Sunday, September 14, 2014

CATO’s “Responsible” Counterterrorism Policy

CATO has published a “Policy Analysis” entitled “Responsible Counterterrorism Policy.”

I will not go through a line-by-line review or critique.  I only offer the following:

·        There is not one reference of “blowback.”
·        The only references to “bomb,” “bombs,” or “bombing” are regarding actions or alleged actions by “terrorists.”
·        The mentions of “Iraq” are limited to terror-related deaths in that country during the period 2003 – 2008, reference to the US war in that country, payments to the families of soldiers that died while prosecuting that war, the financial cost of prosecuting that war, and a book reference.
·        The mentions of “Afghanistan” are limited to a reference to the US war in that country, and to a book reference.
·        Not one reference to “Saudi Arabia.”
·        The only reference to “Israel” is the deaths in that country due to the Intifada.
·        No reference to “Palestine” or “Palestinians.”
·        The only mention of “Libya” is a book reference.

It is difficult to consider as “responsible” a “counterterrorism policy” that ignores the actions of the United States government and the actions of oppressive governments in the Middle East such as Saudi Arabia and Israel.

It is difficult to consider as “responsible” a “counterterrorism policy” that ignores the oppression suffered by people in Iraq, Palestine, Afghanistan, and Libya.

It is difficult to consider as “responsible” a “counterterrorism policy” that ignores the concept of “blowback.”

Friday, September 12, 2014

The Decline of the State

In his book “The Rise and Decline of the State,” Martin van Creveld describes the decline of the state as beginning in 1975. 

While reading the chapter “The Decline of the State: 1975 –” I struggled with grasping his message.  The picture he paints of the decline is complex – sometimes confusing.  Perhaps it was so due to the general views I hold about where we are headed clouding my ability to read his views with an open mind.  Perhaps it was confusing because, inherently, the decline (and transition) will be confusing for those who live through it, as we are (and will be for decades or longer); it need not be said that – even living through it – a description of even the present, let alone the future, is not very simple.

After reading his conclusion, I decided it makes sense to begin here – with the conclusion in mind perhaps it will aid me in interpreting his message in the chapter that precedes it.


As presented in this study, government and state are emphatically not the same.  The former is a person or group which makes peace, wages war, enacts laws, exercises justice, raises revenue, determines the currency, and looks after internal security on behalf of society as a whole…. The latter is merely one of the forms which, historically speaking, the organization of government has assumed, and which, accordingly, need not be considered eternal and self-evident any more than the previous ones.

The unique characteristic of the state is that it has its own life (a body) – a life independent of any ruler.  It is a corporation, an entity separate from those who manage it at any given moment.

Corporation: an association of individuals, created by law or under authority of law, having a continuous existence independent of the existences of its members, and powers and liabilities distinct from those of its members.

Word origin and history: noun of action from past participle stem of Latin corporare "to embody" (see corporate).

Before the state, there was always hope that the government – the person – might be survived by those being governed.  The new boss might actually be different than the old boss.  So, while van Creveld describes the decline of the state, this does not necessarily imply a decline in government.

Van Creveld describes as the most important characteristics of the state as compared to previous forms of government:

First, being sovereign, it refuses to share any of the above functions with others but concentrates all of them in its own hands.  Secondly, being territorial, it exercises such powers over all the people who live within its borders and over them only.  Thirdly, and most important, it is an abstract organization.

It is these characteristics that are threatened; it then seems possible to conclude that future governance-providing entities a) will share power, b) may not be exclusively territorial, and c) may not be limited to abstract organizations.

Van Creveld sees the main threat to this corporate government – this state – as coming from other corporations, thereby supporting a) and b) above, but opposing c). 

…from such “artificial men” as share its own nature but differ from it both in respect to their control over territory and in regard to the exercise of sovereignty.

From this, I can find something that fits within my comfort zone – governance via private entities (corporations) such as insurance companies and homeowners associations; perhaps a role such as the church played during the European Middle Ages.  So far, so good.

A few of the corporations in question are of a territorial nature, but the majority are not.  Some are regional and larger than states, others smaller and merely local.

Again, I can interpret this to fit within my anticipation / hopes for the future.  I can also interpret it to mean increasing forms of world governance – where today’s states cede some portion of sovereignty to another entity, e.g. as has been happening in Europe with the EU, or in the United States (as regarding authorization for war) with the UN.

The issue is…this is the battle through which we are living – forces of centralization fighting forces of decentralization.  I know which side I believe will win, on balance; I hope I can maintain an open mind while considering van Creveld’s views. 

In many instances the retreat of the state is voluntary.

As mentioned, we see this in the various moves toward global government, although “voluntary” can certainly include both financial payoffs to state leaders and concerns by those same leaders about being blackmailed.

The obverse side of this coin is the feeling, which is prevalent among the citizens of many developed countries, that when the time for delivery comes the state just does not keep its promises, that it pays, if at all, in false coin.

It is this that I believe is inevitable – too many and increasing numbers of dependent (meaning politically-derived-income-skimmers) living on the backs of fewer and fewer independent (meaning market-derived-income-producers).  Eventually the shell games of the politicians and central bankers will run into this reality – how many can be supported by how few?

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire

I will review Obama’s address regarding his strategy to eradicate ISIS/ISIL/IS…

I will usually label various statements in one of three ways: lies of commission, lies of omission, and very elastic statements of truth.  I will sometimes add further comments. 

Let’s begin:

My fellow Americans…

Already?  (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)

As Commander-in-Chief…

Quite elastic; he is commander-in-chief only when the military is called into service.  As this is now a permanent condition, I guess I have to give him this one.

…my highest priority is the security of the American people.

Commission – his highest priority should be to uphold the constitution.

Over the last several years, we have consistently taken the fight to terrorists who threaten our country.

Commission – the US government has taken the fight against hundreds of thousands if not millions that never threatened the United States; omission – we still don’t know the truth about 9/11.

We took out Osama bin Laden…

At best, elastic.

…Afghanistan, where our combat mission will end later this year.

If the end of the combat mission in Iraq is anything to go by, we’ll call this commission.

…we continue to face a terrorist threat.

A perpetual truth, so a perpetual lie.

…the greatest threats come from the Middle East and North Africa, where radical groups exploit grievances for their own gain.

Omission, omission, and omission.  What is the backstory of these radical groups?  Did they spring up like desert wildflowers after a rainstorm (or was it a firestorm?).

No religion condones the killing of innocents…

Commission – what of the worship of the state?

In a region that has known so much bloodshed…

Omission – bloodshed at whose hands?

Is This Why We Need “Government”?

There are several aspects of this Ray Rice story that are worthy of comment; for example, the power of a video in the outrage toward Rice as opposed to the lack of power in the written word in the lack of outrage toward Floyd Mayweather, by all accounts an infinitely more troubling character than is Ray Rice.

I want to consider another aspect: the victim’s role in deciding about prosecuting the perpetrator, and the possible mental incapacity of the victim in this regard.

As he always does, Victor Ward raises valuable points through his unique lens on the world.  He addresses this Ray Rice situation along with a handful of other recent, high-profile, racially-charged stories.  I offer the following, relevant point, from his post:

Everyone wants to condemn Ray Rice for hitting his wife, everyone, that is, except for his wife. If she has accepted his apology, isn't that the end of the story?

Sure, Ray Rice may do something worse. Or he won't. What difference is it to anyone other than Mrs. Rice?

The district attorney in New Jersey is getting some grief over not prosecuting Rice.  This grief erupted, not after the incident, but after the release of this second video.  At the same time, as Victor points out, Mrs. Rice has accepted her husband’s apology and wants to move on. 

As we know, this decision is not in the hands of the victim in today’s legal systems throughout much of the world.  The decision is in the hands of the state.  And, as is the case in every monopoly, the cost is too high and the quality is too low; the state too often jails the innocent and releases the guilty.  There is no budget constraint or fiscal ramification to this incompetence.  Worst of all, the victim receives no justice – there is no form of compensation to the victim.

Suffice it to say, in a libertarian world, the victim would decide if prosecution was warranted.  This, for me, is the easy part of my two part question.

However, what if the victim is in some way mentally incapacitated?  In this specific example, in a manner of psychological and emotional dependence on the perpetrator?  There are too many stories of such victims returning over and over again to the perpetrator’s waiting arms, only to be once again greeted by the fists.

Such a person may not be the best one to decide if prosecution (by state or non-state means) is in order.  The state interjects individuals who know nothing about the people involved – victim, perpetrator, and other family members – to decide in the place of the victim. 

This is why we need government.  But is it?  Is the best course to interject strangers into this decision?  Why not family, close friends, the pastor at the church, support programs at work?  Why are those with a relationship with the victim and/or perpetrator not in the best position to offer guidance and counsel regarding making the decision?

In other words, in order to do what is best for the (possibly mentally incapacitated) victim, who is in the best position to, if not decide, at least influence the decision of prosecution – a family member or a stranger?

In the end, it seems to me that Victor is right – ultimately the victim must decide.  It also seems clear that the best people to guide or assist in this decision are those who are close to the victim.  This course – one that recognizes the victim’s right – of course, leaves room for error. 

As if there is not error today.  The criminal justice system is as corrupt and error-prone as one might imagine.

A libertarian society does not promise heaven on earth, nor should this be the standard.  It does provide for the victim deciding what is just; it does not externalize this decision on the entire society.  Leaving this decision in the hands of the victim – and certainly the victim of such crimes – comes with risks, but this is life. 

What is certain is that such an approach will serve the needs of the victim far better than does the current system.

This should answer the question I posed at the top.

Monday, September 8, 2014

My Post for Norbert Szolnoky

In the past I have had very good – and challenging – dialogue with a commenter, Norbert Szolnoky.  He brings a viewpoint to my posts regarding Eastern Europe and Russia for which I am grateful.

Recently he offered a thoughtful comment to my post entitled “The Ukraine Crisis is the West’s Fault.”  I offer certain portions of his comments in this post, with my replies.

I would like to see you sometimes write from the common man's viewpoint in these conflicts, too….

I have been quite fortunate that I have not lived in or directly experienced living in a hell known as a war zone.  I have enough relatives that have experienced this first-hand to certainly empathize with those unfortunate enough to be stuck in such a situation.

The common man?  I will break the population into three groups, for ease….

First: I think about being a father in such a place – you send your children off to school, not knowing if you will ever see them again; your wife goes to market – will she return alive?  All the while knowing there is almost nothing you can do about the risk.  Or you flee to a refugee camp, with its own set of risks and unknowns.

I picture myself in such a situation; it is almost depressing.  My parents faced this, my grandparents faced this.  Many of their relatives did not survive.  At its most basic, this is the common man’s view that I think about – not the revolutionaries, not the soldiers, but those who just want to survive and make a half-decent living, who just hope that their children get a decent education and a better future; maybe a way out. 

Second: The revolutionaries (those on the street in the square) I do not consider to be “common” men (and women).  It takes uncommon courage (and in some cases stupidity) to stand in front of those who can legally kill you without ramification or recourse.  I cannot write much of anything about these individuals – I applaud them for their courage; I pray that they take such actions having fully and rationally considered the risks.

Third: The fighters / soldiers?  To the extent they are defending their homes and those of their neighbors, I applaud them.  To the extent they feel oppressed and have exhausted other means to relieve the oppression, I can understand.  Unfortunately, history has shown that the most common outcome of a violent revolution is something approaching more of the same – at best.  Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

It's very unfortunate that they live in the "borderlands" of empires;

What a hellish place to live for the last 100 years and more – in Central and Eastern Europe.  Continuous war, often genocide, murder by the tens of millions.  The sporadic and short interludes of being able to live somewhat peacefully (in relative terms) in a police state were heaven compared to most of the history these people have suffered. 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Ode to Joy

Watch this video as a reminder that the humanity that populates the world is mostly human.

The Ukraine Crisis is the West’s Fault

Don’t believe me?  Don’t believe it is true?  Well, I didn’t write it, and it doesn’t matter if you think it is true.  The important thing is who wrote it:

JOHN J. MEARSHEIMER is R. Wendell Harrison Distinguished Service Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago.

More important is where it was written – in Foreign Affairs, the publication of the Council on Foreign Relations (HT EPJ):

According to the prevailing wisdom in the West, the Ukraine crisis can be blamed almost entirely on Russian aggression…But this account is wrong: the United States and its European allies share most of the responsibility for the crisis.

After describing the various moves by the west toward Eastern Europe and Russia:

For Putin, the illegal overthrow of Ukraine’s democratically elected and pro-Russian president -- which he rightly labeled a “coup” -- was the final straw.

Putin’s pushback should have come as no surprise. After all, the West had been moving into Russia’s backyard and threatening its core strategic interests, a point Putin made emphatically and repeatedly.

Mearsheimer blames policy elites in the West:

Elites in the United States and Europe have been blindsided by events only because they subscribe to a flawed view of international politics.

They “subscribe to a flawed view” because this is the view that they have been trained to hold.  It is a view that perhaps “worked” when destabilizing the Middle East and North Africa. 

They tend to believe that the logic of realism holds little relevance in the twenty-first century and that Europe can be kept whole and free on the basis of such liberal principles as the rule of law, economic interdependence, and democracy.

There is a “relevance” to the “realism” that Russia represents as opposed to, say, Libya.  The realism is relative military might; more importantly the realism is having nuclear weapons.  The elite don’t want a nuclear war any more than the rest of us do – they will be equally dead.

The world has lived under this threat ever since scientists unleashed this power in the deserts of the United States.  Of course, the US government needlessly made this threat real twice; but there has been more than one near miss since.

What is different today when compared to the time of the Cold War?  The elite lived under this threat continuously for over forty years, during a time when the Cold War, in many ways, served their purposes.  I may have found an answer in Martin van Creveld’s book, “The Rise and Decline of the State”:

Appearing as they did at the end, and as a result, of the largest armed conflict ever waged, nuclear weapons took a long time before their stultifying effects on future war was realized.

The reality set in, according to Creveld, in 1962:

After the Cuban Missile Crisis, which for a few days in October 1962 seemed to have brought the world to the verge of nuclear doom, the superpowers became more notably cautious.

He goes on to list the several treaties regarding nuclear weapons that were subsequently negotiated between the US and USSR.

Back to the topic at hand: I have suggested often – the bureaucrats are doing what they have been trained and programmed to do – and pushing Russia is merely an outcome of this training.  The elites – the ones above the presidents and bureaucrats – have done their job of training the bureaucrats too well and now want to pull back on the reigns of the Frankenstein’s monster they have created, the US government as tool of global consolidation.