Nightcap

  1. Is it time to carve up Libya? (2020) Ted Galen Carpenter, TAC
  2. Notes from Libya (2012) Brandon Christensen, NOL
  3. Gouge is good Bryan Caplan, EconLog
  4. Internationalism without federation (pay your tithes) Maria Ferrell, Equality

BC’s weekend reads

  1. The Strange Story of a Strange Beast
  2. Dagestan (a region in Russia), religion, and female genital mutilation
  3. Why partitioning Libya might be the only way to save it
  4. Google versus Palestine (h/t Michelangelo)
  5. False consciousness | The value of Marx in the 21st century
  6. The evolution of the state (in two simple pictures)
  7. Round the Decay of that Colossal Wreck

The Cruel, Conceited Follies of Trump’s Colonialist Foreign Policy

I typically prefer to abstain from writing too extensively on electoral politics. For one, it’s not my area of expertise and I simply don’t enjoy it that much, but also I think the type of issues that come up in electoral politics are a sensationalist distraction from the meaningful policy debates that actually go on in the back rooms of congress and think tanks, as well as the deeper and more important philosophical, economic, and cultural issues that plague our political situation. Thus, I prefer to write in more detail about public policy or more theoretical economic and philosophical issues rather than the day-to-day drudgery of superficial political news. However, the recent discussion on foreign policy on the campaign trail surprisingly has the potential to become at least mildly substantive, so it is in my mind worth analyzing in greater depth. It should be noted that I am far from an expert in foreign policy, so apologies in advance for any errors and if this article as a whole is a farce.

The purpose of this article is to lay out and critically assess Donald Trump’s foreign policy. It is my contention that Trump does have some fairly consistent underlying instincts, if not principles, on foreign policy that may be inferred from his public comments on the issue. This may be characterized by a concerning belief that the ultimate end of foreign policy should be to aggressively promote America’s interests abroad, akin to a radical, new type of Jacksonian colonialism. If I am right about Trump’s underlying views on foreign policy, a Trump presidency would result in disaster. It would mean massive violations of humanitarian rights and would fail to meet the goals even Trump himself is seeking to attain.

Clinton on Trump’s Foreign Policy

Yesterday, Hillary Clinton delivered a major speech ostensibly criticizing Trump’s foreign policy. Unfortunately, most of her speech was more of an attack on the narrative of Trump’s campaign and Trump himself than his actual foreign policy. This is largely because she thinks Trump doesn’t really actually have a foreign policy; his positions, Clinton thinks, are incoherent, ignorant, or just not even positions at all. This is probably the most quoted passage of the speech:

Donald Trump’s ideas aren’t just different — they are dangerously incoherent.
They’re not even really ideas: just a series of bizarre rants, personal feuds, and outright lies. He’s not just unprepared, he’s temperamentally unfit to hold an office that requires knowledge, stability and immense responsibility. This is not someone who should ever have the nuclear codes — because it’s not hard to imagine Donald Trump leading us into a war just because somebody got under his very thin skin.

Clinton’s strongest case against Trump was that he is “temperamentally unfit to hold office.” She makes this case even more persuasively elsewhere in the speech:

Imagine Donald Trump sitting in the Situation Room, making life-or-death decisions on behalf of the United States. Imagine him deciding whether to send your children into battle. Imagine if he had not just his Twitter account at his disposal when he’s angry, but America’s entire arsenal.

Do we want him making those calls – someone thin-skinned and quick to anger, who lashes out at the smallest criticism?

…I’ll leave it to the psychiatrists to explain his affection for tyrants. I just wonder how anyone could be so wrong about who America’s real friends are. But it matters. Because if you don’t know exactly who you’re dealing with, men like Putin will eat your lunch.

I typically don’t find these types of arguments convincing. After all, it doesn’t matter so much the character of public officials as the institutional incentives they face. But in matters of foreign policy problems of temperament and character do matter because the social situation between foreign leaders in diplomacy can often make a huge difference. Bad manners can and have caused wars (eg., there’s an argument to be made that Jefferson’s bad manners towards British diplomat Anthony Merry helped lead to the War of 1812). These points are confirmed by the fact that world leaders are terrified by Trump and how the intelligence community is afraid he could spill security-sensitive confidential information. (Of course, Clinton also has a less-than-optimal track record on the matter of intelligence security).

What is Trump’s Foreign Policy?

However, Clinton is only partially correct in claiming that Trump’s ideas on foreign policy are “incoherent” or that he doesn’t really have a foreign policy at all. It is true that, as with every other issue save immigration and free trade, Trump switches his positions a lot. But underneath the prime facie incoherence is an overarching vision for a foreign policy that is both somewhat coherent and terrifying.

First, a common misconception needs to be clarified about Trump’s foreign policy views. The press commonly treats Trump as if he’s more of a dove on war and foreign intervention than Clinton, citing his recent criticisms of the Iraq War and Libya. This myth is particularly peddled in pro-Trump “libertarian” circles (with an emphasis on the scare quotes). It is widely accepted that Trump’s foreign policy are less interventionist than Clinton’s fairly hawkish views. However, this is decidedly not the case.

Zach Beauchamp has persuasively made the case that Trump is, in fact, more hawkish in some sense than Clinton. The most consistent point that Trump has made for years now is that America should be waging, in Beauchamp’s words, “colonial wars of conquest” for the purpose of taking resources from other countries. Beauchamp notes:

He first debuted this plan in an April 2011 television appearance, amid speculation that he might run for the GOP nomination. In the interview, Trump seemed to suggest the US should seize Iraqi oil fields and just operate them on its own.

“In the old days when you won a war, you won a war. You kept the country,” Trump said. “We go fight a war for 10 years, 12 years, lose thousands of people, spend $1.5 trillion, and then we hand the keys over to people that hate us on some council.” He has repeated this idea for years, saying during one 2013 Fox News appearance, “I’ve said it a thousand times.”

Trump sees this as just compensation for invading Iraq in the first place. “I say we should take it [Iraq’s oil] and pay ourselves back,” he said in one 2013 speech.

As Beauchamp says, “To be clear: Trump’s plan is to use American ground troops to forcibly seize the most valuable resource in two different sovereign countries. The word for that is colonialism.”

This type of colonialism is even more extreme than the colonialism of American imperialism of the early twentieth century, where colonial wars of conquest were typically justified in terms of America’s “manifest destiny” to spread democracy throughout the world that would eventually benefit the conquered, often coaxed in racial terms (as typified by Kipling’s famous poem), rather than explicitly justified by looting natural resources.

Many people alleging Trump’s dovishness point to his recent criticisms of US intervention in Iraq, Syria, and Libya. The idea that Trump is a dove on these issues, however, is largely a myth. The actual record shows that what Trump’s comments over the past decade or so on foreign policy are largely in line with what Beauchamp sees as his colonialism.

As Beauchamp points out, Trump actually supported intervention in Libya at the time and called for even more aggressive intervention than the Obama administration engaged in (which, as a reminder, included Hillary Clinton at that point):

In a March 2011 vlog post uncovered by BuzzFeed’s Andrew Kaczynski and Christopher Massie, Trump full-throatedly endorsed intervening in the country’s civil war — albeit on humanitarian grounds, not for its oil.

“Qaddafi in Libya is killing thousands of people, nobody knows how bad it is, and we’re sitting around,” Trump said. “We should go in, we should stop this guy, which would be very easy and very quick. We could do it surgically, stop him from doing it, and save these lives.” In a later interview, he went further, endorsing outright regime change: “if you don’t get rid of Gaddafi, it’s a major, major black eye for this country.”

Shortly after the US intervention in Libya began in March 2011, Trump criticized the Obama administration’s approach — for not being aggressive enough. Trump warned that the US was too concerned with supporting the rebels and not trying hard enough to — you guessed it — take the oil.

“I would take the oil — and stop this baby stuff,” Trump declared. “I’m only interested in Libya if we take the oil. If we don’t take the oil, I’m not interested.”

What to make, then, of Trump’s more recent comments where he says he “would have stayed out of Libya”? He’s either incoherent, as Clinton claims, or he’s lying. The first possibility has largely been explored and, though plausible, is uninteresting for present purpose. Therefore, I’ll focus here on the latter (and, in my mind, more likely) possibility. I would argue that Trump is engaging in what could be called, in Arthur Melzer’s understanding of Straussian terms, a sort of dishonest perversion of political esotericism. But unlike the political esotericism of early modern political philosophers who sought to make the world more tolerant, Trump seeks the exact opposite ends. He’s recently been hiding his colonialist views in anti-war rhetoric to attract votes from Americans fatigued with perpetual nation-building through the Bush and Obama administrations. In reality, one of the only sincere substantive positions he’s retained throughout the years is a colonialist desire to wage war for oil. He could not be much further from an anti-war candidate.

As for Iraq, Trump has repeated the claim that he opposed the Iraq war from the beginning many times. Just yesterday, in reaction to Clinton’s speech, he repeated this yet again. “Crooked Hillary said, ‘Oh, Donald Trump, his finger on the button,’,” he said. “I’m the one that didn’t want to go into Iraq, folks, and she’s the one that stupidly raised her hand to go into Iraq and destabilize the entire Middle East.”

In reality, Trump himself wanted to stupidly go into Iraq at the time. In a 2002 interview with Howard Stern he said he supported invading Iraq, adding “I wish the first time it was done correctly.” How did he think it should have been done? Though he wasn’t specific in that interview, his later comments suggest he thinks a “correct” invasion of Iraq would be more aggressive and, of course, focus on taking their oil. Despite being sharply critical of the war later in the Bush administration (though note how he critiques the way it was “handled,” not getting involved in the first place), he supported McCain’s position in favor of the Troop Surge when endorsing him in 2008, claiming, though he wanted to pull out as soon as possible, he wanted to pull out with a victory. Even his most recent comments “critical” of the war, when viewed in the context of his overall foreign policy motivations, aren’t really dovish at all. As he said in 2013, “When I heard that we were first going into Iraq, some very smart people told me, ‘Well, we’re actually going for the oil,’ and I said, ‘All right, I get that.’ [But] we didn’t take the oil!”

Recent comments by Trump against the Iraq War, I think, are well explained by his aforementioned dishonest political esotericism. The record shows Trump disagreed with Bush’s Iraq policy because the motivations were too humanitarian and weren’t aggressive enough prior to the surge. Indeed, Trump’s dishonest claim to dovishness on Iraq has been widely proven false in the press (and yes, each different word links to a different source saying the same thing).

Beauchamp points out that Trump’s views on Syria can’t be described as doveish, as he is largely in agreement with Hillary Clinton:

But the two of them support more or less the same military escalation in Syria. Both Clinton and Trump have proposed carving out “safe zones” in the country, which means clearing out a chunk of its territory and protecting it from aggressors.

Trump sees this as the answer to the Syrian refugee crisis — if you can keep the Syrians there, they won’t have to come over here (or to Europe). “What I like is build a safe zone, it’s here, build a big, beautiful safe zone and you have whatever it is so people can live, and they’ll be happier,” he said in a campaign appearance. “I mean, they’re gonna learn German, they’re gonna learn all these different languages. It’s ridiculous.”

Similarly, both candidates have emphasized the need to bomb ISIS in Iraq and Syria — with Trump famously summarizing his policy as “bomb the shit out of” ISIS. But the way in which Trump plans to wage war on ISIS is far more aggressive — and illegal — than anything Clinton proposed.

He goes on to show that Trump endorses killing the families of suspected terrorists and supports torture for detainees, both of which are illegal war crimes. The killing of suspected terrorists’ families, in particular, is far more extreme than anything Clinton’s proposed and a violation of international law.

Trump essentially views other countries in one of two ways, the way he seems to view people: either as enemies to be defeated economically (eg. China and Mexico) and militarily (eg. Lybia and Syria) or assets to be exploited for American interests via colonial conquest (eg. Iraq). Indeed, he combines the worse elements of neoconservative interventionism with the worst elements of isolationism that my fellow Notewriter Brandon Christensen points out. Like isolationists, he opposes international organizations like NATO and the UN, is generally skeptical of alliances, and fiercely opposes trade agreements; but he also supports costly, unnecessary, and unjust foreign wars and efforts to intervene in other countries’ affairs like neoconservatives. He manages to be both an isolationist, thinking the American government should only protect its own interests at the expense of the citizens of other people, and an interventionist, thinking the government should wage unjust wars to that end, at the same time.

Beauchamp notes how Trump’s foreign policy positions can best be described as Jacksonian:

But historically, there are lots of other forms of American hawkishness. Trump fits well with one of those — one that Bard College scholar Walter Russell Mead calls the “Jacksonian tradition,” after President Andrew Jackson.

Jacksonians, according to Mead, are basically focused on the interests and reputation of the United States. They are skeptical of humanitarian interventions and wars to topple dictators, because those are idealistic quests removed from the interests of everyday Americans. But when American interests are in question, or failing to fight will make America look weak, Jacksonians are more aggressive than anyone.

… Unlike neoconservatives or liberal interventionists, who have well-fleshed-out foreign policy doctrines, many Jacksonians think about war and peace more instinctively. “With them it is an instinct rather than an ideology — a culturally shaped set of beliefs and emotions rather than a set of ideas,” Mead writes. Sound familiar?

Of course, Trump is Jacksonian in more ways than just his foreign policy. His general populism and affection for strong-man leadership are very Jacksonian through and through. Indeed, Thomas Jefferson’s criticisms of Andrew Jackson himself could just as easily be leveled against Trump today (and echo Clinton’s words):

I feel much alarmed at the prospect of seeing General Jackson President.  He is one of the most unfit men I know of for such a place.  He has had very little respect for laws and constitutions, and is, in fact, an able military chief.  His passions are terrible.  When I was President of the Senate, he was Senator; and he could never speak on account of the rashness of his feelings.  I have seen him attempt it repeatedly, and as often choke with rage.  His passions are, no doubt, cooler now; he has been much tried since I knew him, but he is a dangerous man.

A Critique of Trump’s Foreign Policy

Besides the obvious criticism made very persuasively by Clinton that Trump is temperamentally unfit to engage in diplomacy, what is wrong with foreign policy? In a word: everything. But for the purposes of this post, I’ll confine my criticism to three points.

First, Trump’s style of Jacksonian foreign policy is largely responsible for most of the humanitarian atrocities committed by the American government. Second, Trump’s economic foreign policy is antithetical to the entire spirit of the liberal tradition; it undermines the dignity and freedom of the individual and instead treats the highest good as for the all-powerful nation-state (meaning mostly the politicians and their special interests) as the end of foreign policy, rather than peace and liberty. Finally, Trump’s foreign policy fails for the same reasons that socialism fails. If the goals of foreign policy are to represent “national interest,” then the policymaker must know what that “national interest” even is and we have little reason to think that is the case, akin to the knowledge problem in economic coordination.

On the first note, Beauchamp quotes Dr. Mead on how the Jacksonian tradition in America has resulted in some of the most atrocious abuses of human rights in American history:

In the last five months of World War II, American bombing raids claimed the lives of more than 900,000 Japanese civilians—not counting the casualties from the atomic strikes against Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This is more than twice the total number of combat deaths that the United States has suffered in all its foreign wars combined…

Since the Second World War, the United States has continued to employ devastating force against both civilian and military targets. Out of a pre-war population of 9.49 million, an estimated 1 million North Korean civilians are believed to have died as a result of U.S. actions during the 1950-53 conflict. During the same war, 33,870 American soldiers died in combat, meaning that U.S. forces killed approximately thirty North Korean civilians for every American soldier who died in action. The United States dropped almost three times as much explosive tonnage in the Vietnam War as was used in the Second World War, and something on the order of 365,000 Vietnamese civilians are believed to have been killed during the period of American involvement.

This is because the Jacksonian view dictates that we should use full force in war to advance our interests and the reasons for waging war are for selfish rather than humanitarian purposes. We have good reason to think human rights under Trump will be abused to an alarming degree, as his comments that we should “bomb the hell out of” Syria, kill the noncombatant families of suspected terrorists, and torture detainees indicate. Trump is literally calling for the US to commit inhumane war crimes in the campaign, it is daunting to think just how dark his foreign policy could get in practice.

As mentioned earlier, many “libertarians” such as Walter Block seem to be under the delusion that Trump’s foreign policy is somehow compatible with the liberal tradition’s aspirations of individual liberty and peace. As he wrote when he endorsed Trump and created the oxymoronically named group “Libertarians for Trump:”

When put in this way, it is clear that The Donald is the most congruent with our perspective. This is true, mainly because of foreign policy.

…We readily concede Mr. Donald Trump is no Ron Paul on foreign policy or anything else for that matter. However, compared to his Republican alternatives, the Donald stands head and shoulders above them. He has said, time and time again, things like “Look at what we did in Iraq. It’s a mess. Look at what we did in Libya. It’s a mess there too. And we’re going to repeat our mistakes in Syria? Not on my watch.” …Yes, future President Trump wants a strong military, but with only a few exceptions, fewer than the other Republican candidates, only to defend our country.

Ignoring the glaring factual inaccuracy that Trump’s criticisms of Iraq and Libya were that we weren’t fierce enough and the main reason why he wants war is not to defend our country but to loot oil, nothing could be further from the truth that Trump’s foreign policy views are anywhere near to congruent with libertarianism.

To reiterate: Trump’s foreign policy views are just a particularly nasty version of imperialism and colonialism. Mises dedicated two entire sections of his chapter on foreign policy in Liberalism: The Classical Tradition to critiquing colonialism and revealing just how contrary these views are to liberalism’s commitment to peace and liberty. In direct opposition to Trump’s assertions that we should go to war to gain another country’s wealth and resources and that we should expand military spending greatly, Mises argues:

Wealth cannot be won by the annexation of new provinces since the “revenue” deprived from a territory must be used to defray the necessary costs of its administration. For a liberal state, which entertains no aggressive plans, a strengthening of its military power is unimportant.

Mises’ comments on the colonial policy in his time are extremely pertinent considering Trump’s calls to wage ruthlessly violent wars and commit humanitarian crises. “No chapter of history is steeped further in blood than the history of colonialism,” Mises argued. “Blood was shed uselessly and senselessly. Flourishing lands were laid waste; whole peoples destroyed and exterminated. All this can in no way be extenuated or justified.”

Trump says the ends of foreign policy are to aggressively promote “our” national interests, Mises says “[t]he goal of the domestic policy of liberalism is the same as that of its foreign policy: peace.” Trump views the world as nations competing in a zero-sum game and there must be one winner that can only be brought about through military conquest and economic protectionism, Mises says liberalism “aims at the peaceful cooperation between nations as within each nation” and specifically attacks “chauvinistic nationalists” who “maintain that irreconcilable conflicts of interest exist among the various nations[.]” Trump is rabidly opposed to free trade and is horrifically xenophobic on immigration, the cornerstone of Mises’ foreign policy is free movement of capital and labor over borders. There is no “congruence” between Trump and any classically liberal view on foreign policy matters in any sense; to argue otherwise is to argue from a position of ignorance, delusion, or to abandon the very spirit of classical liberalism in the first place.

Mises wasn’t the only classical liberal critical of Trump-style colonialist foreign policy. The classical liberal editor of The Nation Edward Lawrence Godkin was also sharply critical of the imperial foreign policy of the progressives and populists in his time. In a 1900 article entitled “The Eclipse of Liberalism,” in which he lamented the decline of the liberal emphasis on limited government, Godkin wrote:

Nationalism in the sense of national greed has supplanted Liberalism. It is an old foe under a new name. By making the aggrandizement of a particular nation a higher end than the welfare of mankind, it has sophisticated the moral sense of Christendom. Aristotle justified slavery, because Barbarians were “naturally” inferior to Greeks, and we have gone back to his philosophy. We hear no more of natural rights, but of inferior races, whose part it is to submit to the government of those whom God has made their superiors. The old fallacy of divine right has once more asserted its ruinous power, and before it is again repudiated there must be international struggles on a terrific scale. At home all criticism on the foreign policy of our rulers is denounced as unpatriotic. They must not be changed, for the national policy must be continuous. Abroad, the rulers of every country must hasten to every scene of international plunder, that they may secure their share. To succeed in these predatory expeditions the restraints on parliamentary, even of party, government must be cast aside. [Emphasis mine]

Though Godkin’s broader arguments against the “inferior races” argument for imperialism may not apply to Trump himself per se, it certainly does apply to some of Trump’s dangerously backward white nationalist supporters (at least one of whom Trump has publicly appointed) who are helping to drive his rise.

It wasn’t just Godkin in the United States, an entire organization was formed to oppose these policies: The American Anti-Imperialist League, which formed specifically in opposition to the Spanish-American War and the annexation of the Philippians and Cuba. Though it was certainly a diverse collection of anti-imperialists with a wide variety of motives, many of them were classical liberals. Their platform emphasized the incompatibility of small government and imperial conquest:

We hold that the policy known as imperialism is hostile to liberty and tends toward militarism, an evil from which it has been our glory to be free. We regret that it has become necessary in the land of Washington and Lincoln to reaffirm that all men, of whatever race or color, are entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We maintain that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. We insist that the subjugation of any people is “criminal aggression” and open disloyalty to the distinctive principles of our Government.

Trump’s incompatibility with classically liberal goals is not of unique interest to libertarians. In many ways, both neoconservatives and liberal interventionists aim for a similar end of peace among nations in foreign policy for which classical liberals aim (or at least, I hope they share such an aim). The three viewpoints just disagree on the best policy means to reach those ends. Trump decidedly does not take peace as the end of foreign policy. He takes the ruthless promotion of America’s economic interests to be the goal, often at the expense of peace and at the expense of the lives of innocent people.

Additionally, even if we take Trump’s nationalist ends as given, the policy means Trump prefers of violent military intervention likely will not be successful for similar reasons to why socialism fails. Christopher Coyne has argued convincingly that many foreign interventions in general fail for very similar reasons to why attempts at economic intervention fail, complications pertaining to the Hayekian knowledge problem. How can a government ill-equipped to solve the economic problems of domestic policy design and control the political institutions and culture of nations abroad?  Coyne mainly has the interventionism of neoconservatives and liberals in mind, but many of his insights apply just as well to Trump’s Jacksonian vision for foreign policy.

The knowledge problem also applies on another level to Trump’s brand of interventionism. Trump assumes that he, in all his wisdom as president, can know what the “national interest” of the American people actually is, just like socialist central planners assume they know the underlying value scales or utility functions of consumers in society. We have little reason to assume this is the case.

Let’s take a more concrete example: Trump seems to think one example of intervention in the name of national interest is to take the resource of another country that our country needs, most commonly oil. However, how is he supposed to know which resources need to be pillaged for the national interest? There’s a fundamental calculation problem here. A government acting without a profit signal cannot know the answer to such a problem and lacks the incentive to properly answer it in the first place as the consequences failure falls upon the taxpayers, not the policy makers. Even if Trump and his advisors could figure out that the US needs a resource, like oil, and successfully loots it from another country, like Libya, there is always the possibility that this artificial influx of resources, this crony capitalist welfare for one resource at the expense of others, is crowding out potentially more efficient substitutes.

For an example, if the government through foreign policy expands the supply of oil, this may stifle entrepreneurial innovations for potentially more efficient resources in certain applications, such as natural gas, solar, wind, or nuclear in energy, for the same reasons artificially subsidizing these industries domestically stifle innovation. They artificially reduce the relative scarcity of the favored resource, reducing the incentive for entrepreneurs to find innovative means of using other resources or more efficient production methods. At the very least, Trump and his advisors would have little clue how to judge the opportunity cost of pillaging various resources and so would not know how much oil to steal from Libya. Even ignoring all those problems, it’s very probable that it would be cheaper and morally superior to simply peaceably trade with another country for oil (or any other resource) rather than waging a costly, violent, inhumane war in the first place.

Of course, I’m probably giving Trump way too much credit in that critique. Chances are, given Trump’s (nonexistent) economic literacy, he is just under the delusion that more resources always mean a better economy no matter what–opportunity costs, resource allocation, and entrepreneurial innovation be damned–and that government policy can be run just like a business.

Not only is it difficult for policy makers to know what the national interest is, as Christensen has argued it is unclear what “national interest” even means to begin with. He defines national interest as “an excuse for a policy or set of policies that should be taken in order to strengthen a state and its citizens (but not necessarily strengthen a state relative to other states…).” He further claims, “There’s no such thing as a national interest.” I’d take it even one step further: the rhetoric of “national interest,” it seems to me, is just an ideology (in the critical theory sense) for the foreign policy elite and their lobbyists to justify using coercive force to advance their arbitrary private interests rather than the (largely indeterminate) interests of the public or the country at large. Even if the “national interest” does have any meaning other than as a rhetorical ideology for the military industrial complex, the only way such a concept could become known is via the spontaneous process of the voluntary interchange of individuals, often time between citizens and non-citizens, and will likely never be known by a single individual mind. At the very least, there’s a public choice problem here: how is Trump realistically to differentiate his personal interests and those of his cronies from those of the general public? Given the fact that Trump likely has narcissistic personality disorder, I don’t have faith that he will.

The only positive potential to foreign policy under a Trump administration is the possibility that he will wisely not intervene in foreign affairs when no argument can be made that such an intervention would be in the national interest or give us oil. But given Trump’s record on the matter, and the arbitrary and elusive nature of the concept of “national interest,” I doubt that this will be a major factor in the way Trump actually implements foreign policy.

Trump vs. Clinton on Foreign Policy: Who is Preferable?

It is clear that underneath the prima facie inconsistencies in Trump’s comments on foreign policy, there is an underlying consistency that he thinks the goal of foreign policy is to quite aggressively promote US interests. This goal is impossible to reach as it represents a naïve understanding of the knowledge public leaders can possess, and generally represents a selfish, reckless, nationalist disregard for human dignity. The means he wants to undertake for this end are unnecessarily cruel and would likely constitute massive human rights violations. They contradict the high (and in my mind correct) aspirations of classical liberals of peace and individual liberty, and they’ll likely fail to accomplish their stated goals.

However, none of this necessarily means that Clinton’s foreign policy will be all that much better. Sure, Clinton’s motives are likely purer, but her record shows that the means she undertakes are uncannily similar to Trump and fail for similar reasons. She’s shown a similar lack of judiciousness in her handling of classified materials, just what the intelligence community fears of Trump. Her record shows her diplomatic skills yield mixed results at best, and she’s widely a progressive interventionist on foreign policy matters whose policies will subvert the liberal goals of peace and individual liberty. It is somewhat ironic that the Democrats have such great opportunity to go after Trump on foreign policy, but have chosen the absolute worst person in their party to make that case as their nominee (akin to Republicans and Romney on ObamaCare in 2012).

Comparing the two candidates point-by-point, therefore, is very difficult. Though there are many underlying consistencies to Trump’s comments on foreign policy and Clinton is still largely right that his stated positions have been somewhat incoherent. Unlike Trump, we have a record of Clinton actually implementing foreign policy and our only knowledge of the Donald’s policies only comes from occasionally off-the-cuff and contradictory remarks about others’ policies. Thus there is a degree of uncertainty as to what Trump’s foreign policies will actually look like and, though I think his comments reveal there is a high probability they will be atrocious, there is a small chance that they could be marginally better than Clinton’s (whose record shows she will implement almost certainly failed foreign policies). Trump’s very concerning comments on foreign policy alone do not make a slam-dunk case that Clinton is preferable on these matters.

Having said that, I’d still argue Clinton’s foreign policy is at least marginally preferable to Trump’s. With Trump we risk not only a fairly high probability of atrocious policies—quite possibly worse than Clinton’s—based off of his comments, we also risk the added problem of regime uncertainty in foreign policy. Also, some of the concrete policies Trump has called for—like torture and the murdering of families—are a cause for serious concern. Further, Clinton is likely to be far more diplomatic and will be less likely to offend other leaders and alienate the US from the world. Her point that Trump is “temperamentally unfit to lead” is very well taken, and was only confirmed by Trump’s response to her speech which in which he largely stuck to the non-substantive screaming of insults in his typical childish fashion. None of this at all means anybody should vote for either candidate as there is a lot more to voting than the issues of foreign policy. For what it’s worth (which is very little), I for one will most likely not be voting in the next election. If I were forced to, it would be for the Johnson/Weld ticket.

BC’s weekend reads

  1. Libya Epitomizes Hillary Clinton’s Not-So-Smart Power
  2. Paradoxes of the Gray Zone
  3. The Kurdish Conundrum
  4. The Future of the Arab
  5. Just Following Orders: Leadership Lessons from Argentina’s “Dirty War”

From the Comments: Military intervention, democracy, and stability

Longtime reader (and excellent blogger in his own right) Tam has an interesting response to Chhay Lin’s thoughts on the Paris terrorist attacks:

It is an interesting read indeed but there are two or even more sides to every story. What we are also noting is that many of these groups that hate Western interventionist policies also hate their own people for being different in one way or the other. However, I agree that the misplaced perception of democracy as the superior form of governance overlooks the essential internal historical and socio-political factors behind the politics of the different countries that have become victims of Western ‘sanctification’ processes fronted by bombs after daring to opt not to embrace democracy. Libya and Iraq were stable before Western intervention.

Tam’s point strikes at the heart of the difference between military interventionists and non-interventionists, I think. Libya and Iraq were indeed stable, but not everybody was free. In Iraq, Shias, Kurds, liberals, and religious Sunnis were all brutally suppressed, and this oppression stood in stark contrast to the freedoms that secularists, women, union members, some socialists, and the politically apathetic enjoyed. The sociopolitical dynamics in Libya were the same, though with different local actors.

This reality is something that both sides of the interventionist debate recognize, though the interventionist side seems to place much more faith in government when it comes to “doing something.” Jacques and Edwin, for example, have both argued that bombing ambiguous factions in Iraq, Syria, and Libya would contribute to the freedoms of the oppressed factions in those countries. Looking back on the debate makes it clear that they weren’t wrong, but look at what those freedoms have produced. Those freedoms have come at the expense of the freedoms of the factions that the dictators were protecting.

What this situation shows me is that the states of the post-colonial world are unviable. Stability comes at too steep a price (dictatorship), and democracy’s unpredictability only leads to predictably violent results in the post-colonial world.

This impasse, which I cannot be the only one in the world who recognizes, has led me to take a hard glance at two specific peace processes in the Western world: The diplomatic efforts of Europeans after the Napoleonic Wars (“Concert of Europe”) and the founding of the American republic, which is, in my mind, the most successful endeavor in the history of international relations. Neither of these efforts led to the complete abolition of war, but both have helped to maintain a relatively peaceful co-existence between large numbers of factions for long periods of time.

The Concert of Europe bought time for factions in the region to solidify their legitimacy at home, culminating in both the creation of Germany and Italy in the late nineteenth century and the infamous overseas imperial  domains of France, the UK, and the Netherlands (among a few others). While this peace process brought about prosperity for Western Europe, it was not inclusive and it still adhered to the Westphalian notion of state sovereignty. What state sovereignty means is that each state, in the context of international affairs, has a right to do whatever it pleases within the confines of its own borders (such as massacre hundreds of thousands of people in the name of stability). The Concert of Europe was also the precursor to the post-1945 peace process that created the state system that we all live with today, though I would argue that there are some elements that could be republican, such as the IMF and World Bank, provided some changes in mindset.

Aside from the problems produced by the notion of state sovereignty, the states of the post-colonial world today suffer from an issue of legitimacy, both from domestic populations and from foreign ones. Domestically, all of the factions that stability-inducing dictatorships oppress do not buy in to the argument that the states purporting to govern them are legitimate. In foreign affairs, many factions do not believe that these post-colonial states are legitimate either. Hence the calls for bombing campaigns, proxy wars, or outright invasions and occupations of states like Iraq and Libya by states like the US or France (even if these invasions come at the expense of domestic and international rule of law).

This situation, where post-colonial states claim to have sovereignty within an international state system but where domestic and international factions ignore such claims, is where we’re at today. It’s the status quo, and while it worked relatively well in a small part of the world for about hundred years or so, it’s obviously failing today.

Enter the founding of the American republic. Unlike the Concert of Europe, self-determination à la breaking away from the UK was a guiding principle of the federal system, rather than state sovereignty. Like the Concert of Europe, the statesmen who crafted the American republic were concerned about invasion, hegemony, and all of the other bad stuff that happens in the international arena. So they set up an inclusive, republican system of states rather than attempt to balance power off on each other, like they did in Europe. The republican, or federal, system tied each state up into the affairs of the other states, whereas the balance of power system contributed to the formation of rival blocs within the system. This is why Europe switched from trying to maintain yet another balancing act to building an actual confederation (though one that is far too complex than it has to be) after World War II.

From a strictly war and peace view, the republican state system has led to one war so far (dating from 1789). From the end of the Napoleonic Wars, in 1815, to today, the balance of power state system has led to numerous wars.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: Woodrow Wilson’s foreign policy was based on self-determination, and his foreign policy was a disaster. This is true, though I would argue that Wilson was simply confused about what self-determination actually implied. For Wilson, recognizing the self-determination of various groups within empires would lead to state sovereignty for these groups, and that this state sovereignty would then be protected by the institutions trying to maintain a balance of power. Wilson never entertained the notion of republicanism when it came to recognizing the self-determination of peoples living in empires, he simply thought empires were undemocratic. Thus, he was actually a proponent of state sovereignty rather than self-determination.

What I am not arguing for here is a Concert of Europe-type effort for Middle Eastern actors. I think it would be a disaster, largely because regional efforts at peace-building (rather than, say, trade agreements) are useless in today’s globalized world. The Middle East needs the West, and vice-versa. Peace will only be achieved if self-determination is embraced (by not only large swathes of Mideast factions, but Western ones as well) and the new polities can be incorporated into existing republican-esque institutions. This way, more factions have a voice, and bad actors can be more easily isolated. I am not necessarily arguing that the US or EU should welcome burgeoning Mideast states into their federations, but policymakers and statesmen from these countries should at least start thinking about how to encourage and embrace the notion of a Middle East that looks a lot like our own republican world and less like the one we gave them following the destruction of the Ottoman Empire.

Stability is overrated, especially if the notion of creative destruction is taken into account.

Turkey just shot down a Russian fighter jet

Yes, folks, things just got way more real in the Levant.

Here is NOL‘s first-ever post on Syria (by yours truly). It’s from 2012 (which means NOL is nearly four years old!) and it holds up pretty well if you ask me.

Jacques Delacroix, an ardent hawk who recently quit NOL (again) and who ironically criticizes libertarians for being “dogmatic” and “predictable,” had this to say about Syria in 2012:

Russia would not risk to go to war with us on behalf of Syria because that country is just not important enough to the Russians’ game.

And also this:

The current murderous situation [in 2012 Syria] is not acceptable. Therefore, the risk of some sort of Islamist take-over is worth running.

Jacques and other military interventionists have been getting the Middle East wrong for decades, and yet people still take them seriously. Just to be clear: Jacques and other hawks were perfectly aware that attacking Assad would mean opening up a space for ISIS and other nasty Sunni organizations to grow. Jacques just thought Islamists would be better than Assad because they’d at least have some form of democratic legitimacy. Then, after the recent massacres in Paris, Delacroix and other hawks began arguing that Islamists have to go, too (along with Assad). The Russians, who Jacques (and other hawks) confidently told the public would not dare intervene in Syria, think that Islamists have to go (too many Russian commercial airliners are blowing up in the sky) but not Assad. Not a pretty picture, and Western hawks are largely responsible for the mess.

Here is an old post detailing just how wrong Jacques was on Libya, and instead of acknowledging just how wrong he was (he was really wrong), Jacques changed the subject and repeated oft-debunked litanies.

Anyone can be wrong, of course. I thought Mitt Romney would beat Obama back in 2012 (the economy was in terrible shape…), but I learned from my mistake and people can generally learn something from me (even if it’s only to see things from a slightly different angle) when I write on American politics.

When Jacques and other hawks are wrong they become dishonest about their past mistakes, though. They don’t acknowledge them. They don’t try to learn from them. They instead repeat their sacred litanies over and over again, hoping that they will eventually be proved correct (a broken clock is right twice a day, after all). This moral failing on the hawks’ part is what’s responsible for the violence and carnage in Syria. It might be responsible for World War 3 (Turkey is a NATO member). Their dogmatism and the dishonesty it entails is far more of a threat to individual liberty than Islamist terrorists or even the violent policy prescriptions (and cultural chauvinism) Jacques and his ilk call for (and rely upon in the public sphere) on a daily basis.

Jacques and the interventionists (cool band name, by the way) are responsible for hundreds of thousands of dead people and millions of displaced ones. They initiated this carnage using made-up “facts,” poor logic, and appeals to violence. Where is the outrage? How can we change the climate of opinion so that those who lie constantly and unabashedly lose influence and prestige? Is incompetence that prevalent in our open society, or is dishonesty to blame?

Epistemological modesty and unintended consequences

What has attracted me most to libertarianism – next to the Non-Aggression Principle – is its attitude towards our knowledge which can be described as epistemologically modest. Epistemology is a branch of philosophy that is concerned with our knowledge: how do we know what we know, what is the nature of our knowledge, what is its scope, and what is justified belief? Libertarianism is modest in the sense that it promotes an awareness of how little we know about the social forces in our society, and what the particular consequences are when certain social forces are at play.

In ‘The Pretense of Knowledge’ (1974), Friedrich Hayek had given an excellent account on the libertarian epistemological modesty. He writes that when policy makers are epistemologically immodest – meaning that they unjustly believe that they truly understand the social world to the extent that they can plan or direct certain social forces to achieve certain ends – they will do more harm than good in their efforts to improve the social order. Hayek argues that each individual knows just a fraction of what is collectively known. Since knowledge is decentralized and each individual has unique information with regards to his or her particular circumstances, it is best to leave those with local knowledge to take decisions on how to plan their lives. Unfortunately, many do-gooders ignore Hayek’s advice and attempt to plan and control society. The dangers of epistemological immodesty are visible all around us. Take for example the NATO-led war campaign against Gaddafi in Libya in 2011. The meddling with Libya’s internal affairs has led to many unintended consequences that were totally unforeseen by most politicians: in a country that was previously relatively peaceful, manifold precious lives have perished, many have been wounded, many children have become orphaned, millions of people are trying to flee the civil war and to find refuge in other countries, ISIS has taken control of several parts in Libya, and terrorism has now become more widespread. Politicians who believed that they knew enough about the social forces in Libya, and how they could overthrow Gaddafi and turn it into a peaceful democracy have been dead wrong.

The epistemologically modest libertarian knows that military, economic, and political interventionism, always leads to unintended consequences. It is therefore best to refrain ourselves from such interventions as much as possible. This anti-planning sentiment had been graciously expressed by the American physicist Robert Oppenheimer when he discussed world affairs:

It is perfectly obvious that the whole world is going to hell. The only possible chance that it might not is that we do not attempt to prevent it from doing so.[1]

[1] I cannot verify the authenticity of this quote. It was attributed to Robert Oppenheimer by Alan Watts.

Weekend Question: What to do about the violence in South Sudan?

As many of you may know, the recently-minted country of South Sudan has descended into civil war. I’m going to show you how this violence was actually predictable, but first I want to point out a couple of things.

  1. Why did South Sudan get international recognition and not Somaliland, which has been a functioning democracy for about twenty years now? I’ve got two theories: One of them has to do with Islam. The peoples in what is now South Sudan are Christians and animists and the Arabs they were fighting in Khartoum were Muslims. Theory 2 has to do with Western pseudo-guilt associated with its past, state-sponsored racism. The peoples of South Sudan are black and the people running Khartoum are not.  Neither of these theories makes sense, mind you, but I think this actually bolsters my thoughts on ‘why?‘.
  2. Where did the violence between South Sudan and Sudan go? These guys were duking it out over an oil-rich region just a few months ago and now I can’t find much about the conflict. I’ll bet Khartoum’s disappearance has to do with both Western threats and the realization that it could accomplish more behind the scenes, so to speak, by playing its former enemies (various black ethnic groups) off on each other.
  3. The violence between former allies in war against Khartoum is also worth musing about, if only for a moment. A bunch of different ethnic groups were former allies in the war against Arab Khartoum and now they are at each other’s throats. I don’t think ideology, specifically ethno-nationalism, is an issue here…yet. It won’t be for a long time. Ethno-nationalism seems to be something that shows up within a society after years and years of botched efforts by elites to mold a nation out of a post-colonial state.

Ok, back to the issue at hand. I’ve blogged a little bit about secession before, and one thing I like to remind readers of is that there is an underlying concept that is much more important than case studies. For instance, you can probably get a much better understanding of what is going on in South Sudan by reading this old piece by yours truly:

In fact, the West could help to turn this disaster into something quite worthwhile: Build an international consensus and recognize the independence of the fiefdoms.  If the West does this now, there is a good chance that local players will be more agreeable in their claims on territory.  To secure independence from a Leviathan like Libya would guarantee a period of time for the local fiefdoms to regroup and rebuild what Ghaddafi had destroyed.

A parallel can be drawn to the velvet divorce of the Czech Republic and Slovakia just after the collapse of the USSR.  What made the divorce “velvet” was international cooperation.  When the international community doesn’t play the game smart, however, divorces look more like Algeria, Indonesia, the Congo basin, the Balkans, and, of course, Somalia.

If the West is to “do something”, and I think it should in most cases, then pursuing diplomatic relations that focus on decentralized governance and international trade are a good way to start.

Can you see how this works? Just replace ‘Libya’ with ‘South Sudan’ and ‘Ghaddafi’ with ‘Khartoum’ and you have the right parameters in place for what needs to be done in regards to making secession in failed states work (I blogged a little bit more about these parameters in South Sudan here as well).

Here is the relevant map for our weekend question:

This is a map of South Sudan’s ethnic groups. It looks like Switzerland, to be honest, but unlike Switzerland South Sudan does not have the same institutional structures in place. Nor does this new country have the full support of the international community. There are plenty of condescending Leftists “monitoring” the country inside and out, but that’s about it.

If the West wants to play a role in helping to avert a violent downward spiral, then it would do well to quickly recognize the futility of South Sudan’s existence and start acknowledging the legitimacy of the fiefdoms. You know where the ‘comments’ section is!

American Foreign Policy: Predictions, Assumptions and Falsehoods

On November 1st 2011 I got into an argument with Dr Delacroix about US foreign policy. During that time, if you’ll recall, a debate on the merits and demerits of bombing Libya was raging across the blogosphere and in the halls of power. Here is what I wrote in the heat of the moment two years ago today:

Time will tell, of course, which one of our predictions comes true. In two years time, Tunisia, which did not get any help from the West, will be a functioning democracy with a ruling coalition of moderate Islamists in power.

The Egyptian military will be promising the public that elections are just around the corner, and Libya will be in worse shape than it is today. Two years from today, Dr. J, you will be issuing an apology to me and making a donation to the charity of my choice.

Since you are very good at avoiding the facts on the ground in the name of democratic progress, I think we should establish a measurement rubric by which to measure the progress of Libya. How about GDP (PPP) per capita as measured by the IMF?

Not too shabby, eh? In case you haven’t been staying up to date on current events in the Middle East, Tunisia is a functioning democracy with a ruling coalition of moderate Islamists in power. It is not Switzerland or Iceland, but it is doing much better than the two states who were on the receiving end of US “help” during the Arab Spring.

Egypt, for example, is currently being run by the (US-funded) military, and the military is promising Egyptians that elections are just around the corner.

In Libya, GDP (PPP) per capita for 2013 started off the year at $11,936 (in international dollars). In 2011, prior to the uprisings and subsequent US bombing campaign, Libya’s GDP (PPP) per capita clocked in at $14,913 (you’d have to look at 2010 to see where Libya started off). That’s a nearly $3,000 drop in purchasing power parity. Here is the relevant IMF data (it starts off in 2010 and you can go from there).

Perfectly predicting the current mess in the Middle East has less to do with my genius than it does with applying a general libertarian framework to the situation. For example, I know that government is very bad at doing nearly everything. Government is a name we have given to an organization that has a monopoly on force. This monopoly on force is usually consented to because it is expected that it will provide an honest court system and a way to interact with other polities (“diplomacy”). When this monopoly on force is applied to anything other than these two functions, peace and prosperity give way to war and impoverishment. The trajectory that war and impoverishment take in a society depends on any number of variables, but the general libertarian framework I just outlined never fails to impress.

Now, my perfect prediction was made in the heat of the moment during an argument. If my argument was right, what did the other side of the debate have to say? Is it at all possible that Dr Delacroix had an argument that somewhat conformed to reality as well? Decide for yourself, and remember, this was written near the end of 2011:

There are several benefits to the Libyan/NATO victory for this country […] First, rogues and political murderers everywhere are given a chance to suppose that if you kill Americans, we will get you afterwards, even if it takes twenty years […] Two, Arabs and oppressed people everywhere are figuring that we mean it when we say we like democracy for everyone […] Three, this Obama international victory will cost him dearly in the next election. A fraction – I don’t know how large – of the people who voted for him the first time around oppose all American military interventions.

I don’t know about you, but it looks as if Dr Delacroix got Libya, the rest of the Arab world and American domestic politics horribly wrong, and on every level possible. If I am being disingenuous or unfair to Dr Delacroix’s argument, please point out to me where I go wrong in the ‘comments’ section.

Let’s take a second to reflect on something here. I was factually correct in my assessment of what would happen in the Middle East if the US intervened militarily. Dr Delacroix was factually incorrect. I think the drastic difference in outcomes occurred because our assumptions about how the Middle East works are informed by different history books. This is odd because we agree on nearly everything else.

Were I proved to be wrong, and shown how devastating the effects of my assumptions on societies could be,  I know I would do some deep questioning about my prior assumptions of how the world works.

There are four assumptions Dr Delacroix makes, in recent blog posts, that I believe are unfounded. When these unfounded assumptions have gained traction policy-wise, the consequences have been devastating. When these unfounded assumptions have been defeated in open debate, the consequences have been minute. By pointing out these assumptions, and ruthlessly criticizing them, I hope to provide a framework for those who read this blog to use when thinking about foreign affairs.

  • False Assumption #1: “Bullies will try to pull off worse and worse brutalities until they become intimidated. The unopposed brutalities of one bully encourage others to go further. Some who had the potential but never acted on it will be encouraged by the impunity of others to become bullies themselves.”

Comparing leaders of authoritarian states to schoolyard bullies is a bad way to go about understanding international relations. I think this is done on purpose, of course, in order to obfuscate the reality of a given situation. Dictators in authoritarian states often enjoy broad coalitions of support from the populaces over which they rule. In Iraq, for example, Saddam Hussein enjoyed support from Sunni Muslims, Christians, secularists, socialists, trade unions, domestic corporations, women’s rights groups and the poor. Dictators often enjoy broad support from their populaces because of the fact that they bully, to use Dr Delacroix’s term, the bullies (see False Assumption #2 for more on this).

Here is another example: Bashar al-Assad has broad support in Syria because he protects religious and ethnic minorities from the passions of the vulgar mob. Dictators rarely care about the actions of dictators in other countries, unless it serves their own domestic purposes, and slaughtering people randomly is something I have never heard of a dictatorship doing. A dictator’s attacks are calculated, quite coldly I admit, so as to bolster support from the factions they are allied with. Dr Delacroix would like nothing more than to have the Middle East actually be a place where dictators take comfort in the actions of other dictators. Were this to be true, his argument would be right. His predictions would come to pass. Alas.

  • False Assumption #2: “By the way, as little as four years ago and even less, Western liberals and misguided libertarians were still blaming the American military for Iraqi on Iraqi violence. The US military is gone; the violence is rather worse.”

Attempting to sweep the violence and high death count associated with the US invasion of Iraq under the rug does nothing to inspire confidence in Dr Delacroix’s framework. The Iraqi-on-Iraqi violence occurred after the US military illegally removed the bully’s bully from his position of power. Prior to the US military’s illegal invasion, the Iraqi-on-Iraqi violence Dr Delacroix points to was kept in check by Saddam Hussein’s heavy-handed tactics. When Hussein gassed Kurds, for example, he did not do so simply because the Kurds “revolted” against his rule. He did so because the Kurds had been murdering Arabs and engaging in terrorist activities that targeted Iraqi infrastructure. The intrastate warfare in Iraq was quite negligible until the United States decided to break its own laws and illegally invade and occupy Iraq.

Of course, you can always choose to believe Dr Delacroix’s theory of events, but I think the results of our predictive power speak for themselves (on the inevitability of intrastate warfare in post-colonial states, see the discussions about “post-colonialism,” “secession” and “decentralization” here at NOL).

  • False Assumption #3: “In World War Two, we could have stopped the genocide of the Jews or slowed it to a crawl. We did not because there was a strong but vague reluctance to ‘get involved.’”

In 1939 France and the United Kingdom had worldwide empires. The Soviet Union was 25 years old. So were the small, independent states of Turkey, Hungary and Austria. Germany, despite its defeat in World War 1, was an industrial power. The was no such thing as cruise missiles. There was no such thing as jet airplanes. There was no such thing as satellites. Or the internet. The Jews that were slaughtered in Europe lived in places that could not be reached by the American military of 1939. Indeed, they lived in places in Europe that could not be reached by the American military of 1945. The Eastern Front in World War 2 was many things, but certainly I think you can see why it wasn’t a “reluctance to get involved” on the part of the American people that is partly responsible for the Holocaust. To assume that the American military could have marched into Eastern Europe during World War 2 and stopped, or even slowed, the Holocaust is delusional.

  • False Assumption #4: “Today, I am ashamed to be an American because of our passivity with respect to the slaughter of Syrian seekers for freedom.”

Since the end of World War 2, when the US assumed its place as the world’s most prominent polity, Washington has continually opted to support the socialists (Ba’athists, Nasserists, Ghaddafi, etc.) over the Islamists in the Arab world (liberal Arabs simply, and unfortunately, emigrate to the West). The most obvious reason for this support is that the socialists do not send their agents to fly planes filled with people into commercial buildings filled with people. Pretending that the US is putting its head in the sand is disingenuous. Washington is well-aware of the consequences of letting Assad fight it out with the Islamists. We have made our decision after weighing the costs and benefits of every option available. We did this through open debate. Socialists make better enemies (and allies) than Islamists.

Now, these are just some small examples of jingoism and delusions of grandeur I have picked out. There are many more examples, especially in the national press, but Dr Delacroix’s are much, much better reasoned than any of those. If you are reading the op-eds in the national press rather than Dr Delacroix you are going to be woefully misinformed about the nature of the world. Your brain will be slightly more malnourished than it otherwise would be (this is one of the reasons why I like blogging with him). His arguments are informed by a lifetime of prestigious scholarship; they are informed by somebody who has the benefit of understanding two distinct cultures in an intimate way.

And look how incredibly wrong he has been proven to be. Assumptions matter. So, too, does truth and falsehood.

Libertarian Foreign Policy: A Dialogue on Imperialism

Pretty much the same story as that of the first years of the American Revolution including the foreign intervention and under enormously favorable circumstances than the poor Libyans encountered. After all, King Georges was no Kadafi.

Tsk tsk. You’re getting sloppy Dr Delacroix. I suspect you have re-ignited your passion for smoking ganja. Santa Cruz has a wonderful variety from around the world to choose from.

As I have previously noted, the angle we should be looking at (from a national security perspective) is the one of France during the Anglo-American War. They are the ones who intervened on behalf of a rebellious segment of the British Empire, just as we are intervening on behalf of a rebellious segment within the Libyan state.

Nevertheless, you keep repeating this tired mantra so I figure I’ll try to kill it. Right here and right now.

Let’s start with your keen observation that King George was no Ghaddafi. Aside from being totally correct, I think it would also be pertinent to point out that King George was also at the helm of a worldwide empire that was in constant rivalry with not only France for global hegemony, but also with aspirant regional hegemons throughout the world. Now contrast this position with that of Libya at the time of Ghaddafi’s offing.

King George also wielded a lot less power than did Ghaddafi. Indeed, he wielded a lot less power than most monarchs of his time period. As we both know, the British parliament held immense power, and King George was in constant conflict with them. The Rule of Law was alive and well in Britain during King George’s reign. Contrast KG’s position with that of Ghaddafi, a brutal tyrant who exercised a near-supreme will over his subjects.

Let’s review the circumstances of the positions of the two tyrants of Dr. J’s choosing before we continue any further: one of them was at the helm of a global empire and constantly held in check by his own parliament and the Rule of Law. The other was a tyrant of a mid-sized post-colonial state in North Africa who ruled with an iron fist and was spurned by most of the global community.

Can we continue?

France (whose position, remember, during the Anglo-American War is the one that most resembles our own today in regards to the Libyan excursion) was in constant conflict with Great Britain. They were fighting for global supremacy. French support, then, came not from benevolence or fear of mass migration from the U.S. to France, but from a calculated decision to strike deeply at a hated enemy, one that had recently acquired all of France’s colonies in India and North America.

The U.S., in contrast, has become involved in the Libyan civil war because of cries from weak and decadent allies to come to their aid for fear of a mass influx of Muslims into their welfare states.

Not exactly a struggle for global supremacy. I suspect you will warn your readers that China (GDP PPP per capita Intl$7,000) is watching us, of course.

The 13 colonies that fought for independence were independent polities, too. They all had their own ideas and thoughts and interests to look after when coming to an agreement with each other. Libya – one state – has merely one resource that is apple of everybody’s eye. While the American experience was one based on compromise and sectional interests, the Libyan experience is one that will be based off of the redistribution of wealth. Not a good start, if you ask me.

An observation and a question: the transitory government of Libya has recently asked NATO to continue its no-fly zone to at least the end of the year. It has recently welcomed foreign troops from Qatar to help shore up its defense forces. My question to you, Dr. J, is this: did the transitory government of the U.S. ask foreign powers to patrol their streets for them? To continue to keep their navies nearby to help dispense of any lingering British presence?

I find it suspicious that the Libyan rebels have relied so heavily upon foreign support. What is their motive for this? Most rebellions hearken calls for independence and liberty. Why do they beg the West for help? In my mind, a government – even a transitory one – that is incapable of standing on its own two feet without the support of foreign influence and power, is not a government that will long be trusted by the people it purports to govern.

Is the Libyan experience similar to that of the American one? Sure, but only a very superficial level. It would be best to leave Libya to the Libyans – warts and all.

Libertarian Foreign Policy: A Dialogue on Imperialism

Libya will be in worse shape than it is now? In worse shape than it was under Kadafi? (He sure could keep order.)

I have already spoken to much of what you are saying: Suppose your prophecies turn out to be completely right. Would it mean that we should prefer the bloody tyranny of terrorists like Kadafi? Isn’t this simple?

Perhaps, but we don’t know what would have happened to Ghaddafi if the US had stayed clear of this problem (which had nothing to do with national security or defense).

Civil war was inevitable, given the nature of the Libyan state, but introducing a superpower into the struggle has only complicated Libyan matters.

A civil war sometimes helps a people to iron out their differences. I think our involvement there only enhances the creases that need ironing.

What problem (singular)?

Civil war was inevitable? After forty years? You’re kidding, right?

Yo are almost forcing me to write an essay just for you about Arab tyrannies, 1960 – 2011.

What problem? The Libyan state falling apart.

Civil war was inevitable? After forty years? You’re kidding, right?

Um, the rebels and Ghaddafi’s henchmen went after each other in the wake of revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia. Ghaddafi struck back quite effectively, but the violence didn’t end after those first strikes.

Ghaddafi may have eventually won the civil war, but he would either have had to eliminate his rivals completely (which he was certainly capable of doing) or he would have had to come to some sort of agreement with some of the factions he was fighting.

Helping the rebels eliminate Ghaddafi only removed one faction from the fight for Libya’s future. Many, many different factions believe that Libya should move in their direction. Most of the efforts to come to some sort of agreement with each other are going to be wasted on other priorities, though – namely the influencing of Western powers to support their specific cause.

With the West out of the picture – or at least off to the side where neighbors usually reside – the Libyans would have to work together to come to some sort of agreement for their state going forward. This is unlikely to happen now. Instead, what we’ll see is a prolonged conflict that will look a lot more like Iraq rather than Tunisia, as each faction uses the hapless and naive West for their own purposes of attaining power over a massive, oil-rich state that has known nothing but rigid central control for almost a century.

I would love to read an essay on Arab dictatorship over the past half-century. Don’t forget to include the involvement of the West in the process. Name names and spare nobody from your rancorous wit!

Libertarian Foreign Policy: A Dialogue on Imperialism

Brandon: You are a kind of expert on Libyan public opinion accessed in translation from Al-Jazeera with a software that can hardly translate “My father’s car…”? That’s in preference to statements made by a ramshackle but very broad coalition watched over by hundreds of Western journalists on the ground some of whom (the French) have Arabic as a first language. Strange!

I understand that the translations are not perfect, but it doesn’t take a genius to understand what they are saying. I never said I was an expert, either.

Western journalists – especially from the states that are essentially welfare queens of U.S. military strength – have a lot less clout than does the Arab street, in my opinion.

Time will tell, of course, which one of our predictions comes true. In two years time [October 2013 – bc], Tunisia, which did not get any help from the West, will be a functioning democracy with a ruling coalition of moderate Islamists in power.

The Egyptian military will be promising the public that elections are just around the corner, and Libya will be in worse shape than it is today. Two years from today, Dr. J, you will be issuing an apology to me and making a donation to the charity of my choice.

Since you are very good at avoiding the facts on the ground in the name of democratic progress, I think we should establish a measurement rubric by which to measure the progress of Libya. How about GDP (PPP) per capita as measured by the IMF?

Libertarian Foreign Policy: A Dialogue on Imperialism

Brandon: Always interesting but more like the basis for a movie story. More lack of attention to well-known facts. You write: “the Arab monarchies that purportedly helped NATO .”

One Arab monarch helped NATO, and not “purportedly.” Its’ Qatar which even flew air attacks, aside from other forms of help. For the time being, the voice of Libya is the provisional government. It’s a rickety alliance composed of every movement that wanted Kadafy out, a very broad alliance according to every observer (except perhaps you). That government asked NATO to stay. How can one be more positive?

You follow Al-Jazeera‘s Arabic speaking discussion boards? I wish I knew Arabic too.

And, by the way, if you have consulted any part of Al-Jazeera for any length of time, don’t you agree this press organ has its own agenda which is not secret at all, not even discreet?

Films on the current situation in Libya in an Anthropology class? Kind of strange. (I don’t doubt it happened but it’s strange.)

Dr Delacroix writes:

One Arab monarch helped NATO, and not “purportedly.” Its’ Qatar which even flew air attacks, aside from other forms of help.

Haha! I know the facts fairly well. I was simply relaying what I have read about the thoughts and opinions that Libyans have on foreign policy. You and I know that Qatar was the only monarchy to participate in the bombings, but we also have access to information 24/7. Some Libyans still rely on more archaic forms of communication to attain information…

It’s a rickety alliance composed of every movement that wanted Kadafy out, a very broad alliance according to every observer (except perhaps you). That government asked NATO to stay. How can one be more positive?

Asking a powerful, benevolent military alliance to occupy their country while they figure things out is not the same thing as being thankful for NATO’s bombing campaign. They might be happy that they suckered the West into doing their dirty work, but that is not the same as being grateful.

And while the alliance may be broad, it no doubt has enemies that have been excluded. I’m sure we’ll find out more about these enemies as time moves on.

You follow Al-Jazeera Arabic speaking discussion boards? I wish I knew Arabic too.

Dude, Google’s Chrome application for websurfing has a translation option every time you land on a page that is published in a foreign language. You just click ‘yes’ or ‘no’ if you want it to be translated. It’s 2011, bro.

And, by the way, if you have consulted any part of Al-Jazeera for any length of time, don’t you agree this press organ has its own agenda which is not secret at all, not even discreet?

I totally agree, but I don’t think that the ‘comments’ section is moderated much. It’s a lot like the Huffington Post, actually. A genuine agenda is easily recognized, but that agenda does not really trickle down into the discussion boards. Anybody can have their say!

Films on the current situation in Libya in an Anthropology class? Kind of strange. (I don’t doubt it happened but it’s strange.)

Oh yeah! Please buh-lieve it! The anthropology courses I’m working with are really just political and economic theory using examples of societies outside of the West rather than reading excerpts of John Locke’s Second Treatise for the umpteenth time…

Libertarian Foreign Policy: A Dialogue on Imperialism

Brandon: For the most part, I am happy to let your comments stand. Together, we do a reasonably good job of clearing up issues about intervention. I don’t need to “win” the argument. However, however, I think you don’t pay enough attention to easily ascertainable facts: Your write: “I don’t think our involvement will be looked upon with graciousness by the peoples we are inevitably trying to help.” The Libyans don’t look on the NATO intervention, including the US, with graciousness?

Good point, good point. Here is my quick (or not-so-quick) take: the Libyans living in exile in the United States have certainly been gracious. The temporary government in power has certainly been grateful. The Libyans in Europe harbor very different views, though. They see this as an imperialistic adventure. They loathe the fact that NATO helped the rebellion in any way, shape or form.

The Libyans in Libya have even more disparate views on the subject. Some have turned their ire towards the tyrant of Algeria. Some are claiming that NATO intervened because of Libya’s oil, and they point to the Palestinian territories to ask why NATO hasn’t helped them. Some of them have been gracious towards the Arab monarchies that purportedly helped NATO in its bombing campaigns. Some Libyans have expressed thanks to NATO. Some Libyans have fixated on Israel. None of them, from what I have seen, have expressed any sort of graciousness at all to the United States of America.

My sources are the unscientific and spam-prone discussion boards on Al-Jazeera’s Arabic-speaking website and a couple of films that I have watched in some Anthropology classes. In fact, in one of the films there were calls for help from Egypt, Jordan, and Kazakhstan after Ghaddafi began fighting with airplanes, but nobody on the streets was calling for help from the West.

Libertarian Foreign Policy: A Dialogue on Imperialism

Brandon: I share many of your suspicions and even your fears though not especially about Libya, I think it’s going to be OK. But supposing you turn out to be completely right elsewhere. What’s the implication for action? Leave butchers in peace? Hope their victims don’t succeed in overthrowing them? Forever?

No, I think that the people who live under dictatorships should overthrow their overlords, if they can. This doesn’t mean I support the U.S. government helping them out. Too many questions arise out of such policies. It’s easier to blame a foreign influence for troubles in our society than it is to blame ourselves.

My quick policy proposal for foreign relations:

  1. stop hurting people through economic sanctions. Those only hurt the people we are trying to help and help the people we are trying to hurt.
  2. stop supporting regimes for strategic purposes. Doing so often causes us to turn a blind eye towards the some of the worst aspects of these strategic partners.
  3. stop condemning states for doing things that we do ourselves. It’s hard to condemn the prison states of China and Cuba when we have the highest rate of incarceration in the Western world, for example.

I think Egypt and Libya are going to be just as bad as they have been, if not worse. Only Tunisia, which did not rely on foreign support AND recently elected Islamist parties to their new government, will come out of this for the better. I hope I’m wrong, of course, but libertarians rarely are!

The Islamist parties in Tunisia, by the way, don’t have the same “anti-imperialist” sentiments as the Islamists in Egypt and Libya do. I wonder why…