Presidential Treason

I see, in recent events, the makings of a New Axis, formed on Russia, Iran, and China. The New Axis, if unchallenged, would be able to isolate and extort the United States. The stark alternatives will be a rerun of World War II or de facto surrender by the United States.

Without a sudden and massive reversal of America’s disarmament, there will be little hope of defeating the New Axis in a rerun of World War II. A 21st Century Alliance would be weaker (relatively) than the World War II Alliance because Britain would not be the player that it was — in spirit or in war-making potential. Continental Europe would sit it out, for fear of retaliation from Russia, even though a victorious Russia would quickly roll up the continent. Israel, India, and Japan would be tied down (if not knocked out quickly). Thus, the U.S. would stand almost alone, with relatively insignificant support from Australia and Canada (maybe).

This gloomy scenario, it seems to me, is the inevitable — and foreseeable — dénouement of Obama’s foreign and defense policies, which seem calculated to encourage Russian and Chinese expansionism. The evidence is there in Obama’s calculated fecklessness in the Middle East, and in his dealings with Russia and China.

As one commentator puts it:

… The fate of the free world no longer rests with the US. It now rests with Putin. He and the mullahs in Iran, presented with the spectacle of the preening narcissist in the White House gazing in rapt adoration at his own reflection, are surely laughing fit to bust.

And why shouldn’t the First Narcissist preen? For he has achieved precisely what he wanted, his true goal that I described in this blog when Obama first ran for President: to extend the reach of the state over peoples’ lives at home, to emasculate the power of America abroad, and to make the free white world the slave of those he falsely characterised as the victims of that white world’s oppression…. (Melanie Phillips, “Putin Checkmates America,” Melanie’s Blog, September 15, 2013)

Norman Podhoretz delivers a fuller version of this thesis; for example:

… [A]s astute a foreign observer as Conrad Black can flatly say that, “Not since the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991, and before that the fall of France in 1940, has there been so swift an erosion of the world influence of a Great Power as we are witnessing with the United States.”

Yet if this is indeed the pass to which Mr. Obama has led us—and I think it is—let me suggest that it signifies not how incompetent and amateurish the president is, but how skillful. His foreign policy, far from a dismal failure, is a brilliant success as measured by what he intended all along to accomplish….

… As a left-wing radical, Mr. Obama believed that the United States had almost always been a retrograde and destructive force in world affairs. Accordingly, the fundamental transformation he wished to achieve here was to reduce the country’s power and influence. And just as he had to fend off the still-toxic socialist label at home, so he had to take care not to be stuck with the equally toxic “isolationist” label abroad.

This he did by camouflaging his retreats from the responsibilities bred by foreign entanglements as a new form of “engagement.” At the same time, he relied on the war-weariness of the American people and the rise of isolationist sentiment (which, to be sure, dared not speak its name) on the left and right to get away with drastic cuts in the defense budget, with exiting entirely from Iraq and Afghanistan, and with “leading from behind” or using drones instead of troops whenever he was politically forced into military action.

The consequent erosion of American power was going very nicely when the unfortunately named Arab Spring presented the president with several juicy opportunities to speed up the process. First in Egypt, his incoherent moves resulted in a complete loss of American influence, and now, thanks to his handling of the Syrian crisis, he is bringing about a greater diminution of American power than he probably envisaged even in his wildest radical dreams.

For this fulfillment of his dearest political wishes, Mr. Obama is evidently willing to pay the price of a sullied reputation. In that sense, he is by his own lights sacrificing himself for what he imagines is the good of the nation of which he is the president, and also to the benefit of the world, of which he loves proclaiming himself a citizen….

No doubt he will either deny that anything has gone wrong, or failing that, he will resort to his favorite tactic of blaming others—Congress or the Republicans or Rush Limbaugh. But what is also almost certain is that he will refuse to change course and do the things that will be necessary to restore U.S. power and influence.

And so we can only pray that the hole he will go on digging will not be too deep for his successor to pull us out, as Ronald Reagan managed to do when he followed a president into the White House whom Mr. Obama so uncannily resembles. (“Obama’s Successful Foreign Failure,” The Wall Street Journal, September 8, 2013)

I dare call it treason.

*     *     *

A small sample of related reading:
Walter Russell Mead et al., “Putin Tells His Ambassadors: The West Is All Washed Up,” The American Interest, July 9, 2012
Erica Ritz, “Troubling? Putin Overseas Largest Russian Nuclear Tests Since the Cold War,” The Blaze, October 20, 2012
Caroline Glick, “The Goal of Obama’s Foreign Policy,” RealClearPolitics, November 26, 2013
Benjamin Kerstein,”The Iran Deal: American Influence Retreats,” The Federalist, November 26, 2013
Mandy Nagy, “What the White House Didn’t Report on the Iran Nuke Deal,” Legal Insurrection, November 29, 2013
Brian T. Kennedy, “Early Warning: The Continuing Need for National Defense,” Imprimis, March 2014
Editorial board, “President Obama’s Foreign Policy Is Based on Fantasy,” The Washington Post, March 2, 2014
Daniel Greenfield, “Obama Enters Putin’s World,” Frontpage Mag, March 3, 2014
Bruce Thornton, “Sacrificing the Military to Entitlements,” Frontpage Mag, March 3, 2014
Robert Tracinski, “The Eighties Called: Do We Want Their Foreign Policy Back?,” The Federalist, March 3, 2014
Michael Auslin, “Crimean Lessons for East Asia,”, March 4, 2014
Thomas Lifson, “China Watches Ukraine, Eyes Taiwan,” American Thinker, March 4, 2014
Rick Moran, “TNR: Romney Got Russia Right,” American Thinker, March 4, 2014
Mark Thiessen, “What Can Obama Do in Ukraine? Plenty,” AEIdeas, March 4, 2014
Walter Russell Mead et al., “The Dragon Sharpens Its Claws,” The American Interest, March 6, 2014
Ed Lasky, “Obama to Cut AWACS Fleet by 25%,” American Thinker, March 11, 2014
Roy Gutman, “Russia’s History and Politics, Not U.S. Policies, Drive Russia in Ukraine, Book Argues” (a review of Putin’s Wars: The Rise of Russia’s New Imperialism, by Marcel H. Van Herpen), McClatchy Washington Bureau (published in various media), April 2, 2014

Related posts:
Why Sovereignty?
Liberalism and Sovereignty
Delusions of Preparedness
A Grand Strategy for the United States
The Folly of Pacifism
Why We Should (and Should Not) Fight
Rating America’s Wars
Transnationalism and National Defense
The Folly of Pacifism, Again
Patience as a Tool of Strategy
Defense as an Investment in Liberty and Prosperity
The Barbarians Within and the State of the Union
The World Turned Upside Down
Defense Spending: One More Time
The Fall and Rise of American Empire

Defense Spending, One More Time

A long-time friend, who for 40 years worked in and for the Pentagon, advances a rationale for defense budget-cutting that, I fear, is all-too prevalent: A defense budget that matches or exceeding the Cold War’s shouldn’t be needed when the threat of global war has receded so much.

A more complete (honest) version reads like this: The U.S. defense budget should be large enough — despite errors of intelligence, allocation, and execution, and despite the vagaries of war — to defeat a determined and skillful enemy, should that enemy not be deterred by its perceptions of U.S. military strength, the willingness of U.S. leaders to wield that strength, and their skill in doing so.

When spelled out in that way, it’s more obvious that the judgments involved in deciding the requisite size of the U.S. defense budget (let alone its allocation) are largely subjective. That is, knowing “how much is enough” was a grossly uncertain undertaking during the Cold War. So grossly uncertain that the level of U.S. defense spending during the Cold War can’t be used as a valid benchmark for U.S. defense spending in the future. All we know about Cold War defense spending is that it was adequate to deter (and probably defeat) a Potemkin-like Soviet military. We don’t know (and never can know) if it would have been adequate to the task of deterring and defeating the Soviet military that it was intended to deter and defeat.

Moreover, the formulation omits a crucial consideration. Reductions in the U.S. defense budget invite ambitious, aggressive regimes to build enough military strength to (a) deter a weaker U.S. from contesting limited military adventures that could harm U.S. interests and (b) badly damage U.S. forces deployed to contest such military adventures, with the aim of forcing U.S. withdrawal pursuant to media-orchestrated domestic backlash (as in Vietnam, Lebanon, Somalia, and Iraq).

In sum, there is no real case for the reduction of defense spending after the so-called victory in the Cold War. Indeed, the very act of cutting the U.S. defense budget invites anti-American adventurism while weakening the ability of U.S. leaders to respond to it, and therefore weakening their willingness to respond to it. The cases of Vietnam, Lebanon, and Somalia reveal a preference among post-World War II American leaders for withdrawal in the face of tenacious opposition — a concept foreign to Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill. That preference was duly noted in Osama bin Laden’s 1996 fatwa against the United States.

What about the fact that the U.S. — despite a lot of budget cutting — hasn’t been threatened by a truly powerful adversary since the end of the Cold War? The problem is that force reductions and force buildups aren’t time-symmetrical. Forces can be cut quickly, but can’t be reconstituted and returned to fighting shape nearly as quickly.

Unfortunately, however, war usually comes more quickly than expected, if not unexpectedly. Consider the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor of December 7, 1941; the North Korean invasion of South Korea on June 25, 1950; and the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Yes, given the evidence at hand, the U.S. should have been better prepared for those events. But unpreparedness seems to be a systemic feature of America’s squabbling, interest-group based, multi-headed, media-sensitive political “system.” This argues for a permanently high level of preparedness, attained (somehow) despite the “system.”

I’ll end on that tantalizing note.

*     *     *

Related posts:
Libertarian Nay-Saying on Foreign and Defense Policy
Libertarian Nay-Saying on Foreign and Defense Policy, Revisited
Libertarians and the Common Defense
Defense, Anarcho-Capitalist Style
War Can Be the Answer
Getting It All Wrong about the Risk of Terrorism
Now, Let’s Talk About Something Else
The Fatal Naïveté of Anarcho-Libertarianism
Thomas Woods and War
“Peace for Our Time”
Not Enough Boots
Defense as the Ultimate Social Service
Not Enough Boots: The Why of It
Blood for Oil

It *Is* the Oil
Liberalism and Sovereignty
Cato’s Usual Casuistry on Matters of War and Peace
The Media, the Left, and War
The McNamara Legacy: A Personal Perspective
The Decision to Drop the Bomb
The “Predator War” and Self-Defense
The National Psyche and Foreign Wars
Delusions of Preparedness
A Moralist’s Moral Blindness
A Grand Strategy for the United States
The Folly of Pacifism
Why We Should (and Should Not) Fight
Rating America’s Wars
Transnationalism and National Defense
The Folly of Pacifism, Again
September 20, 2001: Hillary Clinton Signals the End of “Unity”
Patience as a Tool of Strategy
The War on Terror, As It Should Have Been Fought
Preemptive War
Preemptive War and Iran
Some Thoughts and Questions about Preemptive War
Defense as an Investment in Liberty and Prosperity
More Thoughts about Patience and Its Significance
Mission Not Accomplished

The Price of Civilization

The price of civilization isn’t the taxes extorted from you and me to support bread, circuses, and other foolishness. Nay, the price of civilization is the taxes that sensible citizens pay to enjoy (no-longer) swift and sure enforcement of criminal codes and the (increasingly unsure) defense of Americans’ interests abroad.

It is the second of these lacunae that I here address:

1. If government exists for any legitimate purpose, it is to defend citizens against aggression at home and abroad.

2. Thanks to foreign trade and investments overseas, Americans are much better off than they would otherwise be. (Note to labor unions, other protectionists, and the Weeping Willies who cry “exploitation” — get stuffed.)

3. If  the federal government doesn’t afford American armed forces the wherewithal and political support necessary to defend Americans’ overseas interests, that government is illegitimate. (See #1.)

4. It follows that a price of civilization is not only the taxes required to mount a vigorous and effective defense of American’s overseas interests, but also the elimination (by peaceful means, of course) of any American government that refuses to mount such a defense.

5. It also follows that anyone — “liberal” or “libertarian” — who clamors for lower defense spending is a borderline traitor. (BHO has already crossed the line with his crass embrace of internationalism and willingness to abandon Americans’ overseas interests.)

Legislating Morality (II)

Donald Boudreaux is co-proprietor of Cafe Hayek. I agree with him on almost everything (defense being the notable exception), but I can’t swallow this:

Too bad that too few people realize – as does the Rev. Robertson today [regarding marijuana], and as did Mr. Rockefeller 80 years ago [regarding alcohol] – that government cannot prohibit private behaviors without unleashing consequences far worse than those of the prohibited behaviors themselves.

That’s a too-sweeping statement. Does the “prohibition” of theft and murder unleash consequences “far worse than those of the prohibited behaviors”? I don’t think so.

On the contrary, the “prohibition” by statute and ordinance of direct harms to life, liberty, and property enables the state to perform one of its two legitimate functions, which is to punish those harms and thereby deter their commission (at least partially). (The other legitimate function is to defend us from foreign predators.)

Where is the line between legitimate and illegitimate state action properly drawn? That’s a tough question. My general answer is that the state should be authorized to act in defense of long-standing social norms. Those norms used to encompass the last six of the Ten Commandments, which “prohibit” certain interpersonal transgressions: murder, adultery, theft, libel and slander, and covetousness. But under the dispensation of the “liberal” state, murder is not punished timely or adequately, adultery is encouraged (and marriages and families broken) by no-fault divorce laws, libel and slander are commonplace, and “social justice” is covetousness rampant.

I would say that “prohibition” has a rightful place in the maintenance of civil society.

Related posts:
The Principles of Actionable Harm
Line-Drawing and Liberty
Myopic Moaning about the War on Drugs
Saving the Innocent
Facets of Liberty
Crimes against Humanity
Abortion and Logic
Why Stop at the Death Penalty?
The Myth That Same-Sex “Marriage” Causes No Harm
Lock ‘Em Up
Legislating Morality

Defense as an Investment in Liberty and Prosperity

Drawing on GDP statistics provided by the Bureau of Economic Analysis, I constructed the following graphs. The red bands indicate years in which U.S. armed forces were fighting wars: WWII, 1942-1945; Korean War 1950-1953; Vietnam War, 1965-1973; Gulf War, 1990-1991; Afghanistan and Iraq, 2002-2011.

Source: Derived from Table 1.1.5, Gross Domestic Product (then-year dollars).

Source: Obtained by averaging two estimates. The first is a top-down estimate, which applies the percentages displayed in the preceding graph to the estimate of constant-dollar GDP given in Table 1.1.6, Real Gross Domestic Product, Chained Dollars. The second is to construct a chained 2005 dollar estimate of defense spending from Tables A, B, C, and D, which cover overlapping periods (1929-1947, 1942-1962, 1962-1982, 1977-1997, and 1995-2011), and to divide the resulting “double chained” values by the top-line estimate of GDP given in table 1.1.6.

The point of the second graph is that defense spending should not be thought of as a “share” of GDP but as the cost of protecting Americans and their interests from the world’s evil-doers, who are always in plentiful supply. If the real cost of defending America in the 21st century approaches the real cost of fighting World War II, so what? The threats are what they are; today’s enemies (actual and potential) have access to weapons and technologies that far outstrip the relatively primitive weapons and technologies used in WWII.

Moreover, critics of defense spending to the contrary, the object of defense is not to have “just enough” for a “fair fight”; the object of defense is to deter enemies and, if deterrence fails, to defeat them. It is ludicrous to say — as some pundits have said — that the U.S. has “too many” aircraft carriers because their number exceeds the number owned by the rest of the world’s navies. That is a plus, not a minus; Americans should take comfort in such superiority and demand it across the board. America’s enemies do no discriminate between left-wing appeasers and right-wing zealots; we are all targets.

In any event, here are my “takeaways” from the graphs and the history that lies behind them:

Capsule history
Low defense spending and anti-war fervor in the 1930s German and Japanese aggression lead to WWII.
Hasty demobilization after WWII N. Korea invades S. Korea after U.S. declares “lack of interest.” The Korean War is a proxy war for the USSR, which finds U.S. wanting in resolve.
Buildup of strategic forces in the 1950s Nuclear war does not ensue.
Buildup of conventional forces in the early 1960s Domestic opposition leads to a faltering (and eventually failed) U.S. effort to counter Communist aggression in Vietnam.
Post-Vietnam drawdown in the 1970s, followed by Reagan buildup in the 1980s Nuclear war does not ensue. Conventional superiority enables the U.S. to score an easy win in the defense of Kuwaiti oil from Saddam (who, mistakenly, is allowed to remain in power).
Post-Gulf War drawdown in the 1990s (Clinton balances budget on the back of defense.) Drawdown and other signs of U.S. weakness encourage 9/11; subsequent campaigns to stabilize hotbed of terrorism hindered by domestic opposition.
Incorrect: Correct:
The availability of armed force leads to war. The appearance of weakness encourages aggressors.
The U.S. is a war-like nation. The U.S. reluctantly prepares for and fights wars.
Defense is a huge drain on the economy. Defense protects Americans and their vital overseas economic interests. As the economy grows, peacetime preparedness and regional wars take an increasingly smaller share of GDP.
Defense takes money away from vital social services. Defense is the most vital of social services; it keeps Americans alive, free, and prosperous.

Related posts:
Libertarians and the Common Defense
Libertarianism and Pre-emptive War: Part I
An Aside about Libertarianism and the War
Right On! For Libertarian Hawks Only
Conservative Criticism of the War on Terror
Why Sovereignty?
Understanding Libertarian Hawks
More about Libertarian Hawks and Doves
Defense, Anarcho-Capitalist Style
War Can Be the Answer
Getting It All Wrong about the Risk of Terrorism
Why We Fight
Getting It Almost Right about Iraq
Philosophical Obtuseness
But Wouldn’t Warlords Take Over?
Sorting Out the Libertarian Hawks and Doves
Now, Let’s Talk About Something Else
Shall We All Hang Separately?
Foxhole Rats
Foxhole Rats, Redux
Know Thine Enemy
September 11: A Remembrance
September 11: A Postscript for “Peace Lovers”
The Faces of Appeasement
Libertarianism and Preemptive War: Part II
Torture and Morality
Give Me Liberty or Give Me Non-Aggression?
We Have Met the Enemy . . .
My View of Warlordism, Seconded
Whose Liberties Are We Fighting For?
The Constitution and Warrantless “Eavesdropping”
NSA “Eavesdropping”: The Last Word (from Me)
Privacy, Security, and Electronic Surveillance
Privacy: Variations on the Theme of Liberty
Words for the Unwise
More Foxhole Rats
The Fatal Naïveté of Anarcho-Libertarianism
Final (?) Words about Preemption and the Constitution
Anarcho-Libertarian “Stretching”
Recommended Reading about NSA’s Surveillance Program
Riots, Culture, and the Final Showdown
A Rant about Torture
More Final (?) Words about Preemption and the Constitution
QandO Saved Me the Trouble
What If We Lose?
A Footnote about “Eavesdropping”
Thomas Woods and War
More than Enough Amateur Critics
Moussaoui and “White Guilt”
Jihad in Canada
In Defense of Ann Coulter
In Which I Reply to the Executive Editor of The New York Times
Post-Americans and Their Progeny
“Peace for Our Time”
Anti-Bush or Pro-Treason?
“Proportionate Response” in Perspective
Parsing Peace
Taking on Torture
Conspiracy Theorists’ Cousins
Not Enough Boots
Defense as the Ultimate Social Service
I Have an Idea
September 11: Five Years On
How to View Defense Spending
Reaching the Limit?
The Best Defense . . .
A Skewed Perspective on Terrorism
Terrorists’ “Rights” and the Military Commissions Act of 2006
More Stupidity from Cato
The Military Commissions Act of 2006
A Critique of Extreme Libertarianism
And Your Point Is?
Anarchistic Balderdash
Not Enough Boots: The Why of It
Blood for Oil

Katie Couric: Post-American
It *Is* the Oil
Here We Go Again
Christmas in Iran: Foreign Affairs According to Planet Rockwell
Torture, Revisited
Waterboarding, Torture, and Defense
9/11 Plotters and the Death Penalty
Cato’s Usual Casuistry on Matters of War and Peace
The Media, the Left, and War
September 11: A Remembrance
Getting It Wrong and Right about Iran
The “Predator War” and Self-Defense
The National Psyche and Foreign Wars
Delusions of Preparedness
A Moralist’s Moral Blindness
A Grand Strategy for the United States
The Folly of Pacifism
Why We Should (and Should Not) Fight
Rating America’s Wars
Transnationalism and National Defense
The Next 9/11?
The Folly of Pacifism, Again
September 20, 2001: Hillary Clinton Signals the End of “Unity”
Patience as a Tool of Strategy
The War on Terror, As It Should Have Been Fought
The Cuban Missile Crisis, Revisited
Preemptive War
Preemptive War and Iran
Some Thoughts and Questions about Preemptive War

Don’t Just Stand There, “Do Something”

“Activists” try my patience, and exhaust it. Their message — no matter the particulars of content or phrasing — boils down to this: Government should “do something” about “something.” This is a formula that has been invoked since the beginning of the Republic, though increasingly more often since the onset of the Progressive Era in the late 1800s. The exhortation betrays three beliefs, unconscious as they may be on the part of those who do the exhorting.

The first belief is that a particular phenomenon is so important — in the view of the exhorting person or group — that government should contrive to impose a particular outcome with respect to that phenomenon — regardless of the costs of that imposition, in treasure or liberty.

The second belief is a kind of prediction that proponents of government action usually cannot be bothered to test. This kind of prediction is known as the Nirvana fallacy: the logical error of comparing actual things with unrealistic, idealized alternatives. The actual things are the “somethings” about which government is supposed to “do something.” The unrealistic, idealized alternatives are the outcomes sought by the proponents of a particular course of government action. Thus legislation and regulation by mere mortals is taken as the functional equivalent of fiat lux.

This points to the third belief, which is that government — a mere creation of fallible, squabbling, power-lusting humans — is a kind of omniscient, single-minded, benevolent being that can overcome the forces of nature and human nature which gave rise, in the first place, to the “something” about which “something must be done.”

The evidence against these beliefs is so overwhelming that their persistence must be attributed to the psychological phenomenon summarized by Samuel Johnson as “the triumph of hope over experience.”

Proponents of government action will counter with the excuse that “something must be done” because of  “market failure,” which is the failure of markets to produce outcomes preferred by the proponents. And yet they overlook government failure, and often seek to rectify it by exhorting more government action, which leads to more government failure, and so on.

Here are some salient examples of government failure — and its correlate, misfeasance — that ought to (but will not) give pause to the “do something” crowd:

“Entitlements” (Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and their expansion through Obamacare) — These programs grew from an understandable (but ill-advised) urge to provide for the elderly who were seen as unable to provide for themselves. Through the predictable processes of constituency-mongering, the “social safety net” has acquired almost-inviolable status as a subsidy for millions of persons who could well provide for themselves. This dependency has discouraged thrift and, in the process, stripped away a key source of funds for investments in economic growth. The looming burden of taxation promises to cripple an already hobbled economy.

Welfare, the Minimum Wage, and Affirmative Action — Altogether, these programs have succeeded in breaking up black families, denying to many young blacks an opportunity to join the ranks of the economically productive (and to advance on their own merit), fomented crime, caused racial resentment, and positioned aspiring black students and professionals for failure.

The Great Depression and the Great Recession — These two devastating economic downturns, one of which became an excuse for the enactment of Social Security and the other of which still lingers, are quintessential examples of government failure. In the case of the Great Depression, the Federal Reserve’s monetary policies (first too loose, then too tight) caused a recession to deepen into a depression. That depression lingered for almost a decade (and ended largely because of a catastrophic war) because of interventionist, anti-business policies that began under Hoover and continued, with a vengeance, under Roosevelt. We owe the Great Recession to a combination of too-loose credit (the Fed again) and too-loose mortgage lending: a policy insisted upon by the Federal Reserve and influential members of Congress, and reinforced by their minions at Fannie and Freddie. “Wall Street” — as a willing maker of credit — deserves blame for the resulting financial meltdown and recession only in the way that a prostitute deserves blame for serving her clients.

Defense and Police Services  — These are public goods, but not for the reason advanced by believers in public goods, namely, that they would not be provided voluntarily because too many of their beneficiaries would try to take a “free ride” on paying customers, which would drive the prices of defense and police services too high to attract enough customers to pay for them. That is an unproved assertion, which runs counter to everyday experience (e.g., charitable giving and voluntarism) and ignores the very high stakes that could drive major corporations and very-high income earners to combine in a joint defense of their considerable interests in the U.S. and abroad — a defense that would unavoidably benefit free-riders. In this regard, it is noteworthy that in 2007 the combined pre-tax income of households in the top quintile was $2.5 trillion and pre-tax corporate profits came to $1.7 trillion. It is arguable that a consortium of taxpayers and corporations could underwrite the cost of defense and police forces (including courts, prosecutors, etc.), which in 2007 came to about $900 billion ($662 billion for defense and $230 billion for justice). In 2007, for example, taxpayers in the top 10 percent of adjusted gross incomes paid more than 70 percent of federal income taxes collected from filers of individual and joint returns. Who do you think pays the lion’s share of the costs of defense and police forces? The answer, of course, is high-income taxpayers, directly and through taxes on corporate income.

Defense and police services are tax-funded not because they must be, but because there is something menacing about the thought of privately owned defense and police forces that could be employed in coups and oppressions. A main consequence of the “publicization” of America’s defense and police forces is that they afford a lucrative opportunity for various kinds of pork-barrel legislation (e.g., the location of military bases, the awarding of defense contracts, and patronage for political supporters), as well as the usual (and unavoidable) instances of waste, fraud, and abuse. Even worse are the fluctuations in political attitudes toward defense and policing, which in the ebb invite aggression and crime, and in the flow invite vast over-spending — though over-spending can be defended on the ground that it deters aggression and crime and thus the human and monetary costs that accompany them.

In any event, not even defense is a sacrosanct function of government, and its provision by government is far from an unmitigated blessing. If you think that I overstate the case against government-owned defense forces, consider that

  • They fought only one “popular” war in the past 100 years — a war that became “popular” only after the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.
  • The thesis that Reagan’s defense build-up won the Cold War remains controversial.
  • The size of the defense budget rides on political whims more than on hard-to-come-by cold facts. Would it be worse if those with the most to lose took a direct hand in the provision of defense forces and in decisions about when to employ them? I doubt it.

*   *   *

Perhaps there are examples of “government success,” but these are hard to identify because the intervention of government usually forecloses the alternatives to which the “do something” crowd is blind:

  • voluntary, cooperative solutions through the actions of markets, private charities, and other private institutions (family, church, club, close-knit neighborhood, etc.)
  • benign neglect, where persons with a “problem” choose not to act on it because the cost of action is greater than its likely benefits.

Anyone who says that government can be “managed” by limiting it to certain kinds of activities (e.g., defense or welfare) while eschewing others (e.g., welfare or defense), merely deludes himself; “democratic” governments cannot and will not function without throwing money in all directions, in an effort to placate all constituencies. As a minarchist, I must admit to sharing this delusion, but I am beginning to think that anarcho-capitalism has merit, if only the right kind of anarcho-capitalists could be in charge of police and defense forces.

Anyone who says that such-and-such a government program will succeed in accomplishing a certain goal at a certain cost — and that the cost will justify the accomplishment — proves himself a presumptuous fool. I cannot truthfully say that government-provided police and defense forces are worth their cost in money and liberty, and I scorn anyone who believes that any other type of governmental endeavor is remotely worth its cost in money and liberty.
For more posts related generally and specifically to this one, go to “Favorite Posts” and browse at will.

The Omniscient State at Work

For the benefit of Paul Krugman and other worshipers of the all-wise, all-beneficent state, here’s some news from the Associated Press:

WASHINGTON – Despite a top-to-bottom overhaul of the intelligence community after the 2001 terrorist attacks, the nation’s security system showed some of the same failures when it allowed a would-be bomber to slip aboard an airliner, congressional investigators said Tuesday.The Senate Intelligence Committee report at times contradicted the Obama administration’s assertion that the nearly catastrophic Christmas Day bombing attempt was unlike 9/11 because it represented a failure to understand intelligence, not a failure to collect and understand it.

The congressional review is more stark than the Obama administration’s report. It lays much of the blame at the feet of the National Counterterrorism Center, which Congress created to be the primary agency in charge of analyzing terrorism intelligence.

‘Nuff said? Not quite. There’s this, from The Wall Street Journal:

What a fiasco. That’s the first word that comes to mind watching Mahmoud Ahmadinejad raise his arms yesterday with the leaders of Turkey and Brazil to celebrate a new atomic pact that instantly made irrelevant 16 months of President Obama’s “diplomacy.” The deal is a political coup for Tehran and possibly delivers the coup de grace to the West’s half-hearted efforts to stop Iran from acquiring a nuclear bomb.

Full credit for this debacle goes to the Obama Administration and its hapless diplomatic strategy. Last October, nine months into its engagement with Tehran, the White House concocted a plan to transfer some of Iran’s uranium stock abroad for enrichment. If the West couldn’t stop Iran’s program, the thinking was that maybe this scheme would delay it. The Iranians played coy, then refused to accept the offer.

But Mr. Obama doesn’t take no for an answer from rogue regimes, and so he kept the offer on the table. As the U.S. finally seemed ready to go to the U.N. Security Council for more sanctions, the Iranians chose yesterday to accept the deal on their own limited terms while enlisting the Brazilians and Turks as enablers and political shields. “Diplomacy emerged victorious today,” declared Brazil’s President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, turning Mr. Obama’s own most important foreign-policy principle against him.

Don’t you sleep better at night with those wonderful folks in D.C. watching out for you? It’s not enough that they’ve screwed up the economy in general, and are in the process of further screwing up our medical care. Now, they’re working toward dismantling our defenses against terrorists and regimes that sponsor terrorism.

Well, you can’t say that I didn’t see it coming (here, here, and here).

The Folly of Nuclear Disarmament

From the Associated Press:

UNITED NATIONS [September 24, 2009] – With President Barack Obama presiding, the U.N. Security Council on Thursday unanimously endorsed a sweeping strategy aimed at halting the spread of nuclear weapons and ultimately eliminating them, to usher in a world with “undiminished security for all.”

“That can be our destiny,” Obama declared after the 15-nation body adopted the historic, U.S.-initiated resolution at an unprecedented summit session. “We will leave this meeting with a renewed determination to achieve this shared goal.”

The lengthy document was aimed, in part, at the widely denounced nuclear programs of Iran and North Korea, although they were not named. It also reflected Obama’s ambitious agenda to embrace treaties and other agreements leading toward a nuclear weapon-free world, some of which is expected to encounter political opposition in Washington.

On both counts, Thursday’s 15-0 vote delivered a global consensus — countries ranging from Britain to China to Burkina Faso — that may add political impetus to dealing with nuclear violators, advancing arms control in international forums and winning support in the U.S. Congress.

“This is a historic moment, a moment offering a fresh start toward a new future,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, saluting the first such Security Council gathering of presidents and premiers to deal with nuclear nonproliferation.

Yeah, and “peace for our time,” to you. For the youngsters out there, that’s a reference to Neville Chamberlain’s infamous capitulation to Hitler, whose peace was the peace of his victims’ graves.

Well, today’s charade in New York — like the one in Munich 71 years ago — simply gives the bad guys more time in which to perfect their evil designs. When nuclear weapons are outlawed, only outlaws will have nuclear weapons.

P.S. So, Obama and other Democrats are now talking tough about Iran’s nuclear program. Two questions: Where were those Democrats when Bush called Iran out a couple of years ago? Will Obama back his tough talk with action? Answer to the second question: Not bloody likely.

P.P.S. As I was saying . . . Instead of destroying Iran’s nuclear facilities, Obama offers Iran “serious, meaningful dialogue.” Gimme a break.

A Point of Agreement

Timothy Sandefur and I have disagreed about as often as we’ve agreed, despite the fact that both of us are “libertarians.” (Sandefur is, or was, an Objectivist; I am, to use my terminology, a radical-right-minarchist.)

In any event, Sandefur and I have tended to agree about matters of defense and foreign policy. A good case in point is his post of earlier today, “Cato’s foreign policy, don’t speak up for freedom’s defenders,” in which he says:

One thing you can usually expect from the Cato Institute’s foreign policy experts is that America shouldn’t use military force to defend freedom against tyranny in other countries. While I often find myself disagreeing with that position, it’s at least one that reasonable people can take in various cases. What I find much harder to take is the idea that the United States should not even cheer on freedom’s defenders from the sidelines, or speak up for the rights of democracies to do perfectly innocent things. I noted last year Ted Galen Carpenter and Justin Logan making a really deplorable argument that it is somehow “antagonistic” to the People’s Republic of China for Taiwan to seek to change the name of its airline to “Taiwan Airlines” or to put “Taiwan” on its passports. For Carpenter to say that these things are “antagonistic” to the PRC is nothing short of taking the side of a totalitarian communist dictatorship against the perfectly legitimate rights of a democracy that has never for even a minute of its history been governed by the PRC.

Well, here we are again: Logan argues that “President Obama should keep quiet on the subject of Iran’s elections.” Not that the United States should hold off from intervening in any direct or military way—again, a reasonable position—or that the United States should be wary of Mousavi, who is probably not the “moderate” he’s called on CNN. No, Logan’s argument is that the United States should “keep quiet” while a totalitarian theocratic dictatorship sends its masked thugs to shoot and beat demonstrators who seek some minor degree of political freedom. This he characterizes as “narcissism,” and he ridicules the idea of “anoint[ing] from afar one side as the ‘good’”—a word he puts in scare quotes…..

How sad that libertarians, supposedly America’s most consistent defenders of liberty, are so eager to avoid the possibility of military confrontation that they will adopt and even encourage cravenness and appeasement to the egos of totalitarian dictators. We should reject that approach. John Quincy Adams famously said we were “friends of freedom everywhere; defenders only of our own.” We may disagree at times over the second half of that proposition, but we should never waver on the first.

I couldn’t put it better. Sandefur captures the outrage I felt when I read Justin Logan’s post.

Cato, for all of the wisdom it dispenses on economic matters, is institutionally stupid on matters of defense and foreign policy. Cato isn’t alone on the “libertarian” anti-war flank, which mistakes defense for aggression, and bows slavishly toward non-aggression — as if anything other than last-ditch defense is an act of aggression.

There are times when it is necessary to fight in the defense of liberty. Taking a step backward, then, a lack of preparedness can be fatal to liberty. Taking another step backward, a lack of forthrightness toward those who would “bury us” is too easily taken as a sign that we are unwilling and even unprepared to fight. (We were attacked on 9/11, in part, because bin Laden perceived us as “soft” and unwilling to defend ourselves.)

We cannot afford to let acts of tyranny slide by without a peep, nor should we if we are to stand for liberty and against tyranny. Thus Sandefur is exactly right to call out Cato in the matter of the Iranian elections.

There are several issues on which many a “libertarian” shares ground with Leftists. Defense is one of those issues. What I say in “The Media, the Left, and War” also could be said of most “libertarians.” See also “Parsing Political Philosophy,” where I point out the similarity of left-minarchists (a.k.a. left-libertarians) to left-statists (a.k.a. “liberals”).

Finally, I should note that I have taken to putting “libertarian(s)” and “libertarianism” in quotation marks because “libertarianism” — in its internet-dominant strains (anarchist and left-minarchist) — is a recipe for the destruction of civil society, and thence the ascension of a truly oppressive regime. For more on the fatuousness of  the dominant strains of “libertarianism,” see “On Liberty” and “The Meaning of Liberty.”

I have posted before on the obdurate, head-in-the-sand, Chamberlainesque attitude exemplified by Cato and other “libertarian” organizations:
Libertarian Nay-Saying on Foreign and Defense Policy
Libertarianism and Preemptive War: Part I
Right On! For Libertarian Hawks Only
Understanding Libertarian Hawks
More about Libertarian Hawks and Doves
Sorting Out the Libertarian Hawks and Doves
Libertarianism and Preemptive War: Part II
Give Me Liberty or Give Me Non-Aggression?
More Final(?) Words about Preemption and the Constitution
Thomas Woods and War
“Peace for Our Time”
How to View Defense Spending
More Stupidity from Cato
Anarchistic Balderdash
Cato’s Usual Casuistry on Matters of War and Peace

The Media, the Left, and War

Ralph Peters writes:

The phenomenon of Western and world journalists championing the “rights” and causes of blood-drenched butchers who, given the opportunity, would torture and slaughter them, disproves the notion—were any additional proof required—that human beings are rational creatures. Indeed, the passionate belief of so much of the intelligentsia that our civilization is evil and only the savage is noble looks rather like an anemic version of the self-delusions of the terrorists themselves. And, of course, there is a penalty for the intellectual’s dismissal of religion: humans need to believe in something greater than themselves, even if they have a degree from Harvard. Rejecting the god of their fathers, the neo-pagans who dominate the media serve as lackeys at the terrorists’ bloody altar. (“Wishful Thinking and Indecisive Wars,” Journal of International Security Affairs, Spring 2009.)

Seems about right to me. As I once said of an American “intellectual,”

He and his ilk cannot satisfy their power-lust in the real world, so they retaliate by imagining a theoretical world of doom. It is as if they walk around under a thought balloon which reads “Take that!”

It is the politics of adolescent rebelliousness:

The Left is in an arrested state of adolescent rebellion: “Daddy” doesn’t want me to smoke, so I’m going to smoke; “Daddy” doesn’t want me to drink, so I’m going to drink; “Daddy” doesn’t want me to have sex, so I’m going to have sex. But, regardless of my behavior, I expect “Daddy” to give me an allowance, and birthday presents, and cell phones, and so on….

Persons of the Left simply are simply unthinking, selfish adolescents who want what they want, regardless of the consequences for others.

And now that they are “in charge,” that’s precisely what they’re doing. Where will it all end? I reflected here on the following passage from an essay by Thomas Sowell:

When I see the worsening degeneracy in our politicians, our media, our educators, and our intelligentsia, I can’t help wondering if the day may yet come when the only thing that can save this country is a military coup.

Peters has a similar thought:

Although it seems unthinkable now, future wars may require censorship, news blackouts and, ultimately, military attacks on the partisan media. [Emphasis added, with glee.] Perceiving themselves as superior beings, journalists have positioned themselves as protected-species combatants. But freedom of the press stops when its abuse kills our soldiers and strengthens our enemies. Such a view arouses disdain today, but a media establishment that has forgotten any sense of sober patriotism may find that it has become tomorrow’s conventional wisdom….

He concludes:

The point of all this is simple: Win. In warfare, nothing else matters. If you cannot win clean, win dirty. But win. Our victories are ultimately in humanity’s interests, while our failures nourish monsters.

In closing, we must dispose of one last mantra that has been too broadly and uncritically accepted: the nonsense that, if we win by fighting as fiercely as our enemies, we will “become just like them.” To convince Imperial Japan of its defeat, we not only had to fire-bomb Japanese cities, but drop two atomic bombs. Did we then become like the Japanese of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere? Did we subsequently invade other lands with the goal of permanent conquest, enslaving their populations? Did our destruction of German cities—also necessary for victory—turn us into Nazis? Of course, you can find a few campus leftists who think so, but they have yet to reveal the location of our death camps….

Of all the enemies we face today and may face tomorrow, the most dangerous is our own wishful thinking.

The wishful thinking is for quick, clean wars, and preferably, no wars at all — because we can avoid wars through “dialogue” and “understanding.” Bosh! As Peters says,

The violent, like the poor, will always be with us, and we must be willing to kill those who would kill others.

Moreover, we must be prepared for long, dirty wars. With whom? It doesn’t much matter, as Peters suggests:

It may not be China that challenges us, after all, but the unexpected rise of a dormant power. The precedent is there: in 1929, Germany had a playground military limited to 100,000 men. Ten years later, a re-armed Germany had embarked on the most destructive campaign of aggression in history, its killing power and savagery exceeding that of the Mongols.

Which nation or stateless power will be the next Germany or Japan? We don’t know and can’t know. All we can do — and must do — is prepare for the inevitable rise of the next butcher state.

The question is whether we can survive a political regime that is hell-bent on bread, circuses, and surrender.

Cato’s Usual Casuistry on Matters of War and Peace

Cato Institute’s Tim Lynch addresses “Cheney’s Worldview.” Lynch’s comments reflect Cato’s worldview on foreign and defense policy, as I have come to know and disrespect it.

Lynch quotes the following passage from former VP Cheney’s recent speech at the American Enterprise Institute:

If fine speech-making, appeals to reason, or pleas for compassion had the power to move [al-Qaeda], the terrorists would long ago have abandoned the field.  And when they see the American government caught up in arguments about interrogations, or whether foreign terrorists have constitutional rights, they don’t stand back in awe of our legal system and wonder whether they had misjudged us all along.  Instead the terrorists see just what they were hoping for — our unity gone, our resolve shaken, our leaders distracted.  In short, they see weakness and opportunity.

Lynch distorts twists Cheney’s words to suggest that Cheney is against open debate about such issues. Cheney, of course, means no such thing. He is against the evident outcome of that open debate, namely, a de facto presidential apology to the enemy (in the decision to close Guantanamo) and court decisions overruling the commander-in-chief’s constitutional execution of his duties.

It would be evident to anyone but a professional nay-sayer on matters of foreign and defense policy that the lack of resolve demonstrated by such decisions is harmful to our defense. The fact that you have a right to hold a stupid position — and to have it ratified by a pusillanimous president or an overreaching court — doesn’t make your position correct. That would be equivalent to saying “might makes right” — hardly a position one associates with Cato.

Lynch continues:

If the CIA told Cheney that it intercepted a message and learned that bin Laden wanted some of his men to climb Mount Everest as a propaganda ploy to somehow show the world that they can lord over the globe, one gets the feeling that  Cheney wouldn’t shrug at the report. Since that is what bin Laden hopes to achieve, the enemy objective must be thwarted! Quick, dispatch American GIs to the top of Everest and establish a post. Stay on the lookout for al-Qaeda and stop them no matter what!

One gets the feeling that Lynch is in the habit of contriving stupid things to attribute to those with whom he differs on policy issues.

Lynch then asks, “what about the costly nation-building exercise (pdf) in Iraq?  How long is that going to last?” I suspect that a day more than zero days would have been too long for Lynch, who (based on his approach to issues of war and peace) might well think that the U.S. should have stayed out of World War II.

There’s more:

In another passage, Cheney bristles at the notion that his “unpleasant” interrogation practices have been a recruitment tool for the enemy.  Cheney claims this theory ignores the fact that 9/11 happened before the torture memos were ever drafted and approved.  He observes that the terrorists have never “lacked for grievances against the United States.”  They’re evil, Cheney says, now let’s talk about something else.  The gist of Cheney’s argument — that no post 9/11 policy can ever be counterproductive — makes no sense.

The gist of Cheney’s argument is that our enemies don’t especially care what we do to them. They are fanatics, and are not to be deterred. That’s why they must be tracked down and killed — much too subtle an idea for Lynch and his ilk.


Cheney’s controversial legacy will be debated for a long time.  And he’s smart enough to know that he may have very few defenders down the road, so he is wasting no time at all in making his own case.  The problem is that his case is weak and plenty of people can see it.

In the far more likely alternative, Cheney is trying to keep Obama and his fellow “post-Americans” from emulating Neville Chamberlain — who seems to be Cato’s role model on matters of war and peace.

Sizing Up Obama

On the one hand, we have FDR II, replete with schemes for managing our lives and fortunes.

On the other hand, we have Carter-Clinton II, ready to: kowtow to those who would bury us, create the illusion that peace will reign perforce, and act on that illusion by slashing the defense budget (thereby giving aid and comfort to our enemies).

Through the haze of smoke and glare of mirrors I see a youngish president exhorting us to “fear nothing but fear itself” while proclaiming “peace for our time,” as we “follow the yellow-brick road” to impotent serfdom.

Liberalism and Sovereignty

Don Boudreaux of Cafe Hayek writes about liberalism:

One of the great tenets of liberalism — the true sort of liberalism, not the dirigiste ignorance that today, in English-speaking countries, flatters itself unjustifiably with that term — is that no human being is less worthy just because he or she is outside of a particular group.  Any randomly chosen stranger from Cairo or Cancun has as much claim on my sympathies and my respect and my regard as does any randomly chosen person from Charlottesville or Chicago.

Boudreaux is correct in his view of liberalism. That is to say, what is now called liberalism is not liberalism; it is a virulent strain of statism.

Boudreaux also states a (truly) liberal value, namely, that respect for others should not depend on where they happen to live. Boudreaux embellishes that theme in the the next several paragraphs of his post; for example:

[L]iberalism rejects the notion that there is anything much special or compelling about political relationships.  It is tribalistic, atavistic, to regard those who look more like you to be more worthy of your regard than are those who look less like you.  It is tribalistic, atavistic, to regard those who speak your native tongue to be more worthy of your affection and concern than are those whose native tongues differ from yours.

For the true liberal, the human race is the human race.  The struggle is to cast off as much as possible primitive sentiments about “us” being different from “them.”

The problem with such sentiments — correct as they may be — is the implication that we have nothing more to fear from people of foreign lands than we have to fear from our own friends and neighbors. Yet, as Boudreaux himself acknowledges,

[t]he liberal is fully aware that such sentiments [about "us" being different from "them"] are rooted in humans’ evolved psychology, and so are not easily cast off.  But the liberal does his or her best to rise above those atavistic sentiments,

Yes, the liberal does strive to rise above such sentiments, but not everyone else makes the same effort, as Boudreaux admits. Therein lies the problem.

Americans — as a mostly undifferentiated mass — are disdained and hated by many foreigners (and by many an American “liberal”). The disdain and hatred arise from a variety of imperatives, ranging from pseudo-intellectual snobbery to nationalistic rivalry to anti-Western fanaticism. When those imperative lead to aggression (threatened or actual), that aggression is aimed at all of us: liberal, “liberal,” conservative, libertarian, bellicose, pacifistic, rational, and irrational.

Having grasped that reality, the Framers “did ordain and establish” the Constitution “in Order to . . . provide for the common defence” (among other things). That is to say, the Framers recognized the importance of establishing the United States as a sovereign state for limited and specified purposes, while preserving the sovereignty of its constituent States and their inhabitants for all other purposes.

If Americans do not mutually defend themselves through the sovereign state which was established for that purpose, who will? That is the question which liberals (both true and false) often fail to ask. Instead, they tend to propound internationalism for its own sake. It is a mindless internationalism, one that often disdains America’s sovereignty, and the defense thereof.

Mindless internationalism equates sovereignty with  jingoism, protectionism, militarism, and other deplorable “isms.” It ignores or denies the hard reality that Americans and their legitimate overseas interests are threatened by nationalistic rivalries and anti-Western fanaticism.

In the real world of powerful rivals and determined, resourceful fanatics, the benefits afforded Americans by our (somewhat eroded) constitutional contract — most notably the enjoyment of civil liberties, the blessings of  free markets and free trade, and the protections of a common defense — are inseparable from and dependent upon the sovereign power of the United States.  To cede that sovereignty for the sake of mindless internationalism is to risk the complete loss of the benefits promised by the Constitution.


Under the heading of mindless internationalism belongs “transnationalism.” As Ed Whelan of Bench Memos puts it:

“Transnationalism” challenges the traditional American understanding that (in the summary, which I slightly adapt, of Duke law professor Curtis A. Bradley) “international and domestic law are distinct, [the United States] determines for itself [through its political branches] when and to what extent international law is incorporated into its legal system, and the status of international law in the domestic system is determined by domestic law.”Transnationalists aim in particular to use American courts to import international law to override the policies adopted through the processes of representative government.

Follow the link for more. Then read the second entry in a projected series of posts on the topic of “transnationalism” and Harold Koh, a proponent of same, who is Obama’s choice for legal adviser to the State Department.