In the original Star Trek episode “Balance of Terror,” the Enterprise is deciding whether it is in their best interest to attack an invading Romulan ship. Their decision means potentially engaging the Federation in an intergalactic war, or retreating which would show weakness which Spock claims would precipitate the same result since weakness would be seen and exploited.
Kirk: Are you saying we should fight to prevent a fight?
Spock: …If the Romulans have retained this martial philosophy then attack becomes imperative.
Bones: War is never imperative.
Spock: It is for them Doctor.
As Obama sends 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan and exaggerates the mission creep started by Bush, I found myself thinking of this episode. It’s a wonderful twist created by the writers to have Spock voice the logic of war. Kirk’s question of fighting to prevent a fight couldn’t shatter that logic any more effectively. In the episode, Kirk is eventually convinced by Spock’s logic and fights and beats the Romulans and the Federation somehow escapes a long and protracted war.
Obama continues Bush’s logic of fighting to prevent a fight. From Obama’s speech:
“This danger will only grow if the region slides backwards, and al Qaeda can operate with impunity. We must keep the pressure on al Qaeda, and to do that, we must increase the stability and capacity of our partners in the region.”
Inside the logic of war, I suppose this makes sense. Step outside and this logic collapses. The terrorists behind 9/11 were Saudis who learned to fly in Florida with Saudi money. The presence or absence of failed states was irrelevant as far as preventing 9/11 goes. It’s true that terror cells operate in the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, but failed states are not a necessary condition for terrorism. Terror cells operate in the most so-called civilized states in the world including the United States. While some would argue that America is a failed state, there is no debate that it produces its fair share of Unabombers and DC snipers and Timothy McVieghs. The IRA killed 1,800 people in the UK but didn’t need a broken third world state to do it from.
So if Afghanistan is just one of many worldwide failed states, and if terrorists don’t really need failed states to operate from anyway, fighting to prevent a fight starts to look not just unethical, but illogical. There’s no such thing as fighting to prevent a fight. That’s like killing your neighbor’s child to prevent it from being killed. I guess if you’ve won the Nobel Peace Prize, killing your neighbor’s child is just collateral damage.
Only in the logic of war could this seem just.