Sunday, May 31, 2009

Hawkish rants and raves

A friend recently posted an extensive rant about North Korea's nuclear testing, with the advice to President Obama that he "go gansta" and "mafia style" and assassinate the DPRK leader:

Below is my response.

With all due respect to your articulate and thoughtfully-worded rant, your advice for Mr. Obama is not only frighteningly extreme, hawkish, and reminiscent of disastrous Bush-era foreign policy, it is wholly and completely out of touch with the reality of the globalized world community in which we live today.

Today’s community of nations is one that is ruled by more than the internet and capital markets. In fact, even these two higher powers conduct themselves within the framework to which I refer: that of international law. Now, I recognize that for many disbelievers and cynics out there, “international law” invokes images of liberal, overly indulgent, United Nations-loving, human rights-preaching idealists who might climb or even hug trees in their spare time. But in reality, international law is a whole lot more than that (and I have a 1,700 page, 10-pound book to prove it). International law seeks to monitor nuclear activity among errant nations (I said “seeks”); provides a framework for the cross-border trade of goods, services and people; protects artists and researchers from piracy; streamlines foreign direct investment and multinational expansion; establishes laws against the sexploitation of children and provides refuge for internally displaced peoples; ensures the oceans remain independent yet protected territory. In a nutshell, international law is a good thing.

And without it, without the global rule of law that we consider so essential on a domestic level, the world order would be something like, well, Somalia. And while lawlessness and piracy on the high seas looks like a whole lot of fun in the movies (thanks in part to the brilliance of Johnny Depp) I don’t think this is the type of world we wish to live in, or one in which you want to raise your children.

The reason I mention all this, is because the advice which you offer to President Obama, beseeching him to “go gangsta” on the “commie ass” of Kim Jong-Il and assassinate him, would be none other than a blatantly illegal use of force, in complete and utter violation of the international laws that, for more than a century, have guided the manner in which nations enter into and conduct war. As a typically decent nation, we have for the most part (torture scandals aside) respected these laws, and have long recognized their value in protecting our own national security and the lives of our servicemen and women overseas. (I can hear your protest now… but just because one nation’s leader doesn’t follow the rules, that doesn’t mean we should all follow suit. I think we have learned that lesson time and time again.)

I will avoid commencing here on a diatribe about what the laws of war state, and what are the international laws and treaties that have long governed the use of force and the right to national sovereignty. I assume you know the basics, and thus can recognize that entering the territory of a sovereign state and assassinating its leader isn’t exactly justified under these long-standing rules.

And I am sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but the U.S. is no longer a superpower that can act alone and in its own interests without consequences. Even Tom Friedman gets that we are just one member of a vast network of states on which we are reliant, and to which we are vitally and intricately connected. It is na├»ve and misguided to think that U.S. Navy Seals can parachute into the DPRK, kill its leader, and return home unscathed and without any repercussions to the global community. The world in which we live today is not a Hollywood movie, thankfully so. It is a lawful society, yet these laws will only work if we all abide by them – just like at home, within our own borders.

International laws aside, do something Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld didn’t do: think about it. Setting aside the domestic havoc this would create within North Korea, as well as the likelihood that an extended post-Jong-Il occupation by the U.S. Army would be deemed essential (after all, not only is there not a single viable successor to the Jong-Il throne that we know of – apart from a potential puppet tied to US strings – the North Koreans do not exactly have substantial experience with the democratic process) there is no telling what kind of ripple effect such a belligerent move would have on the global community. China for one would not exactly be thrilled; one can only imagine the potential reaction of this highly significant and militarily capable nation.

And in any event, I ask you to name one time in history when taking out a dictator – or the leader of any nation – turned out to be a good thing for the United States. Recent history certainly proves otherwise, and I am pretty sure that a thorough review of all such historical events would reveal similarly disastrous results in the short or long run.

Finally, while your “fuck those guys” sentiment indicates an utter lack of compassion for the North Korean people, I would like to remind you that they are nonetheless human beings who just happen to have been given a dose of bad luck. And while they may be far away on a distant shore, they are nonetheless part of this human race, no better or worse than we Americans are. Two things we do have over them is wealth and freedom, and if these two gifts allow us to help a little by providing food aid to people that are starving, then this is what we as a decent society should do.

In essence, despite being a “neophyte” president with little foreign policy experience, Obama is a wise man. He recognizes the tremendous potential of our nation’s ability to wield soft power, and I for one voted for him because I had faith that he would conduct diplomacy as it was meant to be conducted: diplomatically. Free of threats and free of scare tactics that have proven to be futile and demoralizing to both us AND them, particularly during the past eight years. Therefore I am counting on this President to avoid such rash and hawkish moves like the one you suggest. And while I find your post amusing and mildly entertaining, I will sleep well tonight knowing that our President is not taking your advice.

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