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Posts Tagged ‘Interventionism’

You would think the never-ending mess in Afghanistan would have taught us lessons.

Or maybe we might have learned lessons from the never-ending mess in Iraq.

Notwithstanding those unpleasant experiences, President Trump is expanding America’s intervention in Syria with missile strikes.

This rubs me the wrong way, but let’s look at what others are writing on this issue.

One of my colleagues at the Cato Institute, Gene Healy, isn’t impressed by Trump’s intervention.

Thus far, the administration has said nothing about the legal authority for the strikes. There’s not much that can be said: they’re plainly illegal. He had neither statutory nor constitutional authority to order them. …Without statutory cover, all that’s left is an appeal to presidential power under Article II of the Constitution. But that document vests the bulk of the military powers it grants in Congress, with the aim of “clogging, rather than facilitating war,” as George Mason put it. In that framework, the president retains the power to “repel sudden attacks” against the US; but he does not have the power to launch them. …

Kevin Williamson of National Review is equally unhappy with Trump’s unilateral intervention.

As Daniel Pipes and others have persuasively argued, the United States does not have an ally in Syria. The United States does not have any national interest in the success of the ISIS-aligned coalition fighting to depose Assad. The United States does not have any interest in strengthening the position of the Assad regime and the position of his Russian and Iranian patrons. …Of course the Assad regime is murderous. It is murderous in an awfully familiar way: a Baathist despot in cahoots with jihadists using chemical weapons against a civilian population. …The Trump administration has no authorization to engage in war on Syria. Congress has not declared war or authorized the use of military force; there is no emergency to justify the president’s acting unilaterally in his role as commander in chief; there is no imminent threat to American lives or American interests — indeed, there is no real American interest at all. President Donald Trump is acting illegally, and Congress has a positive moral obligation to stop him. …All decent people feel for the Syrians. We also feel for the Ukrainians, the North Koreans, the men and women languishing in Chinese laogai, Russian gulags, and Cuban prisons. We do not go to war for the sake of sentiment. We go to war for the sake of pressing national interests that cannot be otherwise secured. There is no casus belli for knocking over the Assad government, odious as it is.

And Sean Davis of the Federalist asks 14 questions. Here are the ones that caught my attention.

…proponents of military action to depose Assad have not explained is what our clear national security interest is there, what political victory looks like, what our main risks are, and what costs we will be required to pay in order to achieve that victory. …If our nation is going to wage war, and if we are going to pay a price in dollars and in American lives as a result of that decision, we are owed answers to questions that were never adequately answered before we went into Iraq.

1) What national security interest, rather than pure humanitarian interest, is served by the use of American military power to depose Assad’s regime?

2) How will deposing Assad make America safer?

3) What does final political victory in Syria look like (be specific), and how long will it take for that political victory to be achieved? Do you consider victory to be destabilization of Assad, the removal of Assad, the creation of a stable government that can protect itself and its people without additional assistance from the United States, etc.?

6) What costs, in terms of lives (both military and civilian), dollars, and forgone options elsewhere as a result of resource deployment in Syria, will be required to achieve political victory?

8) Should explicit congressional authorization for the use of military force in Syria be required, or should the president take action without congressional approval?

10) If U.S. intervention in Syria does spark a larger war with Russia, what does political victory in that scenario look like, and what costs will it entail?

14) What lessons did you learn from America’s failure to achieve and maintain political victory following the removal of governments in Iraq and Libya, and how will you apply those lessons to a potential war in Syria?

I try to avoid commenting on foreign policy, but all of the excerpts I just shared make total sense. Nobody is claiming that America’s national interests are being threatened. Instead, the case for intervention is that Assad is a bad dictator who is doing bad things.

But if that’s the criteria for intervention, why aren’t we bombing China, Venezuela, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, and the Central African Republic?

Heck, here’s a map from Freedom House. The purple nations are “not free,” which means systematic repression of political rights and civil liberties. Syria is on the list, of course, but if having an oppressive government is what triggers U.S. intervention, there will be perpetual war.

Finally, I can’t help but call attention to a story in the New York Times that looked at many of the Republicans and Democrats who have flipped and flopped when commenting on Obama’s 2013 intervention and Trump’s 2017 intervention.

But there are some notable exceptions, particularly two of the more libertarian-leaning Republicans who actually put principle over partisanship.

And even though I admit I’m not a foreign policy expert, I sometimes play one on TV. And if you look at this interview from 2013, you’ll see that my views also have been consistent.

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I rarely delve into foreign policy and defense issues. And when I do, such as my post about the conflict in Ukraine, it’s usually because it gives me an opportunity to draw attention to a topic that is in my bailiwick (in the case of Ukraine, it gave me an excuse to write about federalism).

With this caveat in mind, let’s turn our attention to the Middle East. Unless you’re a hermit living in a remote cave, you presumably know that Israel is locked in another fight with Hamas.

I’ve previously explained that I’m very sympathetic to the notion that Israel has a right to defend itself.

But supporting Israel’s right to self defense doesn’t mean I should foot the bill. Yet that’s what’s happening. According to Wikipedia, Washington sends about $3 billion per year to subsidize Israel’s military.

And now that amount will be even larger because Congress just approved another $225 million to help finance Israel’s missle-defense system.

Congress approved a $225 million package to replenish Israel’s missile defenses with its last order of business before a five-week recess… The House’s 395-8 vote in favor late Friday followed Senate adoption of the legislation by voice vote earlier in the day. The money is directed toward restocking Israel’s Iron Dome, which has been credited with shooting down dozens of incoming rockets fired by Palestinian militants over 3½ weeks of war. …Iron Dome has enjoyed strong U.S. technological and financial support. Throughout its history, the U.S. has provided more than $700 million to help Israel cover costs for batteries, interceptors, production costs and maintenance, the Congressional Research Service said. The total already appeared set to climb above $1 billion after Senate appropriators doubled the Obama administration’s request for Iron Dome funding for fiscal 2015. Now it seems likely to rise even further.

But this doesn’t mean everyone is happy about all this spending.

Some libertarian-leaning fiscal conservatives opposed the added subsidies, or at least wanted Congress to come up with offsetting cuts.

Despite almost universal support for Israel in Congress, the Iron Dome money appeared in doubt only a day ago as Senate efforts stalled after an effort by Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma to find cuts elsewhere in the budget to pay for the aid.  …Voting against the measure in the House were…Republicans Justin Amash of Michigan, Walter Jones of North Carolina, Thomas Massie of Kentucky and Mark Sanford of South Carolina.

For what it’s worth, I applaud those four House Republicans.

I’m motivated in part by a desire to limit the burden of government spending in America, but I also think that Israel easily could afford more military outlays if it pared back its overly generous welfare state.

If you look at the IMF data, government spending consumes about 43.8 percent of Israel’s economic output. And according to the CIA Factbook, Israel’s military budget amounts to about 5.7 percent of GDP.

I’m not a math genius, but that certainly suggests to me that Israel’s government is diverting about 38 percent of economic output for non-military spending.

If national defense is important and worthwhile (and it is), then Israel should prioritize and reduce domestic outlays.

Heck, that’s what Roosevelt did during World War II and what Truman did during the Korean War. If you don’t believe me, look at lines 31-34 of this OMB spreadsheet.

By the way, some people accuse these GOPers of being anti-Israel, but I think that charge is grossly unfair. I’m not personally close to any of the Republicans who voted against the Iron Dome funding, but I’ve met and talked to all of them and I’ve followed their careers. Suffice to say that I’ve never heard even the slightest hint that any of them harbor any anti-Israel or anti-Jewish sentiments.

Indeed, here’s some of what Justin Amash wrote back in 2012.

Israel is our closest friend in a very troubled region. Our national defense benefits from Israel’s ability to defend itself and to serve as a check against neighboring authoritarian regimes and extremists. Assisting with training and the development of Israel’s military capacity allows the U.S. to take a less interventionist role in the region. I am hopeful that American troops soon can leave the region and Israel and its neighbors can live in peace without U.S. aid or involvement.

The last sentence is a pretty good description of libertarian foreign policy: Be prepared to defend ourselves, but don’t look for trouble outside our borders.

P.S. The government of Israel pays for people who do nothing but pray. Which means that my tax dollars are picking up part of the tab. Prayer is presumably a good thing. Just don’t ask me to pay for it.

P.P.S. While Israel’s government does dumb things, the governments opposing Israel sometime engage in truly evil acts.

P.P.P.S. If you want to learn more about the libertarian approach to foreign policy, my Cato colleagues are the real experts. I also call your attention to these thoughts from Mark Steyn, George Will, and Steve Chapman.

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Do stores in low-income neighborhoods charge higher prices because of racism, or greed? That’s what some academics argue, but Tom Sowell points out that there are real economic factors that drive priciing decisions. The example below is about stores, but his IBD column also has a great example using financial services:

Low-income neighborhoods tend to have their own economic characteristics, one of the most salient of which is that prices tend to be higher there than in other neighborhoods. Intellectuals’ discussions of the fact that “the poor pay more” are often indignant indictments and condemnations of those who charge higher prices to people who can least afford to pay them. The causes of those high prices are implicitly assumed to originate with those who charge them, and in particular to be due to malign dispositions such as “greed,” “racism” and the like. …Among the underlying realities in many low-income neighborhoods are higher rates of crime, vandalism and violence, as well as a lack of the economic prerequisites for the economies of scale which enable big chain stores to charge lower prices and make profits on higher rates of inventory turnover in more affluent neighborhoods. But such mundane considerations do not present intellectuals with either an opportunity to display their special kind of knowledge or an opportunity to display their presumptions of superior virtue by condemning others. …With intellectuals who consider themselves knowledgeable, as well as compassionate, it would seldom occur to them to regard themselves as interfering with things of which they are very ignorant — and doing so at costs imposed on people far less fortunate than themselves.

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Great column by Arnold Kling and Nick Schulz on how markets really operate – and why government intervention either causes problems or prevents markets from fixing them. For those of you who care to get in the weeds, this is one of the reasons why the “Austrian School” of Hayek and Mises is better for understanding economics than the (also great) “Chicago School” of Friedman and Becker:

Two camps have fought the political and philosophical battle for influence over the economy in the United States for the past 100 years. They differ in their views over the nature of markets and government. And both are wrong. One camp makes it sound as if markets can do no wrong. …The other camp argues, “Markets fail, and that’s why we need government.” …In the wake of the financial crisis that gave way to the broader economic downturn, the advocates of government involvement in the economy are once again on the march and traditional defenders of markets are in retreat. And so we have seen government advance its role with partial ownership of many big banks, with a take-over of automotive firms, with a large “stimulus” program, with proposals for cap-and-trade for carbon emissions, and with a major initiative on healthcare. …Over the past two generations, a different view of markets and government has begun to emerge, one whose moment may have arrived. It is a view that believes both traditional camps have overlooked some important aspects of markets. …This view can be summarized as “Markets fail. That’s why we need markets.” …According to this view, entrepreneurs at work in the economy–in finance, high tech, manufacturing, services, and beyond–are constantly experimenting, creating new business models, techniques, and technologies that upend the established order of things. Some new technologies and innovations are genuine improvements and are long-lasting welfare enhancers. But others are the basketball equivalent of pump fakes–they look like the real deal and prompt market actors to leap hastily into action, only to realize later that their bets were wrong. Given this dynamic, markets are unpredictable, prone to booms and busts, characterized by bouts of exuberance that are rational or irrational only in hindsight. But markets are also the only reliable mechanism for sorting out this messy process quickly. In spite of the booms and busts, markets drive genuine long-run innovation and wealth creation. When governments attempt to impose order on this chaotic and inherently risky process, they immediately run up against two serious dangers. The first is that they strangle new innovations before they can emerge. Thus proposals for a Consumer Financial Protection Agency, a systemic risk regulator, a public health insurance plan, a green jobs policy, or any attempt at top-down planning may do more harm than good. The second danger has to do with the nature of political economy. Politics creates its own kind of innovators who can be as destabilizing to markets as market actors themselves–but in far more pernicious ways. Economists call these political entrepreneurs “rent-seekers.” Rent-seekers gain wealth, not by creating it, but by channeling it through political favors. Examples include government-sponsored monopolies, “targeted” tax breaks for special industries, and legislative loopholes inserted by lobbyists. The boom in housing and mortgage securities that ended so badly was fueled by government policies that were encouraged by rent-seekers in the real estate, home building, and mortgage finance industries.

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