Retreat From Reality: Some Obvious Observations

by Mario Rizzo

I am amazed (but shouldn’t be) at how far the American political system has evaded the acceptance of reality and how quickly the chickens are coming home to roost:

1. The War on Drugs. This is clearly a fool’s endeavor  now that Mexico is being destabilized and the US border towns will more and more feel the results. The war is especially counterproductive in fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan. The Afghan poppy farmers look to the Taliban for protection against Nato’s destruction of their livelihood.  (And by the way, Taliban need not equal al Qaeda if the US were a bit clever.)

2. The War on Terror.  Even CNN is acknowledging that al-Qaeda is an ideology or state of mind and that its techniques are available on the internet and even in London — and, I bet, in Brooklyn too. What hope is there of preventing any nut anywhere from doing real damage? It is very similar to the issue of the importation of illegal drugs. Close one route; they find another.

American tolerance for “terrorism” at home is almost zero. The US government will bomb temporary hideouts and these will move.  The fear will more and more conquer us. I am reminded of the brilliant article by William Graham Sumner, “The Conquest of the United States by Spain” (1899). He argued that although the US won the Spanish-American War militarily, we lost it to Spain ideologically. We acquired colonies and thereby betrayed our birthright.

Al-Qaeda may not be a match militarily but it will more and more cause us to erode our liberty and sanity. In all the talking heads yaking on TV very little is said about the underlying causes of our problem: American military and diplomatic interventionism in the affairs of the Middle East. They do not hate us because of  “our liberty.”

3. The Bankruptcy of the Welfare State. As deficits soar to unprecedented levels and  while the old entitlements are in trouble, a major new healthcare entitlement is about to be passed. “Liberals” are pushing to their fantasy of (low) quality healthcare for all.  Stubborn unemployment will give rise to more calls for stimulus. The stimulus crowd is already getting nervous about the wind-down of spending in many areas. The government refuses to pull back or privatize Fannie and Freddie but will throw more money at it because of “the American Dream.”

If it weren’t for the fact that many innocent and good people are (and will be) suffering, I would simply look with intellectual satisfaction at the playing out of the natural and foreseeable consequences of bad policies.

20 thoughts on “Retreat From Reality: Some Obvious Observations

  1. Speaking of the War on Drugs, the WSJ had an excellent piece in last week end’s Week End edition about the War on Drugs in Mexico.
    It featured great on the ground reporting, and even quoted people in law enforcement about the benefits of legalization. It also made the important point that merely decriminalizaing drugs keeps the supply chain illegal, and so doesn’t really solve the problem.

    And paging Jerry O’Driscoll, who had a very good recent op-ed on Fed policy–today’s WSJ (p. A3) discusses the Fed’s new “tool” to drain extra cash, which “would encourage banks to park reserves at the Fed rather than lending them out.” Do you think they will come back and blame businesses for not lending at levels they did pre-crash?

  2. Thanks to Bill Stepp for the kind comments.

    To Mario’s original post: Spreading democracy and nation-building must be added to the war on drugs as illusory policies. There is no concept of a nation in Afghanistan and democracy is folly in a society that votes tribally. Iraq is also very tribal, but at least was a modern, middle-class urbanized and educated population.

    The case against foreign-policy intervention is the same as the case against domestic intervention: unintended consequences. By the 19th century, British liberals had evolved a policy of “peace, retrenchment and reform.” It would be a good policy today.

  3. When you mention a “retreat from reality” and suggest all would be well if we remove ourselves from the ME, the question is what reality? So, we abandon Iraq to its fate (whatever that is) and we abandon Afghanistan to the Taliban and we abandon any concern with Iranian missiles and nukes.
    Talk about “head in the sand” (and not Arabian sand either). And as for Israel, their only sane choice is to try to destroy the Iranian threat before it is too late.

  4. Great post as usual, Mario. There sure is a lot of magical thinking in politics. Jerry makes a great point about nation building too. FWIW, I tend to think corporate welfare measures are more destructive than entitlements.

  5. “They do not hate us because of ”our liberty.”

    This is simply false. The stated objective of political Islam is the establishment of a pan-Arabic caliphate on principles explicitly opposed to Western secular liberalism. There is a whole library of Jihadist literature (see- for example- the work of Sayyid Qutb)that rails against US society and culture entirely independent of its foreign policy. The latter provides nothing more than convenient propoganda tools to serve Al Qaeda’s tactical objectives and play to the anti-imperialist sympathies of US/UK progressives.

    I symapthise with opposition to foreign military entanglements on practical grounds. However, I cannot understand why so many libertarians refuse to acknowledge the fundamentally fascist nature of Islamism. These psychopaths are not going to put down their weapons if America returns to a pre-1914 foreign policy. Such a strategy would merely reinforce their belief that Western liberalism represents weakness and depravity while reinvigorating their pursuit of a “morally pure” totalitarian alternative.

  6. There are certainly hard-core lunatics out there. But repeated polling of the general Arab and Muslim populations (which have no use for the lunatics), including by the US State Department, shows that it is our policies to which they object.

    Please do not equate Islam and Arabs. Most Muslims are not Arabs, and many Arabs are Christians. The Baathist Party was founded by Christians.

  7. Islamists may not like Western liberty but their hatred of us is not because we live a certain way. It is because the US and other western powers are continually interfering in the Mid East to advance an agenda THERE they find abhorrent. I do not think 9/11 was about the lack of head covering on the part of western women.

  8. It wasn’t necessary to claim that communism was a super system in order to consider the Cold War and its JFK-style rhetoric a fool’s errand. Likewise, we need not have illusions about Islam in the present. But the very fact that the extremists point to real grievances involving Western intervention shows that the average person needs more than a disembodied ideology in order to be radicalized into joining the cause.

    Remember that Khomeini’s calls for jihad on the basis of Western cultural decadence were met with the sound of crickets. When bin Laden made a defensive argument, the response was much more significant. Why does al Qaeda make “recruitment tapes,” after all, showing Western atrocities, if all it needs to do is open the Koran and point?

    In 1920, Syrians wanted to be governed as a League of Nations mandate by the United States. Something happened between then and now.

  9. If we embrace isolationism, the idea that the world will leave us alone is fanciful. The goverments in the Phillipines, in Thailand, in Indonesia, in China and, for that matter, where Islam is dominant (e.g., Egypt, Algeria) demonstrate otherwise. This is not an argument for democracy-making or foreign adventures, However, since globalisation, the world is more intertwined than ever. And experience suggests that withdrawal from the ME will not soon end the hunt for universal shariah. Libertarians who believe otherwise are inhabiting aa America where two oceans were a significant deterrent.

  10. “But the very fact that the extremists point to real grievances involving Western intervention shows that the average person needs more than a disembodied ideology in order to be radicalized into joining the cause.”

    A couple of points here. First, the foreign policy agenda of Jihadists is more nuanced than simple anti-imperialism. One of Bin Laden’s most powerful propoganda weapons arose not from activist US policy but the absence of one: failure by the West to prevent the massacre of Bosnian Muslims at Srbrenica in 1995. Moreover, his propoganda on East Timor/Indonesia had more to do with defending Muslim imperialism than straight opposition to Western meddling.

    Second, I’m not disputing that average Muslims have legitimate objections to US foreign policy and that some are inspired to join Al Qaeda as a result. However, this begs the question. Why do these grievances find expression in violent fascism rather than peaceful political protest? Why are you and I not “radicalised” by opposition to government bailouts and nationalized healthcare?

    The crucial intervening variables are ideological and institutional. As long as the Middle East remains a festering swamp of dictatorship and superstition propped up by state controlled media, the “Great Satan” will always be an effective recruiting agent for Holy War. Given that a significant percentage of the region believes that 9/11 was a Jewish plot, one might infer that Al Qaeda’s “target market” is not particularly discerning with respect to separating fact from conspiracy theory.

    None of this is a case per se for nation building or “regime change” but it does support treating political Islam as more than a quirk of State Department policy and a more fundamental challenge to liberalism.

    “Remember that Khomeini’s calls for jihad on the basis of Western cultural decadence were met with the sound of crickets. When bin Laden made a defensive argument, the response was much more significant. Why does al Qaeda make “recruitment tapes,” after all, showing Western atrocities, if all it needs to do is open the Koran and point?”

    This is a good point but it says more about
    about Bin Laden’s rhetorical gifts and strategic nous than the fundamental causes of terrorism. For the reasons cited above, he would have little difficulty adapting Al Qaeda’s “message” to a world in which the US raises its drawbridge (nevermind the material gains such a policy would entail for his organization).

  11. Osama bin Laden explained 9/11 in one sentence when he stated that the attacks were done to drive the U.S. “out of Muslim lands.” Of course, it had the opposite effect, another example of the law of unintended consequences. There seem to be some parallels between Comrade Obama and LBJ, as alluded to above. Wonder if Obama will reveal his “scars” the way LBJ did his?

  12. Ponz: You make a good point about Islam, of which I am no supporter as an ideology. But in some sense you seem to be saying that we stuck our hand into a hive and found a bunch of angry wasps instead of a colony of docile honeybees. Point conceded! But the best course of action remains pulling out one’s hand — perhaps the wasps will focus on stinging each other instead. Or better yet.. adopting the mentality of the industrious, cooperative honeybees.

  13. If the US and UK stopped meddling in the middle east things would improve for us. It would become harder to recruit terrorists for actions against the west.

    However, things wouldn’t be perfect. In a sense it’s very like the argument against Socialism. Capitalism may have enriches great masses of people across the world. But, they don’t appreciate that. With the right propaganda all they see is the inequality it creates. Envy is an easy emotion to create.

    Even without real reasons to oppose the developed world it’s inevitable that the developing world will continue to attack us. The most important thing to do is to protect ourselves. Defense is what’s important not pre-emptive attack or nation building.

  14. The strategy of “retreating to defense” doesn’t have much to recommend it in an age of nuclear proliferation and ballistic missiles. Even in much earlier times, defensive measures such as the Chinese Wall and Hadrians Wall failed to discourage the barbarians. The “no entangling alliances” aspect of the Libertarian agenda ensures a continuing minority status because it defies both historical evidence and common sense.

  15. I disagree with both Jasil and Mario. Mario is right that muslim anger has been aroused because of the adventurism of the west and it’s support for Israel. But, he is wrong to suggest that it will stop if those things stop. There is no reason to think that it should. Believing so depends on believing that terrorists are driven by reason, which is clearly not the case.

    Terrorism is something that’s here to stay. It will never end. No good policies towards any group or other can ever stop it. Because, terrorism has proven it’s worth as a political tool. It works. Getting rid of it now the Genie is out of the bottle is impossible, it’s like getting rid of class war or class envy.

    I’m an Englishman but I live in Ireland. Here the British government were forced to the negotiating table by terrorists. It is asymmetric as so many have observed.

    But, this doesn’t mean that adventurist wars work.

    Both Ancient Chinese civilisation and Ancient Roman civilisation didn’t really fall to outside invaders. They fell because of their own internal problems.

    Nuclear weapons have little to do with it. Once middle eastern countries have them they are locked in the same scenario of mutually-assured-destruction as everyone else. Since they will have worse weapons than the west has for many decades they are in a poor position.

    More importantly though, there is no clear evidence that “nation building” or whatever euphemism is used for adventurist wars actually works. In recent times it has only made matters worse. Really, Hayek criticism of Socialism applies here, we are all so far from the situation in Afghanistan and Iraq that we are unable to judge it correctly. And that makes these foreign wars doomed to fail.

    Defending is *all* that we can do that will work. We have to make it enough because we don’t really have any choice in the matter.

  16. Yes, posil, solution to 9/11, which came about because we intervened all around the Moslem world, is to intervene even more in the Moslem world!

  17. “However, I cannot understand why so many libertarians refuse to acknowledge the fundamentally fascist nature of Islamism.”

    Ponz, this is just gibberish. Fascism does not mean “every political system I do not like.”

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