A Time to Kill? Part One of Three
President Trump’s decision to kill General Soleimani has stirred up the predictable opposition. For Nancy Pelosi and her party, Trump had to be condemned either for making an inadequate response to Iranian terrorist aggression against the United States or for a response she has decided, on her own authority, to declare a war crime. For anti-interventionist conservatives who voted for Trump, he is accused of betraying their trust.
It would be a waste time to analyze the responses (with links provided) of dishonest or unreflective people, but it should be worth a few moment’s time to ask ourselves what criteria we would use, if we were in the position to make a decision of “Shoot or Don’t shoot.”
I’ll stipulate here, once and for all, that it makes some difference whether the decision to shoot is made by a single person or a nation-state and whether the shooting contemplated is a single act of retaliation or a massive war. Nonetheless, since we are looking for a basic principle or two, it is the area of common ground we are going to be walking over.
It seems to me, after only a little reflection of some five or six decades, that justifications for engaging or not engaging acts of retaliatory aggression fall into several classes. I’m not claiming to be original or exhaustive in pointing out what most people have probably already thought about this.
Arguments pro and con retaliation can be concerned mainly with first, the practical consequences of acting or failing to act, second, with the justice or injustice, and, we can add, that arguments based on justice may be rooted in tradition, philosophy, and religion. I shouldn’t have to add this caveat, but I probably do: No matter how chaotic the expression of vengeance-seeking or pacifism might be, we may not permit self-contradictory arguments. It really is true that he who says A must say B; to do otherwise is to eliminate one’s self from serious discussion.
Let us start with consequentialist arguments. It is being said that Donald Trump is dragging us into World War III. Now, most of the people saying this are simply Trump-haters who have no better idea than the rest of us what is going to happen. We know what happens when aggression goes unpunished—repeated acts of ever more serious aggression that may or may not terminate in a wide-spread war.
On a very basic practical level, the Democrats’ arguments constitute an open invitation to Iranian and Islamic terrorism. Kinglake, in his famous history of the Crimean War, partly blames the war on English political leaders whose incautious use of pacifistic language encouraged Russian intransigence. The Czar, claims Kinglake, was already persuaded that the English had degenerated into a mercantile nation only interested in profits and incapable of fighting for their convictions, and the anti-war language employed by Lord Aberdeen and Gladstone confirmed the Czar's fatal mistake .
Bonaparte had made a similar mistake, and, so it is said, Hitler made the same mistake about the racial mongrels of the United States. Politics rarely presents such either/or silhouettes, but the conventional wisdom that perceived weakness and irresolution encourage an enemy cannot be lightly dismissed.
If we can speculate that Trump’s “reckless” action may spur further acts of terrorism from people with a record of terrorism, then with far greater ease we can speculate on the far more probable consequence of the Democrats’ (and non-interventionists’) hysterical condemnation. If you want peace, runs the Latin proverb, get your war ready. To put it simply enough even for pacifists and leftists, their desire for peace is belied by their demoralizing condemnations of their president’s decision.