Monday, February 28, 2005

False Choices? We Report, You Ignore

Over at David Corn's blog, a commenter on this post about a loudmouth in Congress asked the following questions:

Hmmm.....let's see...

If I was a terrorist-loving dictator, like Assad, which would SCARE me more into "being nice"?...

A. some liberal who says "We can negotiate...we can have talks....we can go through endless UN regimes....and you'll die peacefully in your bed in 45 years, still in power, with nothing done to change your violent ways!"


B. some guy who says "Straighten up....or we'll turn Damascus into a sheet of radioactive glass!"

Hmmm? DO dictators usually respond, given a choice of "A" or "B"?

Simple minded, I know. I would have commented directly there, but it raises a sort of interesting question about mindset and so on. I'll have to assume that the commentor's editorializing in option A is just a fancy way of saying "diplomacy". Otherwise, it's a totally false choice, because I don't think anyone's ever tried that. I'll also have to quibble a bit with the phrasing, because as it stands, it doesn't make a ton of sense. We don't go to someone like Saddam and say "Hey, would you prefer us to try and be diplomatic, or would you prefer we threaten you?" WE would make the choice between A and B. Anyway, I think the sentiment of the comment is "Which is the more effective way to get dictators to do what we want, A or B? And if we go with B, which option in B would you think they'd prefer?"

To his first question, I would say we have no way of knowing the answer, so I'll leave that alone. However, his second question is actually answerable with plenty of evidence from recent history. Dictators respond by ignoring it.

We could start with Iraq. I don't think option A was actually tried, but we sure tried option B. In case anyone missed it, we had to invade because that particular tyranical dictator didn't "straighten up". I'm pretty sure we tried that with the Taliban too with much the same result. We could also look at the Balkans. In the case of Kosovo, in order to get Milosevic to "straighten up", we intially tried A, and it didn't work. We then tried B, and that didn't work either, because we had to start bombing. We've also tried B in a more general form in the "Axis of Evil" speech. However, that hasn't stopped Iran or North Korea from developing nuclear weapons. One could also look to An End To evil, where Richard Perle and David Frum claim we have now demonstrated that if you're a state that doesn't do what we want, "you're next". Has any state that we have a beef with started doing "what we want"? Now you could argue that before we invaded Iraq no one thought we really "meant it", but now they know we do. But this doesn't answer the Iran and North Korea questions, since it's been almost two years since we invaded Iraq and neither country has shown any signs of "straightening up".

What I would be interested in knowing(and since I don't have time to research it today) is if we have ever actually had success with option B. It would seem to me that option C is actually the most effective. Namely, we should skip both the ineffective liberal diplomacy and the equally ineffective macho sabre rattling and jump right into the invasion/bombing part. Perhaps, though, there's an option D whereby we say "we'll be really nice to you" and then start bombing. Or maybe there's an option E, where we threaten a dictator, and then send him flowers instead.

The reason this is at all interesting to me is the article of faith that some people seem to hold, which is that we should go beyond "tough talk" straight into threats of force because it's an effective deterent. There may be times when this is true, but I don't think it's true in general. This mindset seems to dovetail nicely with people who are very strongly pro-death penalty, when the death penalty has been shown time and again to be an ineffective deterent. But somehow this mindset persists. Now, I'm not advocating a "turn to niceness", I'm just curious if that kind of "tough" is any kind of effective.

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