Could Mercenaries Free Africa?

Brian Micklethwait posed the question over on of whether for-profit military service companies could bring peace to Africa where Governmental Organizations (GOs) have failed. What he doesn’t seem to realize is that they already have. Unfortunately, their success wasn’t allowed to last.

In Angola, the now-defunct private military service firm Executive Outcomes (EO) recruited a bunch of veterans of the Buffalo Battalion of the South African Defense Force (SADF) who were no longer needed after the SADF stopped intervening in the Angolan Civil War, but who knew the territory and knew Jonas Savimbi’s UNITA, since they’d fought with UNITA against the MPLA during the 1980s. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the Marxists of the MPLA conveniently switched their allegiance to the West, and UNITA was left out in the cold – but with plenty of diamond fields under its control, and a guerilla army that had reached the third stage of guerilla warfare & was capable of conventional military operations. The UN tried and failed to get UNITA to agree to compete against the MPLA with ballots instead of bullets, then gave a contract to EO to fight UNITA, which EO did quite successfully for much less money than the UN had already spent trying to bring UNITA to the bargaining table. Unfortunately, the MPLA won the elections and tried to assassinate Savimbi, who refused to recognize the election result, and EO’s contract wasn’t renewed by the UN, so the Angolan civil war continued. EO did move its HQ to Angola, however, and provided security for many of the foreign corporations exploiting the vast natural resources of Angola. (Last I heard, all foreign corporations doing business in Angola were required by law to provide their own military security, making Angola home to the highest number of private military security firms in the world.)

A similar story took place in Sierra Leone, where a civil war was underway between the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), a sort of African Khmer Rouge without the ideology, who punished people for voting for their opponents by chopping off the hands they used to pull the levers at the voting booths, and the internationally-recognized government. At first, the government of Sierra Leone was a military dictatorship that was allied with Nigeria, also a military dictatorship at the time. Nigeria intervened in the Liberian civil war against Charles Taylor, who has made the news again recently, so Taylor retaliated by supporting the rebels in Sierra Leone, Nigeria’s ally. Sierra Leone’s military dictatorship was overthrown, and EO was given another contract by the UN to train the Sierra Leone regular military so they could fight the rebels. EO did so, also commanding Sierra Leone’s soldiers in the field in operations against the RUF, and beating the RUF so badly that the RUF agreed to submit to democratic elections to decide the president. The elections were held, the RUF lost, EO’s contract expired and was not renewed, and the RUF overthrew the newly-elected president, terrorizing the people of the country until they were driven back into the jungle by a combination of tribal militiamen and Nigerian regulars that intervened under the banner of ECOMOG, an organization that serves as a vehicle for international cooperation in the region.

In each case, a bias against mercenaries seems to have been a major factor in either terminating or not renewing EO’s contracts. The bias is based upon the fact that they are for-profit, and that their leadership is usually white (although not always, and frequently many of their soldiers are black).

This is unfortunate, because Africa’s natural resources are so vast that it would be profitable for mercenaries to get paid out of a percentage of the profits from their exploitation, if only they were legally permitted by the governments of the world to secure them. The resulting increase in peace & security would be of great benefit to the African people, who have been suffering under some of the most barbaric regimes in the world for decades.

Will it happen? I doubt it. The most recent intervention in Sierra Leone was by the British government military (the Royal Marines, as I recall), not any private military service firms (Sandline International’s attempt to intervene having been stopped by the Blair government). It seems that the window of opportunity for mercenaries in Africa only opened during the 1990s when the great powers of the world couldn’t figure out what they wanted to do next after the end of the Cold War, and now that they’ve got their shit together again they’re too jealous to let any private military forces take credit for any good that could be done by government soldiers, instead.

Still, the recent record of mercenaries in Africa is most impressive compared to that of government military forces, so we ought to keep on advocating their right to defend the lives, liberties, and property of innocent people in Africa or anywhere else there is a need. Perhaps that will help open a new window of opportunity for them.

Fisking Rockwell on Gulf War 2

Lew Rockwell’s final judgement upon Gulf War 2, “War on Iraq: The Verdict,” just begs for a dissenting opinion, which I will endeavor to provide:

Turkish and American officials had just finished toasting the first shipment of oil out of Iraq when the sound of clinking glasses was drowned out by a terrifying explosion. An oil pipeline west of Baghdad had been blown up by saboteurs. The resulting flaming tower was a fitting symbol. The supposed victory of US forces in Iraq has turned from hoax to chaos and, now, to all-round calamity.

Those of who remember the dire predictions made by the antiwar crowd before Gulf War 2 will find this conclusion hard to swallow. Saddam had the oil wells all rigged to explode, or he might empty them into the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, thus causing a new environmental catastrophe, as he did back in Gulf War 1 when he set Kuwait’s oil fields ablaze. It was also feared that he might blow up the dams north of Baghdad, thus sweeping away Iraq’s liberators in the ensuing flood. Saddam might attack Israel with SCUD missiles with chemical warheads, thus provoking Israeli nuclear retaliation. One week into the liberation of war, a pause in the action was widely interpreted as a “quagmire” and a “stalemate” by the antiwar crowd, and another week or so later Baghdad fell to the liberators. None of the dire predictions made by the antiwarmongers came true, and now we’re told by Rockwell that the demolition of one oil pipeline indicates that the situation on the ground in Iraq is one of “all-round calamity.” In fact, the Iraqi situation is nowhere near as bad as the antiwarmongers feared/predicted/hoped it would be.

Those who have made a science out of studying government know the principle at work: government tends to accomplish the opposite of its stated aims. The advertised aim of this war was to bring the region and world more safety and order. But even ulterior aims have failed: Saddam is loose, oil pipelines are being sabotaged, troops are being killed every day, and the entire region is more resistant to US control than ever before.

Like most antiwarmongers, Rockwell misrepresents the goals of Gulf War 2. Saddam’s regime was targeted for change because it was a dictatorship which was sponsoring terror and developing weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Antiwarmongers like Rockwell have denied any and all evidence presented in support of the claims that Saddam sponsored Al Qaeda and was pursuing WMD. However, there doesn’t seem to be any kind of evidence that could possibly persuade them of these things. Judged by the achievement of these goals, Gulf War 2 is quite successful: Iraq is no longer a totalitarian dictatorship, and Saddam is no longer in a position to use the profits from the sale of Iraqi oil to sponsor Al Qaeda and finance WMD development. At most, he may still have some resources stashed away before his overthrow to use for these purposes, but he’s certainly not in anywhere near as strong a position as he was before then. Iraq is still a long way off from being as free as the USA, much less an anarcho-capitalist society, and there’s still some mopping up to do of pockets of resistance by Saddam loyalists amongst the Sunni Arab minority of Iraq and Iran’s proxies amongst the Shia Arab majority, but things were much worse before the war.

Already it is too late for the US to leave in hopes of restoring anything resembling normalcy in the country and region. Islamic fundamentalists have never been as influential and powerful, and terrorists never more bolstered with an ideological rationale for menacing Americans at home and abroad.

What “normalcy” is supposed to mean in Iraq, a country which has been under Saddam’s totalitarian rule for about three decades, and was ruled by a succession of military dictators before then, is difficult to tell. What it’s supposed to mean in “the region,” considering that the entire Middle East has been ruled by regimes that range from totalitarian dictatorships to authoritarian dictatorships (with the sole exception of Israel, but don’t tell that to Rockwell) is equally obscure.

As for the power and influence of Islamic fundamentalism, Saudi Arabia was the first Islamic fundamentalist state in the world, and Iran has rivaled Saudi Arabia for power and influence as an Islamic fundamentalist state since Khomeini overthrew the Shah in 1979. However, the Iranian clerisy is currently having to use violence against popular protests against its rule and facing the threat of a general strike scheduled to start in early July, and the Saudi regime is taking baby steps towards political liberalization, so it’s no surprise that Rockwell doesn’t even bother to try to cite any evidence in support of his claim that Islamic fundamentalism is more powerful & influential than ever.

As for the terrorists being “never more bolstered with an ideological rationale for menacing Americans,” terrorist incidents last year were at a 30-year low according to a recent State Department study, the much-vaunted and much-overrated “Arab Street” failed to rise up and do much of anything in the wake of the overthrow of either the Taliban or Saddam, and the most recent terrorist attacks were in the terrorists’ own backyard, Saudi Arabia, showing that their reach, at least for the moment, has been greatly reduced.

Without having found WMDs, the US has lost any rationale that might have existed for the war in the first place, which raises fundamental questions about the legitimacy of the continuing mission, even among those who supported the war. The Bush administration, which advertised forged documents and has otherwise done nothing to bolster its credibility as a truth teller, expects us to believe that someone made the WMDs vanish just ahead of advancing US troops. Uh huh.

Again, the rationale for the war was threefold: Saddam was sponsoring terrorists, developing WMD, and oppressing the Iraqis. He is no longer doing any of those things, except perhaps from hiding on a much smaller scale. However, since so much has been made of the failure thus far to find any WMD in Iraq, let’s address that point.

First, as I am not the first to point out, we haven’t yet found Saddam, either, but that doesn’t mean that he didn’t exist before the war. The same goes for Saddam’s WMD. I don’t know where they went – some probably went to Syria, Saddam’s Ba’athist brother-regime, some probably went into the Euphrates, some may have been destroyed. However, even if Saddam had destroyed all of it after he foiled the UNSCOM inspectors in 1998, he still didn’t achieve transparency of his WMD programs, and that’s the key thing. Even if Saddam didn’t have any WMD, that would’ve been insufficient. What he needed to do was make it evident to the world that he did not have any WMD, and was not in the process of trying to develop any. That certainly was not the case. He gave all the appearance of someone who was trying to hide the fact that he was developing WMD. Furthermore, Iraq had already developed the scientific expertise necessary to develop chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons, and still had most of that scientific establishment. As long as Saddam still had all those scientists on staff, he could resume WMD development at any time. The only way to prevent him from doing so was to remove him from power.

The expense of life and resources that went into war has so far produced only one major political result: it has made a folk hero out of Saddam Hussein, who credible reports describe as still alive, along with his sons. Only the Bush administration could have led millions of Iraqis to reflect on how good they had it when the “brutal dictator” was in charge. Does anyone doubt that he would win a landslide election today – unless the Islamic parties prevail and impose someone worse?

I most certainly do doubt that Saddam Hussein would “win a landslide election today” in Iraq. The Kurds certainly wouldn’t vote for him, nor would the Shia (who account for a majority of Iraq’s population), both of which population groups had tens of thousands of their members mass-murdered by Saddam’s regime. The only Iraqis to whom Saddam might be a folk hero today are the members of the Sunni Arab minority who had it best under Saddam and resent their loss of privilege. (Considering the fact that Rockwell is a white male defender of the Confederacy and the antebellum South and a die-hard opponent of the post-1965 desegregation of the South, I don’t find it the least bit surprising that he identifies with those who resent their loss of privilege.)

The unwillingness of the Bush administration to face any of this, or at least to admit any problems in public, is an ominous sign. So far its spokesmen have dealt with the massive tide of anti-US hatred in Iraq with absurd denials. US soldiers and civilian administrators wear body armor and travel only under the protection of heavy armor, and yet we are told that the opposition is somehow limited and narrow.

There is no “massive tide of anti-US hatred in Iraq,” and the only absurd denials are those from antiwarmongers like Rockwell about Saddam’s WMD & sponsorship of Al Qaeda. The opposition is limited and narrow, and wearing body armor and traveling under the protection of heavy armor is an appropriate response to such a threat. Consider how much people in the region changed their behavior when the Beltway Sniper was still on the loose – that was in response to only one sniper team!

Iraqi militants, Saddam loyalists, resistance fighters, Islamic radicals, guerillas under the control of the remnants of the Ba’ath party, disgruntled former employees of the former regime – these are all phrases invoked by the Bush administration and thus the press to describe the nameless snipers, rock throwers, and chanting mobs who continue to vex the US military during its occupation.

Precisely – and those phrases are all quite accurate.

For example, US head occupier Paul Bremer says these are merely “a very small minority still trying to fight us.” But when reporters have a hard time finding any Iraqi, from any class or religion, to say something nice about the occupation, the prattle about “pockets of resistance” begins to wear thin. At some point in the course of human events, all decent people develop more sympathy with those who seek liberty from occupation than with the occupiers, even if the troops wear the Stars and Stripes.

Reporters wouldn’t have a hard time finding Iraqis with nice things to say about the occupation, if only they cared to look for them, but they don’t. Quite the opposite, Western journalists are so infected with the same antiwar memes as Rockwell that they spend virtually all of their time looking for Iraqis with complaints about the occupation. Still, reports about Iraqis who are thrilled to be free of Saddam manage to make their way into the news anyways.

Almost half as many US troops have died since Bush declared the war over (55) as died during the war (138). That figure is significant enough, but consider that there is a huge difference between deaths in wartime and those killed during the supposed postwar peace. It is the difference between a military conflict, in which killing and dying is the whole point, and a political conflict, in which killing and death suggests despotism, lawlessness, and all-round calamity.

Considering the fact that Rockwell’s fellow antiwarmongers were predicting many thousands of US deaths in the Battle of Baghdad, a total of 193 dead thus far is pretty damn good.

We are encouraged to believe that anyone who would seek to harm US troops is necessarily driven by something other than the desire for the well-being of the Iraqi homeland. They must be radicals! They must be receiving their orders from a shadowy Saddam! They have been indoctrinated by Islam and thereby are prevented from seeing the great blessings being brought to Iraq by the US military! Pure nonsense, as ridiculous as the idea that the US has a just cause for occupying this country.

There’s nothing ridiculous or nonsensical about the notions that the Iraqi resisters are Saddamite loyalists & Islamic fundies, or that the US has a just cause to occupy Iraq and help it get back on its feet, just as the US did with Germany & Japan after WWII.

In Iraq, the “freedom” brought by the troops has so far meant canceling elections, suppressing opposition newspapers, confiscating weapons from civilians, going house to house to seek out political opponents of the US administrator, smearing and possibly killing anyone who raises questions about the occupation, and generally ruling the country as militaries from ancient times to the present have always ruled: through brutal force in the absence of the rule of law.

Since when is Rockwell so hot about elections, anyway? Doesn’t he hate democracy as the worst form of tyranny, just like his comrade, Hans Hermann-Hoppe? The “elections” which were canceled were ones in which manifestly undemocratic candidates were likely to win, and the US doesn’t want the post-Saddam Iraqi regime to follow the common Third World pattern: “One man, one vote, once.” The US had made it clear that those who are willing to confine their opposition to peaceful means will be free to do so, but those who are committed to violence will not be allowed to undermine the democratization of Iraq. If their newspapers are shut down, their weapons confiscated, and some of them are killed in the process, that’s evolution in action. By failing to distinguish between peaceful and violent “political opponents of the US administrator,” Rockwell is engaging in typical antiwarmonger mendacity, enabling him to misrepresent legitimate suppression of violent insurrectionists as if it were illegitimate repression of dissenters. (Then again, a neo-Confederate like Rockwell is committed to defending the violent insurrectionists of the Slave States, so it’s not surprising that he would naturally try to protect the remnant rulers of another slave state by trying to camouflage them as peaceful demonstrators.)

Finally, skipping several paragraphs because my replies to them would be merely redundant:

Of the fire produced by the exploding pipeline, an official told the New York Times: “We couldn’t do anything because the fire is bigger than our capabilities.” That sums up the entire US experience with this war.

A few years ago, there was a pile of old car tires in the California central valley that caught fire and couldn’t be put out, either, but that hardly meant that the entire Republic of California was in a state of “all-round calamity.” Putting out fires is a highly specialized occupation, putting out oil well/refinery/pipeline fires is even more highly specialized, difficult, and dangerous. Sometimes the best thing to do is to simply let the fires burn themselves out. However, the fact that some things are beyond our capability to accomplish doesn’t mean that everything is beyond our capability.

How ’bout some historical context here, folks: the US liberated, rebuilt, and democratized both Germany and Japan during WWII & afterwards – two countries which were much bigger military threats than Iraq, had much bigger populations than Iraq, and had suffered far more war damage than Iraq. By comparison, Iraq’s a cakewalk. That proved true during the military campaign, and it will prove true during the occupation, too. It’s still very early in the occupation, even if you accept the 2-year timeline of the Bush administration’s planners. I’ve always thought that was over-optimistic, and thought the US should plan on an occupation of 5 to 10 years, instead, especially considering the fact that the NATO occupation of Bosnia is still ongoing, having started back in 1995. Still, whichever timeline you use, it’s only a couple of months into the occupation of Iraq, and far too early to call it a failure.

Leninist Neocons?

When is vague anonymous hearsay evidence acceptable to Lew Rockwell? When he can use it to lie about neocons, of course:

Prominent neocons and minicons at Beltway thinktanks defended the Bolshevik revolution, “on balance,” and would not allow it to be questioned. This man could, indeed should, be anti-Stalin (post-FDR), but not anti-Bolshevik.

Funny, the “neocon” Richard Pipes, who Rockwell has falsely accused of being all wrong about the Soviets, is quite harsh in his condemnation of the Bolshevik “revolution” in his book, “The Russian Revolution,” arguing that it is rightly understood as a counter-revolutionary coup d’etat, and that Lenin and Trotsky were mass-murderers on a scale that put the Tsar to shame. In “Russia Under the Bolshevik Regime,” he argues that Lenin was the model for Mussolini’s Fascism, among many other things.

So, who are these “neocons” who allegedly were soft on Leninism, and only turned anti-Stalinist after FDR’s death? Rockwell never says, although he lamely tries to cite an interview on National Public Radio, calling NPR “left-neocon,” whatever that’s supposed to mean. But that doesn’t stop him from putting more words into the mouth of his neocon bogeyman:

Communists may have murdered more than 100 million innocents in the last century, but to our neocon friends, they are still charming fighters of inequality.

It would be a lot more accurate so say that Paleos like Rockwell still see Fascists as charming fighters of blacks, Communists, immigrants, and other threats to “our” white Christian heritage, despite the tens of millions of innocents they murdered in the last century – not to mention their interventionist domestic and foreign policies.

Alaska Adopts Vermont Carry

Wonderful news from Alaska, where it seems that even Democrats are pro-gun:

Alaskans will no longer need a permit to carry a concealed weapon under a bill signed into law Wednesday.

It’s about bloody time! However, since so many other of these United States require such permits, but recognize permits issued by other states, Alaskans will still be able to apply for permits to carry concealed handguns if they wish. If they do, they will also be exempt from background checks when buying handguns (background checks being required by Federal law, so Alaskans can’t get out of those entirely without going to the black market).

Chalmers Johnson on “Charlie Wilson’s War”

Chalmers Johnson, left-of-center economist and author of the over-rated “Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire,” has published a review of the new book, “Charlie Wilson’s War,” by George Crile, which I’ve already mentioned before in this blog.

According to Johnson, the CIA has always been utterly incompetent, and every covert operation it has ever run has been an embarassment. Since he specifically mentions Operation Phoenix, the CIA’s campaign to pacify South Vietnam by neutralizing the Viet Cong Infrastructure, it seems relevant to point out that Mark Moyar didn’t find it incompetent or embarassing in his book, “Phoenix and the Birds of Prey.” Upon examination, many of the cases mentioned by Johnson were actually successful in their own terms, or were failures for reasons other than CIA incompetence, and most of the US embarassment about them has been the result of biased interpretation by hostile left-wing critics like Johnson himself. (Not that there hasn’t been plenty of incompetence to go around within the CIA, of course.) However, Crile’s book is about the Afghan-Soviet War, so it would be best to stick to that subject.

One of the first things Johnson says about Crile’s book is simply false:

he never mentions that the “tens of thousands of fanatical Muslim fundamentalists” the CIA armed are some of the same people who in 1996 killed 19 American airmen at Dhahran, Saudi Arabia; bombed our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998; blew a hole in the side of the U.S. destroyer Cole in Aden harbor in 2000; and on Sept. 11, 2001, flew hijacked airliners into New York’s World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

In fact, Crile goes on at length about this very subject in the last section of the book, titled: “Epilogue: Unintended Consequences.” E.g.:

For anyone trying to make sense of this new enemy, it would seem relevant that for over a decade in the 1980s and early 1990s, the U.S. government sponsored the largest and most successful jihad in modern history; that the CIA secretly armed and trained several hundred thousand fundamentalist warriors to fight against our common Soviet enemy; and that many of those who now targeted America were veterans of that earlier CIA-sponsored jihad.”
– p. 508

For someone as presumably interested in the unintended consequences of US policy as the author of “Blowback,” Johnson doesn’t seem to have read any of the Epilogue of Crile’s book. Perhaps if Johnson had read it more carefully, he would’ve realized that Crile specifies two reasons why the Afghan mujahideen are not sufficiently grateful for America’s help against the Soviet invaders of their country:

1) US support for the Mujahideen was covert, not overt. Most of the weapons supplied were not US-made, but were made in Soviet-block countries. The mujahideen were trained by the Pakistanis, who wouldn’t let the CIA have access to the training camps. This meant that a good deal of the average Afghan freedom-fighters weren’t even aware of how much help they were getting from the USA.

2) The US did as Johnson advocates in “Blowback,” and totally withdrew from Afghanistan once the Soviets left, thus abandoning the Afghans to inter-tribal warfare between rival warlords and the eventual rise of the Taliban, who succeeded thanks to continued Pakistani and Saudi intervention in Afghanistan.

Of course, the implication of both of these points is that things might have gone better of US policy in support of the Afghans had been more overt and interventionist, if the US had openly supported the Mujahideen, and supported democratic nation-building in Afghanistan after the Soviet withdrawal. That would hardly square with Johnson’s antipathy to interventionist US foreign policy, though, so no wonder he ignored this aspect of Crile’s excellent book.

Finally, Johnson makes much of the fact that Carter authorized US support for the mujahideen prior to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, as if that were the beginning of Soviet intervention in Afghanistan. In fact, the Soviets had already been intervening through the Afghan Commies for years, ever since one of them overthrew the democratically-elected leader of Afghanistan, Daoud, and the Afghan Commies had started collectivizing agriculture and murdering their political opponents. Johnson also leaves out the fact that the campaign Carter authorized was merely a “nuisance” campaign of supplying the Afghans with bolt-action .303 rifles modeled on the WWI-vintage British Lee-Enfield. At that time, no one thought the Afghans had a chance of winning, and no one in the CIA or U.S. Congress was willing to take the chance that they might achieve victory. It wasn’t until Wilson, Avrokotos, and Mike Vickers took a serious look at how much money, ammo, and the kind of weapons victory would take that the Afghans really started to unleash hell upon the Red Army.

Who Was Right About the Soviet Union?

Not the dreaded neocons, according to Lew Rockwell:

“The neocons were as wrong about the Soviet Union as they were about Iraq’s WMD. In both cases, of course, they were lying. The USSR was always an economic and military basketcase…”

This was Rockwell’s comment on the declassification of the CIA’s 1976 Team “B” assessment of the Soviet Union’s strategic threat to the U.S.

My reading in Soviet Studies has convinced me that the neocons were right about the Soviets, and the Rothbardians were wrong. This is most easily proven with Rockwell’s claim that the Soviet Union was “always” a military basketcase. That would’ve come as a great surprise to the German Army at Stalingrad and Kursk, not to mention the rest of the Soviet drive to Berlin. While the Red Army may have been a basketcase at the beginning of the Great Patriotic War (although not as much as at the beginning of the Winter War), as Richard Overy writes in “Why The Allies Won,” the explanation for the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany must include a definite qualitative improvement in Soviet military power, and not just mere quantitative superiority alone. After all, the Soviets had quantitative superiority over Germany the whole time that Germany was driving to Stalingrad. After WWII, the Red Army was undefeated until it was forced to retreat from Afghanistan by the Mujahideen.

Furthermore, in his analysis of the Team B estimate, intelligence historian John Prados says that Team B faulted the CIA’s regular estimates of the Soviet threat for failing to take into account the possibility that Soviet strategy was aggressive, not just defensive. Prados says this as if it were obvious that Soviet strategy was purely defensive, not the least bit aggressive. However, about a dozen countries around the world fell to the Soviets or their proxies during the 1970s: Afghanistan, Angola, Cambodia, Laos, Mozambique, Nicaragua, Vietnam, etc. All of those Soviet proxies either fell with the Soviet Union, or quickly realigned with another great power. If the CIA’s regular estimate of the Soviet threat omitted the possibility that Soviet strategy was offensive, right in the midst of all this evidence that Soviet strategy not only was offensive but was succeeding, then its methodology was fatally flawed.

The question of whether the Soviet Union was always an economic basketcase is a little more complicated. The Soviet economy was always inferior to that of the USA, but the Soviets did achieve real economic gains. As Paul Krugman comments, Soviet growth during the Khruschev era was so fast that it scared Western economists, until they figured out that it was entirely due to an unsustainable increase in economic inputs.

Economic stagnation did set in during the Brezhnev era, but the Soviet economy was propped up by several things:

* High oil prices. Soviet Russia, like Russia today, was an oil exporter, with one of the lowest costs of production in the world. The OPEC embargo resulted in high oil prices, which enabled the Soviets to export oil for large amounts of hard currency. The lifting of oil price controls and collapse of the OPEC embargo resulted in low oil prices, ending this way for the Soviets to prolong their rule.

* Grain subsidies. As part of detente, the US sold grain to the Soviets at bargain-basement prices. This relieved the Soviets of the need to make their agriculture more productive so as to feed their people, and enabled them to spend more of their GDP on their military. The end of these subsidies took this prop from underneath the Soviet edifice, too.

* Unchallenged lead in the Arms Race. As Peter Schweitzer points out in “Reagan’s War,” no U.S. President before Reagan ever made it a policy goal for the US to have global military superiority over the Soviets. Reagan’s adoption of this policy amounted to a form of economic warfare against the Soviets. Once the USA seriously challenged the Soviets in the arms race, there was no way the Soviet economy could match the productive might of the USA.

So, if the Soviet economy was a basketcase, until Reagan’s Presidency it was one that was running so fast on crutches provided by the US or other foreign powers that it was still winning the arms race and expanding its sphere of influence all over the world. Reagan’s foreign policy team reversed that situation, with full knowledge of what it was doing. When Richard Pipes was Reagan’s National Security Advisor for the Soviet Union, he wrote an official prediction that a reformer like Gorbachev would take the lead in the Soviet Union after a few years of the sort of pressure the US was in the process of applying.

Pipes was right about that, Team B was right that Soviet strategy was offensive, and we have Reagan’s anti-Soviet policies to thank for the Soviet implosion, the liberation of all the millions of people who used to live under Soviet tyranny in Russia and all the Warsaw Pact countries, and the end of the Soviet nuclear threat to the USA. Rothbard’s prediction that only a US return to an isolationist foreign policy could end the Cold War was wrong.

The Constitutionality of the War On Terror

Sheldon Richman takes constitutionalists who supported Gulf War II to task for allegedly supporting an unconstitutional war. The crux of his argument is:

There is no warrant in the U.S. Constitution for the president of the United States to launch a war in order to liberate people from a brutal government.

Funny, I can’t find any restriction in the Constitution upon the power to declare war that it may not be done “to liberate people from a brutal government.” As far as the Constitution is concerned, war can be declared for any purpose found to be in the common defense of the USA. If that means liberating people from a brutal government, so be it. That leaves the question of whether the President of the United States had the authority to “launch” such a war in the case of Iraq, which I’ll get to in a moment. To continue:

You can look it up. Americans used to know that. In 1821, then-Secretary of State John Quincy Adams famously said, America “goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.”

The above statement of the Monroe Doctrine, so-called since John Quincy Adams was Secretary of State in the Monroe administration at the time, is a statement of foreign policy, not a constitutional restriction. While the policy of the Monroe administration may have been to avoid seeking out monsters to destroy, the fact remains that there is no restriction against seeking out monsters and destroying them under the U.S. Constitution. This may or may not be a desirable foreign policy, but it’s not a constitutional question.

This is not the only example of conservatives’ embracing their adversaries’ doctrine. The Constitution clearly says that only Congress can declare war. But Bush never asked Congress to declare war, and it did not do so. Instead, it illegally delegated the war-declaring power to the president.”

Here, Richman repeats a common misinterpretation of the function of the Congressional power to declare war. The fact that only Congress has the power to declare war does not mean that the U.S. can never wage war until and unless Congress declares it. If that were the case, then the soldiers at Pearl Harbor would’ve been acting unconstitutionally in defending themselves against the Japanese on December 7, 1941, and would have had to wait until Congress met the next day before doing so.

The function of a declaration of war is to initiate a state of war between the maker of the declaration and the one against whom war is declared. If there is a state of peace between A and B, and A declares war against B, then there is a state of war between A and B. It is not necessary for B to make a reciprocal declaration of war against A.

A state of war can be initiated by other things besides a declaration of war. It can also be initiated by an act of war, such as the Japanese attack upon Pearl Harbor. (The Japanese intended the attack to come right after the Japanese ambassador to the US delivered Japan’s declaration of war, but delays in the Japanese embassy in Washington prevented its delivery until after the attack had already occurred.) So, if A commits an act of war against B, then a state of war exists between A and B, without need for any declaration of war by either party.

Alliances can also come into play here. If A is allied with B, and declares that any attack upon B will be considered as an attack on A, then if C commits an act of war against B, C is in a state of war with both A and B – again, without any declaration of war by A, B, or C.

This brings us to Gulf Wars I and II. Kuwait was a US ally, and, towards the end of the Iran-Iraq War the US Navy had recently engaged the Iranian Navy in battle in the Persian Gulf to protect Kuwaiti shipping, thus destroying about half the Iranian Navy in the process. Iraq invaded Kuwait, which was unanimously recognized as an act of aggressive war by the Security Council of the United Nations. Neither Iraq nor Kuwait had declared war upon each other, but they were clearly in a state of war with each other. Since Kuwait was a US ally, Iraq was also in a state of war with the US – again, without any declaration of war by Iraq, Kuwait, or the US. Congressional assent to this was provided in the Congressional Resolution which authorized Bush I to expel Iraq from Kuwait by means of US military power.

However, removal of Iraq from Kuwait wasn’t the only criterion for ending GWI. The UN Security Council specified the complete terms for ending GWI in its resolutions. Iraq never complied with those terms, so Iraq never made peace with Kuwait, the US, or any of Kuwait’s other allies, and thus remained in a state of war with them.

So, by the time GWII came around, Iraq, Kuwait, the US, and the rest of Kuwait’s allies remained in a state of war – again, without any declaration of war by any of them.

Richman then claims that it was illegal for Congress to delegate its power to “declare” war to the President. Actually, Congress did no such thing, it authorized the President to make war upon Iraq, at his discretion, not to declare it.

The whole purpose of Congress having the constitutional power to declare war was to prevent the President from initiating wars upon his own, without the consent of Congress. However, a majority of Congress went along with GWII, so the purpose of assigning that power to Congress is fulfilled. If Congress didn’t want the President to make war upon Iraq, Congress could’ve banned the use of US tax-funded resources in war against Iraq, Congress could’ve impeached Bush II, etc. Congress didn’t do any such thing, of course.

What Richman wants to do is to argue that a war which enjoyed the support of both the President and Congress and the vast majority of the American people was somehow in violation of the provisions of the Constitution which are there to ensure that the US doesn’t go to war without the support of Congress and the vast majority of the American people. He fails miserably. Unfortunately, the argument he makes is quite common amongst libertarian peaceniks.

It’s high time that libertarian peaceniks abandoned such sophistry. If they want to argue that GWII was wrong, fine, but they shouldn’t do so on the grounds that it was unconstitutional, because it wasn’t. Not all things that are constitutional are good – e.g., the Post Office.

So Many Books, So Little Time…

It seems as if as soon as I finish one of the many books on my self-assigned reading list, half a dozen more that I want to read are published. For instance, I’ve just recently finished “Charlie Wilson’s War,” an inside-the-scenes book about how the CIA funded the Mujahideen in Afghanistan against the Soviets during the 1980s. It’s a great book, which reads like a non-fiction version of the movie “Spy Game,” and it’s the perfect antidote to those people who couldn’t tell you who Najibullah was but are absolutely certain that Osama Bin Laden was a major CIA asset against the Soviets. The truth is much more complicated and interesting than that, and still leaves plenty of room for criticizing the US for supporting Islamists against the Soviets.

However, as soon as I finish it, what do I see, but a new book about Stalin’s persecution of Jews right before he died, “Stalin’s Last Crime,” “Khruschev: The Man and his Era,” “Gulag: A History,” “Stalin’s Loyal Executioner,” and “A Century of Violence in Soviet Russia” – all this just in Soviet studies!

It’s not fair, there oughta be a law against publishing any new books until I’ve already read all the ones I want to read that have already been published. :-)


During the dark days of WWII, George Orwell once said that to be a pacifist when your country is at war with Fascism is to be objectively pro-Fascist. He later backed off from this, evidently deciding that not all those who were opposed to The War (as Brits still call WWII) were pro-Fascist. It does seem to me that there were two kinds of people opposed to British and American participation in WWII: those who thought it would be bad for Britain and America, and those who thought it would be bad for Germany, Italy, and Japan. I sympathize with the former, but have absolutely no sympathy for the latter.

A similar divide exists for those opposed to the War on Terror: some oppose it because they believe it bad for America, some oppose it because they believe it bad for Al Qaeda and its allies – or, to put the same thing another way, because they believe it good for Al Qaeda’s enemies, Israel, the Saudi rulers, and the rest of the non-Islamist regimes of the Moslem world. Again, I have some sympathy for the former group, even though I believe its members to be mistaken, and I have zero sympathy for the latter.

It seems to me that we need a word for those who hide their support for Islamo-fascists and all other sorts of Fascists behind a rhetoric of pacifism. I propose the neologism: Pacifascists. Their ideology would then be Pacifascism. This would be a kind of crypto-Fascism, which conveys its support for Fascism by selectively applying Pacifist arguments to those potentially or actually at war with Fascism, but not to the Fascists themselves.

My First Trip to Vegas

I recently had the opportunity to visit Las Vegas, Nevada, for the first time. I live in Berkeley, CA, and had been to Reno before, but never to Vegas. I don’t gamble, I went for a martial arts conference/seminar/tournament and for some of the other kinds of entertainment offered in Vegas.

We drove down I-5 to Bakersfield, then along Highway 58 to I-15, which took us up to Vegas. My Acura Vigor, which I bought last September, performed like a champ, purring away at about 85MPH whenever I had a clear freeway lane ahead of me. Unfortunately, that wasn’t very often on I-5, because it’s only two lanes going each way, and the right lane tends to be dominated by big-rig trucks which have a speed limit of 55MPH. This means that all the car drivers who want to drive faster than the trucks but slower than 85MPH stay in the left lane. It’s even worse when a truck passes another one – then both lanes get blocked. The other thing that was notable about the trip is how the freeways and highways in California all seemed to be badly in need of resurfacing or other maintenance, and yet my girlfriend and I saw all sorts of road construction equipment sitting in construction zones either by the side of the road or in the middle of it, idle in the middle of a weekday, without a worker in sight. It reminded my girlfriend of the abandoned construction projects she saw behind the Iron Curtain back in the early 1960s when she toured Eastern Europe as part of an orchestra.

Everything changed when we reached the Nevada border: the freeway widened, it had been newly-resurfaced, the lower speed limit for trucks vanished, and right at the border was a town with casinos, a roller coaster, retail outlets (prices must be lower in Nevada, due to the fact that the state has no income tax and the employers can thus afford to pay lower wages in order for workers to have the same standard of living), gas stations, restaurants, etc. There was nothing of the kind on the California side of the border.

Things only got more impressive when we got to Vegas. The Strip is about a dozen lanes wide, and they have pedestrian walkways that cross the intersections to keep walkers from disrupting motor vehicle traffic. They can be accessed either by escalator or elevator from the street, or from inside the hotels. Some of the hotels (Excalibur, the Luxor, and Mandalay Bay) are also serviced by a monorail, and we were told that a monorail was being planned for the whole strip. Those pedestrian walkways would be great in a lot of other places, I’m sure, such as downtown Berkeley and downtown San Francisco, but I doubt we’ll see them anywhere else anytime soon. There was also plenty of parking at all of the hotels, unlike in Berkeley or San Francisco.

We stayed at Circus Circus, which is one of the older hotels on the Strip, because that was where my seminar/tournament was being held. It wasn’t very impressive to us, since it caters to families with children instead of adults like us, but it proved to be an adequate base of operations for us. Congestion pricing seems to be the rule for Vegas hotels as we paid about $50/night on Thursday and Sunday nights and about $90/night for Friday and Saturday nights (with a group discount).

When I wasn’t busy with the seminar/tournament, we toured some of the other hotels, and saw as many shows as we could. The first show we saw was Sigfried & Roy, at the Mirage, which is the one with the erupting volcano out front. Inside, they have a huge saltwater aquarium behind the front desk, a jungle area to walk through to get into the main casino floor, a habitat for the white tigers, and another area for animals that was always closed by the time we could’ve gone to see it. The show was impressive, definitely worth seeing once, although not the best one we saw while we were there. The costumes were like something out of a science fiction movie, the dancing and stage sets were very imaginative, but the real stars of the show were the white tigers and lions, which were gorgeous. Siegfried and Roy have a captive breeding program to preserve these endangered species – exemplifying how to preserve endangered species without the State.

The next show we saw was “Skintight,” a topless show featuring a blonde I’d never heard of before who was said to have been a former Playboy Playmate, along with a whole cast of male & female dancers. We enjoyed it, but it still wasn’t the best show we saw. Again, the costumes were quite imaginative, and the dance numbers were, too. One of them was evidently inspired by the musical, “Stomp.” That was at Harrah’s, one of the older hotels.

The last show we saw was the best, Cirque du Soleil’s “Mystere.” Cirque du Soleil has two shows in permanent installations in Vegas, the other being “O” at the Bellagio. We were unable to get tickets to “O”, which is a water show, so we went to Mystere instead. We weren’t disappointed at all. The theme of the show was about two babies being born into and exploring a world filled with strange and wonderful creatures, which gave them a lot of leeway with their acts. They had quite an assortment of those – a guy who spun a cube-frame around himself with his hands and feet while suspended by a wire from the ceiling, pole-climbers who’d jump from one pole to the other, doing flips and twists in mid-air, trapeze artists, acrobats who used trampolines set at different angles to jump and flip over and past each other, performers who were suspended from something like long bungee cords from the ceiling who would do spins and flips and soar through the air, etc. All in time to the wonderful live music, of course, with truly fantastic costumes. And clowns to provide some comic relief, like the one wearing a suit with an Einstein hairdo who pretended to be an usher before the show and led audience-members on wild goose-chases instead of to their seats, walking over rows of seats, going from one side of the theater to the other, then back, finally giving up in disgust and throwing their tickets up in to the air. He even pretended that two audience members were in the wrong seats and made them leave so he could seat two others in their place. Luckily, this joke was rectified so no one had to miss the show. We loved “Mystere” so much that we bought the soundtrack and can’t wait to go back and see “O” – but we’ll make sure to get tickets first, as they’re sold out way in advance.

We also toured some of the other hotels – the Bellagio, Caesar’s Palace, New York New York, Paris, the Venetian, Excalibur, the Luxor, Mandalay Bay, and Treasure Island. Unfortunately, it was too windy for either the outdoor fountain show at the Bellagio or the Pirate show at Treasure Island, but we still got to see the flower atrium at the Bellagio, which was fantastic. It smelled wonderful, which was a nice change from the usual smell of cigarette smoke from the casino floors upon entering most hotels. It seems to be a popular place for wedding parties, too. They had those fountains which shoot a solid stream of water, giant fake butterflies, some real butterflies in a gazebo enclosed by netting, lots of tulips, and all sorts of other flowers. Caesar’s has reproductions of classical and neo-classical statues out front, and employees that wear costumes in the style of ancient Rome. New York New York is in the shape of a miniature reproduction of the NYC skyline, and has a roller coaster. Paris has a miniature Eiffel Tower, the Venetian has a canal on which you can take gondola rides, Excalibur has a dinner show that’s a jousting tournament, the Luxor has reproductions of artifacts from King Tut’s tomb on exhibit – almost every casino/hotel had its own attraction, consistent with its theme. Some were difficult to connect with the theme, though. Mandalay Bay has a bar called “Red Square,” which is Russian-styled, with a giant headless statue of Lenin outside, complete with pigeon-droppings. That doesn’t fit in too well with Mandalay Bay’s Burmese theme, but we didn’t complain, we just had our picture taken in front of the Headless Lenin.

We had a wonderful time, can’t wait to go back, and recommend it highly. Next time, we’re going to see if we can get a good deal on rooms at the Luxor. We loved the buffet there.

How the Green Berets Overthrew the Taliban

While I followed the news about the war in Afghanistan between the Taliban and Al Qaeda versus the Northern Alliance and the United States of America as closely as I could, I knew I’d have to wait a while for the real story of Operation Enduring Freedom to be told. Now, it has been told, in the book my girlfriend gave me for my birthday, “The Hunt for Bin Laden: Task Force Dagger – On the ground with the Special Forces in Afghanistan”, by Robin Moore.

Moore is also the author of “The Green Berets,” which was the basis for the John Wayne movie, and co-author of “The Ballad of the Green Berets.” Moore is uniquely qualified to tell the story of the overthrow of the Taliban because of his excellent connections with the Green Berets (U.S. Army Special Forces). Since they were the only U.S. soldiers on the ground in Afghanistan for most of the war, they’re the only ones that know the “ground truth” of it. Moore went to their secret bases in Uzbekistan & elsewhere to interview those who fought the Taliban & Al Qaeda forces.

The simple version of how they operated is easy to tell: they went into the parts of Afghanistan that were controlled by the Northern Alliance, teamed up with the Northern Alliance, then proceeded to call in air strikes against their Taliban & Al Qaeda opposing forces in co-ordination with NA ground attacks. However, Moore is able to provide a level of detail that is both fascinating and often highly amusing.

For example, Moore tells about the relationships between specific Green Beret teams and specific Northern Alliance commanders. For instance, Dostum liked to call up his enemies on the radio (they knew each other’s radio frequencies) and tell them that the Americans were there with their “death ray” – actually an infra-red laser target designator for smart bombs to be dropped by U.S. bombers – and that if they didn’t surrender they would all be killed. The Taliban or Al Qaeda commander would say: “Please send the Americans to fight us, we want to fight them. “Good,” Dostum would then say, “I send them to you,” and the bombs would start dropping on the enemy positions, often right ahead of a Northern Alliance cavalry charge. There are some other funny stories in it, too, such as the one about the “Angel of Death,” which I’ll leave for you to find out about when you buy and read the book.

The total number of Green Berets in-country was between 200-300 men, who landed without any formal plans or orders other than to hook up with the indigenous resistance and help them against the enemy as best they could. The result was that within about 60 days, the Taliban were overthrown, Al Qaeda was in hiding, and the Green Berets were helping the Afghans build their first democratic government in decades. Their success is eloquent testimony to the high quality of the Green Berets.

Moore also provides a good critique of how conventional U.S. forces tried to move in and take over operations against the Taliban & Al Qaeda in Operation Anaconda, which ended up resulting in the highest U.S. casualties of the war due to many mistakes. That, and his account of what really happened in the prison uprising at Mazar-e-Sharif, is part of what makes this book so fascinating.

This book is also quite relevant to the question Billy Beck raises over on his blog:

“…it’s not a hard sell to organize a military defense, any more than anything else that millions of people are buying every day.


“Someone should run some numbers on what a rational force would cost. I’m serious. I see no one doing it, and I don’t have the patience for it.”

A good start would be to figure out what the budget was for Operation Enduring Freedom, including recruitment, training, equipment, supplies, intelligence, airpower, etc. Since the Green Berets have been operating on extremely limited budgets for a long time (they’re relatively less well-funded than their Navy, Air Force, and Marine equivalents within the U.S. Special Operations Command), and since it took so few of them to get the job done, I would imagine that the cost per American citizen won’t turn out to be very high.

I’m sure that Operation Iraqi Freedom will turn out to be a lot more expensive, since it involves a lot more troops – and not just Green Berets, but a lot of conventional forces as well as a much bigger SpecOps contingent – but I still don’t think it will work out to anything close to what the U.S. Federal budget has been in recent years.

So, buy the book now – it’s what all good cutting-edge anarcho-warmongers will soon be reading. :-)