Monday, February 29, 2016

The Battle for Syria

There ran down the edges of the desert a string of cities and their connecting road – Aleppo, Homs, Damascus….

As long as these cities remain in enemy hands, the seacoast (Lebanon and Israel) will not be secure.  But this isn’t a story taken from today’s age; so writes Hilaire Belloc in his book The Crusades: The World’s Debate, regarding the Holy Lands of Palestine.  It is curious to contemplate this perspective when considering more recent events. 

The Crusades: Strategy

The Crusaders were concerned solely about the cities along the sea – Antioch, Tripoli, and Beirut, as examples – and, of course, the gem of Jerusalem.  They were so intent on these that they neglected and otherwise did not properly secure the cities inland – Aleppo, Homs, Damascus.  Had they done so, they would have divided the Moslem world; had they done so, Belloc believes they would have held the Christian Holy Lands – well, setting aside the fact that the invading lords intermarried (Christian Armenians were a popular choice) and otherwise accepted many of the local customs.

Passing Aleppo unvisited to their left and east, leaving Aleppo undisturbed in Mohammedan hands, the captains of the great column now making south and west for the Orontes began the final failure of the Crusades.  The neglect of Aleppo in 1097 was the root of all their future weakness, their increasing difficulties in holding Syria for the next two lifetimes, and their breakdown at Hattin after ninety years of desperately maintaining a doomed and falling cause.

This “final failure” was not at the end of European rule over regions of the Holy Land; it was virtually at the time the First Crusade arrived in the region – according to Belloc, the seeds of failure were sown at the beginning.  Neglecting Damascus one year later was a second failure.  Finally, when attempting to take Damascus fifty years later, the effort was poorly staffed and too late.

Belloc offers this string of Arab cities as a dividing line – to the west, mountain ranges, rivers, and valleys connecting to the Mediterranean coast (today’s Lebanon and Israel); to the east, vast desert.  It is the primary route connecting the Moslem worlds of Mesopotamia to the east and Egypt to the west (broadly speaking).

The ultimate failure of the Crusades lay in this: that Christendom got hold of the first or seacoast road, kept only a doubtful or disputed grasp on parts of the second or river road, and altogether failed to build the third road along the edge of the desert. (Emphasis in original)

The first and third roads have been identified – the sea coast and the string of inland cities, respectively.  What is this second, river road?

The second road would naturally follow the central valley, getting plentiful water from the Orontes and the Jordan.

The Orontes flows north from Syria, then west to the Mediterranean just south of the Amanos Mountains; it passes Antakya, and flows to the sea north of Latakia.  Control Aleppo and you control access to this road. 

As to the central valley?

The Beqaa Valley…is a fertile valley in eastern Lebanon.

The Beqaa Valley lies on the route directly between Beirut and Damascus.  It has also been the location of numerous conflicts between Israel and Syria virtually since the founding of Israel as a state.  Belloc offers, perhaps, a clue as to this region:

Damascus never fell and because Damascus remained in the hands of Islam, Jerusalem sooner or later was bound to follow.

…it is Damascus throughout the ages that has determined the fate of Syria.  It was Damascus on which the Assyrian power had concentrated centuries earlier and had found so difficult to grasp; it was from Damascus that Pompey gave orders which made the Roman soldiers the possessors of the whole land; it was the fall of Damascus to the first Mohammedan invasion which determined the success of that invasion and made it permanent – and now it was Damascus that would have confirmed the Crusading effort.

Control Damascus and you control Syria.  Control Syria and you control Jerusalem.  This is what the Crusaders missed.  According to Belloc, this sealed their fate – from the beginning.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Once is Tragedy, Twice is Farce

Karl Marx, having in mind the respective coups d'état of Napoleon I (1799) and his nephew Napoleon III (1851), wrote acerbically in 1852: "Hegel remarks somewhere that all facts and personages of great importance in world history occur, as it were, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce."

A Peace to End All Peace, David Fromkin

It was true that the Soviets encouraged Persian nationalism, supported Turkish nationalism, and sought to aid rebellion in Iraq; but the Russians had not inspired – and did not direct – any of these movements.

While this might read as something from recent headlines, there are enough hints in the above to conclude otherwise.  Fromkin is writing of the time after World War One, when the British believed every revolt in their various colonies and dependencies was directed by the Bolsheviks. 

In fact there was an outside force linked to every one of the outbreaks of violence in the Middle East, but it was the one force whose presence remained invisible to British officialdom.  It was Britain herself.

They were unable, it seems, to look in the mirror for the common link behind the various rebellions.

From the Middle East correspondent of The Times, published in September 1920:

“My conviction, based on careful study, is that the Arab Bureau at Cairo, the G.H.Q at Cairo, and our Occupied Enemy Territories Administrations in Palestine and last year in Syria, bear a heavy load of responsibility for the present waste of British lives and money in Mesopotamia.”  He charged that “British Pan-Arab propaganda is one of the most serious existing dangers to the world’s peace.”  Putting aside the few British officials who genuinely believed in Arab independence, he denounced the “extremely dangerous officials who have no great belief in the Arabs’ own capacity for government, but an intense belief in our Imperial Mission” to run Arab affairs behind a façade of nominal Arab Independence.

Foreign Secretary Lord Curzon and Permanent Under-Secretary Lord Hardinge argued for a forward British military position in the Middle East, defending Transcaucasia and northern Persia from Russia, claiming that…

…the loss of any one area in the Middle East to Russian aggression would, I turn, lead to the loss of the area behind it, in a domino reaction that might lead eventually to the loss of India.

Within twenty years, Britain would ally with this same Soviet Russia, allowing dominos to fall throughout half of Europe.  Shortly thereafter Britain lost claim over much of her holdings in the Middle East and the sub-continent of Asia.

Americans have been fighting to regain these holdings and more ever since.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Fighting for Their Lives

An existential threat is a threat to a people’s existence or survival.

The subject is war.  The place is throughout the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia.  The time is now.

The subject is not the “why”: Why these wars?  Why now?  These are not for today.  For this post, I merely consider the reality of the wars.  They are – this is certain, regardless of why and why now.

Ukraine, Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Iran, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Afghanistan.

An existential threat.  The term is often applied to a nation.  Of course, one can debate if this is an appropriate use of the term but one cannot debate that it is used this way.  For this post, I will accept that it is used this way.  I will further accept that political leaders see things this way; they are the ones with a) something to lose, b) the weapons necessary to do something about it, and c) a legacy to consider.

What if the political leaders of Russia see these current wars as posing an existential threat to the viability of an ongoing Russian state?  With NATO on its borders and Ukraine playing the part of the rope in a tug-of-war between east and west, why not?  With Afghanistan in continuous play?  With the arming and radicalization of Muslims in the Middle East threatening the security of the Muslim regions of the Russian Federation?

What of Turkey?  One hundred years ago – having already suffered the embarrassment of losing almost all lands in North Africa, the Middle East, and Europe – Turkey’s Ottoman predecessor saw in the Armenians such a threat; a risk of losing what is today eastern Turkey.  From the Turkish perspective, then it was Armenians, today it is the Kurds.

Iraq?  It is already gone, divided into at least three – one reason the Turks are worried about the Kurds.  Syria?  In process; one cannot deny that to Assad’s Syria what is going on is an existential threat.

Israel?  We are constantly reminded of this nation feeling existentially threatened.  Iran?  It has been bullied like few others in recent decades, with today only a slight opening.  Saudi Arabia?  If there was ever a regime ripe for revolution from below, this one would seem to qualify.

What if the national leaders in each of these countries sees in the current condition an existential threat – the risk of loss of political borders, loss of sovereignty, loss of power and wealth, loss of control over subject populations?  How will they fight?  How long will they fight for?  What measures (military and otherwise) will they be willing to consider in order to delay the day of reckoning?

What of the United States, with fingers in each pie yet without facing any existential threat – at least to its political borders?  What if the existential threat is to the empire?

What if the fight is not for oil (in any case not a convincing reason)?  What if it has devolved into nothing less than a fight for their lives – not the lives of the individuals within a given nation-state, but the lives of the various nation-states – personified in the various political leaders? 

If the alternative is death, why not fight to the death without concern of collateral damage – no matter how massive the destruction?  Yes, why not?  Might this explain the seemingly irrational behavior of many of the actors? 

Might this be what we are witnessing?  Every actor facing what is considered to be an existential threat?

Saturday, February 20, 2016

The Camp


It began with tents in a small clearing.  They decided they wanted a place to gather, spend some time.  Maybe do a little hunting and fishing.  A few of them might want to start a small garden. 

Eventually, a few built homes.  They set aside some areas for parks and recreation.  They decided to build a pool – open to any members of their little community.  They left a good amount of land in its natural state, as many of their members enjoyed hiking through the hills and fields.  Over time, most decided to settle permanently. 

They would welcome visitors, but only on their terms.  It was not an uncommon event when they would allow a new member – usually someone who visited regularly in the past and demonstrated his goodwill.  It gave them a reason to have a party.  They liked having parties; they enjoyed having new members.

They wanted to ensure that new members held certain things in common with those in the community – could be business interests, recreational endeavors, perhaps religion, and most certainly language.  Whatever the case, every new applicant was to be screened and vetted before acceptance into the community.

Then one day they were told that the rule-making and defense of their camp was to be taken out of their hands…


The old professor had a rather simple thought. Given the wholly abnormal conditions, he had read, and reasoned, and even written too much—versed as he was in the workings of the mind—to dare propose anything, even to himself, but the most banal of reflections, worthy of a schoolboy’s theme. It was a lovely day, warm but not hot, with a cool spring breeze rolling gently and noiselessly over the covered terrace outside the house. His was one of the last houses up toward the crest of the hill, perched on the rocky slope like an outpost guarding the old brown-hued village that stood out above the landscape, towering over it all, as far as the tourist resort down below; as far as the sumptuous boulevard along the water, with its green palms, tips barely visible, and its fine white homes; as far as the sea itself, calm and blue, the rich man’s sea, now suddenly stripped of all the opulent veneer that usually overspread its surface—the chrome-covered yachts, the muscle-bulging skiers, the gold-skinned girls, the fat bellies lining the decks of sailboats, large but discreet—and now, stretching over that empty sea, aground some fifty yards out, the incredible fleet from the other side of the globe, the rusty, creaking fleet that the old professor had been eyeing since morning. The stench had faded away at last, the terrible stench of latrines, that had heralded the fleet’s arrival, like thunder before a storm. The old man took his eye from the spyglass, moved back from the tripod. The amazing invasion had loomed up so close that it already seemed to be swarming over the hill and into his house.

Some will recognize these words from the opening chapter of Camp of the Saints, by Jean Raspail.  The story is of a migration – a massive migration from India into Europe.  A migration destined to overrun those who came before.

The title of the novel is taken from the Biblical Book of Revelation, chapter 20:

7 And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, 8 and shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog, and Magog, to gather them together to battle: the number of whom is as the sand of the sea.  9a And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city:


Since reading the novel I have wondered about the situation presented.  The Indians from the sub-continent came unarmed – certainly not an invasion in the classic sense of the term.  They came at the behest of the various European governments – no aggression.

So…is there justification under the non-aggression principle to repel this invasion?  This is my question.

The answer is quite clear if all land were privately owned – a most certain “yes.” 

If only the Indians stayed on government owned land.  One could say the private landowners were free to defend their property, but there were so many immigrants – by the hundreds of thousands and millions, a never-ending stream of every imaginable floating craft.

The answer would be quite clear if there was no government making the rules – again, a most certain “yes.”

But the government was making the rules, and the government invited the newcomers.

We don’t live in a world where all land is privately owned; we don’t live in a world where the property owner is free to make his own rules.

What is one to do when the power to enforce your rules for access to your property is taken from you?  Is self-immolation the only alternative consistent with the NAP? 

That is what I wonder.


Can one own “culture”?  Of course, it seems clear the answer is “no.”  Yet it was this culture that the members valued most.

At first there was little change – a trickle of newcomers, for the most part fitting in quite well.  But then came more – eventually a never-ending stream.  The prior members lost control of their community.  The criterion for membership was now quite different than before. 

Without the ability to make and enforce their own rules, the members of the community were left only one legal possibility – to plead to the usurper.


Walter Block is having published a new piece on immigration, where he considers arguments from both Hans Hoppe and me.  He has promised to send a link once it is available online.  I have quickly scanned a draft but have decided not to address it as Walter has rightly asked me not to cite anything until it is formally published.

In the meantime this issue as presented in Raspail’s novel continues to swirl around in my head. 

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Ignoratio Elenchi

Ignoratio Elenchi (irrelevant conclusion): the fallacy of proving a conclusion not pertinent and quite different from that which was intended or required.

Aristotle believed that an ignoratio elenchi is a mistake made by a questioner while attempting to falsify a respondent's argument. He called it an ignorance of what makes for a refutation. For Aristotle, ignoratio elenchi amounts to ignorance of logic.

…it should be the victim (via the rules of the property owner where he finds himself) that determines the penalty when he experiences/suffers because of a violation of the non-aggression principle

It should be kept in mind that this is where the discussion started.  The topic is determination for penalties in a libertarian society.  In case you missed it, I will repeat: the topic is determination for penalties in a libertarian society.

What happens when you know you are riding a losing horse?  You change horses.  What happens when you know you have presented an illogical argument?  At least some people pretend it never happened, and merely attempt to subtly shift the conversation to a different topic – and then claim victory when they “prove” it!

Ignoratio Elenchi.

I still check in on Wenzel, specifically to see where he is taking his Private Property Society.  About a week ago, he declared progress in his ongoing debate with Walter Block.  In this post, he describes private security and insurance agencies.  He describes how these would be used to adjudicate disputes and determine penalties.  He describes the situation well.  Frankly, if he wrote this post in the first place a few weeks ago, I would have agreed heartily.

But it isn’t a few weeks ago.  This was not the topic a few weeks ago.  A few weeks ago he was advocating that the property owner had the sole right to determine the penalties for an NAP violation.  When confronted with the property owner choosing death as the penalty for an apple-stealing child, he did not clarify his meaning; he did not state that he was misunderstood.  He doubled-down.

This is no longer the subject, apparently.  No mention of total sovereignty as judge, jury and executioner in this post.  In case you are confused, please refer to the bolded sentence a few paragraphs up.

Ignoratio Elenchi

In any case, I have waited for Block’s reply.  It has been a week.  It normally never takes more than two or three days.  Maybe I have missed it; if so, someone please let me know.  I thought maybe Walter was sick, but have recently seen posts from him on other topics.  Maybe Walter is as dumbstruck as I have been for the last week….

It gets better (or worse)…I now read this from Wenzel, in discussing the libertarian view on prohibition and prostitution:

First of all government interventions are not in any way a stool, they are always hammers (If not machine guns).

I agree.

Second, the libertarian perspective does not state that any act must be allowed on any property. It is about respect for private property, which can include the banning of prostitution on a property by its owner.

I agree.

At least that's the view of libertarians who subscribe to a Private Property Society perspective. Maybe Callahan is thinking of libertarians who believe in some sort of over-ruling body based on "culture" etc.

Do you think he is referring to me, as I have introduced the value of culture?  Yet, why?  On what basis is he dragging this comment about “culture” into this topic of prostitution and prohibition?  My comments had nothing to do with these.  My comments were specific regarding the individual victim solely determining punishment.

In case you are confused, please refer to the bolded sentence at the top of this post.

Ignoratio Elenchi

Wenzel isn’t the only one playing this game.  As he often will do, Walter Block is offering responses to questions posed to him from various corners (NB: it is the questioner that is ignoratio, not Walter), for example:

Emptying the Inbox

I have several recent items rolling around in my head.  I don’t believe any of these is worthy of a post on its own, yet they are clogging my mind from focusing on much else.  As I have done in the past when I have come to such a situation, they all come to you as one.

Us or Them

According to Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, This is a global stock market rout worth celebrating: Cheap oil is a tax cut for consumers, a healthy haircut for sovereign wealth funds, and a shot in the arm for the world economy.

He suggests that the real economy is doing reasonably well:

World growth has been drearily stable for years, shuffling along at 3.4pc in 2012, 3.3pc in 2013, and 3.4pc in 2014, and 3.1pc in 2015. The International Monetary Fund expects 3.4pc this year.

The latest "GDPNow" tracker from the Atlanta Federal Reserve suggests that US growth is running at 2.5pc in the first quarter, smack in line with a typical late-cycle expansion in a mature economy.

I will take him at his word, and not interject personal opinion in this.  After all, if the Fed didn’t think the economy was doing reasonably well, why all the jabber-jabber regarding a rate hike over the last year or more, ultimately culminating with a 0.25% increase?

The Fed’s actions have only done damage to the markets:

The MSCI index of world equities has fallen almost 20pc since its all-time high in May of 2015, implying a $14 trillion loss of paper wealth.

Saudi Arabia's net holdings of overseas securities fell by $23bn in the single month of December. Fitch Ratings expects Abu Dhabi to drain its fund (ADIA) by $27bn this year. The Norwegians began dipping into their $820bn fund in October.

A clutch of distressed sellers are having to liquidate stocks, bonds, and property for month after month on a grand scale.

So, us it us or them?  Will the Fed continue to (attempt to) slowly move rates toward something approaching normal, or will they go back and provide liquidity to the markets?

Shave and a Haircut…

A new German plan to impose "haircuts" on holders of eurozone sovereign debt risks igniting an unstoppable European bond crisis and could force Italy and Spain to restore their own currencies, a top adviser to the German government has warned.

“It is the fastest way to break up the eurozone,” said Professor Peter Bofinger, one of the five "Wise Men" on the German Council of Economic Advisers.

Under the scheme, bondholders would suffer losses in any future sovereign debt crisis before there can be any rescue by the eurozone bail-out fund (ESM).

"A speculative attack could come very fast.”

As bondholders know that many governments are bankrupt except for central bank backing, I suspect a speculative attack would come immediately.

…the new plan empowers private investors to act as judge and jury on the solvency of states. "We can't allow a regime where markets are masters of governments,” [Bofinger] said.

Markets will win.  They have been winning the war from time immemorial.  This has been especially visible in the last eight years.  It is obvious to all – even the most die-hard Keynesian central planner – that central planning of money, like central planning everywhere, is a failure.

And if the Euro isn’t Enough Reason to Tear Europe Apart

Turkey apparently isn’t playing nice when it comes to dealing with the refugee crisis:

One thing, though, that [António Rocha of the Portuguese coast guard] and his shipmates haven't yet seen is a boat being turned back by the Turkish coast guard. "Sometimes they motor around the refugee rafts and tell them they should turn around," says the Greek liaison officer onboard the Tejo. "But when nothing happens, the Turkish boats just leave."

Merkel is not finding a willing partner in Turkey:

Since October, she has negotiated with the Turkish government six times, most recently on Monday. But there is little indicating that success is imminent.

"Forget it," Turkish EU Ambassador Selim Yenel told the Guardian this week when asked about Merkel's refugee plan. "It's unacceptable and it's not feasible."

She doesn’t even have support through much of Europe (to say nothing of within Germany):

Macedonia is not a member of the EU, but Hungary and other countries have already sent 80 officials to the country to assist with closing the border. At a meeting of the Visegrád Group -- which includes Eastern European EU members -- planned for next Monday, Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia are to discuss ways in which the Balkan route can be closed off for good.

This doesn’t sound “open.”

That Didn’t Take Long

This post was original published two days ago, February 15 (HT LRC).  The title says enough: “Turkey is about to launch a false flag operation so they can invade Syria.”

A car bomb went off in the Turkish capital Wednesday near vehicles carrying military personnel, killing at least 28 people and wounding 61 others, officials said.

Things are likely to get worse before they get better.