Foreign Policy versus Values: the Middle East and Ukraine

Back in Cold War days, the West believed that its very existence was threatened by so-called Communist countries. Existential threats can justify extraordinary measures, which may have justified the West’s support of various “friendly” tyrannies. Even if so, that support had serious long terms consequences, such as 9/11 and the Afghan war.

Today, there is no threat of nuclear annihilation, there are no armies ready to overwhelm Europe and then the rest of the free world. The once threatening powers learned that they can’t out-produce the West in military might; they can’t even continue except as parasites on the West. Even a North Korean or Pakistani nuke in the wrong hands poses no existential threat to the West. There is no excuse to support any tyranny, “friendly” or not.

How, then, should the West deal with other countries now that the calculus of life or death no longer rules? What is the self-interest of a peaceful, free nation? It is the same as that of a citizen of that nation: a world that respects freedom and the rule of law.

Protecting the West’s oil and gas supplies is not a legitimate foreign policy goal. If the energy companies want to dig in hostile places, they should bear the costs of defending their operations. That, of course, would push those companies to seek saner locations for their operations, which would allow the West to reduce its dependence on its enemies. Those enemies would no longer be propped up by Western wealth exchanged for their gas and oil. To that extent that this would raise the price of gas and oil, this is a good thing; government protection of of corporate assets in hostile places is an externality that should be reflected in gas and oil prices.

The West should support those countries that embody freedom and the rule of law, and those movements that seek to create those values. They should give no support to those entities that do not respect those values and should work to undermine those entities that would export antithetical values to the West.

The West should have intervened in Ukraine. The Maidan wanted freedom and the rule of law. Putin determined that they should not have it. Once Russia used force — during the theft of Crimea — the West should have cut off all commerce with Russia and offered NATO membership to Ukraine. Putin’s retreat would have been comically fast, and the sanctions quickly lifted. Instead, a proto-Western country is in an existential war it is not likely to win, and Putin now sees that he can blackmail the West with little consequence.

The West should stay out of the Middle East, except to support those movements that seek freedom and the rule of law. Today’s conflicts are merely between warring tribes who have been fighting for centuries. Leave them to it. If any tribe actually poses a threat to Western countries, destroy it. (Remember: the West won the Iraq and Afghan wars; where it failed was in trying to impose freedom and the rule of law where it was not wanted.) ISIS, the devil du jour, should be ignored for now, except for collecting intelligence. Most likely, its own evil will cause its destruction at the hands of the West’s enemies. Should ISIS succeed in creating a state and try to use it as a base to harm the West, it can learn the hard way that Western militaries are well equipped to destroy states.

Of course, the West will not follow foreign policies that promote freedom and the rule of law. Its leaders do not share those values; to them, those values are merely tools to keep their citizens pacified while they use government to satisfy their private wants. Whatever the leaders’ rhetoric, their actual policies will be directed toward preserving their wealth, power, and face, and that of their supporters. So, we can expect Ukraine to receive only token assistance while Russia tries to subjugate it, while the West continues to spend blood and treasure in the Middle East to protect various corporate bottom lines.


America the Bully

John Kerry says that Snowden should “man up” and return to America to face justice. He would have Snowden defend himself in America’s courts, conveniently ignoring the fact that Snowden’s one defense — that he was defending America by exposing government wrongdoing — is one that he would not be allowed to present in court. That was no more than the taunting of a schoolyard bully, “If you don’t jump off that building, you’re a sissy. Who cares how many bones you break! Siiissy!”

The West Is Tested

If memory serves, it was Obama who said that the West would counter Putin’s nineteenth century actions with twenty-first century methods. Really?

If rule by violent men is nineteenth century, he was half right. Putin rules Russia through violence. He invaded and annexed Crimea. He is instigating violence in east Ukraine and will have war there, one way or another. Putin is a violent man, leading a country full of violent men.

The West’s counter? Talk. Meaningless sanctions. Threats — unlikely to be carried out — of real sanctions. These will not stop Putin; he knows that the West values its comforts too much to take effective action.

History teaches that talk only encourages violent men to further violence. Only a greater force can stop those who live by violence, and the longer it takes to apply that force, the greater the ensuing destruction.

So long as the West abjures force, Putin, his allies, and his successors will keep winning. Eventually, they will go too far but, by then, the tyrannies will be far more dangerous. There will be war and the West will win, if anyone does, but the cost will be countless lives, not the mere wealth that prompt action would have cost.

A day has passed since I wrote the words above. Today, lives have been lost among the Ukrainian security forces, and escalation seems certain. Will today, April 13, 2014, be remembered for the first shots of World War III? Unless the West acts soon and with adequate force, it well may.

You Didn’t Say That, Somebody Else Did

The last time I read Atlas Shrugged was almost twenty years ago. I thought it was time for a reread. While reading it, I came across the following:

“Rearden. He didn’t invent smelting and chemistry and air compression. He couldn’t have invented his Metal but for thousands and thousands of other people. His metal! Why does he think it’s his? Why does he think it’s his invention? Everybody uses the work of everybody else. Nobody ever invents anything.” [p. 262 in the 35th anniversary edition]

This was said by James Taggart to Cherryl Brooks.

Rearden is, among other things, an inventor who has just created a new alloy that is much better than steel. The pretend capitalists of the world are not happy because he’s going to compete them into the ground with his Rearden Metal. Taggart is the nominal head of a railroad. In reality, his sister Dagny runs the railroad and he takes the credit for her success while constantly doing his best to undercut her; he himself has never done a worthwhile thing in his life.

Obama channeling Ayn Rand? How bizarre, even if he’s channeling a Rand villain.


Economic Dis-Reporting

This morning, I was listening to “The Marketplace Morning Report” on NPR. The head of the Boston Fed said that he thought that the Fed should pump lots more money into the economy. The reporter pointed out that some people thought that that would lead to inflation.

The Fed guy replied that there were no signs of inflation now.

No one (with any economic sense) thinks that inflation is possible today, no matter how much money is pumped into the economy. There is simply no demand that would drive prices up, even though there’s all too much money floating around. The fear is that, once demand does go up, there will be all that money just waiting to pump up prices.

The Fed guy had to understand this.

Ditto the reporter.

The kindest thing one could say about the exchange is that it was “he said/she said” reporting.

But the accurate thing to say is that it was a dishonest government official enabled by a dishonest reporter.

The Lyin’ Paul Ryan

I tuned into NPR this morning and heard Paul Ryan giving his speech after becoming Romney’s running mate. Of course, I know that when a politician’s lips move, he’s almost certainly lying; nevertheless I felt stirred by his talk of freedom and America’s founding principles.

Then I looked up his abortion and drugs stances.

Ah, it’s so nice to have my dark view of politicians reinforced.



Who Is the Criminal, the Convict or the Government?

I recently read an article in the online USA Today, Scores in N.C. are legally ‘innocent,’ yet still imprisoned, which should give anyone pause. Here’s what it says:

There is a federal law that says that a felon may not possess a gun. The federal government thought that certain North Carolina crimes were felonies. They imprisoned a bunch of people who had committed those crimes and were later found with a gun. Now they realize that those crimes were not felonies and that these people are not guilty of the crime they are in prison for. Instead of trying to get these people out of prison, the federal government is doing its best to keep them in prison.

I could say a few things about this. However, it’s already been said by, among others, the Supreme Court and the authors of the Constitution:

Berger v United States, 295 U.S. 78, 88 (1935):

The United States Attorney is the representative not of an ordinary party to a controversy, but of a sovereignty whose obligation to govern impartially is as compelling as its obligation to govern at all, and whose interest, therefore, in a criminal prosecution is not that it shall win a case, but that justice shall be done. As such, he is in a peculiar and very definite sense the servant of the law, the two-fold aim of which is that guilt shall not escape or innocence suffer. He may prosecute with earnestness and vigor — indeed, he should do so. But, while he may strike hard blows, he is not at liberty to strike foul ones. It is as much his duty to refrain from improper methods calculated to produce a wrongful conviction as it is to use every legitimate means to bring about a just one.

Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409, 427n25 (1976)

The possibility of personal iiability also could dampen the prosecutor’s exercise of his duty to bring to the attention of the court or of proper officials all significant evidence suggestive of innocence or mitigation. At trial, this duty is enforced by the requirements of due process, but, after a conviction, the prosecutor also is bound by the ethics of his office to inform the appropriate authority of after-acquired or other information that casts doubt upon the correctness of the conviction. Cf. ABA Code of Professional Responsibility EC 7-13 (1969); ABA, Standards, supra, 3.11.

Bordenkircher v. Hayes, 434 U.S. 357, 363 (1978)

To punish a person because he has done what the law plainly allows him to do is a due process violation of the most basic sort….

Constitution of the United States of America, Amendment V

No person shall … be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law….

The Ruling that Means Nothing

I don’t waste my time reading political commentary. Most of it, left, right, center, and libertarian, is partisan garbage. I have no doubt, and the few articles I have been unable to avoid reinforce my belief, that the leftish pundits are crowing about the Supreme Court’s ruling on Obamacare and the rightish pundits are screaming “judicial activism”. Were I to chime in, in either direction, I’d be lying to you.

Here’s the skinny: The Supreme Court’s ruling is one of the most conservatively written opinions I’ve seen. And that means something, because I’ve read over 50,000 court opinions. If someone tells you that the Court stretched, bent, or ignored the law, they’re either ignorant or lying—the reality is that the Justices bent over backward to rely on uncontroversial precedent and to not create any new law.

I’m quite serious. Contrary to the headlines, when legal historians write about the destruction of America, this latest decision will be relegated to a footnote. It is not a landmark decision. It is not judicial activism. The case came before the Court, so it had to rule. But had the case never made it that far, America’s future would not be changed in any significant way.

Don’t get me wrong. I think Obamacare is a big step in the wrong direction for America. It’s going to drive up health care costs, cause health care to be further rationed, and sap the productivity of America. But it’s just One More Entitlement in a long line of entitlements. It’s just One More Violation of individual rights in a long line of abrogated rights. It, by itself, won’t be the death of America. Rather, it is the courts’ abdication of a principled interpretation of the Constitution in combination with America’s belief in entitlement that is deadly. See my previous post, The Mutation that Will Kill America.

I would have cheered myself hoarse had the Supreme Court shot down Obamacare. That would have signaled an end to the courts’ toleration of the American public’s willingness to abandon its rights in favor of entitlements. But that was never going to happen. The Supreme Court rejected the idea of limited government almost 200 years ago and there was no way it was going to do an about-face that would have required trashing two thirds of today’s government.

The Supreme Court merely stood on the law as it exists, ratifying again America’s suicidal plunge into the abyss of entitlements. As the Supreme Court itself has noted, time and again, it is up to the American people to put a stop to such abuses of power as Obamacare. But Americans cannot stop saying “gimme, gimme!” long enough to see where the entitlement society must lead.

Bye, America. We hardly knew you….