Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Proxy Wars

The Communist governments were the initial sponsors and trainers of Arab terrorists in the 1960s. By using proxies, communists found they could engage us or our allies in battles without our retaliation. Thus, terrorism was born. Recently Russia came to the aid of Saddam in his final hour and China backs North Korea and Iran. Are we failing to recognize the greater threat?

36 Comments:

Blogger Weingarten said...

Some of us do not believe that America's attempts to negotiate with Iran or North Korea will work. America's threats are viewed as empty, while her bribes are treated as rewards for terrorism. We seem to be guided by 'speak loudly, but carry a small stick.'

It may also be noted that those who favor negotiations never consider what they would do if countries spurned our efforts. Presumably they would say 'We must negotiate better' or 'We will threaten them with sanctions by the UN'.

I do not interpret our efforts as sincere attempts to protect America, but rather as palliatives, so as to pretend that we are doing something. In short, our political leaders are behaving for the sake of deceiving the public. In this, they succeed, for Republicans believe that their administration is doing what it should, while Democrats believe that their appeasement would suffice.

Given this situation, it would be better if we didn't do anything at all. We would be better off with a retreat, recognizing that we don't have what it takes to resist the enemy. Here, there would be less cost to us, and less celebration by our adversaries.

We might even say to Iran and North Korea, that we cannot stop their perfection of nuclear weapons and delivery systems. However, given any destruction on American soil, our missiles are aimed to wipe them out. They might counter that it leaves them open to destruction if they didn't do anything. To that we would answer 'You can easily prevent this by disarming to the satisfaction of our inspections.'

7/12/06, 9:44 AM  
Blogger Always On Watch said...

Jason,
Excuse me for being off topic, but I want to be sure that you see this.

7/12/06, 11:42 AM  
Blogger Mr. Ducky said...

Communists birthed terrorism. Why Mr. Pappas you don't seem to know nothing 'bout birthin'.

How do you explain the critical role of terrorism in the birth of the Israeli state?

7/12/06, 2:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Our enemies are still using proxies. China has North Korea, which means that it gets "free shots" at S. Korean, Taiwan and Japan and can then turn around and pretend to be peace maker by engaging in "negotiations" with the West.

Iran is fighting a proxy war against America not only through its support of terrorists but through arming insurgents in Iraq. Iran is also funding Hamas and Hizbollah.

But the US and the West will just pretend that its not so and continue the sharade of "peace talks." Actually its really useless to try to make sense out of this anymore. It is what it must be given the philosophical landscape of the culture.

The modern ethical codes are all altruistc; whether they be religious or secular. And a consistent, rational cognitive methodology is non-existent anywhere in the cultre let alone in the political realm. There simply is no way things could be any better and many ways they could be worse.

We are drifting towards something terrible. How soon it will happen and how much time we have before it happens is difficult to forecast. It may be years or decades. But reality can not be denied. We simply can not appease and embolden Islamic savages and then not expect them to kill us.

F.T.L.

7/12/06, 3:22 PM  
Blogger Charles N. Steele said...

Re China: Babbin is way off target on China. First, the Chinese gov't isn't a monolith, nor does it have a definite strategy for confrontation with America.

Second, China is going to be a major world power (not just the regional one it is today).

The U.S. ought not pursue a policy of confrontation with China as some (e.g. Rumsfeld) have urged, as this will help those in China who indeed would favor confrontation with us.

Re N. Korea & Iran -- these are two very different problems, and neither presents a good military option. N. Korea is a completely failed state with a basket case economy, run by a crazed dictator, who apparently has nukes. The regime's days are numbered, but it would make little sense to provoke the madman into taking the whole peninsula with him. BTW, the Chinese tend to be in agreement on this, and -- contrary to what "anonymous" thinks -- have strong ties with S. Korea -- particularly commercial ties.

Iran is a conundrum...radical shiite Muslims in charge, a sizeable portion of the populace pro-west/pro-American, no nukes (yet) but apparently a well-dispersed nuclear infrastructure that can't be elmininated with airstrikes.

Re Russia & China together: there's good reason to think that Russia is tilting towards the "Russia as Eurasian" view, and this -- plus the inevitable pressure they'll feel from Chinese demographics to the east (predicted to be Russia's #1 minority before long, especially in the east) -- plus fear of American hegemony & unilateralism ...hence Russia seems to be developing a strategic and economic partnership with China. Not a good thing, but in part fostered by bad U.S. foreign policy.

7/12/06, 5:48 PM  
Blogger Gjournal said...

"Re N. Korea & Iran -- these are two very different problems, and neither presents a good military option."

You're a libertarian Charles, when is there ever a "good militay option"? You're a pascifist by definition (the essence of a libertarian foreign policy). This pretty much renders anything you have to say on foreign matters highly suspect at best (at very best).

Libertarians are every bit the hate-America surrender monkeys that the Leftists are. They give advocates of free markets a bad name.

7/12/06, 7:08 PM  
Blogger unaha-closp said...

Recently Russia came to the aid of Saddam in his final hour and China backs North Korea and Iran.

Communism died and its sponsorship of terror fell with it. It suffered massive internal collapse.

However America was also in the terrorism sponsoring business. America backs Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Egypt and Pakistan. America set up bases in Pakistan and sent Sunni jihadi terrorists into Afghanistan.

911 was carried out by Saudis & Egyptians, working for a Saudi led organisation derived from the Muslim Brotherhood. Iraq is under attack from jihadiis and recently a Yemenese court ruled it legal to participate in jihad in Iraq. In Afghanistan the allies are attacked by Pashtun fighters from Pakistans tribal areas, who have strongly suspected links to the ISI. The same Sunni jihad has massacred Russian children in Beslan, blown up trains in Spain and India. The Sunni jihad springs from countries almost exclusively allied to America and Britain.

Are we failing to recognize the greater threat?

You mean is a superpower using Sunni jihad proxies from its satellite regimes to conduct terrorist operations? Why would America do this?

7/12/06, 7:09 PM  
Blogger Jason_Pappas said...

“America's threats are viewed as empty, while her bribes are treated as rewards for terrorism.” – Allen
I think so.

F.L.T. is right. And Charles is giving us an example. C’mon you can’t be that naïve, Charles? What has “going to be a major world power” have to do with whether they support hostile action against us and our allies? Japan, after it emerged in the 19th century, quickly became an industrial power but that didn’t make it civilized. Of course our “calling a spade a spade” becomes “provoking” according to your analysis. I’m talking about assessing the facts; not planning a course of action. That’s beyond my knowledge and ability at the moment. The author in the link has his ideas but I don’t know enough.

Unaha is right that we support terrorist regimes, Saudi Arabia, for example. And the West (US & Europe) has been the major financial supporter of the Palestinians in the West Bank directly or through the UN. Without our funds they’d most likely have moved elsewhere a long time ago. As a matter of fact, the Palestinian Diaspora is quite large; it’s were most of the moderates are! However, Unaha, it wasn’t our intention to support terrorists. It’s just our stupidity. Perhaps that’s another part of hiding our heads in the sand and denying what's really happening.

7/12/06, 8:25 PM  
Blogger Mr. Beamish the Instablepundit said...

How do you explain the critical role of terrorism in the birth of the Israeli state?

How do you explain why we can find the basis for your question up your ass, but not in a history book?

7/13/06, 4:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How do you explain the critical role of terrorism in the birth of the Israeli state?

Those were vile communist Jews not part of the real zoinist movement, they were striking at Britain on orders from their Soviet masters. Those terrorist communist were later driving forces in establishing kibbutz (collective communist evil) farms and trying to make Israel a socialist state.

7/13/06, 7:04 PM  
Blogger Always On Watch said...

Recently Russia came to the aid of Saddam in his final hour and China backs North Korea and Iran. Are we failing to recognize the greater threat?

Money and totalitarian ideology.

7/13/06, 8:58 PM  
Blogger Mr. Beamish the Instablepundit said...

Anonymous,

You don't play with your food, do you?

I don't mean to take away your fun, but why not ask Ducky to elaborate on the "terrorism" employed in the Israeli independence movement?

You know, to make him wiggle in ignorance before eating him for breakfast.

7/14/06, 4:07 AM  
Blogger Jason_Pappas said...

The title of this thread, "Proxy Wars," was timely given that Israel is now fighting Iranian proxies, Hamas and Hezbollah. And Iran is backed by China and China's proxy, North Korea.

The media is finally using the phrase, proxy, to attribute the attack on Israel to Iran. Now let's take that a step further.

7/14/06, 6:47 AM  
Blogger Charles N. Steele said...

Gjournal, you have no concept of what libertarianism is -- unfortunately, your ignorance probably isn't your own fault, since there are indeed idiots who call themselves libertarians who are anti-American and pacifist.

By "no good military option" I mean the following: A serious military attack on N. Korea will result in the almost instant deaths of one million or more citizens of Seoul, given the enormous concentration of artillery the North has trained on the city. Alternatively, the policy of continuing to isolate/contain N. Korea makes sense: the country is technologically incompetent, and one one of the world's worst economic basket cases. Its own internal condititions make it an unsustainable regime. Contain it, cajole it, bully it, and eventually it will collapse; it's going to eventually fall apart and be absorbed into the South. This is preferable to forcing Kim Jong Il into such a corner that he thinks his only option is to take the south with him in a blaze of glory.

Re Iran: the nuclear infrastructure is said (by American military analysts) to be well-dispersed and hidden; enough so that it can't be knocked out in a series of quick airstrikes. A land invasion could potentially ferret out the sites, but U.S. military wargamers reportedly think such an invasion would be extremely costly, and likely to guarantee that the Iranian populace (and Iraqi as well) would become militantly anti-American...leaving us with the "options" of either an impossible occupation or else leaving, only to have an even nastier regime in place.

And in generla, can there be justifiable military options from a libertarian perspective? Of course there can be...the rules are the basically the same as with individual self-defense: 1) force is appropraie only for defense, initiation of force is not legitimate, 2) force should only be used against agressors, not bystanders, 3) if there's a better option than force, use it -- taking lives is serious, it's a lasst resort, not first. But when it's called for -- do it.

E.g. Israeli attacks on Hamas and Hezbollah are justified -- I can't see that Israelis have any better options -- given the goals of these groups, there's no common ground possible for peaceful settlement, and both groups are clearly agressing against peaceful people.

Jason -- what alleged naivete are you referring to? (I can't figure out your comment -- I guess that's naivete).

What hostile actions against the U.S. have the Chinese supported? (I guess that's one thing you are saying).

As for the inevitability of China as a world power -- some (maybe most) of the advocates of starting a cold war against China seem to think that China can be prevented from becoming a world power -- the idea being that they can be isolated in a fashion similar to tha strategy pursued against the USSR. But the cases are not analogous. First, China's strength is primarily economic; the USSR was never an economic powerhouse. China's rise to superpower status will be built on Chinese productivity -- this is about as close to inevitable as things get in human affairs, and containing it is neither possible nor sensible.

Second, China is not motivated by a desire to spread communist ideology; this ideology is dead within China. The Chinese are motivated first of all by a desire to be a developed country. This goal is compatible with Americans' interests. We ought to be pursuing better ties with them.

An example of how *not* to treat the Chinese -- when China attempted to purchase Unocal, Congress went nuts about selling ""our" American oil to the Chinese (even though most of Unocal's holding were in Asia); when the deal was nixed, the Chinese struck a new oil deal with Iran. We shoot ourselves with this sort of behavior.

BTW, China's current authoritarianism is not sustainable, and China will change, but I've said too much already so won't make this case.

We ought to pursue strategies that

7/15/06, 1:40 PM  
Blogger Mr. Beamish the Instablepundit said...

By "no good military option" I mean the following: A serious military attack on N. Korea will result in the almost instant deaths of one million or more citizens of Seoul, given the enormous concentration of artillery the North has trained on the city.

Neutron bombs dropped from high altitude have a tendency of making artillery crews permanently late for work....

7/15/06, 6:22 PM  
Blogger Jason_Pappas said...

My only reason for saying you are naïve, Charles, is that you seem to believe economic rationality wins over other forces. I gave the example of Japan (of 100 years ago,) which industrialized by mimicking Western ways but never got the soul or mindset that animated the West in the first place: rights aimed at securing the sovereignty and dignity of the individual.

I believe China is undergoing a similar industrial modernization. As you note it's government is authoritarian while it has introduced much freedom in its economy; that contradiction isn’t stable. But it isn’t clear how that contradiction will resolve itself. I don’t know. I have hopes but hopes aren’t facts.

Usually, a crisis puts a nation to the test. This may be an internal economic crisis, international depression, or war. We can’t do much about the first, we may inadvertently cause the second, and we have to maintain a deterrent to avoid the last. I believe China is testing us and our Pacific allies with regards to military commitment, in part, via North Korea. Dictators often resort to military adventures in times of crisis and I worry that China may do so.

We, however, need strong allies. But we’ve prevented Japan from re-arming. We need a strong South Korea. And we have a strong ally in Australia. But it makes no sense to protect weak allies … I think this was one of the points made by the author of the link (Babbin.) We are taking too much of the burden and at too high a cost. What do you think?

7/16/06, 8:40 AM  
Blogger Charles N. Steele said...

Beamish: The neutron bomb is still on the drawing board. It does not exist. If it did, I'm not sure it could be used in the "surgical" fashion required here.

But if there *is* an effective way to counter the North's threat to the South that I mentioned, then of course my argument in the N.K. case is incorrect.

Jason: your Japan example makes a good point -- my "economic forces" argument isn't a general law that always trumps all else. But I don't think China is at all equivalent to Japan in the early 1900s -- Japan (Japanese culture, government, society in general) was militarist in a way that China is not. I say this both from my own experience living and working in China, as well as from reading literature from Western China experts and the Chinese themselves. I think your characterization of China is simply mistaken.

It's important to be guided not only by correct moral principles (about which I have always thought you & I are largely in agreement) but also correct factual details of the case in question.

Finally, we have not prevented Japan from re-arming. The Japanese themselves, through their Constitution, do this. Yes, I know the Constitution was imposed on them after WWII, but the Japanese themselves are for the most part loathe to change this.

Of course, not all Japanese are in agreement, and unfortunately Japanese militarist and racist tendencies aren't dead. Don't be so quick to ask for a re-armed Japan. (Ask the South Koreans, or for that matter the Taiwanese, how they'd regard a re-armed Japan -- I don't think ANY country in the region would view it with other than great alarm.)

7/17/06, 11:57 AM  
Blogger Jason_Pappas said...

No doubt the Chinese are different but is that a stark difference or a superficial difference? The horror of Communist rules suggests an underlying problem. I worry that the calm surface may hide a susceptibility to greater authoritarian rule; and with that the accompanying temptation for aggression that authoritarian governments so easily succumb if not countered by strength. From my Chinese-born employees and friends, I get different opinions. I hope the Chinese can prevent the backsliding that we’ve seen in Russia. The acceptance of Hong Kong’s way of economic functioning is a hopeful sign.

After 60 exemplary years, Japan deserves respect for her achievement. Besides we can’t continue giving her (and others) "defense welfare." Given China’s influence over North Korea, we should counter with a suggestion that Japan alter her constitution and re-arm. I believe China is testing our response via North Korea. And we are responding poorly.

7/17/06, 3:16 PM  
Blogger Charles N. Steele said...

Jason: as you note, the case of China is ambiguous. A number of Chinese I know who were all active in the ill-fated democracy movement complain that today's Chinese care about nothing but making money and boosting their own consumption. And the desirability of this is a main line of domestic propaganda openly pushed by the state.

This is a far cry from pre-WWII Japan, which was not ambiguous -- all Japanese schools taught militarism and that the highest duty of each Japanese was to happily die for the emperor. They also subjected students to brutal military discipline. It was a culture based on war.

I personally am not overly scared of Japan (although it *is* disturbing that unlike the Germans the Japanese generally refuse to acknowledge any war guilt and tend to see themselves as victims of WW2). But it is no exaggeration to say that all of Japan's East Asian neighbors are scared of a rearmed Japan -- enough so that a resurgent Japanese military would run a very high risk of generating regional military alliances that coalesce around China -- exactly what the U.S. should NOT encourage.

The U.S. actually CAN afford to keep Japan on "defense welfare." East Asia is one place where the U.S. sensibly can maintain a strong military presence. Some libertarian purists will disagree, but I cannot see any better alternative at the present.

Finally, there's really no current crisis wrt China, and no need to provoke one.

7/17/06, 5:37 PM  
Blogger Charles N. Steele said...

One more important point re China: China (esp. the Chinese gov't) is a major investor in the U.S. (in essence, the Chinese are funding the U.S. action in Iraq and then some). And the U.S. is a major customer for Chinese firms. China has a very exposed position vis a vis the U.S. economy and would be more hurt by a collapse in Sino-American relations than would the U.S.

This provides a basis for cooperation that is much stronger than the Sinophobes recognize.

7/17/06, 6:04 PM  
Blogger Weingarten said...

Charles Steele writes that “the case of China is ambiguous” where some hold that making money and boosting consumption is the primary motive. Part of the ambiguity is that there are also Chinese who are nationalistic. It may be noted that when China held the American airplane on her territory, every Chinese newspaper *in America* supported the Chinese government, out of nationalism. It is also the case that China has built up her military, without the existence of any threat to her.

Perhaps one way to test the aims of China is to see how they deal with N. Korea. My expectation is that China will ensure that N. Korea is not impeded in her development of nuclear weapons.

7/18/06, 8:35 AM  
Blogger Charles N. Steele said...

Weingarten: You are right about Chinese nationalism -- it is very prevalent. But this isn't necessarily ominous -- most Chinese seem to be very pro-China, very patriotic. (What would we expect, after all.) This isn't equivalent to nationalistic in the sense of fascism.

The Chinese indeed saw (and see) American spy planes as a provocation -- this isn't remarkable nor ominous -- what would we say if Chinese planes were entering airspace that we claimed?

Conservative Sinophobes keep saying that the Chinese are building a military even though they face no military threat -- but "no military threat" is a bizarre claim, since these conservatives themselves are arguing that the world's strongest military should be used to isolate China. This should make every Chinese leader favor a strong Chinese military. The Chinese economy crucially depends on international trade, and if the U.S. changes from being a good-willed protector of world shipping lanes to an anti-Chinese force, then China will have little choice but to confront the U.S. The more sabre-rattling the U.S. directs at China, the more we re-inforce their fears and encourage exactly the wrong kind of behavior.

Again, it bears repeating that the Chinese government is pragmatic, not ideological. The first goal is to retain power, and to do this they need constinued strong economic growth. The government is well aware that their number one threat is domestic unrest over domestic economic conditions. They absolutely need access to trade, and to foreign oil, to survive. If it's cheaper and easier to obtain these w/o military confrontation with the U.S., then they'll avoid the confrontation. All we have to do to change the equation is to try to contain China, a startegy that will ultimately fail. China isn't the USSR.

Other military threats: China hears about the possibility of a re-armed Japan (all of East Asia fears this), China also faces regional powers Russia and India and has in recent memory (in the last 40-50 years, post WWII) had violent border conflicts with each. Plus the Chinese military is currently not even up to 20th century standards, never mind 21st century.

Bottom line -- China faces real military threats. Modernization of the Chinese military isn't proof that China is bent on domination of the world or military confrontation with the U.S.

In general, it is a mistake to interpret the behavior of foreign countries solely from a U.S. perspective, if we're trying to understand it. I am an American patriot, and I also doubt that the U.S. would start a war of aggression on China. But I cannot think of any good reason why a Chinese would or should share these views, and I would expect them to have a "China-first" perspective.

What we (both sides) ought to be doing is realizing that international relations are not a zero-sum game, and working towards mutual actions that push us both towards freer trade & increased cooperation.

7/18/06, 11:36 AM  
Blogger Weingarten said...

Charles Steele writes that the Chinese saw American planes as a provocation, and asks what we would say if Chinese planes were entering our airspace. In the event that a plane was over international waters, I do not think that America would have made this a long standing issue, nor held their crew members hostage.

Next, he justifies the Chinese building of a military by pointing to the US military. Apparently, Charles sees moral equivalence between the Chinese threat to Taiwan, and America’s defense. It is conceivable that China really fears Japan, Russia, and India. However, when Mr. Steele finds that in the dealings between China and America, it is not China who is primarily at fault, I suspect that he is guided by an ideology, rather than by geopolitical facts.

I expect China to have a China-first perspective, but that perspective need not include the persecution of dissenters, or a controlled press, or an educational system (as covered by ‘60 Minutes’) that caricatures America. Nor are such political factors overcome by trade and cooperation. Economic need does not translate into a commitment to liberty.

At any rate, my test of China will be whether it defends N. Korea. I presume that when she does, Mr. Steele will find this no more aggressive than when America tries to deny N. Korea nuclear weapons.

7/18/06, 5:15 PM  
Blogger Weingarten said...

Most of us are not, and cannot become, experts on China. Nonetheless, we need to make political decisions on such matters. How can we do so without taking extensive time to be familiar with the issues, and their underlying concepts? Note that in these areas there isn’t a consensus by the experts that we can build upon. We can aught but select among the positions taken. Yet on what basis can this selection be made? I submit that we can and should employ common sense criteria.
Consider the conflicts between America and China. We cannot know the extensive particulars of all that is involved. Yet should our bias be for a country with a free press, or for one with a controlled press? Is it for a nation built on the inalienable rights of the individual, or on collectivism? This does not mean that our side is always right, and the other side always wrong. Even in the fairly black and white contrast between Germans and Americans in WWII, there were anti-fascist Germans and pro-fascist Americans. Moreover, it may not be clear what the long range consequences of actions are. At the time, it must have seemed a good idea to assassinate Hitler. Yet this might have resulted in a negotiated peace settlement, instead of the trouncing defeat that resulted.

*We the public, can aught but have broad brush strokes for evaluating the positions of nations.* At the present, I would contrast America’s and China’s stands on issues such as: countering or defending the Arab-Muslim war on the West; favoring South Korea or North Korea; obtaining more or less freedom for Hong Kong; supporting Taiwan or dominating her. Here, we can draw inferences for evaluating the geopolitical positions of America vis-à-vis China.

Similarly, we can contrast them with regard to the morality of supporting the rights of the individual, or subordinating them to the State. This not to deny the collectivism within America, nor the entrepreneurship in China. It is rather a relative comparison. (It strikes me that libertarians, in their opposition to government, frequently find that the authoritarian and totalitarian regimes are less culpable than is America.)

There is another broad brush criteria for contrasting nations, namely the good will of the populace. Americans wish well for other nations, as we know by conversations, by the way that politicians appeal to them, and by our mistaken willingness to provide foreign aid. We think in terms of support for others. This is not the same in other countries, as seen by polls, and by the political rhetoric of their politicians.

Finally, let us discount the bias of our wishful thinking, where America is consistently over optimistic in her expectations of the good will of others, and all too readily engaged in self-reproach. Whether it is negotiations with North Korea, the oil for food approach toward Iraq, the reliance upon the UN, or the “peace process” with the Arabs, our error is continually in thinking too highly of others. This does not mean that we need to be paranoid about the threat by China. Even if we are Sino-phobic, we can feel assured, knowing that they have a chink in their armor.

Now one can claim that the above approach is mistaken, or that it can be applied to conclude that China is our ally. However, my main point is that the method of forming common sense judgments is an alternative to picking and choosing amongst the plethora of geopolitical particulars, which requires expertise that we cannot have.

7/19/06, 9:47 AM  
Blogger Charles N. Steele said...

Weingarten, you have completely missed my points re China -- I hasten to add that you and I seem to be talking past each other, so I don't mean this as a criticism of you.

I was not endorsing the Chinese interpretation of the spy plane incident. I am instead pointing out that the Chinese don't have the same interpretation that you and I do, and it isn't simply because of malevolence on their part.

My general point is that we should *not* do the following: 1) equate the principles that America was founded upon with actions of Americans in any particular case (since this would mean that we falsely equate all American actions with moral actions), 2) assume that foreigners also see things this way, and hence any resistance to American actions implies maliciousness on their part.

I realize that this is something of a caricature of your position, but I think you and others here have a tendency to do this at times. And it bears repeating, I'm not making any case regarding the moral equivalence of the U.S. & Chinese systems.

The point I most want to make is that much of what each side (e.g. U.S. & China) considers obvious objective facts are actually facts combined with additional assumptions and subjective interpretations -- and if we miss the point that we are including these subjective elements -- both our own and each other's -- then we fail to understand each other and each other's motivations.

So for example: "the Chinese are building a military even when they face no threats" and "the Americans are threatening us, we'd better build a military" are both honestly held views -- and our mutual failure to understand this prompts us all into actions that re-inforce actions on each others part that are exactly what neither side really wants.

An aside -- the "always blame the U.S. 'libertarians'" are a minority among libertarians, and mostly an insane bunch of vocal kooks; real libertarianism is simply placing individual liberty as the highest value and goal for politics. By this standard, Thomas Jefferson was a libertarian, Ayn Rand was a libertarian, so were Hayek & Mises, so is Milton Friedman, etc....none of whom qualify as anti-American surrender monkeys.

Finally, for anyone who has read this far... you clearly have plenty of free time, so I suggest you go to my blog and read my latest post, discussing when war is justified by a libertarian standard. Your comments are welcome. Just click the lovely picture on the right and follow the links to Unforeseen Contingencies.

7/19/06, 1:49 PM  
Blogger Weingarten said...

Charles, I haven’t missed your points regarding China. I accept the fact that the Chinese have a different interpretation of the spy plane incident. However, unlike you, I do not attribute this to an honest view, but to malevolence. I think you harbor the view that 40 million Chinamen cannot be Wong.

I agree that the principles that America was founded upon does not guarantee that America is correct in any particular case, nor do I presume that foreigners see things as we do, or are necessarily malicious. In particular I wrote “This does not mean that our side is always right, and the other side always wrong.” What I have claimed instead is that there are many reasons to conclude that China is in fact aggressive.

You say that you are not claiming moral equivalence between the US and Chinese systems, but somehow manage not to conclude that the US approach is morally superior with regard to such matters as N. Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the Arab/Israeli conflict. Did I misinterpret your position, so that you in fact claim that the US is morally superior with regard to these issues?

I accept your view that each side has different interpretations and assumptions. Do you accept the fact that this was true regarding Hitler Germany, the USSR, and N. Korea as well? (No, I am not saying that China is the same as them.) There is however a matter of objectivity, as well as the existence of aggressive intent. This is not a matter of presuming this to be the case, but of concluding it. Nor do I necessarily always conclude in favor of America. For example, I have concluded that the US was mistaken in many cases, such as in our entering Viet Nam, dealing with Slobodon Milosovich, and selling out the Kurds and the Tibetans.

So I disagree that the Chinese have honestly held the view that the Americans are threatening them, any more than the Soviets believed it to be the case. Now you will claim that I am wrong, yet I have not misinterpreted your position, but have a different interpretation of reality. (I recognize your scholarship and intelligence, and view our discussion as an honest difference of opinion.)

Similarly, I disagree that “the always blame the U.S. 'libertarians' are a minority…” and cancelled my 6 year membership in the party for precisely that reason. I found that there was little sympathy for the pro-American position. The same holds for the Future of Freedom Foundation, and for the Ludwig von Mises blog. It is not that we are talking past one another, but that we fundamentally disagree as to what the situation is. I concur with the positions of Jefferson, Rand, Hayek, and Mises. However, when it comes to foreign relations, the majority libertarian view is to blame America for our conflicts with the Arab-Muslim bloc. (Have you encountered one plank in the program of the libertarian party that has supported America in her war with Iraq?)

I did examine your position with regard to war, and concur that force should be confined to defense. However, I maintain that the Arab-Muslim bloc has been at war with us, for at least 50 years. Consequently, I advocate counter attacks on them and their allies. Similarly, I believe that Germany was at war with us by 1934, and that the Soviets were at war with us by 1945, and claim that the sooner we would have fought back, the less costly it would have been.

7/19/06, 4:51 PM  
Blogger Weingarten said...

In a previous post regarding Charles Steele’s position on China, I addressed the criteria to be employed when inferring what motivates a country. In particular, I submitted the biases we should employ, regarding a country that was collectivist, with a controlled press, that took certain aggressive political positions. I also wrote “let us discount the bias of our wishful thinking, where America is consistently over optimistic in her expectations of the good will of others…” Allow me to now expand upon the bias of our wishful thinking, which may get to the heart of why I take a pessimistic view of China.

The Nature of Man and Government

There is a flattering view of man that presumes him to be essentially good. It goes far back in history, where the belief that man is made in the image of God, is misinterpreted to suggest that man is fundamentally decent in his behavior. It is popular to espouse that view, and politically suicidal to deny it. Today virtually all of the West holds to the virtue of democracy, pretending that when a majority of people favor a position, it is likely to be sound.

Yet the reality surely contains the hundred million murders in the 20th century, and endless other dastardly deeds. Even in the rare developmental periods of civilization, there is excessive corruption and horrific acts. Those who argue that this is not due to the nature of man, but to his systems of society, and his leaders, disregard that it is man who has engendered these systems and chosen his leaders. As has been said “People get the government they deserve.”

The denial of the wickedness of man, is all the more striking when done by those libertarians who find every real and imagined fault of our government to be excessive. Yet they find the behavior of authoritarian governments, such as that of China, somehow reasonable by contrast. This despite the fact that not that long ago there were millions of victims in “Collectivization” “The Great Leap Forward” and “The Cultural Revolution”. (Some view the murders to range in the tens of millions, see: http://freedomspeace.blogspot.com/2005/11/reevaluating-chinas-democide-to-be.html.) Somehow these libertarians conclude that China’s leaders have reformed, and are no longer guided by ruthless power, but primarily by pragmatism.

Yet how can we understand man’s depredations, when it would be so much more effective to not initiate force, but to follow the golden rule, or merely to not kill, steal, or lie? Why is it that throughout history, the few who have held to principle and honor have been persecuted by the mass?

*Man is a hybrid, motivated by an irreconcilable conflict between his passions (or animal drives or emotions) and his aspirations (or precepts or reason).* The most important thing in his life is his next choice between whether to accede to his emotions or to be guided by his reason.

Civilization is but a thin veneer over the beastly nature of man. Man needs government to curtail the barbarian within, yet that government itself cannot avoid being compromised by self-serving leaders. At best, we can have a minimal government that is confined to protecting the rights of the individual, along with checks and balances, that constrain the ambitious drives of leaders. (Note that even such paragons as Jefferson and Adams spent much of their lives in unprincipled attacks upon one another.)

From those who take an optimistic view of man, I would like an explanation for the behavior of the United Nations. Can they deny that this institution which never seriously attacks the terrorists, repeatedly condemns Israel for merely defending herself? From the Objectivists and von Mises followers who harbor an optimistic view, I ask how they explain that virtually all men attack their self-evident positions.

7/20/06, 10:05 AM  
Blogger Charles N. Steele said...

Weingarten, thanks for your response. I'll reply only to your first response to my previous post (the second one deserves a closer reading than I've yet given it).

Yes, I do think that the U.S. positions on Taiwan and Hong Kong are morally superior to the Chinese gov't positions. (Indeed, you & I have been talking past each other.)

I completely disagree that it is malevolence on the part of the Chinese that leads them to have some fear the U.S., and hence to see such things as U.S. intelligence flights as provoking. So yes, I think you're wrong on this matter. Here come the China lecture (I apologize, but I love this subject and can't help myself.)

Given what everyone in China knows, it is very reasonable for them to have mistrust about U.S. gov't actions.

After all, "everyone" in China knows the following facts:

1. China is the world's oldest continual civilization, and has contributed enormously to the rest of the world (e.g. inventions of paper, printing, gunpowder, civil service bureaucracy (ugh) etc.)

2. Despite this, China has always been pathetically weak, and whenever the Chinese have dealt with foreigners (e.g. Mongols, Western Europeans, Manchurians, Japanese) they've fared badly. (Every Chinese knows that when Imperial China tried to outlaw opium, the British crushed them because the British didn't want to lose their Chinese opium market).

3. The traditional Chinese response to foreigners has been to isolate themselves -- Great Wall, burning of their own imperial fleet, Mao's completely closed borders, etc. It never worked.

4. One of Deng Xiaoping's main principles of reform is that China must stop being closed, and must open itself to foreign ideas, investment, trade. But he added that can China must always insist on being treated with respect, treated as an equal by other countries. No more being pushed around.

5. China should be a great country, and not a third-world wreck (as it was under Mao). "Great country" means wealthy and strong, i.e. not pushed around by others (again, keep in mind that historically China was pushed around -- Chinese were always quick to tell me how weak and pathetic China was...even under Mao.)

Again, "everyone" in China knows the above, and the points are basically true, and not ideological.

Now, what does the average Chinese know about the positions and motivations of the American government (or for that matter, what does the average Chinese official know)? My impression is that they generally assume that the American government pursues self-serving policies, a position which isn't unreasonable, and is in fact correct. If the Chinese don't see that the American gov't is clearly morally superior, it isn't because of malevolence on their part.

Despite this, my own experience (teaching economics at the university level in China) impressed me that Chinese are still remarkably pro-American, given:

1. the near-complete isolation and propagandization of China under Mao,

2. the partial control of media that currently exists in China,

3. the difficulties of communicating across cultural and language barriers.

All of this together suggests it is not malevolence that would lead Chinese to be suspicious of American policies -- particularly when some Americans (e.g. Donald Rumsfeld) openly state that China is our next big military enemy, when other Americans (about half of Congress) call for a trade war every time China "attacks" us by sending us another boatlaod of inexpensive goods for our Walmarts. (The Chinese can't figure this last one out at all.)

It also suggests that if we treat China like an enemy, we'll surely find we were "right," the Chinese will be united against us. But if we treat them reasonably -- as a flawed country but rapidly changing country, one with whom we have some common ground (and yes, very important differences as well) we'll influence China to develop in a different and more benevolent way. I can't make a complete case for this here, but at least you should get my basic point -- this isn't a call for surrender or moral capitulation nor a claim that the Chinese system is desirable. It is a recognition that China is changing, that it is opening up and evolving and slowly improving, and there's no reason we should provoke the Chinese to shift to a militaristic anti-American path, something that would cut short their evolution to a better system.

Finally, re libertarians: I have no statistics, but it seems clear that most libertarians are not LP members (many LP members don't seem to be libertarians, but that's another issue). And certainly the Lew Rockwell camp is a minority among libertarians (unfortunately a very vocal one).

7/20/06, 6:16 PM  
Blogger Charles N. Steele said...

W: re your second reply. I reject the basic premise of the "Man is inherently good" vs. "Man is inherently wicked" debate -- the premise being that man is somehow good or bad. Ethics derive from human purpose and values, and aren't some sort of abstractions that would still somehow exist if there were no people. The view that ethics are some sort of free-standing things, and we can use them to judge mankind as innately good or evil, is a religious position that I think is completely wrong.

My argument here is straight out of Ayn Rand's definition of ethics (although I think she did not apply it consistently); it's also closely related to Hayek's theory of the evolution of ethics and culture, or for that matter game theorist Ken Binmore's "natural justice."

Humans are not good nor evil. They can engage in good action and evil action, but this is a very different thing. And it isn't just a "reason vs. passion" thing, either -- the alleged dichotomy between reason and emotion appears to largely be an illusion, as neuroscientific research is discovering.

Hence political debates that center on whether humans are basically "good" or "evil" are misguided. It makes much more sense to instead recognize that what we need are institutions that generate information and incentives for desirable behavior. Th institutions this implies are not necessarily the same as those implied by a "good" or "evil" position.

None of this precludes an optimistic view of man, either -- as human beings, it is appropriate that we be "species-sists." But the optimism is based on something other than the alleged "perfectability" of man according to some arbitrary standard. It's simply enough that we recognize we are interesting and unusual animals that are remarakably capable of developing positive-sum games to play with each other and building things that benefit ourselves and others... even while we are also capable of stupidly tearing it all down as well.

7/20/06, 6:44 PM  
Blogger Weingarten said...

I thank Charles Steele for his extensive response, and shall attempt to deal with it ad seriatum.

First, he states that “the U.S. positions on Taiwan and Hong Kong are morally superior to the Chinese gov't positions.” I am pleased to hear this, but would prefer if he not only included the central issue of North Korea, but acknowledged an overall moral superiority. Thus, is China’s position with regard to the rights of the individual (where they will have children spy on their parents) morally inferior to the American view?

Next, we concur that we disagree about the malevolence on the part of the Chinese.

We agree that China is an old civilization that has contributed to the world, that they have grievances about foreigners, have isolated themselves, are open economically, and want to be a great country. I have some qualms about his statement that China seeks openness to foreign ideas, since they persecute denizens for advocating them, and have curtailed the internet, but shall not press the point. However, when he writes that “they generally assume that the American government pursues self-serving policies” he does not consider that the teachings in their government educational system provides a wicked caricature about America. (I mentioned this as shown by 60 Minutes.)

I grant that Charles has me at a disadvantage, for he has the experience of having taught in China. Nonetheless, his interpretation that Chinese suspicion is due to America’s policies is an assertion, rather than a fact. Similarly, he asserts that it would be our treatment of her as friend or enemy that is primary, rather than their aims, which he believes are not aggressive. This is precisely where we differ, and why I addressed “the biases we should employ, regarding a country that was collectivist, with a controlled press, that took certain aggressive political positions.” Note that these in no way influence Charles’ judgment, so that although he claims the US is morally superior, that does not influence his political assessment at all.

With regard to my claim that libertarians are overwhelmingly anti-American in their foreign policy, he writes that he has no statistics, and that most libertarians are not LP members. However, one need not have statistics, nor go by the libertarian party. Simply attend a few meetings at libertarian events, or read their publications, or debate on the Mises blog or on FFF, or read Ron Paul, or strike up a conversation about the war in Iraq. This anti-American position of the libertarians was stated by Ayn Rand, long before I found it to be the case by my regretted experiences, which I found to be motivated by their desire to oppose any position taken by their government. (Again, this in no way denies that there is a sizeable minority of patriotic libertarians.)

Charles then rejects the premise that man is somehow good or bad. He views that as an abstraction that would exist as though there were no people. Presumably he could not have concluded that Germany was bad from 1932 to 1945, or that the USSR was bad, or that the UN is bad. Note that if Germany, the USSR, and the UN were paragons of virtue, this would not change Charles’ view, for he denies the validity of gauging man’s morality in an overall sense. (Somehow his position that “the U.S. positions on Taiwan and Hong Kong are morally superior to the Chinese gov't positions” is not an abstraction, but since it does not factor into his estimate, he is not employing it, even if it were an overall morality.)

He denies that humans are good or evil, for they can engage in good action or evil action (as though a ball player were not good or bad, but simply played a good game or a bad game). In this he overlooks what is preponderant. Apparently, the fact that a hundred million people were murdered in the last century, does not influence his judgment as to the moral state of man. Now I would like to engage in a metaphysical discussion of this subject, and advance the case for the moral nature of man. In particular I would affirm the distinction between reason and passions, as self-evident and puissant. Moreover, I would asseverate that the issue is not that of institutions that are responsible for man’s behavior, but man’s motives that are responsible for his institutions. However, this is not the issue in the present discussion. There is a simple consideration with regard to judging the expected behavior of nations. If the rule is such that virtually all countries act aggressively (or say that 90% are motivated to do so) it does not matter whether morality or reason or passions exist. A statistician would say that the odds are such that we expect an authoritarian nation to act aggressively, especially following a generation involving tens of millions of murders. When they note that the West has consistently erred by being overly optimistic in expecting support, only to find loss, they would discount this bias as do meta-statisticians.

Charles writes that ‘we are interesting and unusual animals that are remarakably capable of developing positive-sum games...even while we are also capable of stupidly tearing it all down.’ What he does not address are the odds for doing either, which he dismisses by the view that this stems from an abstraction.

7/21/06, 9:13 AM  
Blogger Charles N. Steele said...

I deeply regret being gone for so long, because Weingarten's reply is so provacative and interesting, but this is now a dead thread. I will give short reply anyway.

First, something simple -- neither of us have data on libertarians. My subjective estimate is that the kind of libertarian W dislikes is a minority. I have good reason to believe this and will share my reasons if anyone cares enough to contact me. I share W's disgust with the Lew Rockwell camp.

Second, I seem to have better knowledge about the Chinese -- this doesn't mean I'm winning a point, but rather that I'm sharing info that I have, hopefully to the benefit of all of us. The Chinese press isn't as controlled as W suggests, and this goes even more so for the internet. After living in China, I realize that it is not nearly so totalitarian as we generally think; I believe that Americans who live there usuaully come to this conclusion.

Third (the really interesting stuff): Man is neither inherently good nor inherently evil, if good and evil are defined as furthering human flourishing (as Aristotle put it). Humans have free will, and the goodness or evil of any individual depends on his or her choices.

Certainly I consider the Soviets and Nazis and Maoists evil -- they chose to institutionalize mass murder -- it is hard to imgaine anything worse. But had they instead chosen benevolent course, e.g. suppose they'd all decided to strictly protect everyone's Lockeian rights, they'd have been been good. There's nothing inherent here, it's a matter of free will and choice. I am absolutely opposed to any notion of

Finally, W seems to think humans are inherently evil, and cites the 100 million murdered in the 30th century as evidence. This is a wrong approach for at least two reasons. First, WWw has established guilt only for those who committed the murders, and they were certainly a minority of humans. Second, despite all the totalitarianism and institutionalized murders and multiple wars, the overwhelming statistics of the twentieth century are those of unprecendented population growth and unprecedented growth of per capita income. Yes some humans are capable of unspeakable brutality, but the predominating tendencies of humans are creativity and productivity. We are not evolutiuonary dead ends.

8/10/06, 11:59 PM  
Blogger Charles N. Steele said...

Footnote -- please forgive my typos. I'm aware that the 30th century hasn't yet arrived, for example.

As for my hanging "I am absolutely opposed to any notion of..." I meant to say that I don't believe in collective guilt (or innocence). Good and evil, and the attendant innocence and guilt, are applicable only to individuals.

8/11/06, 12:07 AM  
Blogger Jason_Pappas said...

I hadn’t had the time to address this interesting issue: is human nature evil (or have a proclivity towards evilness) or is human nature open to the development of either good or evil dispositions, characters, and (for a society) cultures? I mentioned to Allen (W) that I’d rather be talking about this than current events but hadn’t had the time.

You can guess just from my phrasing of the above question that I take the view that good and evil are cultivated character. Actually one usual speaks of cultivation in reference to the good and degeneration when dealing with evil. The point is that culture is a multi-generation evolution manifesting itself in both immediate on-the-surface practices and hidden potentialities that come to the surface usually during a crisis.

This puts me closer to Charles’ position but not exactly in his corner. I’m not completely convinced that deep and lasting change can come so easily to a nation just emerging from a totalitarian horror. Thus, the “nature” I worry about is not the limits of human nature to be good, but the “legacy culture” that could reassert itself before the new mindset has become firmly rooted in the character of a new society. It’s not so much the details of the current state in China that drive my doubt, but a difficulty in believing that deep changes in the character of a nation can take root so easily. Everyday of progress, however, helps further a new tradition.

From the mast-head of this blog, it is the evolution of a tradition of individualism that I had intended to focus when I started this blog. I have yet to get back on track.

8/11/06, 8:28 AM  
Blogger Charles N. Steele said...

Aha, the thread returns to life, at least for a moment!

Jason, your view that culture is a carrier of ethics seems very much like Hayek's view to me, and it is one I am coming to increasingly appreciate. It's also close to the views of New Institutional economists such as Douglass North and Paul David.

I phrased my free will view rather starkly simply to emphasize the difference between this and the view that individuals have an nature that is inherently moral or immoral, which I take to be Allen's view. I think this approach implies that good and evil are abstractions that would somehow exist even if there were no humans and is essentially religious in nature. Instead, good and evil must be defined relevant to some purpose or goal -- Aristotle's "flourishing," for example. That is to say, ethics makes sense only in the context of beings that choose, and are intimately connected to choice -- choice is a matter that occurs only at the individual level, and ethics tells us what we ought to choose, and ought not choose.
"Social" choices are (at least for humans) always the result of individual choices, of course. I think this is quite close to the Aristotelian/Objectivist view.

None of this means that humans are tabula rasa when it comes to making choices. Our knowledge and values are in large part learned from those around us. This body of learning -- culture -- certainly helps define what we consider good, bad, possible, etc. This is, of course very Hayekian, but also, I think a part of the Aristotelian view as well, although Aristotle (and perhaps Rand) don't seem to have understood the evolutionary aspects that Hayek emphasizes.

One implication of all this abstraction -- I think that one place you and I differ is in how we see prospects for cultural evolution. In my view, I put more weight on the forces of globalism and economic growth than you (and Allen) do, and hence am much more optimistic about chances for reform, development, and modernization -- in short, we have differing theories about cultural evolution. Or so it seems to me now.

8/11/06, 4:06 PM  
Blogger Jason_Pappas said...

I’d like to read more Hayek and understand his view of society and culture. My read is restricted to “The Road to Serfdom” and “Individualism and Economic Order,” which I read long ago. If you know in which book he discusses the evolution of human culture in more detail, I’d appreciate that. I see my library has books by Douglass North and I requested one. They don’t have any by Paul David.

Speaking of books, I highly recommend Edward W. Younkins’ “Capitalism and Commerce: Conceptual Foundations of Free Enterprise.” Despite the book's title it spans philosophy, economics, law, and just about anything concerned to classical liberals. He’s particularly concerned with an Aristotelian ethical/flourishing approach. Each chapter in this book is virtually a review of a specific topic or areas concerned to libertarians; and with a bibliography at the end of each chapter of the major books in the area. The chapters are a bit terse for the novice but they make good summaries in conjunction with further reading. Here’s a conservative’s mostly positive review. He writes periodic reviews of major thinks and important issues on the web.

You're right that we weigh the elements comprising societal evolution with somewhat different weights. It’s a tough call and I’d like to read more as well as try to articulate my current working hypothesis. I’m more concerned with what makes for a robust foundation for a liberal order so that a culture can withstand the challenges that tempt a nation to slip down the slope (or fall off the cliff) into illiberal oppression and impoverishment. Often the triggering mechanism only reveals the underlying rot. But I need a review of literature both sympathetic and critical of my tentative thesis.

8/12/06, 8:36 AM  
Blogger Charles N. Steele said...

The Hayek work that best addresses these matters is "The Fatal Conceit," his final work. I think you will find it quite thought-provoking.

I don't think Paul David has any books, at least I don't know of any.

North's more recent work, starting with his 1990 "Institutions, Institutional Change, and Economic Performance" addresses these sorts of issues, but to me he's good at establishing their importance but not so good at making real headway at generating deeper understanding. Simply establishing importance is still useful work since neoclassical economics largely ignored the importance of culture and subjective knowledge -- but you might not find his stuff quite as useful.

I think that neuroeconomics and cognitive psychology will be likely sources of insight in these matters in the future, but they are primarily focused on the micro level -- it will take some time before anyone is able to build a really strong theory of cultural evolution. But Hayek seems to have a good start on this.

Thanks for the tip on the Younkins book.

8/12/06, 1:48 PM  

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