Even More On International Interventions

We learn from history that we do not learn from history. —Hegel

The first Public Forum topic of the year — Resolved: Unilateral military force by the United States is justified to prevent nuclear proliferation — is eerily similar to an LD topic from last year. So similar, in fact, that I’m not going to bother writing a new affirmative case and instead tell you to go read last year’s affirmative case. The only catch is that, this being PF, you’ll want to present evidence that the United States has policy against nuclear proliferation — but that also makes it easier to demonstrate that you want to work with the power structure to prevent misuse of power instead of ineffectively railing against it from the outside.

But this topic skews negative with the affirmative quite often starting on very thin ice. How thin? Here’s Jon Stewart having less than 30 seconds of patience for an affirmative position (specific bit starts at 4:16). And Jon Stewart should have very little patience for the affirmative position here, given that he got fleeced by Ollie North’s claims of Iraqi nuclear proliferation (and U.S. executive competence) about a decade ago (specific bit starts at 6:30, “nuke” comes up at 6:52), when you were probably in pre-school. But Oliver North was just part of the administration’s larger snow-job on the American public. In Empire of Illusion, Chris Hedges recounts that

Jonathan Landay, a reporter who had written news stories at the time questioning Cheney’s prior assertions that Saddam Hussein had been seeking to acquire nuclear weapons, gave us the sneaky reason the White House had leaked the information—specifically so Cheney could discuss previously top-secret information on national TV.

Here’s another actual artifact of the administration’s media blitz from CNN’s archives. [Note: CNN is currently bouncing me to their home page, but Google has it cached.] Three things stand out:

  1. The administration was factually wrong in their claim that Iraq had aluminum tubes that were “only really suited for nuclear weapons programs” — yes, they were aluminum but no, they were not suited for that.
  2. The administration was vague with an acknowledgement that “there will always be some uncertainty” about when Iraq would actually succeed in nuclear proliferation — which is true for every nation that doesn’t already have nukes, but hardly makes a clear case for exporting the good women and men who want to serve and defend our country.
  3. The administration was sanctimonious, putting forward (ironically) dismissive claims like “There simply isn’t a case that this is a peace-loving man…” in an attempt to prevent debate over the course of action that they’d already decided upon.

Note that point #3 actually flows affirmative, or would until you disassemble the process by which power becomes self-righteous. And we’ve got both a timeline compiled on Wikipedia and a post-mortem with the minority reports that were ignored to show how it happened here. In short, the administration was choosing to listen to the reports that best-supported the policy objectives that they wanted to achieve. This is actually a feature of our executive branch run amok, as Eugene Jarecki recounts from USAF Lt. Col. Karen Kwiatkowski in The American Way of War:

It doesn’t matter what administration we’re talking about, if that [policy] customer’s not pleased with the intelligence, the intelligence producer runs the risk of becoming marginalized… There are thirteen different intelligence agencies. You don’t tell ‘em what they want to hear, and they will go to other sources.

So the reason every sane judge is going to be starting with a negative bias on this topic is because the last time the United States used force based on claims that we were doing it to prevent nuclear proliferation, we ended up foiling no nuclear proliferation in Iraq for over eight years while North Korea continued to engage in nuclear proliferation, clearly demonstrating to Iran and its ilk that countries that successfully proliferate nukes don’t get invaded.

To put it another way: maybe it used to be justified for the United States to use military force to prevent nuclear proliferation, but our reprehensible ineptitude in taking such actions clearly shows that we cannot sincerely expect a veneer of justification to cover that particular strain of war-mongering in the future.

But the real icing on this (yellow) cake is that this history lesson about Iraq isn’t even topical: it wasn’t a unilateral action! We suckered/coerced 30 allied nations into sending at least somebody to Iraq with our troops and military contractors on the expectation that putting a layer of social proof on top of a self-righteous debacle would help make it look justified. And now the affirmative has to not only argue for military force against nuclear proliferation, but also doing it unilaterally?

“We learn from history that we do not learn from history,” says Hegel, a philosopher that Camus and Niebuhr have taught me to despise.

But if we’re not going to learn from history, can we at least learn from the Council on Foreign Relations? Back in 2009, a report written on U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy unequivocally stated that “the United States cannot form a more effective nuclear security system alone. It must work cooperatively with global partners,” taking actions to “strengthen the International Atomic Energy Agency’s vital role of containing proliferation” and “work cooperatively to ensure that every state with nuclear weapons or weapons-usable materials — even those that remain outside the Nonproliferation Treaty like India and Pakistan — implements best nuclear security practices.”

The simple fact of the matter is that the affirmative is looking at the $627,000,000,000 that we’re looking to spend on National Defense and deciding how to make it look like we’re getting our money’s worth. They are asking, as Madeleine Albright once asked General Colin Powell, “What’s the point of you saving this superb military for, Colin, if we can’t use it?” And the answer is simply that we’re saving it to ensure that we can use it when we know we have to. The affirmative can’t possibly make a better case than the colossally wrong one that the Bush administration made for invading Iraq, so we should refrain from putting a rubber stamp of approval on the resolution.

Our capacity to be wrong has proven to be greater than the inherent wrongness of nuclear proliferation. Vote neg.

Update: Syria is producing more commentary. Jon Stewart: “It’s like even though we’re a superpower we haven’t figured out yet that we don’t actually have super powers.” (at 5:39) Stephen Colbert: “God, I love being lied to by a professional.” (starting at 4:17, featuring clips of President Bush with nuclear proliferation at 5:12)