In this episode of Marksism, the editors discuss Matthew Yglesias’ One Billion Americans and whether the US needs a larger population to compete with China, Mark Royce’s argument that the US should declare war on Iran in order for actions like the drone strike that killed Gen. Soleimani to be legal according to international law, and Catholic teachings about the just war tradition.

Rough Transcript

Mark Tooley: This is Mark Tooley, editor Providence: A Journal of Christianity and American Foreign Policy, with one more episode of “Marksism,” with fellow editors and fellow marks Mark LiVecche and Mark Melton, and we are reviewing several wonderful pieces published in Providence this week, starting out with a review by Caleb Smith of Matthew Yglesias’s his new book One billion Americans. His thesis is that in America’s strategic competition with China, with its 1.3 billion population, that America with its 230 million population needs more people and our goal at least aspirational, should be to get to 1 billion Americans, so we have the labor force and the wealth to espouse our values in the world against Chinese strength.  Caleb grants that it’s a sweeping and strong argument that Yglesias makes but counters that it should be America’s premier purpose to secure the dignity, liberty of its people as individuals and not to shoot for a particular population size. So Mark Melton, what did you think of Caleb’s review of One Billion Americans?

Mark Melton:I’ve had I thought about this, actually, a long time ago, of how does America compete against such a large country. And I think probably other Americans have thought this too. And there are basically two different ways of growing an economy. One is to increase population. The other is to improve productivity. And Americans. I think I’ve had the idea that China has a lot of people and it’s putting a lot of people into factories. But America’s technology is just better. And the closer that the Chinese get to our level of technology it gets harder and harder to develop a new technology. So in other words, it’s easier to copy mass production, it’s harder to come up with a new better type of car. But I think that the Chinese have shown they’re getting better at producing products for the new age of technology. And so we see this a little bit with Huawei and the 5G network.  Part of the complaint is that the networks can be used for espionage, but a lot of countries still want to use them because they’re cheaper and supposedly better. And so, America is having to compete on this level.  And because China is going to get better and better and their technology, it’s going to become more and more of a near peer technological.  It may take decades but it’s going to be a coming issue. And so the idea of having more Americans living in the country does sound like a way that the US could compete strategically.  And I think if I forget some of those specific policies that is that the book review brings up.  But one idea I’ve heard from many libertarians and others is the idea of opening up the country, other parts of the country, to more development. Getting rid of more risk land restrictions so that you don’t have to have half of the population of America, living in very tight communities like Silicon Valley, the Washington/Baltimore to Boston quarter or it’s a horribly expensive like houses in these areas can cost two to three times more.  And so if you have technology that allows people to work remotely or to have offices located in parts of the country that are cheaper. You can then use the cheaper land to build houses and build communities so that it just lowers the cost of living and so it allows people to have families without having to break the bank. So I think some of these arguments that are made here are sensible. In the book review he talks about how a lot of the things he proposes are very expensive. It’s kind of like he’s very nonchalant about the idea of just raising taxes or getting into massive amounts of debt. And so I think it sounds like it’s an interesting starting point for conversation.  But overall America I think needs a bigger population and it’s going to compete with China and or it’s going to need to ally with other countries more, which we do, but alliances are always difficult.

Tooley:  Marc LiVecche, are you on board with 1 billion Americans in our strategic competition with China?

Marc LiVecche: The older I get the more quiet I want my porch to be. I want to hear crickets not neighbors. So by disposition I’m opposed to the plan. That sounds like an awful lot of awful lot of people. But no, thinking strategically about is outside my wheelhouse. But, you know, so I’m open to the arguments. But I look at the Middle East, Israel, their population is really smaller than most people that want to push them into the ocean. They’re doing fine. Is it an economic argument versus the defense argument that might change my mind on that I’d be more open to it. I think going the avenue of alliances and things like that seems more reasonable. I would want a higher quality people before I would want simply more people. And I think there are ways of doing that. But again, not having read the book and not being an expert, having made some babies myself. I’ve got something to say. But no expert opinion.

Tooley:  Well, and I think he acknowledges it’s unlikely that fertility rates would increase greatly. So we have to rely primarily on increased immigration.

LiVecche: Which will be a fun conversation to talk about increased immigration for the kinds of immigrants that we would want to be able to make us more competitive. That’ll be a really fun non-kinetic conversation.

Tooley:  And one that will be challenging for both the left and the right. For different reasons, of course.  Our next article by Mark Royce addresses whether or not the US killing of Iranian military leader Soleimani last year in Iraq was within international law. Royce essentially says it probably was outside international law but suggests that to facilitate future potential U.S. actions against Iran the U.S. should to stay within international law declare formal war upon the Islamic Republic of Iran without necessarily taking any action, it would just be on the books in order to justify what maybe needs to be done. I thought this was a little bit too overly dramatic and extremely unlikely, if not impossible, to occur within the context of American politics. We haven’t declared war in 79 years now against any nation. Marc LiVecche, what were your thoughts?


LiVecche: I loved it. Not as a policy prescription, but it has been a long time since a Providence article actually almost knocked me out of my seat. I’m reading it and I’m thinking, he might go this direction and then indeed he does go that direction. And I was so shocked, in a good way. As a thought piece I think it’s provocative. I think it’s an interesting thing to talk about over a coffee or a pint.  No, I don’t think we need to declare a formal war, in part because my understanding of the ends of war being peace. Let’s start there, if end of war under just war terms is peace, certainly in the large scale war, the way you achieve pieces you win the war. Irecognize that he’s saying we could declare war and not necessarily wage it.  So maybe we won’t have to go out and try for a decisive victory. That’s perhaps outside his prescription.  But even the intention of peace then would be outside his prescription. So we declare war with no real aim of waging it. I’m not sure where that would lead us.  When we wrote about Soleimani piece when it first erupted, Robert Nicholson had what I think is a more interesting and likely proposal, which was for America to recognize that we need and to be after a decisive victory.  But instead we can recognize that in the Middle East the modus operandi is this sort of tit for tat escalation of violence in periodic cycles.  And that rather than fear that, or rather than deny or ignore that reality, which was a master it. And so when you know the analogy that I had used at the time was that the Iranians by seizing vessels by different modest acts of aggression they were kind of tapping around a minefield, trying to figure out where our detonation points where.  And when they finally killed a US contractor that was sort of a pressure plate and we responded and they probably didn’t expect it to the degree that it came out.  B that was an example of mastering a cycle of tit for tat violence.  And they were actions that fall short of war and maybe for the Middle East, that’s the route to go is to just simply recognize we need and declare war. We don’t have the intention of winning it.  We probably can’t win it the way that we want without a massive cost and blood and treasure, but we can play the game that they play and we can do so better. So the second prescription of maybe having Congress authorize, that kind of thing. Would we clear things up a little bit? But you know, I tend to think the action is justified. I tend to be less concerned about the international law if the act is justified. I tend to be less concerned about going through formal avenues for congressional approval. That last bit, I think, is a is a character flaw of mine. I think that’s the route to go the approval and then engage in small scale acts that are less than war.

Tooley:  Markk Melton, do you share your friend Mark Royce’s conviction that the US should declare war on Iran?

Melton: I think our system of declaring war, it’s of built on this kind of great powers or World War Two notion of two states really going head to head and knocking each other out. Whereas Cold War and today we’re talking about a lot of non-state actors and proxy actors before it becomes more complicated. I think having Congress pass an authorization of the use of military force would be probably the closest equivalent. I think that we could actually get done. And I think there’s good reason for Congress do that first. It kind of forces the bait that the members of Congress have to actually to defend and explain why should we be authorizing military force against Iran or against other their proxies and other actors. So I think if you declare war against Iran and then they start using proxy actors and Lebanon and other places, then that kind of complicates things a little bit. So a broader authorization might be a better option and so yeah I think that I mean look I kind of mentioned that a little bit before.  But I mean the way our American constitution system works the Congress has a right to have a say in when do we use military force. And it’s not just the president. I mean, right now we just let the president kind of choose which military actions they think is most appropriate but there’s good reason to get the American people on board with something like this because we can kind of think that it might be tit for tat, but then it can blow up pretty quickly. And if we don’t have the American people behind it, then it the survivability of that plan is in question.

Tooley: And then finally to interviews this week with to distinguish Catholic thinkers about the Catholic Church’s evolving thoughts regarding just war and nuclear weapons specifically one talk with Father Drew Christiansen, a long expert on the church’s teaching about nuclear weapons, who has edited a new book describing and analyzing the church’s now rejection of the possession of nuclear weapons and rejection of nuclear deterrence.  And also Joe Capizzi analyzing what Pope Francis was actually saying about just for teaching and his new encyclical Fratelli tutti.  Both affirm that the Catholic Church is not heading into a pacifist direction.  Drew Christiansen makes the point that built into Catholic political theology is the understanding that government must use lethal force to defend the innocent and in pursuit of justice.  But it sounds as though the Catholic Church will less and less be using the traditional language of just for teaching.  Drew Christiansen prefers the language of Responsibility to Protect. So Marc, you’re a just war scholar, and what are your thoughts?

Livecche:  They were both great interviews. You know my one of my initial thoughts is that both Joe and Father Drew are going out of their way to sort of defend the honor of their father.  I think it’s an overly positive spin to suggest that Francis is simply following along with traditional Catholic teaching. That’s not true. You see it in JP, you see it in Benedict.  But this idea that Francis is simply using just war language to correct, critique, reform just war thinking I think is an overstatement, in part because the just war framework that I think Francis espouses has what’s been called a presumption against war as it’s starting point, which I do not think is the classic expression of just war because just war begins with a presumption against injustice or positively a presumption for justice, which sounds like semantics.  But it begins to veer away into very different ways of thinking about conflict and very different policy prescriptions.  So I don’t think it’s exactly right to say that he’s simply using the just war tradition to critique the just war tradition. I think he’s starting from a very different point and the trajectory is absolutely toward a more a more pacifist stance.  You know Joe observed that very often there’re scare quotes around “just for tradition.”  It’s not easy to qualify the so called just war tradition, and these all seem to me signals that that it’s more than more than simply a point of emphasis, but it is signaling a kind of tentative gentle departure.  The language of our Responsibility to Protect is wonderful and I agree with that. But I imagine that’s being said with the presumption that things like state and national interests are no longer going to be a just causes built into the just war tradition. There are three traditional just causes protecting the innocent, which they capture: taking Back what has been wrongly taken and punishing the guilty and you can fit all those just causes under the rubric of Responsibility to Protect.  But I think an awful lot of things will fall out, if we simply use that language, which sounds like war is never used to defend the nation, but always defend sort of other people. I turn my cheek. I might not turn your cheek to the aggressors’ blows. So I think all of these things are marginal chipping away of traditional just war rhetoric, which I think ultimately it’s going to have a long term impact.

Tooley:  Marc LiVecche and Mark Melton, thank you for another scintillating Markism conversation. Until next week, bye bye.