February 27, 2009

The Russians are Coming…

In Charles Krauthammer’s dreams.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not afraid of the Russians. Sure, maybe for a while back in the Eighties; that Red Dawn was kind of freaky. But times have changed. Vladimir Putin may not be a very nice guy (he is, after all, a politician), but he doesn’t scare me, and he shouldn’t scare you.

Not surprisingly, he does seem to scare Charles Krauthammer, who warns of “brazen Russian provocations” in a recent column. Yes, you heard me right: “brazen Russian provocations.” Like we’re back in the 1960s with the Soviets installing missiles in Cuba. But Krauthammer, as far as I can tell, is serious, and he gives us a “long list” of these provocations:
(a) Pressuring Kyrgyzstan to shut down the U.S. air base in Manas, an absolutely crucial NATO conduit into Afghanistan.

(b) Announcing the formation of a "rapid reaction force" with six former Soviet republics, a regional Russian-led strike force meant to reassert Russian hegemony in the Muslim belt north of Afghanistan.

(c) Planning to establish a Black Sea naval base in Georgia's breakaway province of Abkhazia, conquered by Moscow last summer.

(d) Declaring Russia's intention to deploy offensive Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad if Poland and the Czech Republic go ahead with plans to station an American (anti-Iranian) missile defense system.
If you’re still unafraid, then congratulations, I’m proud of you. There are definitely things in this world worth fearing—pesticides, automobile accidents, a future Sarah Palin presidency—but the Russians? The Russians whose military budget is 1/20th that of the United States? The Russians? Oh, puh-lease. The Russians are not a threat, and they’re certainly not provoking us.

First of all, it’s not like Kyrgyzstan needed any encouragement to send the U.S. packing. Kyrgyzstan, let’s remember, has a long list of complaints against America, the most notable being the December 2006 killing of a Kyrgyz truck driver by U.S. airman Zachary Hatfield. Although the Kyryz prosecutor-general convicted Hatfield of first-degree murder, Hatfield invoked his diplomatic immunity and the U.S. quickly evacuated him from the country. For this and other reasons, it was undoubtedly with much relish that 78 of 81 Kyrgyz lawmakers voted against renewing the U.S. lease.

Regarding Russia’s plan to form an anti-terrorist force with Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, let me just say one thing—all these countries are in frickin’ Asia![1] Does Krauthammer even know where frickin’ Asia is? Does he have any idea that frickin’ Asia is halfway around the frickin’ world? It’s not like Russia is entering into a military pact with, say, Canada and a host of South American countries. That would give us reason for concern. And that, I should point out, is pretty much what the United States has done to Russia.

Yes, I’m talking about NATO, which if you’ll remember is a military alliance established in the late 1940s to counter the Soviet Union. Even after the Cold War ended, NATO remained, and in violation of a promise made by the U.S. to Mikhail Gorbachev it has continued to expand eastward. Recently, the U.S. has even considered granting membership to Georgia and Ukraine.

I’ll concede that Russia’s anti-terrorist force probably has little to do with terrorism. But in light of NATO’s continual growth, I would hardly call it a provocation but instead a countermove, a response to what it understandably sees as Western aggression.

And so what if Russia is planning to build a naval base in Abkhazia? Again, how exactly does this threaten us? Who are we to talk? We with our thousand military bases throughout the world. We with our nearly 200,000 troops, armed with the world’s finest fighter jets and tanks, stationed in Russia’s backyard. Yet building a naval base in a tiny state that shares a border with Russia is an act of aggression?

And finally, I’m not sure if Krauthammer just missed the memo or what, but it turns out that Russia will not be installing missiles in Kaliningrad. As Krauthammer must surely know, its initial plan to install the missiles was made in response to George W. Bush’s announcement that an American “anti-missile system” was going up in Poland. (“Anti-missile system” is a misleading name, as such a “system” contains missiles that can be used either defensively or offensively; so it was for understandable reasons that Russia felt it needed a little “defense” of its own.) All along, President Medvedev told Bush that he would forgo installing missiles in Kaliningrad if Bush did the same in Poland. Yet, true to from, Bush never relented. Obama, however, has never committed to the missile system and it was for this reason, and as a goodwill gesture, that Russia decided to cancel its Kaliningrad plans.

Now if I know one thing about Charles Krauthammer it’s that he assumes the United States owns the world. Remember the Monroe Doctrine, which stated that all of the Americas were U.S. turf? Well Krauthammer and neocons like him believe that all of existence (save perhaps for a few far-off galaxies) belongs to the U.S. Needless to say, if this assumption is correct, then a case could be made that Russia’s recent actions are anti-Western provocations. For example, if we own the world, then they have no right—without our permission, that is—to build a naval base in Abkhazia. But I take it as a self-evident truth that the Untied States does not own the world. Yes, audacious of me—I know, I know.


Notes

[1] Belarus, I should point out, is technically in eastern Europe. But what can I say, “frickin’ Asia” sounded better than “frickin’ eastern Europe/frickin’ Asia.”

February 20, 2009

Bishop Williamson Isn’t the Only One in Denial

Historical revisionism – Alan Dershowitz style.

Holocaust denial is despicable. There, I got that out. So now let the records show that Alan Dershowitz and I agree on something. In a recent rant against Bishop Richard Williamson (who claims that the Nazis killed no more than 300,000 Jews), Dershowitz passionately expresses his contempt for Holocaust denial, and I—as you just heard—agree with him.

Unlike Dershowitz, however, I think it’s despicable to deny or downplay the suffering of all groups of people. Dershowitz, as you may know, doesn’t really like to admit it when Israel Defense Forces kill innocent Palestinians. When the evidence is absolutely overwhelming, he’ll concede that, yes, some people may have died, but even then he tends to deflate the numbers. In a recent blog, for instance, he calls into question the widely-held belief that 1,300 Palestinians died in Operation Cast Lead,[1] claiming that this number is “hotly disputed.”

Now if by “hotly disputed” he means that some people deny that around 1,300 Gazans died, then he is correct. Some people certainly do deny this, just as some people deny that six million Jews died in the Holocaust. But I doubt this is what Dershowitz means by “hotly disputed.” He instead seems to be saying that the Palestinian death toll is indeterminate, that there’s no good reason to believe that it isn’t actually much lower than the media’s been reporting.

In order to prove his case, Dershowitz refers to a “study” conducted by an Italian newspaper which claims that no more than 600 Gazans were killed. It turns out that the “study” to which he refers is actually just an article that appeared in the Italian daily Corriere della Sera. And it turns out that the claim that no more than 600 died comes from a single source, an anonymous Gazan doctor who told journalist Lorenzo Cremonesi: “The deaths could not be more than 500 or 600. Mainly boys between 17 and 23 years recruited from the ranks of Hamas that has literally sent them to the massacre.”

The doctor’s claim hardly makes the number of Palestinian deaths a “hotly disputed” matter. First, it seems pretty clear that the doctor has an axe to grind with Hamas: notice how he blames Hamas, and not the IDF, for the deaths (“…from the ranks of Hamas that has literally sent them to the massacre”). Second, it’s not clear how one doctor, who presumably lacks the attribute of omnipresence, could know how many people died throughout the entire Gaza Strip. Third, both the UN and Red Cross, which had workers on the ground throughout the conflict, accept the 1,300 figure. Fourth, the independent Palestinian Center for Human Rights conducted a thorough investigation and concluded that 1,284 people were killed.[2] And fifth, and perhaps most significantly, the IDF—yes, the Israel Defense Forces—maintains that 1,134 Gazans were killed.[2]

So, morally speaking, it’s unclear what the difference is between Dershowitz’s denial and that of Bishop Williamson. For each man, while admitting that innocent people died, makes use of a dubious source in an attempt to deflate a generally accepted death toll.

Worse than distorting this evidence, however, is Dershowitz’s insistence that the IDF was justified in its killing. In his mind, the IDF’s actions are always justified. Whether it’s expropriating land in the West Bank, preventing food and medicine from entering Gaza, or dropping bombs in civilian neighborhoods, it’s always the Palestinians’ fault.

Bishop Williamson, I should point out, has never defended the Nazis. Yet it is he who is the object of public opprobrium. Alan Dershowitz, on the other hand, is widely respected in both the US and Israel. The Jerusalem Post, for instance, proudly promotes his blog, which is titled (get this) “Double Standard Watch.” Yes, the ironies never cease.


Notes

[1] This is the figure given by the Palestinian Ministry of Health.

[2] The Jerusalem Post interviewed the deputy director of the PCHR and reported: “His organization had 45 field workers posted at hospitals and morgues, counting bodies and checking names, he said. They had also gone to the sites of IDF attacks and interviewed the families of the dead, he said.”

[3] At the time in which Dershowitz wrote his blog, the IDF was saying that the death toll was between 1,100 and 1,200.

February 13, 2009

Peaceonomics

An open letter to my fellow peaceniks.

Dear brothers and sisters,

Why do you love the state? That’s one thing I’ve never understood. For the past ten thousand years, the state has wreaked more death and destruction than any other human institution—and yet whenever I go to an anti-war rally, I always find you guys decked out in your Che Guevara t-shirts, distributing your little socialist newspapers. The last time I went to a rally, I had to listen to a couple of you blather on and on about the Soviet Union, explaining how crop failure, and not communism, was the cause of its downfall.

My friends, I can’t take it anymore. We need to talk peaceonomics.

Let me start by asking you a question. Why are you peaceniks anyway? Obviously because you hate war. But why do you hate war? What makes war so bad? No doubt most of you will respond by saying that it’s unjust, that it inflicts violence on innocent people, taking their lives and stealing their property.

Okay, let me now ask you another question. If it’s wrong for the state to use violence against people living overseas, then why don’t you think it’s wrong for it to use violence against those living within its borders? Because, whether you realize it or not, that’s exactly what you believe. You see, violence and theft are the lifeblood of every state, even those with dovish foreign policies.

To see why this is so, consider any one of your beloved social welfare programs. Now on the surface, things like unemployment insurance and Medicaid hardly seem pernicious. After all, if someone falls on hard times, it only seems right to lend them a helping hand.

And, of course, it is right to help those in need—provided that you’re helping them with your own money. If a man decided to withdraw $100 from his savings account and give it to a homeless shelter, then he would obviously be doing a good deed. If, however, someone were to corner an old lady, stick a gun to her head and demand everything in her purse—well then, even if he proceeded to donate this newly acquired money to charity, he would rightly be regarded as a thug and a criminal.

The problem with the state is that it doesn’t have any money of its own. Everything in its possession has been extorted from others. It’s not like the man withdrawing money from his savings account, but like the one sticking a gun up to the old lady’s head.

In order to grasp this point, just imagine what would happen if you didn’t pay all your taxes. Say you didn’t like how the state was spending your money and decided that, instead of giving up 35% of your income, you were only going to give up 34%. Well what do you suppose would happen to you?

At first not much; you’d just receive a series of reminder letters from the IRS. Then they might send a bureaucrat to talk to you or they might go ahead and start seizing your assets. Eventually, if after all this you still refused to pay, you would find some gun-totting federal agents at your doorstep with a warrant for your arrest. If you tried to defend yourself, you would most certainly be shot, probably killed.

This of course is barbaric. Nobody has the right to use violence against someone because they refuse to surrender their personal property. And it makes no difference that the people committing the violence are sanctioned by the state. What gives the state the right? If neither you nor I have the right to engage in non-retaliatory violence, then why should it? The state is composed of human beings just like us, human beings whom, as far as I can tell, haven’t been given any special divine mandate to murder and thieve.

So what gives this group of people the right to commit actions that we would condemn in anyone else? It can’t be that they’ve been democratically elected. Morality is not decided by a majority opinion. And it can’t be that they perform a necessary evil, that life without their coercive measures would be nasty, brutish, and short. First of all, Hobbes died over three hundred years ago and, as far as I’m concerned, has been thoroughly refuted by the likes of Murray Rothbard and Hans-Hermann Hoppe. And second, and more importantly, certain actions, things like theft and non-retaliatory violence, are always wrong, regardless of their consequences.

Stop making excuses, fellow peaceniks. It’s time you start seeing the state for what it is: a criminal organization whose every action is enforced at the barrel of a gun. Be true to your professed beliefs, fellow peaceniks. Renounce violence. Renounce violence abroad, and, just as importantly, renounce violence at home.

Sincerely,
Your loving fellow peacenik


* * * *

If you’re interested in further exploring peaceonomics, I strongly recommend Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s Democracy: The God that Failed.

February 6, 2009

Love Means Never, Ever, Never Having to Say You’re Sorry

If you’re an imperialist, that is.

Imagine you have a roommate who never says he’s sorry. I mean, never. He accidentally breaks your iPod—not a word. He uses up all the toilet paper—nothing. He sleeps with your girlfriend—still nothing.

Now imagine that one day, for reasons you don’t quite understand, he tells you he’s sorry, not for everything he’s done, but for some of it, maybe for the whole sleeping with your girlfriend thing. Imagine further that one of his buddies then comes along and orders him to shut up, tells him that he’s done nothing wrong, that, if anything, he should be demanding an apology from you—after all, your girlfriend wasn’t that good.

Okay, now how would you describe your roommate’s buddy? Say you can only use one word. Good, that’s the exact word I would have used. (Given that this is a family blog, I won’t repeat it here.) So then…

…since we expect others to apologize for personal wrongdoing, why do so many of us get upset when a politician apologizes for national wrongdoing? Why, to be more specific, has President Obama recently come under fire for admitting that the US has wronged Muslims?

Obama’s apology—if you want to call it that—began in his inaugural speech when he declared, “To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect.” A couple weeks later, he told a reporter on Al-Arabiya television, “My job to the Muslim world is to communicate that the Americans are not your enemy. We sometimes make mistakes. We have not been perfect. But if you look at the track record, as you say, America was not born as a colonial power, and that the same respect and partnership that America had with the Muslim world as recently as 20 or 30 years ago, there's no reason why we can't restore that.”

To some observers, these words were long overdue, with Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib still looming large in so many minds. But to commentators like Charles Krauthammer, Obama’s words were mere “self-inflation,” “needlessly defensive and apologetic.” Over the past two decades, Krauthammer writes, sounding much like your imaginary roommate’s buddy, “America did not just respect Muslims, it bled for them. It engaged in five military campaigns, every one of which involved—and resulted in—the liberation of a Muslim people: Bosnia, Kosovo, Kuwait, Afghanistan and Iraq.”

Yes, we have nothing to apologize for, Krauthammer continues. After all, “this nation has done more for suffering and oppressed Muslims than any nation, Muslim or non-Muslim, anywhere on earth.” Heck, we elected a Muslim to the Congress, and now we even have a Muslim’s son in the White House. So when Obama suggests that “pre-Obama America was disrespectful or insensitive or uncaring of Muslims, he is engaging not just in fiction but in gratuitous disparagement of the country he is now privileged to lead.” How dare you apologize, your roommate’s buddy screams—look at all you’ve done for him, that ingrate!

And look at all the US has done for the Muslim world. Extraordinary rendition, “enhanced interrogation techniques,” unflagging support for the Israeli war machine. And let’s not forget the huge amounts of money we’ve given to all those tyrants and dictators who oppress their Muslim populations. Morocco, Algeria, Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the Gulf Emirates, Oman, Yemen, Bangladesh, Lebanon, Syria, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikstan, Kyrgyzstan—all cruel , undemocratic governments, all on the US payroll.

Even those US actions which Krauthammer lauds have had mixed results. Yes, we brought democracy to Afghanistan, but look at the cost. Shortly after we started bombing the country in 2001, a number of human rights organizations began pleading that we stop, warning that our bombs were preventing them from providing the civilian population with food. A spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees warned, “We are facing a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions in Afghanistan with 7.5million short of food and at risk of starvation.” Yet the bombs continued to fall. And they continue to this day, no doubt hitting some militants, but also many civilians. So has this “liberation” been good for the Afghan people? Certainly not for many of them.

Similarly, the Iraq War drove a sadistic man from power. But let’s not forget that, for several years, we supported Saddam Hussein, giving his government all kinds of economic and military assistance. Then in 1990 we turned on him, crushing his military, devastating the country’s infrastructure, and imposing sanctions on the Iraqi people which lasted for over ten years. As has been widely reported, the sanctions alone killed hundreds of thousands. And the 2003 invasion, while bringing democracy to Iraq, also unleashed untold violence, resulting in hundreds of thousands of more deaths and over 4.5 million refugees.

So even if we suppose that the above actions were done with the best of intentions, that American leaders never meant any harm when they funded all those dictators and ordered all those bombs to be dropped and people to be starved—even if we suppose all this, the fact remains that tremendous harm has been inflicted upon millions and millions of Muslims. So it seems quite clear that, at the very least, US officials owe the Muslim world a huge apology. And of course it wouldn’t hurt if court intellectuals like Krauthammer did some repenting of their own.