BC’s weekend reads

  1. The demise of ISIS is greatly exaggerated. Good analysis, but Whiteside is still asking the wrong question
  2. 10% of DR Congo’s landmass is dedicated to national parks and other protected environmental areas. Guess how well they’re protected. Privatization might not work here, though. Why not go through traditional “tribal” property rights first, and then, eventually, mix up the customary land rights with private property rights?
  3. Has Stephen Walt been reading reading NOL? This great essay suggests he has…
  4. Russian politics. Authoritarian regimes have factions, too

BC’s weekend reads

  1. Pakistan’s ambitious naval delusions
  2. Diplomatic assassinations have a long and tragic history
  3. When tyranny takes hold
  4. Nullification and secession in America (review)
  5. A liberal global trading system without the United States
  6. Floating exchange rates and tariffs

Asking the Wrong Question

How do the United States and others achieve victory against Islamic State without empowering sectarian actors who will seek to poison the reconciliation that Iraq needs to hang together?

That’s the question posed by Craig Whiteside, an associate Professor of Theater Security Decision Making for the Naval War College at the Naval Postgraduate School, over at War on the Rocks. Dr Whiteside’s recommendations (“avoid all cooperation with sectarian militias, continue to target Islamic State with minimal collateral damage, patiently train and equip the security forces, ensure it’s done by Iraqis with subtle, behind the scenes help”) are just what you’d expect from a military strategist with a PhD, but his question highlights well what’s wrong with current thinking on non-state actors in Washington and also explains why central planning fails in areas other than managing an economy.

Whiteside’s line of thought is pretty standard, and it goes something like this: Islamic State is bad and Iraq is good. Islamic State is bad not because it lawlessly slaughters more people than Iraq (obviously not true, especially when you account for the Hussein regime), but because it is a non-state actor with political, economic, cultural, and military capabilities that threaten the existence of state actors. Hence his worry over how to defeat Islamic State while still keeping Iraq in one piece.

This is a terrible way to think about international relations and strategy, and it governs the logic of the republic’s finest thinkers.

Why not think about the situation in the Levant in the following way instead:

There is a “world order” of sorts that is composed of states. The states themselves have been patched together over the course of centuries. The world order itself has been patched together over the course of centuries.

Iraq is a state that was patched together by the UK and France, in accordance with the logic of the world order at the time. Thus, Iraq was able to become a legitimate member of organizations like the UN, FIFA, OPEC, etc. However, because Iraq was patched together by the world order rather than by the people of Iraq (acting through contentious factions), it can only, ever “hang together” under a regime governed by a strong man.

The appearance of Islamic State in what is now Iraq is just an attempt by Iraqis to govern themselves. Islamic State is an attempt, made possible by the power vacuum left by the invasion and occupation of the US and its allies, to join the world order (hence the “state” in Islamic State). It’s a horrible attempt, which is just what you’d expect from a people who have likely never had a chance to experiment in self-governance. Nevertheless, people in what is now Iraq are trying to patch together their own states.

The world order should recognize these attempts instead of trying to maintain the status quo. Change can be a good thing. As an example, just compare the brutality of the Hussein regime, a legitimate state actor, with that of Islamic State. It’s not even a contest, especially in terms of people murdered.

Wouldn’t recognizing Whitehead’s “sectarian actors,” instead of seeking to isolate or destroy them, be a much better avenue to peace and prosperity in the region? Recognition by the world order, haphazardly and pragmatically patched together itself, would bestow responsibility onto non-state actors. It would signal a trust in the ability of Iraqis to govern themselves. It would help to rationalize diplomacy and trade in the region. And it would put an end to the vicious cycle of strong men in the Middle East.

Instead of asking what the US and its allies can do to eliminate violent non-state actors from the region, isn’t it time to start asking what the West can do, as equal partners, to facilitate more self-governance in the Levant?

That central planning suffers from a knowledge problem is a given in many elite economics circles today (even economists at the Federal Reserve recognize it), but I don’t think this argument has extended into other fields of thought or other bureaucracies yet. A fatal conceit indeed.

Liberalism and Sovereignty

More than a year ago I promised Jacques a post on sovereignty and while I am not always able to follow up very quickly, I tend to do what I promise. So here it is! Jacques’ main cri de coeur was why (classical) liberals should care about sovereignty at all.

When it comes to the theoretical discussion about sovereignty (the literature is huge), I think there is no better start than the work of international relations theorist Robert Jackson. Or better and broader: any thinking about international relations benefits from this Canadian, former Boston University professor, especially his magnum opus The Global Covenant: Human Conduct in a World of States (Oxford University Press, 2000). But this is a side step.

In his 2008 book Sovereignty: Evolution of an Idea (Polity Press) he argues that:

sovereignty is an idea of authority embodied in those bordered territorial organizations we refer to as states, and is expressed in their various relations and activities, both domestic and foreign. It originates from the controversies and wars, religious and political of sixteenth and seventeenth century Europe. It has become the fundamental idea of authority of the modern era, arguably the most fundamental.

Also in regions where other kinds of arrangements existed before Western imperialism.

It is at the same time both an idea of supreme authority in the state, and an idea of political and legal independence of geographically separate states. Hence, sovereignty is a constitutional idea of the rights and duties of the governments and citizens or subjects of particular states. It is also an international idea of multiple states in relation to each other, each one occupying its own territories and having foreign relations and dealing with others, including peaceful and cooperative relations as well as discordant relations and periodical wars.

Of course a lot of popular and academic discussion follows from this, for example about the particular form of sovereignty (popular, or not), the relation between power and sovereignty, sovereignty and globalization, or if and when sovereignty may be breached to protect others through intervention. Yet here I solely  focus on the relation between sovereignty and liberal political theory.

Concerning the domestic supremacy side of sovereignty a lot has been written by liberals. Most liberals (classical, social, and even libertarian minarchists, such as Ayn Rand or Robert Nozick; see my Degrees of Freedom for the precise definitions) realize some form of state is needed to protect individual rights. A state embodied with sovereignty. At the same time most liberals (social liberals less so, because they favor a relatively large state) recognize the state is also the largest danger to individual freedom. How to balance the two is the perpetual question of liberal political thought, one also without a definitive answer or solution, so far.

Less attention has been given to the international side of sovereignty. There are a number of libertarians, such as the anarcho-capitalist Murray Rothbard, or his intellectual successor Hans-Hermann Hoppe, who think there should not be states, hence no issues of sovereignty exist once their stateless world has materialized (they remain largely silent about how to reach that situation). Yet it seems to me the thinking should not stop there. These same thinkers romanticize the idea of secession, yet seem to overlook that those seceded groups or communities also need to deal with other seceded groups and communities. They are a bit lazy when stating everybody should look after themselves, and only defend themselves in case of attack by others. If everything would be nice and neat among people this might be ok. Yet of course history shows (also in those areas where sovereignty never played a big role before Western imperialism) that people interfere all the time in each others affairs, some rulers may have malign intentions, others belief some parts of the seceded lands belong to their community, let alone issues about religion, et cetera. In short, chances on a peaceful world with the occasional conflict that can be solved by self defense are zero.

Funnily enough, social liberals share the idea of the possibility of a world peace and cosmopolitan harmony. They also favor the abolition of sovereign states, not through secession but through the pooling of sovereignty at the transnational level, with the European Union as an example and a world federation as the ultimate end goal. This seems just as unrealistic, as even the EU is still mainly governed from the member states, as the current refugee crisis and the possible dissolution of the Schengen agreement illustrates. More generally, the pooling of sovereignty proves rather difficult, also in other parts of the world. ASEAN in South East Asia is an example.

More realistic are classical liberals, such as Hume, Smith, and Hayek, who acknowledged an emotional tie between the individual and his country, as well as the constant need to defend individual property rights against invasion by others, through standing armies, diplomacy, some international treaties, the balance of power, et cetera.  Human nature does not allow for starry eyed fantasies about international harmony, let alone international peace. Hence, it is rather normal to care about external sovereignty, as it is foremost a means of protection.  Not the sole means, but an important and fundamental institution of international relations.

The Most Embarrassing Factions of the US-Cuba detente

I can only list, in order of magnitude, three: 1) Republican hawks, 2) condescending Leftists, and 3) anti-Americans abroad.

In some ways none of this is surprising. All three of these factions hate each other, mostly because they are the least libertarian factions in the world (familiarity breeds contempt, it is often said).

Republican hawks are first on my list because they are the most dangerous. This is a deeply reactionary faction that does not care one iota about the national interest. It is a vulgar mob that has no need for nuance or depth. One of the state of Florida’s Senators, Marco Rubio, exemplifies this isolationist faction. This is demagoguery at its finest. It also goes a long way toward explaining why I will never, ever be a Republican, despite the honest efforts of courageous statesmen like Ron and Rand Paul.

Condescending Leftists are second because of their reactions to the beginnings of the end of a vicious, self-defeating embargo: Decrying the fact that Starbucks and McDonald’s will soon be forcing poor, naive Cubans into becoming customers with actual choices in an actual marketplace. According to the worldview of these Leftists: the lives of Cubans have been better than those of Westerners because of its simplicity (this simplicity was brought about, of course, by the heavy-handed tactics of the Castro dictatorship, but somehow this always fails to make the final cut of the condescending Leftist’s narrative). Capitalism will put an end to the simple lives of the Cuban people, and this is a bad thing for both the world and the Cubans themselves.

Embarrassing and disgusting.

The last faction on my list, anti-Americans abroad, have taken the Obama administration’s decision to reach out to Cuba as an excuse to lie to domestic factions everywhere. They have seized upon the fact that the US sometimes pursues bad policies, and have turned it into a soapbox preaching session for all of the gullible schoolboys and girls in the world who instinctively hate the world’s liberal hegemon. What is lost (or, more likely, ignored) in these preachers’ message is the fact that the US is changing its bad policy. The same cannot be said for the tired tropes wielded by aging anti-Americans in the name of some variant of socialist (whether national or international) revolution.

Some notes in the margins:

  • Cuba will not become free or (or) democratic overnight.
  • It will not become wealthy overnight, either. In fact, there is bound to be a whole lot of cronyism in the near future, as Castro’s butchers and henchmen gobble up much of the wealth that will inevitably flood Cuba’s markets. Remittances will likely increase as well, which means that the cronysim of Castro’s henchmen will be offset by the influx of cash from the US. This, in turn, means that the Castro dictatorship is likely to be around for a lot longer than anticipated.

Peggy Noonan’s piece in the Wall Street Journal is well-worth reading. Observe:

A closing note: I always thought, life often being unfair, that Fidel Castro would die the death of a happy monster, old, in bed, a cigar jutting out from the pillows, a brandy on the bedside table. My dream the past few years was that this tranquil end would be disturbed by this scene: American tourists jumping up and down outside his window, snapping pictures on their smartphones. American tourists flooding the island, befriending his people, doing business with them, showing in their attitude and through a million conversations which system is, actually, preferable. Castro sees them through the window. He grits his teeth so hard the cigar snaps off. Money and sentiment defeat his life’s work. He leaves the world knowing that in history’s great game, he lost.

Open the doors, let America flood the zone and snap those pictures. “Fidel! Look this way!” Snap. Flash. Gone.

Ukraine: The Diplomatic Solution; the Conservative Blessing in ObamaCare!

There is a distinct preference out there, for solving our differences of opinion with the Putin gangster state “through diplomacy.” An elementary explanation is sadly in order here.

Diplomacy refers to one party explaining to the other with polite words how much harm it could do to that other party. And then, the second party takes its turn explaining to the first how much damage it could do to it if it really wanted to.

Once everyone understands concretely the other party’s capacity for evil, the parties get together to arrive at a compromise that minimizes the evil that  either party does to the other. That’s in successful diplomacy. Diplomacy often fails however. In 1939, Hitler and the Brits were talking to each other until the exact eve of the invasion in the west.

So, in this case, diplomacy only has a chance of  succeeding if doing severe harm is on the table in a credible manner. No perceived credible threat, no diplomacy.

Does anyone really believe that you can talk softly, talk sweet reason to Putin and that he will come to his senses and begin acting nice at last?

Another thing: As everyone knows, Obamacare is foundering. I am beginning to believe it’s a blessing in disguise. Whole young generations who really needed it are learning why Big Government is bad even when it’s trying to act nice. One of my young liberal friends is in the process of making a U-turn, I think. I don’t give myself the credit, much as I would like to. Mr Obama did it. My friend has a new bumper sticker on his car that says: “Obama- Dick-Dick.” That’s in Santa Cruz County so, it takes some courage. At least, he does not care a bit if his car is scratched! (My, that’s was evil and sly; I already feel a little ashamed!)

The Obama administration is not releasing figures the citizenry has a legitimate interest in knowing, such as: How many who signed up are also paid up? How many of the new sign-ups were without health insurance before? What is the net gain – if any -in insured  people who did not join publicly supported health insurance?

Refusing to divulge these figures has only one purpose. It’s to impede the opposition. That’s already Fascism. Not gathering these figures when you can and when you know some part of the public wants them is also Fascism. (Fascism is not an epithet, it’s political description. (See:  “Fascism Explained” and others on this blog. )

ObamaCare was a dishonest venture from the first. If it had not been, its first act would have been to make all health insurance available across state lines so as to maximize competition between insurance companies. If any Republican lawmakers had resisted, it would have been a blood feast for the Democratic Party. Large-scale buddy capitalism is also part of a  classical Fascist program.

What was the world’s reaction to Kristallnacht?

Der Spiegel has a fascinating article on the reaction of European diplomats to Kristallnacht. Among the gems:

The diplomats almost unanimously condemned the murders and acts of violence and destructions […] Many diplomatic missions were already in contact with victims because men from the SS and the SA, Nazi Party officials and members of the Hitler Youth were also harassing foreign Jews who lived in Germany […] Although there was some looting, many diplomats, like Finnish representative Aarne Wuorimaa, reported on “withering criticism” from members of the public. According to Wuorimaa, “As a German, I am ashamed” was a “remark that was heard very frequently.” However, the reports generally do not delve into whether the critics fundamentally rejected the disenfranchisement of the Jews in general or just the Nazis’ brutal methods.

Again, read the whole article. It’s absolutely fascinating. One thing the article just barely touches on, but highlights well (if you know what to look for) is what foreign governments didn’t do. Der Spiegel, a center-Left publication, highlights the lack of sanctions and other diplomatic posturing, but this is, in true center-Left fashion, complete garbage. If you read the article closely you can see what the world should have done. Indeed, you can see what the world should have been doing all along. It is a testament to not only libertarianism’s moral clarity but also the creed’s humility. Observe:

Most of all, however, the borders of almost all countries remained largely closed for the roughly 400,000 Jewish Germans.

This is an important fact. Der Spiegel implicitly recognizes it, too, but the article fails to elaborate any further upon it, as if the benefits of open borders and their ability to ward off tyranny speaks for itself. The lack of open borders, of course, coincides nicely with the policies of Franklin D Roosevelt and his fellow fascists. Closing off the borders to immigration and arbitrary numbers of goods and services is a cookie cutter example of authoritarianism.

This brings me to my Tuesday morning rant: I can’t stand the fact that libertarians are proud of their ignorance in regards to what they read. I can’t count the number of times a libertarian has disparaged a center-Left outfit (to name one example) because he doesn’t agree with it. Libertarians should be reading everything and looking for the libertarianism inherent in it. When the libertarianism is found, point it out. If it cannot be found, point out the inherent authoritarianism in it (Dr Gibson always provides excellent examples in this regard). But do not avoid reading it simply because you do not agree with it. Ignorance, after all, is no strength.