John Fabian Witt responds

to my post on his Slate essay:

The characteristically sharp-penned Eric Posner seems to me to miss the mark here. Lincoln as pragmatist is exactly the point I made in the piece (a well-worn idea about Lincoln, I concede, though it is not usually applied to the international laws of war). Lincoln began the war relatively disdainful of the laws of war. When he eventually embraced the idea of the law of war, it was not out of what his drafter Francis Lieber scorned as "mawkish sentimentalism," but out of a very concrete set of strategic aims. This may not be the "fashionable" IHL view of the 21st century, of course. But that's exactly the point. In fact I would have thought that my version of the tradition of Lincoln would appeal to Eric for precisely the reason it departs from both (a) the slightly ridiculous gentleman's duel model of Vattel and McClellan, and (b) the nihilism of those who don't grasp the strategic value that law has to offer. The former may resemble the IHL orthodoxy of the 21st century in its awkward divergence from the security interests of states. But the latter resembles the worst elements of the most recent Bush administration's engagement with the laws of war.