The Moral Foundations of “Humanitarian” Intervention: Lies, Logical Fallacies and Fairy Dust

Note from JD: Brandon Christensen has been asked off my blog for calling me a “liar.” No one is entitled to insult anyone else on this blog, for whatever reason. I require civil discourse. This post stays on because I am reluctant to use post-publication censorship.

Below is Chrsitensen writing:
I have been more than pleased with the responses that last month’s piece on the rational ignorance of “humanitarian” imperialists has garnered.

Dr J and his fanboys have responded with more lies and more logical fallacies. I repeat: Dr J is simply a liar when it comes to foreign affairs. I also repeat: if Dr J relies on straw men, red herrings and outright lies to bolster his arguments in favor of US imperialism, what does that tell you about yourselves when you find yourselves in agreement with his sophistry? Are you all fools? Faithful members of his fold?

Here is what Dr J writes in the comments thread of my recent post:

So, for the record, I took the trouble to follow the links Brandon obligingly provides to demonstrate that I was” lying” when I said that the 9/11 massacre was not a response to US presence in Saudi Arabia because there was no American military presence there in September 2003.

Here is what I found: The NY Times of 4/30/ 2002, more than four months before the massacre, states that there were then “400 to 500″ American military personnel in Saudi Arabia.Fox News of 4/29/2003, says “400″. That’s down from 10,000 earlier. All the sources Brandon proposes indicate further that American forces were in the process of evacuating Saudi Arabia in the months preceding 9/11/2003.

Dr J has lied to himself (and to his readers) yet again. One mistake is a mistake. Two or three mistakes are foolish mistakes. Four or more mistakes makes one a chronic, habitual liar. Or a moron. Since Dr J is normally well-informed and forthright in his writings, one can only assume that when it comes to foreign policy, he is a liar. Here is why:

Dr J misquotes (or is unable to comprehend) both Fox News and the NYT. Here, for example, is what Fox News actually reported:

In a major shift in American focus in the Persian Gulf, the United States is all but ending its military presence in Saudi Arabia, abandoning this remote desert air base that was built in the 1990s and made the site of a high-tech air operations center in 2001.

Only about 400 U.S. troops will remain [emphasis mine – bc] in the Muslim kingdom, most of them based near Riyadh to train Saudi forces, American officials said Tuesday.

Most of the 5,000 U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia will leave by the end of the summer.

If you are beginning to notice a pattern in Dr J’s arguments concerning foreign policy, there may be hope for you yet. Misquoting a source to fit one’s own erroneous beliefs (and to make it easier to attack those one disagrees with) is, amongst other things, a logical fallacy known as a straw man. For those of you who are morons rather than liars, Fox News plainly states that 400 soldiers will remain behind after the withdrawal of most American troops from Saudi Arabia. In other words, there were tens of thousands of American troops in Saudi Arabia on 9/11. In 2003, that number had dwindled to 5000 as bases were moved to Iraq. American troops were officially enforcing a no-fly zone in Iraq (another product of imperialism) and unofficially protecting the brutal Saudi regime in 2001. In 2003, they were attacking Iraq.

Dr J sees none of this.  He deceives himself (and his readers) by pretending that the Fox News piece states that there were only 400 troops in Saudi Arabia on 9/11. This is a lie, plain and simple. The Fox News article states that there were tens of thousands of US troops in Saudi Arabia on 9/11. In my previous piece, I had already pointed out Dr J’s penchant for misreading arguments he disagrees with. As I stated earlier, one mistake is a mistake. Two or three mistakes are foolish mistakes. Four or more mistakes makes one a chronic, habitual liar. I expect as much from a politician, but from a prestigious scholar? There is, of course, a chance for redemption. For example, Dr J might make an effort to understand why US troops were evacuating Saudi Arabia in the first place, and where they ultimately ended up. Or he might decide to acknowledge the fact that there were at least ten thousand US soldiers in Saudi Arabia (imperialism) on 9/11 and that this imperialism was the main driving force behind the terrorist attacks in the first place.

Somehow I doubt he will do this, though. Despite being publicly shamed and exposed as a charlatan, Dr J will remain in his comfortable state of obstinate ignorance: “they” simply hate “us.”

Brave Bruce – Don Delacroix’s noble steed – adds insult to injury by essentially calling me a gutless coward (how could I not be?). In other words, my piece critiquing the conservative excuses for imperialism received yet more lies and logical fallacies in response. Pathetic. You’re all full of shit. In no organization – political or otherwise – has it ever been necessary to purge the dunce in the corner from the group. Dr J is playing Jesus Christ. Given his gullible following, this is unsurprising.

There is one other point that Dr J makes that is worth unpacking, but I am going to wait for a minute because his argument ties in quite nicely with Dr A’s rational and mature response to my critique (remember: the differences between Leftists and conservatives in the US are quite negligible). Also remember that one can be quite rational when it comes to picking and choosing one’s ignorance. Case in point is Dr A’s response to the logical implications of his argument that I drew out for all to see:

The list of nation-states involved in the Syrian are not role models to be emulated. They are, however, involved in the Syrian civil war.

Thus, with one fell swoop, Dr A is able to completely avoid my argument while simultaneously retaining his imagined moral high ground. Dr A’s excuses for imperialism explain well while I left the Left in the first place. The rational ignorance of the conservative relies almost wholly upon logical fallacies and lies to succeed in convincing the demos. The rational ignorance of the Leftist is far more sinister.

In ignoring the logical implications of his own argument, Dr A simply treats his opinion as gospel truth, something to be handed down from on high and enacted by the representatives of the demos. Nowhere in his argument, for example, does he consider what he actually saying: that he wants the United States to join the human rights-violating factions currently involved in the Syrian civil war. When I drew out the logical implications of Dr A’s argument – that he wants the US to be on par with Russia, Iran, Hizbollah, the Gulf states and Turkey – he simply ignores it. This ignorance – rational and well-crafted – gets to the heart of Leftist immorality.

When Leftists claim that material equality is superior to equality under the law, for example, they do so under the assumption that their words are somehow above examination, and therefore any criticism of their argument is not worth considering. The logical implications of their argument for material equality – oppression, poverty and social strife – are never dealt with. They instead continue to insist that their arguments are morally superior simply because they say so, and act as if examining the implications of their words was itself either a) reactionary nonsense or b) a crime of epic proportions. The logical implications of how Leftist view their own arguments – which were and are rationally ignored by Leftists – square quite nicely with the historical record of Leftist experiments in governance over the past two centuries.

Aside from lowering the bar once set by the United States and other free republics in regards to foreign policy, Dr A treats the Syrians themselves as pawns in a geopolitical game being played by regional powers, rather than as actors in their own right. This, too, is telling of the authoritarian worldview so prevalent among imperialists. If, as imperialists seem to believe, the Syrians are mere pawns to be moved on a chessboard, why should they be treated as otherwise? Ignorance – again completely rational and well-informed – about the Syrian people and their own motives supplies the Leftist’s insatiable demand for power.

Speaking of demand for power (and the requisite magic such demands require), Dr A argues that arming al-Qaeda, the organization responsible for the terrorist attacks of 9/11, is in the national interest of the United States. Behold:

I’m simply describing the state of affairs in Syria. It’s my opinion that the US should provide military support to the opposition for two reasons. First, it’s in our national interest that the opposition wins the civil war. Second, we should stop the mass murder (by the regime) taking place for humanitarian reasons […] I would request two clarifications. First, are you stating that the entirety of the Syrian opposition are ‘Islamists’? Second, what percentage of a population dying constitutes a humanitarian issue?

Notice, first, Dr A’s seeming inability to consider the fact that his overtly political goal is couched in the language of humanitarianism rather than for the purely political purpose that it actually is. This is entirely subconscious. Unlike the liars on the imperialist Right, the Leftist in the United States truly believes that what he states is pure and noble. The logical implications of this self-aggrandizement have already been dealt with above.

Is it not true that, by definition, anything the government does is the essence of the political?

I have been unkind to Dr A. Yet when a man has such a strong belief in his intuitions that he actually calls for a government to enforce those intuitions at all costs, how can I not be? My freedom, my children’s freedom, and my children’s children’s freedom is at stake whenever good intentions are used to empower bad people.

Speaking of bad people, it’s time to explain to both conservatives and Leftists why Obama’s decision to arm one side and bomb the other is a bad idea. I’m going to do this by quickly detailing the main factions involved in the Syrian conflict and then delving into the implications (the Left’s most hated word!) of arming one side and bombing the other.

First up is the Assad regime itself. Despite the violent protests staring us in the face, the Assad regime actually enjoys a fairly broad base of support. The regime is Baathist, like the Hussein regime in Iraq, and as such enjoys support from secularists, educated women, the business class, socialists, the military, religious minorities (Christian and non-Sunni Muslim) , labor unions, ethnic minorities and the professional class (lawyers, doctors, engineers and academics). The term used to describe such a conglomerate is ‘national socialist.’

Prior to the start of the civil war in Syria, the Assad regime faced a two-pronged attack from would-be reformers. As with everywhere else in the world – from Greece to Brazil to China to the United States* – Syria is facing social unrest.

One of these prongs – the weaker of the two – is composed of secularists, educated women, the business class, socialists, the military, labor unions, ethnic minorities and the professional class. You read that correctly: opposition to the Assad regime had, prior to the civil war, come from other national socialists dissatisfied with the status quo. It is this second group of national socialists that Leftists like Dr A wish to arm. Aside from the massive amounts of fairy dust such a program would require, what do Leftists think they would accomplish by replacing one batch of national socialists with another?

I am digressing. The second of the prongs (the more powerful one) is made up of various Islamist groups, including al-Qaeda. This faction is largely dominated by young, Arab and Sunni Muslims. Because of its religious flavor, this faction is dominated by peasants and a parochial leadership. It is funded by the brutal Arab Gulf regimes (which are, in turn, protected by the American state). Due to the very nature of the national socialist economy, a large peasantry dominates the demographic landscape of Syrian society today.

Liberalism (free trade, the rule of law and property rights, individual liberty) does not exist in Syria today. It was murdered in its infancy by British and French imperialism.

When the shooting started – and we will, like the first Anglo-American War, never know who started the shooting – the national socialists opposing the Assad regime took one look at their potential allies (the Islamists) and either went crawling back to Damascus for protection or attempted to flee the country. Taking a long, slow look at the Islamists now fighting the Assad regime, it’s not hard to see why the national socialists marching against Assad took the routes that they did.

Fairy Dust and the National Interest

Imperialists like Dr A and Dr J seem to think that arming the weakest trifecta in the Syrian conflict will help to stop the violence there. Thus they couch their calls for new government programs – central planning writ large – in the language of humanitarianism.

They are naïve.

Dr A seems to believe that arming the anti-Assad national socialists will prevent al-Qaeda from getting their hands on American weapons. Dr J seems to believe that arming the anti-Assad national socialists will prevent bloodshed. Both – if you will notice – have not dared to elaborate upon their arguments on these two points. Both refuse to think or to talk about the implications of their policies. Both believe that their good intentions – and the good intentions of the Obama regime – are enough to stop the civil war.

And unicorns take rainbow-colored shits.

In all fairness, Dr A has admitted to having at least one other motive for imperialism aside from humanitarianism: that of US national interest.

However, once the implications for Dr A’s second justification for imperialism are drawn out, readers will see that US national interests – as defined by Dr A – are directly at odds with the humanitarianism Dr A also uses to justify his preferred policies. Here is the question I want you to keep in the back of your minds as I spell out the implications of the Leftist’s national interest argument: if Dr A’s excuses for imperialism are indeed contradictory, and I think you will find them to be, is incompetence or dishonesty to blame?

The national interest angle recently taken by imperial Leftists has nothing to do with Americans or Syrians, and everything to do with Iran and, to a lesser extent, Russia. The latter two help fund the Assad regime. The Assad regime has virtually won the civil war. To the imperialist, this means that Iran and Russia have won the civil war, too, and at the expense of the West.

Therefore, the West should arm not the strongest contender (the Islamists) but the weakest of the trifecta, in order to prevent Assad’s total victory.

Makes sense, right?

Let me rephrase the goals of Dr A and other imperialists who claim to be advocating policies in “our” interest in a way that is a bit more blunt: instead of letting the Assad regime win (which would stop the bloodshed), imperialists want to arm the rebels in order to keep the Assad regime from winning outright (which will guarantee more bloodshed). The implications of such a policy are squarely at odds with the supposed “humanitarian” intuition that imperialists shield their desires with.

How, exactly, does a prolonged conflict in Syria enhance US national interests?

And how, exactly, does a prolonged conflict square with the “humanitarian” desires of imperialists?

Let me be clear: I think Dr A’s contradictory arguments are entirely subconscious. Imperialists obviously don’t think about the implications of their arguments because they believe that there is really no need to. Here is the logic behind Dr A’s contradictory argument: Imperialists have access to a certain amount facts and therefore their policy proposals are the correct ones. What Dr A doesn’t seem to realize, or he ignores, is that he has access to the same facts as everybody else with the internet and half a brain. Logic matters.

Nations, States and Fantasies

Both Drs – A and J respectively – continually evoke the nation-state as their point of reference.

Here, for example, is Dr J:

I don’t think all nation-states are morally equal.

And Dr A:

The list of nation-states involved in the Syrian…

This is logical as far as it goes, but there are no nations attached to the states found in the Muslim world.

Let me see if I can explain. The nation-state has been the standard “unit of measurement” for scholars immersed in international relations over the past one hundred years of so.

Unfortunately for these scholars (and for the billions of people whose lives are negatively affected by these scholars’ choices), the nation-state is a rare and parochial political unit found only in Europe and in parts of East Asia. The New World (Canada, the US and Latin America) is home to a small number of republics that broke away from an imperial center at some point in the past. There is no Brazilian nation to speak of. No American nation or Columbian nation to brag about. Only Brazilian, or American, or Columbian citizens are found in the republics of the New World. The distinction between ‘citizen’ and ‘nation’ explains well Europe’s and Japan’s inability to assimilate immigrants as successfully as the New World republics. The chronic bouts of fascism afflicting Latin America are largely the result of attempts to create a nation out of citizens.

In the Old World not consisting of Europe and Japan/Korea, there are a small number of Western-educated elites who have been attempting, like the caudillos of Latin America, to create nations where there are none. These nation-builders are the national socialists identified earlier in this piece. The advocates of imperialism firmly believe that replacing the “bad” national socialists (Saddam, Mubarak, Assad, etc.) with “good” national socialists will bring about viable, meaningful change in the region. Just sprinkle some fairy dust and – poof! – the new batch of national socialists will behave differently.

The imperialist simply assumes that a nation actually exists in these post-colonial states, but nationhood is a concept that is limited to a small elite. An elite, I might add, that is just as illiberal as its Islamist enemies.

Historians have long attributed the rise of the nation-state in Europe to wars and the absence of a hegemonic power. The decentralized nature of Eurasia’s backwater western region created the nations and states of Europe. Wars forced states to harness the potential of their citizens through political, economic and social nation-building. The lack of a hegemon forced these same states to compromise in otherwise uncompromisable situations.

Prolonging the war in Syria, as the imperialists of this blog would like to do (unless their magic fairy dust is involved, of course), will not only keep the blood flowing, but it will prevent a clear winner from emerging. “Humanitarian” intervention will prevent dialogue about what it means to be a nation. Indeed, it will prevent dialogue period.

This, I think, helps to explain the Israeli policy of periodically shooting down warplanes in Syrian airspace much better than any theory offered up by our resident imperialists.

A Brief Picture and an Honest Alternative

If the imperialists truly want freedom and a lasting peace for the Middle East they would do well to stop relying upon the lies and logical fallacies that they have fed to themselves (and their gullible fanboys) over the past century. No amount of fairy dust or unicorn shit will be able to compensate for Dr J’s and Dr A’s imperial delusions.

What is missing from the Middle East is a vibrant sense of nationhood. It is no accident that the peoples in the Middle East with a strong sense of nationhood – the Turks, the Palestinians, the Kurds and the Israelis – have had to fight for survival over the last 100 years or so to create, to retain and to promote the cause of their nations.

Preventing dialogue, preventing compromise and preventing victory in Syria by playing the three previously-identified sides off on each other is not a humanitarian option. It’s not even a good “smart power” option.

The US government has a moral responsibility to end the sanctions it has imposed upon the Syrian state. The market will then have to compete, as it were, with the Russian and Iranian states for influence. The “bad” national socialists may well win the civil war once the immoral sanctions are removed. This does not mean that dialogue and compromise will be eschewed. Even the victors of wars have to compromise and work with their conquered enemies, after all.

The Obama administration is bleeding out the Syrians. It is doing so for geopolitical reasons of state. Yet were the Assad regime – the “bad” national socialists – to win the civil war, the influence of Iran and Russia in the region would not necessarily increase. If anything, if you think about it, the influence of Moscow and Tehran could at best merely remain the same. However, actively supporting one side of a civil war in an Arab country is likely to decrease Tehran’s and Moscow’s influence in the region.

The idea that the US government has a responsibility to protect citizens of other states is on shaky ground to begin with. Once we peel off the humanitarian layers and reveal the actual implications of “humanitarian” war, this doctrine becomes even more shaky (if, that is, you believe that the individual is the most important component of society). War is a government program. It should therefore only be undertaken as a last resort. Once war is undertaken, it should be fought with all a society’s resources: the enemy should be hit as hard and as long as it takes to get him to surrender.

Anything short of this realization will only lead to quagmires such as those found in the Vietnam and Iraq wars. Republican (small “r”) government cannot be reconciled with imperial adventurism. Germany and Japan were industrialized nation-states. They were attempting to expand their spheres of influence through the use of blatant force. They declared war on the US. We fought them until they surrendered. The post-colonial states of the world have no nations, no histories and no ambitions to speak of. In addition, advocating that the US government “do something” implies that it will 1) do its task well and 2) correct some great wrong in the world. This is fantasy. The most moral thing for the US government to do when civil wars flare up in the post-colonial world is to let them fight it out. This way inadvertently bleeding them out is averted. So, too, is blowback and support for nefarious sides in the name of a false peace averted.

Arguing that the US government – Washington! – can prevent death and destruction by arming one side and bombing the other is the epitome of the absurd. Fear for the republic.


* I mention this only because there is a small faction in American politics – the liars whose obstinate ignorance I highlighted above – that has tried to argue that the Arab Spring is a direct product of the illegal invasion of Iraq. It is not. The unrest around the world is due to the inherent failures of the Keynesian, corporatist system.

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12 Responses to The Moral Foundations of “Humanitarian” Intervention: Lies, Logical Fallacies and Fairy Dust

  1. Brandon: There is no amount of fanaticism that excuses your calling someone a liar. Please, stop doing it on my blog.

    Why not simply dismiss me as ignorant and misinformed. Why the rage?

    I simply don’t have time to deal now with the issues you raise (repeatedly). My silence has no meaning one way or the other, or the other (or yet the other).

    • Dr J asks:

      Why not simply dismiss me as ignorant and misinformed?

      Because you have repeated the lie that US troops were not in Saudi Arabia at the time of 9/11 over and over and over and over again. As I stated earlier, one mistake is a mistake. Two or three mistakes are foolish mistakes. Four or more mistakes makes one a chronic, habitual liar.

  2. Terry Amburgey says:

    @Brandon
    Your post is much too long for a single response so I’ll respond piecemeal.

    “Nowhere in his argument, for example, does he consider what he actually saying: that he wants the United States to join the human rights-violating factions currently involved in the Syrian civil war. When I drew out the logical implications of Dr A’s argument – that he wants the US to be on par with Russia, Iran, Hizbollah, the Gulf states and Turkey – he simply ignores it.”

    I agree that I want the US join the civil war in Syria. Since all sides violate human rights I suppose it’s fair to say the US would be joining ‘the human rights violating factions’. However it’s my opinion that not all evils are equal, there are lesser evils. I don’t want the US to be ‘on par’ with the likes of Iran and Hizbollah. I agree that “…actively supporting one side of a civil war in an Arab country is likely to decrease Tehran’s and Moscow’s influence in the region.” That’s why I think that supporting the opposition and removing Assad from power is in the national interest of the US.

    “…Dr A treats the Syrians themselves as pawns in a geopolitical game being played by regional powers, rather than as actors in their own right.”

    The various factions in Syria are actors in their own right. They are playing the same geopolitical game as the regional powers. They are NOT what you claimed: involved in a purely internal matter.

    “Speaking of demand for power (and the requisite magic such demands require), Dr A argues that arming al-Qaeda, the organization responsible for the terrorist attacks of 9/11, is in the national interest of the United States.”

    Now you’re playing a game you claim to abhor, “…straw men, red herrings and outright lies to bolster his arguments”. I defy you to find me arguing that the US should arm al-Qaeda. Put up or shut-up: find the quote and post it. In fact what you’ll find is your own inability to distinguish between al-Qaeda and other elements of the opposition. In Brandon-Land it’s all just a big group of al-Qaeda terrorists.

    More later, it’s past lunchtime.

    • Dr Terry writes:

      Your post is much too long for a single response so I’ll respond piecemeal.

      Take your time. I’ve got a whole month to absorb your punches.

      • McHenry says:

        Since we’re splitting herrings, when does summer end on your calendar Brandon?
        I was thinking it was a June-August affair, which comes close to September, but they didn’t pull out 5000 troops overnight. It had to be obvious that there numbers were falling in Saudi Arabia at the time of 9/11? Or would even 1 US soldier have caused such an attack?

      • Brandon:Please, get off my blog.

      • Terry Amburgey says:

        @Brandon
        Looks like the conversation will be cut short; instead of a month of punches to absorb just a single parting shot…

        “The most moral thing for the US government to do when civil wars flare up in the post-colonial world is to let them fight it out.”

        A tempting choice I must admit. But I see 2 problems.

        The first is genocide (even if on a small scale). Let’s take the case of Alphabet Land. It’s a nation-state but not a nation. It has 2 nations the consonants and the vowels. The 2 nations speak different languages, have different religons. They tend towards geographic segregation and there are significant differences in education, economic attainment etc. There are significantly more consonants than vowels [80/20].

        Civil war breaks out. Alphabet Land has nothing that anyone else wants so it really is just a civil war. Consonants butcher vowels & vice versa but there are many more consonants. The consonants launch a program of self-deportation of vowels motivated by sharp machetes. I personally don’t care for the ‘fouk it, let’em fight it out’ option you propose.

        The second is generalized conflict with national interests at stake. It could be resources or location. When civil war breaks out Alphabet Land’s neighbors (the Fronch and the Anglish) get involved due to common language & religion. Hegemonia & Imperiastan get involved because large amounts of fresh water are at stake. As a good citizen of Hegemonia I want my national interests watched over.

        Take good care.

  3. Terry Amburgey says:

    Hmm. Perhaps I should go elsewhere for a while.

  4. david says:

    just for the sake of the record, brandon, by his own definition is a liar, since he repeatedly misread the article he so strongly sourced. 5000 troops, most of whom would have been withdrawn by the end of that summer (according to that article, which for the sake of kindness i’d number at 2501 having left by the end of that summer) would leave 2499 soldiers left in all of saudi arabia. pretty damn low soldier per square mile ratio. additionally it is a far cry for the hyperbolic “tens of thousands” that brandon kept harping about. if the islamists are getting bent out of shape over that too bad. hell, i’d bet there were more american tourists visiting saudi arabia at that time.

  5. Thanks, David. I don’t argue numbers with Brandon because I don’t want to fall into the Islamist trap about allegedly sacred “Islamic” soil. There is no such thing. Next, it could be 9/10 of Spain, and next, some poor residential districts of Paris (majority Muslims). Soon, it would include the apartment house where I grew up, based on the same principle. They might bar me from retrieving the pocket knife I buried there when I was none.

    There are man people who are ideologically, intellectually close to us in Muslim countries. The are the ones I want to support. Islamists, precisely are murdering them right and left.

    Whatever number of US troops were in SA, they were there at the invitation of the Saudi government. The same Saudi government is little bit more legitimate than the alternative, I think. (Not by much.)

    This is a dead horse. The Islamists want to kill us because of who were are, same as they want to kill Shiite Muslims because of who they are, and Assyrian CHristians in Iraq, and Copts in Egypt, and Jews, when they can.

  6. Pingback: Obama’s Newest War Campaign: Syria? | Notes On Liberty

  7. Pingback: Middle Eastern Musings: Why I Blog | Notes On Liberty

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