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August 30, 2006

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I've never understood how property rights (which are the core of most libertarians' beliefs) can be viewed as purely negative rights. The concept of property doesn't exist outside of a system that can determine who owns a particular piece of property and enforce the owner's rights to it, and that seems like a positive right to me.

Hilzoy: You may not be speaking the language of rights, but your libertarian critic will be, starting with "It doesn't matter if this is a socially useful program, you have no right to do it through coercive means." (Um, in case it's not clear, I'm trying to answer the question, "Why can't well-intentioned liberals and well-intentioned libertarians with a shared hostility to Leviathan Jr. and a shared interest in a society that is peaceful and prosperous get along better?" I'm not attempting to defend the libertarian argument so much as to zero in on just where the crucial stumbling blocks are likely to be.)

KC: Most libertarias have a basically Lockean view of property, and a usually insufficiently examined view that in the state of nature, each could defend their own or simple mutual defense could defend several.

By the way, something that doesn't actually follow from libertarian principles is nonetheless taken as a given by many libertarians: a disbelief that changing the scale of an issue affects any of the basic moral considerations. That is, there is no situation involving a million people, or a billion, that is fundamentally different in terms of rights and responsibilities from a situation involving two. This coexists, usually without a moment's examination, with a common fascination with emergent properties as something to take very seriously in the merits of the division of labor and such.

Bush chimes in on the information war: how is this even convincing to anyone anymore? I would think that in most people's minds the policy itself is what led us to the risk of Iraq being turned over to the terrorists, so the blame would fall on Bush himself for making the world a more dangerous place. Maybe everyone for whom this is convincing already believes that Iraq was run by the terrorists?

Elba, the Washington Times has an interesting contribution to the information war today with the headline "Pentagon sees no civil war in Iraq".

This is possibly boiling Libertarianism down too much, but my impression is that Libertarians - particularly the Randian variety - define liberty and rights from a strictly personal perspective: my rights, my property, my person.

This is how some Libertarians can say that serving on a jury without pay is "involuntary servitude", thus equating it with slavery. The idea that jury service is necessary to a societal concept of justice is irrelevant - just as the idea that taxes are necessary to sustain societal concepts of shared infrastructure, equity, etc. are irrelevant - because Libertarians don't accept the concept of societal anything.

Libertarians do make use of what the concept of taxes as societal mutual responsibility has created - e.g., roads, schools, standardized medical care, regulatory-compliant consumer goods - while railing against the concept that enabled those things to be created.

Which, to my mind, is kind of like the living polyps which comprise the topmost layer of a coral reef believing that the mass of the reef itself was a happy accident that had nothing to do with collective action, in order to disbelieve in collective action at all.

"Is there going to be a response from CB to the last round of Phil/Hilzoy criticisms?"

I was hoping for that too. I think (but am not sure) it was Jeanne Kirkpatrick who first trotted out the whole "moral equivalence" ploy--that is, whenever a critic points out that America or one of its allies has committed some atrocity, the America-defender says in shocked tones "Surely you aren't equating our actions with theirs?" It's supposed to be rhetorical checkmate at that point, and if the America-critic doesn't back down in a hurry ("Oh, no, of course not--we're God's gift to creation and our enemies are Satan's reply"), that just shows he or she is a moonbat who doesn't have to be taken seriously.

It'd be interesting to see Charles admit that up to this point, Iran has been more sinned against than sinning in relationship to the US. Which is not to say we should therefore feel so guilty that we have to accept Iranian development of nuclear weapons in penance.

BTW, since this is CB's thread, I tend to agree with LJ above that CB made a good point over in the "Taking it Outside" blogsite. It'd have been better if reporters had hounded Rumsfeld on the spot to say who he meant.

I think the difference between me and a lot of other libertarians is that they came to the philosophy through books like Atlas Shrugged and Human Action, and I came to it through Ain't Nobody's Business If I Do: The Absurdity of Consensual Crimes in a Free Society."

By the way, something that doesn't actually follow from libertarian principles is nonetheless taken as a given by many libertarians: a disbelief that changing the scale of an issue affects any of the basic moral considerations. That is, there is no situation involving a million people, or a billion, that is fundamentally different in terms of rights and responsibilities from a situation involving two.

Bingo. It's a tough one to tackle when trying to cross that bridge from the major parties.

italics off

On Iran, Ara asked this question: "Ask yourself to compare the severity of the impact of American actions against Iran compared to the severity of the actions of militant Islam -- whomever you want to include in that -- against the US."

Phil and Hil chimed in, and I'll try to answer.

First off, in the early years the Iranians fought Iraq using weapons that were almost entirely from the United States. The use of American weapons by the Iranians saved Iranian lives (cite). In later years, the U.S. provided weaponry to Iran, but ended the practice in 1986 when the Iran-Contra scandal blew wide open.

Second, the U.S. played a role in the Iran-Iraq War but it was a small one. The USSR, France, China, Brazil and Epypt were much more involved in providing weaponry to Iraq. I would hope that Hil and Phil would agree that the severity of the impact of Soviet, French, Chinese, Brazilian and Egyptian actions against Iran was more severe than what the U.S. wrought in that war.

The U.S. had a two-track policy with Iran, establishing a covert program to undermine the mullahs and another intending to establish ties (cite):

U.S. actions in pursuit of the first track showed quite clearly that Washington's opposition to the Khomeini regime had nothing to do with its lack of democracy, for the groups that the U.S. backed against Khomeini were often supporters of the previous dictator, the Shah.
[...]
Simultaneous with these activities, the U.S. pursued its second track: trying to establish ties with the Iranian mullahs based on the interest they shared with Washington in combating the left. The U.S. purpose, Reagan announced in November 1986, after the Iran-Contra scandal blew open, was "to find an avenue to get Iran back where it once was and that is in the family of democratic nations" -- a good trick, as Mansour Farhang has commented, since pre-1979 Iran was hardly democratic.
Neither track proved particularly workable, but the point is that Iraq didn't get sole support from the U.S.

In 1982, when it looked like Iran was getting the upper hand, the U.S. decided to weaken Iran's chances. Khomeini had the choice to stop right there, but he pressed on. Had he stopped, the lives and money saved would've been enormous. The U.S. made the choice to go with what it thought was the lesser evil, preferring to prolong the fight rather than have Iran--not long from its fundamentalist revolution--take over a neighboring country rich in oil reserves. Shalom:

Primary responsibility for the eight long years of bloodletting must rest with the governments of the two countries -- the ruthless military regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq and the ruthless clerical regime of the Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran. Khomeini was said by some to have a "martyr complex," though, as U.S. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance wryly observed, people with martyr complexes rarely live to be as old as Khomeini. Whatever his complexes, Khomeini had no qualms about sending his followers, including young boys, off to their deaths for his greater glory. This callous disregard for human life was no less characteristic of Saddam Hussein. And, for that matter, it was also no less characteristic of much of the world community, which not only couldn't be bothered by a few hundred thousand Third World corpses, but tried to profit from the conflict.

France became the major source of Iraq's high-tech weaponry, in no small part to protect its financial stake in that country.[2] The Soviet Union was Iraq's largest weapon's supplier, while jockeying for influence in both capitals. Israel provided arms to Iran, hoping to bleed the combatants by prolonging the war. And at least ten nations sold arms to both of the warring sides.[3]

The list of countries engaging in despicable behavior, however, would be incomplete without the United States. The U.S. objective was not profits from the arms trade, but the much more significant aim of controlling to the greatest extent possible the region's oil resources.

I agree that assistance from the CIA to allegedly calibrate chemical weapons was a pretty evil thing to do. I also agree that we provided the Iraqis intelligence and some financial support. We also gave the Iranians intelligence (some of it bogus, some of it legit).

I also agree that the U.S. was wrong to help engineer a coup which brought the Shah to power. What we don't know is if a Mossadeq regime (and subsequnt administrations) would have been any better, given the dictatorial tendencies he displayed.

To summarize, in re-thinking about it, I don't have a good answer to Ara's question, but part of the reason is that I don't think it's a fair question. Yes, bad things happened in Iran and the U.S. played a role, but those events pertain to one country, Iran. The WAMI is a war in progress and it isn't just a war against the U.S., but against western civilization and moderate Muslims. We don't yet know how the severity of actions will play out and against whom.

It seems Charles believes that Westerners have a magical reset button for time/history.

(But it only works for Westerners!)

"Do-Over" "Do-Over"

I’m sure when Middle Easterners are being bombed, slaughtered and killed by our weapons; they are comforted by the goodness in your honorable heart.

I would hope that Hil and Phil would agree that the severity of the impact of Soviet, French, Chinese, Brazilian and Egyptian actions against Iran was more severe than what the U.S. wrought in that war.

Once again, this is neither relevant nor the question at hand. It's the tactic of a five-year-old: "But . . . but . . . he did a lot worse than I did!" It has no bearing whatsoever on our actions vis-a-vis Iran.

Yes, bad things happened in Iran and the U.S. played a role, but those events pertain to one country, Iran.

"Bad things?" A million people here, a million there, soon you're talking real casualties, am I right?

The WAMI is a war in progress and it isn't just a war against the U.S., but against western civilization and moderate Muslims.

Can you do me a favor, and list the entire group of Western nations who have suffered attacks in their own territory, or in their foreign embassies, or who are at serious risk of attack, in this war? This is a serious question, btw.

We don't yet know how the severity of actions will play out and against whom.

Oh, I think we can make some educated guesses.

In re the bigger picture, does the disastrous outcome -- for Iranians, Iraqis and the US -- of the Iran-Iraq War provide sort of a clue as to why people are skeptical that the many of the same group of people who effed that up should never have been allowed to pull something like the current Iraq war, nor any future wars, anywhere, ever? And how people in the Middle East might have their own preferred outcomes that have nothing to do with what sort of political system we wish them to adopt?

Charles: "What we don't know is if a Mossadeq regime (and subsequnt administrations) would have been any better, given the dictatorial tendencies he displayed."

Well, the Shah was an actual dictator, who deployed a ruthless secret police, which we trained, against his people. It's hard for me to see Mossadegh's alleged tendencies as an argument that he would have been no better. It would have taken a lot to be worse.

"It's hard for me to see Mossadegh's alleged tendencies as an argument that he would have been no better. It would have taken a lot to be worse."

And he, to ply the whip on poor dead Dobbin yet again, was democratically elected. Charles's post-hoc dismissal of an inconvenient fact seems like sophistry to me. We do believe in democracy, don't we?

hilzoy: but he could have been the equal of six Mega-Hitlers! Would you want to be responsible for that?

[Also, to the owners/administrators of the blog-formerly-known-as-HoCB: I can't seem to register for wordpress to leave comments. Any tips?]

Anarch: He could have been a pair of ragged claws/ Scuttling across the floors of silent seas...

Just saying.

A bit of a pile on here, but let me note that the answer Charles makes concentrates on the facts and doesn't contain any sniping at anyone.

Having said that, one of the problems with balance of power kind of strategies is that they allow certain people (like weapons manufacturers) to profit by maintaining the conflict. I would suggest that the 'two-track' approach that Charles suggests is not some sort of Solomonic notion of fairness, but a schizophrenic approach induced by the fact that Iran had a huge stockpile of US arms from when they were a client state, and the profit opportunity was what drove some of this. It's hard for me to see this as being a thought out strategy and remember that after this, Reagan's advisors were replaced by 'adults' who would clean up the mess. I would argue that WAMI represents the same kind of non-thought out strategy that consists of propping up regimes yet allowing decentralized terrorist groups to emerge. But I do appreciate Charles answer and the measured tone.

Anarch, I'm checking it our right now

"I would argue that WAMI represents the same kind of non-thought out strategy that consists of propping up regimes yet allowing decentralized terrorist groups to emerge."

Wouldn't that make it a double WAMI?


Sorry. No, really. I am a bad, bad person and am going back to lurking now.

You want inaccurate AP coverage of Rumsfeld? Try this. "Reaches out to Democrats"?! Michael Froomkin expresses his objections

This is way late to the party but I thought I'd throw some raw meat on the table.
If U.S. policies towards Iraq and Iran have resulted in massive arms sales to both of them, is this pure coincidence ?
If Rummy says you can't appease extremists, is he speaking from personal knowledge of the crew at Pennysylvania Avenue ?
Musing real hard on thoughts like these.

hilzoy: I grow old... I grow old... I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

CB: I am with the others who say that it is unlikely that Mossadeq would have been worse. But more to the point: what's the relevance of that? If some country deposed George Bush by means of a military coup, I would think that it is utterly morally irrelevant whether they would have installed someone better. It simply counts as no defense of such an action. A person can't point to an act of treachery and justify it because of its good consequences. I just think this is a basic moral point.

Look: I really dislike this President. I think he's the worst of the modern era. But under no circumstances do I think that any other country would have the prerogative to depose him, and even if they were to replace him with the second coming of (insert the name of your favorite President here), I think that ameliorates their treachery not at all. And we would have justification for a war against any country that tried to depose our President.

Well, Thomas Kean thinks Rummy crossed a line.

Excellent point, Ara.

And I'll come back to mine: Who here is volunteering to have themselves and their loved ones killed for the sake of a stranger's vision of a better America? Preferably strangers who come from quite different cultures and seem not to know a bunch of things we think important about our history and culture. I've decided that I will henceforth grant the power to inflict massive damage on other people's cultures for the sake of reengineering them only to people who can show me they're serious about the principle with some sacrifice of their own.

Alternatively, I will grant them the privilege without requiring the sacrifice if they can produce a working truthometer or rectitudoscope, some device capable of measuring the objective rightness of a person or cause that can be built with off-the-shelf components and delivers the same answers for everyone. I'm denying the privilege only to people who claim that it's okay because they're right (even if I share some of their beliefs), because everyone's making that claim and can't all actually be right. Objective demonstration via measure or objective demonstration via sacrifice. Either will work.

I thought http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/09/01/AR2006090101456.html>Hoagland put it well, for a supporter of the Administration.

There is a serious debate to be had about the best way forward in the war that Islamic extremists and their state sponsors have declared on the United States and on the related conflict in Iraq. Not all of what Cheney and Rumsfeld have to say on this should be disregarded as rhetorical chaff. Their vision of the world is dark and overstated but not devoid of reality.

But their failure to give critics a respectful hearing makes it difficult for them to get one when they have valid points. Demanding trust from the public without extending it invites great skepticism.


Republican grown-ups are proving as elusive as Iranian Moderates or the Palestinian Mandela.

I'm staying out of the rest of this thread, since it's mostly done, and mostly just the usual, anyway.

But I'd like to correct the historical record, and point out, for the sake of accuracy, and since no one else did, that Charles gets this wrong (though it's a highly popular error): "I also agree that the U.S. was wrong to help engineer a coup which brought the Shah to power."

This didn't happen. The U.S. (with a little help and encouragement from Britain) engineered a coup which restored Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi to power, and dismissed Mossadeq. M. R. Pahlavi been Shah since September 16, 1941 (succeeding his forced-to-abdicate [by Britain and the Soviet Union] father). He briefly (for a bit over two weeks) fled to Rome, and returned, in August, 1953. The "coup" most definitely did not "bring him to power."

(See here, and here.)

We now have an answer to who is appeasing the terrorists, and seeking to make a separate peace. Our ally Pakistan.

BTW, since this is CB's thread, I tend to agree with LJ above that CB made a good point over in the "Taking it Outside" blogsite. It'd have been better if reporters had hounded Rumsfeld on the spot to say who he meant.

Sorry, but no such credit is merited, since CB's "good point" is disingenuous given the reality that we face in the Bush "Information War" on the American people. (It is laughable for CB to suggest that the alleged Information War is directed at anyone outside America's borders -- in fact, there is no Information War by the Bush administration other than the internal political war)

The Bush administration would never allow such "hounding" to occur and would refuse to respond to any such hounding (in fact, they already have done so) -- the Rumsfeld speech is a deliberate obfuscation of exactly to whom Rumsfeld is referring, and they intend to keep it vague. AP and others are left with no choice but to write about the obvious implications of Rumsfeld's speech.

The AP got it largely right. If not, Rumsfeld or other Bush administration figures could correct AP's "error" by simply identifying what Rumsfeld "really" meant. But that will never happen.

This is about generating a climate of hate and anger toward the unspecified "other" -- all that is intended is to rally the 50% + 1 for the next round of voting. The hope is to hold supporters and rally true believers with this hate and anger.

And I see that the tactic still works to keep CB in the fold.

I will believe Charles has at least one sincere bone in his body when he writes a similarly critical post of the upcoming ABC production about 911. That represents a far more pernicious and deliberately false media effort than any right wing fantasy about liberal media bias, and will have a far more evil effect than any alleged misinterpretation by Burns of Rumsfeld's remarks.

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