Talk softly and carry a big stick.

On Sunday, it was reported (barely) by the New York Times that, allegedly, a Special Forces operation was carried out by four American choppers and on-the-ground commandos within
Syria‘s borders. They destroyed a terrorist haven in Kabul, a town that borders Syria and Iraq. Syria claimed that it was a “construction” zone. Intelligence indicated that the only thing Syria was constructing was a tunnel to funnel Iraqi insurgents from Syria. American officials at first denying the news, finally acknowledged that the attack was aimed at Badaran Turki Hishan al-Mazidih, an Iraqi who smuggled fighters into Iraq from Syria. Good news: he was killed in the operation.

Angered by America‘s impunity, the Syrians asked for a charge d’affaires, an envoy when there is no ambassador to talk to, they shut down an American school. Recall, we don’t negotiate with terrorists. America has not returned the call. Bravo. Now, angered further, on October 30th, AP Reuters recently reported that Syria is shutting down the embassy in Damascus. Now it’s going to be even harder to talk.

The Washington Post applauded the United States, claiming “If Sunday’s raid, which targeted a senior al-Qaeda operative, serves only to put Mr. Assad on notice that the United States, too, is no longer prepared to respect the sovereignty of a criminal regime, it will have been worthwhile.” The juice was certainly worth the squeeze. However, Robert Dreyfuss of the Nation believes that once again the Bush Administration has overstepped its reaches. He claims that this tactic is just a new addendum to the Bush Doctrine and another disregard for international law. (Remember recently America launched drones and rockets into Pakistan.) But although the Bush Doctrine has too often lead to mistakes, the Bush Amendment (if I can coin that term) has pushed America in the right direction. While, the Bush Doctrine condones unilateral attacks by America as preemptive measures. This retaliation on terrorists in Syria is simply tit-for-tat and nothing like preemption. Terrorists within Syria struck first.

But the Bush Amendment can certainly fall under the umbrella of the Bush Doctrine which has stipulated that if you pal around with terrorists you’re going to get clamped. As Bush states on November 6th 2001,  “No group or nation should mistake America‘s intentions: We will not rest until terrorist groups of global reach have been found, have been stopped, and have been defeated.” In fact, the first Bush Doctrine, outlined in the National Strategy for Combating Terrorism, made a vague goal: the eradication of terrorism, but the Bush Amendment has made our tactics a little more clear and pragmatic. In essence, you’re judged by the company you keep (Side note: the new National Strategy for Combating Terrorism published in September of 2006 revises the Bush Doctrine on many key points especially multilateralism, cultural sensitivity, roots of terrorism, and nation building.)

While crossing national lines might infringe on Syria‘s sovereignty, can they (or Pakistan) really complain. America might go in with choppers, but Syria has been trafficking weapons and fighters across Iraq‘s border. Those in glass houses should not throw stones. Now, maybe if this was Ethiopia and Somalia, America would not be as aggressive or responsive. But America is Iraq‘s protectorate, its body guard, and its bulletproof vest, and its going to protect itself and the Iraqi people. As the new bush doctrine sates, “Working with committed partners across the globe [Iraq], we continue to use a broad range of tolls at home and aboard o take the fight to the terrorist, deny them entry to the United States, hinder their movement across international borders, and establish protective measures to further reduce our vulnerability to attack.”

Finally, might is right. America has the firepower and they’re going to use it. What good is it to be a beacon of light without the will to light up the world? America is not afraid to ruffle the leaves, cross lines, and impede on national sovereignty. And the U.S. should. Sometimes having the guts to pull the trigger means breaking the rules. There are many problems and terrorism leads to making difficult decisions; sometimes you need to cross that line.

18 thoughts on “Talk softly and carry a big stick.”

  1. This article feels like a throwback to 2002.
    If the US claims the right to strike anywhere in the world with impunity, disregarding national sovereignty and international law, we set frightening precedents for a future in which the US is not the sole superpower. That future seems to be coming quicker than we had previously thought.
    The last thing America should do is get into the ‘tit for tat’ operations that nobutta supports. Terrorists would LOVE to drag the US into a tit for tat conflict similar to the Israeli-Palestinian one. That is a battle they know how to fight.

    The big different between terrorism and counter-terrorism is objectives. Terrorists use violence to advance political objectives. Counter terrorists use violence to advance security objectives. Terrorist organizations want to be credited with their terrorist attacks. Counter terrorist organizations want to operate without anyone knowing they exist. Their weapons of choice are bribes, poisons, car bombs and other clandestine weapons because they don’t want anyone to know who executed the attack. Confusion is the counter terrorists greatest ally because it lasts long after the dust clears.
    The US should have eliminated Badaran Turki Hishan al-Mazidih without flagrantly breaking international law and creating a situation in which the US and Syria would end diplomatic relations.
    Let’s hope no Syrians decide to flagrantly break international law and attack those who supply arms to Syria’s enemies.

  2. re: walther:

    I do not support “the right [of the U.S.] to strike anywhere in the world with impunity, disregarding national sovereignty and international law…”

    I argued that in this particluar case you just have to pull the trigger.

    Let me give another example:

    During the first televised presidential debate , John McCain and Barack Obama sparred over foreign policy.
    Obama said he would strike into the heart of Pakistan if need be. McCain reprimanded Obama and said something like “you don’t say that to t.v., you don’t openly talk about that stuff. You just do it.” While he was right in his intrepetation of what Obama said, Obama clarifed thatif Osama Bin Laden is in Pakistan and they have a clear strike at him, America is going to kill him.
    To me that’s the same pretext for Badaran Turki Hishan al-Mazidih.

    Also, my tit-for-tat argument should not be brought out of context to something like Israel Palestine. It’s not about choosing sides and fighting America’s allies war (obviously we don’t do that e.g. Georgia.) but I do think if Syria, Iran, Pakistan, or other countries that border Iraq and Afghanistan interfere with our progress in nation-building that they have opened the doors to America’s aggresion. This is drastically different then just pre-emptively going into a country like Iraq.

  3. If America doesn’t respect international law, then there is no law and we are the world’s tyrant.
    America was founded to free people from tyranny. I don’t know how you can advocate an American foreign policy in which we are the tyrant of the world. In my opinion you’re statements are either intellectually lazy or dangerous.

    In addition, might makes right is a principle of the tyrant. It is not natural law.

  4. America does respect international law….As I mentioned earlier, in this case once Badaran broke that boundary of national soverginety he exempted America from having to adhere to int’l law.

    America, in principle, MIGHT have been founded to free people from tyranny, but did it? Think of slavery? Think of women’s oppression? Think, (and perhaps most importantly) of its disregard for French’s revolution in 1789. The French were fighting for the freedoms that America won in the Revolutariony War but did not come to its aid. America has put its own interests of stability and unity at stake before freedom all too often.

  5. “Once Badaran broke that boundary of national sovereignty he exempted America from having to adhere to int’l law.” Uh… no. No one is above the law. You are advocating vigilantism.
    “America does respect international law”? Really? Invading Iraq broke international law. Guantanamo Bay broke international law. We haven’t joined the ICC. What I think you meant to say was we ARE international law.
    America was founded to free its citizens from tyranny, not to provide material aid to all peoples fighting tyranny in the world.

  6. And by the way, Teddy Roosevelt was an bigoted interventionist cowboy. The Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe doctrine was a nightmare that justified any US incursion into Latin America to satisfy its thirst for waterways and natural resources. That is the last thing we need after 8 years of American exceptionalism. But what the hell, let’s just do whatever we want. Other countries don’t really have sovereignty, they just have smaller militaries.

  7. Naivety neither resolves conflict nor preserves hegemony. Cross-border “raids” are proving to be the least dangerous and most effective means of achieving these very simple yet costly objectives. Thousands of lives–Iraqi, Afghani, and American alike–could have been saved had military strategy focused on these border regions and operatives harbored in “uninvolved” nations. A weak Pakistan that has no control over a substantial region and population is less a sovereign nation than a corrupt joke. A bipartisan rallying cry is “Let’s get Osama”…but wait…if he’s in Syria or Pakistan, we should probably just leave him alone. After all, it would be FAR better to start a large scale ground war so we can give ourselves the retroactive carte blanche.

    Which begs the question: Kaniglero and Walther…If bin-Laden was in Mexico, and they didn’t want to give him up, we shouldn’t touch him, right?

    After all, sovereignty is law! We love our holistic concept of the world–but I guess questionable borders should exempt terrorists from getting their shit pushed in by Delta Force.

  8. Who do you think decides international law? If international law isnt’ the most artificial, unnatural set of regulations, with no authroity except a contract between states, I don’t know what is. If International law dictates that America cannot fly within Iraqs perimeters to kill smugglers in Syria then its as useless as some drug laws in America and nation, just like people won’t abide by it.
    Think what international law is exactly: International law is
    a rule or principle of proper conduct sanctioned by the conscience of nations or general concepts of natural justice. eg.nobody should be torturted.
    In some cases it’s legit.
    Of all people Walther who support deregulation and less government influence I’m surprised you adhere so closely to the law that governments make…
    If everywhere, if the Syrians, and the Iraqs, the Pakistanis and Georgians, the Russians, and Americans, the Chinese and the Indians are not abiding by this law, is it a law?

    Maybe an analogy might help:
    You go over to baby-sit your friend’s little sister. She is about 5 or 6 years old. She’s running around the backyard, jumporing on the trampoline, throwing a tennis ball off the fence wall. She’s having a great time. She runs inside to get a snack. While she’s away, her next door neighbor starts tossing sharp objects into the backyard: nails, tacks, saws, and knives into the backyard. Now as the baby sitter are you going to just LET this happen b/c of personal property rights? Or are you going to act? let me know.

  9. If we don’t have international law, we have a tyranny of the powerful nations. I’m not against government; I’m against tyranny.

    How many more years do we have to be the tyrant? What happens to tyrants when they grow weak and the people they rule rise up against them? Usually they lose their head. The world will not always follow America. We need to prepare ourselves for that inevitability by creating a framework for international law. If we don’t, there will be nothing to shield us from the 3 billion+ people in the developing world who will want to punish us for our 100 year long imperial project. What happens when the developing world develops and realize that they have 4x as many people as America and Western Europe? What will protect us except from their oppression except for established and respected international law?

    To answer your question: I’d call the police. I assume you’ll say “what if there were no police?” Then I’d probably wrangle up a posse and call him out.

    Let me pose an analogy.
    It’s 2020 and you’re brother is in an apartment in America that gets blown up by the Chinese government because one of the residents of that house helps Chinese dissidents. The Chinese say: “There were terrorists in the house so we destroyed it.” With no international law to fall back on, what do you do?

  10. you’re right my next question would have been that. but I don’t know what a posse and calling him out would do? If he’s throwing sharp objects you think a little yelling is going to deter him. I’m sure a little yelling would have stopped Hitler…

    In response to your analogy, I’d like to know would you take one life to save a thousand?

  11. Nice debate. couldn’t agree more with walther when he said Nobutta’s comments were “intellectually lazy or dangerous”. not only dangerous, but scary.

    Walther-1 Nobutta- 0

  12. To Nobutta,

    Your argument is short-sighted and completely devoid of empathy. There is a difference between “self-defense” and “endless securitization” – we can never be perfectly safe and trying to conquer death just leads to more death. This is especially true if you go about international affairs by killing anyone who is – or could be – a threat to you. I did not realize how detached you are from the actual objects of your analysis – real people – until you asked “would you take one life to save a thousand?” It’s pretty clear that your answer to that would be “yes”, logically following from the above discussion. Is that your decision to make, because you read some article about American power projection or democracy-building? You just advocated violent death for a person/group of people, but how well did you research this debate? Did you read a New York Times article and decide that someone should die? Step back from the words to see the people. Right now, all you see is red. You can always undo your ideas, but you cannot undo shooting someone in the face.

    What if that “one person” was your mother or son? You’d “pull the trigger”, as you so callously say above, and end their life? Of course you wouldn’t. But the people you want to kill aren’t your relatives and you don’t even know them. That is what’s so frightening about your position – you are willing to kill to save without even knowing – face to face – the people you are saying we should kill. The worst part is that you don’t even know if you’re saving anyone. You’re willing to take the word of an organization – the Bush administration – which has lied repeatedly about this very thing. Is the Bush administration relying on the same “intelligence” that they relied on when they said Hussein had chemical and nuclear weapons? Do you have any idea how many Iraqi civilians have died for no reason? Perhaps your Syrian enemy is actually your closest ideological ally. Perhaps he is also killing to save. It does not matter who killed who first. People have been killing each other since the dawn of human consciousness. The whole point is that it has to stop.

    Sure – the person in question, like the Syrian man that you talk about above, might be supporting attacks against American soldiers. Aren’t you curious about the repercussions of violent actions against him inside Syria, before you let your government kill him and his family with a “precision missile strike”? What if his murder spurns more attacks against Americans? What if Syria shuts down relations with the US, because of this, and they permanently harbor terrorists? Hasn’t this clearly happened over and over again in the world? Most Iranians like the United States. Most Pakistanis detest terrorism. Should they suffer for our fears? Should they suffer for our interventions or elections? There is no democratic decision, there is no calculated discussion, there is no law – in your paradigm, there is just “killing to save.”

    What would you do if China killed your brother, because he was helping arm Tibetan dissidents? Would you get really, really mad, even if you did not agree with your brother’s position? Would you consider arming yourself and your friends against China? There is a very good chance you would. People do it all the time. You call them terrorists. They call themselves freedom fighters. Who is right? It is never as clear cut as it seems, although anyone who kills has blood on their hands. Instead of killing first and asking questions later, shouldn’t you try to talk to your enemy? Shouldn’t you try to talk to your friends and ask their opinion, if your enemy won’t listen? Shouldn’t you exhaust every single possible outlet of resolution prior to intentionally taking someone’s life? You may not assign any value to that life, because you consider them a threat, but their friends and family do. And they will probably get angry and take up his cause, or at least try to kill you. You cannot kill everyone who “could be” a threat and in the process of trying you will create ten times as many enemies.

    And hey, maybe instead of killing him – he should be arrested. You say, “there are no world police”. At the moment, no there are not, but doesn’t that just mean that there should be? Permanently ending violence is the basis of international law. It attempts to do so by implementing the norms that exist in your American community on an international scale. It does not have to be arbitrary – it can be a deeply serious and legitimate process of arbitration. Arbitrary international law comes from tyrans exercising their power without restraint. Don’t you realize that the world is composed of people trying to make it like everyone you know and hold dear? I implore you to honestly reconsider your position – your foreign policy is nothing but endless violence, because you think power is the only standard. You have not responded to anything that Walther has argued, because you are blinded by the thought that you are “right”. You want so badly to “win this debate”. You continue to spout your view without legitimately thinking about the alternatives or the reality you seek to create/maintain. You are not going to win a prize here for debating political science, but you could vote another imperialist into office.

    Finally, self-defense, unlike endless securitization, is always important and a right held by all beings. What you describe, however, is not defense – it is offense. Syria is not attacking American civilians at home; they were not involved in 9/11. They are attacking our soldiers, who I wish nothing but a safe and immediate return for, while engaged in an illegal operation of force. As I said above, if we weren’t there, our soldiers wouldn’t be getting killed.

  13. Re: LukeJordan123

    If we had normalized relations with Syria, like we do with Mexico, they would just extradite him. That’s why invading their country secretly only hurts our cause. You don’t think Mexico would love to be the hero-country of every American? Pakistan is complicated – they haven’t the ability nor the political coalition necessary to catch bin Laden. I’m undecided about how to resolve that problem, but I think that their new president, whose wife, Benazir Bhutto, was assassinated by terrorists, is a very proactive and anti-terrorist leader. We should give him a chance and also help him out.

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