T Nation

George H. W. Bush Dies at 94


#122

Yet you assert that the Assad regime didn’t use chemical weapons (in spite of ample technical evidence to the contrary) because you apparently willing to swallow and regurgitate propaganda from Damascus and Moscow.


#123

Well, you made a odious claim. Now you’re unwilling to defend it outside of “well, that’s just my opinion, man.” You wrote what you wrote to stir the pot (you admitted as much) and you’re now looking to dismiss it off hand because you’re unwilling (or unable) to formulate a cogent argument.

I can’t help but to find it ironic that you put quotes around international law (as if to dismiss a field of well established formal statues and customary norms as the stuff of rainbows and unicorns) while making the asinine claim that “Assad has the AUTHORITY [i.e., legal authorization] to do whatever he wants” when it’s clearly evident that is not the case.

Killing is not killing. There are acts that are legally and morally justifiable, and there are those that are clearly not. Do you not realize you’re shrugging at the intentional massacre of non-combatants? That Damascus, Moscow, and Tehran are conducting a punitive campaign that has strong undercurrents of ethnic cleansing?


#124

That’s kind of you to say. I’ve always admired your principles. I think we generally agree on ends, it’s the means we sometimes disagree on.


#125

I also asserted that maintaining the international norm against the use of chemical weapons is in the material interests of the United States. Do you want US forces operating in a world that shrugs at the use of chemical weapons?

Recall the MOPP madness during the Gulf War. There’s a reason why Saddam was unwilling to employ CW against coalition forces. It’s clear that CW are perceived differently, and rightfully so.

You’ve based your position on what you see to be a clear eyed, rational assessment the American national interests (though you have yet to support your rationale). Can you argue that the erosion of the pariah status of CW wouldn’t be detrimental? How would you react if the Trump administration announced that US forces would start employing nerve agents in combat operations? Indifference?


#126

This account is simply false and reflects a poor understanding of the course of the war.

The first documented use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime was the sarin attack on Ghouta - a suburb of Damascus - on 21 August in 2013.

Think about that. Shelling a suburb of your capital city with military grade nerve agents. Does that sound like a self-assured government on the cusp of victory?

Russia didn’t intervene until the defeat of regime forces in Idlib province in 2015. In fact, it was because the opposition had grown so strong (largely as a result of the CIA’s covert arms program, know as Timber Sycamore) that the Kremlin determined it had to directly become involved to prevent an important ally from being toppled.


#127

I mean, there is some credence to this idea. Max Weber talks of the state maintaining its authority through a monopoly of violence over its citizens. So long as Assad can maintain that monopoly (which I would argue he currently can’t, hence the civil war), then the argument could be made that the state, upholding the base principle of what defines a state, would have the legitimate authority to apply the violence as it see’s fit.

The same can’t necessarily be said of international law. There is no monopoly of violence over the world, it is contested throughout. If a nation breaks international law, there is not necessarily any greater power that said state will be held to. Within a state, the state will always be the greatest power (according to Weber’s theory at least), but in the international community, who is this greatest power? The UN? Well what if the offending nation has a seat on the UN, rendering the UN essentially powerless. The US? What if the US is the perpetrator? China? Same issue. Most realist theory would support the idea that relations between nations exist in a more “state of nature” type field than is found in domestic affairs. A fairly Machiavellian view, but perhaps also an accurate one.


#128

In Max Weber’s “Politics as a Vocation”, he asserts that “a state is a human community [i.e., government] that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory.” (Emphasis added).

This is why in modern states, citizens cannot prosecute private wars or engage in vigilante violence. Even the right to self-defense is by virtue of state conferred authority.

The state - whose physical instruments of power are constituted by its military and police forces - is said to have a legitimate (i.e., lawful and normative) monopoly on the use of force only if there is an inter-subjective consensus that the state is acting in the best interests of its citizens.

I would also add the caveat the Weber is a product of his time. He was born in militant Prussia and came of age as Otto von Bismarck and Frederick the Great established the modern German state through a series of wars of conquest. He also wrote Politics as a Vocation shortly after the end of WWI, a conflict precipitated largely by the bellicosity of Wilhelmine Germany. While I’m generally a fan of his work (especially Politics as a Vocation and Science as a Vocation), there seems to be an undercurrent of German Romanticism (I.e., Counter-Enlightenment) in his thinking. Most pertinent to our discussion is the tension between Weber’s top down definition of the state and Liberal Democracy’s foundational tenet that the power and legitimacy of a government is conferred by the consent of the governed.

Going back to the war in Syria, the legitimacy of Assad’s regime is doubtful, to say the least. The Assad family established and maintained power though a reign of terror. One can make a strong argument that the regime’s conduct from 2012 onwards has fatally eroded its legitimacy. It has intentionally and indiscriminately targeted civilian populations. On a least four well documented occasions, it has done so with chemical weapons, which is a blatant and serious violation of international law. Even if we assume Assad’s legitimacy, it still would not follow that the regime is somehow authorized to so egregiously violate the laws of armed conflict.

You’re describing what international relations theorists (especially Structural/Neo Realists) sometimes call the anarchical international system. Because there is no overarching authority to regulate the conduct of states among one another, international politics is said to be a self-help realm in which states can ultimately rely only upon themselves for self-preservation. In such a world, force, in the words of of Kenneth Waltz, is said to be the ultima ratio (final argument). As Thucydides quotes the Athenians in the Melian Dialogue, the strong do what they will, and the weak suffer what they must.

Anarchy, however does not necessarily preclude the establishment and subsequent influence of international law, however. As Alexander Wendt asserts in his eponymous essay, anarchy is what states make of it.

Hedley Bull wrote in Anarchical Society that an international society is formed when" a group of states which not merely form a system, in the sense that the behaviour of each is a necessary factor in the calculations of the others, but also have established by dialogue and consent common rules and institutions for the conduct of their relations, and recognise their common interest in maintaining these arrangements." The balance of power, international law, diplomacy, war, and the central roles of the great powers are the most influential mechanisms of the social life of states. This paradigm represents a middle road between IR realism and liberalism, and holds that both ideas and material capabilities shape the conduct of world politics.

Now that we’ve established that anarchy does not preclude international society, itself a prerequisite to international law, we need to ask, “does international law even matter?” I would argue yes. I will elaborate later on but i need to find my relevant posts. I wrote on this awhile back on this forum and don’t want to reinvent the wheel.


#129

An excellent reply, which I would be hard pressed to refute. I fully agree that the Assad regime has a legitimacy problem, which is (IMO) the fundamental problem behind the civil war, a challenge for the right of legitimate authority over the state. Then again, I suppose that is essentially always the problem of a revolutionary civil war. Even a war of seccession would be a battle for legitimacy, just over a smaller segment.

Not by any means saying that I would agree that international law is a sham, but I thought it was more than fair to at least acknowledge that many people do value political theories which negate the effectiveness of international law.

Edit: And props for referencing the Melian Dialogue. Love Thucydides.


#130

Absolutely. I understand why certain theories of international politics (especially structural/neo reaism) see int’l law as ineffectual at best and as cynical regimes for great powers to assert their material interests at worst.

While I believe we could make a reasonable case for international society (and subsequent international law), I can’t get behind the concept of global unitary or a international federal state. That would be neither feasible nor desirable if it was.

If I had to pick a school most in line with my views, I would say Neoclassical Realism fits the bill. (think the historical grounding and piercing insights into human nature of Thucydides, Morgenthau and Carr coupled with the systemic and distribution of power contributions of Waltz and Mearsheimer’s structural/neo realism.) I also like the work of the English School theorists as well (e.g., Hedley and Watson), in addition to the Welsh School (Booth and Wheeler’s Security Dilemma ranks among my favorite works in the discipline).

P.S., I see you are a Midshipman and aspiring Marine. That’s fantastic stuff, man. Are you studying IR or a related field, by chance? Most of the Annapolis alumni I are run into are STEM folks (which makes sense given the [fiscal] premium American forces place upon high tech weapon and support systems).


#131

There is a reason I abandoned that training log haha. Came into the Academy planning on heading the marine route, but had a change of heart after getting to spend some time with various communities. Worked at the Pentagon for a summer, really got to take a look at some larger scale strategy theories, plus a few days at the Naval Research laboratory. Got me more interested in the STEM side of things, and about two months ago I passed my Nuclear Reactors interview, heading SWO Nuke when I leave this May.

Political Science Major, mainly specializing in International Relations and Security Strategy. Didn’t help me out much for the Nuke interview, but hey I passed. Large reason why I tend to lurk in PWI more than anything. I’m already spending my evenings writing arguments on politics, that is not how I am spending my free time haha.

I must admit, of all of this, I have only read the Security Dilemma. Was doing good with your references up until that point, but now I need to do some more reading. I would agree with you on Neoclassical Realism, though I personally lean just a tad stronger on the classical than the neo side of the balance. Call me a cynic I suppose.


#132

Personally, I would like a world where the US minds its own business and discontinues waging unnecessary wars that do more to damage our republic than than to strengthen it.

Perhaps I missed your point. What are you suggesting should be done since Assad used chemical weapons? Should US forces remove him from power the way they did Saddam and Ghaddafi?

I find it fitting that there always seems to be some “humanitarian” justification for the US invovlement in an unnecessary war (more often, just regime change):

“Saddam is a tryant gassing Kurds.”
“Ghaddafi is a tyrant who is gassing his people… or something.”
“Assad is a tyrant gassing his people.”
Vietnam: “muh communism.”
WWII (after the fact): “muh Holocaust.”
Civil War (after the fact): “muh slavery.”

How do you feel about the continued involvement of the US in regime change since WWII? Granted, as a nation we have benefited quite a bit at times from our involvement in unnecessary wars (Nazi scientists and other riches).


#133

Wow…


#134

Yeah, I don’t see how WW2 was an unnecessary war. It’s not like Pearl Harbor was attacked. I think someone needs a history lesson.


#135

It’s a pretty common line of thinking with flat earthers I hear


#136

WWII was necessary for whom? If Japan was the nation we were at war with, why did the US get involved in the European conflict? Yes, Germany declared war on the US, but it posed no immediate threat to the US (though, Japan apparently did, even if the US “allowed” Japan to bomb Pearl Harbor as a pretext to go to war).

You think I need a history lesson? You need a lesson in critical thinking instead of uncritically accepting the official narrative and all the excuses that justify war, the industrial murder of civilians, and regime change because the powers that be find it politically expedient to do so.

Regarding all the recent conflicts the US has found itself involved in I ask: who benefits? The answer isnt isnt “we the people.”


#137

If Hitler declared war, and was rapaciously conquering what he could, I would think that when he got strong enough he would have gone over eventually and taken North America. Japan was his ally (a particularly industrious exception to white is might is right) that got a mathematical basis for a military code that was only so good. He wanted Japan to weaken the allies and itself so that a strong Nazi empire could later clean up.


#138

That is ridiculous. Germany didnt win the Battle of Britian (which many historians and myself consider the turning point of the war) and Germany foolishly launched into war with Russia shortly after. Those are two of the biggest mistakes made by Germany and the US was not needed for Germans to lose against Russia and the Battle of Britain.

D-Day was the largest scale amphibeous assault in human history. It took months of planning and practice to carry out. It relied on diversion and Germany’s abysmally poor military leadership to succeed. How do you figure Germany was going to “take over North America”? Germany didnt even succed at taking over Britain (allegedly because the Germans didnt understand radar), but you suppose they possessed the capacity to conquer entire continents over 1000 miles away?

I dont know what that last bit about mathematical basis for military codes means. In any case, what did Japan do for its “ally” Germany? The Germans could have used a bit of help and Japan didnt seem to offer any.


#139

Now I know you need a history lesson.


#140

Nope. The turning point of Germany’s war fortunes was December 11th when they declared war on the US. From that point o it was simply a matter of time until logistics prevail. Per contemporary diaries, the smarter Nazi higher ups realized they lost the war that day.

Expansion into Russia was the raison d’etre of Nazism. You couldn’t have Nazism without the concept of lebensraum (and extermination of “lesser” races). So invasion of Soviet Union was a given considering the political ramifications of Nazi ideology.

No, because Hitler wasn’t really interested in an invasion. Operation Sealion was a reluctant effort to force Britain to the negotiating table so that Hitler can focus on the ideological life-or-death struggle in the east. Admittedly, had literally anyone else from the British establishment been in Churchill’s shoes (appeaser Lord Halifax cough cough) the strategy would have worked.

Well, if the Nazis prevailed in Europe, the could have concentrated their efforts on the illuminatingly called A9 or the Amerika Rakete. Think a hailstorm of ICBMs filled with radioactive material thanks to Heisenberg’s efforts (not actual fission) falling onto East Coast populated areas.

In this parallel universe an isolationist US president wouldn’t have started the Manhattan Project.


#141

https://2001-2009.state.gov/r/pa/ho/time/wwii/88734.htm