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Bill said "However, I could be wrong. Perhaps the real strategy is Machiavellian. Perhaps Bush and company believe that it is not wise policy to let the rabble (US citizens) have too much money. Too much money means too much freedom and a consequent risk of (in MachiavelliÔøΩs mind) instabilityÔøΩand we canÔøΩt have that. What would become of the social order if citizens could solve their own problems without government taxes on their backs?"-----------------------------------

Hi Bill,
Thank you for your comments.
I feel that you provide an incorrect characterization of Machiavelli's thought. The present administration did NOT take Machiavelli's advice on acquiring a new state. Witness de-Baathification, the DOD's insistence on using sheer force as a mechanism for victory, an inability to hide mischief (wanted or unwanted, warranted or unwarranted), an inability to efficiently hunt down and kill Iraqi leadership, and an inability to stop looters after the fall of Baghdad. Upon occupying Baghdad, Machiavelli would NOT have called off the 16th Cavalry. He certainly would not have been so obsessed with occupying Baghdad as to leave pockets of resistance along the way.
In terms of domestic politics, Machiavelli is a die-hard republican and would be disgusted by this administrationÔøΩs corruption (in the classical use of the word). Also, Machiavelli had a passion for freedom and a free way of life, and his definition of freedom is hardly attached to money. Moreover, periodic instability, what Machiavelli calls 'the tumults', are not harmful for a polity as long as institutions are created to channel and balance power.
In any case, the Bush administration has cut taxes and has presided over a housing bubble. I do not see how he is taking money away from citizens. A true Machiavellian would have warned against tax cuts for the rich, especially when they hold uncertain benefits for the economy.


PS: can someone please tell me how to create paragraphs or 'press enter' in html? Thanks

mike riikola

There is a third alternative to war or containment: constructive engagement. If cost-benefit were the prime consideration, war and containment must be considered economically insane compared to constructive engagement. Yet Judge Posner failed to include this alternative in his underlying assumptions. "Perpetual hostility" is his foundational assumption.


To the comment above:

Ok, but try constructive engagement with Saddam.


It strikes me as totally unethical, however, for a country to go to war solely because the benefits to itself outweigh the costs to itself.

Why? If a country is better off fighting then that war is preventing something even more costly. In view of war's tremendous costs, that something is probably quite nasty.

Notwithstanding errors or uncertainty in the calculation, of course. Or is that your point?


It strikes me as totally unethical, however, for a country to go to war solely because the benefits to itself outweigh the costs to itself.Why? If a country is better off fighting then that war is preventing something even more costly.And if a person is better off committing murder then that murder is preventing something even more costly? And if a person is better off owning slaves then owning slaves is preventing something even worse?Would it be ethical for China to start a war with Taiwan if China judged that the benefits to itself outweighed the costs? Or what about Germany in WWII - was it ethical for Germany to invade Poland as long as the benefits to Germany outwieghed the cost to Germany?


Wes, In war there are no ethics (unless your sitting in a comfortable armchair in Geneva), only the quick and the dead and not much separating the two. Do a cost-benefit analysis on that. It's really all about Policy and National survival-deaf, dumb and blind as they may be.


"In war there are no ethics"

Whatever helps you sleep at night. I'm sure they deserved it.

You seem to have missed the public outcry over the Abu Gharib photos and the Office of Legal Counsel torture menus. You know, the people marching in the streets, the massive drops in public opinion polls, the news coverage everywhere but Fox... "no ethics in war" is a radioactive, fundamentalist American position. It is what soldiers say when they come back from Mai Lai:

"I didn't discriminate between individuals in the village, sir. They were all the enemy, they were all to be destroyed, sir" -- Lt. William Calley, Jr.


Testimony of Lt. William Calley, Jr. regarding the Geneva Convention:

A: I know there were classes. I can't remember any of the classes. Nothing stands out in my mind what was covered in the classes, sir.

Q: Did you learn anything in those classes of what actually the Geneva Convention covered as far as rules and regulations of warfare are concerned?

A: No, sir. Laws and rules of warfare, sir.

Q: Did you receive any training in any of those places which had to do with obedience to orders?

A: Yes, sir.

Q: What were the nature of the -- what were you informed was the principles involved in that field?

A: That all orders were to be assumed legal, that the soldier's job was to carry out any order given him to the best of his ability.



Posner said:

"But in the case of a war that though in a broad sense defensive is also optional because there is no immediate threat of attack by the enemy, cost-benefit analysis has an important role to play."

If there is no immediate threat of attack then you are using a broader sense of defensive than occurs anywhere else in our laws regarding force. Iraq had not attacked us, was not intending to attack us (witness their unpreparedness for invasion,) and to this day no link has been shown between Saddam and Bin Laden.

To make an analogy, it is as if we released mental patient A, who later attacked us. Then, former friend B comes into our convenience store. B is roughly the same race as A, and we are mad at him, so we have the UN spend several years searching him for a gun. Having not found one, we look around suspiciously, shout "he's got a gun!", and shoot him in the face.

Wolfowitz and the folks at AEI were writing policy memos supporting regime change in Iraq and Iran before 9/11. All that changed after is that they discovered a way to achieve it (invasion) that would not previously have been politically acceptable. Wolfowitz admitted to the entire world that WMD's were decided upon as the justification with the largest consensus.
Whatever analysis was done, it was planned towards an inevitable result. In conditions of ideological homogenity like those created by the Federalist Society, OLC, the Bush Whitehouse, or (increasingly) the Federal Judiciary, opinions self-reinforce and things get approved that aren't rational on the broader view.

I submit that no war has ever been cost effective on a global scale. Wars are redistributive in the most wasteful possible way.
Decisions for war are taken as a result of groupthink mis-perceptions in elite ideological systems. Vietnam made no sense without the cold-war domino theory (see McNamara's confessional in the movie Fog of War). That same obsession with the maintenance of regimes was one parent of the Iraq war, the other parent was the selfish American Fundamentalist idea of preemptive defense.

When other countries preemptively invade Kuwait or Poland we used to fight them and call it a "good war". But now look what we have done. We have become our enemy. Invasion, Internment, Torture...


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