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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.