Chalabi, Chalabi, Chalabi. All Chalabi, All the Time. It's all over the news and even here.
I have to admit that I simply collapsed with laughter when I read this passage from today's NY Times editorial, entitled"Friends Like This":
Before the war, Ahmad Chalabi told Washington hawks exactly what they wanted to hear about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction and the warm welcome American troops could expect from liberated Iraqis. They responded in kind, picturing Mr. Chalabi — who has lived most of his life outside Iraq and who was convicted in absentia in Jordan for bank fraud — as exactly the kind of secular Shiite to lead a new, democratic Iraq. Now reality has come crashing down on both sides, and the friendship has crumbled along with self-delusion. ... Lately, Mr. Chalabi — who has no genuine political base — has concluded that anti-Americanism is the key to political popularity. ... Many people in the Bush administration have been growing angry at the way Mr. Chalabi keeps biting the hand that fed him so well for so long.
"Biting the hand that fed him." HA! That is, quite possibly, an encapsulation of the whole history of US foreign policy: Putting money and material in the hands of people who come back to bite the hand, and several other aspects of the American anatomy, that feeds them. From Hussein himself to the mujahideen in Afghanistan ... this country has a remarkable track record. Let's see what new"friend" the US will climb into bed with in the coming months.
Gays are getting married legally in Massachusetts, and the dreaded apocalypse didn't happen. Three cheers for the stability of the republic, through social change, war, high oil prices, and presidential politics. We may even have a Triple Crown winner if the never-defeated Smarty Jones wins the Belmont Stakes in New York on the 5th of June! Go Smarty Jones!
Some things, however, speak to the very core of the social fabric. And so, though it pains me as a Yankees fan, I must speak out about the newest sacrilege to affect the Great American Pastime. Forget Spider-Man Logos on the Bases or the reversal thereof.
Recall the first stanza to that memorable American song, forever etched in the minds of seventh-inning-stretching fans across the nation, from L.A. to Chicago to Da Bronx:
Take me out to the Ballgame
Take me out with the crowd
Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack
I don't care if I never get back
Well. It seems that the High Priests in that Holy Cathedral of Baseball, Yankee Stadium, have ended their long-time affiliation with Cracker Jacks. Now, Crunch 'n Munch will be sold in place of Cracker Jacks. It seems that Crunch 'n Munch, produced by ConAgra, passed a taste test (I'll admit that Crunch 'n Munch is richer, though not necessarily better than Cracker Jacks). It also appears that Frito Lay, the producers of Cracker Jacks, moved to bags, rather than the much-preferred boxes. A ConAgra spokesman said:"We'd have no heartburn if Yankee fans started standing up in the seventh inning and singing 'Buy me some peanuts and Crunch 'n Munch'."
Well, we'd have to alter the lyrical line right after that one too, no? How about:"I don't care if I never get lunch." Or:"I don't care if I ever get punched." Or:"I don't care if I don't have a hunch!!!!!!!!!!!"
Cracker Jacks and baseball belong together. It is an internal relationship that constitutes an organic unity! What is wrong with these people!!???
For two days, I sat, riveted, watching the 9/11 Commission hearings that took place in the auditorium of the New School, in Greenwich Village, NYC. These hearings were not broadcast on any of the networks nationwide, but there wasn't a single major network in this city that wasn't carrying it.
For all that has been said about yesterday's appearance by former NY Mayor Rudy Giuliani, one thing that has not been noted was Giuliani's insistence that the intelligence community needs to depend more on actual human beings to do the work of interpreting the mounds of information collected by a vast technological apparatus.
The problem, he said, was that too much of the government's efforts have gone into the technology of intelligence, but that there is no substitute for human intelligence: actual people who might infiltrate potential terrorist organizations to get the information that enables better, more accurate and effective interpretation of disparate bits of data.
When the debate centers around imminent threat or illusion, truth or lies, accurate intelligence can make all the difference between war and peace.
As my L&P readers are well aware, I've been recommending Nicholas D. Kristof's interesting NY Times series on Iran. Today's installment,"Nuts With Nukes," asserts in its very first line that there is only"one force that could rescue Iran's hard-line ayatollahs from the dustbin of history: us." Kristof argues that a confrontational position on Iran could embolden the mullahs by creating"a nationalistic backlash ... that will keep hard-liners in power indefinitely. Our sanctions and isolation have kept dinosaurs in power in Cuba, North Korea and Burma, and my fear is that we'll do the same in Iran." For Kristof,"regime change in Tehran" is a worthwhile goal, but a confrontational policy will"fail to get rid of either the nuclear program or this regime." He continues:
The only alternative is engagement — the precise opposite of the sanctions and isolation that have been U.S. policy under both Presidents Clinton and Bush. Sanctions are even less effective against Iran than against, say, North Korea, because Iran oozes petroleum and is independently wealthy. Isolation by the U.S. has accomplished even less in Iran than it has in Cuba. So we should vigorously pursue a"grand bargain" in which, among other elements, Iran maintains its freeze on uranium enrichment and we establish diplomatic relations and encourage business investment, tourism and education exchanges.
Kristof argues that a"money flood" of US investment would seriously undermine the theocratic stranglehold on the country. Quoting Hooshang Amirahmadi, the president of the American Iranian Council:"In just a few years, the conservatives would be finished."
All this remains to be seen. But there is something to be said about the intimate connection between free minds and free markets; the spread of the latter both reflects and reinforces the triumph of the former.
New York City television is currently blanketed with wall-to-wall coverage of the 9/11 commission hearings, which are taking place today in Manhattan. Seeing these images again of the attack on the World Trade Center, listening to a re-creation of the time-line of the events as they unfolded ... well. It's still painful, especially for those of us who lost colleagues, friends, and neighbors. Kudos to the commission chair, Tom Kean, for asking for a moment of silence. All the more reason, today, to continue our discussion of the nature of the current Iraq war, which, in my view, has little to do with the Al Qaeda attack on the United States.
Replying to an essay,"Lesser Evils," written by Michael Ignatieff, Irfan Khawaja asks:"Do We Have to Get Our Hands Dirty to Win the War on Terrorism? And What Does that Mean Exactly?" Khawaja, who is currently participating in a provocative discussion with Gene Healy and Keith Halderman, raises some troubling issues about ends and means, while defending the view that there is and should be no trade-off between"liberty" and"security."
Khawaja, however, is disturbed by those who use"imminent threat" as a litmus test for military action. He thinks that"imminence" remains either undefined or too loosely defined. He writes:
One difficulty here is that it’s not clear that the concept of imminence can consistently be applied before an event as opposed to after it. It is much easier to say that something was imminent than to say that it is—a serious liability for a concept with the strategic importance that “imminence” has now come to acquire.
The issue of"imminence" is, indeed, an epistemic one. That's why the accuracy and reliability of intelligence and the effectiveness of the intelligence community are so crucially important to our assessment of any risk as a clear and present danger to the lives and liberties of American citizens. In the context of Iraq, the US had to assess the probable existence of weapons of mass destruction, the ability of Hussein's regime to deliver such weapons in a first-strike against"US interests" (something that is, in this day and age, far more difficult to define than the doctrine of"imminence"), and the ties between Hussein's regime and other groups or states that have targeted US interests in the past, specifically the ties (or lack thereof) between Hussein and Al Qaeda.
Part of that assessment would have included Hussein's own testimony, which, as Khawaja argues, could not be trusted. While I agree that Hussein was a"liar" and a"serial miscalculator," as Khawaja observes, one thing seems certain: He put a high priority on his own survival, and boasted that because he survived the first Gulf War, he was actually the victor. It is for that reason that containment under threat of assured destruction works, even with the most irrational of people. Josef Stalin was, by all measures, a paranoid liar, and a more prolific murderer than Hussein, but he was"rational" enough to know that a strike against the US would have been met with massive and catastrophic retaliation.
In the end, however, the US did not have to rely on the rationality or believability of Hussein's claims; it needed to evaluate, as Gene Healy has done, Hussein's track record and the countervailing interests at work in the region, to assess the threat level. Considering the testimony of a parade of disgruntled former Bush administration employees, who have argued that the neoconservative policy-makers were hell-bent on going to war in Iraq, knowing full well that there was no connection between Iraq and the 9/11 attack, one must wonder if claims of"imminent threat" or"grave and gathering threat" were a mere cover for a predetermined course of action.
The US government had information at its disposal, in the days leading up to the invasion, which undermined its own case for invasion. But the administration chose not to place any priority on that information, selecting only those claims that bolstered its favored conclusions, in order to justify the commitment of tens of thousands of US troops to this nation-building folly. Even Colin Powell has said that the intelligence, which drew from Iraqi defectors who had a political agenda of their own, was"inaccurate and wrong and, in some cases, deliberately misleading."
Tragically, the US government disregarded accurate information or acted on misleading information in the Iraq war, while it ignored or failed to coordinate lots of information about explicit warnings that might have prevented the September 11th attack. That attack represents one of the greatest failures of government—to preserve, protect, and defend—in US history.
Meanwhile, in response to the charges of those who argue that Al Qaeda is in Iraq, as if this were proof of a link between the Hussein regime and Bin Laden, I posted the following comments:
There is no doubt that Al Qaeda and Al Qaeda-aligned groups are now in Iraq. But there was no evidence of any formal relationship between Hussein and Al Qaeda; those Al Qaeda and Al Qaeda-aligned terrorist groups that did exist in Hussein's Iraq, were centered not in the Sunni triangle or the Shi'ite dominated South; they were found mostly in the Kurd-dominated Northern sections of the country. It is only now, in the chaotic aftermath of the invasion, that Al Qaeda-aligned groups are becoming more prevalent in Iraq. With the Al Qaeda-described"infidel," Saddam Hussein, now in US custody, a power-and-ideological vacuum exists, attracting all sorts of savagery.
But this is not an illustration of the simplistic"magnet theory": that by stationing thousands of US forces in Iraq, Iraq will become a"magnet" for terrorists, and the US will have simply brought the war to them, rather than being the battleground itself. Al Qaeda is not in one place at one time. And there is something far more insidious than the existence of Al Qaeda or an Al Qaeda-aligned network, and that is: the spread of Al Qaeda-ism. And therein lies the horrific scope of the problem: as this particular shade of militant fundamentalism takes root throughout the Muslim world (which has virtually no geographic limitations, since it stretches from the Middle East to the Asian Pacific to North America), Osama Bin Laden will matter less and less, except, perhaps, as a symbolic"leader" of this maniacal sect. The decentralized cells of a poisonous ideological movement will be more self-motivated to undertake localized strikes against the Great Satan.
We will never live in a risk-free world. All the more reason to embrace long-run policies that minimize the points of political and military contact, while maximizing the points of cultural and social contact, with the Muslim world. Nothing less than an ideological and cultural revolution abroad (and at home) will do.
As a follow-up to my posts on important changes in Iran, take a look at Nicholas Kristof's ongoing series in today's NY Times. In"Velvet Hand, Iron Glove," Kristof inadvertently makes a Hayekian-friendly point about how the radical dispersal of knowledge and information is contributing to the unraveling of a repressive regime. As people get information from sources other than the regime, that regime becomes more unstable. The Iranian press may not be"free," but the proliferation of the Internet, blogs, and satellite TV is having an insidious effect on the regime's legitimacy.
As Kristof puts it, if the Iranian theocracy constituted
an efficient police state, it might survive. But it's not. It cracks down episodically, tossing dissidents in prison and occasionally even murdering them (like a Canadian-Iranian journalist last year). But Iran doesn't control information—partly because satellite television is ubiquitous, if illegal—and people mostly get away with scathing criticism as long as they do not organize against the government.
Kristof continues to maintain
that the Iranian regime is destined for the ash heap of history. An unpopular regime can survive if it is repressive enough, but Iran's hard-liners don't imprison their critics consistently enough to instill terror. ... In the end, I find Iran a hopeful place. Ordinary people are proving themselves irrepressible, and they will triumph someday and forge a glistening example of a Muslim country that is a pro-American democracy in the Middle East.
As many of my L&P readers know, I have been extremely critical of a number of Randian commentators who have not shown enough sensitivity to the enormously complex issue of bringing"freedom" to the Islamic-dominated countries of the Middle East.
So it is only fair that I highlight an essay with which I do agree, in large measure. Edward Hudgins of The Objectivist Center has written an insightful essay that asks the following question:"Are the People of the Middle East Fit for Freedom?."
While Hudgins addresses the horrors and scandal of Abu Ghraibgate in fine fashion, he also argues that the"governments of most Middle East countries to varying degrees abuse and repress their own citizens, and have few mechanisms to redress abuses. Citizens of those countries who act to reform their governments often find themselves censored, jailed or worse." Hudgins sees, quite correctly, that politics is an expression of culture:
These governments reflect the values and cultures in those countries. ... The most active opponents of repressive governments often are radical Islamists who want to establish even more repressive dictatorships. Many individuals in those countries give their first loyalty to a tribe, ethnic group or religion, not to universal principles that apply to all people and at all times. Outsiders are viewed at best with suspicion and at worst as worthy of nothing but painful death.
Hudgins goes on to cite a number of surveys regarding attitudes toward arbitrary violence in the Middle East; an overwhelming majority of those surveyed in even"moderate" Arab countries believe that suicide bombings against Americans and Israelis are justified; and over 63 per cent favored Saudi Arabian, Syrian or Egyptian dictatorial models of government, rather than a US model.
Bush has argued that those who believe that the people of Iraq are unfit for freedom are a bit elitist, or maybe, even"racist," in their assumptions. (Arthur Silber demolishes"The Racist Smear," as part of his continuing examination of"The Roots of Horror," here.) While Hudgins applauds Bush's view that each individual deserves freedom, he asks, quite directly:"Are the people of Iraq and other countries in the region fit for freedom?"
For Hudgins, this is not an issue of race. It is an issue of culture, precisely what I and others have been arguing now for over a year. Hudgins writes:"Any given Iraqi, Arab or Muslim might well want to live in peace with his or her neighbors, foreign and domestic. But can we really expect limited governments that respect individual liberty and ban arbitrary force to be established in countries in which those principles are not written in the hearts and minds of ... enough of their citizens?" While Hudgins applauds those seeking to establish free societies in these countries,"we must understand," he explains,"that the people of these countries ultimately must create for themselves modern, civil societies and governments in their own cultural and historical contexts. If we fail to appreciate the limits of the ability of we Americans—the outsiders—to transform dysfunctional countries, we will only slow rather than hasten the day of those countries' true liberation."
To which I must add: Amen.
I've made countless references to World War I and Wilsonianism in my blogging at L&P. Today's parallel comes via the Mises Economics Blog (thanks Jeff Tucker) and FEE. Check out a fine article on the"War Boom," which appeared in Monday's Washington Post. Of particular interest is this reality:
In inflation-adjusted terms, the war's cost will surpass the United States' $199 billion share of World War I sometime next year. Coming on top of three major tax cuts, that spending will drive the federal budget deficit to more than $400 billion this year. That borrowing will eventually have to be repaid in higher taxes or reduced government services and benefits.
I'm so happy that Bush campaigned last time as a"fiscal conservative." Let's see what new euphemisms the administration can invent for"fiscal irresponsibility" as the 2004 campaign takes shape.
The youth have even revolted against beards in a way that is reminiscent of the generation of Peter the Great (who, in his quest to Westernize Russia, actually imposed taxes and license fees on the unshaven in his war on orthodox religion). Well, at least this generation's fight is against any government intrusions of this sort.
There's a useful lesson here for George Bush's America as well as for the ayatollahs' Iran: when a religion is imposed on people, when a government tries too ostentatiously to put itself"under God," the effect is often not to prop up religious faith but to undermine it. Nothing is more lethal to religious faith than having self-righteous, intolerant politicians (who wince at nose studs) drag God into politics.
Inspired by a recent thread on SOLO HQ, which included a tangential discussion on the purpose of criminal justice, I recalled some of Ayn Rand's comments on the subject and I'm now wondering aloud how these comments might apply to the illusory neoconservative goal of"nation-building."
In a letter to philosopher John Hospers, dated 29 April 1961, Ayn Rand wrote the following:
But you ask me what is the punishment deserved by criminal actions. This is a technical, legal issue, which has to be answered by the philosophy of law. The law has to be guided by moral principles, but their application to specific cases is a special field of study. I can only indicate in a general way what principles should be the base of legal justice in determining punishments. The law should: a. correct the consequences of the crime in regard to the victim, whenever possible (such as recovering stolen property and returning it to the owner); b. impose restraints on the criminal, such as a jail sentence, not in order to reform him, but in order to make him bear the painful consequences of his action (or their equivalent) which he inflicted on his victims; c. make the punishment proportionate to the crime in the full context of all the legally punishable crimes.
Here, Rand has endorsed ideas of restitution, retribution (or restraint), and proportionality in her general view of criminal justice. But she goes further:
What punishment is deserved by the two extremes of the scale is open to disagreement and discussion—but the principle by which a specific argument has to be guided is retribution, not reform. The issue of attempting to"reform" criminals is an entirely separate issue and a highly dubious one, even in the case of juvenile delinquents. At best, it might be a carefully limited adjunct of the penal code (and I doubt even that), not its primary, determining factor. When I say"retribution," I mean the point above, namely: the imposition of painful consequences proportionate to the injury caused by the criminal act. The purpose of the law is not to prevent a future offense, but to punish the one actually committed. If there were a proved, demonstrated, scientific, objectively certain way of preventing future crimes (which does not exist), it would not justify the idea that the law should prevent future offenses and let the present one go unpunished. It would still be necessary to punish the actual crime.
Then, in a passage that would make Thomas Szasz proud for its indictment of the nexus of state and psychiatry, Rand argues:
Therefore,"psychiatric therapy" does not belong—on principle—among the alternatives that you list. And more: it is an enormously dangerous suggestion. A. Psychiatry is far from the stage of an exact science; in our present state of knowledge, it is not even a science—it is only in that preliminary, material-gathering stage from which a science will come. B. The law, which has the power to impose its decisions by force, cannot be guided by unproved, uncertain, controversial hypotheses or guesses—and the criminal cannot be treated as a guinea pig (I am saying this in defense of the criminal's rights). C. Since the prevention of crime is a psychological issue, since it involves a man's mind (his premises, values, choices, decisions), it would be monstrously evil to place a man's mind into the power of the law, to let the law prescribe and force upon him any course of treatment involving or affecting his mind. If"the prevention of crime" were accepted as the province and purpose of the law, it would permit and necessitate the most unspeakable atrocities: not merely psychological"brainwashing," but physical mutilations as well, such as electric shock therapy, prefrontal lobotomies and anything else that neurologists might discover. No moral premise—except total altruistic collectivism—could ever justify that sort of horror.
Rand, like Isabel Paterson, fears the humanitarian who would use the guillotine to affect change:
Observe that it is I, the unforgiving egoist, who am more considerate of the criminals (of their rights) than the alleged humanitarians who advocate psychiatric treatments out of an alleged compassion for criminals. A penal code has to treat men as adult, responsible human beings; it can deal only with their actions and with such motives as can be objectively demonstrated (such as intent vs. accident); it cannot assume jurisdiction over men's minds, brains, souls, values and moral premises—it cannot assume the right to change these by forcible means.
Now, I've not worked out any theory by any stretch of the imagination, but I do wonder how Rand's comments might apply to the international sphere. Consider these thoughts pure musing on my part.
Rand once drew an analogy between a nation and an individual. In her essay,"Don't Let it Go," she argues that nations exhibit a"life style" equivalent to an individual's sense of life, and that a nation's culture is equivalent to an individual's conscious convictions. Rand writes that just as a man's course of action is determined by both tacit and articulated factors (his sense of life and his conscious convictions), so too,"a nation's political trends are the equivalent of a man's course of action and are determined by its culture."
So here is an interesting parallel: Just as the future prevention of an individual's crimes is ultimately a psychological issue, rooted in fundamental changes to a criminal's psychology (his or her premises and values), so too the future prevention of a foreign regime's crimes is ultimately a cultural issue, rooted in fundamental changes to a nation's culture. Just as a person's course of action is dependent on his sense of life and conscious convictions, so too a nation's political trends are dependent on its lifestyle and culture. That's why any fundamental change to the political trends must ultimately be rooted in cultural change. Any"rehabilitation" of a nation, like any"rehabilitation" of a criminal, cannot be imposed by writ. One can aim for"regime change," but unless one alters the culture that allowed such a regime to gain and maintain power in the first place, nothing has been changed fundamentally.
Note here: Even ruthless dictatorial regimes that do not depend upon the democratic" consent of the governed" still depend upon certain tacit cultural sanctions to maintain power. (On these points, see Etienne de La Boetie's Discourse of Voluntary Servitude.)
Note too that the above points do not prevent either (a) the punishment of criminals so that they bear the costs of their actions, or the seeking of restitution for their victims or (b) the punishment of criminal governments so that they bear the costs of their political or military actions, or the seeking of restitution for their victims (foreign and domestic). (I leave aside, for now, the anarchistic question of whether all governments are criminal, as such.)
The legal and political focus therefore is on action; it is not on a criminal's feelings, thoughts, or ideas (one of the reasons hate crimes legislation is so problematic). Seeking criminal or international justice, the focus is not on psychology or culture—even though such are the spheres wherein the fundamental power for change resides. Those spheres can and must be changed, but their alteration should not be the guiding principle of legal, political, or military policy.
Any attempt to"nation-build" without the appropriate cultural prerequisites is bound to generate the same kinds of"unspeakable atrocities" that appalled Rand in her critique of criminal"rehabilitation."
I fear that the stories coming out of Iraq are only the tip of a similarly monstrous iceberg.
My last post on L&P raises one significant question: Why should we care? Why should any of us care whether our libertarian or classical liberal heroes are used to justify the folly that is Iraq?
It all comes down to preserving a legacy, more specifically a radical legacy: a legacy that questions fundamentals and that attempts to go to the roots of social problems. The great liberal and libertarian thinkers have long recognized the inseparable link between free minds and free markets, and between peace and freedom. In defending the profound insights of Herbert Spencer or Friedrich Hayek or Ludwig von Mises or Murray Rothbard or Ayn Rand, as they apply to the current situation abroad, I am self-consciously defending the radical legacy that they have bestowed, one that has been distorted by too many who now provide a"libertarian" veneer or apologia for an otherwise reactionary policy abroad. Such commentators, who claim to be disciples of Spencer or Hayek or Mises or Rothbard or Rand, are no different from the neoconservative Court Intellectuals guiding so much of today's foreign policy. Their legitimation of that policy makes them Court Jesters, for they have made a mockery of the liberal ideal.
I am not saying that there can be no reasonable differences among rational men and women on the subject of Iraq. I'm simply saying that those"libertarians" who have supported this insanity in Iraq have not fully appreciated or even understood the ideas to which they claim allegiance. Those of us who are libertarians should care what happens to the legacy we have been left by our intellectual fathers and mothers. Not because we owe blind loyalty to our ideological parents. But because they were right about so much.
The war we face is a philosophical and cultural war. If we sell off our intellectual armaments, we will have lost before even embarking on our mission.
And that's why we should care.
As readers of L&P know, I acknowledge a great intellectual debt to thinkers such as Ayn Rand, F. A. Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, Murray Rothbard, and others. For the longest time, I identified on a personal level with Rand's"Objectivism," with its celebration of reason, purpose, and self-esteem, and of the heroic human potential, and with its emphasis on the integration of mind and body, reason and emotion, morality and prudence, theory and practice. Those ideas still inform my personal and professional life. But because of my great differences with some of the current advocates of"Objectivism," so many of whom have advocated the war in Iraq, I do not wish to be called an"Objectivist." (See, especially, Arthur Silber's superb post on The Fatal Contradiction—and the Detestable Disgrace that is"Objectivism" Today.) If this is what"Objectivism" consists of, these advocates can have it with my blessing.
But as I have argued here and here, and in all the discussions here, here, and here, these advocates have no right to the radical legacy that Ayn Rand left behind, especially with regard to her analysis of the welfare-warfare state, and of the organic relationship between domestic and foreign policy.
That legacy has been the subject of an ongoing debate on the SOLO HQ list. Today, I made a few comments there, which I'd like to share with my HNN audience. Here are excerpts from this most recent post:
Iraq lacks Western culture and a flourishing middle class and it is fractured by ethnic, cultural and tribal conflict. The British were never successful in Iraq (then, Mesopotmia), and, for similar reasons, the US will probably meet the same fate. In fact, the political culture in current-day Iraq has been so devastated by years of dictatorship that the masses are infused with an"entitlement" mentality, which is being nourished now by the dominant welfare state politics of the United States. ... Even though politics can influence culture, institutions do not change by simple writ; there has to be a predominating cultural change that drives and sustains the political one. This is what I've learned from Ayn Rand. Indeed, Rand argued that too many libertarians tried to play at politics without recognizing the necessity for a cultural foundation for freedom. Some Objectivists who accept Rand's argument with regard to the United States and the need to change American culture, suddenly go loopy when I try to apply that same argument to the situation in Iraq, where the culture is that much more hostile to individual responsibility, procedural democracy, and free institutions.
Some"Objectivists" have taken Rand's maxim that a free country has a right (though not an obligation) to liberate a dictatorship as some kind of rationalistic abstraction, from which to derive the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Rand, however, said the following:
It is not a free nation's duty to liberate other nations at the price of self-sacrifice, but a free nation has the right to do it, when and if it so chooses. This right, however, is conditional. Just as the suppression of crimes does not give a policeman the right to engage in criminal activities, so the invasion and destruction of a dictatorship does not give the invader the right to establish another variant of a slave society in the conquered country. ... Since there is no fully free country today, since the so-called"Free World" consists of various"mixed economies," it might be asked whether every country on earth is morally open to invasion by every other. The answer is: No.
Rand never argued that a relatively free US should liberate other countries. She was adamantly opposed to any invasion of the Soviet Union, the country of her birth, which she loathed, and was equally opposed to US entry into World War I and World War II, Korea and Vietnam. She believed that the nature and purpose of government was the protection of individual rights, and that the police, the military, and the law courts were essential functions: to protect individuals from domestic criminals, and foreign invaders, and to adjudicate disputes.
Once one adopts any criterion of humanitarian"liberation" as the goal of foreign policy, there is nothing to distinguish between the"liberation" of Iraq, or the Sudan, or Rwanda, or Bosnia. Using such a criterion simply gives license to the US to become the humanitarian"liberator" of the rest of the world, with all the consequent effects that such a role would have on citizens' lives, liberties, and properties. Rand herself cites the superb work of historian Arthur Ekrich in her essay,"The Intellectual Bankruptcy of Our Age":
If you have accepted the Marxist doctrine that capitalism leads to wars, read Professor Ekirch's account of how Woodrow Wilson, the"liberal" reformer, pushed the United States into World War I."He seemed to feel that the United States had a mission to spread its institutions—which he conceived as liberal and democratic—to the more benighted areas of the world." It was not the"selfish capitalists," or the"tycoons of big business,'' or the"greedy munitions-makers" who helped Wilson to whip up a reluctant, peace-loving nation into the hysteria of a military crusade—it was the altruistic"liberals" of the magazine The New Republic edited by ... Herbert Croly. What sort of arguments did they use? Here is a sample from Croly:"The American nation needs the tonic of a serious moral adventure."
If you still wonder about the singular recklessness with which alleged humanitarians treat such issues as force, violence, expropriation, enslavement, bloodshed—perhaps the following passage from Professor Ekirch's book will give you some clue to their motives:"Stuart Chase rushed into print late in 1932 with a popular work on economics entitled A New Deal. 'Why,' Chase asked with real envy at the close of the book, 'should Russia have all the fun of remaking a world ?'"
Commenting on this passage in my SOLO HQ post, I wrote:
Is it any coincidence that the neoconservative progeny of Woodrow Wilson and Leon Trotsky should be advocating the same"humanitarian" wars"to make the world safe for democracy"? Leave those arguments to the neocons; they are most definitely not an implication of Rand's radical legacy.
For recent writings on this subject, and others, check my Not a Blog.
As a follow-up to my post, Laissez Faire in Iran, take a look at Nicholas Kristoff's own follow-up article,"Those Sexy Iranians." Kristoff tells us more about a younger generation of Iranian baby boomers (60 percent of the country's population was born after the revolution) who declare:"We want fun ... There's no joy here." Kristoff states baldly:"Ayatollahs, look out." Indeed.
Also take a look at Jesse Walker's fine essay,"Iranians are Feistier than Iraqis."
I've been busy engaging in a number of foreign policy debates on several lists, making many of the same points that I've made here at L&P. You might want to check out some of the more inflammatory aspects of that debate on a recent thread at SOLO HQ (see my posts, starting here and extending through here, thus far).
I should also note a first: Today, I found myself agreeing with many points made by Charles Krauthammer (!!!) on the Iraq Prison Abuse scandal... especially the stuff about sex. And for a whole lot of very interesting insights about the sexual dimensions of all this, let me also recommend to you various posts (just keep scrolling down) by Arthur Silber at The Light of Reason.
The lunacy of nation-building and of imposed political settlements—which have been tried over and over again in the Middle East with no long-term success—does not mean that there is no hope for the Arab world. Former Reagan administration advisor Michael Ledeen speaks of a rising revolt against theocracy in Iran, for example, among a younger generation that is fed up with their oppressive government. They eat American foods, wear American jeans, and watch American TV shows. I don't see how a U.S. occupation in any part of the region will nourish this kind of revolt. If anything, the United States may be perceived as a new colonial administrator. Such a perception may only give impetus to the theocrats who may seek to preserve their rule by deflecting the dissatisfaction in their midst toward the"infidel occupiers." I can think of no better ad campaign for the recruitment of future Islamic terrorists.
These religious reactionaries are, partially, the Frankenstein monsters of US foreign policy: during the Cold War, the U.S. propped up puppet dictators to do its global bidding, and its intervention was partially responsible for the rise of Islamic fundamentalism as an anti-American political force in Iran. The Iranians threw off the U.S.-backed Shah, and elevated Khomeini to a position of leadership. A hostage crisis followed, as did the US support for Iraq's Saddam Hussein in his war with Iran, and for the Afghan"freedom fighters" in their war with the Soviets, thereby empowering a group of mujahideen who were to become Al Qaeda and Taliban warriors. Such are the internal contradictions of US foreign policy that continue till this day.
While the war in Iraq dominates the headlines, with its predictably obscene by-products—e.g., the US torture of Iraqis in the very Abu Ghraib prison used by the murderous Hussein regime—the Pentagon admits that Iraq will require the presence of over 138,000 US troops"at least until the end of 2005."
But if the US wants to learn a bit about how to encourage"democracy" in Iraq, it ought to look toward"those friendly Iranians," as Nicholas D. Kristof puts it, who are fomenting a revolution in Iran, which is slowly becoming"a pro-American country." Not"pro-American" in the sense of wanting to see US troops on Iranian soil—more in terms of the culture wars, that is, the wars that matter. Kristof tells us that so many of the Iranians he interviewed have expressed a desire to come to America. They wear blue jeans, read Hillary Clinton, John Grisham, Sidney Sheldon, Danielle Steel, and, of course, Harry Potter. They watch American movies like"Titanic" and revel in such American TV shows as"Baywatch." And they have one message for the Islamic theocrats, who continue to denounce America as the Great Satan in their blitz of"propaganda":"To hell with the mullahs."
This is an important and continuing development, and a healthy one, considering the history of US intervention in Iran. As Kristof observes:"In the 1960's and 1970's, the U.S. spent millions backing a pro-Western modernizing shah—and the result was an outpouring of venom that led to our diplomats' being held hostage. Since then, Iran has been ruled by mullahs who despise everything we stand for ..." But as Kristof explains, among the younger generation,"being pro-American is a way to take a swipe at the Iranian regime."
And the regime knows it. Indeed,"[o]ne opinion poll showed that 74 percent of Iranians want a dialogue with the U.S.—and the finding so irritated the authorities that they arrested the pollster." But the mullahs couldn't arrest all of those Iranian citizens who had"responded to the 9/11 attacks with a spontaneous candlelight vigil as a show of sympathy."
The Bush administration, which has squandered much of the global good will of 9/11, needs to learn a new phrase if it wants to encourage dialogue with a younger generation of authentic"freedom fighters": Laissez Faire. Hands off!"Left to its own devices," says Kristof,"the Islamic revolution is headed for collapse, and there is a better chance of a strongly pro-American democratic government in Tehran in a decade than in Baghdad." If the administration decides to approach a looming crisis over Iran's nuclear program with the same"bring-it-on" approach that it pioneered in Iraq, Kristof states, it will only succeed in"inflaming Iranian nationalism and uniting the population behind the regime."
That's a form of"nation-building" at which the neocon interventionists might very well succeed. To the detriment of freedom.
Lately, everywhere I look, I keep having the same reaction:"This is insane," I say to myself. Well, here's an example of what I mean.
The New York Timeseditorializes today about the lavish handouts of federal farm subsidies given to American producers, which have created tensions throughout the global market. This is on the heels of another Timesreport detailing the"War on Peruvian Drugs," which takes as its victim the U.S. asparagus industry. Timothy Egan writes:
After 55 years of packing Eastern Washington asparagus, the Del Monte Foods factory ... moved operations to Peru last year, eliminating 365 jobs. The company said it could get asparagus cheaper and year-round there. As the global economy churns, nearly every sector has a story about American jobs landing on cheaper shores. But what happened to the American asparagus industry is rare, the farmers here say, because it became a casualty of the government's war on drugs. To reduce the flow of cocaine into this country by encouraging farmers in Peru to grow food instead of coca, the United States in the early 1990's started to subsidize a year-round Peruvian asparagus industry, and since then American processing plants have closed and hundreds of farmers have gone out of business. One result is that Americans are eating more asparagus, because it is available fresh at all times. But the growth has been in Peruvian asparagus supported by American taxpayers.
Government officials claim it wasn't their"intent" to destroy the American asparagus industry. DAMN those unintended consequences! Meanwhile, the Peruvian Asparagus and Other Vegetables Institute declares:"It is important to understand that the war against drugs is another face of the battle against terrorism, and will be successful only if new legal jobs are created as an alternative to illegal activities." Somebody should tell that Institute that the current"battle against terrorism," apparently, provides no principles by which to forge any war against drugs, since the US government virtually encourages the growth of the opium industry in Afghanistan as a means to stabilize that country in the aftermath of regime change.
Alas, stability won't be achieved anywhere: Not unless the government gets out of the business of subsidizing, prohibiting, regulating, or otherwise ruining various industries and people's lives.
Some of my HNN comrades have gently ribbed me and others for our admiration of the novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand. Well, I've been AWOL from L&P because I've been out and about on various"Objectivist" blogs arguing with the orthodox contingent of"Objectivism," which, in my view, has corrupted Rand's radical legacy. You can check out some of those debates by following the links on my"Not a Blog," if you're interested.
Far more important, however, is this post by fellow L&P'er Arthur Silber, which discusses"The Fatal Contradiction—And the Detestable Disgrace that is 'Objectivism' Today." Silber and I have been deeply critical of what has happened to Objectivism; we've both abandoned the term as a self-identifying descriptive label. But the truth is, despite our common abandonment of that term, we have never abandoned Rand's radical legacy. Silber tells us more about those who have abandoned it.
I got up this morning and, while having a little breakfast, I decided to watch a bit of the morning news shows. First up was the Today show. Matt Lauer was busy interviewing Sen. Joseph Biden and Sen. Chuck Hagel about the buzz concerning the military draft. The gents were also kind enough to let us know that the administration is sitting on a $50 to 75 billion request for additional funds to maintain troops in Iraq. Biden was quick to point out that this is not money for Iraq reconstruction; it is strictly for the maintenance of troops, except that the Bush administration is a little hesitant, it seems, to bring this up in an election year.
Next, I checked out Good Morning America, which had a story on the controversial decision by the Seattle Times to run a photo of flag-draped coffins coming home from the Iraq war. Mike Fancher, Executive Editor of the Times, defended the decision of his paper; he felt the photo conveyed the respect and reverence shown to the dead. But Rep. Mike Castle (R) of Delaware said that this policy of restricting the publication of such photos has been on the books since 1991 out of respect to the families. Could it be that the Pentagon is just trying to sanitize the war for American consumption? Of course not.
Alas, we wouldn't want a repetition of the Vietnam syndrome, where daily images of death and destruction came flowing through the media, almost unfiltered, so as to turn even Walter Cronkite against the war. It prompted LBJ to say,"if we've lost Walter Cronkite, we've lost the country"
Once I'd gotten my dosage of the news shows, I opened up the paper. I read another installment of the NY Daily Newsinvestigation about the increasing number of US troops exposed to uranium dust in Iraq. The paper reports:"An independent test conducted at The News' request found that four of the men tested positive for depleted uranium, which because of its heaviness is used to make shells and coat armored vehicles. A study by the Army in 1990 linked depleted uranium to 'chemical toxicity causing kidney damage.'"
The possibility of a coming military draft. Troops in need of additional monies. Restricted access to coffin photos. And depleted uranium toxicity among military fodder. As the media gets un-embedded from the administration's ass, perhaps we'll learn more about how miserable war is—for those who are fighting it. Especially a war like this one that is causing far more"blowback" than was first anticipated.