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Tuesday, April 07, 2020

The Dog that Didn't Bark

Not so long ago we might have been seeing public-service announcements like this:
For the duration of the pandemic, please use the internet and your cell phone for essential purposes only. It is imperative that we keep the bandwidth open for emergency use. 
Thank you for your cooperation.

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

Flunk the State!

Knowledgeable people (Bill Gates among them) had warned for years that governments were ill-prepared for serious pandemics. The US government was not just ill-prepared; it also maintained regulatory obstacles — in the name of public health — to others who were willing and able to act.

I’d say the case for statelessness looks better all the time.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

An Approach to Collective Problems

Libertarian political philosophy, as a practical matter, does not offer a prefabricated set of solutions to collective problems. Rather, it's a liberty-based approach to ameliorating collective problems that begins by acknowledging (among other things) the dispersion, incompleteness, and tacit dimension of relevant knowledge. Thus, the approach favors decentralization, competition (in ideas and services), and choice about what trade-offs to make and with whom to cooperate. Perhaps ironically, to succeed, individualism requires and produces the collective intelligence that only markets embody.

Friday, March 27, 2020

TGIF: Libertarianism in Emergencies

Libertarians have always acknowledged that emergencies -- severe extraordinary conditions of limited duration -- can justify actions that would be unacceptable under normal circumstances. This doesn't mean that all the rights-based rules disappear, only that some measures are deemed permissible that otherwise would be beyond the pale. Danger, however, lurks in this principle, requiring eternal vigilance.

For example, if someone collapses unconscious in the street, you may do things intended to help him without his consent. This does not justify a general policy of paternalism. Another common hypothetical is that of the person caught in a life-threatening blizzard in the wilderness who happens on a cabin (which, let us say for simplicity's sake, is unoccupied at the time). To save his life, the stranger breaks in, builds a fire, and eats the food. No reasonable person would fault him for not first seeking permission of the owner. What happens after the emergency passes is an interesting topic for discussion -- should he offer compensation? should the property owner demand and accept it? -- but let's not get into that now. (Yes, the hypothetical could be made far more complicated than mine, but that's also for another time.) Yet this cannot justify the abolition of property rights.

We might call those situations micro emergencies. They affect one individual or a few, while other people may experience nothing extraordinary at all. So what about a macro -- society-wide or global -- emergency -- a widespread epidemic, let's say? I can't see why the principle of emergencies would not hold. The aim of ethics (politics being a subset) is human flourishing, not blind slavishness to duty.

Unfortunately this might mean that in today's world -- where a dangerous communicable disease threatens to overwhelm the medical system -- governments would reasonably have freer rein to do things than they have in normal times. Most people would expect that to be the case and, moreover, would want it that way. I say unfortunately not only for reasons obvious to libertarians but also because the existence of the state has over a long period impeded and even forbidden the gradual spontaneous emergence of alternative, protean, voluntary public-health and mutual-aid institutions that would be better suited to responding to pandemics (and other disasters) than the centralized collection of politicians and bureaucrats we call the state. To see the point, you need only meditate on the leading government public-health agencies' prolonged botching of the matter of coronavirus testing. (Although it's been stretched nearly beyond recognition for obvious public-choice reasons, public health is a legitimate concept in light of the existence of serious communicable diseases.)

That we must regretfully do without those alternative institutions in the present emergency (although not entirely) should teach everyone a lesson for the future. But what can we do now? A libertarian who says he would "push the button" and at once abolish the state (or in the case of a limited-government libertarian, merely eliminate the welfare state) has little of value to say today. Does he think that alternative voluntary institutions would spring into existence? Institutions -- and the constellation of customs and expectations they embody -- need time to grow. I'm not saying that people working together consensually wouldn't do much good on their own in the meantime -- they are doing so now -- but the limits in the short term would be significant.

Besides, no such button exists, so why would we even talk about it? A radical scaling back of the state at this time would not find widespread support, so even if it could be pulled off, it would quickly be reversed because, like it or not, most people regard the (welfare) state as legitimate, even if they have objections to various parts of it.

So we're stuck with the state as it is in this emergency. Where does that leave us? Some restrictions on normal activities will be regarded as reasonable, targeted quarantines, for example. That doesn't mean we should suspend judgment and accept every restriction the politicians or bureaucrats come up with. (What's with the curfew? Where's the necessary connection with banning gatherings?) An emergency is no time to abandon one's critical faculties. Nevertheless, things that would and should be condemned in normal times will reasonably be deemed acceptable -- with regrets -- even by libertarians for the duration of the emergency. Exactly what all those things might be I'm in no position to say with any confidence. A reasonable restriction could certainly be pushed too far. How far is too far? It's not always clear, although we'll often know it when we see it. We will be in an improvisational mode for some time to come -- which is why decentralization, competition, and openness to information from far and wide should be the rule of the day. (See this.)

Of course, libertarians have a critical public role at this time. First, we should never cease to point out that much of what the government has done to mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic has been in the nature of suspending restrictions on private conduct essential to responding in this emergency. The loosening of restrictions regarding trade, medical practice (including testing and tele-medicine), vaccine development, occupational licensing, and more demonstrates how routine and commonly accepted government activity has dangerously hampered the private sector's ability to anticipate and react to the pandemic. (Unfortunately restrictions on the price system, specifically, anti-price-gouging laws, are still in force. Trump has reinforced this.) When this is all over we must not let society forget how government stood in the way. What grounds could possibly exist for reinstating those restrictions that threatened our lives during the pandemic? They and others should be permanently repealed.

Second, we ought to be showing people that markets work in emergencies and that we need them more than ever. When hand sanitizer (which was not in common use a few decades ago) ran short, distilleries started making it. Hanes turned from making underwear to making masks. I'm sure other examples could be found. What if the whiskey and underwear industries had been shut down as nonessential? No bureaucrat can know all of the "nonessential" production required to support "essential" production. F. A. Hayek's insights about the market solution to the ubiquitous "knowledge problem" are more important than ever.

Our very lives depend on entrepreneurship, which is alertness to overlooked opportunities to improve people's well-being by transforming scarce resources from a less-valued to a more-valued form. Profit is not the only thing that motivates entrepreneurship, particularly in emergencies, but we must not discount its vital role. Thus "people before profits" is a false dichotomy that has devastating consequences, especially for the most vulnerable. (Profits from rent-seeking, that is, government favoritism, is what we should condemn.) When markets are free, serving others is profitable. Thus Trump should not use the Defense Production Act to command manufacturing. The price system is a faithful guide to action that helps others. Let it work. A corollary: globalization, the kind that is unguided by governments, is good and is saving lives now. The welfare-enhancing division of labor is limited by the extent of the market, Adam Smith wrote.

Besides suppression of the coronavirus we need the production of wealth, but only savings and investment through markets can produce new wealth for everyone (as opposed to special interests only). Government produces only the illusion of wealth by conjuring up apparent purchasing power through money creation -- raising the price of what's already been produced -- and moving existing resources around -- inevitably creating fertile ground for cronyism, pork-barrelism, and electioneering -- while consuming a large share in the process. Everyone will pay a huge price for the government's promiscuous fiscal and monetary "stimulus" -- which could conceivably be far worse than the coronavirus.

To state the obvious, we must find the best balance of mitigation of the spread of the virus and economic activity, which itself is required to conquer the disease. We have no grounds for confidence that politicians and bureaucrats can find this balance. Decentralization, with many information-generating centers, is indispensable. And let's not forget that "the vulnerable" include not only the medically vulnerable but also the economically vulnerable. (Also see this.)

Unfortunately, American governments have shut down much market activity. (Strangely, "socialist" Sweden has not shuttered businesses and prohibited gatherings.) So what can we do now? I'm persuaded that mass testing would pave the way for the resumption of more or less normal market activities, for it would identify those who have the virus antibodies and thus constitute no danger to others. (See this and this.)

Third, advocates of liberty and respect for people should demand that the U.S. government end all economic sanctions against other countries. In normal times, economic warfare is crueler than cruel since it deprives blameless people -- not rulers -- of food, medicines, and other necessities. Can you imagine what sanctions are doing now?

Fourth, libertarians should demand that any government emergency spending ought to come first from the so-called national-security budget, which, if you count everything, comes to over a trillion dollars a year. Liquidating the empire should be the order of the day. It's always been bad for Americans' and other people's health.

Fifth, we libertarians must teach our fellow men and women about what Robert Higgs has named the "ratchet effect." This is the well-documented phenomenon that extraordinary, intrusive government measures adopted during a crisis do not go away entirely once the crisis ends. (For details, see Higgs's classic, Crisis and Leviathan: Critic Episodes in the Growth of American Government.) We can't let the extraordinary become ordinary.

Sixth and related, libertarians must help people to understand that measures adopted during a bona fide emergency are unacceptable in other circumstances. Politicians and bureaucrats might enjoy their expanded powers in a crisis and so might try to invoke them under more typical conditions -- but we cannot let the bar be lowered.

We must not let our society come to see restrictions on individual liberty as the new normal. This is an emergency, and we must not forget it.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

We Need Markets Now More than Ever

Jeff Tucker's "In a Disease Panic, the Free Market Is Your Friend" ought to be atop everyone's reading list. As libertarians well know, people who are under the delusion that government is a creative element in society, rather than a predator, will never let a good crisis go to waste. (Barack Obama's first chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, put it just that way.) The historian and economist Robert Higgs has documented the history of exploitation of crises to expand power and consume liberty in America in his classic, Crisis and Leviathan. We can see this process on vivid display with the outbreak of the coronavirus, or COVID-19.

What propels the expansion-through-crisis process is the belief that only government can respond effectively to the crisis. Most people, busy with their lives, don't know enough about economics and politics to see the flaw in the statist's case. By and large, and through no real fault of their own, they operate at a primitive level intellectually. Plus they take for granted what they've enjoyed all their lives: the increasingly accessible abundance of necessities and luxuries, which even a couple of generations ago would have made people green with envy. That is all the result of the fact that, despite all the obstacles, government has not managed to abolish markets, the price system, and entrepreneurship.

Enter Jeff Tucker's article:
The truth is that the market loves you right now, more in the midst of a disease panic than ever before. It would love you even more if companies were not being browbeat by government into curbing sales of essential items. Let the prices of sanitizer and masks rise and you draw more into production and distribution. Throttle the market and you reduce supply. 
The market would have loved you more had the Centers for Disease Control not failed to authorize private companies to test for the virus. It was only after the aggressive protests of the governor of New York that the CDC gave in and let people do what they wanted to do....

In a disease panic, we are learning, people lose their minds and stop thinking clearly about things that matter. They also reach out to authority to save them. All of this is expected. And it’s very sad. Even sadder is how the unscrupulous power mongers among us use such times to enhance the power of the state over our lives and claim it is for our own good. 
Libertarians need to speak up -- now more than ever.

Price-Gouging Laws Violate the First Amendment

Laws against so-called price gouging -- that is, price spikes during emergencies -- violate our natural right to engage in voluntary exchange at mutually acceptable terms. As economics has long taught, price ceilings that defy market forces make the affected goods vanish from the market. Instead of a product being available at a price more-than-X, it is instead unavailable at a price less-than-X. Small comfort for the consumer. (Try to find masks and hand sanitizer on ebay or at the supermarket.)

Here's another way to look at those laws: they violate freedom of speech (expression) and hence the First Amendment. Civil libertarians should be up in arms.

How can those laws violate the First Amendment? It is rather simple. The market's price system is a communications process, a means of expression. In the market, people's demonstrated preferences with respect to scarce resources are translated into highly usable information in the form of prices. Typically, when the quantity demanded for something rises, so does the price tend to rise. (Other things equal, as the economists say.) And vice versa. Adam Smith explained this beautifully in The Wealth of Nations. (See my article "The Market Is a Beautiful Thing.") Through the price system consumers (without realizing it) tell producers what to produce and in what quantity. And producers use it to tell us when we need to economize (that is, buy the product only for our subjectively most important purposes, leaving some for others). This is important because we live in a world of scarcity. To produce more of good A, we might need to produce less of good B. If we want the market to be sensitive to consumers' priorities, we'll want the price system to be free of political and bureaucratic molestation. It's as simple as that.

It follows, then, that if price controls -- such as law against so-called gouging -- are enforced, our voices are muffled if not silenced. That violates our freedom of expression and thus the First Amendment. When the price of hand sanitizer is bid up during a pandemic, the higher price is like a broadcast summoning producers to bring more product to the market. Laws against price spikes are like the gagging of consumers. It's true that empty shelves are also a form of communication, but unfortunately, price controls also remove the incentive for people to produce more of the goods that are suddenly in short supply. Prices are the irreplaceable tool of economic calculation, as Ludwig von Mises spelled out a century ago in his case against central planning.

No good comes from stifling the market -- that is, from interfering with peaceful cooperation.

Friday, March 06, 2020

TGIF: Democracy Can't Fix Socialism

However you feel about democracy, it can’t fix what’s wrong with socialism. 
In theory, modern representative democracy — unlike ancient Greek direct democracy — means that people vote for so-called representatives to fill various executive and legislative government offices. Those officials then enact and enforce rules that people are expected to obey under threat of fine and/or imprisonment. 
In theory, socialism has mostly been understood as direct government economic planning through public, that is, state, ownership of the means of production. In no real sense can a public own — meaning control — factories, farms, etc. In reality public ownership means control by the collection of politicians and bureaucrats called the state. Thus socialism until recently has been understood to entail abolition of private property, money, and markets. Competition, cooperation, and exchange give way to monopoly, command, and compliance.
(For the record, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, socialism in some circles was an umbrella term for any “left-wing” alternative to [state or political] capitalism. Thus some left individualist anarchist libertarians, such as Benjamin Tucker and his compatriots, embraced the term while joining with other nonstate socialists to oppose corporatism, or neomercantilism, the alliance of state and favored business interests. In a linguistically more perfect world, socialism would denote the opposite of statism. In that sense, market anarchism is socialism because the arena of decision-making is society — the network of voluntary relations — rather than the state — the network of coerced relations.)
These days, at least in America, socialism no longer means only formal government ownership of the means of production and central planning. (It’s useless to complain: like it or not, words “move” and always have.) By socialism, Bernie Sanders and his followers intend it to mean a much bigger welfare state: “free” medical care for all, higher education, etc. Sanders says his models are in Scandinavia, but those are not socialist countries; rather they are highly market-oriented welfare states. At least these days, Sanders does not propose to abolish private property and markets. He does propose, of course, to interfere with market relations through taxation and decrees such as minimum-wage legislation. He seeks not to abolish markets but to forcibly modify their outcomes more to his liking. (Not that he deserves praise for that.)
Socialism (in the older sense) and welfare-statism, along with other forms of interventionism, for all their similarities and common shortcomings, are not identical, as Ludwig von Mises noted. (For the common shortcomings, find a copy of Israel M. Kirzner’s classic essay, “The Perils of Regulation: A Market Process Approach.” Also see Kirzner’s “Competition, Regulation, and the Market Process: An ‘Austrian’ Perspective.”) For example, Medicare-for-all and free college would be better described as welfare-statist because, as envisioned, the government would not own all the hospitals and colleges or employ the doctors, nurses, and teachers. The services would be regulated by bureaucrats and paid for by the taxpayers whether they like it or not.
I hasten to add that the difference I’m alluding to between socialism and interventionism is not moral but economic and institutional. Whether politicians and bureaucrats direct our behavior directly though government ownership or indirectly through regulation of nominally private arrangements makes little difference morally. Either way, our rights and freedom are violated.
Leaving the distinction between socialism and interventionism aside for now, let’s understand that socialism, however defined, would not have its intrinsic flaws eliminated by placing democratic in front of it, that is, by having officials elected. The reason is simple. If socialism were to have any chance of delivering on its extravagant promises, politicians, bureaucrats, and the public would have to know things that they could not possibly know. Here I invoke the rich critique of centralized power provided by Mises and F. A. Hayek. 
Mises showed, beginning a century ago, that the abolition of markets — which would necessarily include the elimination of authentic money prices — would bring chaos because the prices generated by people’s marginal decisions about scarce resources in markets are indispensable for economic calculation. Calculation is important because resources are scarce and we don’t want to waste them. Prices, which contain vital information, guide action throughout society. Without them, no one could make smart economic decisions for himself, much less for an entire society.
Hayek emphasized that central planners necessarily would be ignorant not only of prices but of the scattered, incomplete, and ever-changing underlying knowledge about supply and demand, including subjective consumer tastes. Specifically, he showed that much of the information that generates prices is not explicitly known data even to the relevant actors; we all possess tacit knowledge that influences our actions when we face unanticipated alternatives between two or more goods or courses of action. Not only is it the case that central planners could not know this information; we could not convey it to them even if we had a timely way to do so. Economic planning without true prices is like flying in a fog without instruments. The choice is between free pricing (which requires private property, markets, and free exchange) or what Mises called “planned chaos.”
Relevant to this discussion, Kirzner, in The Perils of Regulation, showed that a regulatory state would suffer from a similar “knowledge problem” as socialism. The regulators could not know what they would have to know to efficiently regulate an “economy” that accorded with the preferences of the individuals they ruled. Their ignorant interventions would distort prices, leaving the hampered economy less able to serve us. (In reality, there is no “economy”; there are only people who trade goods and services. We are the economy that demagogic politicians seek to regulate.)
So we ask: how could the knowledge problem be solved by democracy? As individuals, voters may know much about their own and their families’ situations, but how much do they know about their neighbors’, not to mention the rest of the country’s. I am certainly not qualified to choose among candidates offering competing plans for how much steel, aluminum, etc. should be produced next year and at what price, what kind of cars should be manufactured, or how much wages should rise. Are you? Freed markets (unmolested by politicians) do this reasonably well. And unlike politicians, markets constantly correct for errors.
Clearly, democracy cannot fix the economic flaws of socialism or interventionism. It can’t fix the moral flaws either. However you define socialism — unless it’s in the Tuckerite sense — it must entail state interference with peaceful cooperative interaction. (I reject the bogus distinction between personal and economic activities, just as I reject the distinction between personal and economic liberty. What’s more personal than our decisions about what to buy and sell?) Whether the intrusive government officials are elected or not makes no moral difference. Just as no autocrat ought to be able to tell me what peaceful actions I may and may not engage in, so no politician appointed by 50 percent plus one of voters ought to be able to tell me what I may and may not do.
I suppose the adjective democratic is meant to convey that the advocate wants socialism without the nastiness that Castro et al. brought with them: including the jailing in labor camps of various “undesirables” and enemies of the revolution, such as gays and independent-minded librarians. (It seems odd for Sanders to praise Castro for his literacy programs when the dictator also expressly rejected freedom of the press.) But as Hayek pointed out in The Road to Serfdom, what begins as democratic socialism may not stay that way. It could become autocratic socialism as the legislators talk endlessly about how exactly the economy should be planned or guided. After all, even if everyone believed that the government should plan society, it wouldn’t follow that everyone agreed on the plan’s details. So at some point an impatient president might decide to put a stop to the idle chatter and take matters into his own hands through executive order.
Democratic or not, socialism and interventionism are unfit for human beings. 
TGIF — The Goal Is Freedom — appears occasionally on Fridays.

Friday, February 28, 2020

TGIF: Might You Be a Libertarian?


If you're like most people, you don't go around killing or assaulting others. You probably would never think of torturing, raping, kidnapping, or confining your fellow men and women. I doubt if you'd think that stealing or vandalizing their belongings would be a good thing. And I'm sure you'd never dream of stopping people from pursuing their chosen occupations.
Taking this a step further, I'll also assume you wouldn't think these actions would be fine as long as you had the endorsement of a bunch of other people, specifically, if more people expressed approval of such an actions than disapproval.

Now if all that is true, guess what: you are on your way to being a libertarian. Don't retreat from it. No, embrace your inner libertarian. It's a good thing to be. We often hear about the need to respect, tolerate, and even love humanity. That's nice but abstract. Humanity consists of individual human beings. So when you begin to make the admonition about loving humanity concrete, you can't help but start with: 1) don't murder individuals; 2) don't hit or otherwise abuse individuals, and 3) don't touch individuals' stuff without asking. You may want to go beyond those rules -- we have much to gain from peaceful cooperation, importantly including trade of all kinds -- but that is the starting point, the bare minimum. Don't tell me you love humankind if you can't endorse those rock-bottom don'ts.

Why do most of us live by those prohibitions? Most likely it's because we have a sense that this is simply the right way to be. We realize that other people are essentially like ourselves, and so we should let live because we want to live. We can take different paths to this conclusion, but most of us get there. It's not difficult to figure out. Kids do it, even if they occasionally need guidance.
Unfortunately, when the matter of the government arises, suddenly a disconnect occurs -- which is strange because the government is just a group of people. It's not an entity but an institution, a group of people who relate to one another and to a larger population in an ongoing and more-or-less formally defined way.

But if a government is just people, we ought to expect the don'ts set out above to apply, no? Many people, alas, don't see this. (Government education is largely to blame.) They exempt from those rules anyone thought to be acting in an "official capacity." But why? And shouldn't the burden of proof be on those who advocate a double standard of morality, one for the ruled and another for the rulers?

Don't reply that democracy makes it all right. We've already seen that you and I wouldn't abuse someone else if we could muster the support of a lot of people. Why would the situation differ if people formally voted?

You may be thinking that "officials" can do things to other people that you and I may not do because government exists to protect us. Fair enough. Let's talk about defense, self and otherwise.
You may properly use proportional force against someone if necessary to protect yourself or other innocents against aggression. Not only that: you may hire others to protect you or band together with others for mutual defense and aid of other kinds. Nothing wrong with that.

But note: those whom you engage for such a purpose are still subject to the rules the rest of us follow. They may not, under the rubric of defense, commit offenses against innocent people. If they do, they ought to be treated as any of the rest of us would and should be.

Obviously, the individuals who comprise the government are not held to this standard. They routinely use force against people without even the pretense of protection of innocents. Take taxation. If you, having threatened or hurt no one, don't surrender the money the people who comprise the government demand, they will not take no for an answer. If you decline, they will send armed agents to seize your belongings and maybe even lock you up in a cage. Should you resist those armed agents, they may kill you with impunity for "resisting a lawful arrest."

You and I can't treat other people that way. Wherefore the double standard? Needless to say, the power to tax is the root of all other government power, which some people then grab to gain wealth that would be impossible to obtain through voluntary exchange.

Once you explicitly grasp the implicit rules you already live by, you are a long way toward being a libertarian. All that's left is for you to realize that those rules apply to everyone, even those who shroud themselves in the mantle and mystique of the state.

TGIF -- The Goal Is Freedom -- appears occasionally on Fridays.

Friday, February 21, 2020

TGIF: The Nonintervention Principle


Anyone old enough to think about "America's" role in the world ought to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time. For example, one ought to be able to argue firmly against U.S. intervention in other countries without feeling obliged to downplay or deny the real crimes that the tyrant du jour has committed. Unfortunately, not everyone agrees.

I can see the temptation here. Many people believe that all one needs to do to establish a case for intervention is to portray the target as egregiously bad. Consequently, a noninterventionist may think that the easiest way to rebut the interventionist is to deny the claim that the target is as bad as "they say." But this is a lousy, shortsighted, and ultimately self-defeating move. For one thing, it implies that intervention would be acceptable if the target were that bad. Unsurprisingly, it's better to stick to principle.

The principle of foreign nonintervention has nothing to do with the record of the foreign government in question. It is perfectly coherent to identify Ruler X as a brutal dictator and to oppose a U.S. government action aimed at regime-change and nation-building. Thus the noninterventionist has no need to blunt the move toward intervention by misstating or obscuring facts to make the targeted ruler appear less bad than he really is. If someone is puzzled by the statement "The ruler is as horrible as you say, but that is no justification for intervention," it's the noninterventionist's job to straighten that person out because he clearly misunderstands the nature of noninterventionism.

The world is full of egregiously bad rulers -- as distinguished from merely garden-variety bad ones -- but when the matter turns to U.S. foreign and military policy, the appropriate question is, "So what?" As I say, the case for nonintervention doesn't rest on the target's record. So noninterventionists should have no trouble identifying Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro (among many others) as egregiously bad guys while also opposing U.S. government action against them.

Noninterventionists should also be able to state, assuming of course it is true, that a particular bad ruler is not as bad in every respect as the interventionists say without being smeared as an apologist for that ruler. For example, we can note that Assad, although a brutal dictator, has protected religious minorities, such as Christians, from the fanatical Sunni Muslims, such as al Qaeda and the late Islamic State. (Assad himself is a member of a religious minority, the Alawites, which is in the Shia branch of Islam.) Acknowledging Assad's record of protecting minorities does not make one a fan, much less a tool, of the Syrian ruler. Similarly, one ought to be able to point out that U.S. sanctions are partly responsible for Venezuela's problems without being accused of defending or overlooking Maduro's authoritarian state socialism, which by nature will always harm the very people it is perhaps intended to benefit.

Thus the case for nonintervention is independent of Assad's policy toward minorities and the consequences of U.S. sanctions against Venezuela. (Those sanctions should end.) Nonintervention stands on its own merits.

I find it necessary to discuss what ought to be obvious because recently I've seen people committing these fallacies: a few noninterventionists have appeared to suggest that a potential target of U.S. intervention, Maduro, isn't really so bad, while some interventionists have accused noninterventionists of being soft on some demonstrably horrible rulers.

Another fallacy I've encountered is the equation of noninterventionism with nationalism, specifically with a belief that national borders are sacrosanct. The fallacy here is in thinking that the libertarian case for nonintervention rests on a reverence for national boundaries. Nothing could be further from the truth. Noninterventionism and open (i.e., essentially abolished) borders go hand in hand.
So why the iron rule against nonintervention if borders are not sacrosanct? Albert Jay Nock and Murray Rothbard both answered this question: as long as we live in a world of states, to minimize the harm, we are obliged to keep the state we labor under on, as Nock put it, as short a leash as possible. This is true in domestic policy, but it is even more urgent in foreign affairs since presidents have frightening and acutely lethal autonomy in that realm. We should need no reminder that when the U.S. government intervenes in a foreign conflict, it makes things worse -- much worse -- especially for noncombatants. So nonintervention is motivated not only by a wish to keep the state as small as possible, but also to minimize bloodshed by abstaining from exacerbating other people's conflicts. Bluntly put, we must keep states from clashing. It's got nothing to do with a reverence for borders.

In the harsh light of 21st-century American foreign policy, we can see that the cause of nonintervention has never been more urgent. Let's not burden it with irrelevant considerations.

(For a statement of libertarian noninterventionism, see my "Libertarianism Means Noninterventionism.")

TGIF --The Goal Is Freedom -- appears occasionally on Fridays.

Friday, February 14, 2020

TGIF: Anti-BDS Laws Violate Our Freedom


Americans’ free-speech and other rights are being violated by state laws aimed at stifling the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) Movement against Israel’s illegal rule of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, both conquered over half a century ago. Twenty-eight states have enacted anti-BDS laws or executive orders that prohibit state agencies and state-financed entities, such as colleges, from doing business with any person or firm that hasn’t pledged never to boycott Israeli goods.

Appropriately, these laws have come under fire as violations of both free speech and the right to engage in boycotts, which consist of peaceful decisions not to buy products of a particular origin.
The latest case to hit the news is concerns journalist and filmmaker Abby Martin and the state of Georgia. Martin explained the case in a January 11 tweet:

After I was scheduled to give keynote speech [about the media, not about BDS] at an upcoming @GeorgiaSouthern [University] conference, organizers said I must comply w/ Georgia’s anti-BDS law & sign a contractual pledge to not boycott Israel. I refused & my talk was canceled. The event fell apart after colleagues supported me.

This sounds unbelievable, but it’s true. To speak at a Georgia institution that gets state tax money (with a minimum honorarium), you must pledge never to boycott Israel. Here’s how the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights under Law, which supports such laws, described Georgia's situation:

Georgia’s State Senate passed an anti-BDS bill which states that “a company or individual seeking a procurement contract worth at least $1,000 with any state agency would have to certify playing no party in a boycott of Israel.” When making his claim for passage on the floor of the Senate, Senator Judson Hill cited companies like HP and Motorola as examples of companies that use Israeli technology, and stated that boycotting any products or companies that were developed in Israel goes hand in hand with discriminating against the people of Israel and the Jewish people as a whole. [Emphasis added.]

One would be hard-pressed to show that boycotting Israeli goods discriminates against all Jewish people. Many Jews support BDS and condemn Israel for its brutal mistreatment of the Palestinians. Sen. Hill merely repeated the pro-Israel smear that anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism, which is patently absurd. As for BDS constituting discrimination against the people of Israel -- perhaps it does (except for Israelis who oppose the occupation of Palestinian territory and support efforts to end it). But why don’t Georgians and other Americans have a right to do that? It’s a peaceful decision to not buy certain products, and it violates no one’s rights.

Martin’s exclusion from Georgia Southern is under legal challenge by her, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), and the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF).
At least one other legal challenge on this issue has succeeded on constitutional grounds, and similar laws are now in the courts. Regarding the successful case, MPN News reports,

In 2018, Bahia Amawi, a Houston-based children’s speech pathologist who worked with autistic, speech-impaired and other developmentally disabled children, lost her job after she refused to sign a similar document. Amawi had been at her job for nine years previously without a problem. CAIR took up Amawi’s case and managed to overturn every Texas boycott law on the grounds of their unconstitutionality and she is now free to return to work. They appear confident of a similar victory in Georgia.

Quoting a previous case, federal district Judge Robert Pitman ruled that the Texas anti-BDS law “threatens to suppress unpopular ideas” and “manipulate the public debate” on Israel and Palestine “through coercion rather than persuasion.” Judge Pitman added: “This the First Amendment does not allow.”

This issue ought to be a no-brainer. By what right does a state government require contractors, including speakers, to sign what is in effect a loyalty oath to Israel (or another other country)? That those laws have passed state legislatures and been signed by governors is more evidence of the influence -- dare I say power? -- the Israel lobby routinely wields in American politics. The lobby along with the Israeli government works overtime to destroy the BDS movement and discredit the activists who participate in it. (See my “The Art of the Smear -- The Israel Lobby Busted.”)

To address an objection (which I’ve already seen), anti-BDS laws are nothing like antidiscrimination laws that prohibit state agencies and state-funded entities from contracting with firms that practice racial, ethnic, religious, or sex discrimination. As long as states exist (hopefully for not too much longer) they will surely tax everyone without regard to race, ethnicity, religion, or sex. Therefore, it is wrong for the state -- or tax-financed entities -- to discriminate in hiring, contracting, etc., on the basis of those incidental characteristics. The liberal principle of equality before the law demands such nondiscrimination. But one cannot move from that reasonable principle to other kinds of conditions on contracting, particularly conditions that infringe the right to free speech (say, advocating BDS) or peaceful action (say, boycotting for any reason).

Finally, a word about BDS itself. The movement aptly models itself on the effort to boycott, divest from, and sanction South Africa during its apartheid days. Israel has deprived the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip of their rights since the war of 1967. Gaza is a prison camp under a long-standing Israeli blockade, punctuated ever few years by full-blow military assault. Peaceful protesters in Gaza have been shot by Israeli military snipers from outside the prison fence, killing hundreds and wounding tens of thousands. The Palestinians in the West Bank have no rights and are subject to military surveillance and Jewish-only settlements and roads, as well as separation wall that snakes through the territory. It is naked apartheid in that Jews have full rights while Palestinians are treated like nonpersons. Meanwhile, Israeli officials, encouraged by the Trump administration, have been moving toward formal annexation of key parts of the West Bank. Thus, no mystery surrounds the selection of Israel for boycott and divestment. (The Palestinians inside Israel, 20 percent of the population, are treated no better than second-class citizens, which is not surprising since Israel bills itself as the state of the Jewish people everywhere, not the state of all its citizens regardless of religion or ethnicity.)

I have no problem with the B and the D, and I applaud those who refuse to do business with companies and individuals associated with the oppression of the Palestinians and who liquidate investments in Israeli firms. That’s a proper and peaceful exercise of their rights. But we advocates of liberty should draw the line at S -- sanctions -- because we should on principle reject the state's power to impose sanctions on anyone. Sanctions punish people who don’t wish to boycott the targets. But the right to boycott logically entails the right not to boycott. Also, if the state has the sanction power, it will surely use it against targets we wouldn’t want targeted.

I propose a different S instead: Strip Israel of its $3.8 billion annual military appropriation.

TGIF -- The Goal Is Freedom -- appears occasionally on Fridays.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Scott Horton Interview

Scott Horton and I talked about Trump's Joke of the Century "vision" for Palestine. Listen here.

Friday, January 31, 2020

TGIF: Trump Would Make Palestinian Subjugation Permanent


The fundamental flaw at the heart of Trump’s Palestine/Israel plan, presumptuously titled Peace to Prosperity: A Vision to Improve the Lives of the Palestinian and Israeli People, is that Trump -- like his predecessors -- believes that the Israelis are the aggrieved party and the Palestinians are the not-fully-human aggressors inherently unworthy of even the minimum trust accorded fellow human beings. You can see this premise throughout Trump’s corrupt blueprint for the future of Israel and Palestine.

But this premise has the aggressor and the victim roles switched in defiance of the facts. The Palestinians are the aggrieved party. They were dispossessed in 1948 and 1967 and then denied full and equal rights within Israel and all rights in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. We see Trump’s attitude in a key part of Peace to Prosperity, namely, section seven on security and the associated appendices.

Before we get to that, let’s start by recognizing that although Trump brags that the Palestine he envisions would be bigger than what the Palestinians now control under the Oslo Accords, he is blowing hot air in his typical way. The Palestinians control nothing. Whatever internal security the Palestinian Authority (PA) administers in part of the West Bank is merely the result of Israel having subcontracted to the Palestinian elite the dirty internal-security work that Israel used to have to do itself. But Israel is free to override the PA whenever it sees the need and take internal security into its own hands. This is not autonomy.

So if Palestinian control is to be doubled, as Trump says, it would be a doubling of zero. Moreover, as Jonathan Cook writes, Trump’s plan misleads when it touts that Palestine would consist of 70 percent of the lands Israel has (illegally) occupied since the 1967 war. Several decades ago the main Palestinian organization and spokespeople agreed to reduce their claim to only the occupied territories, a mere 22 percent of the Palestine they had inhabited for millennia. That stunning concession never got the notice is deserved. (Only Israeli “concessions” are described as generous.) Yet Trump is demanding that the Palestinians accept only 70 percent of the 22 percent -- which comes to 15 percent of the original territory the Israelis (that is, Zionists) took by force in what is called the Nakba, or catastrophe. And, Cook adds, that’s “after Israel has seized all the best agricultural land and the water sources.”

The security section and associated appendices make clear that in Trump’s (and Jared Kushner’s and Benjamin Netanyahu’s) eyes, the Palestinians are the bad guys who deserve nothing less than the closest surveillance lest they commit mass murder because they (so it is alleged) hate Jews qua Jews. So, despite the apparent creation of a sovereign State of Palestine, the Trump plan in reality would create a gerrymandered archipelago of Palestinian towns that nevertheless would contain many "Israeli conclave communities" (see the map above) and be surrounded by the State of Israel. Palestinians would have highly limited home-rule, but ultimate control would remain with Israel. That state would have complete authority over Palestine’s borders, airspace, and even the electromagnetic spectrum. Palestine would have no access to the Jordan River, because Israel would annex the Jordan Valley (as it's about to do), or the Dead Sea. To quote the plan:

Upon signing the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Agreement, the State of Israel will maintain overriding security responsibility for the State of Palestine, with the aspiration that the Palestinians will be responsible for as much of their internal security as possible, subject to the provisions of this Vision. The State of Israel will work diligently to minimize its security footprint in the State of Palestine according to the principle that the more the State of Palestine does, the less the State of Israel will have to do…. [Emphasis added.]

As you can see, any so-called concessions are for Israel’s convenience and not out of respect for the Palestinians’ long-denied rights.

Of course, the Palestinians would be watched closely. Appendix 2B sets criteria for “Palestinian security performance,” and they contain an inducement: “As the State of Palestine meets and maintains the Security Criteria, the State of Israel’s involvement in security within the State of Palestine will be reduced.” That sounds like the League of Nations' old mandate, that is, colonial, system under which Great Britain ruled Palestine after World War I.

But as we’ll see, those criteria are hardly objective and leave plenty of leeway for Israel to give Palestine a failing grade -- which is exactly what we can expect.

We read that the “State of Palestine will have security forces capable of maintaining internal security and preventing terror attacks within the State of Palestine and against the State of Israel, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and the Arab Republic of Egypt,”  except that “these specific capabilities (i) may not (A) violate the principle that the State of Palestine in all its territory, including Gaza, shall be, and shall remain, fully demilitarized or (B) derogate the State of Israel’s overriding security responsibility, and (ii) will be agreed upon by the State of Palestine and the State of Israel.” (Emphasis added.)

And the kicker:

Should the State of Palestine fail to meet all or any of the Security Criteria at any time, the State of Israel will have the right to reverse the process outlined above. The State of Israel’s security footprint in all or parts of the State of Palestine will then increase as a result of the State of Israel’s determination of its expanded security needs and the time needed to address them. [Emphasis added.]

Just in case, of course, “the State of Israel will maintain at least one early-warning stations [sic] in the State of Palestine as designated on the Conceptual Map, which will be run by Israeli security forces. Uninterrupted Israeli security access to and from any early-warning station will be ensured.”
And: “To the extent reasonably possible, solely as determined by the State of Israel, the State of Israel will rely on blimps, drones and similar aerial equipment for security purposes in order to reduce the Israeli security footprint within the State of Palestine.” (Emphasis added.)

What a relief to know that Israel's security footprint will be reduced through Israeli aerial surveillance -- solely as determined by the State of Israel.

Let’s move on to the appendices, where some details are filled in.

Appendix 2C states that “Palestine will not have the right to forge military, intelligence or security agreements with any state or organization that adversely affect the State of Israel’s security, as determined by the State of Israel.” (Emphasis added.)

Israel of course would be free to make whatever agreement it likes, no matter how much it adversely affects the State of Palestine.

Moreover, a “demilitarized State of Palestine will be prohibited from possessing capabilities that can threaten the State of Israel."

That is obviously vague. Defensive (and deterrent) capabilities can be always be called threatening. Israel does this with Hezbollah in Lebanon all the time. I note for the record that Israel is not similarly “prohibited from possessing capabilities that can threaten” the State of Palestine.

Congruent with the above, “any expansion of Palestinian security capabilities beyond the capabilities existing on the date this Vision is released shall be subject to agreement with the State of Israel.” Thus the Israeli state would have to approve virtually any change inside Palestine because, after all, almost anything could be construed as related to Israeli security.

We are assured that “while the State of Israel will use its best efforts to minimize incursions into the State of Palestine, the State of Israel will retain the right to engage in necessary security measures to ensure that the State of Palestine remains demilitarized and non-threatening to the State of Israel, including from terrorist threats.” There’s another blank check.

Now regarding those criteria:

The State of Palestine’s counterterrorism system must encompass all elements of counterterrorism, from initial detection of illicit activity to longtime incarceration of perpetrators. Included in the system must be: intelligence officers to detect potential terrorist activity, specially trained counterterrorism forces to raid sites and arrest perpetrators, forensics experts to conduct site exploitation, pretrial detention officers to ensure the retention of prisoners, prosecutors and judges to issue warrants and conduct trials, and post-trial detention officers to ensure prisoners serve their sentences. The system should include stand-alone detention facilities and vetted personnel.

I’m assuming, in light of Israel’s and the United States’ record in the matter, that "all elements of counterterrorism" include mass surveillance of all kinds, road checkpoints, torture, use of informants, and indefinite detention without charge, trial, or any reasonable notion of due process.
Just so the Palestinians are clear about what is expected of them, “the breadth and depth of the anti-terror activities of the State of Palestine will be determined [by Israel] by”:
  • The extent of arrests and interdictions of suspects, perpetrators and accomplices;
  • The systematic and comprehensive nature of investigations and interrogations to root out all terror networks and infrastructure;
  • Indictments and the extent of punishments;
  • The systematic and comprehensive nature of interdiction efforts to seize weapons and explosives and prevent the manufacturing of weapons and explosives;
  • The success of efforts to prevent infiltration of terrorists and terror organizations into the security forces of the State of Palestine.
Apparently, the Israelis will know the appropriate extent of all those things. But how? That’s not for us or the Palestinians to wonder about. But if the Palestinians fall short of expectations, you can bet the Israelis will maximize their “security footprint” inside the sovereign State of Palestine.
And speaking of vagueness, Palestine will be expected to “prohibit all incitement to terrorism.”

Considering what the Israelis have regarded as incitement in the past, this sounds as though the Palestinian government will be expected to limit free speech.

And just so there’s no misunderstanding:

During the negotiations the parties, in consultation with the United States, shall attempt to create acceptable initial non-binding metrics with respect to the Security Criteria that are acceptable to the State of Israel, and in no event less stringent than the metrics used by either the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan or the Arab Republic of Egypt (whichever is stricter) with respect to the Security Criteria. Because security threats evolve, the metrics are intended to be used as a guide, and will not be binding. However, the establishment of such non-binding metrics will allow the State of Palestine to better understand the minimum goals they are expected to achieve, and take into account regional minimum benchmarks. [Emphasis added.]

To call the proposed Palestinian status one of indefinite probation with inherently subjective criteria interpreted by a sadistic probation officer would be a gross understatement

It’s clear to see that Trump’s plan is all about Israel (and its American partisans) and has nothing whatever to do with the rights of Palestinians to control their own destiny. All considerations appear subordinate to Israel’s alleged security concerns, but in fact, what really counts (since Israel faces no existential threat) is a pseudo-ethnic chauvinism. (I write pseudo because Judaism is a religion, not an ethnic or racial group, that is embraced by people of many ethnicities. See my Coming to Palestine.)

The Palestinians just don’t count. To the extent they would get anything out of Trump’s plan, it is to save Israel some trouble. Better to have Palestine elite do Israel's dirty work.

TGIF -- The Goal Is Freedom -- appears occasionally on Fridays.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Trump Lays an Egg: The Israel/Palestine Vision


Trump's long-dreaded diktat to the Palestinians is now public. (See details here and here if you have the stomach for them.) The so-called plan of the century -- the "Vision" -- is pretty much what the early reports described, so I have little to add to what I wrote before. (My articles are here, here, and here. You can find more in my book Coming to Palestine.)

Suffice it say here that this "plan" is dead on arrival. The Palestinians will not be bribed by a $50 billion jobs program to give up their hope of full rights, which would never be achieved in Trump's proposed Palestinian "state," a  fragmented territory surrounded and border-controlled by Israel. That barely begins to describe how Trump envisions Palestine. Look closely at the map accompanying this article: those red dots represent an unspecified number of "Israeli conclave communities" scattered throughout what would be Palestine. (See this.) It would bear no resemblance to a sovereign country.

Israel would annex the Jordan Valley to the east of Palestine and the areas of the exclusively Jewish settlements in the West Bank -- all of it territory having been acquired through war, which is illegal under international law. (See the "conceptual maps" here.) Netanyahu calls the term occupied territories a "big lie" because, he says, it is the land "where our patriarchs prayed, our prophets preached and our kings ruled." But that is the big lie. One has no valid claim to land that others live on because one's imagined ancestors lived there in ancient times, especially when the most likely descendants of the Israelites and Judahites are today's Palestinians and most Jews descend from converts.

Under Trump's Vision, Israel would have unified Jerusalem as its capital (it has it now), although Palestinian would have East Jerusalem as its capital -- yeah, that's incoherent. Of course, Israel would not be required to recognize that Palestinians were robbed of their land in 1948 and 1967. The refugees would gain neither the right of return nor compensation.

To quote the official document: "The State of Israel and the United States do not believe the State of Israel is legally bound to provide the Palestinians with 100 percent of pre-1967 territory (a belief that is consistent with United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 [WRONG!]). This Vision is a fair compromise [sic], and contemplates a Palestinian state that encompasses territory reasonably comparable in size to the territory of the West Bank and Gaza pre-1967."

But the Palestinians and much of the world believe, with good grounds, exactly what the "State of Israel and the United States do not believe" about the land that Israel conquered by war. The International Court of Justice nearly 20 years ago declared the occupation of the territories and the Jewish settlements illegal.

As for the size of the proposed Palestinian "state," Yuma Patel of Mondoweiss commented, "While Trump boasted that his plan would promise a contiguous Palestinian state, doubled in size from its current form, the 'conceptual map' released by his administration shows a fragmented and dwindling territory, connected by a series of proposed bridges and tunnels." (Again, look at the "conceptual map.")

Trump, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Trump's shameless team of zealous Jewish nationalist-chauvinists, led by son-in-law Jared Kushner, have conspired to keep the Palestinians under the thumb of the so-called state of the Jewish people. That is intolerable.

As outrageous as Trump's diktat is for its details, we should not overlook Trump's presumptuousness in thinking it is his place to come up with a plan to settle the conflict between Palestine and Israel. It is not his place. A settlement is to be negotiated between the parties -- without the American and Israel condescension that is always directed at the Palestinians, as though any discussion of their predicament is a favor to them for which they should be eternally grateful. In fact, bona fide negotiations would begin with an Israel apology to the Palestinians for the massive land theft and oppression it has perpetrated over so many decades.

Trump, who is unable even to disguise his contempt for the Palestinians, will be responsible for the tragedy that the future surely holds.

Friday, January 17, 2020

TGIF: Warmonger Cotton Accuses Antiwar Think Tank of Anti-Semitism


If you wonder what the post-Trump Republican Party will look like, take a glimpse at Tom Cotton, one of the US senators from Arkansas (where I live). Cotton has waged a relentless campaign for war against Iran and has supported every horror produced by the US foreign-policy establishment for the last 20 years. He makes other American hawks look like pacifists. Cotton once said that his only criticism of the US prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where people are held indefinitely without charge or trial, is that too many beds are empty.

Typical of take-no-prisoners warmongers, Cotton savages critics of the prowar policy that has characterized US foreign policy in the 21st century. No baseless charge is beneath him. He recently attacked the Quincy Institute in the course of remarks about anti-Semitism. (You can see what’s coming.) According to Jewish Insider, Cotton said that anti-Semitism “festers in Washington think tanks like the Quincy Institute, an isolationist blame America first money pit for so-called ‘scholars’ who’ve written that American foreign policy could be fixed if only it were rid of the malign influence of Jewish money.”

This is worse than a series of malicious lies -- every word is false. In fact, it’s an attempt to incite hostility toward and even disruption of one of the bright spots on the mostly desolate foreign-policy-analysis landscape.

The Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft (QI) started last year with money from, among others, the Charles Koch Foundation and George Soros’s Open Society Foundations. Its officers and staff include respected and sober foreign-policy analysts and journalists such as Andrew Bacevich, Trita Parsi, Jim Lobe, and Eli Clifton. Also associated with the institute are the well-credentialed foreign-policy authorities John Mearsheimer, Paul Pillar, Gary Sick, Stephen Walt, and Lawrence Wilkerson. This is indeed a distinguished team of foreign-policy “realists” who are heroically resisting America’s endless-war-as-first-resort policy.

Named for John Quincy Adams -- who as secretary of state famously declared that “America “goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy” -- QI “promotes ideas that move U.S. foreign policy away from endless war and toward vigorous diplomacy in the pursuit of international peace.” The QI website goes on to state:

The U.S. military exists to defend the people and territory of the United States, not to act as a global police force. The United States should reject preventive wars and military intervention to overthrow regimes that do not threaten the United States. Wars of these kinds not only are counterproductive; they are wrong in principle.

It then goes on to indict the current foreign-policy establishment:

The foreign policy of the United States has become detached from any defensible conception of U.S. interests and from a decent respect for the rights and dignity of humankind. Political leaders have increasingly deployed the military in a costly, counterproductive, and indiscriminate manner, normalizing war and treating armed dominance as an end in itself.

Moreover, much of the foreign policy community in Washington has succumbed to intellectual lethargy and dysfunction. It suppresses or avoids serious debate and fails to hold policymakers and commentators accountable for disastrous policies. It has forfeited the confidence of the American public. The result is a foreign policy that undermines American interests and tramples on American values while sacrificing the stores of influence that the United States had earned.

This may not be pure libertarian foreign policy (“U.S. interests” is too slippery a term for my taste), but compared to what passes for foreign-policy thinking these days, it’s pretty damn good.
So why is Tom Cotton so upset? It should be obvious. QI opposes the easy-war policy of the last 20 years. Of course Cotton is upset. Take away war, and he’s got nothing in his toolbox. He certainly doesn’t want to see the public turn antiwar before he’s had a shot at high office, say, secretary of state, secretary of defense, CIA director, or even the presidency.
Cotton’s charges against QI are wrong on every count.

QI is not isolationist as long as it supports trade with the world and diplomacy as the preferred method of resolving conflicts.

It’s not a blame-America-first outfit because the object of its critique is not America or Americans, but the imperial war-loving elite of the American political establishment. Cotton is part of that elite, but that does not entitle him to identify the mass of Americans with his lethal policy preferences.
It’s not a money pit. As you can see, QI boasts an eminent lineup thinkers and writers. So the money is obviously well-spent on badly needed analysis. QI should have been set up long ago. Cotton shows his pettiness by putting the word scholars in sarcasm quotes. He should aspire to such scholarship as Bacevich, Parsi, et al. have produced.

But where Cotton really shows his agenda is his absurd claim that anti-Semitism “festers” in QI (and other think tanks -- which ones?).

Cotton here is performing that worn-out trick that, alas, still has some life in it: conflating criticism of Israel and its American lobby with people who are Jewish (and who may well oppose how the Israeli state mistreats the Palestinians). I’m sure he knows better: this is demagogy and not ignorance.
On its face, the proposition that virtually anyone who criticizes Israel’s conduct toward the Palestinians and its Arab and Iranian neighbors probably hates Jews as Jews is patently ridiculous. Any clear-thinking person dismisses that claim out of hand.

Undoubtedly Cotton has in mind primarily Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, authors of The Israel Lobby and Foreign Policy, published in 2008. (It began as an essay in The London Review of Books.) In that work, Walt and Mearsheimer reasonably attribute the lion’s share of influence on US policy in the Middle East to the Israel lobby, “a loose coalition of individuals and organizations that actively works to move U.S. foreign policy in a pro-Israel direction.” They add, “[I]t is certainly not a cabal or conspiracy that ‘controls’ U.S. foreign policy. It is simply a powerful interest group, made up of both Jews and gentiles, whose acknowledged purpose is to press Israel’s case within the United States and influence American foreign policy in ways that its members believe will benefit the Jewish state.”

This is hardly controversial stuff, although reasonable people can disagree over whether the lobby was decisive in any given case.

But does anyone doubt that American champions of Israel work overtime and spend a lot of money to advance what they see as Israel’s interests? If so, see this and my book Coming to Palestine. (Many non-Zionist Jews disagree with them about those interests.) Organizations like AIPAC often boast about their influence. That they sincerely believe Israel’s interests coincide with America’s interests is beside the point. (I won’t address that dubious contention here.) That influence, which supports massive annual military aid to Israel, has helped to facilitate the oppression of the Palestinians, wars against Lebanon, and attacks on Syria, Iraq, and Iran. It has also provoked hostility to America and vengeful terrorism against Americans. (For example, the 9/11 attacks as acknowledged by the government's commission.) Pro-Israel American political and military officials acknowledge this.

Cotton need not wonder why the lobby has succeeded so often since he himself is using the anti-Semitism canard to inhibit Israel’s critics. No one wants to be condemned as anti-Semite (or as any other kind of bigot), so we can easily imagine prominent people in the past withholding criticism of Israel for fear of being thought anti-Jewish. (It’s Israel and its champions, not Israel’s critics, who insist that Israel is the state of all Jews, no matter where else they may be citizens.) Thankfully, despite the efforts of Cotton, Kenneth Marcus, Bari Weiss, Bret Stephens, and others, the invidious conflation has lost much of its force. More than ever, people understand that to oppose the entangling alliance with Israel and to express solidarity with the long-suffering Palestinians do not constitute bigotry against Jews.

Can Cotton produce any evidence that anyone at QI believes that pro-Israel Jewish Americans should be barred from lobbying and making political donations or that such an obvious violation of liberty would fix American foreign policy? Of course not. There is no evidence. Moreover, I’m sure the QI realists understand that other interests also propel the prowar US foreign policy, including glory-seeking politicians and generals and the profit-craving military-industrial complex.

Those who reflexively and slanderously tar Israel’s critics as anti-Semites seem not to realize that the worthy effort to eliminate real anti-Semitism is undermined by their efforts to immunize Israel and its American champions from good-faith criticism.

TGIF -- The Goal Is Freedom -- appears occasionally on Fridays.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

The Stable Genius Is Good at Names

So, Trump wants to add Middle Eastern nations (so far unspecified) to NATO so that the alliance can be more involved in the region. We need another obligation to go to war there like a hole in the head. That's very peculiar for a Putin marionette who supposedly dislikes NATO, which by the way has grown already during his tenure. One always proposes larger missions for useless organizations. Such is the incoherence we've come to expect for the 45th occupant of the White House.

According to Politico, Trump said to reporters while describing in a call with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg:

I think that NATO should be expanded, and we should include the Middle East. Absolutely ... because this is an international problem.... And we can come home, or largely come home and use NATO. It’s an international problem. We caught ISIS. We did Europe a big favor.

So, I have actually said that I think the scope of NATO should be increased. And they should be looking for ISIS. We will help. But right now the burden is on us, and that has not been fair.

He went on:

NATO, right, and then you have M-E, Middle East. You call it NATO-ME. What a beautiful name. I'm good at names.

No, uh, if you add the two words, Middle East, at the end of it, because that's a big problem. That’s a big source of problems. And NATO-ME, doesn’t that work beautifully, Jon? "NATO" plus "ME."

NATO-ME -- as though America hasn't done enough damage in the region. This is our "stable genius" at work in the White House. Heaven help us.