When Should the U.S. Invade Other Countries?

Release Date
September 16, 2013

Topic

History
Description

In this debate, Jan Ting, professor of law at Temple University, and Bryan Caplan, professor of economics at George Mason University, discuss whether war is ever justified. Prof. Ting argues that while war should be a last resort, there are occasions where the consequences of not going to war outweigh the costs of war. He uses World War II as an example in which war prevented great evil. Prof. Caplan argues for strict pacifism, saying it is highly unlikely that any benefits of war would outweigh the horrific costs.
In this clip, Prof. Caplan argues that there are a number of cases in the world that involve ideological or religious thinking contradictory to our notion of human rights and dignity that we would not invade. For example, we would not invade Saudi Arabia if they refuse to give women equal rights, even though we disagree with the practice. We would not invade China if they don’t become a democracy.
Prof. Ting agrees that we should have an aversion to intervention, but that we need to have the option on the table to deal with situations like we saw in Nazi Germany. Prof. Caplan counters, saying, “It seems like really all that you’re saying is even though we have a lot of evidence that our best thinking isn’t very good, let’s do it anyway and rely on it. . . . Saying we’re going to go and attack a country and kill a lot of innocent people when we just have a guess that it might be better is not good enough.” What do you think?

Top US general warns of Syria intervention costs [article]: Spencer Kimball questions the unintended consequence of a military intervention with Syria
A brief history of key military interventions by the United States [slideshow]: Anup Kaphle chronicles US engagements in several military interventions in history
The 20th century myths driving US intervention [article]: Eric Garland demystifies the logic behind a possible US strike in Syria
Putin: U.S. military interventions are “alarming” (video): CBS explains Russian President Vladimir Putin’s opposition to a US intervention with Syria as well as his role in the negotiations between the two countries
Obama’s Incompetent and Unconstitutional Case for War [article]: Andrew Napolitano criticizes the Obama Administration’s unconstitutional push for military involvement with Syria despite peaceful alternatives
Untitled [cartoon]: Nate Beeler illustrates the Obama Administration’s lack of support for intervention in Syria

When Should the U.S. Invade Other Countries?
JAN TING: We can’t simplify the world as much as we would like to and reduce it to a handful of principles. It’s a complicated world, and the difficult path forward for us is to study the world, learn as much as we can about it, appreciate the complexity and the detail in the world, and argue about the best way forward for us. And I think the best way forward for us is to maintain some level of military strength and be prepared to stand up for American principles and values when they are under attack by evil forces elsewhere in the world.
BRANDON TURNER: Professor Caplan, do you have a question?
BRYAN CAPLAN: It seems like there’s a long list of evils that you’re unlikely to want to do anything about. Do you want to invade Saudi Arabia so they stop oppressing their women? Do you want to threaten war against China  unless they switch to democracy? There are many U.S. allies that commit the very crimes that you’re talking about, but as long as they’re our buddies we do very little about it. And it seems like most people have no problem with that. What do you think?
TING: I don’t think you can say just because there’s a lot of problems in the world that we’re going to intervene everywhere. In fact, I’m very sympathetic to the notion that we ought to have an aversion to intervention, absolutely. And I’m saying that there are a small number of situations, like when you’re battling an unthinking ideology of racial superiority as prevailed in Nazi Germany and in Japan, or maybe now, when you’re battling a religious intolerance that calls for the murder in the name of God, as though God is ordering these murders and issuing fatwas on people. Maybe that’s a situation where people are willing to stand up and defend themselves for the United States to lend some support to free people elsewhere in the world willing to stand up and fight. And I think we need to have armed forces standing in reserve to lend that support where it’s in our interest and in the interest of humankind to do so.
TURNER: Professor Caplan, do you want a last word?
CAPLAN: It seems like really all that you’re saying is even though we have a lot of evidence that our best thinking isn’t very good, let’s do it anyway and rely on it. I think we really need to take seriously the true complexity. It’s so complex that even if people try their best, they’re very bad at doing this. And saying we’re going to go and attack a country and kill a lot of innocent people when we just have a guess that it might be better is not good enough.