Saturday, October 20, 2012

Foreign Policy

I'm already known as one of the bloodthirstier types in the DextroSphere. Yet even those who assess me even more extremely have no idea the extent to which I'd be willing to go over the violation of our consulate in Benghazi.

I've already posited what the federal government should do about this act of war. I believe the remedy was sufficiently unambiguous not to require further explication. Moreover, I stand by it quite as firmly today as on the day I penned it. But one section has elicited more head-scratching than the rest:

The government of a nation-state, deemed sovereign over its territory, has the responsibility for maintaining law and order within that territory. At the very minimum, that requires that the government act to safeguard the lives of the representatives of other nation-states, under the conventions that have protected diplomatic missions since the Congress of Vienna. Thus, a government that fails to protect other nations' diplomats, or that actively encourages assaults upon them, is an outlaw government, which may rightfully be regarded as invalid by the other nations of the world. When such assaults occur, other governments have the duty to respond in whatever fashion is required to restore order and deter further violence against their representatives.

In the most extreme case, when a government completely fails of its obligation to keep the peace, it is no longer sovereign. Other nations are justified in regarding its territory as no longer the jurisdiction of a nation-state as we understand them. That puts that territory on a plane with the "high seas." Persons who commit felonies there are automatically consigned to the category of "enemies of all Mankind," whose lives are forfeit to anyone who wants to take them. That, after all, is the law of the ungoverned: the rule of naked force and nothing else. He who dares to dwell there has bet his life on his prowess, much like a prospector in the jungle or the Arctic wilds. Civilized men, who recognize individuals' rights and the constraints of law, are free to do what they like about whatever threats emanate from such a realm.

Inasmuch as even the intelligent, erudite readers of Liberty's Torch might not have thought through the underlying rationale for those two paragraphs, I'll undertake to put them on the firmest possible foundation.


First, a quote from an underappreciated philosopher:

    "But this universe consists of paired dualities. What is the converse of authority? Mr. Rico."
    He had picked one I could answer. "Responsibility, sir."
    "Applause. Both for practical reasons and for mathematically verifiable moral reasons, authority and responsibility must be equal -- else a balancing takes place as surely as current flows between points of unequal potential. To permit irresponsible authority is to sow disaster; to hold a man responsible for anything he does not control is to behave with blind idiocy. The unlimited democracies were unstable because their citizens were not responsible for the fashion in which they exerted their sovereign authority...other than through the tragic logic of history....No attempt was made to determine whether a voter was responsible to the extent of his literally unlimited authority. If he voted the impossible, the disastrous possible happened instead -- and responsibility was then forced on him willy-nilly and destroyed both him and his foundationless temple."

[Robert A. Heinlein, Starship Troopers]

An aside: I know several intelligent persons who've disdained to read that book because they "don't like science fiction." Yet I know of only one other novel that explores the connection illuminated above, which is inarguably the most important single concept in political philosophy. You'd think that would count for something.

The relations among authority, responsibility, and sovereignty are so strong, and so critical, that they constitute the entire basis for a rational foreign policy. Discounting them leads directly to Benghazi.


Ever since the Peace of Westphalia, sovereignty has consisted of the concession (by other states) that a particular regime exercises a lawful and adequate degree of control over its demesne, such that that region cannot reasonably be deemed lawless. Now, I speak here of an agreement among the rulers of European Christendom, a distinction that must not be overlooked. Those rulers agreed on the moral basis of both law and government. There were no significant differences among them about the legitimate extent of political power, nor on the appropriate measures to be taken against lawbreakers. To put it in the most compact possible form: On all matters of absolute right and wrong, they deferred to Christ.

The treaties of Westphalia were the true beginning of modern civilization, usually and erroneously tagged to the Enlightenment a century later.

But note this: Inasmuch as sovereignty in the Westphalian conception is a concession by one's neighbors, it is not and cannot be a regime's permanent and uncontestable possession. Should the current regime over a region cease to demonstrate "a lawful and adequate degree of control," other states could reasonably declare that regime no longer sovereign, and its former demesne lawless -- ungoverned. Should that take place, any or all of those neighbors would be justified in moving to establish a new regime there, capable of restoring law and justice.

The entire basis for the convention known as diplomatic immunity rests on this conception of sovereignty. Diplomatic immunity is a condition observed and enforced by a sovereign state: i.e., a state capable of exercising "a lawful and adequate degree of control" over its territory. To formalize it in Westphalian terms, the embassies and consulates of foreign powers are deemed exclaves: bits of those powers' territory, formally recognized as such by the enclosing state, whose defense is delegated to the enclosing state for practical reasons. But law only exists to the extent to which it is enforced: i.e., to the extent that the sovereign power pursues, captures, and punishes lawbreakers. Thus, a failure of diplomatic immunity, such as occurred in Benghazi, constitutes the failure of "a lawful and adequate degree of control," and therefore a cession of sovereignty by the enclosing state.

The United States would be fully justified in declaring that the "government" of Libya is no longer sovereign over its claimed territory, at minimum to the extent of the city of Benghazi. That district has "reverted to the commons." In such a region, any entity capable of establishing "a lawful and adequate degree of control," with everything that implies, is free to do so under the conceptions adopted in Westphalia.

Objection: But the rulers of Libya didn't agree to the treaties of Westphalia!
Reply: Who cares?

Were the U.S. to send an expeditionary force to Benghazi to convert it into an American protectorate, there would be no principle of justice (or "international law") to stand in our way.


Sovereignty subsumes jurisdiction. Were the U.S. to assert jurisdiction over Benghazi -- or all of Libya, for that matter -- it would simultaneously be claiming jurisdiction over all events that occur in that region. The application of appropriate penalties for any crimes committed there would become America's prerogative. Concerning the invasion of our soil and the murder of our citizens, supposedly protected by diplomatic immunity, with the passive connivance of local "authorities," a very severe penalty can easily be justified.

Now, among the core principles of Western justice is the absolute prohibition against punishing the innocent. Therefore, we don't simply launch a Trident missile at Benghazi and wipe our hands. Instead, we give the residents of that unfortunate place a reasonable chance to evacuate: enough time to remove themselves and their movable property, but not enough to mount a defense of the city. One week seems sufficient. So we announce that we intend to punish the city by its nuclear destruction, state the date on which the sentence will be carried out, and wait. On the appointed day, we launch. Any residents who choose to remain as "human shields" will have allied themselves with the perpetrators of the attack on our consulate, and would therefore possess no right to life.

Inasmuch as the whole point of the exercise is to deter any further strikes against American soil or personnel, it. would be tragically wrong for the U.S. to undertake any sort of remediation of the site, or "disaster relief" for the former residents. The radioactive crater at Benghazi should -- indeed, must -- stand as a reminder of the righteous wrath of the Americans, and what we're ready, willing, and able to do to savages who take American lives and property.


The above should make it clear that I have absolutely no interest in the objections of persons who are horrified by warfare, who condemn the use of nuclear weapons, who maintain fictions such as "international law," or who assert obscenities such as "moral ambiguity." There is no such thing as "international law;" the nations of the world exist and operate in an anarchic state relative to one another. There is nothing "morally ambiguous" about the murder of our citizens or the defilement of our consulate; these are acts that are absolutely wrong in all places and times, which must be punished swiftly and firmly that no one might think it safe to repeat them. The course forward I've described might admit of minor adjustments of detail. Nevertheless, it constitutes the one and only course by which both American sovereignty and the principles of absolute right and wrong can be defended, short or long term.

Indeed, I would go so far as to say that it constitutes the sole imaginable basis for a sustainable foreign policy in a world of anarchic, quarrelsome States. Once again, to put it in the most compact possible form (though Mitt Romney might deplore the phraseology):

Don't fuck with us.
You won't like the consequences.

I await your thoughts.

UPDATE: SF Author Tom Kratman, whose knowledge and opinions I respect, wrote to tell me that consulates do not share the sovereignty characteristic of an embassy, though the person of an ambassador is considered sacrosanct anywhere. Live and learn.


LindaF said...

One of two things must happen:

- No American may leave this country without signing away all his/her rights to have the government act to protect him/her against either individuals or other governments. In other words, "you're on your own, cowboy!"

At the same time, the government must build the equivalent of a nuclear Wall of China around the US. No entrance in, no exit out.

- Your suggestion - swift response to provocation, unless that government having sovreignty acts first, and lethally, or with extradition to the US for punishment. No jailing in that other country - they could be released later. WE need to have control of their imprisonment.

At the same time, limit the exit visas - no more letting Leftists roam the world, creating havoc for those other governments. If a person applies to visit another country, they may visit that other country. NOT change and attend terrorist school, or protest in another country, or go to confer with other Leftists in yet another country. One destination, no changes. If someone violates that, they lose their passport privileges.

And, passports ARE a privilege. They use our government's authority to guarantee that this person is not going to cause trouble. If they get into trouble that's not their fault, we'll come in and get them out, if we can. Civilized countries have this unspoken understanding.

People who don't like this can leave. But, they cannot return. They will be voluntarily giving up their citizenship rights, forever. Those leaving to fight against our country forfeit their citizenship. This has precedent - in the Revolutionary War, there were those who fought on the "Loyalist" side. They were "encouraged" to leave, if they still had the same beliefs after the war ended. By their actions, they had declared themselves to be Englishmen, not Americans.

Francis W. Porretto said...

-- [Passports] use our government's authority to guarantee that this person is not going to cause trouble. --

A nice observation, and one that deserves wider acknowledgement and reflection. The analogy to admitting someone else into one's home is also worth some thought.

pdwalker said...

Let me pose a scenario for you.

As the founding member of G.A.Y. (better known as the Giggling Army of Yorkshiremen), I've been planning for years to get back at the rest of the English for all the jokes they make about us and our women.

So, my secret army has been practicing and planning an all out lightening assault on the American Consultate in London. I guarantee that by the time we are done, the compound will be smoking rubble. Afterwards, we will don our camoflage (white wife beater t-shirts of of course) and disappear from the city.

Does the cost of one decent military operation by outsiders get me a leveled London a week later?

Francis W. Porretto said...

It would depend on whether London's authorities were to:
-- Mobilize and move against you while you're in the act;
-- Pursue you afterward with sincere vigor;
-- Claim they're powerless;
-- Tell the U.S. "you brought it on yourself."

We have every reason to believe that Benghazi is lawless -- out of all control and utterly hostile to law or justice. London doesn't exhibit the same

Linda P said...

This doesn't take anything away from your argument, BUT I just heard Aaron Klein's radio show and he claims that it was actually NOT a consulate in Benghazi that was attacked. Klein says the Obama spokespersons have been calling it a "mission". It was allegedly a place where Ambassador Stevens was facilitating transactions to help the Syrian rebels (who, in my opinion, aren't any better than the current government there). Obama, obviously, didn't want that fact broadcasted. Anyway, that's what Klein claims.

Weetabix said...

Fran for Secretary of State.