Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Balance of Terror: The Logic of Obama's War

In the original Star Trek episode "Balance of Terror," the Enterprise is deciding whether it is in their best interest to attack an invading Romulan ship. Their decision means potentially engaging the Federation in an intergalactic war, or retreating which would show weakness which Spock claims would precipitate the same result since weakness would be seen and exploited.

Kirk: Are you saying we should fight to prevent a fight?

Spock: ...If the Romulans have retained this martial philosophy then attack becomes imperative.

Bones: War is never imperative.

Spock: It is for them Doctor.

As Obama sends 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan and exaggerates the mission creep started by Bush, I found myself thinking of this episode. It's a wonderful twist created by the writers to have Spock voice the logic of war. Kirk's question of fighting to prevent a fight couldn't shatter that logic any more effectively. In the episode, Kirk is eventually convinced by Spock's logic and fights and beats the Romulans and the Federation somehow escapes a long and protracted war.

Obama continues Bush's logic of fighting to prevent a fight. From Obama's speech:
"This danger will only grow if the region slides backwards, and al Qaeda can operate with impunity. We must keep the pressure on al Qaeda, and to do that, we must increase the stability and capacity of our partners in the region."

Inside the logic of war, I suppose this makes sense. Step outside and this logic collapses. The terrorists behind 9/11 were Saudis who learned to fly in Florida with Saudi money. The presence or absence of failed states was irrelevant as far as preventing 9/11 goes. It's true that terror cells operate in the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, but failed states are not a necessary condition for terrorism. Terror cells operate in the most so-called civilized states in the world including the United States. While some would argue that America is a failed state, there is no debate that it produces its fair share of Unabombers and DC snipers and Timothy McVieghs. The IRA killed 1,800 people in the UK but didn't need a broken third world state to do it from.

So if Afghanistan is just one of many worldwide failed states, and if terrorists don't really need failed states to operate from anyway, fighting to prevent a fight starts to look not just unethical, but illogical. There's no such thing as fighting to prevent a fight. That's like killing your neighbor's child to prevent it from being killed. I guess if you've won the Nobel Peace Prize, killing your neighbor's child is just collateral damage.

Only in the logic of war could this seem just.


rainswept said...

Sound argument, nicely put and with an SF TV connection to provide nerdy special sauce. Excellent!

Kevin Aschim said...

Most "chess moves" in the Great Game between the Great Powers can be plotted out and placed onto a map and sense can be made of it.

By this logic, the invasion of Iraq by an oil reliant superpower on trumped up or fabricated acts makes complete sense in order to secure its own oil as well as deprive it from other superpowers.

The invasion of Afghanistan does not seem to make any sense by this logic. While demand for opium and pomegranates are no doubt lucrative markets, they are not essential to superpower stability.

And yet Afghanistan has been the keystone in the twists and turns about the great eastern (China), northern (Russia), western (Britain/US) and southern (Britain/India) axes for 300 years.

Is Afghanistan important merely because it exists as a so called "strategic" piece of land by dint (always wanted to use the word "dint" somewhere!) of its geography and is this important in the modern world?

Time to read a book about this...

CaptainOrange said...

There is something satisfying about the thought that giving a bully a bleeding nose with a well timed punch could prevent a years worth of stolen lunch money.

Sorting countries into the roles of Peter Parker and Flash Thompson is really the problem. I know who the big burly one is, but I don't like to think of Osama bin Laden as my friendly neighborhood... anything.

Kevin Aschim said...

I think that Bin Laden is and always will be on the US payroll.

He is their well paid excuse for this conflict as he was prior when Russia was the aggressor.

I think it has something to with the Bin Laden family having always been the pretendors to the Arabian throne.

I think this conflict is somehow related to succession in Arabia but do not know how the pieces fit.

Vincent said...

Eric Margolis - "There is also concern that when Obama targets al-Qaida, his real target may be Pakistan. Pakistanis sourly joke that the US long ago killed Osama bin Laden and is keeping his spectral image alive to justify occupying Afghanistan." (reference)