Liberty & Power: Group Blog
Bill Clinton should be green with envy. George W. Bush, Clinton’s successor and bird of a feather in his quest to stay out of the jungles of Vietnam, in one fell swoop has addressed doubts about both his personal courage and his solidarity with soldiers risking their lives in Iraq. Bush’s turkey day trot to Iraq for dinner was a masterful stroke in public relations—at least in the short-term. In the long-term, it could put the Bush presidency further in the soup (or the gravy, as the case may be).
A closer examination of Bush’s public relations stunt raises questions about its sincerity and wisdom. The headline--from a cooing press ready to gobble up any story on a particularly slow news day--was that the president risked his life to show support for the troops.
Yet Bush’s holiday jaunt was shrouded in so much secrecy, even by the standards of this hyper-secretive administration, that he faced very little personal danger—even in hazardous Baghdad. The trip was so hush-hush that the president’s parents weren’t even told that he wouldn’t be showing up for the family gathering in Crawford, Texas. And by sneaking into and out of the fortified Baghdad International airport in darkness on Air Force One—which has many technologies to foil missile attacks—Bush was very safe against the fairly crude means of striking aircraft possessed by the Iraqi insurgents. Although Senator Hillary Clinton ventured out of the airport to visit troops on the front lines during her visit the next day, the president took no such risk and remained in the fortified area for his two-and-a-half hour stay in Iraq. The tight security arrangements obviously satisfied the president’s hyper-cautious Secret Service protectors. Unlike a bird for Thanksgiving dinner, Bush had little chance of being fired upon.
And Bush’s “mission” was designed less to shore up the morale of U.S. military personnel than it was to knock the stuffing out of war critics at home. Criticism had been intensifying about a spike in the number of body bags coming back from Iraq and the president’s attempt to hide them from the American people by not attending soldiers’ funerals. Bush’s foraging in Iraq for a “warm meal somewhere” was really an attempt to scavenge for better press anywhere he could find it. Security restrictions were bent just enough to take a film crew from Fox News and other friendly reporters along to record the president’s daring do.
CNN, a network less captive to the administration line, interviewed Iraqis on the record and American military personnel off the record and got a less favorable assessment of the president’s visit. Many Iraqis wondered why Bush met only with a few members of the U.S. hand-picked Iraqi Governing Council and not with a single ordinary Iraqi citizen. Also, one soldier told CNN that although it was nice of the president to come for a visit, that soldier’s main goal remained getting out of Iraq alive.
That candid statement by somebody actually taking fire in the turkey shoot against American GIs should lead to questions about the sincerity of symbolic pats on the backs for the troops. Recently, politicians and bureaucrats--who have done their best to personally avoid combat—needlessly risking the lives of American troops in faraway foreign military adventures has become as American as pumpkin pie. If they had wanted to support the troops, they wouldn’t have sent them there in the first place.
Questions of sincerity aside, Bush’s pilgrimage to Iraq may backfire in the long-term. Bush’s last macho public relations gimmick—landing on an aircraft carrier in a military flight suit under the banner of “mission accomplished”—surely did. The subsequent costly guerrilla war has belied such spin. Similarly, the president’s spreading of holiday cheer in Baghdad may tie him even more closely to a policy that is likely to fail. Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon visited Vietnam, but that did not prevent a subsequent U.S. defeat in the war.
Bush is unlikely to get many foreign troops to help suppress the Iraqi guerrillas and is politically constrained—if he wants to have any hope of reelection—from throwing more U.S. forces into the quagmire. Thus, the insurgency-- emboldened by talk of exit strategies circulating in Washington and by plans to accelerate turning the country over to “self-rule”--will not go away and will probably get worse. The guerrillas, like those in Vietnam, know that the Achilles’ heel of the American superpower is a citizenry that tires of foreign military adventures when they are of dubious value for national security. Henry Kissinger (a man who should know) once said that if guerrillas are not losing, they are winning.
During the Bush’s trip, he tried to jawbone a victory by using testosterone-laden slogans, such as “we will prevail” and “we will stay until the job is done.” Facts on the ground, however, show that those statements contain more hot air than the Bullwinkle balloon in the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade.
Despite all of the intentional spin during his tour of the Baghdad airport, Bush’s Iraq policy may be best symbolized, although inadvertently, by the central photo op of the trip: the president presenting a turkey to the troops.
R. Reid McKee
The Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments today in Locke v. Davey, a case that challenges the constitutionality of Washington State's Blaine Amendment.
A Wall Street Jounral editorial notes that"a remarkably ecumenical coalition of libertarians, conservatives, blacks, Catholics, Evangelicals and Orthodox Jews -- everyone from the Institute for Justice and the Landmark Legal Foundation to the Becket Fund and the Black Alliance for Educational Options" have filed amicus briefs calling on the court to strike down the law.
David T. Beito
Are we next? My good friend David Bernstein, one of the bloggers at the Volokh Conspiracy has a piece at National Review Online on how the Canadian thought police have undermined free speech.
I sure hope the current controversy over Bush’s steel tariffs puts to rest the fallacy that protectionism is in the “national interest.” Here’s a clear case where wine for one interest group (steel producers/workers) is poison for another (auto producers/workers, among others). “Buy American” is not only wrong-headed; it’s also incoherent.
P.S.: I'm taking great pleasure at Bush's predicament.
I must apologize because the tales that I posted three Blogs below are apparently false. There are real Stella Awards and the above link provides a way to sign up for free case updates. I want to thank Arthur Silber for helping me learn a valuable lesson about being too quick to pass on things that have not been checked out.
In the back of my mind I knew those stories were too good to be true, however, with such things as the war on the Iraqi people, the war on people who use certain kinds of drugs, and the recently passed Medicare “reform” my capacity to believe in acts of gross stupidity has become enormous.
Chris Matthew Sciabarra
My debate on Atlantis II continues. I'd like to reproduce here some points of interest.
Does anyone honestly believe that World War II would have happened anyway without World War I and the events that transpired in its aftermath? Ayn Rand often said that World War I—the war"to make the world safe for democracy"—led to the birth of Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, and Soviet Russia, and that World War II led to the surrender of three-quarters of a billion people into communist slavery. These were"unintended consequences" writ large, on a scale that was previously unimaginable.
With Rand, I would agree that ideas, especially philosophical ideas, are the driving force of history. If human beings accept a virulent strain of philosophy, it is no less lethal than being exposed to a deadly strain of virus. But there are all sorts of inoculations and vaccines that one can take to prevent a virus. And there are all sorts of things that one can do, once a virus has hit, to shorten its course, making certain, for instance, that it doesn't spread.
Thus, if one looks strictly and only at the philosophy of Nazism, outside of any historical context, one could certainly conclude that this was a militant, racist, anti-Semitic creed that had to lead, by its very nature, to death and destruction. But just because the logical implementation of an idea can lead to death and destruction does not mean that it must. When Rand endorsed the view that ideas have efficacy, she didn't endorse the view of philosophic determinism: that ideas must result in certain outcomes, regardless of context or circumstance. There is nothing inevitable or inexorable about it. Nazism, the flame, needed oxygen to flourish. The loss of Germany in World War I, the Treaty of Versailles, and the Great Depression were all its sources of oxygen. [...]
Everything about Islamic fundamentalism reeks of death and destruction. But there is nothing inexorable about this. Such ideas do not exist or flourish in a historical vacuum. They can only become lethal in the context of a certain constellation of historical conditions. That is why Rand emphasized the political conditions of tribalism's rebirth (which I mentioned in an earlier post). That is why I've emphasized that so much of what is happening today is a product of the collision of fundamentalism with a particularly short-sighted,"pragmatic," interventionist US foreign policy, which created the conditions for the empowerment of autocrats, despots, and fundamentalists. You cannot abstract virulent ideologies from the conditions that allow them to rear their ugly heads. If such things are deadly flames, past US foreign interventions have been their oxygen. (And, furthermore, you cannot abstract US foreign policies from the system of interventionism that Rand characterized as the"New Fascism," since such policies emerge from, and perpetuate, that system.)
So too, we can't abstract the current situation from the history of US foreign policy: from US enrichment of the Saudis—who export fanatical Wahhabism to the rest of the world; from US involvement with the Shah of Iran—which led to the rise of the Khomeini theocracy; from US encouragement of Iraq in the Iran-Iraq war—which bolstered the Hussein regime; from US encouragement of the mujahideen in Afghanistan—which empowered the Taliban.
Granted: We can play the game of"what if" forever. So, let me play that game, briefly, by quoting from Thomas Fleming's book The Illusion of Victory: America in World War I (Basic Books, 2003). Fleming is worth quoting at length:
If the United States had refused to intervene in 1917, would a German victory in 1918 have been a better historical alternative? The answer is debatable. By 1918, the Germans, exasperated by the Allied refusal to settle for anything less than a knockout blow, were contemplating peace terms as harsh and vindictive as those the French and British imposed, with Wilson's weary consent, in the Treaty of Versailles.
There is another possibility in this newly popular game of what-if. What would have happened if Wilson had taken William Jennings Bryan's advice and practiced real rather than sham neutrality? Without the backing of American weaponry, munitions, and loans, the Allies would have been forced to abandon their goal of the knockout blow. The war might have ended in 1916 with a negotiated peace based on the mutual admission that the conflict had become a stalemate. As a genuine neutral, Wilson might even have persuaded both sides to let him be a mediator. Lloyd George's argument—that unless the United States intervened, Wilson would have no place at the peace table—was specious at best. Both sides would have needed America's wealth and industrial resources to rebuild their shattered economies.
Germany's aims before the war began were relatively modest. Basically, Berlin sought an acknowledgment that it was Europe's dominant power. It wanted an independent Poland and nationhood for the Baltic states to keep Russia a safe distance from its eastern border. Also on the wish list was a free trade zone in which German goods could circulate without crippling tariffs in France, Italy, Scandinavia and Austria-Hungary. It is not terribly different from the role Germany plays today in the European Economic Union. But the British Tories could not tolerate such a commercial rival in 1914 and chose war.
Some people whose minds still vibrate to the historic echoes of Wellington House's propaganda argue that by defeating Germany in 1918, the United States saved itself from imminent conquest by the Hun. The idea grows more fatuous with every passing decade. A nation that had suffered more than 5 million casualties, including almost 2 million dead, was not likely to attack the strongest nation on the globe without pausing for perhaps a half century to rethink its policies. One can just as easily argue that the awful cost of the war would have enabled Germany's liberals to seize control of the country from the conservatives and force the kaiser to become a constitutional monarch like his English cousin.
A victorious Germany would have had no need of political adventurers such as Adolf Hitler. Nor would this counterfactual Germany have inserted the Bolsheviks into Russia and supported them with secret-service money. Lenin and Trotsky might have agitated in a political vacuum in Switzerland unto a crabbed old age. Or ventured a revolution in their homeland that would have come to a swift and violent end. On the eve of the war, Russia had the fastest-growing economy in Europe. The country was being transformed by the dynamics of capitalism into a free society. The war created the collapse that gave Bolshevism its seventy-year reign of blood and terror.
Let me conclude by reiterating a Hayekian point: All human action—by its nature—leads to unintended consequences. But war especially leads to far-reaching unintended consequences, and most of these are negative. The reason for this is that it creates a dynamic that feeds on destruction: destruction of life, liberty, and property. It creates a host of institutions geared toward such destruction, and these institutions—no matter how important they might be to a relatively free society's defense of life, liberty, and property—have had long-lasting effects on their diminution over time. That's because the institutions left in place after the war are almost always consolidated in the peace, and used to further erode the very values that they were put in place to"defend."
If war is necessary against those who have attacked innocent American lives, then it is all the more necessary to pay careful attention to the kinds of strategies and institutions that are created to forge this battle. The Iraq war was unnecessary, in my view, to the defense of American security—but it has now extended the dynamics of unintended consequences in ways that we have yet to understand fully. We have not learned the lesson of the complications that result from"pragmatic" US intervention abroad. We don't wish to concern ourselves with the new oxygen that we may be providing for future flames—that will consume more American cities and lives.
Karl Marx said it best when he declared that history repeats itself: first as tragedy, then as farce.
And the joke, I fear, is on us.
R. Reid McKee
Richard Garnett of Notre Dame Law School has a good article over at National Review Online responding to some recent high-profile charges that conservatives are"fair-weather federalists" when it comes to supporting federal action on abortion and marriage. His article echoes many of the points I made in an earlier L&P post.
A friend of mine, Bob Skyler, sent this to me in an e-mail and it speaks for itself.
It's time once again to review the winners of the annual"Stella Awards". The Stella's are named after 81-year-old Stella Liebeck who spilled coffee on herself and successfully sued McDonalds. That case inspired the Stella awards for the most frivolous successful lawsuits in the United States. Unfortunately the most recent lawsuit implicating McDonalds, the teen's who allege that eating at McDonalds have made them fat, was filed after the 2002 award voting was closed. This suit will top the 2003 list without question.
The following are this year's winners: 5th Place (tie): Kathleen Robertson of Austin, Texas, was awarded $780,000 by a jury of her peers after breaking her ankle tripping over a toddler who was running inside a furniture store. The owners of the store were understandably surprised at the verdict, considering the misbehaving little toddler was Ms.Robertson's son.
5th Place (tie): A 19-year-old Carl Truman of Los Angeles won $74,000 and medical expenses when his neighbor ran over his hand with a Honda Accord. Mr. Truman apparently didn't notice there was someone at the wheel of the car when he was trying to steal his neighbor's hubcaps.
5th Place (tie): Terrence Dickson of Bristol, Pennsylvania, was leaving a house he had just finished robbing by way of the garage. He was not able to get the garage door to go up since the automatic door opener was malfunctioning. He couldn't re-enter the house because the door connecting the house and garage locked when he pulled it shut. The family was on vacation, and Mr. Dickson found himself locked in the garage for eight days. He subsisted on a case of Pepsi he found, and a large bag of dry dog food. He sued the homeowner's insurance claiming the situation caused him undue mental anguish. The jury agreed to the sum of $500,000.
4th Place: Jerry Williams of Little Rock, Arkansas, was awarded $14,500 and medical expenses after being bitten on the buttocks by his next door neighbor's beagle. The beagle was on a chain in its owner's fenced yard. The award was less than sought because the jury felt the dog might have been just a little provoked at the time by Mr. Williams who was shooting it repeatedly with a pellet gun.
3rd Place: A Philadelphia restaurant was ordered to pay Amber Carson of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, $113,500 after she slipped on a soft drink and broke her coccyx (tailbone). The beverage was on the floor because Ms. Carson had thrown it at her boyfriend 30 seconds earlier during an argument.
2nd Place: Kara Walton of Claymont, Delaware, successfully sued the owner of a night club in a neighboring city when she fell from the bathroom window to the floor and knocked out her two front teeth. This occurred while Ms. Walton was trying to sneak through the window in the ladies room to avoid paying the $3.50 cover charge. She was awarded $12,000 and dental expenses.
1st Place: This year's run away winner was Mr. Merv Grazinski of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Mr.Grazinski purchased a brand new 32-foot Winnebago motor home. On his first trip home, (from an OU football game), having driven onto the freeway, he set the cruise control at 70 mph and calmly left the drivers seat to go into the back and make himself a cup of coffee. Not surprisingly, the R.V. left the freeway, crashed and overturned. Mr. Grazinski sued Winnebago for not advising him in the owner's manual that he couldn't actually do this. The jury awarded him $1,750,000 plus a new motor home. The company actually changed their manuals on the basis of this suit, just in case there were any other complete morons buying their recreation vehicles.
Chris Matthew Sciabarra