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.

From the Comments: Why care about Syrians?

Dr Gibson notes:

I’d say the “big question” makes no sense. Surely some Syrians would be better off under ISIS and some under Assad.

And there’s a bigger question: who the hell cares? Few if any of us Americans have enough information to judge this issue nor should we. We have our own fish to fry. The Washington politicians have done incalculable damage with their ceaseless meddling in the affairs of the Middle East and elsewhere. Let the Syrians and their immediate neighbors sort this out.

I wanted to draw this excellent comment out for two reasons. Reason number one has to do with Dr Gibson’s first paragraph. Questions rarely make sense (which is why you ask people for help), but suppose you asked whether Syrians would be better off under capitalism or socialism. Some Syrians would be better off under socialism than capitalism, but that doesn’t mean it’s just as good as capitalism. Right? One of those systems is better for far more people than the other, and as an individual don’t you have a moral duty to support the more just system in some form or other? These are questions that libertarians, especially libertarians in the United States, should be asking themselves more often than not. There is a disturbing tendency among this faction of libertarians to lean in the direction of nationalist parochialism when it comes to matters outside of our borders. This brings me to reason number two for highlighting Dr Gibson’s (quite excellent) comment: Reminding libertarians and classical liberals that our creed is an international (and a humble) one.

War refugees represent the humblest of our species. The UN estimates that the war has affected nearly 12 million Syrians so far and, of course, that doesn’t include all of the people outside of Syria’s borders who have been affected. Russians, Europeans, North Americans, Syria’s immediate neighbors, and East Africans have all been affected by the ongoing war. How could you not be interested, especially from an individualist point of view?

I think the problem of the American libertarian’s parochialist nationalism stems from Murray Rothbard’s Cold War-era writings. Unlike F.A. Hayek and Ludwig von Mises, who were both big supporters of more international cooperation (but who both saw the glaring flaws in organizations like the UN and what is now the EU), Rothbard’s writings on foreign affairs were heavily influenced by the fact that the world was dominated by two superpowers and that the government he lived under used lies and deceit to counter Moscow’s power plays. Rothbard’s world of bi-polar geopolitics is long gone. It doesn’t exist. It will not exist again in my lifetime. Ours is a world of multipolarity. Yet somehow Rothbard’s writings on foreign affairs (which descended into outright incoherence near the end of his life) still have a profound impact on the American libertarian movement.

Much of my work here at NOL is dedicated to eviscerating this long-expired mindset from the American libertarian movement. Isolationism is nationalist, plain and simple (just pay attention to the rhetoric of libertarians like Justin Raimondo or Doug Bandow if you need more convincing), but Warren’s point about Washington’s meddling in the affairs of other states remains pertinent. So perhaps a different question to ask (even if it doesn’t make sense) is what a more internationalist-minded, in the vein of Hayek and Mises and Adam Smith, US foreign policy would look like. (I’ve been asking this question for a while now.)

“If we have to choose between ISIS and Assad…”

 

…we’ll take ISIS. ISIS has flatbed trucks and machine guns. Assad represents the strategic arch from Tehran to Beirut, 130,000 rockets in the hands of Hezbollah, and the Iranian nuclear program.

That’s from Michael Oren, a prominent Israeli lawmaker and a former ambassador to the United States. I got the quote from an excellent bit of reporting in the Wall Street Journal by Yaroslav Trofimov on the Syrian war as viewed by the Israelis. (Read the whole thing.)

ISIS isn’t a privatized security force per se, but it is definitely a denationalized one. So the Israelis, or at least one prominent faction of Israelis, prefer ISIS to Assad. The big question, though, is whether or not people in what is presently called “Syria” are better off under ISIS (a non-state actor) or under a pseudo-state that is inevitably going to be governed by a strong man…

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.

A Quick PSA: Putting “boots on the ground” in Syria is still a dumb idea

Readers might be mistaken into thinking that I am some kind of statist or rabid interventionist because I often put forth arguments that are nowhere to be found at the Cato Institute or the Mises Institute when it comes to American foreign policy.

I have argued that the federation of countries would be a good idea. I have argued that multilateralism is of the utmost importance when it comes to solving problems. I have no problem using IGOs like the UN or the IMF to bolster diplomacy. I have entertained the notion that the US should take a back seat in hot spots in order to better bait autocratic states into committing blood and treasure to the said hot spot, and then unleashing hell. Sanctions are dumb and never work, but building closer trading ties with an adversary’s enemies is a underdeveloped path.

Statist AF, right?

Wrong!

I am trying to put forth alternatives to “boots on the ground.” I understand that military interventions are a bad thing. I don’t want “boots on the ground.” I understand that the costs far outweigh the benefits. I understand that war is the health of the state. What I don’t understand is how “doing nothing” is a libertarian position. Dogmatic slogans made us lazy a century ago. We lost our claim to the title “liberal” because of it. Dogmatic slogans made us lazy a century and a half ago, and we lost our claim to the title “internationalist” because of it. What will our laziness cost us today?

Boots on the ground? We should be so lucky.

From the Comments: So what should the US do with Syrian refugees?

There have been a number of excellent discussions in the ‘comments’ threads recently. I have been following them all, but I’m trying to space out, for beauty’s sweet sake, what I think are especially good insights here (my fellow Notewriters are welcome to do the same).

Dr Khawaja’s answer to Dr Delacroix’s question about what he would do “with respect to the Syrian refugees coming to this country” is worth another look:

I would do exactly what the Obama Administration is doing. Let the Syrian refugees in, vet them, and accept the risks. I more or less said that in one of the links I posted [here – BC]. Here’s the vetting procedure, by the way:

http://time.com/4116619/syrian-refugees-screening-process/

I haven’t heard anyone explain what’s wrong with it. Its rigor far exceeds anything applied to student visas or tourist visas.

As for the “Zionist extremists who helped during the war of independence,” the Irgun and Lehi were by all accounts terrorist organizations. They began a campaign of terror well before the war of independence. Their doing so was instrumental to bringing about the mass exodus of Palestinians from what was to become Israel. The Irgun was led by Menachem Begin, who was later to become Prime Minister of Israel. In other words, Israel was not only founded by terrorists, but the Israelis had no compunction electing the self same terrorists to lead their country in subsequent years (Shamir and Sharon being the other two).

I don’t know where you get the idea that “the Jews that the US failed to take in before WWII were German Jews.” Why couldn’t they have been, say, Polish or Russian? And where is the difficulty in imagining militantly communist or fascist Polish or Russian Jews?

“I think it’s not difficult separating Muslims from Christians. Boko Haram does it all the time.”

Well, if we’re going to use arguments like that, why don’t I just say that it’s not difficult separating terrorists from non-terrorists. The TSA does it all the time. Now, if you’d like to propose that we start hiring members of Boko Haram for positions in the TSA, I’m skeptical, but all ears.

I should point out that in one of the posts I pasted up there, I was the one pointing out to someone at my blog that there is no eliminating the risks if we allow the Syrian refugees in. The risks are ineliminable. But I live in the New York City area. I go in to Manhattan whenever I get the chance. If there is a terrorist attack, it’s likely to take place right here. It’s not as though I’m merely imposing risks on other people and cowering somewhere else in safety.

Well? Is the vetting process as it stands good enough? Without reading the link Dr Khawaja provided, I feel confident claiming that it is. Violent criminals shouldn’t be allowed into this country (unless the crimes were committed a long, long time ago), of course. Sex offenders is too tricky a topic to deal with right now (think about getting in trouble for mooning in Russia or something like that), but if the crimes weren’t violent I’d opt for a let ’em in and wait approach. Terrorists of the Islamist variety that come from failed Arab states tend to be good boys at home. What about people with military backgrounds? What about the fact that states in the Arab world have laughable bureaucracies and that records should be taken with a big ole’ dose of salt?

Irfan hasn’t had the pleasure of knowing Jacques as long as me or Dr Terry, so his responses are bit more polite and more serious than what we tend to throw at him now. I forget sometimes just how important obstinate, bellicose ignorance can be for igniting important dialogues (Donald Trump, anyone? Bernie Sanders?).

On a slightly different note: I wonder if the uncomfortable fact that some of Israel’s founders were terrorists, coupled with the fact that Israel is the most successful state in the post-Ottoman world today, is an unacknowledged reason why Arabs have turned to the same tactics today. Why would anybody want to copy a failure, after all?

From the Comments: A libertarian solution to Daesh (ISIS/ISIL) and the civil war in Syria

I have 3 scenarios in mind, and multilateralism is a must for all of them. 1) I’m still a proponent of recognizing the separatist aspirations of Mideast factions and introducing new, smaller states into the international order (haphazard though it may be). This was done after WWI but in the wrong manner. There was an international element to it then (UK, France, etc. working together), but there were also representatives of various Mideast factions at the table and they were ignored (the reasons why are many and I won’t delve into them here). This time, placing those Mideast factions on an equal footing with Western players (and Russia) is a must for things to work out.

2) North America has to perform a delicate balancing act now that Ankara screwed up. NATO has to stand strong against Putin’s public condemnations and tough talk and back Turkey in all public and behind-the-scenes forums. At the same time I would use Turkey’s mistake to initiate a new state in the Kurdish region, one that is not explicitly Kurdish of course but one that encompasses most of the Kurds in Syria and Iraq. Use the UN Security Council to do it; exploit Putin’s anger and get him to renege on his policy of not recognizing separatist aspirations because of the sovereignty argument. Then get him to recognize that a new state in the Kurdish region (that doesn’t change Turkey’s current borders) is more than enough revenge for shooting down a plane.

3) North America should get out of France’s and Russia’s way in Syria for the time being (this should be done in tandem with the diplomacy I advocate above). Let them work together and let off some steam. The two of them, with Assad’s help, might be able to destroy ISIS (neither Russia nor France is as careful as the US when it comes to civilians, and in this scenario their ruthlessness might be a plus for long-term peace; the fact that the US won’t get blamed for the violence is a big plus, too). Assad would then be able to stay in power, but this is a big MAYBE and he will have lost the the Kurdish part of the state (remember Russia helps with Kurdistan becoming a reality because it angers the Turks). With hundreds of thousands of dead people from all over the world and millions of displaced people, Assad’s record of incompetency will most likely force the French and Russians to find a way to push him out of office and usher in a new strong man (only a strong man can govern a state like Syria). While Paris and Moscow search for a strong man, the West should continue its policy of recognizing regions that want out of Damascus’s orbit; keep Russia in the loop on this. By the time Paris and Moscow find a new strong man, what’s left of Syria might actually be able to hold elections and have a government that is constrained by a constitution and the strong man won’t be needed.

3b) ISIS in Iraq: Recognize ISIS’s territorial claims in Iraq (the ones that don’t overlap with Kurdistan’s, of course). That’ll force it to actually govern and will bind it to international law. We’ll see ISIS quickly collapse, and in its place will be a small country that is war-torn but with manageable problems (unlike in a large state like Iraq). This new country would be free to join up with Baghdad again or it could choose to go its own way. There would be at least three states in what is now Iraq, a big step forward in a world that is more interconnected economically and thus less in need of a big bad military to fight massive, bloody wars over territory.

(I’d be happy to argue with others about how libertarian my argument is, too.)

This is from yours truly, in response to a question from Professor Amburgey about libertarian foreign policy. Is this feasible? Absolutely. Is it likely? No, but when has that ever stopped libertarians from using logic and history to debunk statist fantasies?

Libertarians try to build off of the individual when it comes to policy, which means their policies are going to be both internationalist and skeptical of the state’s ability to accomplish an aim. I think my short answer in the threads does this in a mostly competent manner. It’s a multilateral approach which eliminates any ‘central planning’ aspect, and it acknowledges both the process of the rule of law (however haphazard it may be) and the inability of large states to govern populations competently (thus my argument for decentralization – through the legal process).

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?

Syrian Refugees and Security

The president made another one of his inane, easy-to-ignore speeches a couple of days after the massacre in Paris. This man never misses a chance. He demonstrated again his preference for dogma over reality. He also accused Republicans who oppose the resettlement of Syrian refugees of being afraid of “three year olds.” This helped me in coming out of my indecision in connection with this issue. I take it seriously.

The House passed a resolution today making it difficult to bring Syrians or Iraqis to the US. Mark my word, this is not the last we hear of this issue. Many Syrians, some Iraqis, actually need a humane place to live away from barrel bombs and chemical warfare. Also, I believe that we cannot allow terrorism to turn us, as a people, into someone else. We are a compassionate people which, by and large, have given haven to refugees from everywhere. (Notwithstanding a shameful loss of nerve in the 1930s with respect to Jewish refugees from Germany.) We can’t let a small bunch of flea-ridden savages in the Middle East change this. That’s on the one hand. On the other hand, I listen carefully when the highest security officials in the land tell us that they cannot (NOT) vet every refugee. Do I think that some ISIS terrorists might mingle with refugees with massacre on their minds. No, I don’t think they might; I am sure they will. Why wouldn’t they?

However, the president reminded us that all refugees do not present equal potential danger. It’s true that three-year olds are never terrorists on their own. So, I would take in three-year old refugees and their mothers, of course. And based on the same probabilistic principle, I would let in children up to seven or even eight years of age and their mothers. After that age, all bets are off, I think, because of numerous videos about child soldiers, some of whom are not even nine. But I would take in an unlimited numbers of small children and their mothers. They would constitute an economic burden but I believe we can live with it. I would also let in all Christians and all Yazidis (pagans) of both sexes and of all ages because their collective suffering at the hands of ISIS make them a zero % risk for terrorism in the US. It’s not religious discrimination, it’s risk preference. Everyone does it all the time. That’s what I do when I ride in my pickup truck but never on a motorcycle, fly on commercial airliners but not on light planes piloted by a doctor.

Yes, you read me right. I would admit zero, no men of military age. Two reasons, one not mentioned by any media, to my knowledge. The first, obvious reason, is that terrorists mingling with Syrian refugees would almost certainly be youngish men. Although old men are a possibility, it has not happened yet, I believe. (Correct me if I am wrong.) Women can easily be terrorists too, of course, but it has not happened much with that particular breed of terrorists before it happened in Paris recently. I suspect the Islamist terrorists contempt for women is such that they don’t want them to deserve Paradise by committing jihadist crimes. Of course, the fact that nearly all the Syrian refugee women I see on television wear the hijab (head veil) does not help erase my suspicions. I am trying like hell to be compassionate against my common sense. I am trying to remember that nearly all of those refugees are unfortunates. I am keeping in mind that nearly all of them would have liked to emigrate to the US even before any civil war in Syria. (I will probably talk about the meaning of the hijab in another installment.)

The second good reason to exclude from American territory male Syrian passport carriers of military age is that they are of military age, precisely. At a time when there is more and more talk of French and, even of American boots on the ground, I would like to hear the sound of more Syrian boots on the ground. They should be fighting to reconquer their country from both ISIS savages and the butcher Assad. Incoming Syrian males under fifty-five should be given the choice of enrolling in a Western-backed Syrian Freedom Legion, or to stay in whatever slummy refugee camps where they are indefinitely with no option of settling in America. I would gladly pay for the costs involved forever in preference to risking the lives of American children in America.

Maybe it’s just me but I would be very receptive to requests for military training, for military aid, and for arms coming from such a Legion. The past reluctance of the Obama administration in this respect would be criminal if it were not primarily stupid. I would easily volunteer $1,000 to this good cause. I estimate that it would all amount to 750 000 000 000 for the country at large (750 billion dollars). It should be enough to equip and army of 500,000, it seems to me. We have spent much more in the past with much less of a a justification.

My Muslim friends – a dwindling number these days because many can’t face the harsh truth – and my friends with Muslim names who may or may not be real Muslims urge me to remember that Europeans and Americans, or Christians (think Nigeria) are not the only ones to die at the hand of violent jihadists. I am glad to repeat what I say often: Violent jihadists everywhere have slaughtered many more Muslims that they have killed of any other category of  people. And, as I have said on FB recently, there is nothing special about the massacres in Paris. (More Russian tourists died only a week or so before.) I am glad though that the atrocities taking place in much beloved Paris broke the complacency of many in the West (but not of President Obama). And, as I have pointed out before ISIS revealed itself superbly in this case by attacking specifically places where people were having fun and where many of those people were bound to have Muslim names (“apostates”).

Russia in Syria: A Gift to the West (but not to Syrians)

I don’t see why so many Western commentators and analysts are up in arms over Russia’s move into Syria. (Actually, I do: From Ukraine to Iran to Syria, Moscow has been more active in geopolitics than it has been for nearly 25 years.) Moscow’s move into Syria can only be seen as a gift to the West, in terms of strategy and geopolitics. Think of it this way:

Russia has no military experience whatsoever outside of its borders. The Russian military did a ruthlessly good job of stamping out secessionist movements in the Caucasus, and its internal security bureaucracy has done a great job of stifling dissent and shaping the narrative that Moscow wants to be highlighted. Yet Russia’s success outside of its borders has been paltry, at best.

Intervention in Ukraine has brought widespread, global condemnation upon Russia, and economic sanctions to boot.

The Russians in Syria are going to be ruthlessly slaughtered and exploited by the myriad of factions in the region. Not only is Russia backing the wrong horse (Assad), it is backing it up with hardware and personnel that have no experience with the region. Russia has produced an insular intellectual class over the past 15 or 20 years, and this is going to play out badly for its Syrian intervention.

The West, which has an awful lot of experience playing factions off on each other in the Near East, will most likely take advantage of Russian ignorance (to the detriment of Syrian society as whole) and as a result the world will see a Russian military outsmarted, outgunned, and outmanned by an insurgency with no official support from the outside world. The Russians are going to get bloodied in Syria. I don’t see why Western hawks are so keen on making Russia “pay” for its excursion on the global diplomatic stage.

Asylum Seekers and Western Military Intervention

Recently, Brandon Christensen, the capable Editor here tried to take me behind the woodpile, again! (Note for our overseas readers: To take someone behind the woodpile usually a child – is to spank him to try to improve his attitude.) This is what happened: NOL re-published two of my essays “Hypocrisy” and “Muslim Refugees in Perspective” where I asserted (again) that many Muslim societies are failed societies or otherwise sick. Brandon asserted (again) that any apparent linkage between Islam in general and social pathologies is just that, an appearance. Instead he seems to argue, Muslim societies that are in any kind of trouble owe their trouble mostly (or much?) to Western intervention in general and to American intervention in particular, with a special emphasis (I am guessing) on military intervention.

There is a partial test of these competing beliefs in an examination of refugee applications to Germany during a recent period.

Between January and August 2015, Germany received 147,500 applications for asylum from the top ten countries of origin of the applicants. (I am rounding numbers to the next hundred.)* Of these, 79% came from predominantly Muslim countries.

Almost half of the asylum seekers from Muslim countries – 48% – came from Syria, a mostly Muslim country where the US and the West had notably not intervened (or only superficially) by August 2015, the end of our period of observation. If you will recall, the US president has earlier drawn a red line beyond which the Syrian dictator couldn’t go on waging war on his people. The Syrian dictator ignored the warning and nothing happened. That’s as non-interventionist as it gets!

Of the asylum seekers from predominantly Muslim countries, 23% came from Iraq and from Afghanistan together, two countries that have in fact experienced American and Western (even international) military intervention in the past twenty years.

Reminder: It’s worth remembering that the intervention in Afghanistan was launched to dislodge a regime installed by force of arms that sheltered terrorists, according to the Al Qaida terrorists themselves, and according to the regime itself. Several years earlier, the same terrorist group sheltered by Afghanistan – Al Qaida – had declared war on the United States, incidentally.

Of the remainder of asylum seekers from predominantly Muslim countries, 29% came from Kosovo. That’s more than from Iraq and Afghanistan combined.

Reminder: In 1998, the national Communist Serbian dictator Milosevic ordered all ethnic Albanians of Kosovo, more than 90% of the population to leave under threat of death. This episode of ethnic cleaning cost about 10,000 lives. NATO, led by the US quickly intervened militarily and forced Milosevic to leave the (overwhelmingly Muslim) Kosovar in peace.

NATO had previously intervened militarily in Bosnia, another part of the dissolving Yugoslav Republic, to save the non-Serb population from Serb ethnic cleansing . Of the total population, a plurality, about 40%, were Muslims. (There are no Bosnian asylum seekers visible in the sample I am discussing here. Bosnia is mentioned only as a reminder of the diversity of Western military interventions.)

Following these Western military interventions, both Bosnia and Kosovo became independent Republics with strong Western backing. They remained Muslim or mostly Muslim.

Would anyone dare argue that Western action to stop the massacres of first Bosnians and then Kosovar are responsible for the fact that now almost entirely Muslim Kosovo is currently producing many asylum seekers? I suppose, this is defensible: Had NATO not intervened militarily, Kosovars would been massacred by Milosevic in larger numbers, and then, they would have fewer people, – mathematically available – to contribute as asylum seekers.

Continued:

Of the asylum applicants from Muslim countries, 45% came from Albania, Eritrea, Pakistan, and Nigeria together, all countries with no US or other Western intervention of any kind in recent years ( I mean since 1950, the earliest I really remember!)

Albania alone contributed more asylum seekers, 33,900, than Iraq and Afghanistan together, 26,700. There have been no US or Western intervention in Albania.

Of course, distance alone makes it easier for Albanians than for Iraqis and for Afghans to reach Germany. But, by the same reasoning, why are there few asylum seekers from Croatia that is even closer to Germany, or from Romania. that isn’t much farther? (Croatia and Romania all have tiny Muslim populations.) Contrary to this line of reasoning, I must say, there were 21,000 asylum seekers from Serbia, a country with a small Muslim minority. Muslim dominated societies do not have a monopoly on severe social pathologies. I never asserted otherwise.

We know from the cut-off point of the table of the ten countries that were the largest suppliers of asylum applicants that the highest possible number of asylum seekers from non-Muslim Croatia, or from Romania (or from non-Muslim Bulgaria, or from troubled Greece) would be 3,976. That would be about 1/10 of asylum seekers from mostly Muslim Albania.

I see in these figures moderate support for the idea of the sickness of Muslim societies. I find little support, on the other hand, for the competing idea that Western and American intervention are responsible for the difficulties those societies are encountering.

I anticipate several criticisms of this provisional conclusion.

First, quantitative association like these don’t “prove” anything. Of course they don’t. Perhaps, there is a third factor, or series of factors not related to either Islam or Western intervention that explain why Muslim societies are such rich providers of asylum seekers. I am listening.

Second, the short recent period January to August 2015, maybe historically unrepresentative. There is a near- infinity of other possible periods the examination of which might show no disproportionate numbers of refugees from Muslim counties. (Ask me why a “near infinity.”)

Third, Germany is not the whole world. A more inclusive data base showing all asylum applications from all countries to all countries might demonstrate no preponderance of refugees from Muslim countries. In fact, such a data base might indicate that refugees from Muslim countries are actually under-represented among asylum seekers world-wide.

I hope someone performs one or the other study. I would easily change my mind according to the results. I am not wedded to the idea of widespread sickness of Muslim societies. Frankly, I don’t even like it. I surely have no ideological investment in this view. It’s just that there is currently no other view that is even modestly supported by anything but ideological intransigence.

Finally, there are probably those who would argue that large numbers leaving their countries at great personal risk to seek refuge in an alien country the language of which they probably don’t even know, that such an exodus says nothing about the countries of origin. Go ahead, say it; make my day! I can’t wait.

The conclusions of this simple analysis is difficult for many otherwise intelligent people to accept, even provisionally. Three reasons that I see for the rejection.

First it seems politically incorrect. We have become so confused by leftists identity politics that many are unable to distinguish between race, an unchanging attribute of a person, and religion, an individual choice. He used to be black; he still is. I used to be a Catholic. I am not anymore. That simple! (Of course, I did not risk the death penalty as do Muslims in some Muslim countries for committing apostasy.)

Second, professional intellectuals – who may or may not be very intelligent – have a horror of being caught believing the same things as do the great unwashed masses. It’s bad enough that they must assent to the assertion that the sun rises in the east, same as a plumber or a cop! The masses are “Islamophobic;” I must stay away regardless of the evidence!

Third, and much more subtly, my discussion with Brandon is part of an ongoing discreet struggle taking place on the edge of the libertarian movement. Libertarians of all stripes believe that war is a major factor in increasing the power and the scope of the state vis-à-vis civil society. (I share this belief.) Libertarian purists like Brandon end up becoming a kind of qualified pacifist, like this:

Perhaps, if I am completely sure that people who have sworn to disembowel me are actually climbing over the back wall of my property after having set my neighbor’s house on fire with my neighbors inside, perhaps, then, I will think of defending myself.

A handful of libertarians of that ilk keep failing to recruit the millions of moderate conservatives who both want small government and believe the yoke of government will never be alleviated in a society that feels threatened. Let me repeat myself: The task of first halting the growth of government and then, of rolling back its scope and power can only be accomplished in a very well defended society. Much of this rolling back has been achieved in Somalia, by the way yet, Somalia is not a model.

In their desire to reject all kinds of war that are not obviously and dangerously defensive, libertarian purists will find fault with all wars, almost at any cost. If necessary, they will blind themselves to the obvious. The act of blaming on American and or Western intervention the self evident multiple failure of Muslim societies (with major exceptions), is just the latest example of this tendency to gauge out one’s own eyes to avoid the horrors of the truth.

“We sleep soundly in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm. – W. Churchill”

* The data on seekers of asylum from Germany are from the German Federal Office for Migrations and Refugees published in the Wall Street Journal of 9/25/15, p. A12

Muslim Refugees in Perspective

In a companion essay, “Hypocrisy!,” I pointed out that there was a good fit of preferences between the current crop of refugees from Syria and from Iraq and the countries one would reasonably expect to be giving them asylum. Muslim countries, with a small number of brave exceptions don’t want them and the refugees – almost all Muslims -don’t want to go there anyway.

As you would expect because many people go through life on automatic, liberals, libertarians and Muslims join tongues to blame the United States for the current exodus. Sure thing, the US intervened in Iraq against the bloodthirsty tyrant Hussein after he violated several hundred times the cease-fire that put an end to the First Gulf War. (Note for those younger people who learned their history in public schools: In the First Gulf War, the US had led a coalition of about 50 countries – not including Israel – to roll back Hussein’s annexation of Kuwait. Yes, he started it. It’s the cease-fire to that first war that Hussein violated.) It’s not difficult to make the case that the US under Bush did a piss-poor job of re-organizing the Iraq it conquered after two weeks plus a sandstorm. It’s even easier to wonder why the Obama administration would just quit the country without attempting to leave a defense force behind (as in Korea, for example). Both the invasion and the failure to conclude its aftermath can reasonably be said to have caused major instability in Iraq and thereby, a flow of refugees from that country. (Personally, I still miss Saddam Hussein. He was a sweetie in his own way although much misunderstood.) But most of the current refugees seem to be from Syria. It’s also possible to argue that the US is responsible for the horrors there too. This time, it’s because it did not intervene into its home-grown civil war until recently. Worse, the US General-in-Chief declared a red line and ignored it when it was crossed with the gassing of civilians.

Nevertheless, it’s difficult to blame on the West, on America, the flow of emigrants from such countries as Eritrea, Somalia, Yemen, Sudan, even Senegal where there has not been any Western intervention. (Senegal obtained its independence in 1960, seamlessly, without a struggle with France, the colonial power.) Meanwhile Boko Haram (“Books are Forbidden”) in Nigeria is burning villages, kidnapping girls, raping and then, forcing them to become living bombs. What those countries have in common, of course, the peaceful ones that can’t provide for most of their population, and the others that are living hells is this: Coca Cola is sold in all of them, of course. Coca Cola is there everywhere, without exception; the Unites States’ malevolence yet again!

Conservative commentators on radio and on Facebook observe darkly that many or most of the migrants from the Middle East are of “military age,” perhaps portending a repeat of the many Muslim invasions of Europe ending only in the seventeenth century. Several comments are in order though I can’t make them in an orderly fashion.

First, a question lest I be accused of ignoring the issue: Will ISIS and other extremist Islamist groups use the exodus of Syrians and Iraqis to place undercover agents and terrorists in Europe. To ask the question is to answer it: Of course they will. Why wouldn’t they? It’s cheap and it’s easy.

Next: Many of the migrants are young men because, historically, everywhere, the first migrants are always young men. Second, they are of “military age” as some conservative observers pronounce breathlessly. Sure thing; many are fleeing the draft, precisely, a draft for a murderous war on in which they don’t believe. (A war many times more murderous than the Iraq war has been for Americans.) There is a third possibility that does not contradict the others and that casts a different light on the plausibility of these new migrants, these refugees being absorbed into European societies.

Many of the new migrants may be simply seizing the opportunity to flee from life in an Islamic society. (No, I don’t mean “Islamist.”) Here is the key: Islam maintains minimalist metrics about who is or isn’t a Muslim. By and large, if you were born in a Muslim family; if you are a male who was circumcised as a small child; if you don’t adopt another religion (at some risk to your life. See below) then, you are automatically a Muslim. No affirmative action is required, no behavior prescribed although some is proscribed: no alcohol, fasting in the day time and no daytime sex either – would I make this up? – for one month out of the year. With such lax standards, it would be amazing if many nominal Muslims were not lukewarm, or indifferent, or downright free thinkers.

With access to the Internet, the famed serenity of Islam may be indistinguishable from boredom. And the vaunted moral sternness of Islam may begin to seem like unbearable oppression: Ten lashes for a single beer (NOT in most Muslim countries, in some, it’s a simple fine)? Marriage to an indifferent-looking cousin without a chance to smell the flowers first. No rap, or little rap and in mental handcuffs. (I dislike rap myself; not the point.) And then, there is the shame even for individuals who are only reasonably educated: the shame of living in a less civilized part of the world with death as the penalty for conversion (not in all Muslim countries, perhaps rarely applied), the death penalty also for witches (uncommon, true, but happened recently in Saudi Arabia, and nowhere in the West, recently), death by stoning for adulterous women (not often applied but really calms amorous ardors); incidentally: adulterous = any sex outside of marriage, except in the Islamic Republic of Iran where two-week temporary “marriages” are encouraged. Remember also the grotesque sexual mutilation of little girls practiced on a vast scale in the Muslim world (only in some of it, SOME, and also practiced outside of it. And it’s NOT an Islamic practice; it just happens there a lot). And when young Muslim men in Yemen, in Somalia, and yes, in Syria and Iraq as well, hear that the unemployment rate among Muslim youths in France is as high as 30%, they think they are dreaming; they suspect a cheap propaganda trick: only 30%?

Just think about it. There are no doubt millions of Muslim youths who would do well in one of our colleges, who would get good grades, who would fit right in the coffee shop; the girls would even flirt with some of them. Many or most have some access to the wider world through the Internet and through movies. Some are rationalists not very different from your neighbor’s kids; some are much better rationalists than your neighbor’s kids if you live in Santa Cruz, California, for example (as I do). How much the meanness and the superstitions around such youths must lead to self-contempt and even to self-hatred when they realize that their own society is a lot like Europe was six hundred years ago? (To be fair, Europeans burned many more people alive, including thousands of witches, mostly older widows who owned some property, another story. It was then though. We have not done this for a long time.) There are many who would stay put otherwise for whom the sudden practical unlivability of their society pushes them over the rim, I would think.

There is a reason why I construct this frankly hypothetical view. If you dropped me in any French city, within an hour, I would be sitting with people with a Muslim first name and last name who would say this to me, “Why me, live where I – or my parents – are coming from? Are you out of your mind? Why would I want to live under the restrictions, sometimes under the gross oppression of a Muslim society? Don’t be stupid, I am French, I am a European, I am a Westerner.” (Incidentally, there is a remarkable autobiographical book in English describing the travails of a young Algerian’s multiple efforts to leave home for good. It’s called: Donkey Heart, Monkey Mind. It’s by Djaffar Chetouane.)

What about the Germans who have publicly promised to take in 800,000 refugees? (And who will probably seduce and bully other European countries to absorb an equal number between them, I would guess.) There are two ways to look at this, both valid.

First, everyone else has forgotten but the Germans themselves that in 1945 and 1946, there were millions of Germans on the roads of Europe, expelled from various countries, some in which they had lived for centuries, trudging on foot to a homeland they have never seen. Ordinary Germans have not forgotten the misery nor the giant successful efforts a ruined German deployed to give them roof and board, and work. More recently, when the hapless communist Democratic Republic of Germany collapsed from the inside in 1990, tens of thousands of “Osties” made their way to the West where they were generously accommodated too. “Been there,” many Germans think, “We did it under much worse circumstances. We can do it again.” Yes, the Germans have more compassion on refugee issues than other nations of Europe. Also, they know more, from the inside, about brutal dictatorships than do most other Europeans.

Second, as has been observed by many (I was scooped; I thought of it first!), there is Germany’s low fertility rate of 1.39 per woman. A low fertility rate has both proximate and long run consequences. In the long run, it means that you disappear as a people. In the shorter term – if and only if you have sturdy economy – it means that jobs go unfilled. This must be especially galling to Germans who have reasons to think that in every other way, almost alone among Europeans (almost), they have their act together. The Germans need bodies, preferably young bodies, now. And, they need children to pay tomorrow for the fairly generous benefits of the next retirees. Germans have good reasons to think favorably of mostly young men flooding into their country all reared up at no cost to them and ready to work. In addition, I garner from different press commentaries that many of the Syrian and Iraqi refugees are a different breed from the usual economic migrants. They seem more urban and better educated. (Many know English or French, some both.) It’s a cynical thing to say but this impression of middle-classness is re-inforced by the fact that they are able to pay the horrendous ransoms human traffickers extort from them.

Although Angela Merkel may have used the low German fertility rate argument as an afterthought, perhaps as a political way to make ordinary Germans amenable to the promise of accepting hundreds of thousands of refugees, it must have resonated among many Germans who can’t find employees or who are well aware of Germany’s demographic decline. Germany is not much worse off than other European countries in terms of fertility, incidentally. Italy is also at 1.39, Belgium at 1.55. None of the European countries pass the bar of 2.00 in the 2013 Eurostat. It’s generally accepted that the true replacement rate is 2.2 or 2.3 per woman, absent a catastrophe such as war or famine. Europe is disappearing before our eyes. Other European countries are less aware of their demographic decline because their economies are in bad shape and unemployment dominates every other issue in their collective narrative. As usual, Germany is ahead of the curve. (No, I am not stupidly, reflexively pro-German. Read my essay “the Best Meal and the Worst Meal Ever,” on this blog.)

Although immigration is almost always a net economic plus according to serious studies, it often carries a full load of negative social consequences. In this case, as I already mentioned, there is the near-certainty that Islamist terrorists will join the flood of good immigrants. But then, Germany will have hundreds of thousands of competent informants. (I believe the adage that good police work means having plenty of good informants.) I see a bad sign in the fact that many, most of the female refugees shown on TV wear the hijab, the head covering. It’s not required by Islam; it used to be uncommon in the major Muslim countries. The hijab directs you to a certain kind of retrograde Islam. It’s the kind of Islam where women must cover their hair in public lest they excite the lust of men and thus distract them from thinking of God. The hijab directs you to a culture where women in general are closer to the devil, where girls are poorly educated or not educated at all, where religious law is also civil law and it mandates that a woman’s testimony in court is worth only half a man’s testimony. A simple rule of thumb: If half an immigrant population must stay home, and it’s charged with rearing the next generation, it’s difficult for the whole immigrant group to assimilate or even to adapt. (Yes, I know, the parlous conditions for women I describe does not all, ALL, prevail in all Muslim countries.)

Second, it remains to be seen whether Germany will avoid again the curse for the second generation that is well demonstrated in France, next door. There, millions of immigrants mostly from North Africa, most of rural origin arrived with their sleeves turned up, ready to work, appreciative of the possibility of advancing themselves, of offering their children a better life than they could ever have back home. Their children, raised in France, end up sharing the sense of gloom common to most French young people but with a painful twist. They suffer additional disabilities, because of racism and because of Islamophobia to an extent, but also because they cannot but be incompletely socialized by their often illiterate immigrant parents. The young themselves don’t quite measure how much of a handicap reaching adulthood without benefit of a name, of family connections, of good adult examples constitute to succeeding in any society. (I do. You should read my book: I Used to Be French….) They only know they are getting the short end of the stick. Of course, the more stagnant the host society, the worse the handicap. Many of the children of appreciative immigrants accordingly become disaffected with the society where they live without really understanding why. This disaffection takes the form of drug abuse, of banditry, small and big, sometimes, seldom actually, of adherence to extremist creeds, for some, it’s of all three in turn. (The Charlie Hebdo terrorists, for example). The Germans have been there before however. They absorbed millions of Turks without experiencing much of this kind of mass alienation. Notably, in this case, they were stingy with citizenship and generous with employment opportunities, the reverse of the French formula.

We will see. Past the current immediate human suffering of the mass migration I am optimistic that Germany will keep its word and that other countries will be shamed into following the Germans. Our easy sense of doom often comes from a general human inability to contemplate the alternative. A mass of Syrians and some Iraqis of military age flood Europe. They may be viewed as a threat or you may think of them as so many fighters ISIS won’t force into its ranks or murder, of millions of children who will not grow up to be fanatics.

I am not losing track of the possibility that three dozen additional warplanes in the Middle East would do more to solve the present refugee crisis than all the European bumbling to absorb refugees.

Note: I did not say a thing about the US and Mexican immigrants, legal or illegal.

The death knell of Open Borders?

The world of the 1990s and aughts is now gone. A borderless, wall-less world will be relegated to the musty, threadbare realm of academia and on the white papers of a few brave think tanks. The flood of war refugees from Syria has been overwhelming Europe’s political and cultural sensibilities (Europe’s political sensibilities are quite innovative, but it is stagnating culturally; not a good combination for societies trying to manage large influxes of mostly unwelcome refugees). In the US, demagogues on the Right and the Left have been trashing immigrants and the freedom of movement in the name of the Worker.

The freedom of movement of individuals is a fundamental right that I will advocate on behalf of for the rest of my life, and yet I have been cautious in embracing the trendy calls for Open Borders by technocrats and non-paleo libertarians. My caution had less to do with my disdain for the cultures of those respective factions than it did with my inability to imagine a world of Open Borders as the prominent factions presented it. The Open Borders trend brought too many questions to my mind. For example, what if only a few countries recognize Open Borders? Why should people be free to move to one area but not to another? What is fair about any of that?

Open Borders was, in my mind, a short-sighted cultural campaign aimed at furthering freedom. There is nothing wrong with this, of course, as some such campaigns end up furthering freedom in the long run (though these campaigns can also damage the push for more freedoms, too). In this respect, Open Borders was a big success. It brought technocratic Leftists around to the idea of loosening restrictions not only on labor but capital as well. It brought lots of non-Europeans into the libertarian fold. The Open Borders campaign made the unspoken nationalisms of trade protectionism and immigration restriction taboo for smart people.

Yet, as current events so blatantly illustrate, freedom of movement is not in the same camp as, say, freedom of speech. Freedom of speech is culturally sacred to Westerners. Every individual in the West believes that her freedom of speech is inalienable. This, even though free speech is always under political and legal attacks from factions vying for power over others. (These political and legal attacks, of course, are a necessary evil for a free and open society. If this doesn’t make sense, recall that “freedom of speech” is a right protected so well by states like North Korea and Cuba that the rulers of those countries consider it a crime to claim otherwise.) For those who want a world where freedom of movement is in the same camp as freedom of speech, more hard work and more critical thinking is required. My small contribution is below.

If there had been political bonds – a la (con)federation of some kind – between Syria and EU states (or other Arab states), then the horrific violence that has been tearing Syria apart could have been avoided. The opposing parties would have had to spell out their differences in a parliamentary setting, and if they could not come to any kind of agreement then the opposing parties could have hashed out their differences in a legal setting, either by suing each other in the courts or by pursuing secession options (which would have likely led all parties back into parliamentary negotiations). In fact, the legal and political jostling could have been done simultaneously.

Look at the EU. Just look! Open Borders is possible because the states involved in the confederation are bonded together politically. They had come to an agreement about Open Borders (amongst other policies) and how to recognize, respond, and respect such a policy.

Look at the US. Open Borders is possible because the states involved in the federation are bonded together politically. They had come to an agreement about Open Borders (amongst other policies) and how to recognize, respond, and respect such a policy.

Now look at Syria and the EU. Open Borders is not possible because these states have no political bonds. Instead, people are being murdered and driven from their homes. People are being harassed by policemen and bused from one country to another. People are being barred from riding trains. People are dying at sea.

Open Borders is a watered down policy prescription that is too Western-centric (ask me how). It’s better than nothing, mind you (like free trade agreements), but it’s worth reminding ourselves that it’s not a comprehensive answer to the question of freedom of movement. As such, it’s easier to attack or dismiss when things go wrong. Here is yours truly blabbing at the mouth back in May of 2014:

I think that there is a way to incorporate open borders into a One Big Change-style reform while also leaving room for other improvements such as financial competition in the markets (rather than between governments) and competing tax regimes. I’d dig deeper and go a little more structural. I’d federate the entire world, and I wouldn’t make the federation out of the current agglomeration of nation-states, either. I would destroy the states currently in place and federate the administrative units that currently operate underneath the nation-state.

This, I think, would do a great job of incorporating open borders (everyone is part of the same federal union now), financial competition (no more national banks), tax regimes (you can more easily vote with your feet), and a common legal system that protects individual rights such as private property and freedom of religion.

Now, you wouldn’t want to do this in a ‘top-down’ manner. The best way to get the ball rolling on such a proposal would be to tack on a constitutional clause of some sort that merely opens the door to dialogue on closer political ties between peoples. So, in the case of the US, a clause could be adopted that makes it possible for states or disgruntled sub-states to approach the US about collaborating more intimately. An even better option would be to find an already existing clause in the constitution that allows for such a thing. Maybe nothing comes of it. Maybe people balk at American pomposity. At least, at least that is until their strong man starts bombing their neighborhoods or their social democracy starts adding a few extra zeros to its currency…

Holla back!

UPDATE: Re-reading through this made me realize that I’m addressing a different aspect of freedom of movement than the Open Borders crowd. They’re focused on the ‘why’ whereas I’m focused on the ‘how’.

What is the distance between Damascus and Budapest?

According to distancecalculator.com, it’s 2,123 km (or 1,319 miles).

The distance between Damascus and Abu Dhabi? 2,021 km (or 1,256 miles).

If I had to flee a war zone on foot to a wealthy cosmopolitan city I’d rather go through Turkey and Romania than Iraq and Saudi Arabia, too. The West is on the precipice of a damnable moral failure (link, in case you’ve been living under a rock). In the name of fairness, though, a regional perspective ought to be adhered to.

I have a slight digression. Can anybody here imagine what the plight of the war refugees would be like going through post-socialist states like Romania and Bulgaria if they had not been a part of the EU? Let me put this into context a bit more. In order to join the EU, post-socialist states in Eastern Europe had to reform their political and legal systems in a manner that was satisfactory to the traditional Western states of the confederation. A major aspect of these reforms was making sure that governments have a harder time assaulting individual rights. This clause, or whatever you want to call it, for joining voluntarily the EU was less about a cultural chauvinism on the part of the core EU states and more about tempering the overt racist and nationalistic undertones of the post-socialist societies in Eastern Europe. Context matters, especially when there’s a lot of finger-pointing going on.

Here is a map I’ve edited for you:

map west eurasia 2015

 

The three big red dots represent the cities of Budapest in Hungary, Damascus in Syria, and Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Visual perspectives are great. I already added my two cents about what needs to be done, in fact I did so around this time last year.

The Fog of Foreign Policy

The Fog of Foreign Policy: Why only ‘least bad’ options are available in Syria, Iraq and other global hotspots

rr4

Sound libertarian analysis, highly recommended!