Dagger in hand

A man of prodigious fortune, coming to add his opinion to some light discussion that was going on casually at his table, began precisely thus: "It can only be a liar or an ignoramus who will say otherwise than," and so on. Pursue that philosophical point, dagger in hand.

--Michel de Montaigne, Of the art of discussion.

Stab back: cmnewman99-at-yahoo.com


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Monday, September 09, 2002
MORE ON RITTER: As Her Janeship points out, there are some questions about Ritter's credibility. Ultimately, of course, it doesn't turn on his credibility. The government has the burden of proof on the issue of whether Saddam poses the kind of threat that justifies preemptive military force. This has two components, neither of which I've managed to answer to my satisfaction. The first is the abstract issue: what kind of threat does justify the use of preemptive force? I buy the idea in theory--the doctrine of violence only in self-defense can't mean that I have to wait until the thug has taken careful aim and begun to pull the trigger before I act to disarm him. But how early can I act? At what point can I say I have a moral certainty that failure to act preemptively is tantamount to surrending my right to self-defense? And what sort of evidence do I need to present to third parties if I expect them to agree that I am acting in self-defense and not as an aggressor? Mind you, I don't think obtaining the actual agreement of the third parties (and we all know who we're talking about) is a necessary prerequisite to action. But I do think we owe it ourselves and the world to articulate a justification for our actions that an objective, reasonable third party could be expected to accept as valid, whether or not they do.

And Tapped agrees with my skepticism about the idea that war helps Congressional Republicans in the midterms. Of course, this doesn't necessarily disprove Ritter's assertion that this is what's really motivating the administration. As Bill Sherman (my former editor-in-chief) points out, the question isn't really whether it will help the GOP; it's whether the GOP thinks it will help them. Again though, I think ultimately the case for war has to be evaluated on its own merits. I take it as a given that there are always ulterior motives for such action. The state wants to preserve its health. Those helming it at the time tend to get a boost and a diversion from other failures. Just look at FDR, who should by rights have gone down with a worse reputation than Hoover had he not been handed the great role of fighting fear itself. That doesn't necessarily mean it was wrong for us to get involved in WWII. Nor does the existence of ulterior motives necessarily mean that those expressed are insincere.

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