Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Force

Last night I got into a brief discussion about foreign policy, nuclear and otherwise, with a friend of mine. He and I agree on almost nothing when it comes to politics and policy. So it was no surprise to me that we disagreed about the way Obama is conducting foreign policy. It was also unsurprising that he was far more hawkish thanI. One aspect of his argument was that regimes like Iran or pre-invasion Iraq only understand force.

I don't claim to have any great expertise in exactly how feasible the use of force is against various nation-states. But I do read a lot, and my impression is that even those who specialize in the use of force recognize its limits. Andrew Exum put this very well:

I'll conclude with this: if you're going to make a case for the use of violence to realize a political end, you're not going to find me in the back of the room wearing a Code Pink t-shirt and waving a banner. But you will find me with my hand politely raised asking how, exactly, the use of force is meant to achieve the political end. What are the interests at stake? What are the resources available? What are the desired end states? What are the risks and possible unintended effects? How are we mitigating those risks and unintended effects, and what contingency plans are we developing for when things go wrong? (And things will go wrong.) And what is your plan, by phase, for how force will be used? By all means, let's have a conversation about the use of force. But it has to be a mature discussion, and you better think through the questions I just asked. Because hope is not a method -- not for the Obama Administration, and neither for those who casually recommend the use of force in the political sphere.

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