Available Now!

Available Now!
What Social Animals Owe to Each Other

Thursday, December 24, 2015

TGIF: The Season of Peace Requires Action Not Songs

It's the time of year when people sing about peace and goodwill. Unfortunately in the United States, too little thought accompanies the nice words. Otherwise Americans would be in the streets demanding that President Obama shut down the war machine. They would also be repudiating every presidential candidate who endorses the fundamentals of America's criminal foreign policy, and that means every presidential contender in the major parties. Each one of them thinks it's the U.S. government's obligation to destroy ISIS (which it helped create), and most of them think -- contradictorily -- that Americans should overthrow the Syrian government, even though massive noncombatant casualties would result, fanatics would benefit, and neither ISIS nor Bashar al-Assad pose an existential threat to our society.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

TGIF: America's Asymmetrical War Against the Muslim World

The demagogic exaggeration of the "terrorist threat," which was the centerpiece of the last Republican debates, is easily deflated with just a moment's thought. What is the chance that any particular resident of the United States will happen to be in the same place as someone who intends to murder in the name of the Islamic State, al-Qaeda, or some other cause? Less than minuscule. Many commonplace things are likely to kill you long before you encounter an Islamist, white-supremacist, or anti-abortion terrorist in the United States. Typically, we don't find it worth the money it would take to substantially reduce those other risks. We could cut traffic fatalities considerably by outlawing left turns and reducing the speed limit to 5 MPH. But who would support those measures? So why tolerate the government's spending trillions of dollars (not to mention the violations of liberty) in its futile attempts to save us and our open society from all possible terrorism -- especially when it could make us safer by spending less money and respecting our liberty through a noninterventionst foreign policy?

Of course, the assessment of the small risk would change -- although not significantly, given the size of the U.S. population and land mass -- if we knew that the number of would-be terrorists was growing. But we can be confident, as John Mueller and Mark. G. Stewart note, that the number is tiny. How do we know? We know because we don't see much terrorism in the United States. As Mueller and Stewart note, 9/11 was an obvious outlier and many of the foiled terrorist plots were instigated or at least advanced by FBI informants. (Attacks at military facilities should not be counted as terrorism, a loaded term coined to let the U.S. government and Israel get away with murder.) And what terrorism we've seen has not been terribly sophisticated.

Monday, December 14, 2015

A Conspiracy of Fear-Mongers

Over the weekend CNN breathlessly reported as "Breaking News" -- it breathlessly reports everything as "Breaking News" -- a new poll indicating that people are increasingly frightened about terrorism. The accompanying web story stated, "Terrorism has eclipsed the economy as voters' top pick for the biggest issue facing America, a New York Times/CBS News poll has found. Last month only 4% of Americans said terrorism was the most important problem, according to the New York Times. Now nearly one in five -- 19% -- believe it is."

Saturday, December 12, 2015

How the U.S. Inspires Anti-American Terrorism

From Stephen M. Walt:
Our reluctance to consider whether certain aspects of U.S. foreign and defense policy inspire anti-American extremism began as early as the 9/11 Commission. As the late Ernest May, a distinguished historian who worked with the commission, later acknowledged
“[T]he report skirts the question of whether American policies and actions fed the anger that manifested itself on September 11…. [it] is weak in laying out evidence for the alternative argument that the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the Capitol might not have been targeted absent America’s identification with Israel, support for regimes such as those in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Pakistan, and insensitivity to Muslims’ feelings about their holy places. The commissioners believed that American foreign policy was too controversial to be discussed except in recommendations written in the future tense. Here we compromised our commitment to set forth the full story.” 
As I pointed out back in 2009, the United States is directly or indirectly responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Muslims over the past three decades, a sum vastly greater than the number of Americans killed by Muslims. It would be remarkable indeed if our actions had not led a small fraction of their co-religionists to want to retaliate in some way.
Walt is of the realist school of foreign policy.

Friday, December 11, 2015

TGIF: Please Don't Say "Radical" If You Mean" Violent"

Updated Dec. 14, 2015
It's about time someone challenged the phrase radical Islamic terrorism. The most objectionable part is the word radical since it is now popularly associated with aggression -- violence against innocents -- as an acceptable means to politico-religious ends.

But nothing about the word radical implies approval of aggression or terrorism. Rather, the word signifies an approach that goes to the heart of a matter, or the person taking such an approach. Violence is a tactic that can be used in the service of radical ends but also conservative ends. A radical can be a pacifist, a terrorist, or one who believes that violence is appropriate only in the defense of innocent life. There's simply no necessary connection between radicalism and aggression.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Cruz Is Bad Too

I've voiced my share of criticism about Donald Trump, but I've been aware from the start that doing so might lead some people to think that I see the other candidates (in both major parties) as more acceptable. I don't see them that way, and early on I said that the reason the Republican establishment is so upset with Trump is that he is a caricature of it. Trump's special iniquity lies in his strategy of forcefully stating what others soft-pedal, so there's no mistaking his unambiguous call to the worst in people. In other words, his form -- the Mussolini-esque strongman cult of personality -- better matches his substance (such as it is).

As if to prove that he can be as bad as Trump -- and arguably worse -- Ted Cruz now says, "We will utterly destroy ISIS. We will carpet-bomb them into oblivion. I don’t know if sand can glow in the dark, but we’re going to find out!"

He might have meant ISIS when he said he would "carpet-bomb them," but the them would include more than the leaders and fighters of ISIS. It would include noncombatants as well, lots of them.

Cruz was no more specific than that, but as Robert Parry of Consortiumnews.com points out, "the phrase 'glow in the dark' popularly refers to the aftermath of a nuclear bomb detonation."

Perhaps Cruz could enlighten the rest of us as to exactly what he has in mind should he reach the White House.

At any rate, add Cruz, if you haven't already, to the list of advocates of mass murder.

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

A Qualified Judge If Ever There Was

"I don’t think there’s much in the way of unanticipated side effects that are going to be bad there [in  the U.S. war against ISIS].  --William Kristol

It's Complicated

One feature of aging is the realization that life is complicated. Or maybe it's a bug.

Potential Terrorists Everywhere

Couldn't an American become "radicalized" just sitting at home watching CNN's coverage of the Middle East?

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

The Phony Mystery of Why "They" Hate Us

What do Barack Obama and Donald Trump have in common? Among other things, they have -- or pretend to have -- no clue why some Muslims hate us. Trump says (I almost typed believes, but I'm not sure anyone, including Trump, knows what he believes) Muslims should be barred from the United States until "until the country's representatives can figure out what's going on."

Friday, December 04, 2015

How to Prevent Terrorism

The key to preventing terrorism: less rocket science, more morality.

TGIF: Of Bumblebees and Competitive Courts

Considering that what liberty we continue to enjoy in the West is a product in large part of competing legal institutions operating within overlapping jurisdictions hundreds of years ago, it's curious that so many libertarians still believe such an order -- an essential feature of free-market, or natural-law, anarchism -- would be inimical to liberty. Why wouldn't that which produced liberty be up to preserving it?

Thursday, December 03, 2015

The Trump Disconnect

Supporting Trump because you distrust the government is like giving your money to Bernie Madoff because you don't want to lose it.

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Sanders Keeps Blowing it.

Bernie Sanders blows every chance he has to be the peace candidate in the presidential race. The latest example: blaming climate change for terrorism.

Trump's Invented Memory about Muslims

Why does Trump pretend to remember seeing "thousands and thousands" of New Jersey Muslims celebrating the 9/11 attacks? To justify his promise to register and monitor Muslims in America.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Why Assad Isn't "Our Son of a Bitch"

While Franklin Roosevelt may not have said that Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza "may be a son of a bitch, but he's our son of a bitch," he probably thought it -- just as other presidents have had similar thoughts about myriad brutal rulers.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Trump's 9/11 Recollection

No, Muslims in New Jersey were not celebrating the Twin Towers attacks, but someone was. Writes Grant F. Smith:
[T]he highly documented five celebrants – later joined by two more from the same company apprehended after giving false information to law enforcement – were not Arab or Muslim.
The celebrants were – as noted here – all Israelis.
Also see this.

Not So Outside

We have to stay with Israel. Israel has been our one reliable partner in the Middle East. Israel has been terrific to us. Obama has treated Israel horribly. We have to stay with Israel and stay with them big time.... I’d really call up Bibi [Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu], who is a friend of mine and I’d call up some people and be very dependent on what Israel wants. You know if they really want certain things and they are deserving of certain things.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Competition, Cooperation, and Conformity

The opposite of competition is not cooperation (which is a complement of competition) but conformity.

My Trump Post Makes Newsweek

Click image

My post about Donald Trump's immigrant-deportation proposal was picked up by Newsweek. This screen shot is featured in an anti-Trump ad produced by presidential contender John Kasich. The ad, suggesting a comparison between Trump and the Nazis, has been widely discussed by news outlets and other sites. (HT: Joel Schlosberg.)

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Foreign Policy Comes Back to Haunt Us

From the start, opponents of the American empire warned that the government could not violate the rights of foreigners without eventually violating the rights of Americans. An excellent example is William Graham Sumner's post-Spanish-American War classic "The Conquest of the United States by Spain." The anti-imperialists were spot-on, and the evidence for their case keeps piling up.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Friday, November 20, 2015

TGIF: Let the Refugees In

Hysteria over the Islamic State is now focused on the refugees seeking to escape the violence in Syria and Iraq. Predictably, the Republican-controlled House yesterday voted to increase background checks on potential refugees, a demand for omniscience that would amount to exclusion. The bill faces trouble in the Senate, however, and President Obama, who wants to admit 10,000 refugees over the next year, has threatened to veto it.

Monday, November 16, 2015

How to Respond to the Paris Attacks

Look, even authoritarian and totalitarian states can't prevent domestic terrorism. What hope do relatively open societies have? Open societies abound with "soft targets," that is, noncombatants going about their everyday lives. They are easy hits for those determined to inflict harm, especially if the assailants seek to die in the process.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Uproot the Tree of Empire

The horrendous attacks in Paris are more fruits of the tree of empire and colonialism. Needless to say, this is not to absolve the immediate perpetrators but only to acknowledge that they did not act in a vacuum. They murdered, maimed, and terrorized innocents; however, they did not initiate the violence.

If you abhor the harvest, work to uproot the tree.

Friday, November 13, 2015

TGIF: Trump's Operation Police State

If elected president, Donald Trump says he would create a "deportation force" to carry out his pledge to expel more than 11 million people from the United States merely because they lack government permission to be here. "We have no choice if we're going to run our country properly and if we're going to be a country," he said during the Republican debate Tuesday night.

Wrong on both counts.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Armistice Day, 2015

Veterans Day used to be called Armistice Day, marking the end of the shooting in World War I. The armistice between the Allies and Germany was signed a little after 5 a.m. on Nov. 11, 1918, but wasn't to take effect until 11:11 a.m. (Get it? The 11th minute of the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.) Meanwhile men continued to kill and die.

"Canadian Private George Lawrence Price is traditionally regarded as the last soldier killed in the Great War: he was shot by a German sniper at 10:57 and died at 10:58." --Wikipedia

(Originally posted on Nov. 11, 2013.)

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Campaign Needs a Radical, But Sanders Isn't It

We could use a radical in the presidential race -- someone who really challenges the status quo -- but Bernie Sanders isn't it. Sanders of course calls himself a democratic socialist, but that tell us almost nothing. One gets the impression the socialist label was pinned on him and after resisting it, decided socialist sounded romantic and embraced it.

Nevertheless, whether you like socialism or not, Sanders's is not a socialist: he calls neither for nationalizing the means of production nor for replacing the market economy with central planning. Yet that is what socialism came to mean in the mid-20th century. Democratic socialism meant that socialism would be achieved through the ballot box.

It is worth noting that in late 19th- and early 20th-century America, socialism was an umbrella term that was also used by radical free-market, or individualist, anarchists like Benjamin R. Tucker and Francis Dashwood Tandy, who called his 1896 book Voluntary Socialism. A socialist then was anyone who objected that workers were cheated out of their full reward and that prices of goods were fixed above the cost of production; in contrast to state socialists, free-market socialists attributed these evils to "capitalism," by which they meant the system of government privileges for well-connected owners of capital.

What Sanders favors is an expanded welfare/regulatory state, i.e., more of what we have. When asked about socialism, he praises Medicare. Medicare, however, is not socialism, nor would single-payer for all be socialism. Under state-socialized medicine, government would own and operate the hospitals, and doctors and nurses would be government employees -- like the post office without competition. Under single-payer, government would pay the bills for private-sector medical care and impose controls that powerful interests would inevitably manipulate to their advantage. Sound familiar?

The welfare state was established by western ruling classes to tamp down discontent among the powerless that had the potential to turn revolutionary. The father of the modern welfare state, Otto von Bismarck, intended government-administered social insurance to keep the Prussian working class loyal to the regime and out of the Marxist and liberal (libertarian) camps. In England workers initially resisted the welfare state because it was seen as a move by the aristocracy to co-opt the labor movement, which sought to redress its grievances directly.

Sometimes Sanders says that being a socialist means merely that he's neither a Democrat or a Republican. That's not terribly informative. At other times he says it signifies concern about gross income disparities, the high cost of college, and the lack of access to medical care. Again, this doesn't tell us much since radical libertarians share those concerns. What's matters are the solutions. Two people can look at the same social problem and argue over whether the best approach is more government, less government, or no government at all. Sanders's preference, more government, would mean expanded bureaucratic control and special-interest "capture," i.e., more of what already ails us.

In 1986, Sanders said, "All that socialism means to me, to be very frank with you, is democracy with a small 'd.' I believe in democracy, and by democracy I mean that, to as great an extent as possible, human beings have the right to control their own lives." Considering that Sanders's program would empower bureaucrats rather than people, one could consistently endorse Sanders's objective while opposing his proposals. (See my "Free-Market Socialism.")

He also said, "What being a socialist means is … that you hold out … a vision of society where poverty is absolutely unnecessary, where international relations are not based on greed … but on cooperation … where human beings can own the means of production and work together rather than having to work as semi-slaves to other people who can hire and fire."

Again, these are objectives that any radical free-market libertarian could embrace. Where Sanders goes wrong is in aiming to empower bureaucrats and politicians.

Sanders cannot or will not see that expanding the welfare/regulatory bureaucracy would not help those outside the ruling elite. Beefing up the state won't liberate us. Despite his intentions, Sanders is an unwitting defender of the status quo.

Where is the radical who will make the case for individual liberation and purely voluntary social cooperation through freed markets?

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

Friday, November 06, 2015

TGIF: Who Supports the Troops?

A huge sign outside a local tire store really irritated me a couple of weeks ago. Its large letters blared: "WE SUPPORT THE TROOPS." I was tempted to get out of the car and demand that the owner tell me what he was actually doing besides displaying the sign, which probably didn't cost much in money or effort. I suspected that posting the sign was the extent of his "support," but I restrained myself and kept going.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

That Was Then

"The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation."

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

America's Non-representative War Government

"The success of government...," the late historian Edmund Morgan wrote, "requires the acceptance of fictions, requires the willing suspension of disbelief, requires us to believe that the emperor is clothed even though we can see that he is not.”

Representation is chief among those fictions.

Friday, October 30, 2015

TGIF: The Wickedness of Foreign Policy

If you want to see how inhumane people can be, just watch those who make and execute foreign policy. We could spend all day discussing the cruelties that politicians and bureaucrats commit against people who live inside the United States. Think how many are caged like wild animals because they manufacture, sell, or consume disapproved substances; gamble where government has forbade it; traded sexual services for money; possessed a gun they weren't "supposed" to possess; etc. ad infinitum. Naturally, America leads the world in locking up people.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Recent Radio Shows

Here are links to two recent appearances on the Larry Conners USA radio program:
Gun Control
Presidential Candidates

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Perpetuating War

In the great 1964 antiwar film, The Americanization of Emily, the protagonist, Charlie Madison (James Garner), says what Americans desperately need to learn:
We perpetuate war by exalting its sacrifices.

What If?

If government played by the same rules as the rest of us, it would cease to be government.

Friday, October 23, 2015

TGIF: Gun Control and Immigration Restrictions Are Enemies of Liberty

What's a liberty lover to do? Democrats want the government to restrict the right of self-defense, even if it means considering the confiscation of guns. Republicans want the government to control who may come to the country, even if it means compelling employers to clear job applicants through a national database.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Is Instability the Goal of U.S. Mideast Policy?

Donald Trump's indictment of the Bush II administration for failing to prevent the 9/11 attacks presents an opportunity for more of a bird's eye view of American foreign policy in the Middle East, a policy that has killed many hundreds of thousands, maimed countless more, and laid waste to entire societies.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Guns, Drugs, and Civil Rights

The racist murders last summer of nine Emanuel AME parishioners in Charleston, S.C., would never have happened if only that United States had a better-funded, more efficient, and stricter background-check system for handgun buyers. Dylann Roof could never have obtained a .45-caliber pistol had an FBI examiner seen his arrest record for misdemeanor drug possession and if gun dealers could not go ahead with a sale when the FBI could not complete its background check in three days.

The victims would be alive today -- or so we’re told. But would they be? The same question must be asked of subsequent shootings as well, but the the Roof case is particularly interesting because of its racial motivation.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Anti-Politician Politician

The good news about the presidential election season is that so many voters seem disgusted with career politicians. The bad news is that these voters are naively opting for "outsiders" who in reality are just politicians in another form. They are anti-politician politicians.

This, I submit, is not progress.

Monday, October 12, 2015

US Foreign-Policy Primer

Republican foreign policy: We're bombing you because what we say goes.

Democratic foreign policy: We're bombing you because we want to protect you from bad things.

Friday, October 09, 2015

TGIF: Presidential Contenders Leave Peace-and-Freedom Lovers Adrift

These are hard times for us advocates of peace and free markets. As the 2016 presidential campaign heats up, where can we turn -- assuming we must turn somewhere? Neither Republicans nor Democrats have much to offer voters who both favor free markets and agree with James Madison (not someone I'm usually fond of quoting) that “of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other.”

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Realism and Utopianism in the Gun Debate

After an atrocity like the shootings at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, what’s needed is hard-headed realism, not pie-in-the-sky utopianism. Unfortunately we always get more of the latter than the former.

Read the rest here.

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

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

A Modest Agenda

The most consistent wing of the war party would have a permanent US military occupation of (at least) Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Iran.

Friday, October 02, 2015

TGIF: Ending Gun Violence: Logic versus Magic

What passes for thinking about the prevention of gun violence is not thinking at all. Thinking (as problem-solving) is a search for means that can be reasonably expected to achieve a given end. By reasonably I mean that supporting arguments can be provided to demonstrate to the satisfaction of reasonable people the connection between the means and ends. What we get from gun-control advocates is nothing like that; instead they operate on the magical belief that uttering certain words -- codifying just the right incantation -- will accomplish the end.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Planned Parenthood, Social Peace, and the Libertarian Approach

The controversy raging over Planned Parenthood is one of the most acrimonious public discussions in recent memory. While the immediate issue concerns the disposition of fetal tissue after abortion (pregnant women can have tissue donated for medical research), the controversy taps into the more basic, and highly charged, conflict between defenders of women's reproductive rights -- the right to choose an abortion -- and defenders of unborn children's right to life. But my purpose here is not to settle that conflict.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Politicians Really Love Us and Here's Why

U.S. politicians across the spectrum -- including nonpolitician politicians like Donald B.S. Trump, Doctorben Carson, and Carly H.P. Fiorina -- insist they love the American people.

Of course they love us: they need us. What would they do -- what could they do -- without us?

Monday, September 28, 2015

Fail-safe Method

Hat tip: Liberty.me, with apologies to Karl Kraus.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Free Association Webinar: To Decentralize, or Not to Decentralize, That Is the Question.

 Here's the video of Lucy Steigerwald and my latest Free Association webinar at Liberty.me. Enjoy!

Friday, September 11, 2015

TGIF: Kim Davis's Stunt

Kim Davis probably performed a pure stunt, not an act of conscience "under God's authority," when she refused, as an elected county clerk, to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples -- all couples, actually -- in Rowan County, Kentucky. It might have been a stunt intended to benefit Mike Huckabee's quest for the Republican presidential nomination. He certainly made the most of the opportunity.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

What's Donald Trump Running for Anyway?

Donald Trump consistently out-polls his Republican presidential rivals. While frontrunner status is often fleeting, Trump’s success might be cause for worry.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Anarchism v. Minarchism

Lucy Steigerwald and I discussed anarchism versus minarchism at the latest Free Association webinar at Liberty.me.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Anarchism 101

"The state is required in order to assure that people will behave well."
"What assures that state operatives will behave well?"
"No, that wouldn't solve the problem. I'm against all government."
"Hey, there's still a question on the table. You got an answer?"

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Libertarianism 101

If you agree with this statement:
If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong. (Lincoln)
You have to agree with this statement:
If self-ownership is not right, nothing is right.
(Suggested reading: Michael Huemer, "Moral Knowledge," excerpted from Ethical Intuitionism. Also, Murray N. Rothbard, The Ethics of Liberty.)

Let's Talk: Left-Libertarianism

Walter Block discussed left-libertarianism at Liberty.me. Here's the video.

Relatedly, I talked about libertarian class analysis with Scott Horton: here.

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Self-Serving News Media

The gross TV over-coverage of the murders of the Virginia TV news people is patently self-centered, self-serving, and even self-flattering. People from all walks of life are brutally murdered every day, but they don't get wall-to-wall TV coverage.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Trump Neither Smart nor Wise

Trump thinks the problem with government is bad managers. Open-and-shut case against him that is. Therein lies a confession that undermines his claim to being smarter than anyone else.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Here He Comes

Open tyranny will come to America in the form of a braggart with bad hair and a ridiculous baseball cap.
--Alexis de Tocqueville

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Unlimited Limited Government

One thing that bothers me about the idea of limited government is how unlimited it is. After all the acknowledged illegitimate departments are eliminated, what's left? Only the IRS (perhaps under another name), the police/courts/prison complex, and the military. Lovers of liberty are supposed to be comforted by that program? Those are the three most threatening parts of the state -- and they are left standing! (Minarchists may object that I assume the taxman won't face unemployment, but have no doubts about this. A monopoly state without the power to tax is as imaginable as a square circle.) I'd feel much better if all that remained were the department of motor vehicles and the bureau of weights and measures.

Minarchists may try to reassure us that the remaining departments will be strictly limited by a constitution. To evaluate that claim, consult the Public Choice literature and the work of Anthony de Jasay. Also American history.

Friday, August 21, 2015

TGIF: Trump's Trade Snake Oil

Donald Trump may think the media stenographers are out to get him, but if they were really doing their job, his head would be spinning. He doesn't know how good he has it. Or maybe he does.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Israel Wanted Iran Talks to Deal with Nukes Only

Opponents of the Iran deal -- the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action -- loudly complain that it deals only with the nuclear issue. Why, they ask, didn't the P5+1 talks also take up Iran's detention of Americans and its alleged machinations in the Middle East?

They should ask the Israelis.
It was, after all, Israel’s leaders who insisted that the nuclear file be addressed first and on its own, and who pushed back hard against any attempt to forge a more comprehensive understanding or grand bargain with Iran (an idea explored over a decade ago in back-channel talks during the term of President Mohammad Khatami). Last summer for instance, when Iran and the West found themselves on the same side against Islamic State (also called ISIS) in Iraq, senior Israeli Minister Yuval Steinitz, who was head of the Iran file at the time, noted that Israel had pushed for and received commitments from “the Americans and the British and the French and the Germans—that a total separation will be enforced,” that is, the West would not negotiate with Iran on regional issues until the nuclear question was dealt with. Israel, in other words, demanded that the nuclear file be treated as a standalone issue—the very thing that it now criticizes about the deal. 
So writes David Levy at Foreign Affairs magazine. The point is that Israel did not want to risk a rapprochement between the United States and Iran, a prospect that could water down Israel's influence in the United States and in the region.

Iran had offered a comprehensive grand bargain to the United States in 2003, in which all outstanding issues would be discussed, including Iran's support for the Palestinians. Indeed, as part of the proffered grand bargain, Iran accepted Saudi Arabia's previous Arab Peace Initiative (2002, renewed 2007), which would have included recognition of Israel in a two-state context. President George W. Bush gave Iran's overture the back of his hand, having branded Iran in 2002 as a member of the Axis of Evil along with Iraq and North Korea. (This was a fine thank-you for Iran's cooperation after the 9/11 attacks.)

Friday, August 14, 2015

TGIF: The U.S.-Israel Conflict Is Finally Visible for All to See

Thanks to the Iran nuclear deal, something remarkable is happening in American politics: the irreconcilable conflict of interest between most Americans on one side and Israel and its American supporters on the other is on full display and impossible to ignore. In the past the conflict could be papered over with grand empty rhetoric about the two sides being in "lock-step" and the absence of "daylight" between them. But no more. The conflict is out in the open where everyone can see it. Iran should be thanked for this valuable service.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Regarding Amnesty

I'd be for amnesty 
were it not for the fact 
that improving your life 
while ignoring the state 
is the essence of 
(Click on image to order.)

Truman, A-bombs, and the Killing of Innocents

Seventy years ago today a president of the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Nagasaki, a city full of innocent Japanese. It was the second time in three days that Harry Truman had done such a thing: He had bombed Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. The fatalities in the two cities totaled 150,000–246,000. The victims – mostly children, women, and old men – suffered horrible deaths in the blasts and firestorms. Only shadows remained of those who were vaporized. Many more were injured; others later died from radiation sickness.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

70th Anniversary of the A-bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

This month marks the 70th anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, President Harry Truman's acts of mass murder against the Japanese in August 1945. Some 90,000-166,000 individuals were killed in Hiroshima on Aug. 6. The Nagasaki bombing  on Aug. 9 killed 39,000-80,000 human beings. (It has come to my attention that the U.S. military bombed Tokyo on Aug. 14--after destroying Hiroshima and Nagasaki and after Emperor Hirohito expressed his readiness to surrender.)

The State Defined

The state is an organization of mere mortals who, by one dubious method or another, have been allowed to don the mantle of political legitimacy and to command obedience on pain of imprisonment even of those who never consented to the preposterous arrangement.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Obama and Kerry Play with Fire on Iran Agreement

Barack Obama and John Kerry are playing with fire. They presumably want Congress and the American public to accept the nuclear agreement they and four other governments struck with Iran, but they work against their own objective by accepting the false premise of their opponents: namely, that Iran's regime is untrustworthy, dangerous, bent on becoming a nuclear power -- and containable only by a U.S. readiness to wage war.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Another Iranian Non-Threat

This image tweeted by Iran Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has a lot of people upset. Is it supposed to be Barack Obama holding a gun to his own head?

What if it is? The picture is hardly threatening or aggressive in any way. After all, it's not a picture of Khamenei holding a gun to Obama's head.

And look at the text:
We welcome no war, nor do we initiate any war, but if any war happens, the one who will emerge loser will be the aggressive and criminal U.S.
That is not aggressive in the least. On the contrary, it rejects war. Who's been threatening war against whom? The U.S. government (along with Israel) has been threatening war against Iran. Even after the nuclear agreement was signed, Secretary of War Ash Carter reiterated that war against Iran is still an option. So all Khamenei is saying is that if the U.S. government starts a war, it will lose. It will be as though Obama had pointed a gun at himself and pulled the trigger.

In the past, Iran's pledges to retaliate if attacked have always been presented by the news media and politicians as though they were threats to initiate war. This is happening again.

When will the media and the hack politicians be straight with the public? Iran has threatened to attack no one, but the U.S. and Israeli governments, both with nuclear weapons, routinely threaten to attack Iran. Who is the criminal?

Monday, July 27, 2015

Trump & the Establishment

Trump outrages the establishment because he's a caricature of it.

Friday, July 24, 2015

TGIF: Thought Crimes, Domestic "Terrorism," and Police Bullying

Dylann Roof, who murdered nine black parishioners because they were black has been charged by the central government with committing hate crimes. Words cannot adequately express the evil of Roof’s actions at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, and no decent person would want to say anything that be could possibly be construed as sympathetic to this despicable human being. Still this must be said: the concept thought crime has no place in a proper system of law.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Free Association -- The Webinar

Lucy Steigerwald and I converse on topics of interest to libertarians every other Tuesday evening at Liberty.me The latest one was on the Iran nuclear deal, Israel, and U.S. hegemony. Listen here. The archive is here.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

No "Compensation" to Israel for Iran Deal

In The Joys of Yiddish, Leo Rosten defined chutzpah as "that quality enshrined in a man who, having killed his mother and father, throws himself on the mercy of the court because he is an orphan." Today we have a new paradigm for chutzpah: the Israeli government's demand for "compensation" from the American taxpayers for the Iran nuclear agreement.

Israel’s Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon told the Times of Israel that during U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter's visit the Israeli government would discuss the compensation that Israel deserves in order to maintain its qualitative [military] edge” over Iran. The Obama administration of course is amenable.

Why does Israel deserve compensation (in addition to its $3 billion in U.S. aid every year)? If anything, Israel should compensate American taxpayers!

Iran is not -- and was not going to become -- a nuclear threat. American and Israeli intelligence have said so repeatedly. 

But even if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were right about Iran's intentions, he should be rejoicing at the agreement, under which Iran will get rid of nearly all of its enriched uranium and two-thirds of its centrifuges. Its nuclear facilities will be open to even more intrusive inspections than they have been under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Even its non-nuclear military sites will be subject to inspection, an intrusion no other government -- particularly the United States -- would accept. And that is just the beginning. Uranium-enrichment research will be restricted, and construction of a heavy-water reactor, which would yield plutonium, will be scrapped.

The term for these various restrictions begin at 10 years and lengthen from there, but this does not mean that Iran will later be free to do what it wants. As an NPT party (unlike nuclear monopolist Israel), it will always be subject to inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency, which certifies that Iran has not diverted uranium to military purposes. 

What did Iran get in return for those concessions? Iranian money frozen since the 1979 Islamic revolution will be released and the economic warfare perpetrated by the United States and the rest of the world -- euphemistically called "sanctions" -- will eventually be ended. 

In other words, Iran can rejoin the world economy -- its people relieved of cruel economic warfare -- if it gives up a weapons program it never had, never wanted, and did not plan to pursue. Those crafty Iranians! They acquired thousands of centrifuges as bargaining chips to be traded away for peaceful commercial relations with the world.

Israel's rulers, like their American supporters, say they have another reason to hate the agreement. (For my own far different reservation, see this.) "Giving" Iran all that cash (it belongs to Iranians) will let the Islamic Republic pursue its aggressive aims in the Middle East, which include helping Israel's enemies, Hamas and Hezbollah.

Balderdash. Iran is not pursuing an aggressive policy in the Middle East, and it is sheer projection for an American or Israeli to make that charge. George W. Bush handed Shia-majority Iraq to Iran when he overthrew Iran's nemesis, Saddam Hussein. Barack Obama is siding with Iran against the Islamic State in Iraq. Iran's ally, Bashar al-Assad of Syria, is under assault by ISIS, al-Qaeda, and the United States. And the Houthis in Yemen, who get some Iranian help and are fighting al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, have long struggled against the central government for self-rule, in response to which U.S.-backed Saudi Arabia is waging a bloody war of aggression. 

Iran has supported Hamas, although the Palestinian group (like Israel) opposes Assad. But Hamas exists to resist Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands. Likewise, Hezbollah arose to resist Israeli occupation of and periodic attacks on southern Lebanon. While some of Hamas's and Hezbollah's tactics have indeed been atrocious, their raison d'être is opposition to Israeli aggression -- not terrorism.

There is no Iranian imperialism.

Nuclear Israel faces no threat. In the current turmoil it sides with Sunni Arabs, including al-Qaeda affiliates, against Iran, because turmoil serves Israel's interests and Iran is a ready-made bête noire. Why does Israel need a manufactured threat? Because if Americans knew the truth, they might focus on the Palestinians' plight. Israel and its Lobby cannot have that.

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

Monday, July 20, 2015

The Key to Almost Everything

If Americans knew that Israel faced no threat, they might focus on the Palestinians. Can't have that.

Friday, July 17, 2015

TGIF: Rothbardian Thoughts on Strategy

In thinking about libertarian strategy, I find it useful to revisit the framework set out by Murray Rothbard in For a New Liberty (FNL). What counts here is not that Rothbard, a builder of the modern libertarian movement, was the author, but that it is an eloquent statement of a reasonable position on how libertarians should grapple with political reality as they strive for a totally free society.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Two Cheers for the Iran Agreement

The nuclear agreement with Iran is good for two reasons: it reduces the chance of war, and it promises relief from sanctions for the Iranian people.

Although American officials still say that war is an option, the chance has now shrunk. Even Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu knows that his military alone cannot deal a death blow to Iran. For that he needs America, and he’s far less likely to find a willing partner now.

That the Iranians will have sanctions lifted is something all humane people will welcome. President Obama says the sanctions “crippled the Iranian economy…. Their economy has been cratering as a consequence of the sanctions.” But he is wrong. “Economy” is an abstraction; it cannot be crippled or cratered. What has been crippled and cratered are the lives of innocent Iranians, who have had a difficult time obtaining food and medicines. The sanctions regime is a form of warfare against noncombatants. Moreover, as Gareth Porter shows, it did not even achieve what Obama says it was intended to achieve.

The good that will come out of this agreement cannot be overstated. The radically diminished prospect for war -- which would set the Mideast aflame and inflict hardship on the rest of the world as well -- and the improvement in the everyday lives decent Iranians are causes for rejoicing.

But the agreement has a significant downside too, in that it reinforces American hegemony. It does so by the very fact that the U.S. government is regarded by the media and others as the legitimate prosecutor, judge, and probation officer of Iran's government. The U.S. government, of course, commands overwhelming military power, and in that respect alone it has the ability to impose demands on others. But that does not mean an American president has the moral authority to do so.

By what standard of a morality may a government make demands on others when it has wreaked death and destruction on countless societies with its military might, including the dropping of two atomic bombs on innocent Japanese noncombatants; launched wars of aggression; supported some of the worst dictators in recent times; made possible the use of death squads and other forms of terror; tortured people; overthrown governments (including Iran’s in 1953) in order to install puppet regimes; underwritten aggressive wars (such as Iraq’s war, complete with chemical weapons, against Iran in the 1980s; Israel's against Lebanon, which spawned Hezbollah; and now Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen); facilitated or waged covert, proxy, and cyber wars (e.g., against Iran); and backed the occupation of innocent people’s land (most relevantly, Israel’s occupation of Palestine through ethnic cleansing and military conquest, which spawned Hamas)?

Iran never threatened the United States or Israel. It has not tried to build a nuclear bomb, and even if it were to do so, the weapon would be of no value except perhaps as a deterrent. Yet the nuclear-armed United States, and its ally Israel -- the Mideast’s nuclear monopolist -- haughtily presume to tell Iran what it may and may not do. The system of state sovereignty we suffer under is illegitimate, but as long as it exists, the U.S. government will only cause mayhem by violating the “sovereignty” of other nations. Under prevailing rules, Iran is a sovereign nation, so the U.S. government should have no more authority to demand that Iran open itself to inspections of its military and scientific facilities than Iran has to make that demand of the U.S. government. (Actually, maybe that wouldn’t be a bad thing.)

It’s especially outrageous for Israel, which has aggressed against its neighbors, to stand in judgment of Iran. Iran signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and was subject to inspections before the latest negotiations. Israel will not sign the treaty. It won’t even admit what has long been known: that it has hundreds of nuclear weapons, which were built with smuggled components thanks to the connivance of law-breaking American officials and supporters. Israel, like the United States, also opposes making the Mideast a nuclear-free zone, which Iran supports.

So lift a glass to the agreement. But let's not rest until the American hegemon is caged.

[Related articles: My "Can Iran Trust the United States?"; Richard Lachman, Michael Schwartz, and Kevin Young, "Why They Hate the Deal with Iran."]

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

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

What a Deal: Thoughts on the Iran Agreement

Those crafty Iranians. In return for relief from America's devastating economic warfare, they will give up a nuclear ambition they did not have. Boy did we get taken!

Damn, we didn't even get a chance to humiliate them! What's happening to America?

The necons fear that if Iran's assets are unfrozen, it will behave like the United States.

It's worth it to see the Lobby and necons go berserk.

While Obama brags about stemming nuclear proliferation, let him explain why he, like Israel, opposes making the Mideast nuclear-free. (Hint: Israel is the nuclear monopolist, having achieved that status by smuggling the components and breaking U.S. law with the connivance of American officials and other influential people.)

How dare Iran think it can destabilize the Middle East! That's America's role!

Next agenda item: dismantling the US nuclear arsenal.

Friday, July 10, 2015

TGIF: Libertarian Strategy and Incremental Change

My first job in the libertarian movement, beginning in 1979, was as research director for the long-gone Council for a Competitive Economy (CCE). It was an organization of business owners who opposed the sorts of government interventions that business owners typically favor: tariffs, import quotas, eminent domain on behalf of corporations (and anyone else, really), and bailouts. In other words, it was to be a principled -- pure -- pro-free-market presence in Washington, D.C, financed by business people. (In case you are wondering: yes, it was an early Koch-backed organization, and no, business people did not rush to join.)

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Thomas Friedman and the Wish for War with Iran

Thomas Friedman, the New York Times op-ed-page representative of the foreign-policy elite, is unhappy with how the soon-to-be-completed Iran nuclear talks are going. He says President Obama, like his predecessor George W. Bush, hasn't been tough enough. Obama holds all the cards, Friedman says, but somehow the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is dictating terms. He writes:

Saturday, July 04, 2015

Happy Anarchy Day

Stop compromising
Embrace the logic of 1776
Individualist Market Anarchism

Friday, July 03, 2015

TGIF: Clarence Thomas's Confused Notion of Freedom

Compared to Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, his colleague Clarence Thomas is well regarded by at least some devotees of liberty. This is not totally unjustified. Thomas has demonstrated a familiarity with the philosophy and history of natural law and natural rights, which he (at times) sees rooted in individual persons. For this reason, in some areas he has opposed expansion of government power; for example in U.S. v. Lopez, he broke long precedent and held that the commerce clause of the Constitution is not a blank check to the government.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Scalia's Anti-Enlightenment Anti-Individualism

Conservatives warn that the so-called liberals on the Supreme Court endanger our liberties. This is certainly true, although not exactly as the conservatives mean it. Now it’s time for them to acknowledge that the court's conservatives do the same.

Case in point: Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissent in Obergefell v. Hodges (PDF), the case that declared state laws forbidding legal recognition of same-sex marriages unconstitutional. Scalia’s opinion is worth examining apart from the particulars of Obergefell. As he points out -- let’s take him at his word -- what he objects to in Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion has nothing to do with same-sex marriage per se. What concerns him is not the content of the opinion but the activity the majority engaged in to arrive at it.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Do We Have a Right to Marry?

Do we have a right to marry? It depends on what we mean by marry. If we mean making a contract with another consenting adult setting up a arrangement we'd want to call marriage, then the answer is yes.

But if we mean participation in the specific government-fostered institution characterized by marriage licenses, then the answer must be no.

Here's why: if the government-fostered institution were abolished tomorrow, as libertarians favor, no one's rights or freedom would be violated. (Justice Clarence Thomas seems to recognize this in his dissenting opinion.)

We have the inherent right to make contracts but we have no right to anything provided by the state, an inherently coercive organization. That's why the best argument for legal recognition of same-sex marriage is an equal-protection argument, not a liberty argument. It's not so much that we have a right to equal protection; it's that equal protection limits the discretion of government officials -- and that tends to be a good thing. The exception to this equality-but-not-liberty principle would be in those states that both forbid same-sex marriage and refuse to recognize private marriage contracts -- which seems to be all the states affected by the Obergefell ruling. As Ilya Somin writes:
In most states that banned same-sex marriage before today, a same-sex couple could not sign an enforceable marriage contract, even if its content was limited to purely private marital obligations between the two parties.
Thus such couples were not only denied equal protection; they were also denied liberty.

Friday, June 26, 2015

TGIF: The Libertarian Case for Legalizing Same-Sex Marriage

I tried to come up with a solid libertarian argument for why the Supreme Court should not have struck down state bans on same-sex marriage (SSM). (By a 5-4 vote, the court this morning declared those bans unconstitutional.)

I couldnt do it. 

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Charleston and Gun Rights

Dylann Roof’s racially motivated murders of nine black churchgoers have brought predictable calls for new restrictions on the right to keep and bear arms.
How ironic this is we shall soon see.

Friday, June 19, 2015

TGIF: Another Silly Jab at Libertarianism

The problem with responding to Alan Wolfe’s feeble attempt to critique libertarianism is that one might appear to be defending the particular people he targets: namely, Rand Paul and Ayn Rand. (Rand Paul was not named after Ayn Rand. At least Wolfe avoided that error.) I want to defend the libertarian philosophy without defending Rand Paul or Ayn Rand because:

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Drone War Delusions

We are constantly told that US drones are surgically precise. But any weapon – especially a remote-controlled one – is only as accurate as the intelligence behind it. At least 38 people died before a CIA strike finally killed this man [al-Qaeda #2, Nasir al-Wuhayshi, in Yemen]. Who were the rest? How many lives did we take in the effort to assassinate al-Wuhayshi? How many have we driven into the arms of militants with the 38 others we killed? The secret drone war conceals a mountain of hidden costs, and the idea we can bomb our way out of the problem of terrorism is short-sighted and, ultimately, false.
--Cori Crider of Reprieve, quoted in The Guardian

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

King John Might Envy President Obama

King John of England, who 800 years ago this week was forced at Runnymede to affix his Great Seal to Magna Carta -- which at least in theory subordinated his power to law -- might have envied President Obama.
Sure, Obama also pays lip service to idea that the executive is subject to law. But what happens when he acts like an autocrat? Nothing. King John had to contend with rebellious barons who resisted his taxes to finance losing wars and other impositions. Obama has no effective opposition to contend with. He is free to fight wars as he pleases, never worrying that he might be deprived of the revenues he needs to engage in his far-flung killing.
We like to believe we’ve come a long way in those 800 years, but in important respects we have not. We’ve regressed, not the least in the sense that people no longer show an interest in resisting tyranny even through nonviolent noncooperation.
Observe what Obama is up to in the Middle East.
Marissa Taylor and Jonathan Landay of McClatchy recently noted, “As U.S. military operations against the Islamic State approach the one-year mark, the White House has failed to give Congress and the public a comprehensive written analysis setting out the legal powers that President Barack Obama is using to put U.S. personnel in harm’s way in Iraq and Syria.”
That’s right. Obama has been at war with the Islamic State for a year, and his administration won’t even do us the courtesy of spelling out his legal authority in detail. Lately, Obama has been intensifying his intervention in the areas that were formerly part of Syria and Iraq. He’s setting up a new base in Iraq’s Anbar province, which the Islamic State largely holds, and he’s increased the number of so-called advisers and trainers. The force that we know of is up to about 3,500.
Obama has not been totally silent about his legal authority. “The only document the White House has provided to a few key lawmakers comprises four pages of what are essentially talking points, described by those who’ve read them as shallow and based on disputed assertions of presidential authority,” Taylor and Landay write (emphasis added). Note: "to a few key lawmakers" -- not to the public. I suppose the administration doesn’t want us to worry our little heads over this.
Taylor and Landay speculate that “by not setting out its legal case in public documents, Obama may be trying to preserve his flexibility to authorize new operations against the Islamic State or other extremist groups elsewhere, unfettered by constraints that could be imposed by Congress.”
Yet again, Obama sinks beneath George W. Bush. At first Obama invoked the allegedly inherent war powers of the presidency, ignoring the Constitution’s delegation of the war power to Congress. (Important figures in early American history, notably John Quincy Adams, regretted that clause.) Then Obama claimed the 2001 and 2002 resolutions authorizing military force in Afghanistan (against those who carried out the 9/11 attacks) and Iraq as authority. But this has been ably rebutted by various people, who point out that the Islamic State is an enemy of, not associated with, al-Qaeda; had nothing to do with Iraq’s Saddam Hussein; and did not even emerge until long after those resolutions were passed.
To complicate things, while Obama asked for congressional affirmation, he claimed he could legally fight his war without it. Congress’s ineptitude in getting itself together on the question, with Democrats and Republicans having different reasons for not coalescing, suits Obama just fine.
Of course, what the country needs is not a declaration of war from Congress, but a demand that Obama stop fighting wars without it. Fat chance of that happening, though. Few members of Congress want the responsibility of blocking a war.
Obama’s rationalization for autocratic military action is a license for unchecked global war. And that’s what we’ve seen throughout his tenure in the White House. His administration brags that airstrikes recently killed terrorist leaders in Libya (maybe), where Obama helped overthrow a government four years ago, and Yemen, where Obama ordered even American citizens killed.
Where are the protests? Where are the organized tax strikes? King John would be green with envy.
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, June 12, 2015

TGIF: Looking Back at Magna Carta

Monday is the 800th anniversary of the day in 1215 that rotten King John put his seal to the sheet of parchment called the Articles of the Barons -- later to be known as Magna Carta -- at Runnymede in England. It wasn’t the first charter issued by an English monarch pledging to subordinate his power to the law (custom), yet it has had a staying power like no other in the imagination of people worldwide. This is especially ironic when you consider that at John’s request, Pope Innocent III nullified the charter just 11 days later and excommunicated the rebellious barons who forced it on him. (Further ironies: the charter had been drafted by the learned archbishop of Canterbury, Stephen Langton, whom the Pope had selected over John’s objection, and the charter affirmed the autonomy of the church.)

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Abolish Special Ops Forces

It’s time to disband the Navy’s SEAL Team 6 and all other secretive, unaccountable units of the U.S. imperial military. As is said about lawyers, if we didn’t have these units, we wouldn’t need them.
The New York Times reported recently:
While fighting grinding wars of attrition in Afghanistan and Iraq, Team 6 performed missions elsewhere that blurred the traditional lines between soldier and spy. The team’s sniper unit was remade to carry out clandestine intelligence operations, and the SEALs joined Central Intelligence Agency operatives in an initiative called the Omega Program, which offered greater latitude in hunting adversaries.
Team 6 has successfully carried out thousands of dangerous raids that military leaders credit with weakening militant networks, but its activities have also spurred recurring concerns about excessive killing and civilian deaths.
Afghan villagers and a British commander accused SEALs of indiscriminately killing men in one hamlet; in 2009, team members joined C.I.A. and Afghan paramilitary forces in a raid that left a group of youths dead and inflamed tensions between Afghan and NATO officials. Even an American hostage freed in a dramatic rescue has questioned why the SEALs killed all his captors.
We are expected to trust the government that those operations kill bad guys only. But why should we, when it has done so much to earn our distrust? It has long downplayed the civilian deaths inflicted by drones, bombers, and ground operations.
The Times writes,
When suspicions have been raised about misconduct, outside oversight has been limited. Joint Special Operations Command, which oversees SEAL Team 6 missions, conducted its own inquiries into more than a half-dozen episodes, but seldom referred them to Navy investigators. “JSOC investigates JSOC, and that’s part of the problem,” said one former senior military officer experienced in special operations, who like many others interviewed for this article spoke on the condition of anonymity because Team 6’s activities are classified.
Even the military’s civilian overseers do not regularly examine the unit’s operations. “This is an area where Congress notoriously doesn’t want to know too much,” said Harold Koh, the State Department’s former top legal adviser, who provided guidance to the Obama administration on clandestine war.
Here we have a super-secretive unit of killers that is protected from accountability by its own. William C. Banks, a Syracuse University expert on national-security law, told the Times, “If you’re unacknowledged on the battlefield, you’re not accountable.”
Members of Congress pretend to keep an eye on the military to prevent criminal behavior -- but in fact they are integral to the corrupt system: with eyes turned away, they keep it going with large sums of money.
“Waves of money have sluiced through SEAL Team 6 since 2001,” the Times writes, “allowing it to significantly expand its ranks — reaching roughly 300 assault troops, called operators, and 1,500 support personnel — to meet new demands.”
And this is just one unit, though it is the most glamorized, having conducted the raid that reportedly killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in 2011.
The Times quotes James G. Stavridis, retired admiral and former NATO Supreme Allied Commander, who said, “If you want these forces to do things that occasionally bend the rules of international law, you certainly don’t want that out in public.” By “bend the rules,” Stavridis means, in the Times’ words, “going into undeclared war zones.”
So politicians need secretive military units to fight undeclared wars -- which would seem to violate the Constitution.
The existence of secretive military units conducting private lethal operations should bother anyone who aspires to live in a free society. Their very nature offends common decency. Yet a propagandized population takes for granted that secrecy is legitimate and necessary for our safety in a terrorism-plagued world.
Beyond the obvious objections to secretive military units, there is also this: U.S. intervention in the Muslim world makes people want to kill Americans, as government officials widely acknowledge. Secretive military units allow the national-security elite to engage in actions that provoke violence against Americans confident that Team 6 and the Army’s Delta Force will neutralize any retaliatory threat.
For our own safety, we must disband these squads of killers.
Sheldon Richman keeps the blog "Free Association" and is a senior fellow and chair of the trustees of the Center for a Stateless Society.