When my dad was a young guy, right out of high school, he joined the United States Navy, became a Navy torpedo bomber pilot and fought the Japanese. They were the sworn enemy of the United States of America. ... Some 60 years later, I'm at the table, talking about the peace with the Japanese Prime Minister, Prime Minister Koizumi.
Thus George W. Bush, speaking to the Greater Cleveland Partnership in Ohio the other day. I groaned inwardly, reading that. It’s not the first time we’ve heard the Japan-1945 analogy, of course. It was a favorite of Donald Rumsfeld’s (remember him?). My inner reaction to it now, as then, is: “Oh, so Japan in 1945 is the template? Great! When do we get to drop the two atom bombs?”
That’s not a flippant reaction, either. We did indeed achieve a great end in 1945. However, we did it by dint of mighty means, means which included those two nukes. In matters of national defense, as Alexander Hamilton noted: “the MEANS ought to be proportioned to the END; the persons, from whose agency the attainment of any END is expected, ought to possess the MEANS by which it is to be attained.”
The problem with raising the 1945 analogy is that it brings all this to mind. Destroying Japanese militarism was a tremendous end, to which we applied correspondingly tremendous means. Mission accomplished!
Now, what about the War on Terror? (a) How tremendous an end would it be, to defeat worldwide jihadi terrorism? (b) Are we applying proportionate means?
To take the first question first: It depends how great you judge the threat to be. There is a good range of opinion on that. At the low end of the range, the case has been made that we overreacted to 9/11. I am inclined to that view myself. Hunting down and killing jihadis? Yes. Punitive action, including military action, against nations friendly to them? Sure. Decade-long military operations costing thousands of American lives and trillions of dollars? Whoa...