Foreign Policy

The NSA’s Encroaching Oversight

The NSA’s Encroaching Oversight

The NSA’s spy program failed miserably, but some spooks want to expand it

The US National Security Agency spent $100 million over three years on illegally collecting millions of American phone records – all for two reports with unique counterterrorism intelligence, according to a declassified report from an NSA oversight body.

So naturally, intelligence officials and lawmakers want the NSA’s records collection program reauthorized, and some even want it expanded to include more modern forms of communications such as encrypted chat apps.

The NSA’s failed spying scheme is detailed in a report released Wednesday by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB). Congress faces a March 15 deadline to decide whether to renew the NSA’s program.

According to the PCLOB report, the latest iteration of the NSA’s data collection scheme – which was “reformed” by the Freedom Act in 2015 – was not abused or intentionally misused. Nevertheless, the program resulted in the collection of some 1 billion records on more than 18 million phones.

Much of the metadata was illegally collected due to human error, PCLOB said.

In a particularly illuminating example, the NSA used outdated and misleading intelligence information in a FISA application – due to an FBI agent being on vacation.

According to the report, a “foreign partner” provided additional information to an FBI analyst that would have called into question certain facts included in the FISA application. Because the analyst was on vacation, the additional information was not conveyed to the NSA until the agency already used the FISA order to vacuum records.

And despite collecting more than 1 billion phone records – whether legally or otherwise – the NSA only produced 15 intelligence reports, and only two with information the FBI didn’t already have, according to PCLOB. Moreover, of the two relevant reports, one led to a dead end and the details of the other were redacted by PCLOB.

“The low volume of intelligence reporting produced by the program — 15 reports over several years — is particularly informative, especially when coupled with NSA’s assessment that it would expect a program of this scale and expense to generate hundreds or thousands,” the report said.

But like so many other government programs, US spooks now argue that the NSA’s authority should not only be renewed, but expanded, too. You see: the NSA has been limited to collecting metadata from traditional phone services, and needs to also be able to collect the same from chat applications, social media, emails, and other sources.

Two PCLOB members made this case in Wednesday’s report.

“The [Freedom] Act did not provide … authority for the myriad other ways in which terrorists may communicate, from emails to encrypted messaging. That proved to be a problem,” PCLOB members Aditya Bamzai and Jane Nitze said in the oversight report. “Thus, in the future, for surveillance authorities to be useful in a world of rapidly advancing technology, they should be neutral as to communications methods.”

It’s also noting that despite the instances of improper data collection identified in the report, PCLOB still argued that overall the program is constitutional.

“We first consider whether the collection of telephony metadata under the [records collection] program constituted a ‘search’ or ‘seizure’ under the Amendment’s text as interpreted by relevant Supreme Court cases,” PCLOB said. “We believe it did not, and that the program was constitutional for this reason alone.”

Take PCLOB with a grain of salt, however: The body was created by the Bush administration in 2004, and allowed rampant abuses to go unchecked for years. Somehow, the board found that even the NSA’s original bulk data collection program – exposed by Edward Snowden – was constitutional, too.

To their credit, two board members, Ed Felten and Travis LeBlanc, released their own dissenting statement, calling for the unconstitutional program to be permanently shuttered.

“This large-scale CDR program surely sweeps in the CDRs of protestors, journalists, political activists, whistleblowers, and ordinary people,” Felten and LeBlanc said. “In the end, whether for concerns over constitutional implications or for policy reasons, we concur with NSA’s decision to end the program and believe the program should remain shuttered.”

The WTO Is Both Irrelevant and Unnecessary

The WTO Is Both Irrelevant and Unnecessary

The World Trade Organization (WTO) is in a state of crisis. Despite grandiose dreams of a global trade organization that would enforce global bureaucrats’ broad vision for multilateral trade agreements, the world looks more and more like it neither wants nor needs an organization like the WTO.

CNBC reports this week that the WTO is in “a reform-or-die moment,” as both the US and Chinese governments appear uninterested in taking orders from the WTO.

It once seemed like the World Trade Organization (WTO) was a very big deal. When it was formed in the 1990s, scores of states—rich and poor, large and small—gathered to put together “rules” for how the sovereign states of the world would interact on trade. As Razeem Sally has noted, however, multilateral agreements were not what made global liberalization happen:

since the 1980s there has been a veritable trade-policy revolution outside the West, with region after region shifting from protection and isolation to freer trade and global economic integration. Observers often forget that this has come more “from below” than “from above.”

Share of Total Tariff Reduction, by Type of Liberalization, 1983–2003, by Percentage:

liber

Moreover, during the heady days of the 1990s, when the weaker General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade​ (GATT) gave way to the stronger WTO, it was assumed trade would be regularized and mandated worldwide through multilateral action. But although international trade did indeed increase over this period, it remains unclear that the WTO was the cause.

Doubts about the WTO had already surfaced nearly twenty years ago. For example, economist Andrew Rose in 2002 concluded, “An extensive search reveals little evidence that countries joining or belonging to the GATT/WTO have different trade patterns than outsiders.”

In a separate 2002 paper, Rose writes:

Despite my use of over sixty measures of trade policy, I have been unable to find convincing evidence that membership in the multilateral trade system is associated with more liberal trade policy.

So, if the WTO isn’t driving global trade, what is?

Well, it could be any number of things. As Rose notes:

Why has trade grown faster than income, if not because of the GATT/WTO? Who knows? But there are plenty of other candidates. Higher rates of productivity in tradables, falling transport costs, regional trade associations, converging tastes, the shift from primary products towards manufacturing and services, growing international liquidity, and changing endowments are all possibilities.

Similarly, in a 2004 Bank of England paper researchers Maria Barriel and Mark Dean write:

First, productivity growth in the tradable goods sector has caused a fall in the relative price of such goods, and so increased trade. Second, tariff rates have fallen in most major economies, reducing the cost of international trade and increasing the returns to specialisation.

Factors other than tariffs dominate, however.  The authors contend that a drop in tariffs was responsible for only 21 percent of “the increase in the trade to total final expenditure ratio” from 1980 to 2000.

But even if cuts in tariffs were the overwhelming force behind growing trade, we still couldn’t assume that this was attributable to the WTO or its predecessor, GATT.

Indeed, we have little reason to thank the WTO for what liberalization has come about in the past twenty years. The the so-called Doha Round—which was the successor agreement to the the Uruguay Round and attempted to expand the WTO’s mandate—is now regarded as a failure by supporters’ standards:

“The WTO hasn’t produced any big achievements since 1994, when the Uruguay Round closed, and has progressively lost its attractiveness,” Fredrik Erixon, an international trade expert at the Brussels-based think tank ECIPE, told CNBC via email.

“All in all, WTO has not managed to make the multilateral trade framework move ahead since it was established more than 20 years ago,” economist Jean-Pierre Cling observed in 2014. This is due to a wide gulf between the ambitions of the WTO and “the new power relationship prevailing in the world economy, with new emerging powers (China, India, etc.).”

Moreover, the lion’s share of liberalization in China took place before it entered the WTO:

By the time China entered the World Trade Organization in 2001 the import regime had been almost entirely transformed….the average statutory tariff, which stood at the relatively high level of 56 percent in 1982, was reduced to 15 percent by 2001. The share of all imports subject to licensing requirements fell from a peak of 46 percent in the late 1980s to fewer than 4 percent of all commodities by the time China entered the WTO.

Since then, there are growing signs that the world’s states are hitting the brakes on trade liberalization. That’s a bad thing, because it increases consumers’ cost of living. But it’s especially a blow to entrepreneurs and small business owners who depend on access to affordable inputs for the goods and services they produce. Put another way: trade barriers often hit the productive classes the most.

But just as the liberalization we saw during the late 1980s and the 1990s was primarily a product of unilateral action, the growing turn toward protectionism is a result of domestic politics. And now the process is going in reverse:

Carmen Dorobăț pointed this out last year:

What no one recognizes is that the common reason for the breakdown of world economic relations is the combination of interventionist domestic policies and government-led, top-down, faulty trade integration, which serves only interest groups and is subject to perverse incentives. The positive effects of inter-governmental multilateral trade agreements are minor at best. Their negative effects, however, such as stifling global trade, diversion of trade flows, or increasing red tape, have been growing at an alarming rate.

The WTO was not the reason world trade was liberalized during the 1980s and 1990s. Thus, it is unnecessary. And now, even if such a thing were desirable, the WTO is in no position to force liberalization on countries like the US, China, or India. Thus, the WTO is also irrelevant.

The time has come to move on. Trade liberalization is an excellent thing. Countries that do it have been often been shown to have higher incomes and to be resilient. If anything, the WTO is now becoming a tool for large states to drive harder bargains with the rest of the world. That’s a step in the wrong direction, and we’d be better off in a world of bilateral agreements and unilaterally liberalized trade.

Reprinted from the Mises Institute.

U.S. Foreign-Policy Perpetual Perfidy

U.S. Foreign-Policy Perpetual Perfidy

The Washington establishment was aghast in October when Donald Trump appeared to approve a Turkish invasion of northern Syria. The United States was seen as abandoning the Kurds, some of whom had assisted the United States in the fight against ISIS and other terrorist groups. But the indignation over the latest U.S. policy shift in the Middle East is farcical considering the long record of U.S. double-crosses. Rather than the triumph of American idealism, recent U.S. policy has been perpetual perfidy leavened with frequent doses of idiocy.

Almost none of the media coverage of the Turkish invasion and flight of Kurdish refugees mentioned that President George H.W. Bush had urged the Kurds and other Iraqis to “take matters into their own hands and force Saddam Hussein, the dictator, to step aside” just before the start of the U.S. bombing campaign in 1991 in the first Gulf War. After it became clear that the U.S. military could not protect the Kurds from Saddam’s backlash, U.S. policymakers basically shrugged and moseyed along. As a CNN analysis noted in 2003, “Bush refrained from aiding Kurdish rebels in the north, although he finally sent troops and relief supplies to protect hundreds of thousands of fleeing Kurds who were in danger of freezing or starving to death. Bush has never regretted his decision not to intervene.” George H.W. Bush’s abandonment and betrayal of the Kurds did nothing to deter the media and political establishment from praising him lavishly after he died in late 2018.

U.S. meddling in the Middle East multiplied after the 9/11 attacks. Even though most of the hijackers were Saudis who received plenty of assistance from the Saudi government, the George W. Bush administration seized the chance to demonize and assault Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi regime. He portrayed his invasion of Iraq as American idealism at its best. In his May 1, 2003, “Mission Accomplished” speech aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln, Bush hailed “the character of our military through history” for showing “the decency and idealism that turned enemies into allies.” Speaking three weeks later at a Republican fundraiser, he bragged, “The world has seen the strength and the idealism of the United States military.” Washington Post columnist David Ignatius declared in late 2003 that “this may be the most idealistic war fought in modern times.” The torture scandal at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere in Iraq has not been permitted to deter the recent embarrassingly fulsome praise of George W. Bush by the establishment media.

The Bush administration and its media allies produced one smokescreen after another to justify the war. Almost all the pre-invasion broadcast news stories on Iraq originated with the federal government. PBS’s Bill Moyers noted that “of the 414 Iraq stories broadcast on NBC, ABC, and CBS nightly news, from September 2002 until February 2003, almost all the stories could be traced back to sources from the White House, the Pentagon, and the State Department.” A 2008 report by the Center for Public Integrity found that “in speeches, briefings, interviews and other venues, Bush and administration officials stated unequivocally on at least 532 occasions that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction or was trying to produce or obtain them or had links to al-Qaida or both.” The report concluded that the “false statements — amplified by thousands of news stories and broadcasts” created “an almost impenetrable din for several critical months in the run-up to war.” Bush’s falsehoods on Iraq proved far more toxic than anything in Saddam’s arsenal. But the exposure of the official lies did not deter Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld from equating criticizing the Iraq war with appeasing Adolf Hitler.

“Holy warriors”

The chaos from the 2003 invasion of Iraq was still spiraling out of control when the Bush administration began seeking pretexts to attack Iran, which Bush had designated part of the “Axis of Evil” in his 2002 State of the Union address. Bush officials and subsequent administrations chose to champion the Iranian terrorist group, Mujahideen-e-Khalq (MEK). That organization sprang up in the 1960s and proceeded to kill Americans in the 1970s and to kill large numbers of Iranians in the subsequent decades. A 2004 FBI report noted that MEK continued to be “actively involved in planning and executing acts of terrorism.” NBC News reported in early 2012 that MEK carried out killings of Iranian nuclear scientists and that it was “financed, trained and armed by Israel’s secret service.”

That was the same year that a stampede of Washington hustlers took huge payoffs to publicly champion de-listing the MEK as a terrorist organization. As Trita Parsi noted in the New York Review of Books, MEK “rented office space in Washington, held fundraisers with lawmakers, or offered U.S. officials speaking fees to appear at their gatherings. But the MEK did this openly for years, despite being on the U.S. government’s terrorist list.” Federal law prohibited taking money from or advocating in behalf of any designated terrorist group. But, as a 2011 Huffpost headline reported, “Former U.S. Officials Make Millions Advocating for Terrorist Organization.” Former FBI boss Louis Freeh, former CIA boss Porter Goss, co-chair of the 9/11 Commission Lee Hamilton, former attorney general Michael B. Mukasey, and former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge pocketed $30,000 or more for brief speeches at pro-MEK events. Glenn Greenwald rightly scoffed that the advocacy for MEK “reveals the impunity with which political elites commit the most egregious crimes, as well as the special privileges to which they explicitly believe they — and they alone — are entitled.” Greenwald pointed out that average people were scourged by the same law the pooh-bahs brazenly trampled: “A Staten Island satellite TV salesman in 2009 was sentenced to five years in federal prison merely for including a Hezbollah TV channel as part of the satellite package he sold to customers.”

Thanks in part to the torrent of insider endorsements, the Obama administration canceled the MEK’s terrorist designation in 2012. While Washington poohbahs continue portraying the group as idealistic freedom fighters devoted to democracy, a simple online search shows that the translation of the group’s name is “holy warriors of the people,” as Ted Carpenter noted in his new book, Gullible Superpower. Trump administration officials have gurgled about MEK’s possible role in ruling Iran after the current government is toppled. But MEK remains odious to the Iranian people regardless of the group’s PR successes inside the Beltway.

Contradictions

The prior pratfalls of U.S. Middle East policy did nothing to stymie the outrage when Trump asserted that he was withdrawing U.S. troops from eastern Syria. Congress showed more indignation about a troop pullback than it had shown about the loss of all the American soldiers’ lives in pointless conflicts over the past 18 years. The House of Representatives condemned Trump by a 354 to 60 vote, and Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, proclaimed, “At President Trump’s hands, American leadership has been laid low, and American foreign policy has become nothing more than a tool to advance his own interests.” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said he felt “horror and shame” over Trump’s action. Boston Globe columnist Stephen Kinzer aptly described Congress’s protest as “a classic example of ‘buffet outrage,’ in which one picks and chooses which horrors to condemn.”

President Barack Obama had promised 16 times that there would be no “U.S. boots on the ground” in Syria; when he betrayed that promise, Congress did nothing. Trump’s plans to have fewer U.S. boots on the ground in Syria — or at least in part of it — somehow became the moral equivalent of giving Alaska back to Russia. Pundits attacked politicians who supported the troop pullback as “Russian assets” — i.e., traitors.

Syria offers another reminder that “material support of terrorism” is a federal crime unless you work for the CIA, State Department, Pentagon, or White House. After Obama, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and former Secretary of State John Kerry all publicly declared that Syrian president Assad must exit power, the U.S. government provided cash and a massive amount of military weaponry to terrorist groups seeking to topple the Assad regime. The Obama administration’s beloved, nonexistent “moderate Syrian rebels” achieved nothing. The Kurdistan Workers’ Party, the PKK, a prime beneficiary of the U.S. occupation, has been considered a terrorist group by the U.S. government since 1997. Evan McMullin, a 2016 presidential candidate, admitted on Twitter, “My role in the CIA was to go out & convince Al Qaeda operatives to instead work with us.” Such absurdities spurred Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) to introduce The Stop Arming Terrorists Act in 2017 to prohibit any U.S. funding of terrorist groups. Gabbard’s bill was mostly ignored and never enacted, though her outspoken criticism of U.S. policy did spur Hillary Clinton and others to vilify her.

Prominent politicians and much of the media blamed Trump for the attacks on civilians that followed the Turkish invasion, carried out mainly by groups allied with the Turkish government. U.S.-armed terrorist groups involved in the Turkish invasion have freed Islamic State prisoners. A Turkish think tank analyzed the violent groups committing atrocities in Syria after the start of the Turkish invasion; “Out of the 28 factions, 21 were previously supported by the United States, three of them via the Pentagon’s program to combat DAESH [ISIS]. Eighteen of these factions were supplied by the CIA.” A prominent Turkish journalist observed after his government invaded Syria, “The groups that were educated and equipped by the United States west of the Euphrates are now fighting against the groups east of the Euphrates that have been also educated and equipped by the United States.” This is nothing new: in 2016, Pentagon-backed Syrian rebels openly battled CIA-backed rebels in Syria. A prominent Assad opponent who organized a conference of anti-Assad groups financed by the CIA was denied political asylum in 2017 because he provided “material support” to the Free Syrian Army, which meant he had “engaged in terrorist activity,” according to the Department of Homeland Security. A press backlash spurred a reversal on that decision but the media mostly ignored the other contradictions in U.S. policy in Syria.

Members of Congress were indignant that Syrian civilians suffered as the result of Trump’s troop pullback. But both Congress and most of the American media ignored the Syrian women, children, and men who died as a result of U.S. policies that intensified and prolonged that nation’s civil war. This is typical inside-the-Beltway scoring: the only fatalities worthy of recognizing are those that are politically useful.

Despite Trump’s declarations on Syria, the United States continues to have more than 50,000 troops deployed in the Middle East. The sooner those troops come home, the less likely that the United States will be dragged into another quagmire. The perennial follies and frauds of Middle East policy provide one of the strongest arguments for the United States to mind its own business. The dishonesty that has long characterized policies and policymakers ensures that the United States will continue failing to learn from mistakes.

Reprinted from the Future of Freedom Foundation.

U.S. Foreign-Policy Perpetual Perfidy

U.S. Foreign-Policy Perpetual Perfidy

The Washington establishment was aghast in October when Donald Trump appeared to approve a Turkish invasion of northern Syria. The United States was seen as abandoning the Kurds, some of whom had assisted the United States in the fight against ISIS and other terrorist groups. But the indignation over the latest U.S. policy shift in the Middle East is farcical considering the long record of U.S. double-crosses. Rather than the triumph of American idealism, recent U.S. policy has been perpetual perfidy leavened with frequent doses of idiocy.

Almost none of the media coverage of the Turkish invasion and flight of Kurdish refugees mentioned that President George H.W. Bush had urged the Kurds and other Iraqis to “take matters into their own hands and force Saddam Hussein, the dictator, to step aside” just before the start of the U.S. bombing campaign in 1991 in the first Gulf War. After it became clear that the U.S. military could not protect the Kurds from Saddam’s backlash, U.S. policymakers basically shrugged and moseyed along. As a CNN analysis noted in 2003, “Bush refrained from aiding Kurdish rebels in the north, although he finally sent troops and relief supplies to protect hundreds of thousands of fleeing Kurds who were in danger of freezing or starving to death. Bush has never regretted his decision not to intervene.” George H.W. Bush’s abandonment and betrayal of the Kurds did nothing to deter the media and political establishment from praising him lavishly after he died in late 2018.

U.S. meddling in the Middle East multiplied after the 9/11 attacks. Even though most of the hijackers were Saudis who received plenty of assistance from the Saudi government, the George W. Bush administration seized the chance to demonize and assault Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi regime. He portrayed his invasion of Iraq as American idealism at its best. In his May 1, 2003, “Mission Accomplished” speech aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln, Bush hailed “the character of our military through history” for showing “the decency and idealism that turned enemies into allies.” Speaking three weeks later at a Republican fundraiser, he bragged, “The world has seen the strength and the idealism of the United States military.” Washington Post columnist David Ignatius declared in late 2003 that “this may be the most idealistic war fought in modern times.” The torture scandal at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere in Iraq has not been permitted to deter the recent embarrassingly fulsome praise of George W. Bush by the establishment media.

The Bush administration and its media allies produced one smokescreen after another to justify the war. Almost all the pre-invasion broadcast news stories on Iraq originated with the federal government. PBS’s Bill Moyers noted that “of the 414 Iraq stories broadcast on NBC, ABC, and CBS nightly news, from September 2002 until February 2003, almost all the stories could be traced back to sources from the White House, the Pentagon, and the State Department.” A 2008 report by the Center for Public Integrity found that “in speeches, briefings, interviews and other venues, Bush and administration officials stated unequivocally on at least 532 occasions that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction or was trying to produce or obtain them or had links to al-Qaida or both.” The report concluded that the “false statements — amplified by thousands of news stories and broadcasts” created “an almost impenetrable din for several critical months in the run-up to war.” Bush’s falsehoods on Iraq proved far more toxic than anything in Saddam’s arsenal. But the exposure of the official lies did not deter Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld from equating criticizing the Iraq war with appeasing Adolf Hitler.

“Holy warriors”

The chaos from the 2003 invasion of Iraq was still spiraling out of control when the Bush administration began seeking pretexts to attack Iran, which Bush had designated part of the “Axis of Evil” in his 2002 State of the Union address. Bush officials and subsequent administrations chose to champion the Iranian terrorist group, Mujahideen-e-Khalq (MEK). That organization sprang up in the 1960s and proceeded to kill Americans in the 1970s and to kill large numbers of Iranians in the subsequent decades. A 2004 FBI report noted that MEK continued to be “actively involved in planning and executing acts of terrorism.” NBC News reported in early 2012 that MEK carried out killings of Iranian nuclear scientists and that it was “financed, trained and armed by Israel’s secret service.”

That was the same year that a stampede of Washington hustlers took huge payoffs to publicly champion de-listing the MEK as a terrorist organization. As Trita Parsi noted in the New York Review of Books, MEK “rented office space in Washington, held fundraisers with lawmakers, or offered U.S. officials speaking fees to appear at their gatherings. But the MEK did this openly for years, despite being on the U.S. government’s terrorist list.” Federal law prohibited taking money from or advocating in behalf of any designated terrorist group. But, as a 2011 Huffpost headline reported, “Former U.S. Officials Make Millions Advocating for Terrorist Organization.” Former FBI boss Louis Freeh, former CIA boss Porter Goss, co-chair of the 9/11 Commission Lee Hamilton, former attorney general Michael B. Mukasey, and former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge pocketed $30,000 or more for brief speeches at pro-MEK events. Glenn Greenwald rightly scoffed that the advocacy for MEK “reveals the impunity with which political elites commit the most egregious crimes, as well as the special privileges to which they explicitly believe they — and they alone — are entitled.” Greenwald pointed out that average people were scourged by the same law the pooh-bahs brazenly trampled: “A Staten Island satellite TV salesman in 2009 was sentenced to five years in federal prison merely for including a Hezbollah TV channel as part of the satellite package he sold to customers.”

Thanks in part to the torrent of insider endorsements, the Obama administration canceled the MEK’s terrorist designation in 2012. While Washington poohbahs continue portraying the group as idealistic freedom fighters devoted to democracy, a simple online search shows that the translation of the group’s name is “holy warriors of the people,” as Ted Carpenter noted in his new book, Gullible Superpower. Trump administration officials have gurgled about MEK’s possible role in ruling Iran after the current government is toppled. But MEK remains odious to the Iranian people regardless of the group’s PR successes inside the Beltway.

Contradictions

The prior pratfalls of U.S. Middle East policy did nothing to stymie the outrage when Trump asserted that he was withdrawing U.S. troops from eastern Syria. Congress showed more indignation about a troop pullback than it had shown about the loss of all the American soldiers’ lives in pointless conflicts over the past 18 years. The House of Representatives condemned Trump by a 354 to 60 vote, and Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, proclaimed, “At President Trump’s hands, American leadership has been laid low, and American foreign policy has become nothing more than a tool to advance his own interests.” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said he felt “horror and shame” over Trump’s action. Boston Globe columnist Stephen Kinzer aptly described Congress’s protest as “a classic example of ‘buffet outrage,’ in which one picks and chooses which horrors to condemn.”

President Barack Obama had promised 16 times that there would be no “U.S. boots on the ground” in Syria; when he betrayed that promise, Congress did nothing. Trump’s plans to have fewer U.S. boots on the ground in Syria — or at least in part of it — somehow became the moral equivalent of giving Alaska back to Russia. Pundits attacked politicians who supported the troop pullback as “Russian assets” — i.e., traitors.

Syria offers another reminder that “material support of terrorism” is a federal crime unless you work for the CIA, State Department, Pentagon, or White House. After Obama, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and former Secretary of State John Kerry all publicly declared that Syrian president Assad must exit power, the U.S. government provided cash and a massive amount of military weaponry to terrorist groups seeking to topple the Assad regime. The Obama administration’s beloved, nonexistent “moderate Syrian rebels” achieved nothing. The Kurdistan Workers’ Party, the PKK, a prime beneficiary of the U.S. occupation, has been considered a terrorist group by the U.S. government since 1997. Evan McMullin, a 2016 presidential candidate, admitted on Twitter, “My role in the CIA was to go out & convince Al Qaeda operatives to instead work with us.” Such absurdities spurred Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) to introduce The Stop Arming Terrorists Act in 2017 to prohibit any U.S. funding of terrorist groups. Gabbard’s bill was mostly ignored and never enacted, though her outspoken criticism of U.S. policy did spur Hillary Clinton and others to vilify her.

Prominent politicians and much of the media blamed Trump for the attacks on civilians that followed the Turkish invasion, carried out mainly by groups allied with the Turkish government. U.S.-armed terrorist groups involved in the Turkish invasion have freed Islamic State prisoners. A Turkish think tank analyzed the violent groups committing atrocities in Syria after the start of the Turkish invasion; “Out of the 28 factions, 21 were previously supported by the United States, three of them via the Pentagon’s program to combat DAESH [ISIS]. Eighteen of these factions were supplied by the CIA.” A prominent Turkish journalist observed after his government invaded Syria, “The groups that were educated and equipped by the United States west of the Euphrates are now fighting against the groups east of the Euphrates that have been also educated and equipped by the United States.” This is nothing new: in 2016, Pentagon-backed Syrian rebels openly battled CIA-backed rebels in Syria. A prominent Assad opponent who organized a conference of anti-Assad groups financed by the CIA was denied political asylum in 2017 because he provided “material support” to the Free Syrian Army, which meant he had “engaged in terrorist activity,” according to the Department of Homeland Security. A press backlash spurred a reversal on that decision but the media mostly ignored the other contradictions in U.S. policy in Syria.

Members of Congress were indignant that Syrian civilians suffered as the result of Trump’s troop pullback. But both Congress and most of the American media ignored the Syrian women, children, and men who died as a result of U.S. policies that intensified and prolonged that nation’s civil war. This is typical inside-the-Beltway scoring: the only fatalities worthy of recognizing are those that are politically useful.

Despite Trump’s declarations on Syria, the United States continues to have more than 50,000 troops deployed in the Middle East. The sooner those troops come home, the less likely that the United States will be dragged into another quagmire. The perennial follies and frauds of Middle East policy provide one of the strongest arguments for the United States to mind its own business. The dishonesty that has long characterized policies and policymakers ensures that the United States will continue failing to learn from mistakes.

This article was originally published in the January 2020 edition of Future of Freedom.

TGIF: The Nonintervention Principle

TGIF: The Nonintervention Principle

Anyone old enough to think about “America’s” role in the world ought to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time. For example, one ought to be able to argue firmly against U.S. intervention in other countries without feeling obliged to downplay or deny the real crimes that the tyrant du jour has committed. Unfortunately, not everyone agrees.

I can see the temptation here. Many people believe that all one needs to do to establish a case for intervention is to portray the target as egregiously bad. Consequently, a noninterventionist may think that the easiest way to rebut the interventionist is to deny the claim that the target is as bad as “they say.” But this is a lousy, shortsighted, and ultimately self-defeating move. For one thing, it implies that intervention would be acceptable if the target were that bad. Unsurprisingly, it’s better to stick to principle.

The principle of foreign nonintervention has nothing to do with the record of the foreign government in question. It is perfectly coherent to identify Ruler X as a brutal dictator and to oppose a U.S. government action aimed at regime-change and nation-building. Thus the noninterventionist has no need to blunt the move toward intervention by misstating or obscuring facts to make the targeted ruler appear less bad than he really is. If someone is puzzled by the statement “The ruler is as horrible as you say, but that is no justification for intervention,” it’s the noninterventionist’s job to straighten that person out because he clearly misunderstands the nature of noninterventionism.

The world is full of egregiously bad rulers — as distinguished from merely garden-variety bad ones — but when the matter turns to U.S. foreign and military policy, the appropriate question is, “So what?” As I say, the case for nonintervention doesn’t rest on the target’s record. So noninterventionists should have no trouble identifying Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro (among many others) as egregiously bad guys while also opposing U.S. government action against them.

Noninterventionists should also be able to state, assuming of course it is true, that a particular bad ruler is not as bad in every respect as the interventionists say without being smeared as an apologist for that ruler. For example, we can note that Assad, although a brutal dictator, has protected religious minorities, such as Christians, from the fanatical Sunni Muslims, such as al Qaeda and the late Islamic State. (Assad himself is a member of a religious minority, the Alawites, which is in the Shia branch of Islam.) Acknowledging Assad’s record of protecting minorities does not make one a fan, much less a tool, of the Syrian ruler. Similarly, one ought to be able to point out that U.S. sanctions are partly responsible for Venezuela’s problems without being accused of defending or overlooking Maduro’s authoritarian state socialism, which by nature will always harm the very people it is perhaps intended to benefit.

Thus the case for nonintervention is independent of Assad’s policy toward minorities and the consequences of U.S. sanctions against Venezuela. (Those sanctions should end.) Nonintervention stands on its own merits.

I find it necessary to discuss what ought to be obvious because recently I’ve seen people committing these fallacies: a few noninterventionists have appeared to suggest that a potential target of U.S. intervention, Maduro, isn’t really so bad, while some interventionists have accused noninterventionists of being soft on some demonstrably horrible rulers.

Another fallacy I’ve encountered is the equation of noninterventionism with nationalism, specifically with a belief that national borders are sacrosanct. The fallacy here is in thinking that the libertarian case for nonintervention rests on a reverence for national boundaries. Nothing could be further from the truth. Noninterventionism and open (i.e., essentially abolished) borders go hand in hand.

So why the iron rule against nonintervention if borders are not sacrosanct? Albert Jay Nock and Murray Rothbard both answered this question: as long as we live in a world of states, to minimize the harm, we are obliged to keep the state we labor under on, as Nock put it, as short a leash as possible. This is true in domestic policy, but it is even more urgent in foreign affairs since presidents have frightening and acutely lethal autonomy in that realm. We should need no reminder that when the U.S. government intervenes in a foreign conflict, it makes things worse — much worse — especially for noncombatants. So nonintervention is motivated not only by a wish to keep the state as small as possible, but also to minimize bloodshed by abstaining from exacerbating other people’s conflicts. Bluntly put, we must keep states from clashing. It’s got nothing to do with a reverence for borders.

In the harsh light of 21st-century American foreign policy, we can see that the cause of nonintervention has never been more urgent. Let’s not burden it with irrelevant considerations.

(For a statement of libertarian noninterventionism, see my “Libertarianism Means Noninterventionism.”)

TGIF –The Goal Is Freedom — appears occasionally on Fridays.

Taliban: No Peace Deal If US Troops Stay in Afghanistan

Taliban: No Peace Deal If US Troops Stay in Afghanistan

Deputy leader says withdrawal is main thing the Taliban wants

With a potential US-Taliban peace deal in Afghanistan potentially at hand, Taliban Deputy Leader Sirajuddin Haqqani wrote an op-ed in the New York Times clarifying exactly what the Taliban hopes to get out of the deal, what is expected and what is their red line.

For a war that’s dragged on for 19 years, Taliban demands are still straightforward and easy to understand. The main goal is, as ever, the removal of foreign troops from Afghanistan, and the deal was conditioned on the US withdrawing from the country.

Haqqani dismissed reports that the US would try to keep residual troops in Afghanistan under the deal, saying that there would be no peace deal that involved US troops staying in Afghanistan.

This has been well-established since long before the most recent peace talks began, and any reticence the US has shown toward a deal has necessarily raised questions about whether the US still wasn’t ready to commit to having no troops in Afghanistan.

President Trump has already planned cuts ahead of this year’s election, and that’s expected to happen whether a peace deal comes or not. Though a peace deal could also be something to campaign on, it remains to be seen if Trump will go that route, or continue to drag on the conflict.

Church Support for War Created Social Justice Rage

Church Support for War Created Social Justice Rage

“’Saul, why do you persecute me?’ (Acts 22.7). This is the fundamental question. Christian conversion is our discovery that we are persecutors without knowing it. All participation in the scapegoat phenomenon is the same sin of the persecution of Christ. And all human beings commit this sin.” – Rene Girard, Evolution and Conversion (142)

We discovered the scientific method because we stopped burning witches. We stopped burning witches because, despite the slowness in understanding and stubborn choice to disregard the question at the heart of Christian conversion, the story of Jesus saving people through his refusal to return violence against his persecutors slowly undermined the millenia-old groupthink that witches, or other misfits, are the primary cause of plagues, droughts, and infant deaths.

The question “Why do you persecute me?” inspired the West to create hospitals with universal admittance, give the handicap our best seats in theaters, and wrestle with notions of restitution for past persecutions like slavery and land confiscation. It allowed us to consider treating the last as if they were first. However, our increasing awareness for the plight of those we sacrifice for the greater good can get warped and redirected into new, clever ways of sacrifice.

Humanity is like a recovering heroin addict. In ancient times, ritual sacrifice and violence against misfits was our false transcendence. It felt good and it helped us function and avoid worse demons. We slowly realized how ugly and oppressive the drug is to those around us and are now in the process of weaning off the substance. However, along the way, there are pitfalls, momentary relapses, where we do not realize we are still sneaking in a quick fix of sacrificial violence.

Any time we consent to using violence against nonviolent people to preemptively protect “the greater good” we are falling back into this fix. So how do we educate ourselves in the way of becoming aware of our complicity in persecution? How do we train ourselves to see with new eyes that those who seem to deserve to be blamed the most for our problems are, in fact, hidden scapegoats?

If you want to study how to found a remarkable company, you read Steve Jobs biographies and discuss it with fellow entrepreneurs. If you want to exercise, you go to the gym or hike with friends.

If you want to learn the story of Jesus and how to imitate him, you go to church. These gyms for Jesus imitation should unlock the meaning of “Saul, why do you persecute me?” and apply it to society. They should unpack what Jesus meant by God “desiring mercy, not sacrifice,” how he was “the stone the builders rejected,” and how we should not resist evil with violence.

With almost 400,000 churches in America and 70% of Americans claiming to be Christian, which means “Jesus imitator,” we should be able to spot the hidden scapegoats found in the specks of our eyes. But what does one get when you visit a local congregation?

By omission or commission, we get leaders using their role model platform in the name of Jesus to side with persecution. We are getting gyms with pools made of ice cream and barbells racked with donuts. For decades, church leaders have remained silent in the face of elective wars. Rather than warning their flocks to discourage their children from participating in elective wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria or aiding chaos in Yemen, Libya, or Pakistan, they have stayed silent, neutral, or even celebratory of such endeavors.

War, if it is to be done, should only be in self-defense from actual, initiated violence. Working alongside rebels and terrorists to benefit financial interests is no place for any person representing a nation of Jesus imitators.

Church leaders should denounce elective wars. They should know that a state commission, a helmet, and a uniform does not act as an exemption from the question, “Why do you persecute me?” To betray young men and women’s valor to serve for placating the state-serving status quo is a betrayal of Jesus himself. It is a slander of the Gospel.

Unjust sacrifice of soldiers’ lives and limbs is not the only form of persecution church leaders have aided. If a person goes into a house of Jesus, they should be equipped with the ethical model of Jesus in their personal and civic life. That message would challenge Christians to consider their obligation to imitate Jesus in participating in jury duty. If a nonviolent person who is not a danger to society is being put on trial, a Jesus imitator should know that they have the power to throw away the stone in their hand and render a “Not guilty” verdict as a judgment against bad law.

The Founders created jury nullification as a tool that allows people who feel powerless to effect elections to make a difference, one persecuted neighbor at a time.

If church leaders explained how laws against nonviolent, victimless behaviors actually create fatherlessness, separated families, prison assault, PTSD, generational violence, poverty, and empower gangs, society would not flock to other church-like communities based around race, gender, sexuality, or political ideology. Such “social justice” movements are motivated by anger, fear, hate, and an overriding sense of despair that victims are being oppressed. Because they create groups based on external identity conformity, they are necessarily antagonistic to outside scapegoats that are the opposite of their shared identity.

Churches can heal the cultural sickness of which identity politics is a symptom. If church leaders start speaking out with grace against elective wars here and abroad, they can heal the national body. When church leaders enter the public square to defend the individual person against collective violence and face the question, “Why do you persecute me?” we can put aside identity politics and unite the culture in imitation of Jesus.

Reprinted from LibertarianChristians.com.

Taliban: Afghanistan Peace Deal Terms Finalized

Taliban: Afghanistan Peace Deal Terms Finalized

Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen reported on Monday that the US and Taliban have finalized the language of the Afghanistan peace deal. The US has not confirmed this yet, but had indicated in recent days that such a deal was imminent.

Afghan CEO Abdullah Abdullah confirmed the deal is finalized, saying that his understanding is that the signature depends on the success of the reduction of violence. If all goes well, the deal should be signed by all sides by the end of February.

The exact language of the deal has never been public, though indications are that it was effectively finalized in October of last year and has not substantially changed. The deal sees the US commit to a withdrawal from Afghanistan, negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban, and a commitment by the Taliban to fight al-Qaeda and ISIS to keep them out of the country.

The deal should end a 19-year US occupation of Afghanistan, and bring American troops home. It is expected that NATO forces will be withdrawing with the US, and the Afghan factions will reach a power-sharing deal.

Cross-posted at Antiwar.com.

‘I Was Just Following Orders’

‘I Was Just Following Orders’

“I was just following orders” is the mantra of everyone who has found themselves on the wrong side of history – who is called into account for their actions as an order taker. How is it possible that everyone from corrupt mayors, to murderous tyrants have been able to get so many people to obey them and march in lockstep? When you take into account there are people who are willing to defend them, it’s easy to understand how these organs of the State are allowed to get away with everything from ticketing people for non-violent crimes, to the worst atrocities one could ever imagine. When you have cheerleaders, as athletes do, you are often looked at as a hero. Why else would other people be championing you and your profession? 

From the day they’re born, the overwhelming majority of people are raised in environments that teach them to obey “authority” and never question it.  

A perfect example is unquestioning nationalism. A quote on nationalism by Albert Einstein which he spoke before the rise of Hitler was, “nationalism is an infantile disease, it is the measles of mankind.” That makes sense especially when you consider that people who are unquestioning nationalists are generally taught it from a young age.  

Nationalism doesn’t have to be a negative. To the contrary, many people who identify as such can articulate the difference between having an affection for the people and the society into which they were born, or chose, and their radical distrust of the government they live under. But those who can’t (or won’t) separate the State from their neighbor, have been shown in history to be the ones who either become the order-follower, or blindly worship and make excuses for them. 

The much rarer trait is to see someone raised as a radical individualist. Homeschooling numbers from 1990- 2019 have grown from 275,000 to 2,300,000. Reasons for wanting to keep your children out of government schools can vary. Some of the earliest started out for religious reasons. Today, many people who call themselves libertarians/anarchist/voluntaryists do it because they don’t want their children to grow up in an environment which fosters and actively promotes obedience to the State apparatus.  

Law Enforcement Worship 

From a young age, many parents teach their kids that law enforcement are the good guys and if they ask you a question, you better answer and be respectful. You can be respectful and still understand the nature of the job of the police in this country. They are evidence gatherers. That is their main task since they rarely show up in time to stop a crime. They have rightfully been referred to as “historians.” If a statute has been broken, it is their job to figure out who did it and they do this by detaining or arresting people and asking them questions. 

Any lawyer worth their salt will tell you to never answer questions unless they, or another attorney is present, even if you know you are not guilty. In the must-read book, “You Have the Right to Remain Innocent,” James Duane details by citing case upon case how innocent people have talked their way into losing decades of their lives even though they didn’t commit the crime of which they were convicted. He explains how police can ask you 100 questions, and while you may have answered 98 of them correctly, even proving your innocence, the 2 that you answer in a wishy-washy way can be used to convict you while the other 98 (ones that prove your innocence) will be thrown away and declared inadmissible in court. 

This continues to be a blight on the criminal “justice” system and police officers are aware that this happens. Yet they continue to do their job as they always have with no regard for whether they are contributing to the jailing of an innocent person. They, and their defenders, will often blame it on the prosecutors. Yes, they will pass the buck so to speak. And what is their excuse? It’s just part of the job and we are “just following orders.” “We’re just doing our jobs!” 

Military Members are Beyond Reproach 

At this point in the “War on Terror” it’s impossible to argue that those fighting it are expected to be held up as heroes by the government and general public, even to the point of excusing the worst atrocities and war crimes imaginable. 

Recently, president Trump granted clemency to war criminal, special operations chief Eddie Gallagher. Gallagher, a Navy Seal and platoon leader, is described as, “a “toxic” character who was “OK with killing anything that moved”, according to fellow Iraq veterans who reported his conduct to military investigators.” “In the interviews, conducted by navy investigators looking into Gallagher’s conduct during a tour of duty in Iraq in 2017, fellow platoon members told of a ruthless leader who stabbed a captive to death for no reason then forced his troops to pose for a photograph with the corpse.”  

At his court martial Gallagher was acquitted of murder but lost rank because of the pictures posing with the dead body. “In a lengthy criminal investigation report, the navy detectives laid out other allegations against Gallagher, including shooting a schoolgirl and elderly man from a sniper’s roost. Members of Alpha Platoon’s Seal Team 7 alarmed by their leader’s conduct said they were initially shut down by military chiefs when they first spoke up, and told their own careers would suffer if they continued to talk about it” 

“The guy is freaking evil,” special operator first class Craig Miller, one of the platoon’s most experienced members, told investigators in sometimes tearful testimony. “I think Eddie was proud of it, and that was, like, part of it for him.” 

This is the man Trump gave clemency from any future charges to. And when he did, Gallagher’s defenders came out of the woodwork to defend him from anyone who dared make the claim that this man not only deserves to be locked up, but that his sanity should be called into question. Trump went so far as to hint that he would take Gallagher out on the campaign trail with him. 

Eddie Gallagher was the platoon leader, the one who gave the orders. But he also took them. Testimony shows that these military chiefs did everything they could to protect Gallagher. Even threatening those under his command if they spoke of this. It’s hard to judge from afar whether those men who posed with the dead body wanted to, or they were just following orders and feared retribution. When you see that Gallagher’s bosses actively sought to protect him, is it unreasonable to ask whether Gallagher was “just following orders” when he committed these atrocities? 

As was stated at the start, “order-followers” have found themselves on the wrong side of history when it comes to decency, not to mention liberty. Their defenders are vocal and can rarely be reasoned with. They see people in these positions as heroes and will make any excuse for actions that could be stood right next to the worst atrocities committed by Pol Pot. As we progress into a future where it is clear that the overwhelming majority of people intend to grow the size and scope of government, those who value individual liberty and justice may have to decide whether they will stick it out and attempt to change this culture, or look for alternate solutions lest they wake up in a State in which their every deed and word is under the purview of the unthinking automaton. 

Senate Passes Iran War Powers Resolution

Senate Passes Iran War Powers Resolution

In a vote of 55-45, the Senate passed the Iran War Powers Resolution on Thursday afternoon, setting out opposition to any unauthorized war with Iran, and instructing the president not to deploy troops for such a war.

Voting was heavily along party lines, with Democrats and some antiwar Republicans managing to pass the resolution in the face of mocking opposition from the Republican leadership, who insisted the resolution could never survive a Trump veto, and was a sign of weakness against Iran.

The Senate Republicans supporting were Mike Lee of Utah, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Susan Collins of Maine, Todd Young of Indiana, Jerry Moran of Kansas, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

Trump has opposed the resolution, arguing overwhelming support for his recent hostility toward Iran. Trump has broadly opposed war powers challenges to his wars, arguing he is allowed to launch such conflicts without Congress.

A veto has the potential to be overridden in the House, but it so far looks unlikely that the Senate could do so. That may ultimately depend on growing opposition to the war by the time the override happens.

Cross-posted at Antiwar.com.

Foreign Aid Just Empowers Corrupt Regimes. End It.

Foreign Aid Just Empowers Corrupt Regimes. End It.

The Senate’s vote to acquit Donald Trump on both articles of impeachment this month brought a much-needed end to the tiring impeachment saga America has been subject to in the last few months.

The impeachment controversy arose when President Donald Trump initially withheld military aid from Ukraine unless President Volodymyr Zelensky provided revelatory information about political rivals such as presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden’s business dealings. After a whistleblower alleged that Trump may have abused power, the managerial class was off to the races to launch an impeachment inquiry against him. For the past few months, DC pundits have yammered on about the implications of impeachment while the rest of the country has been busy getting on with their lives the way that normal people not living off government largesse do.

Now that the impeachment trial is over, maybe we can actually talk about more relevant issues like foreign aid. For more than seventy-five years, foreign assistance has played an integral role in American foreign policy. In 2019, a total of $39.2 billion was spent on foreign assistance, and at a quick glance it has left a lot to be desired.

School textbooks tend to make foreign aid look like a simple process, but as with anything the government runs, foreign aid has its obligatory share of red tape. Fergus Hodgson of Econ Americas noted that “Little of the development funds trickle down to the target communities,” in explaining why countries like Ethiopia and Haiti remain backwards. More importantly, Hodgson provided an unpleasant depiction of where foreign aid money generally goes:

A confiscatory portion goes to the pockets of federal bureaucrats and U.S. contractors, and another sizable chunk goes to urban, middle-class, or affluent partners in recipient countries. Further, one-fifth of U.S. aid goes through local governments, which tend to be corrupt and incompetent.

As far as the countries where the bulk of foreign aid is going, they’re not necessarily the most institutionally sound. War-ravaged countries such as Afghanistan ($5.1 billion), Iraq ($880 million), and Yemen ($565 million) received substantial aid in the fiscal year of 2018—be it in economic or military form. The first two countries have been subject to US invasions, in which the US government may have spent more than $5 trillion trying to turn them into Western-style democracies. In the case of Yemen, the US has been dragged into a proxy war all thanks to its “special relationship” with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. After nearly two decades of nation building, there appears to be no end in sight to American involvement in the region.

Thanks to the ruling class’s Russophobia, Ukraine was easy to side with in the Crimean conflict after Russia ramped up its intervention in the Crimean Peninsula. This resulted in the US disbursing a total of $559 million in aid to Ukraine in 2018. Foreign aid to Ukraine was at the center of the now concluded impeachment charade.

None of the aforementioned countries are exemplars of clean governance. Transparency International’s 2018 Corruption Perceptions Index revealed that Afghanistan, Iraq, Ukraine, and Yemen have putrid corruption rankings of 172nd, 168th, 120th, and 176th place, respectively.

Foreign Aid Encourages Bad Behavior

Foreign aid is not a get-rich-quick scheme for developing countries. Instead of building wealth, it comes with some not-so-pleasant consequences for the recipient nation. Also, such programs aren’t free. Someone ultimately has to pay for them. At the 2011 Conservative Political Action Conference, former congressman Ron Paul famously declared that

Foreign aid is taking money from the poor people of a rich country and giving it to the rich people of a poor country.

Thanks to a steady flow of outside funding, governments receiving aid no longer have to be accountable to their citizens. Knowing that US taxpayers will bail them out, some governments have no incentive whatsoever to innovate or keep corruption in check. Like subsidizing American banks making bad decisions at the domestic level, giving foreign aid to corrupt governments or factions within a country only encourages bad behavior.

DC has become so detached from the concept of rational economics that it treats the blood and sweat of taxpayers as malleable inputs that can be squeezed out of the population and sent abroad on a legislative whim. All of this is done with complete disregard for the unforeseen consequences that these policies inevitably produce.

Economist Frédéric Bastiat’s essay “That Which is Seen, and That Which is Not Seen” offers various points to consider when approaching the subject of government transfers such as foreign aid. What is seen is the recipient government being propped up thanks to the aid injection, which pleases both the recipient country’s elites and US foreign policy wonks.

However, what is not seen are the potential reform movements that would emerge under normal political circumstances. These movements often hold the key to breaking free of the cycle of corruption and poverty that many of these countries find themselves in. But when foreign aid enters the equation, the establishment government is artificially propped up at reformist factions’ expense. Domestically speaking, foreign aid money is clearly coming from American taxpayers. In an ideal world, this money would be in the hands of American taxpayers and put to use in the private sector. Sadly, most political leaders will never take these concerns into consideration. The signing ceremonies of foreign aid agreements and the subsequent ego boosts are too irresistible to DC do-gooders, so they’ll work diligently to keep the foreign aid gravy train in place.

Let’s not kid ourselves. It is the height of naivete to believe that developing countries will magically become rich via wealth transfers from First World countries. It ignores many of the institutions of freedom—private property and federalism—that enabled countries like the US to become the most prosperous societies in human history. Policymakers will have to think outside the box if they want to see more nations join the ranks of the developed world.

Some Alternatives to Consider

Indeed, there are more practical alternatives to using heavy-handed state measures to help developing countires. First off, bilateral free trade is a much better way to handle the issue of economic development. Expanding trade relations makes sense with regions such as Central America, which stand to benefit from the inflow of North American capital. Increased trade and investment will raise living standards in these capital-starved regions while also providing American consumers and entrepreneurs access to a new market of goods and services.

Another foreign aid alternative to consider is the revival of exchange programs such as the renowned collaboration between the University of Chicago and the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile in the 1950s. This program helped create a new generation of free market economists who would craft the very policies that catapulted Chile into the highest echelons of economic development in Latin America. The exchange program between the two universities still exists, but these efforts could be replicated and expanded to other countries without much state sponsorship.

Neither of these solutions involve dumping foreign aid into these regions or using military intervention to help them. The key to beating poverty from Santiago de Chile to Kinshasa (in the Congo) is still to increase these countries’ capital stock, not confiscate Americans’ wealth and ship it off in the form of foreign aid packages. The only serious way to do this is through policies which reduce regulatory barriers, respect property rights, expand commerce, and otherwise facilitate capital formation.

But this may be too much to ask of Western politicians who are fixated on using the government to solve every conceivable socioeconomic problem they encounter.

Reprinted from the Mises Institute.

China’s Economic Schemes Hurt the Chinese Most of All

China’s Economic Schemes Hurt the Chinese Most of All

In his State of the Union Address—February 4, 2020—President Trump outlined his reasons for punishing nations that manipulate their economies in order to achieve some internal policy goal, such as China. The president claimed that such manipulation was unfair and harmful to its trading partners. His main concern is that by manipulating its economy China “steals” jobs. It does this in several ways:

  1. By keeping the yuan at a lower exchange rate against other currencies—meaning that the People’s Bank of China gives more yuan for each dollar than would occur in a free currency market—Chinese goods are cheaper in terms of foreign currency than they would be otherwise.
  2. By subsidizing its industries, Chinese goods can be offered at a lower price.
  3. By erecting tariffs against some imported goods, China prevents foreign companies from producing more and employing more people than they would otherwise.

The president claimed that his policies were working, that manufacturing jobs were returning to the US and have created a “Blue Collar Boom,” with unemployment statistics at very low levels for many politically sensitive segments of the labor market.

I agree with the president in his desire that China cease manipulating its economy, but my reasons are not the same as his. More importantly, I would not recommend reciprocal interventions to punish China. Instead, I would follow the Barron maxim of “minding our own business and setting a good example.” I would point out the following consequences of Chinese economic interventions:

  1. China itself pays for the interventions, not its trading partners. In fact, Chinese economic interventions constitute a transfer of wealth from China to its customers overseas. Goods that previously cost X in the US market now cost less than X. Americans pocket the difference, which increases our wealth. The Chinese people pay high taxes or higher prices. China’s subsidies to business distort the Chinese economy away from producing more desirable products. (If this were not the case, there would be no need for subsidies.) Its tariffs on imported goods reduce the supply of them within China, leading to higher prices and/or shortages within China. In other words, Americans and the rest of the world benefit at the expense of the Chinese people.
  2. This is good for Americans, so why should we complain? That Chinese economic interventions are good for Americans is true in the short run, but what about the long run? By intervening in its economy, China weakens its productive capital base. It is this capital base that will pump out the many things that Americans will desire in the future. Anything that weakens a trading partner’s capacity to generate wealth means that its trading partners will be less wealthy too. Therefore, even loyal Americans should advise China to eschew economic manipulations that benefit them in the short run.

No one has ever explained this phenomenon better than Frederic Bastiat in his classic essay “That Which Is Seen, and That Which Is Not Seen.” Henry Hazlitt brought Bastiat’s insights up to date in Economics in One Lesson. There are actually two lessons: the first is that one must consider the consequences of an economic act not only for those who will benefit but also those for who will be harmed. Of course, it is usually easy to point out those who will benefit. It is difficult if not impossible to quantify those who are harmed, especially if the harm constitutes benefits that never occurred but would have absent the intervention. Hazlitt’s second lesson is that one must look not only to the short-term benefit of an economic act but also to its long-term costs. For example, steel import restrictions may result in a boom for the US steel industry with no apparent short-term consequences. But if US steel were already competitive in terms of price, quality, and service, there would be no need for import restrictions. We can conclude through economic logic that steel prices, quality, and/or service will deteriorate with the restrictions in place, harming Americans in the long run.

Conclusion

The president measures economic progress in terms of increase in employment (or decrease in unemployment) rather than an increase in wealth. Laboring more is not necessarily a sign of economic progress. Communist countries, such as the former Soviet Union, had zero unemployment! The state chose a job for everyone. But no one would claim that decades of full employment made the unfortunate citizens of the Soviet Union wealthier. The opposite occurred. In a free market economy without the burden of onerous labor laws, high taxes, and other interventions, there is no barrier to full employment for the simple reason that there is no limit to economic satisfaction. Even a frugal person who desired no additional economic goods certainly would be pleased that he need labor less to achieve and maintain his current level of economic satisfaction.

The greater China’s capital base, the greater the potential for a further expansion of the division of labor to employ this additional capital more productively. We Americans should wish that the entire world were free market capitalist economies so that we would have access to cheaper, better, and more varied products and services. China’s integration into the world economy has benefited Americans tremendously. So, Mr. President, I also want China to end its economic interventions, but I do not want to punish China through tariffs and other means for doing so. Our response should be to declare unilateral free trade. Let’s lead the world by setting a good example and look forward to a world of peace and prosperity.

Reprinted from the Mises Institute.

Special Inspector General: Thousands Killed in Failed Afghan Reconstruction

Special Inspector General: Thousands Killed in Failed Afghan Reconstruction

Warns Congress was given incomplete picture of the cost

While it is well documented how poorly the Afghan War has gone, and how little has actually been built during reconstruction, the US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) warns Congress was given an incomplete picture of the cost.

That’s because Congress was told about the financial cost of the reconstruction, a substantial amount of money that produced very little. They were not told about the very high human cost of this program, however.

2,214 people were killed overall, 216 of them American soldiers and 68 others American civilians. 2,921 others were wounded, and 1,182 ominously just “went missing.” This is again, for the sake of a reconstruction which mostly didn’t happen, and failed even where things weren’t built.

SIGAR John Sopko was asked to put a letter grade on the US reconstruction effort, and said he believes even a D- would be too high for it. He added that the US got credit for attendance and that was it.

Cross-posted at Antiwar.com.

Democrats Ignore Trump’s Real Violations

Democrats Ignore Trump’s Real Violations

This week the latest Democratic Party attempt to remove President Trump from office – impeachment over Trump allegedly holding up an arms deal to Ukraine – flopped. Just like “Russiagate” and the Mueller investigation, and a number of other attempts to overturn the 2016 election.

We’ve had three years of accusations and investigations with untold millions of dollars spent in a never-ending Democratic Party effort to remove President Trump from office.

Why do the Democrats keep swinging and missing at Trump? They can’t make a good case for abuse of power because they don’t really oppose Trump’s most egregious abuses of power. Congress, with a few exceptions, strongly supports the President flouting the Constitution when it comes to overseas aggression and shoveling more money into the military-industrial complex.

In April, 2018, President Trump fired 100 Tomahawk missiles into Syria allegedly as punishment for a Syrian government chemical attack in Douma. Though the US was not under imminent threat of attack from Syria, Trump didn’t wait for a Congressional declaration of war on Syria or even an authorization for a missile strike. In fact, he didn’t even wait for an investigation of the event to find out what actually happened! He just decided to send a hundred missiles – at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars – into Syria.

We are now finding out from whistleblowers on the UN team that investigated the alleged attack that the report blaming the Syrian government was falsified and that the whole “attack” was nothing but a false flag operation.

Is such unauthorized aggression against a country with which we are not at war not worth investigating as a potential “high crime” or “misdemeanor”?

Last month, President Trump authorized the assassination of a top Iranian General, Qassim Soleimani, and a top Iraqi military officer inside Iraqi territory while Soleimani was on a diplomatic mission. Trump and his Administration tried to claim that the attack was essential because of an “imminent threat” of a Soleimani attack on US troops in the region.

We found out shortly afterward that they lied about the “imminent threat.” The assassination was not “urgent” – it was planned back in June. Trump then claimed it didn’t matter whether there was an imminent threat: Soleimani was a bad guy so he deserved to be assassinated.

But the attack was an act of war on Iran without Congressional declaration or authorization for war. Is that not perhaps a “high crime” or “misdemeanor”?

We are finding out that, contrary to Trump claims, Soleimani was not even behind the December attack on US troops in Iraq. New evidence suggests it was actually an ISIS operation attempting to goad the US into moving against Iraq’s Shia militias.

Fantasies about Trump being an agent of Putin or trying to get Ukraine to help him win the election are presented as urgent reasons Trump must be removed from office. Real-life violations of the Constitution and reckless militarism that may get us embroiled in another Middle East war are shrugged off as “business as usual” by both Democrats and Republicans in Washington.

Democrats won’t move against Trump for what may be real “high crimes” and “misdemeanors” because they support his overseas aggression. They just wish they were the ones pulling the trigger.

Reprinted from the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity

Palestinians as Pawns

Palestinians as Pawns

Trump’s “vision” for Palestine well illustrates that in his eyes (not to mention the eyes of Netanyahu, Kushner, and others), the Palestinians are mere pawns to be manipulated in the service of Israel’s and Trump’s designs.

This can be readily seen in an obscure provision of Trump’s plan, which “contemplates the possibility” that Israel and the future pseudo-state of Palestine could together redraw their boundaries so that nearly a dozen Palestinian towns within Israel, in an area adjacent to the line separating Israel from the West Bank known as the Triangle, would become part of the future pseudo-state. Were that to happen, the residents, who today are Israeli citizens, would lose that status without their consent and become citizens of the new pseudo-state. That would be an injustice.

While Palestinians are at best second-class citizens in Israel, they evidently do not like being ordered about by two entities they distrust: the Israeli government and the Israel-empowered Palestinian Authority, both corrupt and unmindful of individual rights. Netanyahu would no doubt like to see these towns transferred to the future pseudo-state (if there must be one) because that would mean fewer Palestinian Israeli voters and members of parliament. It would be ethnic cleansing by another means.

Read more here.

Ukraine Officials Say US Holding Up Arms Sale

Ukraine Officials Say US Holding Up Arms Sale

Trump withholds approval for sales, Ukraine wants a refund

Ukrainian officials are clearly looking to flex their muscles in the wake of being the foreign policy centerpiece of the Trump impeachment, accusing the US of holding up another $30 million worth of standard arms sales for an unknown reason. This sale is distinct from the issue in the impeachment, and only has in common the countries involved.

During impeachment, US officials were hyping the vital importance of Ukraine to US policies, particularly to the policy of hostility toward Russia. That not being sufficiently pro-Ukraine was being presented as an impeachable offense has clearly gone to Ukraine’s head, however.

A $30 million commercial sale of arms is hardly the sort of thing officials get particularly vocal about. Three current Ukrainian officials were describing the matter to the press, however, and a former US official concurred on the matter. Ukraine made a down-payment on the arms, but they haven’t finalized the sale yet.

As a practical matter, President Trump has yet to approve the sales, officials are still not clear why, and Ukrainian officials are very keen to get a refund for the down payment, as one US official said they’d probably be better off buying from someone else.

What’s really going on, however, is that Ukraine is trying to parlay their newfound importance into some beneficial resolution. They are likely particularly interested in presenting a “held” sale as tantamount to frozen aid, and again the sort of slight against Ukraine that could become a vital US policy issue, even if it is just a small matter over minor arms sales.

How sustainable this is for Ukraine is anyone’s guess, but the sense of entitlement and of indispensability in anti-Russia policy could evaporate in an instant, and it’s hardly unusual for the US to change its mind who they really “need” in a long-term policy effort.

Cross-posted at Antiwar.com.

Sabra and Shatila

Sabra and Shatila

Originally published at “The Massacre” in The Libertarian Forum, October 1982.

All other news, all other concerns, fade into insignificance beside the enormous horror of the massacre in Beirut. All humanity is outraged at the wanton slaughter of hundreds of men (mainly elderly), women, and children in the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila. The days of the massacre— September 16 to 18—shall truly live in infamy.

There is one ray of hope in this bloodbath: the world-wide outrage demonstrates that mankind’s sensibilities have not, as some have feared, been blunted by the butcheries of the twentieth century or by watching repeated carnage on television. Mankind is still capable of reacting to evident atrocities that are wreaked upon other human beings: be they thousands of miles away or members of a different or even alien religion, culture, or ethnic group. When hundreds of manifest innocents are brutally and systematically slaughtered, all of us who are still fully human cry out in profound protest.

The outrage and protest must be compounded of several elements. First, of course, we must mourn for the poor downtrodden people of Lebanon, especially the Palestinians, who were driven out in 1948 to a reluctant exile from their homes and land. We must mourn for the slaughtered and their remaining families. And for the hundreds of thousands in Lebanon and in Beirut who have been killed, wounded, bombed out, and rendered homeless wanderers by the aggression of the State of Israel.

But mourning and compassion are not enough. As in any mass murder, the responsibility and the guilt for the crime must be pinpointed. For the sake of justice and to try to make sure that such a holocaust—for holocaust it has been—may never happen again.

Who, then, is guilty? On the most immediate and direct level, of course, the uniformed thugs and murderers who committed the slaughter. They consist of two groups of Christian Lebanese, working their will on innocent Muslims: the Christian Lebanese Forces of Major Saad Haddad, and the Christian Phalange, headed by the Gemayel family, now installed in the presidency of Lebanon.

But equally responsible, equally guilty, are the aiders and abettors, the string-pullers, the masters of West Beirut where the slaughter took place: the State of Israel. When the PLO was evacuated from West Beirut, to the fanfare of an international accord and international armed force supervision, the State of Israel saw its way clear to the conquest of Muslim West Beirut. Its protectors gone, the international forces cleared out, the poor huddled people of West Beirut had to put up with the conquest of the Israeli aggressors, who marched in on September 16. It was the deliberate decision of the Israeli government to usher the Phalange and the Lebanese forces into camps, to have them, in Israel’s words, “purify” the camps and rid them of PLO members who might be lurking therein—masquerading, no doubt as babies and children. Israeli tanks guarded the perimeter of Sabra and Shatila to permit the Christians unlimited control of the camps, and Israeli army observation posts on rooftops supervised the scene less than 100 yards from the slaughter.

On Friday, on the scene, Reuters correspondent Paul Eedle spoke to an Israeli colonel who explained about the operation: it was designed to “purify” the area without the direct participation of the Israeli army. This policy is of course all too reminiscent of the Nazi policy on the Eastern front, when the German soldiers stood by and benignly allowed the Ukrainian and other non-German SS to massacre Jews and other natives of Russia.

Also on Friday, it is particularly edifying to know that the Phalangists came to Israeli positions on the perimeter of the camps to relax, eat and drink, read and listen to music, and in general “rest up” before returning to butcher the few people still remaining. A Phalangist officer, a gold crucifix dangling from his neck, later told a reporter that there was still shooting going on in the camps, “otherwise what would I be doing here?”

Writing from the scene of the crime in evident horror, New York Times reporter, Thomas L. Friedman (Sept. 20) wrote that from the Israeli observation posts “it would not have been difficult to ascertain the slaughter not only by sight but from the sounds of gunfire and the screams coining from the camp. In addition to providing some provisions for the Christian militiamen, the Israelis had tanks stationed on the hilltop, apparently to provide cover for them if the militiamen encountered fiercer resistance than had been anticipated.”

We know now that by Thursday night the Israeli army and government knew about the massacre, and that yet they did absolutely nothing for 36 hours, until Saturday morning, when, the bloodbath completed, they gently waved the Christian murderers out of the camps. All was secured.

As a grisly finale to Israel’s blood crime, even after the world outrage, the Israeli army turned over a huge number of captured weapons to the Lebanese Forces—the Haddad army which Israel has trained and armed for seven years, which has held and occupied the southern Lebanese border for many months on behalf of Israel, and who, as the New York Times put it, are “virtually integrated into the Israeli army and operate entirely under its command.”

One of the most heartening aspects of the response to the massacre has been the firestorm of protest within Israel itself, even from the ordinarily pro-Begin press. Thus, Eitan Haber, military correspondent of the ordinarily pro-Begin Yediot Ahronot, wrote in shock:

“Government ministers and senior commanders already knew during the hours of Thursday night and Friday morning that a terrible massacre was taking place in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila, and despite the fact that they knew this for sure, they did not lift a finger and did nothing to prevent the massacre until Saturday morning. For 36 additional hours, the Phalangists continued to run rampant in the refugee camps and to kill anyone who fell in their path.”

An editor of the Beginite daily paper, Maariv, appearing on ABC-TV Nightline, was evidently shaken and pinned full responsibility for the holocaust on the Begin government, and clearly called for its resignation.

Unfortunately, the response of American Jews was not nearly as outraged as that from Israel itself. It is well known that the lockstep and knee-jerk support by American Jews for any and all acts of the State of Israel is scarcely replicated within Israel itself. But even here the ranks were broken or at the very least confused. Even William Safire, always ardent in support of Israel, attacked its “blunder”—a strong word coming from Safire. Only the “professional Jews,” head of the leading Jewish organizations in America, continued to alibi and excuse. For a few days, they fell back on the view that “we can’t judge until we know the facts,” but even this lame alibi fell apart when Begin arrogantly refused any impartial judicial inquiry and pushed his view through the Knesset. Among the American Jewish leaders only Rabbi Balfour Brickner and the highly intelligent Professor Arthur Hertzberg—who have always been unafraid to speak their mind—lashed into the responsibility of the state of Israel.

An illuminating scene occurred on ABC’s Nightline, when Rabbi Schindler and Howard Squadron, two top “professional” American Jews, were asked their views of the Israeli action. It was squirmsville. One particularly sharp question was asked by Nightline: How is it that American Jewish protest has been so muted compared to that within Israel itself? Rabbi Schindler’s response was one for the books. In essence he said: “Within Israel there are political parties which can be critical of the government’s action. But our role as American Jews is to support the State of Israel regardless of its specific actions.” A chilling admission indeed!

And so American Jewish leaders consider it their role to support the State of Israel come hell or high water. How many deaths would it take? How many murders? How much slaughter of the innocent? Are there any conceivable acts that would turn off the American Jewish leadership, that would cause these people to stop their eternal apologetics for the State of Israel? Any acts at all?

After this statement of his role, the rather startled Nightline interviewer asked Rabbi Schindler, “but what about support for right and wrong? Doesn’t that count?” Having marched to the edge of the abyss and perhaps revealed too much, Rabbi Schindler rallied, and muttered something about “of course, we’re interested in right and wrong; but we can only judge after we know the facts.” Since Begin had just vetoed a fact-finding board of inquiry, this line fell pretty flat.

In American politics, the magic attraction of the State of Israel has at last lost some of its power. Even Scoop Jackson, even Senator Alan Cranston (D., Calif.) have become critical of Israel. The leading all-out supporter of Israel in the Reagan Cabinet—Al Haig—has been booted out, perhaps partially on that issue. But these are only small, fitful steps toward de-Israelizing American foreign policy.

One bizarre aspect of this affair has been the American perception—at least until the massacre—of the Gemayel family and its Phalange. It has now been revealed that the Israeli intelligence services—notoriously savvy people—had warned Begin and Defense Minister Sharon in advance that the Phalangists were likely to commit a massacre if the camps were turned over to them. To say that these warnings were “ignored” by Begin, Sharon & Co. is putting matters very, very kindly.

Well, what are the Gemayels and the Phalange like? Perhaps it is best to contrast reality with the Alice-in-Wonderland comments of the Reagan Administration upon the assassination of Phalangist leader and near-president of Lebanon Bashir Gemayel on September 15. “A tragedy for Lebanese democracy,” opined the Reagan Administration, while Ronnie himself spoke of Bashir as a brilliant, rising young democratic politician. The U.S. and Israel both spoke of their hope that Bashir could impose a “strong, centralized government” to unify anarchic Lebanon.

Since the Massacre, we should now have a better idea of the sort of “unity” that the Gemayels propose to bring to Lebanon: the “unity” of the charnel house and the cemetery. Perhaps the name of the political and military organization known as the Phalange should give a clue. For Bashir’s father, Pierre, founded the Phalange after an enthusiastic visit to Hitler’s Germany. The Phalange (named after Franco’s Falange) are fascists, pure and simple, in goals and in method.

But let us concentrate on the rising young politician and see if we should shed any tears for Bashir. Bashir is distinguished from other leading Lebanese politicians in that he is himself a mass murderer. I mean personally. The Gemayels had two sets of powerful rivals among the fascistic Maronite Christian community. “Pro-Western” and “Pro-Israeli” a little less fanatically than the Phalange, these were the followers of elderly ex-Presidents Camille Chamoun and Suleiman Franjieh.

Here is the way that young democrat, Begin and Reagan’s Man in Beirut, dealt with dissent within the Maronite community. Five years ago, the then 29-year-old Bashir Gemayel led a commando raid on Franjieh’s mountain stronghold in northern Lebanon. Bashir made Franjieh’s oldest son Tony watch while he and his gang tortured and killed Tony’s wife and two-year-old daughter. Bashir then murdered Tony and 29 followers, calling the massacre a “social revolt against feudalism.” Two years later, Bashir took care of the Chamouns. In May, 1980, Bashir and his men, in a lightning strike, massacred 450 of Chamoun’s followers at a beach resort near the city of Junei. Over 250 were murdered on the beach or while swimming. The wife and daughter of Camille Chamoun’s son Dany were both raped. Less than a month later, Bashir and his men invaded Chamoun’s headquarters in east Beirut, and savagely killed over 500 of Chamoun’s followers as well as bystanders. Many of the victims were castrated by Bashir’s thugs, and one captured Chamounite was blown apart with a stick of dynamite shoved down his throat.

Who assassinated Bashir? It could almost have been anyone in Lebanon.

The fascist savagery and the willingness to be a catspaw of Israel may be partly explained by demographic factors. Lebanese political rule is set by quota system, in which dominance— including the Presidency—is assured the Maronite Christian community. Unfortunately, the census on which the quotas are based is that of the early 1930’s, when the Christians were a majority in Lebanon. The early 1930’s census still rules, even though it is now conceded by everyone that Muslims are about 55% of the Lebanese population, to the Christian 45%. This means that freezing Maronite Christian rule over a majority of Muslims—the Begin-and-Reagan solution to the Lebanese problem—in addition to being profoundly immoral, in the long run will not work. The Muslims are out-producing the Christians in future population, no matter how many Muslim babies the Phalangists are proposing to kill.

Unfortunately, no matter the anguish and the outcry within Israel, there is little hope that the Israeli opposition will be able to do much to correct the fundamental problem. For while individual voices are raised on the massacre, politically there is almost no opposition to the fundamental Zionist axiom within Israel. The chief opposition Labor Party, the Founding Fathers and Mothers of Israel, paved the way for Begin in their commitment to the Zionist ideal and to the consequent expulsion of 1 million Palestinian Arabs from their homes and their lands. Only a few minor parties in Israel, such as those of Uri Davis and Shulamith Aloni, can be considered to have broken with the Zionist paradigm, and these are only on the fringe of Israeli politics.

The fundamental problem, the Zionist paradigm, is simply this: The establishment of the State of Israel was accomplished by the expropriation of the Palestinians from the overwhelming bulk of the land of the “original” 1948 Israel. Over a million Palestinian Arabs fled outside the borders of Israel, and the remaining Arabs have been systematically treated as second-class citizens, kept down by the fact that only Jews are allowed to own land within Israel that once falls into Jewish hands. (And more is doing so all the time.) In 1967, Israel aggressed against and conquered the West Bank, Gaza, and the Golan Heights of Syria, which it is in the process of annexing. Palestinian Arabs in the occupied territories are, again, treated as second-class citizens, and Zionist settlements are planted amongst them.

Israel and its American apologists are wont to blame everything on the dread bogeyman, the PLO, and to excuse all Israeli crimes as necessary to defend the security of the Israeli state from PLO “terrorism.” And yet it is conveniently forgotten that there was no PLO at all until after the shame of the 1967 war, when the Palestinians realized that they had to stop relying on the faithless Arab states and could only try themselves to win back their homes and their possessions. Since there was no “PLO terror” until 1968, how come that Israel aggressed against and terrorized the Palestinian Arabs for two decades previously?

The answer lies in the Zionist paradigm. Zionism was a nineteenth-century creation of European (not Middle Eastern) Jews, and was sold to Great Britain as a conscious colonial settlerstate, a junior partner to British imperialism in the Middle East. After World War I, when the British and French dismembered the Ottoman Empire, they betrayed their promises to give the Arabs their independence, and they established mandates or puppet states across the Middle East. We are still living with the legacy of that final outcropping of British imperialism.

How did the early Zionists sell their scheme to Western public opinion? The favorite Zionist slogan of the day rings peculiarly hollow now: “A land without people [Palestine] for a people without land [the Jews].” A land without people; there are no Palestinian Arabs, the Zionists assured everyone, and so a million and a half people, many of them productive farmers, citrus growers, businessmen,—people “who made the desert bloom” first—were at a stroke written out of existence. And before the PLO launched its fight-back, Israeli leaders stoutly continued to deny reality, Golda Meir repeatedly maintaining that “there are no Palestinians.” Say it often enough and maybe they go away. Maybe.

Libertarians are opposed to every State. But the State of Israel is uniquely pernicious, because its entire existence rests and continues to rest on a massive expropriation of property and expulsion from the land. Libertarians in the United States often complain about the radical libertarian adherence to “land reform,” i.e. the giving back of stolen land to the victims. In the case of expropriations centuries ago, who gets what is often fuzzy, and conservative libertarians can raise an important point. But in the case of Palestine, the victims and their children—the true owners of the land—are right there, beyond the borders, in refugee camps, in hovels, dreaming about a return to their own. There is nothing fuzzy here. Justice will only be served, and true peace in the devastated area will only come, when a miracle happens and Israel allows the Palestinians to stream back in and repossess their rightful property. Until then, so long as the Palestinians continue to live and no matter how far back they are pushed, they will always be there, and they will continue to press for their dream of justice. No matter how many square miles and how many cities Israel conquers (shall it be Damascus next?), the Palestinians will be there, in addition to all the other Arab refugees newly created by the Israeli policy of blood and iron. But allowing justice, allowing the return of the expropriated, would mean that Israel would have to give up its exclusivist Zionist ideal. For recognizing Palestinians as human beings with full human rights is the negation of Zionism; it is the recognition that the land was never “empty.”

A just Israeli state (insofar as any state can be just), then, would necessarily be a de-Zionized state, and this no Israeli political party in the foreseeable future would have the slightest desire to do. And so the slaughter and the horror will go on.

Reprinted from LewRockwell.com.

TGIF: Trump Would Make Palestinian Subjugation Permanent

TGIF: Trump Would Make Palestinian Subjugation Permanent

The fundamental flaw at the heart of Trump’s Palestine/Israel plan, presumptuously titled Peace to Prosperity: A Vision to Improve the Lives of the Palestinian and Israeli People, is that Trump — like his predecessors — believes that the Israelis are the aggrieved party and the Palestinians are the not-fully-human aggressors inherently unworthy of even the minimum trust accorded fellow human beings. You can see this premise throughout Trump’s corrupt blueprint for the future of Israel and Palestine. 

But this premise has the aggressor and the victim roles switched in defiance of the facts. The Palestinians are the aggrieved party. They were dispossessed in 1948 and 1967 and then denied full and equal rights within Israel and all rights in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. We see Trump’s attitude in a key part of Peace to Prosperity, namely, section seven on security and the associated appendices.

Before we get to that, let’s start by recognizing that although Trump brags that the Palestine he envisions would be bigger than what the Palestinians now control under the Oslo Accords, he is blowing hot air in his typical way. The Palestinians control nothing. Whatever internal security the Palestinian Authority (PA) administers in part of the West Bank is merely the result of Israel having subcontracted to the Palestinian elite the dirty internal-security work that Israel used to have to do itself. But Israel is free to override the PA whenever it sees the need and take internal security into its own hands. This is not autonomy. 

So if Palestinian control is to be doubled, as Trump says, it would be a doubling of zero. Moreover, as Jonathan Cook writes, Trump’s plan misleads when it touts that Palestine would consist of 70 percent of the lands Israel has (illegally) occupied since the 1967 war. Several decades ago the main Palestinian organization and spokespeople agreed to reduce their claim to only the occupied territories, a mere 22 percent of the Palestine they had inhabited for millennia. That stunning concession never got the notice is deserved. (Only Israeli “concessions” are described as generous.) Yet Trump is demanding that the Palestinians accept only 70 percent of the 22 percent — which comes to 15 percent of the original territory the Israelis (that is, Zionists) took by force in what is called the Nakba, or catastrophe. And, Cook adds, that’s “after Israel has seized all the best agricultural land and the water sources.”

The security section and associated appendices make clear that in Trump’s (and Jared Kushner’s and Benjamin Netanyahu’s) eyes, the Palestinians are the bad guys who deserve nothing less than the closest surveillance lest they commit mass murder because they (so it is alleged) hate Jews qua Jews. So, despite the apparent creation of a sovereign State of Palestine, the Trump plan in reality would create a gerrymandered archipelago of Palestinian towns that nevertheless would contain many “Israeli conclave communities” (see the map above) and be surrounded by the State of Israel. Palestinians would have highly limited home-rule, but ultimate control would remain with Israel. That state would have complete authority over Palestine’s borders, airspace, and even the electromagnetic spectrum. Palestine would have no access to the Jordan River, because Israel would annex the Jordan Valley (as it’s about to do), or the Dead Sea. To quote the plan: 

Upon signing the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Agreement, the State of Israel will maintain overriding security responsibility for the State of Palestine, with the aspiration that the Palestinians will be responsible for as much of their internal security as possible, subject to the provisions of this Vision. The State of Israel will work diligently to minimize its security footprint in the State of Palestine according to the principle that the more the State of Palestine does, the less the State of Israel will have to do…. [Emphasis added.]

As you can see, any so-called concessions are for Israel’s convenience and not out of respect for the Palestinians’ long-denied rights.

Of course, the Palestinians would be watched closely. Appendix 2B sets criteria for “Palestinian security performance,” and they contain an inducement: “As the State of Palestine meets and maintains the Security Criteria, the State of Israel’s involvement in security within the State of Palestine will be reduced.” That sounds like the League of Nations’ old mandate, that is, colonial, system under which Great Britain ruled Palestine after World War I.

But as we’ll see, those criteria are hardly objective and leave plenty of leeway for Israel to give Palestine a failing grade — which is exactly what we can expect.

We read that the “State of Palestine will have security forces capable of maintaining internal security and preventing terror attacks within the State of Palestine and against the State of Israel, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and the Arab Republic of Egypt,”  except that “these specific capabilities (i) may not (A) violate the principle that the State of Palestine in all its territory, including Gaza, shall be, and shall remain, fully demilitarized or (B) derogate the State of Israel’s overriding security responsibility, and (ii) will be agreed upon by the State of Palestine and the State of Israel.” (Emphasis added.)

And the kicker:

Should the State of Palestine fail to meet all or any of the Security Criteria at any time, the State of Israel will have the right to reverse the process outlined above. The State of Israel’s security footprint in all or parts of the State of Palestine will then increase as a result of the State of Israel’s determination of its expanded security needs and the time needed to address them. [Emphasis added.]

Just in case, of course, “the State of Israel will maintain at least one early-warning stations [sic] in the State of Palestine as designated on the Conceptual Map, which will be run by Israeli security forces. Uninterrupted Israeli security access to and from any early-warning station will be ensured.”

And: “To the extent reasonably possible, solely as determined by the State of Israel, the State of Israel will rely on blimps, drones and similar aerial equipment for security purposes in order to reduce the Israeli security footprint within the State of Palestine.” (Emphasis added.)

What a relief to know that Israel’s security footprint will be reduced through Israeli aerial surveillance — solely as determined by the State of Israel.

Let’s move on to the appendices, where some details are filled in. 

Appendix 2C states that “Palestine will not have the right to forge military, intelligence or security agreements with any state or organization that adversely affect the State of Israel’s security, as determined by the State of Israel.” (Emphasis added.) 

Israel of course would be free to make whatever agreement it likes, no matter how much it adversely affects the State of Palestine.

Moreover, a “demilitarized State of Palestine will be prohibited from possessing capabilities that can threaten the State of Israel.”

That is obviously vague. Defensive (and deterrent) capabilities can be always be called threatening. Israel does this with Hezbollah in Lebanon all the time. I note for the record that Israel is not similarly “prohibited from possessing capabilities that can threaten” the State of Palestine.

Congruent with the above, “any expansion of Palestinian security capabilities beyond the capabilities existing on the date this Vision is released shall be subject to agreement with the State of Israel.” Thus the Israeli state would have to approve virtually any change inside Palestine because, after all, almost anything could be construed as related to Israeli security.

We are assured that “while the State of Israel will use its best efforts to minimize incursions into the State of Palestine, the State of Israel will retain the right to engage in necessary security measures to ensure that the State of Palestine remains demilitarized and non-threatening to the State of Israel, including from terrorist threats.” There’s another blank check. 

Now regarding those criteria:

The State of Palestine’s counterterrorism system must encompass all elements of counterterrorism, from initial detection of illicit activity to longtime incarceration of perpetrators. Included in the system must be: intelligence officers to detect potential terrorist activity, specially trained counterterrorism forces to raid sites and arrest perpetrators, forensics experts to conduct site exploitation, pretrial detention officers to ensure the retention of prisoners, prosecutors and judges to issue warrants and conduct trials, and post-trial detention officers to ensure prisoners serve their sentences. The system should include stand-alone detention facilities and vetted personnel.

I’m assuming, in light of Israel’s and the United States’ record in the matter, that “all elements of counterterrorism” include mass surveillance of all kinds, road checkpoints, torture, use of informants, and indefinite detention without charge, trial, or any reasonable notion of due process.

Just so the Palestinians are clear about what is expected of them, “the breadth and depth of the anti-terror activities of the State of Palestine will be determined [by Israel] by”:

  • The extent of arrests and interdictions of suspects, perpetrators and accomplices;
  • The systematic and comprehensive nature of investigations and interrogations to root out all terror networks and infrastructure;
  • Indictments and the extent of punishments;
  • The systematic and comprehensive nature of interdiction efforts to seize weapons and explosives and prevent the manufacturing of weapons and explosives;
  • The success of efforts to prevent infiltration of terrorists and terror organizations into the security forces of the State of Palestine.

Apparently, the Israelis will know the appropriate extent of all those things. But how? That’s not for us or the Palestinians to wonder about. But if the Palestinians fall short of expectations, you can bet the Israelis will maximize their “security footprint” inside the sovereign State of Palestine.

And speaking of vagueness, Palestine will be expected to “prohibit all incitement to terrorism.” Considering what the Israelis have regarded as incitement in the past, this sounds as though the Palestinian government will be expected to limit free speech.

And just so there’s no misunderstanding:

During the negotiations the parties, in consultation with the United States, shall attempt to create acceptable initial non-binding metrics with respect to the Security Criteria that are acceptable to the State of Israel, and in no event less stringent than the metrics used by either the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan or the Arab Republic of Egypt (whichever is stricter) with respect to the Security Criteria. Because security threats evolve, the metrics are intended to be used as a guide, and will not be binding. However, the establishment of such non-binding metrics will allow the State of Palestine to better understand the minimum goals they are expected to achieve, and take into account regional minimum benchmarks. [Emphasis added.]

To call the proposed Palestinian status one of indefinite probation with inherently subjective criteria interpreted by a sadistic probation officer would be a gross understatement

It’s clear to see that Trump’s plan is all about Israel (and its American partisans) and has nothing whatever to do with the rights of Palestinians to control their own destiny. All considerations appear subordinate to Israel’s alleged security concerns, but in fact, what really counts (since Israel faces no existential threat) is a pseudo-ethnic chauvinism. (I write pseudo because Judaism is a religion, not an ethnic or racial group, that is embraced by people of many ethnicities. See my Coming to Palestine.)

The Palestinians just don’t count. To the extent they would get anything out of Trump’s plan, it is to save Israel some trouble. Better to have Palestine elite do Israel’s dirty work. 

TGIF — The Goal Is Freedom — appears occasionally on Fridays.

War! Glorious War!

War! Glorious War!

According to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) study released in 2016 the US Government was spending over $1 Billion annually on Public Relations. Approximately $626 Million of that was used by the Department of Defense to fund its PR campaign glamorizing and supporting endless wars.

We see the propaganda everywhere. Fighter jets zoom over NFL stadiums on Sunday afternoons while a huge American flag is unfurled by uniformed military personnel. Billboards along the highway extoll the virtues of military service. Of course there is much, much more.

But what the public is rarely if ever shown is the tragic human carnage of our never ending wars and military adventurism. As a young boy in the 1960’s I saw firsthand the “glories” of war. I grew up close to McGuire Veterans Hospital on the Southside of Richmond, VA. My older brother and I would scavenge for discarded pop bottles to turn in for the deposit money and head to the PX at McGuire for ice-cream.

The hospital had been built hastily during WWII. In fact, it was built so fast that some of the wards were constructed to the lay of the land. Long hallways were inclined making it difficult for immobile patients to move. It was 1967 and the Vietnam War was heating up. Security at the hospital was very relaxed and my brother and I could roam the halls at will.

As a nine year old I was amazed by the human carnage I witnessed up close. Men with no arms, legs or intestines. The faint smell of human waste couldn’t be masked by the powerful cleaning agents used by the staff as many of the men had bags attached to their gurney’s to collect their waste. As the patients struggled to maneuver their wheel chairs and gurneys up the long inclined hallways my brother and I would often give them a push up to the top on our way to the PX.

Over time we got used to seeing the mangled, disfigured men as we walked the hallways. But one scene is indelibly etched in my mind. A young boy, a little younger than me was standing outside the door of a patient’s room. I struck up a conversation with him and he told me they were there to see his Dad who’d just returned from Vietnam. I peeped inside and saw a pretty young woman holding a sleeping little girl, and she was sobbing.

Her eyeliner was running down her cheeks as her tears flowed. All I could see of the boy’s father was his head and most of his face wrapped in gauze with tubes sticking out. His eyes were filled with despair and hopelessness. I hastily turned away and silently thanked God that wasn’t my Dad as my brother and I walked home.

This poor soldier, like tens of thousands like him, suffered incredible physical and mental trauma from the Vietnam War. Not only did they suffer, but so did their families. Their best years stolen from them by psychopathic liars with no conscience.

Our government told us that if we didn’t stop those Communist in Southeast Asia the red horde would somehow show up and destroy our way of life; but that didn’t happen. Today we know that it was all a grand lie. The human cost of needless war is beyond measure. Not only for our troops, but also for the innocent civilian men and women who get caught in the crossfire.

War is not and never has been glorious. It is a heartless, cunning monster that devours the combatants and destroys the innocent while the maniacs who promote it wax wealthy at our expense.

Reprinted from the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity

Trump Presents Offer the Palestinians Can’t Refuse

Trump Presents Offer the Palestinians Can’t Refuse

Warns the plan is the Palestinians’ ‘last chance’

Flanked by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Trump unveiled his long anticipated peace plan, in a public event seemingly more designed to distract from Netanyahu’s indictment than to actually offer anything of substance.

A lot of terms of the plan have been long-rumored, and effectively remain so even after the presentation, as there was a conspicuous lack of specificity, and of any concrete details, beyond Trump insisting this is the Palestinians’ “last chance.

But their last chance for what? That’s less clear. Trump talked of Palestinian statehood, but doing so next to Netanyahu, who repeatedly has denounced the very notion of a Palestinian state, gives that very little credibility. Moreover, reports are that the deal forbids the Palestinians from having any of the trappings of a state, including even superficial control over its own borders.

What was said Tuesday put no doubt on that interpretation, and indeed the biggest takeaway of the offer was not that the Palestinians were getting barely something, but that Trump was prepared to immediately endorse Israeli sovereignty on the annexation of all settlements, and the Jordan Valley.

Trump did suggest Palestinian territory would double, but as with everything else the Palestinians might get, this was vague. Trump even declared that Israel had for the first time accepted a map, but then proceeded to say that a committee was being formed with Israel to actually work out what the map will look like, underscoring that no map has been settled upon at all.

Further offers to the Palestinians were similarly dubious, as Trump reiterated a $50 billion US investment offer, now conditioned on accepting the plan, such as it is. Trump also promised a four year window in which Israel would not develop any settlements in the occupied part of the West Bank that is nominally set aside for Palestinian statehood. Yet there is no apparent enforcement mechanism for this within the plan, and it is unlikely that either Trump or the Israeli government would be able to stop illegal settlements popping up across Palestine.

That both Netanyahu and his political rival Benny Gantz were able to endorse the plan underscores how little the Palestinians would really get, as anything that might conceivably end in a proper Palestinian state would be wildly unpopular on the Israeli right, and a non-starter during Israel’s constant elections.

This assumption of Palestinian rejection is likely a big part of Israeli acceptance, as it would allow them to spin themselves as the pro-peace ones, and the Palestinians as the real problem.

The Ambassadors of Oman, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates were in attendance at the unveiling, which suggests at least some nominal support within the Arab world. This is being emphasized, and presented as some support by “the other side,” even though no Palestinians were there, nor is it clear if any Palestinians were even invited.

Cross-posted at Antiwar.com.

Trump Lays an Egg: The Israel/Palestine Vision

Trump Lays an Egg: The Israel/Palestine Vision

Trump’s long-dreaded diktat to the Palestinians is now public. (See details here and here if you have the stomach for them.) The so-called plan of the century — the “Vision” — is pretty much what the early reports described, so I have little to add to what I wrote before. (My articles are here, here, and here. You can find more in my book Coming to Palestine.)

Suffice it say here that this “plan” is dead on arrival. The Palestinians will not be bribed by a $50 billion jobs program to give up their hope of full rights, which would never be achieved in Trump’s proposed Palestinian “state,” a  fragmented territory surrounded and border-controlled by Israel. That barely begins to describe how Trump envisions Palestine. Look closely at the map accompanying this article: those red dots represent an unspecified number of “Israeli conclave communities” scattered throughout what would be Palestine. (See this.) It would bear no resemblance to a sovereign country. Israel would annex the Jordan Valley to the east of Palestine and the areas of the exclusively Jewish settlements in the West Bank — all of it territory having been acquired through war, which is illegal under international law. (See the “conceptual maps” here.) Netanyahu calls the term occupied territories a “big lie” because, he says, it is the land “where our patriarchs prayed, our prophets preached and our kings ruled.” But that is the big lie. One has no valid claim to land that others live on because one’s imagined ancestors lived there in ancient times, especially when the most likely descendants of the Israelites and Judahites are today’s Palestinians and most Jews descend from converts.

Under Trump’s Vision, Israel would have unified Jerusalem as its capital (it has it now), although Palestinian would have East Jerusalem as its capital — yeah, that’s incoherent. Of course, Israel would not be required to recognize that Palestinians were robbed of their land in 1948 and 1967. The refugees would gain neither the right of return nor compensation.

To quote the official document: “The State of Israel and the United States do not believe the State of Israel is legally bound to provide the Palestinians with 100 percent of pre-1967 territory (a belief that is consistent with United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 [WRONG!]). This Vision is a fair compromise [sic], and contemplates a Palestinian state that encompasses territory reasonably comparable in size to the territory of the West Bank and Gaza pre-1967.”

But the Palestinians and much of the world believe, with good grounds, exactly what the “State of Israel and the United States do not believe” about the land that Israel conquered by war. The International Court of Justice nearly 20 years ago declared the occupation of the territories and the Jewish settlements illegal.

As for the size of the proposed Palestinian “state,” Yuma Patel of Mondoweiss commented, “While Trump boasted that his plan would promise a contiguous Palestinian state, doubled in size from its current form, the ‘conceptual map’ released by his administration shows a fragmented and dwindling territory, connected by a series of proposed bridges and tunnels.” (Again, look at the “conceptual map.”)

Trump, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Trump’s shameless team of zealous Jewish nationalist-chauvinists, led by son-in-law Jared Kushner, have conspired to keep the Palestinians under the thumb of the so-called state of the Jewish people. That is intolerable.

As outrageous as Trump’s diktat is for its details, we should not overlook Trump’s presumptuousness in thinking it is his place to come up with a plan to settle the conflict between Palestine and Israel. It is not his place. A settlement is to be negotiated between the parties — without the American and Israel condescension that is always directed at the Palestinians, as though any discussion of their predicament is a favor to them for which they should be eternally grateful. In fact, bona fide negotiations would begin with an Israel apology to the Palestinians for the massive land theft and oppression it has perpetrated over so many decades.

Trump, who is unable even to disguise his contempt for the Palestinians, will be responsible for the tragedy that the future surely holds.

A Million Iraqis Asked Us to Leave. We Should Listen.

A Million Iraqis Asked Us to Leave. We Should Listen.

You wouldn’t know it from US mainstream media reporting, but on Friday an estimated million Iraqis took to the streets to protest the continued US military presence in their country. What little mainstream media coverage the protest received all reported the number of protesters as far less than actually turned out. The Beltway elites are determined that Americans not know or understand just how much our presence in Iraq is not wanted.

The protesters were largely supporters of nationalist Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who opposes both US and Iranian presence in Iraq. Protesters held signs demanding that the US military leave Iraq and protest leaders warned of consequences unless the US listen to the Iraqi people.

After President Trump’s illegal and foolish assassination of Iranian general Soleimani on Iraqi soil early this month, the Iraqi parliament voted unanimously to cancel the agreement under which the US military remains in Iraq. But when the Iraqi prime minister called up Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to request a timetable for a US withdrawal, Pompeo laughed in his face.

The US government answered the Iraqi parliament’s vote with a statement that the US military is a “force for good” in the Middle East and that because of the continuing fight against ISIS US troops will remain, even where they are not wanted.

How many billions of dollars have we sent to Iraq to help them build their democracy? Yet as soon as a decision of Iraq’s elected parliament goes against Washington’s wishes, the US government is no longer so interested in democracy. Do they think the Iraqis don’t notice this double-dealing?

The pressure for the US to leave Iraq has been building within the country, but the US government and mainstream media is completely – and dangerously – ignoring this sentiment. It’s one thing to push the neocon propaganda that Iraqis and Iranians would be celebrating in the streets after last month’s US assassination of Iranian general Soleimani, who was the chief strategist for the anti-ISIS operation over the past five years. It’s a completely different thing to believe the propaganda, especially as more than a million Iranians mourned the popular military leader.

The Friday protesters demanded that all US bases in Iraq be closed, all security agreements with the US and with US security companies be ended, and a schedule for the exit of all US forces be announced. Sadr announced that the resistance to the US troop presence in Iraq will halt temporarily if an orderly departure is announced and implemented. Otherwise, he said, the resistance to US troops would be activated.

A million Iraqi protesters chanted “no, no to occupation.” The Iraqi parliament voted for us to leave. The Iraqi prime minister asked us to leave. Maj. Gen. Alex Grynkewich, the US deputy commander in Iraq and Syria, said last week that US troops in Iraq are more threatened by Shi’ite militias than ISIS.

So, before more US troops die for nothing in Iraq, why don’t we listen to the Iraqi people and just come home? Let the people of the Middle East solve their own problems and let’s solve our problems at home.

Reprinted from the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity

Trade Sanctions Are Both Immoral and Ineffective

Trade Sanctions Are Both Immoral and Ineffective

On January 10, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin announced new economic sanctions imposed on Iran in response to its missile strikes against US forces in Iraq. The sanctions target enterprises operating in the manufacturing, textile, construction, and mining sectors. President Trump said that “These punishing sanctions will remain until the Iranian regime changes its behavior.”

The Iranian strikes were in retaliation to the US drone attack that killed Qasseim Soleimani, the powerful Iranian general and leader of the Quds Force. Thankfully, President Trump has chosen not to respond with any military action so as to avoid a full-blown war.

Nevertheless, new sanctions on Iran probably won’t change much. A long history of failed sanctions, which weren’t able to change the opposing regimes, can attest to that.

The Unintended Economic Consequences of Trade Sanctions

Almost ten years ago, Jonathan Catalán wrote an article on this same issue for the Mises Wire. Things haven’t changed since then. Governments continue to enforce trade restrictions on rival nations. Catalán explained that:

Trade sanctions are meant to destabilize regimes, forcing them to compromise with the aggressing government. Sanctions do this by threatening the regime’s survivability, by undermining any support it may have amongst the population.

Indeed, the target of these measures is the population of the nation, not its government. In a weakened economy, people may turn against the regime they live under. In Iran this has not occurred, although the regime has had embargoes placed on it since the Revolution of 1979.

Sanctions weaken these nations’ economies, because they prevent exchanges that would have been made otherwise. Since any exchange is only made because it’s mutually beneficial, both parties end up worse off. We can illustrate this in terms of a trade between two individuals. Suppose Jim works for the textile industry in Iran and wants to buy cotton from Josh, who grows it in New Zealand. With the new embargoes, Josh’s cotton becomes too expensive, and Jim is forced to buy from a less productive national dealer. If Jim can’t cut costs, he must raise prices and his business might even become unprofitable outright.

Josh is also worse off in this scenario. He has lost a client, perhaps a long-time and trustworthy one. Both sides of the transaction lose with a prohibition such as this. Not only do Iranian importers lose their ability to buy cheaper and/or better products from abroad, but foreigners likewise lose their ability to buy Iranian products.

Sanctions destroy the international division of labor, which, as Ludwig von Mises explained, is the foundation of civilization itself. If the division of labor allows for specialization in an economy, the resources tend to shift to those locations where they are more value productive, and sanctions hamper this wealth generation and distribution mechanism.

Of course, the size of the harm is proportionate to the strength and scope of the embargo. In Iran, we have seen various cases of the consequences of disrupting these individuals’ and enterprises’ position on the global market. Catalán continu

trade sanctions that have been in place since 1979 have made it too difficult for Iranian airlines to modernize their aircraft fleets, or to procure the spare parts necessary to maintain them. The unfortunate result has been an increasing rate of aerial accidents, leading to the injury and death of at least dozens—if not hundreds—of individuals. It could not possibly be the fear that spare parts meant for Iranian civilian airlines may be used to maintain Iranian combat aircraft. It’s doubtful that two very complex and very different machines use the same parts.

In addition to that, the most recent sanctions on financial institutions have caused medicine shortages. Although the trade of humanitarian goods is still allowed, many foreign banks and outside suppliers are breaking off their relations with Iranian partners, which endangers the importation of vital goods and equipment used in the treatment of serious illnesses.

In an article written for the medical journal The Lancet, three doctors working at MAHAK Pediatric Cancer Treatment and Research Center in Tehran noted that the establishment of sanctions have caused a “scarcity of drugs due to the reluctance of pharmaceutical companies to deal with Iran.” They also warned that

Within the next 3 months, shortages of vincristine and ifosfamide will prevent proper treatments of CNS tumours, lymphomas, Wilms’ tumour, sarcomas, and retinoblastoma. An unsustainable situation will rapidly develop because essential medicines for paediatric cancer treatments in low-income and middle-income countries listed by WHO are the 30 most prescribed drugs in our hospital. The purchase of any medical equipment…will become all but impossible and further jeopardise treatment conditions. During the previous embargo, radiation treatments in our hospital were interrupted for 2 months until spare parts could be imported.

The Failed History of Trade Sanctions

But what if, from the point of view of the US government, the trade sanctions meet their objectives? Couldn’t these undesired consequences just be the opportunity cost of a peaceful and prosperous Iran of the future, when the current regime is dethroned and a democratic regime instituted for the rest of time?

Historically, this hasn’t been the case at all. Iran is itself a great example. The first embargo, as we have discussed, was issued in 1979, when a terrorist group held hostages at the US embassy in Tehran. This embargo froze Iranian assets in American banks and developed into a full trade sanction. It lasted until 1981, when a deal was signed with the Iranian government.

But sanctions were again instituted in 1987, in 1995, in 2011, and in the last couple of years as well. The United Nations also imposed sanctions in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2015. Iran hasn’t transitioned to a democratic regime since 1979, and it doesn’t seem to be happening any time soon. The government’s nuclear program isn’t being tossed out, either.

Another example of failed sanctions is Cuba. It has been the target of embargoes since 1960 as a response to the expropriations of Americans citizens and companies by the Cuban revolutionary government. According to Nelson Rodríguez Chartrand:

In 1992, the embargo turned into a law and, in 1996, the United States Congress passed the so-called Helms-Burton Act, which prohibited American citizens from doing business within the Island or with the Cuban government—although the justification for the embargo has been, for long, the lack of civil liberties and the human rights violations by the Cuban regime.

Besides having to endure the regime’s imposed collectivist economy, the population has to live with an additional strangulation of wealth caused by sanctions. Of course, the main cause of Cuba’s poverty is socialism, which makes capital accumulation and a rational resource allocation impossible. But the embargoes do help keep Cubans poorer. Yet, there’s no reason to believe the Cuban population is any closer to overthrowing the Cuban state than it was in 1960. And if the population does rise in revolt, there’s no reason to assume the uprising is due to American sanctions.

Free Markets and Free People

If the history of sanctions is a thoroughly failed one, then what could be a way out for Iran? We have to exchange war, restrictions, and prohibitions for peace, trade, and information.

If history has taught us a lesson, it certainly is that interventionism doesn’t work. In the economic arena it causes impoverishment, and on battlegrounds it causes death, suffering, and unnecessary harm. Now is the time to end impoverishing and ineffective economic sanctions in all their forms.

Reprinted from the Mises Institute.

News Roundup

News Roundup 6/4/20

George Floyd Protests The charges against Derek Chauvin have been upgraded to second-degree murder. The three other police officers who assisted in the murder have been charged. [Link] Secretary of Defense Mark Esper says he does not support using the Insurrection...

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Police Provoke Riot in Pittsburgh

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Dear Leader Hides in Bunker

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Free Man Beyond the Wall

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Judge Rules Biden to Be Named in Ukrainian Criminal Probe

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Trump Withdraws from Another Important Treaty with Russia

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