From the Comments: The Contribution of American Allies to Pax Americana

Dr Stocker answers my concerns about free-riding and rent seeking with this gem:

Good points Brandon. On the rent seeking, I think you are broadly correct, but I would offer two qualifications. European nations/the EU often foot a lot of the bill/take on associated civilian tasks where America has taken military action, so that the US is not subsidising the defence and security needs of Europe quite as much as it might seem. So for example, in the Yugoslav breakup led to US military operations and a comparatively passive role for Europe, but a lot of the afterwork was taken on by Europe and there is no point in military intervention without work on building civil society to create long term security and stability. Going back a bit further to the first Gulf War/expulsion of Saddam from Kuwait, Germany and Japan did pay a lot towards the cost in return for not participating. Despite [this] they got a lot of abuse in the US Congress from politicians who don’t appear to understand that their non-intervention in the Gulf owed a lot to constitutions and attitudes which the US encouraged/imposed during post-World War II occupation. Recently, though European govts have been cautious in what they say in public about the Ukraine crisis and containing Putin, there is a growth in military spending and co-operation done in fairly quiet ways largely with the aim of deterring Putin from adventurism in the Baltic states. Just one example, Germany has recently taken 100 Leopard II tanks out of retirement and work is underway for the Leopard III. Moving to the Pacific, Japan is enhancing its military and weakening constitutional restrictions on the deployment of the military (imposed by the US in the post-war Constitution) in reaction to Chinese assertiveness.

While I think it is broadly correct that the US has been paying for a military burden which should be born by Europe and Japan, the situation is not as extreme as it often assumed in the US and as far as I can see is moving in a more balanced direction. In general while it is true that the US has a very impressive military machine with some impressive technology and officers, I think some Americans are a bit over confident about this. A lot of Americans, at least amongst those who take an interest in military kit, appear very convinced that the Abrams 2 is the best tank anywhere, I would suggest that in military capacity, for cost, the Leopard II is probably better (it certainly does much better in export markets) and even in absolute terms ignoring cost, the French Leclerc (which is extremely expensive) has a good claim to be the best tank around, and the Korean K2 is another strong but very expensive candidate. The Abrams is expensive, heavy, difficult to transport and difficult to keep in sufficient fuel, though it can certainly do a very good job. A lot of Americans appear to be incapable of thinking of France as anything other than a surrender monkey joke in military terms, which is really very far from the reality, as can be seen by the very strong role that France is now taking in northwest Africa against violent Islamist fundamentalists. The US military may well be able to have the same military capacity for lower cost if it moves away from the Abrams II model of a tank that is expensive to run and transport as well as build.

So broadly a correct point Brandon, but I think the situation is a bit better than is often understood in America and is moving in the right direction as Japan and Europe are getting used to the idea of taking responsibility for dealing with new threats from China, Putinist Russia and the hydra of Islamist fundamentalists.

A very good point, and an even better angle with which to view the world.

My only quibble is that the right direction American allies are moving can easily be changed without a more fundamental shift in institutional arrangements between us. Some sort of federal or confederal arrangement would go a long way toward addressing this issue, and would further deepen the economic and cultural ties between constitutional democracies.

Or am I just looking for problems where there are none, in order for my arguments to gain ground?

From the Comments: The Troubling Philistinism of American Libertarians

Dr Khawaja, back from his summer escapades in the West Bank, the Pine Ridge Reservation, and Ohio, takes some time to riff off of my complaints about libertarian criticism of the arts and humanities:

I think you’re being much, much too kind to Caplan. The connection between the Morson essay and the Caplan post is actually pretty clear: Caplan is explicitly defending the sort of philistinism that Morson is worried about. I know that Caplan comes out and insists that he’s not a philistine. But he’s actually the walking paradigm of one.

“The fact that most of the books failed to minimally pique even my interest reflects poorly on them.” Uh, not really. Maybe he should walk over to the psychology section and read up on “projection” and “attribution error.” It doesn’t even occur to him to ask whether his reaction is just an idiosyncratic response to this particular library.

“Could the problem be my lack of expertise?” Gee, there’s a toughie. I looked up the Fenwick collection. Here’s one item at random from their electronic databases:

Kotobarabia Arabic eLibrary Campus Faculty, Staff and Students only Some full text available
This Arabic-only database contains a wide range of Arabic content ranging from contemporary novels to national heritage scientific treatises.
[East View Information Services]

What are the chances that Bryan Caplan could read even the first sentence of the first ten items of any search of this database? Are Tayeb Salih, Ghassan Kanafani, Neguib Mahfouz, or Abderahman Munif embarrassing? Is the secondary literature on them embarrassing (whether in Arabic, English, French, or any other langauge)? Or is Caplan’s ignorant, off-hand dismissal of the contents of his university library what’s really embarrassing?

I looked up the works of Charles Issawi, Albert Hourani, George Hourani, Clifford Geertz, Edward Said, Annemarie Schimmel, Michael Cook, Patricia Crone, Fouad Ajami, and for that matter, Mansour Ajami–all there. These are just random names I remembered off the top of my head from my undergraduate study of Near East Studies. (Mansour Ajami was my Arabic teacher. His name came up randomly because I searched for Fouad Ajami. I had no idea he’s written three books, but he has. Should I be embarrassed by that discovery?) My degrees are in Politics and Philosophy, so NES is way outside of my official areas of expertise. But you’d have to be a moron to be embarrassed by the presence of such work in a library, and it’s all there. You’d also have to be a moron to be embarrassed by the presence of more contemporary work in NES (or Geography, or Anthropology….), especially if, like Caplan, you knew nothing about it.

Just for fun, I did a search on my own last name, not because I expected anything of mine to show up, but just because that’s as random a search as you can imagine. The first hit is a guy named Mahboub Khawaja who’s written a book “Muslims and the West.” I don’t have the book here, but wouldn’t a person of average curiosity be tempted to take a look?

I did a search on my first name, too. Suroosh Irfani’s book on the Iranian revolution looked interesting.

I then clicked one of the Subject Headings underneath, “Europe-Relations-Islamic Countries.” You’d have to be brain dead not to be intrigued by half of what comes up. You could spend a lifetime reading that stuff. Oh wait. That’s kind of what scholars of the field do.

That’s just one casual set of micro-searches of one sub-field by one amateur follower of that field. Imagine multiplying searches of this kind simply for comparative politics and area studies. As you did, you’d multiply counter-examples to Caplan’s ridiculous claims. Then imagine you branched out to other fields. Same result.

Doing all that would be a waste of time, but don’t assume that because I’ve restricted my searches to one field or sub-field, my results are idiosyncratic. I probably could have done the same for Romantic poetry, the history of Reconstruction after the Civil War, Beethoven, Hannah Arendt’s views on Zionism, the luminist school of American landscape painting, American Indian law, Thomism, or literary studies of the works of the Bronte sisters–to name a totally random set of topics. My ex-wife Carrie-Ann Biondi is an indexer (actually the French language indexer) for The Philosopher’s Index. Every month or so, TPI would ship a box of philosophy journal articles to our house for her to index, and I’d spend part of an hour looking through them. Some of it was crap, but most of it was not. I NEVER had Caplan’s response to it. I was awestruck at how much good stuff was being produced. I’ve organized the Felician Ethics Conference for seven years in a row, and have probably read over 200 papers for it. I’ve mostly had the same reaction–curiosity, gratification, sometimes admiration, sometimes even awe.

The bottom line is that Caplan has no idea WTF he’s talking about. The interesting questions are not the ones he ignorantly poses, but rather: Why have libertarians so adamantly and resolutely come to valorize the all-out philistinism and ignorance of people with views like his? Why are we expected to take views like his seriously? If there is a “waste of paper” involved here, why doesn’t that phrase apply to what he’s written on this subject?

Back to prepping for class. The semester begins tomorrow.

I can only add that Irfan is right when he says I am “much, much too kind.” If only more people would come to realize this…

Also, I don’t think this philistinism is limited to Dr Caplan. There is a troubling trend within American libertarianism that is leading towards a kind of cultural chauvinism. Luckily, we live in a polycentric community here in the States and thus have lots of access to other ways of thinking about the world. I want my federal government to be much more libertarian, and I want more polities participating in my more libertarian federal government, and I want Washington to be more like my type of libertarianism. But that doesn’t mean I think those that disagree with me in matters of taste are a waste (of paper, of space, or of anything else).

If anything, those that disagree with me make my life that much more fulfilling, as I am an argumentative son of a bitch. My tolerance is not an endorsement of the status quo, either; any money going from Washington to the arts and humanities (and the sciences) should stop flowing immediately. I still think, despite Dr Khawaja’s excellent point, that libertarians like Caplan and Brennan are subtly attacking this latter notion, that government funding of the arts and sciences is not that bad. They’re just doing a bad job.

Or maybe they’re just philistines.

From the Comments: Greece, the Euro zone, and Russian prowess

Dr Amburgey writes:

I just returned yesterday from a week in Athens for an academic conference. There seemed to be a big socio-economic divide in voting intentions. The unemployed and menial workers were definite No votes. The Yes votes were physicians and a few academics. Personally I think they should bag the euro and go back to the drachma.

Brandon: how long do you think it will be before Putin is making deals in Athens? Might be nice to have a friend in the EU when sanctions come up again. Port privileges for the Russian navy would be very conveniently located as well.

Jacques has a good, thoughtful response (“Leaving the Euro zone does not require leaving the European Union”) that I wholeheartedly agree with (and that I’ve blogged about here and here), and it appears Dr Amburgey is in agreement with us (though does he think Greece should stay in the EU?). Contra Dr Foldvary, I do not think there is any need for Greece to leave the EU. If anything, the EU should be adding more states, though not expanding its geographic space.

Regarding Russia, I simply don’t know. Russia – along with Turkey, Iran, and China – is a society that is very hard to understand let alone predict (I would add India/Pakistan to this list, but the states of the Indian subcontinent are traditional post-colonial states and are therefore much easier to predict; the other four were never conquered or carved up by imperial cartographers). The whole Crimea debacle still has me smarting. Nevertheless I’ll add my thoughts to the conversation.

I don’t think Athens will grow closer to Moscow. There are two major reasons:

  1. Greece fears Russia, which is why Athens has remained in NATO for so long.
  2. Most Greeks – even the ‘No’ voters in this recent referendum – don’t want to leave the EU; Greeks overwhelmingly want to be a part of ‘Europe’.

There are couple of minor reasons, too, though I don’t know how minor they are. 1) Greece is not Ukraine. 2) Russia’s economy is in shambles. Greeks have a higher standard of living than do Russians.

On the flip side, the Greeks are always thinking about the Turks. If an opportunity presents itself (though I cannot think of any arising), Athens may start to edge closer to Russia (a traditional enemy of Turkey) if it thinks Ankara is getting antsy about its former province. This is pretty extreme, though. Also, Russia’s economy may be in shambles, but it seems like Moscow always has plenty of money for military expenditures, and rent stemming from a Russian port in the Mediterranean Sea might be too tasty to resist for a country saddled with so much debt.

At this point I don’t think Greece has much clout in European politics, so I don’t see Moscow viewing Athens as a reliable friend in Brussels.

Around the Web: Greece Edition

  1. Tyler Cowen has been owning this debate.
  2. Unfortunately, Greek citizens have been too fed up with the rest of the world to listen.
  3. (Perhaps libertarians and their arguments were just late to the party.)
  4. This is still the best concise sociological analysis of Greece and the EU I’ve come across.

It’s worth noting here that the overwhelming majority of ‘No’ voters – the ones who just rejected the EU after their elected, far Left leader walked out of talks days before said talks were scheduled to end – don’t want to leave the EU. Confused? See the Cowen link.

Matthew and I had a dialogue on Greece awhile back here at NOL that might be of interest.

From the Comments: Intervention, Blowback, and Bad Faith

I find the debate they’re having somewhat confused. Your response to Kling is on the right track, but I would question the terms of the debate from the outset.

The relevant question is whether US intervention produces armed resistance, and whether that resistance counts as blowback. It does, on both counts. Whether that resistance/blowback counts as “terrorism” by some narrow definition is really beside the point. And whether the resistance is morally justified is yet another issue altogether.

Kling mentions US intervention in Latin America and claims that there’s been no “terrorism” in response. How would he characterize the Cuban-Soviet precipitation of the Cuban Missile Crisis, which was a response to the Bay of Pigs invasion? Soviet positioning of nuclear weapons system was meant to strike fear in us (and did). “Fear” is a synonym for “terror.” The Cuban-Soviet policy was a response to our intervention. That’s blowback.

Re Asia, you’re right to adduce the Saigon counterexample you come up with, but that understates the relevant point. The relevant point is that the whole Tet Offensive was blowback for our intervention! The NVA and Vietcong may not have attacked the mainland of the US, but they killed more Americans than Al Qaida did, so again, I don’t see the point of a narrow fixation on a particular tactic, terrorism.

While we’re at it, why not try US intervention in…the US? Think Wounded Knee 1973 and generally, the armed confrontations between the American Indian Movement and the FBI in the mid 1970s (which most Americans regarded as terrorism on the part of the Indians). AIM regarded Indian reservations as occupied land and acted in kind. That was blowback for our Indian policy.

This is not to deny that terrorism can arise from causes unrelated to blowback or perceived blowback. Nor is it to deny that Islamist terrorism may have distinctive features. But it’s very misleading to suggest that Middle Eastern terrorism is sui generis, and confusing to distinguish “Middle East” and “Asia,” as you correctly point out in your post.

This is from Dr Khawaja (of Policy of Truth infamy). I found the dialogue somewhat confusing, too. I think the fact that economists, who are used to thinking in terms of costs and benefits, were stepping outside of their comfort zones (something I wish more of them would do, by the way) goes a long way towards explaining why there is so much confusion.

Yet I also think that there is much to learn from narrowing the terms of the debate. Kling wants to talk about “terror” rather than “armed resistance,” and I think it’s good to meet him on his own terms. This way it is easier to knock down ignorant arguments for all to see. Dr Khawaja broke down a complex misunderstanding (or simply Kling’s bad faith) in a straightforward manner, but sometimes I find that arguing on Mr Bad Faith’s own terms  – knowing full well that his argument is being made in bad faith – leads to useful outcomes. Jacques, for example, has become noticeably less hawkish since he first tried to pick on me. He has not necessarily become more dovish mind you, but he has become much more cautious about promoting US militarism abroad.

Kling and Henderson on intervention and blowback

David Henderson, an economist at the Naval Postgraduate School’s GSBPP and also the Hoover Institution, alerted me to a remark made by another economist, Arnold Kling, about libertarian foreign policy. Both posts are worth reading, of course, but in the ‘comments’ thread of Henderson’s post, Dr Kling elicited a terse response from Dr Henderson for arguing the following:

David, the U.S. has intervened in Asia, Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East. We have not experienced terrorism except from the Middle East, and there the role of blowback is not clear–there are plenty of other causes, and Middle Eastern terrorists seem perfectly happy to operate in countries that have not invaded Iraq.

I think you have proved my point. Your preferred policy is non-intervention, and so blowback is your desired cause for terrorism. But you only look for evidence that confirms this. Go through the thought experiment of believing that terrorism is not caused by blowback, and then look for evidence from that perspective. That is what I ask for when someone has a “desired cause.”

You can read Dr Henderson’s response here, but I thought I’d go in a different direction with this. First, though, I’d like to thank Dr Kling for broaching this subject. Few libertarians do so (our own Drs Delacroix and van de Haar being two stubborn exceptions).

What I’d like to do is take Dr Kling’s second paragraph to heart and try to pin down some relevant facts I think are missing from his first paragraph, which I’ll break down, for the sake of dialogue, piece-by-piece.

the U.S. has intervened in Asia, Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East.

Kling left off Africa from his list of places the US government has intervened in. This is a huge omission because there has been plenty of terrorist attacks (successful or otherwise) aimed at US targets on the African continent, from Nigeria in the west to Kenya all the way in the east (a span, via each state’s respective most populous city, of 5,328 km; Los Angeles to New York City is about 4,500 km).

We have not experienced terrorism except from the Middle East, and there the role of blowback is not clear

Again, the US has been the target of terrorism in places other than the Middle East. Aside from Africa (the 1998 embassy bombings being perhaps the prominent examples, though there are more), the US has been the target of terrorism in Asia, Latin America, and Europe. I think much of Dr Kling’s confusion regarding blowback in due to his poor geographic knowledge. The Middle East (or Near East), for example, is also a part of Asia. Pakistan and Afghanistan, where many terrorist attacks against US targets have been undertaken, are not considered to be a part of the Middle East by specialists. Below is a partial list of terrorist attacks against US targets in the past:

  • In 1927, the US embassy (along with other foreign embassies) in Nanking, China came under sustained gunfire from both state and non-state actors, and at least one American died (“the Nanking Incident”);
  • In the 1920s and 1930s, many American institutions – public and private (or ostensibly private) – were bombed by left-anarchists upset over the unjust executions of two prominent Italian anarchists in Boston (“Sacco and Vanzetti”);
  • In 1964 the US embassy in Gabon was bombed twice in the same month;
  • In 1965 a car bomb exploded outside of the US embassy in Saigon, South Vietnam, and Leftist factions claimed responsibility;
  • In 1984 a car bomb exploded outside of the US embassy in Bogota, Colombia, but no faction came forward to claim responsibility (it is largely attributed to one of the drug cartels in operation there);
  • In 1985 a Left-wing terrorist organization attacked the Soviet, Chinese, and American embassies in Peru;
  • In the mid-1980s a Leftist terrorist organization attacked US embassies in Indonesia and Italy.

Again, this is just a partial list. In the spirit of Kling’s argument, what I suggest we do here is divide up terrorist bombings into two segments: 1) the period of 1945-1991 (the Cold War), and 2) everything else. I think this is a fair move because during the Cold War the line between state and non-state actors became especially blurred.

Even if we decide to ignore my suggestion of dividing terrorist attacks into two segments, one picture that becomes much clearer is that all of the attacks are political, and terrorism against US targets does not come solely from the Middle East (or even states with large Muslim populations). I hope these two issues are conclusions that we can all agree upon. If this does not nudge the evidence in favor of the intervention-causes-blowback thesis, I don’t know what does. I think Kling’s next line of reasoning will help us elaborate on this a bit more:

there are plenty of other causes [of terrorism], and Middle Eastern terrorists seem perfectly happy to operate in countries that have not invaded Iraq.

I think this statement actually breaks the back of the hawks’ argument. First, though, when did we move from a discussion about intervention causing terrorism to a discussion about invading and occupying Iraq causing terrorism? Is Kling guilty of the bait-and-switch fallacy here? I am forced to conclude that he is, although in fairness his point was raised in a ‘comments’ thread rather than in a post of its own.

His bait-and-switch aside, Kling’s point about “plenty of other causes” of terrorism is one worth thinking through a bit more. There are four lines of thought that I’d like to explore here: 1) Now would be a good time to draw up a distinction between intervention and occupation. Up until now, we have been discussing foreign policy colloquially and ostensibly in terms of intervention, but the difference between the two concepts I just highlighted is huge and needs a bit of clarification. Some of the fuzziness surrounding the two concepts has to do with Kling’s charge of normative libertarian foreign policy. Dr Henderson, for example, cites the scholarly work of Robert Pape and Ivan Eland (as well as the observations of Paul Wolfowitz) to bolster his claim that intervention leads to blowback, but those guys are referring to the explicit occupation of territory, not intervention. This does not mean Dr Henderson or libertarians more broadly are wrong, of course, but only that dialogue on this topic suffers from a lack of detail. The Cold War-era bombings I listed above can be attributed to intervention. The terrorist attacks pre- and post-Cold War can be attributed to intervention as well, but also to occupation. Does this make sense?

2) While Kling is lazy in his assertion about “Middle Eastern terrorists” being “perfectly happy” with attacking states that did not invade Iraq, he has a really good point, albeit one made unintentionally: terrorism is an international phenomenon, and not something that can be attributed to a specific region (or religion). If we take a step back and look at terrorism more broadly (i.e. not just in a US context, which I think highlights well the consequences of intervention and occupation), what do we see? I don’t know about you, but I see terrorism in Russia, China, India, Pakistan, the US, Europe, all of Africa, Latin America, and, just for good measure, the rest of Asia, too. This leads me to train of thought Number 3: terrorism is political, as even death cults like Aum Shinrikyo in Japan or lone wolves like the Unabomber or the white nationalist shooter in Charleston are overtly political. I know I’ve harped on this already, but Dr Kling’s point helps make this much easier to understand.

Much of the terrorism, if not all of it (I hope readers will provide counter-examples), not directed at the US and its allies (which do intervene and do occupy) is done in the name of separatist movements within a state. While states claim sovereignty over their territories, and use IGOs such as the United Nations to bolster these claims, the separatist movements believe themselves to be occupied by a foreign power. Pape makes this crystal clear in his work on the (nominally Buddhist but militantly Left-wing) Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka.

If terrorism is political, but it is not aimed at foreign intervention or occupation/separatism, what would terrorists hope to accomplish by murdering people? Given the calculated political nature of terrorism highlighted above, I fail to see how terrorism could be carried out randomly, except in works of fiction like Batman comics or old James Bond movies. The fictional nature of random acts of terrorism leads me in to my fourth and last train of thought, namely that I think Kling is introducing a red herring when he states that “there are plenty of other causes” of terrorism. This is simply not true. Since Dr Kling didn’t provide any examples, and since I don’t want to attempt to read his mind, I can only hope he reads this post and provides me with some examples that I can proceed to debunk.

While I think Dr Kling raises an excellent topic that needs to be discussed way more often, he, like Dr Delacroix, simply does not have his facts straight when it comes to foreign affairs. Ideology and dialogue are important components of the free and open society, but without a good grasp of the relevant facts of a matter those tools for improving our livelihoods become worthless, at best.

From the Comments: Libertarians and Love

Rick responds to my question about heartless libertarians:

You’re spot on. There’s a mental image I’ve read (and I’m going to butcher this because I don’t remember it clearly) of a moral gradient (I’m 60% sure that’s what it’s called). The way I fit this concept in my head is that we each have a sort of a topographical map of something hill-shaped. This map represents the moral weight we put on others and ourselves. We’re at the center, and the points furthest away are those strangers from far away that we will never meet in our lives. Different areas may represent different groups of people. Even better, instead of a topographic map, you’re forming it with a finite amount of playdough. Some people might have more or less playdough than others, but they’re usually pretty similar.

Say one person’s hill is shaped like Grinch mountain (incredibly steep) he holds himself in far higher esteem than anyone else, even those very close to him. Someone whose map is a flat plain (or plateau, but it’s hard to tell, isn’t it?) is messiah-like in her even-handedness with humanity; every person is as valuable to her as her mother. Both of these are very different from normal, and we like to see other people be normal. Sometimes quirkiness is acceptable, and I suppose we might admire someone whose map looks like a ridge representing her strong devotion to the children of an African village she visits every year as well as animals of all sorts.

When I compare my moral gradient to the people around me, I notice some important differences. I put a much higher weight on strangers and foreigners. I still probably put a lower weight on the poor than a typical democrat. But that effect is swamped when you account for how much more I care about strangers and foreigners. So if I care more about the world’s poor, then who’s missing out on love? From whence came this playdough? I’m pretty sure it’s my girlfriend’s coworkers. I honestly can’t keep them straight and I can’t piece together the stories I hear about them into anything but the most abstract people.

I think my moral gradient might be pretty typical for a libertarian. Like you, I don’t want to put people out and that can appear stand-offish. But that’s really just me saying, “I don’t know you, but I believe you aren’t simply a solipsist delusion left here for my abuse or neglect.” But other-oriented sentiments come at a cost. I consider people in the abstract, where non-libertarians consider people on a case-by-case basis. Each one is special, but only a few of them actually count. Most people incorporate Dunbar’s number as both the limit of their social network and a limit to the number of people they actually care about. For me, I basically recognize “family”, “friend”, “human being”. I don’t have “second cousin, twice removed” or “friend’s ex-boyfriend’s cool cousin that I still hang out with some times.”

That’s all a very long winded way of saying “egh, their measure for love might have been focusing on love for those in-between strangers whose names I just can’t remember for the life of me.”

Here is the wiki for Dunbar’s numbers (Robin Dunbar is a British anthropologist). Here is more from Rick on the topic. The ‘moral gradient’ Rick speaks of probably has to do with the research of the economists Sandra Peart and David Levy (I’d start here, if you’re interested), but I’m just wagering a guess.