memo as a form is about, essentially, practical questions. No one noodles about the productive interplay between Locke, Rousseau, and Hobbes in a memo. Thus, the memo as a form requires a concrete analysis, rather than a mainly theoretical one. While I have no formal requirements regarding memo form (as I mentioned at the beginning of class), I do have a preference for general approach. As I said on the first day of class, I want any memo that you write (apart from the country analysis memos) to set forth two or more courses of action, analyze their merits, and advocate one. This leaves you a great deal of freedom, but gives you the basic form of what the paper should look like.

As to content, the question you approach is up to you. Choosing an interesting question is as important an academic skill as answering a question well. However, I would like the question that you write on to at least touch on the matter for discussion of the day you decide to turn the memo in. Thus, if you are writing for week eight, your paper ought to be at least in part about reputation.

If you have questions, ask. All this said, the writing assignment has gone fine thus far; no one is in any serious trouble.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Immigration/Border

This is a huge debate I want to bring up on this blog. Some argue that the border with Mexico needs to be strengthened to prevent illegal aliens from any country entering. Congress wants to build an actual wall that would create a stronger barrier along the frontier. This is the national security strand of thought, which has adherants like Senator John Cornyn of Texas. Terrorists can possibly pass through the border, but drug traffickers and gang members definitely do, causing domestic security problems. But others say it goes deeper than actual security concerns- we don't want the "brown hoards" coming to the US and threatening our white majority.

Samuel Huntington kind of takes a middle of the road position in "Who Are We?", saying that the Mexican population's sheer numbers and failure to assimilate threatens the American Creed we stand by, which he says is the secret of our progress and success. He poses the question..what if our country becomes officially bilingual and bicultural?

Never before in our history have so many foreigners resisted learning English or integrating into the American culture. This could lead to a bifurcation of American society, and alter the country's direction in terms of domestic and foreign policy. Jay and Hamilton argued that a strong America in the world depended on a unified America at home. Could another "Confederacy" emerge, this time composed of the states with Hispanic majorities?

Mexican immigration is important to the economies of both the US and Mexico, and I don't think it's a threat to our national security. But I agree with Huntington in that we're headed too far toward "multiculturalism" and "bilingualism"...this division may greatly alter our country's future. Rather than try to accomodate those who don't speak English, we should encourage them to learn. For example, don't publish ballots in Spanish!

I wonder, though, if we really need a wall along the frontier. Maybe, because the porous border does allow criminals to pass unseen and even terrorists...then again, so does the border with Canada. But millions of Canadians aren't risking their lives to get to our farms and factories. Makes you wonder if subconscious racism really is at the heart of the debate. I definitely think a fence is extreme, especially unaccompanied by more legal mechanisms through which to migrate and work in the U.S. This would harm our relations with Mexico, since Fox is dedicated to adding a "free flow of labor" ammendment to NAFTA.

I'm interested to see what you guys think. Is the extensive border the real threat, or is it the large, unassimilated Mexican population itself? Or neither?

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Secretary Rice's Proposal for Iran

Ok, this may be a bit long, but it is a difficult subject to approach in just a few lines. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice just made a request from the Senate for $85 million to support dissident groups, unions, student fellowships and television and radio broadcasts in Iran. There is an article on this posted in the New York Times.

Although I do not agree with the way Iran is governed currently, there may be serious repercussions to openly advocating and providing this type of aid of which Sec. Rice talks about. In the following I’m going to try and address some of the problems that the US might run into (even though I realize that books would need to be written in order to thoroughly analyze the subject).

Proponents of this aid proposal cite examples of countries where the US took similar actions and was successful. One major problem with using Poland, Ukraine, or Georgia as examples of success stories is that Christianity is the predominant religion in these countries. In the case of Kyrgyzstan, which is 75 percent Muslim, it is a country which is hardly a strong enforcer and promoter of religious rule as is the case with Iran. Also, none of these countries posed any kind of serious threat to the stability of their respective regions, nor were they in any way a threat to the United States. Iran on the other hand, is a fairly homogeneous Islamic country (90% Shi’a, 9% Sunni) so that in itself could be a stumbling bloc in reception of the US aid as afore mentioned. It might be harder to get on the same page with someone who doesn’t share some of the same moral, ethical, and religious values as yourself…someone who may not particularly like the way their country is run now, but who does not necessarily see the western model as a way to go either. This is all speculation on something that may happen down the road, but would we still support a regime change even if the new one might not necessarily be a democratic one?

Even though the support for the US among young people is high, Iranians are also wary of any US meddling in their country because of the past experiences with the US. This proposed aid could be seen as a way of the US attempting to impose its will and way of life onto the Iranians.

Another problem with providing money to the political dissidents is that it might get into wrong hands, to support groups which may be against the current regime, but are not favored as alternatives by the Iranian people either (such as the supporters of the monarchy). The last thing that the US needs is to lose the support that it has in Iran because it backed a wrong group.

The radical Iranian government does not want even minimal relations with the US. How is this aid going to affect the recipients of it once the Iranian government knows who they are? We cannot seriously believe that these groups are not going to be heavily oppressed and persecuted by their government. So how effective will the aid be then? Perhaps it will be effective in the sense that it will cause a certain degree of tension and unrest in the country. But then again, in providing such aid, a question begs to be asked, is it really in our interest to cause unrest in Iran? This becomes especially relevant when talking about the current situation in Iraq. Thus far – especially in the beginning stages of the invasion of Iraq – Iran has been fairly cooperative as it is in its interest to keep stability in their neighboring country. How is Iran going to react to such open promotion of aid to the opposition of the current regime? Certainly it will try to “retaliate” in number of ways and one of the easiest and most cost efficient ones could be to cause/support as much chaos as possible for our troops in Iraq (covertly I would imagine).
These are just some of the downsides to openly/publicly supporting the Iranian government’s opposition.

In my opinion, whatever that is worth, we should try and avoid this type of open support for the opposition as it may cause more damage than good. In the case of Iran we should stick to the back channels and under-the-table types of deals because that way we risk less, as well as we do not openly expose the opposition. Nontheless, I am posting this in order to hopefully generate some discussion on the matter and how it relates to what's in our best national interest.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Spy Work

There was an interesting news item that developed a little while before class today and we did not discuss it in class today. The development was that spy work program helped prevent an airplane hickjacking using a shoebomb and crashing it to the tallest building in Los Angeles. First of all I am curious why all of a sudden this became a public story or got unclassified, was it because of the critism of spy work program or did President Bush have another reason to discuss the program. I think that it is important to protect our national borders and I think President Bush was doing acting right especially if it helped to prevent a huge catastrophe. At the end of the day, national security is important and I think in a case like this it is ok to wiretap terroristic phone calls without getting a warrant in the court in order to keep it a classified information. It will be interesting to see if the public opinion of this program will improve in the next few days after more people will find out about the possible prevented attack.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Is Schelling still relevant?

After reading Schelling and thinking about our discussion last week I cannot help but wonder how truly relevant "Arms and Influence" is today. The idea that nuclear war might break out seems even more unlikely than when Schelling wrote his work as we've now added nearly 40 years to non-nuclear combat. My main reasoning for thinking that Schelling may not be applicable is that looming threats which are nuclear in nature to the United States and its allies are no longer from the Soviet Union with a formidable nuclear arsenal. Rather we are most concerned, and I would argue rightly so, with rogue states acquiring nukes and passing them onto terrorist organizations or perhaps a dirty bomb attack in a crowded American city.

It seems that deterrence as discussed in Schelling would certainly make it extremely unlikely that any considerably nuclear armed state, Russia if you'd like to keep some post-Cold War animosity, would consider attacking the US due to the certainty that we would respond in kind. Does deterrence of any kind truly work against the failed states, repressive regimes, and terrorist organizations from whom we feel most threatened. Technological and military superiority have done little to deter the Iraqi insurgency from continuing to fight. I question if we are perhaps putting too much stock in the rational actor theory, that all states and leaders of states will make rational decisions in the best interest of their people. Can President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran truly be considered rational. It is not clear that Iran or any other despotic regime would not be willing to chance nuclear retaliation on its own territory for the opportunity to reach a desired goal, perhaps the destruction of Israel. A lack of rationality becomes even more likely when dealing with terrorists who operate as stateless actors, thus making it difficult for retaliatory strikes to be paid in kind should the US be attacked in some form. Ultimately, the question becomes for all of our nuclear might, is deterrence really protecting us from our most immediate threats?

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

QDR 2005-6

A brief look at the QDR

Well I’m in the wonderful Garden State,working on the Disaster Recovery Program for UK/Homeland Security. So I will be missing class Thursday I saw yesterday that the Quadrennial Defense Review came out, so while riding on the famed subways around here I figured I would write a quick overview of the QDR. Sorry for typo’s.

After reading the QDR it seems that the Department of Defense has learned from some of its mistakes over the past 30 years and also realized what some of our strengths are in the twenty first century. The QDR has two main points, changing the capabilities of our military and changing the way we fight wars and conflicts. To that end the DOD will continue with the downsizing of the U.S. military. The Army will be cut down to its pre 2001 levels and the Air Force will lose 40,000. This will be to “fight the long war” as they have renamed the war on terrorism, and to realign the military to threats and missions applicable to Counter Terrorism missions (CT) and Counter Insurgency operations (CI). To achieve this goal the QDC will ask for a 15 percent boost in the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) to include Special Mission Units ( SMUs) such as SEAL Teams, ODA’s, and the new Marine Special Operations Command (MARSOC). Which by the way is going to be a great unit with its past going back to Combined Action Program (CAP) Platoon in Vietnam, and its present, as high speed as ODA’s and SEAL TEAM SIX. (OOH – RAH!).Plus it will add 3,500 personnel to civil affairs and psychological operation units, that’s a 33% increase in that area of warfare. This should make wining the hearts and minds of our Islamic brothers easier.

The QDR 2001 required the U.S. to be able to fight two wars and swiftly defeat the enemy in both. The 2005 QDR states that we will need to fight two wars with one of them being a prolonged “irregular” war i.e.…Iraq. In the 2001 QDR the U.S. was required to be able to operate in four regions of the world. In the 2005 QDR it states that we should be capable of operating around the globe. This will be accomplished by working with international coalitions and by, ““shape choices of countries at strategic crossroads,” according to Pentagon briefing documents. Three main countries have been recognized for this “shaping” China, Russia and India.

The new Capabilities- based system will eliminate threat-based planning. Instead the U.S. military will have four new based capabilities that will give the Pentagon a better choice set on how to use the military. These four new capabilities are: Defeat terrorist networks, Defend the U.S. homeland in depth, Prevent acquisition or use of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), and Shape choices of countries at strategic crossroads.

The new QDR has many interesting points and topics for debate, such as the “anticipatory measures,” partnerships portion of the QDR, for those of you not going to read it, its the part that I mentioned about managing rising powers. It does look like it will be an interesting decade for the military.

The QDR report and supporting materials are available on the Defense Department Web site.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Calling All Schelling Fans: You Finally Have a Mecca

Check out these Schelling blogs...I'm not promising revelation, but at least a few hours of non-stop anecdotal fun! Enjoy and blog your heart out…

FREAK
Plumcake: A Teacher's Pet
Talks in 3rd Person

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Danish cartoonists

This article, reports that the Danish embassy in Beirut was torched by Lebanese protesters. At least 18 people were injured, although many protesters were themselves upset, because they had expected a peaceful protest. According to this source, Syrian protesters also torched the Danish and Norwegian embassies in Damascus as well as accidentally damaging the Swedish embassy on their way to the French embassy. This article describes the event that triggered the protest in more detail: it seems that some members of "the Islamic world" felt that certain political cartoons were in poor taste. (This blog shows one of the cartoons in question.*) Rather than join the many who were writing stern letters to the editor, a few turned to violence.
(America and several European countries blame this on Syria, for failing to protect the embassies; presumably they also hold Lebanon responsible.)

So, Denmark find itself in a bit of national security crisis (the BBC describes Denmark as bemused by the whole thing), and their response is to apologize, while continuing to assert that they were right in printing the cartoons. That's not a real apology, in my opinion. Denmark (as well as other countries who printed or re-printed the cartoons) holds that it had every right to print the cartoons, because free speech is a basic tenet of democracy. Unfortunately, Denmark is learning that free speech does not cover being offensive for the sheer sake of being offensive, nor does it cover defiling holy symbols. It will be interesting to see how this minor insult (at least as far as Denmark is concerned) develops, and to see how violent the end response to this cultural insensitivity becomes.

As an
aside, the Saudi Interior Minister, Prince Nayef, responded to this crisis by saying, "We hope that religious centers like the Vatican will clarify their opinion in this respect." The Vatican did, indeed, clarify its position: "The right to freedom of thought and expression cannot entail the right to offend the religious sentiment of believers." Denmark is over 95% Protestant, so I do wonder if they're really listening to the Vatican.

*Please do not click on the link if you are likely to be offended. Contents of the cartoon should not be construed as opinions of the author of this post, the Patterson School, or anyone else associated with this blog.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Reputation

How much does resolve matter in international relations? There are some who argue that resolve is unimportant. Dr. Farley argued that one's enemies will interpret one's actions however they wish. While this is true to some extent, I have to dispute it. Stalin closed off Berlin in an attempt to force the West to surrender it. Instead, the US initiated the legendary Berlin Airlift. After it became clear to Stalin that the US was determined to keep Berlin, Stalin called off the blockade.

There are other examples as well. An Iranian frigate attacked two American military aircraft. In response, US fighters sunk the frigate. If memory serves, Kenneth Pollack argues in The Persian Puzzle that the Iranian government took a lesson from this incident, namely that they could only push the US before the US would respond.

Finally, I feel obliged to bring an example in from World War II. Yes, I'm going to talk about Munich. I know that's the most cited example of the need for resolve, but it's a good one. Hitler was having problems at home, so he did what he always did. He went looking for trouble abroad. He demanded the Sudetenland, and he got it. Some experts argue that, had the British and the French stood up to him, the military would have initiated a coup and removed Hitler from power. Instead, Hitler got a strategically vital section of Czechoslovakia, and the German military stayed loyal.

Now, does that mean standing fast is always a wise idea? Of course not. Quite simply, some things aren't worth fighting over. Mexico disputed a small section of the Texas border (the Rio Grande had moved since the border was drawn); eventually, the US agreed to give it up in return for increased oil sales from Mexico. Attempting to hold onto that land would have simply been stupid.

What I'm saying is that resolve matters. It's not everything, but it does matter.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Breaker Morant

I wanted to address a question from this evening's film that I felt got somewhat short shrift during the conversation. Farley posed to us as a group the query as to whether or not we should "feel bad" for Morant and Hancock after their execution. The gut reaction of most seems to have been that we should, but I think it's a more complicated issue. Morant, until the death and mutilation of his friend Hunt, had never shot a Boer prisoner. Whittington, the younger Australian soldier--if I'm getting his name right, even comments to the effect that Morant never obeys an order with which he does not agree, and Morant admits that he's seeking vengeance for the death of his friend.

The defense counsel, in his closing, contends that such wars sometimes require actions that are not Christian, that are barbarous and that cannot be judged by civilian mores, which is why Morant deserves leniency. I'm not comfortable with that sentiment...at all. We develop international taboos in war that encourage restraint for a reason. The international community does not condone needless violence, even in a war context. However, such ideals are harder to stand by in when dealing with an enemy who does not abide by the same rules, and when the enemy escalates the violence--the symbolic mutilation of Hunt, Morant's fall from Grace becomes more understandable. He's driven to it by the ugliness of the situation, but Hancock doesn't quite have the same excuse. He is clearly less interested in the difference between right and wrong than in mere survival. For him, killing the prisoners is more about making certain that there is one less Boer to put a dum-dum through his skull. Even so, that, too, is an understandable impulse. Who really wants to die?

Regardless of how understandable those impulses are, such actions cannot be condoned. They undermine the signals the British are trying to communicate to the Boers by making surrender an untenable option. Schelling would likely agree that encouraging surrender is the goal of such violence and that killing all Boer prisoners is a disincentive for the Boers to stop fighting. Furthermore, they cut at the veneer of civility that is so important to bringing people to the negotiating table. After all, who wants to negotiate with a madman?

I understand why Morant and Hancock had to be punished, but I dislike the fact that the British army was more than willing to institute a policy of automatic execution (or at least allegedly so) and then sacrifice two soldiers who were following that order. In the abstract, at least, the British government sold Morant and Hancock up the creek for a policy that was generally well known among the soldiers. What kind of message does that level of violence send? My immediate question was "how can the British expect their soldiers to perform in light of these events." They used these two men to show the Boers the impartiality of English justice but at the same time showed other soldiers that they were more than willing to execute their own soldiers for following orders and policy established by Britain.

How can a state like that hope to maintain an empire? I'm not certain, but it's certainly a disturbing message.