“A foreign policy with a price”

Re: “Obama’s empty West Point speech,” May 30 Charles Krauthammer.

So Charles Krauthammer thinks we should be providing military assistance to Libya, Syria and the Ukraine. Who’s going to pay for it? Or are we just going to whip out the plastic like usual? Krauthammer says our allies are complaining, fearing their own security. What are they doing about it? Not much. Of course they are complaining; they are used to having the U.S. protect them without paying for it. I thought the Republicans were big on personal responsibility. Get your nanny-state big government out of other people’s business.

Joe GregoryCastle Pines

This is a letter to the editors of the Denver Post (I’m hanging out with my grandparents in Denver right now) and I thought I’d pass it along. Is libertarianism truly entering the mainstream or or is this guy just a hardcore, longtime libertarian? He might just be a Democrat with above-average intelligence and knows when to point out logical discrepancies in the Republican message.

I’ll never know, but I can only hope he’s new and that writes more letters to the editors that point out the irrational nature of US foreign policy.

9 thoughts on ““A foreign policy with a price”

  1. In the past thirty years, the US military budget minus veterans’ benefits has rarely surpassed 4% of GDP. That’s one of my best lifetime investments.

    The European allies are not spending enough on their own defense. There is no doubt they could do better. With respect to the western Europeans, the question is whether it is in our interest, American interest to defend them. It’s no an easy question to answer. It would take more than a few lapidary sentences

    Whether the Ukraine and Libya are spending enough money on their own defense or not is both an empirical question and a moral question, in that order. I don’t know if they do. I doubt the Denver Post perhaps-libertarian knows more than I do. If they don’t spend enough, whether we should spend our money or not is also a moral question. It’s not easily dismissed.

    As usual when orthodox libertarians address the issue of American foreign military intervention, Brandon is not going to the end of his reasoning: Right now, Mr Obama’s hands off policy in Syria is a vote for the mass killer Al Assad. No problem?

    If the Western Democracies had intervened militarily against the re-arming Nazi Germany in 1936, it would only have made things worse, right? (Worse than Worll War II?)

    • Jacques,

      As usual, your defense of imperialism is wracked with bad information and, worse, bad faith. I’ve offered my own alternative to imperialism on the blog before (see “Imperialism or Federalism: The Occupation of South Korea“) so for now I’ll just take a few moments to debunk your latest claims (because they are common claims, I figure this might be a useful exercise).

      For example, you write as if 4% of GDP on defense spending is an “investment,” but this is simply untrue no matter how hard one tries to make it so. Defense spending comes from taxes – which are not voluntary, and is thus not an investment. Attempting to change the meaning of a word is something only the dishonest tend to do, in my experience. Why not admit that defense spending is paid for with involuntary taxes? Why take the time to avoid reality?

      You are right that 4% of GDP for defense is a pretty good number to maintain. If only there were a way to ensure that it actually got used for defense rather than for social engineering projects abroad.

      Your reasoning elsewhere on foreign policy is employed equally in bad faith. For example, you write:

      Right now, Mr Obama’s hands off policy in Syria is a vote for the mass killer Al Assad.

      This is true. Washington has spent an inordinate amount of time debating the strengths and weaknesses of supporting Assad or (or) supporting al-Qaeda. The West has a long history of supporting secular dictators over religious dictators. By pointing out that Assad is a mass murderer – but not his opponents – you are implying that libertarians support mass murderers. This is as dishonest as it is factually incorrect. One could point out that by supporting the opposition to Assad neoconservatives support mass murder but this, too, would be dishonest.

      Libertarians, if you engage with them in an honest attempt to understand their opposition to policies and their proposed alternatives, are opposed to bombing Syria precisely because such an action will not stop the violence there. Oftentimes bombing a country that poses no threat to a hegemon makes the strife there worse. As the horrendous mistake in Iraq showed the world, getting rid of a dictator is not a guarantee of freedom. Often, because of the institutions in place in dictatorships, a new dictator will simply show up on the scene. This new dictator, of course, is often very close to Washington. If he is not close to Washington, he may end up dead as well.

      Yours is a dishonest attempt at appealing to emotions. There is more. You write:

      If the Western Democracies had intervened militarily against the re-arming Nazi Germany in 1936, it would only have made things worse, right?

      Possibly, yes. In 1936 the British and the French (much less the Americans) were weak. They did not have the ability to launch a war against the Germans, and the Soviets would not have gone along with such a plan.

      I’ve found that academics who use Nazi Germany as an example of why war is good for freedom are usually being foolish rather than dishonest. (Why not point to the American rebellion, or to the Algerian rebellion?) For example, why start in 1936? What is the purpose of picking this random year as a starting point? The problems in Germany started much earlier than that. John Maynard Keynes pointed out what would happen to Germany in his 1919 book The Economic Consequences of the Peace. If one truly wants to understand why Nazis came to power in Germany then one will have to start a lot earlier than 1936. If one truly wants to make a case that war is good for civilization then using the geopolitical situation in interwar Europe is a bad place to start. Paris and London could have simply let up on the harsh reparations they had forced the Germans to endure for the two decades following World War I.

      I don’t think academics and others really want to understand why Nazi Germany came about. Those who use Nazi Germany as an example of a just war are just appealing to emotions. The failure of George W Bush and the Republican Party in Iraq gives us a great blueprint of what happens when we appeal to emotions rather than logic and historical precedent.

  2. Brandon: The soup is too rich for me and I think you are avoiding the central issue. Two small amendments and/or clarifications first.

    Of course, I know that the defense budget comes from taxes. When I call it an ‘investment,” I mean that unlike many other uses to which taxes are put, this use of taxes seems wise to me. Incidentally, the constitution does not give much more of a function to the federal government than national defense. Those are the taxes I resent less than the others. Defense expenditures can only metaphorically be an investment

    More closely, and referring to the money the government did not take from me, I could easily draw a list of specific investment, real investments that did not pan out nearly as well as my four cents on the dollar did. In fact, if we ever turned to a voluntary contribution system instead of taxes, I would easily contributes four cents on each dollar earned to protect us from foreign crazies.

    Clarification: It’s common to use the World War Two and the period preceding it as a source of examples not because people who do this are foolish but because that era is extremely well documented. It would ‘t take much to convince me that the Zulu-Boer war is richer in examples than central Europe 1930-1945. However, I would have to take your word for it.

    Here is the central issue you and – as far as I know – all orthodox libertarians skirt. If somebody kills others in South Colorado you will easily admit that it’s your business as an American. If Lutheran extremists from Estonia attack anything inside the US you will probably agree to mounting an organized defense. However, if an attack similar in every way happens outside the US I think you will say, “Not our business.”

    This selectivity necessarily assigns a major importance, a nearly sacred status to national boundaries, that is, to the formal borders of nation-states. I don’t see how one can be a libertarian when one treats nation-states with reverence I mean, with any degree of reverence at all.

    If libertarians have written on this narrowly defined issue, I would like to read them.

    You use words too loosely: Intervening in Rwanda with ten warplanes and five hundred Marines possibly to save hundreds of thousands of civilians would not have constitutes “imperialism.” You trivialize serious matters.

    Similarly, when a young woman invites you to drink a bottle of rum in her apartment, puts on elevator music, dims the lights, and the inevitable follows, if she is displeased with your performance and cries “rape” out of bitterness, she trivializes the act of violence that is real rape.

    • You still aren’t able to grasp my argument (I do not flatter myself in thinking I represent the standard libertarian position, but it is close enough for this exercise).

      Readers can refer to my past post (linked above) on your inability to grasp my argument for a more conceptual approach to dealing with imperialists, but I would like to carefully carve up some of your examples used in this dialogue.

      First, you write:

      I would easily contributes four cents on each dollar earned to protect us from foreign crazies.

      Most people would do the same, but would you contribute that kind of money to provoke foreign peoples? Most people would not, I think, voluntarily contribute to an organization that creates enemies where none previously existed.

      You have yet to honestly grapple with my point that US foreign policy is responsible for creating most of the “foreign crazies” that want to exact revenge on the American state.

      Second, you charge:

      However, if an attack similar in every way happens outside the US I think you will say, “Not our business.”

      You are straw manning me again. Let me see if I can make this any clearer (I don’t know if I can). Libertarians don’t argue that foreign affairs are “not our business.” Rather, we argue that military intervention or clandestine operations (government central planning writ large) will make a problem worse. War is a last resort in a free society, not a tool of statecraft.

      Lastly, you opine:

      Intervening in Rwanda with ten warplanes and five hundred Marines possibly to save hundreds of thousands of civilians would not have constitutes “imperialism.”

      First: bombing Rwanda probably would not have saved “hundreds of thousands” of lives. In fact, just the opposite is more likelier (see my 2012 thought exercise of just this scenario). Second: if the US did bomb Rwanda where would the warplanes fly in from? A base in La Jolla?

      Here is the bottom line from my vantage point: Your analysis of foreign policy relies upon flawed assumptions about not only libertarianism but also (and more importantly) about international relations.

      1. Does US foreign policy create blowback?
      2. Is the US taxpayer subsidizing the defense of Western Europe? (Is this subsidization fair?)
      3. Does having 600 overseas military bases in 40 countries constitute “imperialism”?

      To my mind, only the second of these questions is hard (see that South Korea piece for more on how I’ve thought about this). The fact that advocates of American imperialism have a hard time answering all three of these questions suggests not stupidity but a dissemblance.

    • “When I call it an ‘investment,” I mean that unlike many other uses to which taxes are put, this use of taxes seems wise to me.”

      Bwahahahahaha!
      @Brandon: From this point forward, I will use the Delacroix definition of ‘investment’. Any public expenditure that I like constitutes an investment.

    • Terry:

      You are too cruel to Dr J. I like it of course. The man loses all semblance of rationality when it comes to the US military.

      By the way, did you hear that the Assad regime – thanks to the recent US airstrikes in Syria against IS – has been able to step up attacks on Islamist rebels in Syria?

      It gets crazier: The Islamists Assad is bombing are being armed by the US in order, Washington calculates, to better fight IS (but not Damascus). I don’t know about you, but something looks very wrong about this picture in my mind. I need a second opinion on this, and yours is highly valued.

      Meanwhile, interventionists like Delacroix and van de Haar (and Nancy Pelosi) are giving their stamp of approval to every single action the US government takes in the region because, you know, if Washington doesn’t “do something” then Iran or Russia will step in to fill the void.

      This last fear is precisely why I think the US government should do less in the region right now (if it doesn’t have the balls or creativity to take my theoretical argument to heart, of course). Imagine if Tehran or Moscow stepped into the Mesopotamian ring militarily. It would be a disaster for both regimes. Fighting a secular, liberal world hegemon is one thing. Fighting an explicitly Christian state with Muslim blood on its hands, or fighting a Persian Shia state, would electrify Mesopotamia’s population.

      This is why Siamak and Payam, our Iranian readers, have been cautiously supportive of a US re-invasion of Iraq, I think (they would be welcome to correct me). They realize that any attempt by Iran to fight IS and other stateless Sunni factions with a conventional army would have devastating consequences for their entire society. The one difference between Iran the the West is geographic distance, which limits some of the damage from fighting an offensive war against stateless enemies, but other than that we face the same scenario as Iran or Russia. The West is thinking about this war in the wrong terms entirely. The stateless factions of the Middle East will be able to maintain their ideological stranglehold on the minds of young Arabs so long as the Islamist calls for a state are rejected by the West. Give them a state, and it forces them to put their money where their mouth is. Then the Arab world can see what kind of utopia Islamism will produce.

  3. “It gets crazier: The Islamists Assad is bombing are being armed by the US in order, Washington calculates, to better fight IS (but not Damascus). I don’t know about you, but something looks very wrong about this picture in my mind. I need a second opinion on this, and yours is highly valued.”

    The US policy vis-à-vis ISIS is at best delusional. Not just in Syria but in Iraq. Now that Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi has taken over the Iraqi Sunnis will miraculously dump ISIS and embrace the new and improved Iraqi government. lol.

  4. I just saw something interesting [no real source atm though] consistent with the delusional US policy regarding ISIS….

    “New Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s cabinet is 56 percent Shia, according to a count by indispensable Iraq blogger Joel Wing. That makes his cabinet even more Shia heavy than either of his disgraced predecessor Nuri al-Maliki’s last two administrations, which were (respectively) 52 and 46 percent Shia.”

    When will the idjits running our foreign policy finally figure out that Iraq is not a viable nation-state? I think that a bit of tweaking might be necessary to make the Sunni area viable with regard to natural resources but it’s doable. The Sunnis, Kurds, and Shi’a are going their separate ways.

    • When will the idjits running our foreign policy finally figure out that Iraq is not a viable nation-state?

      A good question, Dr A. I have a couple of thoughts that don’t answer your question in the slightest.

      One, there are factions within the US that recognized and continue to recognize this, and there are not as marginal as you might think. The non-paleo libertarians were writing books on partitioning Iraq in 2003 as an “well-I-don’t-support-the-invasion-but-if-we’re-gonna-do-it-lets-do-it-right” alternative to whatever the Bush administration tried to do (the neoconservatives and Clintonians didn’t even consider a federal option!).

      And many Democrats, including the current Vice President, put forth a similar idea.

      Their argument simply lost out in the halls of power. This, in a small and very unimportant way, is why I blog.

      Two, I would argue that Iraq as an unviable nation-state is just the tip of the iceberg. The entire developing world is unviable in its current form. The most coherent (and best example of a) nation-state in the post-colonial world, Israel, is divided into three statelets that cannot get along, and this is the best outcome the world has thus far seen.

      You already know this is one of my high horses, though, so I’ll spare you the links.

Please keep it civil

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