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Former Congressman: When Should U.S. Declare Conditions for Military Force?

Former Congressman Tom Campbell, now dean of the Fowler School of Law at Chapman University, writes in the Orange County Register that “President Obama’s formulation [of when to say whether the U.S. will use military force] is neither descriptive nor predictive. There are cases where he says we will use force where we plainly won’t; and there are cases where we, as a nation, say we would have wanted to use force (e.g., to prevent genocide) that are excluded. With such an unreliable rule, there is danger in our appearing to be bluffing, or unreliable, or hypocritical.”  

“There is a better approach: don’t rule out the use of force, don’t rule it in either. Circumstances will be different, and we cannot ignore differing factors of practicality whenever force is suggested. Without announcing an advance rule, we do run the risk of some adversaries underestimating our resolve (as Saddam Hussein did in invading Kuwait), but we also have the benefit of allowing other adversaries to back down without as much loss of face as a “non-negotiable” demand would cause (the Cuban missile crisis). Diplomacy is always advanced by flexibility. Since we are not abiding by the rules we currently have announced regarding use of force, it’s better not to announce any new ones.”

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