Tuesday, March 31, 2015

America’s Foreign-Policy Makers Endanger Us

American politicians frequently declare that the government’s first duty is to protect us from foreign threats. If that’s so, why have they embroiled us in the Middle East?
Instead of keeping us safe, they seem to strive to put us in harm’s way by provoking one side or the other in sectarian, ethnic, tribal, and political conflicts. With one glaring exception -- Israel versus Palestine -- the U.S. government has been on almost every side of these complicated conflicts at one time or another, depending on the geostrategic context.
Considering that record, maybe we should reassess this thing called government. Perhaps if we didn’t have it, we wouldn’t need it.
Following his predecessors, Barack Obama today has us ear-deep in the old conflict between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, as well as in the overlapping political friction between Arabs and Iranians (Persians) for regional dominance. What makes this all the more bewildering is that the Obama administration isn’t firmly on one side or the other. In Syria it is officially against Shiite Iran’s ally President Bashar al-Assad, a position that objectively helps Sunni ISIS and the al-Qaeda affiliate, which also oppose Assad. But in neighboring Iraq, Obama is de facto allied with Iran and its Shiite ally-regime in Baghdad against ISIS. (George W. Bush’s overthrow of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein guaranteed that Iraq and Iran would be allies.)
The latest wrinkle is now occurring in Yemen, a country long plagued by sectarian, tribal, and political turmoil. The United States has aggravated the conflicts through drone warfare, by engineering the replacement of one leader with another, and by its intervention and distribution of arms throughout the region. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula did not exist before the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
The Houthis, who practice a form of Islam, Zaidi, that in some ways resembles Shiism and in other ways Sunnism, have taken control of parts of Yemen. But how is that a threat to us? These opponents of al-Qaeda are said to be backed by Iran, though this is undoubtedly an exaggeration, if not a fabrication, because the dispute appears to be internal. Nevertheless, for the ruling elites in the United States, Israel, and Saudi Arabia, Iran is the bogeyman, so it’s threatening everywhere. Patrick Cockburn, a reporter familiar with the region, warns that U.S. backing of Sunni Arab intervention in Yemen could produce a self-fulfilling prophecy by driving the Houthis firmly into the Iranian and Shiite camps.
The question is: why must Americans be embroiled in this civil war, as well as the wars in Syria, Iraq, and Libya? If Iran and Saudi Arabia want to contend with each other for dominance in the Muslim world, what business is that of ours? All we can do is worsen the violence. No wonder so many people wish us ill.
Some might reply that neglecting the region would create breeding grounds for terrorism. But it’s intervention that breeds hatred of and possibly violence against Americans. Oil isn’t a good answer either. Whoever controls the oil will sell it -- if not to Americans, then to others who will then sell it to Americans in the global market. When you factor in the high cost of the American military, oil isn’t so cheap.
And while we’re questioning the sense of putting Americans in the middle of foreign conflicts, let’s not forget U.S. policy toward Israel. Israel was founded mostly on land seized illegitimately from Palestinian Arabs -- Muslim and Christian -- and its occupation of additional Palestinian territory is now almost 50 years old. Whether American politicians have had self-serving or humanitarian motives, their policy, pushed by Israel’s Jewish American lobby, has underwritten brutal injustice.
Thus U.S. intervention in the Middle East has made enemies for the American people, putting them at risk unnecessarily. This was blindingly clear on 9/11, the perpetrators of which cited America’s alliance with Israel against the Palestinians among their grievances. Today we live with the threat (however exaggerated) that terrorism could again come to United States. This is a direct outcome of the American presence in a range of conflicts.
For this we may thank the largely unaccountable people who make foreign policy. We’d be safer without them.  

Sheldon Richman keeps the blog "Free Association" and is a senior fellow and chair of the trustees of the Center for a Stateless Society.

Friday, March 27, 2015

TGIF: How Many Rights?

So, libertarians, how many rights do people have? One (say, the right to life, albeit with countless applications)? Three (life, liberty, and property)? Or an unlimited number (the right to do this, that, and the other, ad infinitum)?
Because part of any strategy to achieve a fully free society presumably includes persuading nonlibertarians to be libertarians, formulating a clear answer to my question seems worthwhile. The simpler the answer the better (other things equal), because getting people to think about moral and political philosophy, especially when we appear to be challenging the reigning view, is tough enough without needlessly making it tougher.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Mandatory Voting: A Bad Idea

President Obama thinks that forcing us to vote might be a good idea. That he could favor punishing people for not voting -- which means taking their money by force and imprisoning or even shooting them if they resist -- is unsurprising. The essence of government is violence -- aggressive, not defensive, force. Government is not usually described in such unrefined terms, but consider its most basic power: taxation. If you can’t refuse the tax collector with impunity, you are a victim of robbery. It doesn’t matter that government claims to render “services” if you don’t want them.

Friday, March 20, 2015

TGIF: Rethinking the U.S.-Israeli Relationship

The Benjamin Netanyahu on display in the days before and after Tuesday’s Israeli election is the same one who has been in power all these years. Right along, he was there for all to see, so no one should have been surprised by his performance. I seriously doubt that anyone really is surprised. Americans who slavishly toe the Israeli and Israel Lobby line may act surprised, but that’s really just their embarrassment at having to answer for the prime minister of the “State of the Jewish People.” (If Israel is indeed the State of the Jewish People, it follows that the lobby may properly be called the Jewish Lobby, though that seems to offend some people. The term need not suggest that every person identifying as Jewish is pro-Israel or pro-Likud. I have known religious Jews who are severely anti-Israel and anti-Zionist.)
Democrats especially are in a bind. They can’t afford to distance themselves from Netanyahu and alienate Jewish sources of campaign donations, yet they are visibly uncomfortable with his so openly racist fear-mongering about Israeli Arab voters -- “The right-wing government is in danger. Arab voters are heading to the polling stations in droves. Left-wing NGOs are bringing them in buses.” The Democrats' defense of that ugly appeal as merely a way to get the vote out is disgraceful. (Imagine something equivalent happening in the United States.)

Friday, March 13, 2015

TGIF: Another Would-Be Critic of Libertarianism Takes on a Straw Man

We must face the fact that criticism of the libertarian philosophy in the mass media will most likely misrepresent its target, making the commentary essentially worthless. That’s painfully clear from what critics publish almost weekly on self-styled left-wing and progressive websites. How refreshing it would be for someone to set forth the strongest case for libertarianism before attempting to eviscerate it. Is the failure to do so a sign of fear that the philosophy is potentially appealing to a great many people?

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Senate Republicans Push for War with Iran

Iran has its hardliners on the United States, and the United States has its hardliners on Iran. It’s understandable if you think they are working together to thwart detente between the two countries. Neither side wants its government to negotiate a nuclear deal and thaw the cold war that’s existed since 1979.
This week hardliners in the U.S. Senate took another step toward thwarting detente by writing to Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei that if he and President Obama negotiate a “mere executive agreement” on Iran’s (civilian) nuclear program that is not approved by Congress, it will bind neither Obama’s successor nor a future Congress. The letter comes on the heels of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s bellicose speech about Iran before Congress. Like that speech, the senators’ letter is intended to sabotage the P5+1 talks now in progress.

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Ben Carson Inserts Foot in Mouth

Ben Carson, a conservative hopeful for president, made headlines last week by proclaiming that being gay or lesbian is "absolutely" a choice. His evidence? "A lot of people who go into prison, go into prison straight and when they come out they're gay," Carson said on CNN. "So, did something happen while they were in there? Ask yourself that question."

QED, apparently.