Cui Bono

Cui bono is Latin, meaning “to whose benefit”. It is typically used as a mode of thought for judicial inquiry, by Occam’s razor a perpetrator who stands to gain something from a crime is more likely to have committed it than one with no standing. However, it can similarly be used as a mode of thought to analyze the motives and practical realities of international relations. Specifically, it calls our attention to the inherent dichotomy of the US mission in Afghanistan to combat terrorism (clearly the proximate cause for the US invasion following 9/11) and the mission to establish a democracy (the oft trodden out political justification).

This blog has often noted, with suspicion, the tendency of the US government’s foreign policy to act to support non-democratic governments when it has been convenient. This case appears to possibly fit a similar mode. Specifically if the US government’s chief objective is to reduce the risk of a terrorist attack than a proper democratic government, in the short term, is likely not optimal. Judicial systems in democracy countries, in principle, act to protect individual liberties, often at the expense of the ease of operating an investigation (the example of the US government over the last decade notwithstanding). In the long run it’s possible that such policies act to promote an environment where terrorist attacks are less likely (not to mention the moral component of such a policy), however it’s unquestionable that in the short term they make operating investigations more difficult. On the other hand, a non-democratic government has no such limitations, and thus may appear more optimal, given a primary goal of reducing terrorism.

This, therefore, represents a fairly great conflict of interests with regards to the US government’s efforts in Afghanistan. However, it applies to the issue of trying to promote democracy at large. The US has faced similar challenges with respect to it’s attempt to promote democracy in Iraq. The present result in both these cases has been questionably democratic elections, a not particularly stable country, and ultimately a failure to achieve the goal of reducing terrorism. President Bush’s mantra of, “fight them there instead of here” notwithstanding, it is clear that the lack of a domestic terrorist attack is offset by the enormous increase in international terrorist attacks against US forces. This conflict of interest has resulted in a failure to take a strong position in either direction, neither country has either an autocracy which violently cracks down on US targets or a functioning democracy.

When analyzing the failure of Afghanistan (or Iraq) to put together a proper stable government it is valuable to question to what extent it is to the US’s advantage for one to exist. Given the Bush administration’s insistence that the Bill of Rights were overly limiting in pursuing suspected terrorists it is implausible that we would advocate for political and legal protections internationally while simultaneously trying to circumvent them at home. This is not the present the argument that either strategy is necessarily preferable, but rather that there is a clear conflict of interests that goes unacknowledged in the current dialog.