Ain’t That Good News?

A few brief replies to my esteemed editor:

1) Refuting the myth that Osama Bin Laden was a CIA asset is indeed instrumental to prosecuting the war on terror. It is partly because of the publication of such refutations that this myth has failed to obstruct the war. The refutation I praised isn’t the first to appear, only the most recent. The first one I saw appeared in The New Republic shortly after 9/11. Still, the meme isn’t yet extinct – I’ve seen many libertarian anti-warmongerers repeat it in the past year – so it still bears repeating.

2) Yes, I would like to see Hamdi tried, convicted, & executed for treason, just like Lindh (unless he turns snitch and plea-bargains, as Lindh did). After he’s held as a POW for the duration of the War On Terror, that is. He didn’t have to claim his U.S. citizenship in an attempt to escape his detention as an enemy combatant, but once he did established his own positive obligations to the USA. But the good news is that the legality of detaining enemy combatants as enemy combatants in the War On Terror was upheld. Henry Mark Holzer has an exellent analysis of this decision. How my editor can fail to see the relevance of this decision to the War On Terror is beyond me, since Hamdi was captured in battle against terrorists. How could holding captured terrorists as enemy combatants not have anything to do with the War On Terror?

3) As for Pollack’s “The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq,” I didn’t say that you had to read it to competently discuss the upcoming war on Iraq, I said that you had to be familiar with the arguments in it. That familiarity can be gained by ways other than reading it – some of them were already familiar to me before I read it, and many of those who were in the audience with me when I went to see Pollack speak at the World Affairs Council in San Francisco had not yet read it, but they became familiar with some of the arguments in it from his talk.

True, Pollack is less convinced of a relationship between Iraq and Al Qaeda than I am. However, his expertise is in Iraq, not Islamist terrorism, and since he’s been out of the government for a few years now he has not been privy to the latest classified intel about an Iraqi connection to Al Qaeda, as he admitted during the Q&A when I heard him speak. Those who are experts on Osama Bin Laden and do have access to the latest classified intel, like Youssef Bodansky, author of “Bin Laden: The Man Who Declared War On America,” affirm that Iraq is a sponsor of Al Qaeda.

For me, the Iraqi connection to anti-US terrorism is the clincher, which makes it necessary to overthrow Saddam Hussein. There are a number of other arguments which have been made about it, such as the humanitarian argument about what’s good for the Iraqi people. It is those arguments which Pollack addresses quite nicely, and which I endorsed because they’re not sufficiently well-known.

My most fundamental criticism of Pollack is that he assumes that the US must play the role of global policeman & enforce the collective security of other countries. I reject that assumption. For him, there doesn’t have to be any connection between Iraq & Al Qaeda for it to be necessary for the US to overthrow Saddam Hussein; for me, there does.

As for using the State for this purpose, I would prefer to be able to hire private mercenaries out of my own pocket to overthrow Saddam, but unfortunately I live in a world in which that service has been monopolized by the State. So, I want to use the State for that purpose. The US government has shown itself to be capable of overthrowing foreign totalitarian dictators and ending the military threats from those countries on a long-term basis, as evidenced by the cases of Germany, Japan, & Italy. More recently, totalitarianism was ended in the Soviet Union & Eastern Europe in large part thanks to US policy. Time to do it again, I say.

Finally, I can’t go along with the blanket rejection of public policy as a “collectivist endeavor.” Does that include the public policy analysis of the Cato Institute and the Reason Foundation, just to name two examples? There is such a thing as libertarian public policy, there is such a thing as working within the system. I’m grateful that I live in the territory of a State staffed by people who are heir to a culture of liberty like that of America, rather than a culture of authoritarianism like, say, Russia or China. The officers of the American State aren’t sufficiently libertarian for me, but the answer to that is to encourage them to be more so, by means including public policy debate. It is not the only means of defending & extending liberty, nor is it necessarily the best one, that doesn’t make it illegitimate.

To Secure Liberty, Prepare For War

Allan Forester has a good reply to Walter Block’s recent anti-warmongering screed. It makes the provocative point that the primary goal of libertarianism is liberty, not the avoidance of aggression. The avoidance of aggression is a consequence of securing liberty, but it is not the top priority. If it were, a prisoner being held in solitary confinement would be the ultimate libertarian, since he’d be incapable of ever aggressing against anyone (assuming, of course, that his incarceration was voluntarily-financed). But, while he wouldn’t be guilty of aggression, he wouldn’t be free.

Anti-warmongerers like Block, the lewrockwell.com/antiwar.com crowd, etc., have forgotten that libertarian analysis of war must start by asking what it takes to defend liberty against tyrannical aggressors like Saddam Hussein, Osama Bin Laden, Stalin, Hitler, etc. Any answer that makes it impossible to defend liberty, such as a total prohibition upon collateral damage, is bad news for liberty.

The anti-warmongerers seem to be making the mistake of not trying to maximize liberty – either their own, or that of others – but of trying to minimize aggression, especially their own complicity in it. Groucho Marx once said that politics was the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, misdiagnosing it and applying the wrong remedies. Anti-warmongerers look for aggression, find it everywhere, misdiagnose it, and apply the wrong remedy.

Does the fact that Iraq has not yet attacked US territory mean that it would be aggression for the US to destroy the totalitarian socialist regime of Saddam Hussein? Of course not, just as it wouldn’t be aggression for me to free the slaves on one of the plantations of the antebellum South so beloved by Lew Rockwell, just because neither the plantation owner nor any of his hirelings had ever threatened me. Saddam Hussein is a constant threat to the Iraqi people, especially the Kurds of the north and the Shi’ites of the south, as well as to the Kuwaitis, Saudis, Israelis, and other neighbors. If the US did for Iraq what it did for Japan and West Germany after WWII, the people of Iraq & all the other countries in the region will all be much more secure in their liberties.

This is not to say that overthrowing Saddam Hussein and democratizing Iraq is necessarily in the self-interest of the West, but even if it is not in our self-interest that doesn’t make it aggression. At worst, it would be self-sacrificing, not aggression. I believe that it is in our interest, because I believe that Saddam Hussein has been one of the main remaining sponsors of Al Qaeda. The others were Sudan, Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, and all of them have either stopped or greatly reduced their support for Al Qaeda. Iraq is also the one for which the best case can be made that it has violated international law, and is one of the most vulnerable to military attack by the USA (the Taliban were the most vulnerable, but they’ve long since been overthrown). Once Iraq is taken out, decisively and permanently, the remainder can probably be dealt with by means of peaceful diplomacy.

Libertarianism is, or ought to be, about how to live freely in a free world and making it freer, not about living as some sort of equivalent of a Buddhist monk who doesn’t dare step outside of his monastery for fear of harming some poor innocent living thing. It’s not about putting on some sort of moral straightjacket to prevent us from defending ourselves against those who would use our moral scruples against us.

Snowmobilophobia

Billy’s blog about going snowmobiling reminds me of my first time on one:

I had my first ride on a snowmobile when I was a little kid visiting my grandparents in upstate New York. The driver was my grandmother, a blue-haired old lady in her 70s by that time. After showing me how it worked, she then let me drive and got on the back to ride. I believe it was her suggestion that I take over, although I don’t recall for sure. I was so used to city streets that it probably never occurred to me that I could drive legally since we were on the private dirt road (covered with about 6 feet of snow, of course) to our family’s hunting camp. Unfortunately, I soon dumped her off when we went through a ditch caused by some springwater running across the road. I looked back, to see her laughing, unhurt, in the snow, and got off to help her up.

Having had this introduction to snowmobiles, I find it hard to fathom Billy’s initial apprehensiveness about them. It’s hard to be afraid of something you first saw being driven by your grandmother, and that your grandmother trusted you enough to let you drive with her riding behind you. She was also the one who first taught me how to shoot, with the same bolt-action .22 rifle with which she taught my mother, sister, my 4 aunts, and many of my fellow grandchildren. Perhaps that’s why I’ve never been afraid of guns, either. I owe a lot to my grandmother, and I have a picture of her on my wall with the last buck she ever killed to remember her by. She also taught me how to fish, instilling a love of fishing that will probably last all my life, even though I haven’t gone fishing in years.

Recently, I’ve come to realize I owe a lot more than I ever thought to my family roots on my mother’s side. I’m descended from the Dutch & German settlers who first arrived on the Tug Hill Plateau of upstate New York in the mid-1700s, and scratched out their living as dairy farmers in that inhospitable climate (Tug Hill gets more snow than anyplace east of the Rockies in the USA). My grandfather was a lumberjack, mechanic, soldier, surveyor, architect, home builder, county supervisor, private conservationist, hunter, fisher, & small businessman. Farm kids grow up working – milking cows, harvesting crops, etc.

Sadly, the farmers of upstate New York aren’t doing very well these days. Of my grandmother’s 5 daughters, 4 of them became farm wives, but none of their children followed them into the dairy business. They’ve all sold their farms now, and the only ones who seem to be able to make a profit at it these days are the Amish, thanks to their extremely low production costs. It’s a shame, because dairy farming is a way of life that has much to teach, and instills a strong work ethic. I’ll always owe a lot to that part of my background.

Good News in War On Terror

I’ve been wanting to write something to counter the myth that Osama Bin Laden is an example of blowback from US support for the mujahideen who took up arms against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s. Luckily, someone else has beaten me to it, with this excellent article.

Also, it seems that my position on the status of US citizens held as enemy combatants by the US has been confirmed by a US Federal appeals court. One more small victory against Islamo-fascism & its Western sympathizers.

Swann’s basically right about the upcoming Gulf War II, except that it will work. Speaking of Iraq, a while ago I asked Billy Beck what to read about Gulf War I. In addition to recommending Clancy’s “Into the Storm,” and “Every Man A Tiger,” and Gordon & Trainor’s “The Generals’ War,” he said that the PhD thesis had yet to have been written about the prospects for Gulf War II. Since then, I’ve found that it has, in Kenneth Pollack’s “The Threatening Storm.” Pollack was a CIA specialist in analyzing Iraq, and if the Bushies are getting and taking advice from people of his level of understanding of Iraqi affairs – and every indication is that they are – then we’re in good hands. Pollack has an excellent understanding of Iraqi military capability and internal security, and does a wonderful job of showing why a full-scale US ground invasion of Iraq, preceded by strategic aerial bombing, of course, is the most humane option for the Iraqi people and Iraq’s regional neighbors. Better than sanctions, better than lifting the sanctions but hoping to deter Saddam, and better than leaving him to his own devices.

I’ve been wanting to write something to counter the myth that Osama Bin Laden is an example of blowback from US support for the mujahideen who took up arms against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s. Luckily, someone else has beaten me to it, with this excellent article.

Also, it seems that my position on the status of US citizens held as enemy combatants by the US has been confirmed by a US Federal appeals court. One more small victory against Islamo-fascism & its Western sympathizers.

Swann’s basically right about the upcoming Gulf War II, except that it will work. Speaking of Iraq, a while ago I asked Billy Beck what to read about Gulf War I. In addition to recommending Clancy’s “Into the Storm,” and “Every Man A Tiger,” and Gordon & Trainor’s “The Generals’ War,” he said that the PhD thesis had yet to have been written about the prospects for Gulf War II. Since then, I’ve found that it has, in Kenneth Pollack’s “The Threatening Storm.” Pollack was a CIA specialist in analyzing Iraq, and if the Bushies are getting and taking advice from people of his level of understanding of Iraqi affairs – and every indication is that they are – then we’re in good hands. Pollack has an excellent understanding of Iraqi military capability and internal security, and does a wonderful job of showing why a full-scale US ground invasion of Iraq, preceded by strategic aerial bombing, of course, is the most humane option for the Iraqi people and Iraq’s regional neighbors. Better than sanctions, better than lifting the sanctions but hoping to deter Saddam, and better than leaving him to his own devices.

One of Pollack’s main points is that Saddam believes that once he becomes a nuclear power he will be able to deter the US from resisting his drive toward regional hegemony. This is not true, but he has never been one to let truth get in the way of his fantasies. So, he is determined to get nukes & other weapons of mass destruction (WMD), and once he has them he will again aggress against his neighbors. In the meantime, the Iraqi people suffer under a regime which he has consciously modeled on those of Hitler and Stalin, except for the Kurds who are protected by US and British airpower.

Pollack’s critique of the anti-sanctions brigade is especially devastating. To put it simply, Saddam doesn’t even sell as much oil as allowed to under the oil-for-food UN regime, and doesn’t buy food or medical supplies for the Iraqi people with it. He buys food & medicines, then smuggles them out of the country to re-sell them on the black market for weapons & other supplies for his military and secret police services. He bribes neighboring countries like Syria into going along with this, so the sanctions are already leaking like the proverbial sieve and will only become more so over time if they’re not enforced.

Of course, once Saddam is overthrown, the sanctions can be lifted and the oil can be sold to provide food, medicine, & other supplies needed by the Iraqi people, without fear that the proceeds will further Saddam’s pursuit of WMD and regional aggression. Then there will be no more need for US troops to be stationed in Saudi Arabia.

Pollack’s analysis of what it will take to rebuild Iraq after Gulf War II is especially good, as he understands the dynamics of the Shi’ite majority, the Sunni minority ruling class, the Kurdish minority, the interests of Iraq’s neighbors (which he says are all privately in favor of a US invasion of Iraq, as long as it’s quick), the Iraqi exile groups (of which he doesn’t have a very high opinion, having tried to help them come up with a plan for overthrowing Saddam via covert operations with US support and given up in frustration), etc.

No one on either side of the debate about whether the US ought to invade Iraq or not can competently discuss the issue without being familiar with the arguments in Pollack’s book. It also has the virtue of being quite readable.

Berkeley’s Mayor/Censor-Elect

My thanks to Comrade Swann for pointing out the case of Berkeley Mayor-Elect Tom Bates and the 1,000 trashed copies of the Daily Californian which endorsed his opponent, Shirley Dean. I live in Berkeley, but pay so little attention to Berkeley politics these days that I wasn’t even sure who had won the election, much less heard anything about this scandal. The funniest thing to me about this is that Bates’ campaign slogan was “Berkeley At Its Best.” Is stealing copies of newspapers that endorse your electoral opponents indicative of the Berkeley Left at its best? Apparently so, as is “taking responsibility” for it after you’ve won, condemning it as a terrible thing to do, spreading the word that it was done during a state of temporary insanity, and keeping the ill-gotten fruits of victory by refusing to do the honorable thing and resign.

Sadly, judging by past performance, this is the best we can expect from the Berkeley Left: crimes against political opponents, non-denial denials about it afterwards, combined with hollow acceptance of responsibility, defenses for their commission, retention of the proceeds of the crimes, and a total lack of honor about it all. Stealing as much as possible of the press run of the Daily Californian has practically become an entry requirement for the Berkeley Left, these days. It was done when the Daily Californian offended the UC Berkeley Left by selling an ad to David Horowitz of frontpagemag.com arguing against slavery reparations, and has been done many other times in the past. I was born & raised in or around Berkeley, and have been paying attention to Berkeley politics for about two decades, since the days when I was still a high-school socialist. Comrade Bates’ election-by-censorship is hardly the worst thing I’ve seen done by the Berkeley Left, nor do I expect it to be the last.

A bit of background on Berkeley politics is in order for outsiders: The last elected Republican in Berkeley was back in the 1950s, rumor has it, and ever since the late 1960s or early 1970s Berkeley politics has been a struggle between two factions: moderate Democrats, and the radical Left, who sometimes pose as Democrats, sometimes not, as expedience dictates. The moderate Democrats tend to be the “hill liberals,” the Evil Ruling Class of Berkeley, those rich enough to own houses in the hills (and sometimes even other houses which they rent to others to live in, one of the gravest crimes one can commit in Berkeley), where the streets are windy, confusing, and ill-maintained, all in order to discourage cars driven by anyone not fortunate enough to live there. I was born into that Evil Ruling Class, since my parents bought a house on Marin ave. right across the street from Cragmont Elementary School soon after I was born, but I was soon demoted since the house was sold when my parents divorced when I was 5 years old. Since then, I was forced to split my time between one house in the Berkeley flatlands, and another in Albany, right next door to Berkeley. Both of my parents, of course, were Liberals – civil libertarians, Sierra Club members, etc. But such protective coloring doesn’t immunize the Hill Liberals of Berkeley against demonization and scapegoating by the radical Left.

The Berkeley Left, on the other hand, caters to the tenants of rent-controlled apartments, passed rent control for the express purpose of stealing the private property of landowners and transferring it to their political constituents, is responsible for Berkeley having its own independent foreign policy (which used to include things like adopting “sister cities” in Nicaragua when it was ruled by the Sandinistas, who were sock-puppets of the Cuban secret police at the time, and most recently included a call for ending the bombing of Afghanistan after 9/11 when the US was in the process of overthrowing the Taliban’s theocratic totalitarian dictatorship), and riots over the University’s attempts to build anything in People’s Park – even volleyball and basketball courts, and sorely-needed public restrooms (the basketball court and restrooms stayed, but the volleyball courts had to be removed for lack of use, mostly because it was too easy for broken glass to be hidden in the sand of the court). For all the Berkeley Left’s claims to advocate the cause of racial minorities, I was an eyewitness to those riots, and the only racial minorities I saw amongst the participants belonged to the riot police.

Bates opponent, Shirley Dean, was a fairly good mayor, by Berkeley standards – a pragmatist who voted against the resolution calling for an end to the bombing of Afghanistan, on the grounds that it made Berkeley into a national laughingstock & would hurt her abilities to get money from the Bush administration. She was the candidate of the moderate Democrats, Bates the candidate of the Left. He was a member of the state assembly, but seems to have been term-limited out of that seat. With this start, he’s well on his way to being a worse mayor than Dean.

However, I fail to see how Comrade Swann finds an East vs. West, West vs. Islam angle to this whole thing. Censorship has plenty of precedent in Christianity and ancient Rome, as does committing crimes against one’s political opponents. If anything, it’s the relative absence of these things in the West that makes Islamists get their panties in a bunch.