Regarding W.F. Buckley’s musing on whether or not, in the end, Ronald Reagan would actually have given the order to launch our nuclear response, I must point out that such ambiguity was always at the heart of the policy of Mutual Assured Destruction — that it is, in fact and by its nature, at the heart of any strategy of deterrence.
For deterrence to be successful requires two elements that must both be present:
- That your opponent believes you have the capability to retaliate
- That your opponent believes you have the will to retaliate (including the will to depend on retaliation, rather than backing down)
Note that neither element requires that your threat be ‘real’ — that is, that you actually have the capability in the first instance and that you actually have the will in the second. What matters is that you can make your opponent believe both are real.
That is why America is more risk tolerant than other countries and societies in the world: because to guarantee security you must always sacrifice some amount of liberty; and, in assessing that sacrifice, Americans have traditionally factored liberty higher in the equation than have most other peoples.
There is, and has been for centuries, a genuine and earnest debate in this country about the requirements and limits of deference to the State when it comes to matters of personal well-being. People who value their right to protect themselves from the burdens of parenthood by having an abortion assert the same principle of personal autonomy as those who value their right to protect themselves from being the victims of predators by bearing weapons; and both assertions come from the same moral and spiritual sources.
There is a primal disagreement about whether, and to what extent, individuals do or do not retain a sacred right to protect themselves when they also claim protection from the State. One view, typically associated with the American political right, asserts that individuals do retain such a right, that the government’s duty to protect augments, but does not replace, that individual prerogative. The other view, typically associated more with the American political left, asserts that the individual prerogative to protect oneself is, and must be, significantly diminished — if not fully subjugated– in order for government to maintain the civil order required for its protections to be meaningful and effective.
To be clear, the legal imperative that you must retreat, rather than defend yourself, in the face of a threat is an explicit mandate that you must affirmatively participate in your own victimization. It reflects a political philosophy that assigns responsibility for and authority over personal well-being strictly to the State and it requires that everyone depend solely on the State for that function — it requires that, if the State can’t act in the moment to protect you against such victimization, then your responsibility as a citizen is to avoid fighting back, to accept being a victim now in the hope that you can attain some form of redress later. In effect, it transforms the role of individuals within such a polity from that of sovereign citizen to that of ward and supplicant, from autonomous and self-directed moral agent to just another drone playing his or her assigned role in the human hive.
Hyperbole? Of course. But these arguments go beyond philosophy to the moral and emotional core of what it means to exist as a human individual embedded within a larger society and, so, they invite a correspondingly moral and emotional response.
Aside from its affects on our adversaries, diplomatic engagement creates certain expectations at home: expectations that can be manipulated to gain advantage by politicians during the electoral contest and during legislative debate; and expectations that can be manipulated, also, by our adversaries as they augment the quiet closed-door diplomacy of engagement with public relations efforts aimed directly at the American citizenry.
Those on the left seem to think that those on the right don’t want the Iraq war to end — that they are “pro-war”, by which they seem to mean “think war is a good thing”.
Formulate it, rather, this way: There are two ways to end a war, win or surrender.
We routinely view the problem of illegal immigration effectively as one of importing labor. But it is a much more useful paradigm to view it as exporting work, despite the fact that the work doesn’t actually leave the country … If we view illegal immigration as an illicit export of jobs rather than as in illicit import of people, we see a different set of solutions to the problem.
It occurs to me (and I am sure to others) that an effective approach to getting the most out of the current negotiating opportunity in the middle-east would be for the President to appoint a special envoy rather than to handle it through the Secretary of State and the State Department. That would not only leave the Secretary free to focus her attentions on the rest of the war on terror but would also give the negotiator both additional moral authority (as the personal appointment of the President and his personal representative) and less “official” baggage (as someone not actively engaged in other aspects of American foreign policy).
My nominee for the post: Bill Clinton.
Since I spent many years working within large bureaucracies — the United States Air Force and Abbot Laboratories — and participated in endless rounds of reorganization and “quality improvement” programs in vain attempts to make those bureaucracies “efficient” and “effective”, I have some insight into how such bureaucratic organizations – and our intelligence services fit that description — fail.
For that reason, and because I am outside the political fray and therefore somewhat more dispassionate than our elected representatives, I prepared a proposal for restructuring the intelligence services that I believe balances the conflicting demands we place on them. I admit I have no experience in intelligence collection or analysis, and so my thinking is based strictly on my observations of our political culture, my experience with large bureaucratic organizations, and my imagination about how intelligence works. Further, I am not arrogant enough to believe that my proposal is optimum or even very good. But it seems to me better than what I’ve heard so far coming from Washington, and I hope it might provide some useful insights to improve the other schemes that are being debated.
I listened to the debates in the 2004 presidential election hoping to hear that one of the candidates was not as pathetic as they appeared. I was disappointed.
During the “debate” on national security issues, in particular, not only was neither candidate personally reassuring but there seemed to be almost no substance to the actual argument. That was particularly frustrating because the talking heads of the media, and all the news stories the following day, kept referring to the “substantive” discussion. I wondered if I’d somehow tuned in to the Cliff Notes version of the debate, or perhaps the “Debate for Dummies” channel.
And what is the reporters’ and editors’ responsibility in these cases? They want background information to help them know and judge the truth; does that not also give them a responsibility equal to that of the government to protect that information until it is no longer sensitive?