Saturday, September 18, 2004

Fox-Hunting, Bull-Fighting, and Fair Play

The debate in Britain on fox-hunting is puzzling. Like many Americans, I cannot see why the legal apparatus of the state is to be brought to bear on a few silly-buggers who want to chase foxes up hill and down dale. Norm is probably right to note that fox-hunting involves a form of cruelty to sentient beings. But the same might be said of fly-fishing. And no one has proposed criminalizing that. Clearly, these are "sports" and not comparable, as he suggests, to the mindless clubbing of animals just for the hell of it. Moreover, in an excellent post, Harry has pointed out the hypocrisy of a society of carnivores rallying behind the fox. It strikes me that a better solution to the whole problem is to recognize that hunting--like bull-fighting--is a sport with the wrong, unfair rules.

I have written earlier on how a few simple changes of the rules of football would improve the spectacle of the game. I think that a few similar changes ought to apply in both bull-fighting and fox-hunting. The problem with these sports is that they are unfairly one-sided. In bull-fighting, the Toreador rarely gets gored; the bull invariably gets killed. In the spirit of fair play, the answer is to limit the size of the Toreador's cape (or whatever it's called) to the size of a man's handkerchief (say, 6 inches square). This would make the Toreador's task incomparably more difficult--and give the bull a fighting chance of victory.

The rules of fox-hunting ought to be similarly re-jigged. The problem here is the beagle. It's much too large, has too much stamina, and there are simply too many of the damn things for the hunt to be fair. The rules ought to change in the following way: Only dogs of similar or smaller size to the fox are allowed to participate in the hunt. We could then look forward to the more equitable chase of the Corgi, the Yorkshire Terrier and the like . This simple rule-change would, in my opinion, make the sport much fairer and solve a lot of the current unpleasantness.

Friday, September 17, 2004

Iraq and the Failure of the Intellectuals--Part 2

More and more people are coming out with explanations for why they got the war wrong. Here are two more. A disturbing and imp[ortant point raised by Nasi Lemak (or whatever his name is) concerns the implications for democracy.

But let us be clear where this gets us. Both Bush and Blair can go to war for reasons that turn out to be wrong and in pursuit of which they turn out to have at best systematically
exaggerated very patchy evidence. That war can turn out to be misguided strategically and mishandled tactically. Its consequence can be the systematic derangement of international institutions. It can turn from a war of liberation into a colonial war repressing nationalist insurgents (whom tradition dictates we call "terrorists"), while being a vivid recruiting tool for those who actually are terrorists. It can waste billions of pounds and tens of thousands of lives and leave the world worse off in pretty much every way. Despite all this the two major proponents of the war can have a fighting chance of re-election. In particular it's now difficult for me to see why any US administration should care about the consequences of its foreign policy.

While I'm deeply ashamed to have been on the wrong side of the debate about the war in advance, turning out to be wrong has rather shattered my faith in the effectiveness of democratic feedback as a useful (realist?) constraint on policy-making.

Nicely put.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Iraq and the Failure of the Intellectuals

It now appears abundantly clear that the invasion of Iraq has proven to be a catastrophe--both for the Iraqi people and those in the West who encouraged it. Many military experts now think that the US has fallen into a quagmire more treacherous and harder to escape than Vietnam.

"I see no exit," said Record. "We've been down that road before. It's called Vietnamisation. The idea that we're going to have an Iraqi force trained to defeat an enemy we can't defeat stretches the imagination. They will be tainted by their very association with the foreign occupier. In fact, we had more time and money in state building in Vietnam than in Iraq."

General Odom said: "This is far graver than Vietnam. There wasn't as much at stake strategically, though in both cases we mindlessly went ahead with the war that was not constructive for US aims. But now we're in a region far more volatile, and we're in much worse shape with our allies."

The present state of affairs is particulalrly embarrassing--as some have now poignantly acknowledged-- for those 2002ers, who proposed war on humanitarian grounds. The 2002ers made a wager that the removal of Saddam Hussein would outweigh in benefits the risks and costs of Iraq descending into a civil war. The 2002ers (myself included) got the wager wrong. George Bush and the incompetent, arrogant ideologues in the Defense Department have made horses asses out of the intellectuals and journalists, many of them liberals, who supported the war. It would, I think, be helpful, if the 2002ers went back over their reasoning back then, and identified the factors that led them so astray.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Definitions of Terrorism

"Terrorism" is a concept that that causes a lot of unnecessary unpleasantness amongst bloggers and journalists. Some commentators completely avoid the term; others think that the term ought to be applied to those who deliberately target or terrorize non-combatants. My own view is that terrorism ought to be defined in the following way:

socially-resonant, politically-motivated violence committed by non-state actors.

This definition does not beg questions in favor of other forms of political violence (war, for instance) and it permits questions to be asked about the jus in and jus ad terrorism. It seems to me that we have to consider seriously the possibility that terrorism is sometimes conducted for a good cause--e.g. the formation of the state of Israel, the ending of the apartheid regime in South Africa; we also have to allow that some methods of terrorism are beyond the moral pale (shooting children in the back a la the Chechens in Beslan) while other methods are morally permissible (blowing up buildings after calling-in a warning).

I may, however, be wrong about this.

Monday, September 13, 2004

Justice, War, and Terrorism

The following passage from London's Daily Telegraph (reg required) caught my eye:

The US air force has claimed repeatedly since the invasion of Iraq in March last year to be hitting hostile targets identified by US intelligence. During the war it made 50 air strikes to kill senior members of Saddam Hussein's regime some of which caused many civilian casualties. Only after the war did US Defence officials admit that all the air strikes had missed their target. On Sunday US helicopters fired rockets into a crowd in Haifa Street in central Baghdad killing 13 people including an Al-Arabiya television correspondent killed as he was reporting.

I was thinking about this passage, as I read Norman Geras's recent postings on the moral horrors of terrorism. The gist of these postings, as I understand them, are to assert the following: (i) terrorism is always morally wrong, because (ii) terrorists deliberately kill innocents; and (iii) those who favor a more restrictive or non-moralized definition of terrorism are apologists for evil.

Disagreeable though it is to take issue with one of the few intelligent bloggers still around, I think that this line of argument is deeply flawed and, in the present context, suspiciously self-serving.

A pacifist can condemn war and terrorism alike, on the grounds that they kill people. Pacifism is a coherent, if practically untenable, position. A realist can permit war and terrorism on the grounds that they are means to worthy ends. Realism, is a coherent, if morally untenable, position. Geras and others are in a more difficult philosophical position than either the pacifist or the realist. They seek to draw a distinction between "war"--which is OK when undertaken for worthy ends (such as removing Saddam Hussein and the Baath Party)--and terrorism--which is never OK no matter what its end.

The difficulty with Geras's position is that the criterion he identifies for distinguishing war and terrorism simply does not work. War, no matter how precisely waged--and the Iraq War, as the passage above makes clear, was not precisely waged--deliberately kills innocents. Lots of them. So does terrorism. Viewed solely as means of political violence, there is substantially less moral difference between war and terrorism than the Iraq War Party likes to think.

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