Sunday, December 05, 2004

Gary Becker on Preventive War

Economist Gary Becker, of the newly-created Becker-Posner Blog, has this to say about so-called critics of preventive war:

"Critics of preventive wars and other preventive actions against rogue states and terrorist groups ignore these major changes in weaponry and their availability."

Who is Mr. Becker referring to with this statement? I don't think there are many critics of preventive wars as such. Indeed, as Judge Posner explains in his post on the subject, the line between "preventive war" and a purely self-defensive war is hard to draw. The paradigm preventive war -- Israel's six-day war with Egypt, Syria and Jordan -- is viewed by most serious scholars as a war of self-defense.

It appears obvious that Mr. Becker is, in fact, attempting to create a straw-man, "those who oppose preventive war," in order to justify ONE preventive war. And we know which preventive war it is, of course.

Becker means to criticize those who opposed the invasion of Iraq, and the criticism is not only unfair, but dishonest. Those who opposed the Iraq war (at least those who had serious views on the subject) did not oppose the idea of preventive war as such. Rather, they did not support THIS so-called preventive war -- they believed that the President had not demonstrated that the threat was grave enough to commit to such a costly endeavor. I think it is hard to dispute, in hindsight at least, that the opponents of the invasion of Iraq were 100 percent right. (I unfortunately did support the Iraq war, because I believed, mistakenly, that the President had actually planned for the aftermath, and that the intelligence was as good as he said.)

If Becker means to offer support for the Iraq war by arguing that mistakes will be made, and the costs of getting something wrong justify making mistakes then so be it.

But I think it is quite dishonest to create a straw man -- people who oppose ALL preventive war -- and then destroy the straw man as a way of justifying the invasion of Iraq. The only people who would oppose ALL preventive wars are those who would oppose all self-defense wars at all. To brand all who opposed Iraq as simply being opposed to all wars is dishonest, unfair, and not helpful to the public debate. . . .


Blogger jonnybutter said...

Your point has been made before, of course, but it doesn't hurt anything to make it again (after all, the dishonest formulation Becker is foisting here continues to pop up over and over, too). Thanks for your honest post.

December 8, 2004 at 11:01 PM  

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