No, You Kuehn't Do That!

This is the sort of thing with which I will not put up:

"Not the childish asking if I'm obtuse part... it's not as common from Gene, but it happens. I mean his willingness to take up the Rumsfeld/Bush line on how critical uniforms are for treating soldiers like soldiers:"

1) Childish? Someone who does not recognize the difference between shooting at a Pennsylvania resident who is carrying a gun in a battle wearing a Confederate uniform, and blowing up some guy driving along in his family wagon in Yemen because it is alleged he is al Qaeda is either being unintentionally obtuse or deliberately obtuse. Since I know Daniel is a very bright guy, I'm giving him the credit of thinking he is being deliberately obtuse, because he likes Obama. I can't see why in the world it is "childish" to note there must be some sort of obtuseness involved in this.

2) Did I make uniforms the critical thing about whether one can shoot back? No, I wrote, "If some guy is out in a Confederate (or German or whatever) uniform shooting at our troops we can pretty much assume he is an enemy combatant." I now realize that what I assumed, since we were talking about Vicksburg, I should have explicitly said: "on a battlefield." But hey, it was just a blog comment.

So, I was saying, "Someone in a uniform, on a battlefield, shooting at our troops, is obviously an enemy combatant." And in what order to I evaluate these criteria? Well, the first and foremost would be "shooting at our troops." If someone in no uniform, far from a battlefield, starts shooting at some American soldiers, they can shoot back. Period.

The next most important criterion would be "on a battlefield." So, if American soldiers are on a battlefield, facing an enemy, and someone is moving freely about their lines, carrying a gun, despite not wearing a uniform, he can be shot. Perhaps he is a mercenary, perhaps a soldier who forgot his uniform that day, but it is OK to shoot him.

Now, if he is running around back there, with no uniform, and no gun, we ought to pause: perhaps he is a Red Cross volunteer. We should not shoot him unless we have some evidence of his hostility.

The whole point is, we should not kill people unless we have clear evidence of their being a member of hostile forces. A uniform is a part of forming such a judgment. Nothing I wrote posited uniforms as some unique demarcation criterion. That is just Kuehn's invention.

Now, I can respect someone who says, "Gunning down these alleged al Qaeda members is obviously troublesome, but it is the best we can do in this awful situation." But Kuehn in his first post suggested that doing so is no more problematic than shooting at a soldier in Confederate uniform who is shooting at you. (That he backed off this position in his follow-up post shows, I think, that he realized his initial position could not be maintained.)

I hope Daniel will consider this scenario seriously: He likes Obama (as I do, but perhaps not as much as him), and he wants to believe Obama will judge fairly as to which people, not in uniform, not carrying weapons, not on a battlefield, not attacking any Americans at that moment, can be assassinated. But what will he think when another Richard Nixon is elected, and that president blows up a media outlet critical of his Mideast policy, and then declares, "They were working with al Qaeda!"? I know Daniel will object, but can't he see that he is setting up the institutional structure that allows his objection to be summarily dismissed? "Hey, they were enemy combatants? Did we have to get judicial review before we shot at that guy at Vicksburg? So shut up, you malcontent!"

UPDATE: Gene Healy over at Reason notes: "Any citizen the administration believes to be a 'senior operational leader' of al Qaeda or an 'associated force' can be killed if a 'high-level official of the U.S. government has determined that the targeted individual poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States' and deems his capture 'infeasible.' But the memo also makes clear that the administration alone will decide whether it has met those criteria—and how to define the terms."

So, if the administration "believes" you are in al Qaeda, and "believes" you pose an imminent threat to the U.S., and "believes" you can't be captured, you can be killed. Is that not a wee bit different than shooting at some guy from Pennsylvania who is wearing an enemy uniform on a battlefield along with a bunch of enemy troops and who is aiming a rifle at you?And isn't someone who pretends this difference doesn't exist being obtuse, whether deliberately or not?


  1. I probably am not being obtuse at all, I recognize the difference, I don't attach the significance to it that you do, and that's why I wrote a whole post about why I don't attach the significance to it that you do. It was childish Gene.

    I agree with everything from the third to the seventh paragraph so you may be misunderstanding exactly what I'm challenging you on.

    Your eighth paragraph is blatantly false. What I said w.r.t. to Confederates is that there is no reason to run them through a court just because they are Americans. I've always noted that the irregular nature of this enemy causes problems. If you want to disagree with me that al Awlaki should be tried but Pemberton shouldn't, you are welcome to disagree with me on that - but don't tell me I said it is "no more problematic" in that post. I didn't.

  2. Your Obama theory makes no sense and it's a little insulting but I'll try to compose myself because I know when I inform you these things are insulting you get insulted back.

    I supported this sort of thing when George Bush was president, so I don't think it has anything to do with Obama. If people feel strongly that al Awlaki was not al Qaeda they ought to object and challenge it in court. I have not said the president's decisions are inviolate nor have I said that the president can't be tried for war crimes if he needs to be. I'm infuriated that nobody has been prosecuted for the torture.

    But that does not mean that you run military policy through the courts before hand.

    So my personal take on military professionalism has been strongly shaped by what my grandad has told me about his experiences in Vietnam. He was a JAG officer, and he was the one of the first on the scene to investigate My Lai and prosecute Calley and the others. My take away from that is not that you run targets by a court before making a strike, nor is it that you treat enemies like criminals. You foster professionalism in the armed forces (and the White House) and if that professionalism is breached you prosecute it.

    What makes you so confident some court or plebiscite (or whatever you have in mind) will be any more enlightened than the president that you are willing to take this step to completely change our institutional approach to fighting wars?

    Men aren't angels, Gene, and I don't agree with your standards for judging institutional arrangements here. You don't pull out a hypothetical of when someone could make a mistake and say that because people could make a mistake it's the wrong way of doing things. You ask - given that people will make mistakes - what the best institutional arrangement is. Giving military policy to the courts because the military could make a mistake makes no more sense than giving legislative authority to the courts because Congress will make bad decisions (presumably I don't have to furnish examples of THAT).

    In my opinion, you need something more than that.

    1. "If people feel strongly that al Awlaki was not al Qaeda they ought to object and challenge it in court."

      Challenge it in court you say? I wonder why no one thought of that!

      Oh wait, they did. And the government made it illegal to do so.,-ccr-seek-have-obama-enjoined-killing-awlaki-without-due-process

  3. If we're tossing about political theories of why people argue the way they do, I've suspected that a lot of libertarians come to irrational conclusions on Obama on this because they are dedicated to this line that Republicans and Democrats are the same thing. They have to act like Obama is some kind of war criminal because they can't suffer a challenge to that premise, so they miss the substantial ways in which the Obama administration is different from the Bush administration (although on many of these points the Bush administration was evolving towards the much more defensible Obama position).

    I laid out everything I could think of in terms of the differences between the two administrations. As far as I can tell, I've been pretty consistent.

  4. On your update -
    Please stop calling me obtuse. The Pennsylvania post was engaging the question of whether it mattered that al Awlaki was an American citizen. Some people are uniquely concerned with that.

    Don't act like I said anything about the decision making process of the administration in general in that post - it was about citizenship status (it's beyond me why people are uniquely concerned about Americans - the fifth amendment protects "persons", after all - but for some reason they have been).

    Can we also not put "believe" in scare quotes and act like it's some on the whim decision?

    Did you see the youtube video of the guys in a helicopter gunning down a reporter? That doesn't happen with drones. The guys in the helicopter feel pressed to make a decision. You want to talk about people getting killed because some grunt - not even an official with extensive intelligence briefings - because they "BELIEVE" they might be al Qaeda, then we can talk about conventional warfare.

    Drones aren't going to be perfect either, but if you are concerned about irresponsibly gunning down people on a whim, you ought to embrace the transition to drone warfare.

  5. Yes I definitely had more than this... I discussed point 1. and 2. here at length.

  6. "Please stop calling me obtuse."

    I could offer you a deal on this, but I have a feeling you won't like it.

    "The Pennsylvania post was engaging the question of whether it mattered that al Awlaki was an American citizen."

    Then: Major fail. Because no one, anywhere, at any time, ever said you can't shoot back at a citizen who is shooting at you.

    'Can we also not put "believe" in scare quotes and act like it's some on the whim decision?'

    No, we can't do that. Because like I noted, this policy is going to be abused, with 100% likelihood, and people will be killed because they are inconvenient nuisances rather than enemy combatants.

    "Drones aren't going to be perfect either..."

    Drones?! Who mentioned drones?

  7. "You don't pull out a hypothetical of when someone could make a mistake and say that because people could make a mistake it's the wrong way of doing things."

    Oh, is that what I was doing? Because I thought I was saying this policy WILL be abused to take out anyone in the way of an unscrupulous administration. Why? No checks and balances. Pretty obvious, really, so perhaps you should stop being so...

    Never mind.


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