Rand Paul and the Foreign Policy Delusions of Libertarianism

Rand Paul spoke today on the Senate floor, opposing the administration’s proposal to arm and train moderate Syrian elements. In recent months, Paul has tried to position himself in the mainstream on foreign policy, and has objected bitterly to being called an isolationist. Yet the very first words of his speech encapsulated the Libertarian delusion: that problems in the world are the result of American actions, and that by remaining inert, we can prevent them from arising, or cause them to go away:

If there is one theme that connects the dots in the Middle East, it is that chaos breeds terrorism.

What much of the foreign policy elite fails to grasp is that intervention to topple secular dictators has been the prime source of that chaos. 

From Hussein to Assad to Ghaddafi we have the same history. 

Intervention topples the secular dictator. Chaos ensues and radical jihadists emerge.

The pattern has been repeated time after time and yet what we have here is a failure to understand, a failure to reflect on the outcome our involvement in Arab civil wars.

Is American interventionism really the “prime source” of the chaos that breeds terrorism? And are “secular dictators” really the key to peace in the Middle East and other predominantly Muslim regions? Let’s test those claims.

The number one sponsor of terrorism over the last thirty years has been Iran. Did the mullahs take control because of an ill-advised American intervention? No. The Shah was, perhaps, the paradigm of the benign Middle Eastern dictator, and he was our ally. While one can argue–I certainly do–that the Carter administration should have done more to support him, it wasn’t U.S. intervention that overthrew the Shah, it was a fundamentalist Muslim revolt.

How about the Taliban, which took over Afghanistan and harbored al Qaeda? Was the Taliban’s takeover the result of America’s toppling of a secular dictator? No, not unless the dictator was the Soviet Union, back in the 1980s.

No groups have contributed more to chaos in the Middle East than Hezbollah and Hamas. Does either organization owe its existence to some foreign policy mistake on the part of the U.S.? No.

A great deal of chaos in sub-Saharan Africa, especially Somalia and Nigeria, has been caused by radical Muslim groups (including, in Somalia’s case, al Qaeda). In either instance, was the cause of the chaos or the rise of terrorist groups, American intervention? No.

Rand Paul offers Iraq as an instance where the “prime source” of chaos that breeds terrorism was our “intervention to topple [a] secular dictator.” But is that really what happened in Iraq? Put aside for a moment the assumption that Saddam–who had a Koran written in his own blood and sponsored terrorism by Muslim extremists–was “secular.” Likewise, forget that Saddam was a bitter enemy of the United States, so that, when George W. Bush took office as president, there was one place on Earth where American servicemen were routinely being shot at–Iraq. We certainly did topple Saddam, a feat of which, in my view, we should be proud. Was chaos the necessary result? No. As of last year, Barack Obama and Joe Biden were hailing a stable, prosperous Iraq as one of their administration’s greatest achievements. Chaos and the ascendancy of ISIS in Iraq was the result of our needless abandonment of that country.

And where did ISIS come from? Syria. Here, Paul’s words are mystifying. He includes Assad as a secular dictator who was mistakenly “toppled” by U.S. intervention. But that is ridiculous: rightly or wrongly, America hasn’t intervened to overthrow Assad, nor has any other Western nation. The rebellion against Assad arose from two distinct sources: popular dissatisfaction with his dictatorial rule, largely on behalf of the Alawite minority, and radical Islam as embodied in ISIS. Syria disproves Rand’s implicit assumption that “secular dictators” will be secure and will maintain the sort of order that precludes terrorism, if only we leave them alone or support them. Saddam, ruling on behalf of a Sunni minority, would not have been able to preserve order (such as it was) indefinitely in Iraq, for the same reasons that Assad couldn’t in Syria.

Paul is right, I think, about Libya. That is a case where the West overthrew a dictator that, while once a sponsor of terrorism, had been de-fanged, and what followed was much worse. The Libyan venture was a serious mistake by the Obama administration.

I don’t understand why Paul didn’t add Egypt to his catalog. In Egypt, Mubarak was not only a secular dictator, but one who was friendly to the U.S. We didn’t start the movement to overthrow Mubarak, the Egyptian Brotherhood did. But President Obama, to his everlasting shame, supported the Brotherhood and helped force Mubarak from power. True, terrorists have not taken over Egypt, but that is only because the Army has taken power–over the Obama administration’s objections–and suppressed the Brotherhood.

Rand Paul began his speech today by saying that “there is one theme that connects the dots in the Middle East.” He was wrong. The Middle East, and more broadly the Islamic world, are complex places. There are many causes of their dysfunction, but the most important one is the cultural heritage of Islam. The West has tried a variety of policies toward the Middle East, and none has been conspicuously successful. In that region, as elsewhere, different situations call for different remedies. The idea that there is only “one theme”–that terrorism is the result of chaos, which is the result of overthrowing otherwise-stable and benign secular dictators–is false.

The second major problem with Paul’s approach is the way he characterizes those who disagree with him. Listening to Paul, you would think that Washington is populated by 21st-century Strangeloves, eager to launch bombs on the slightest provocation:

The moss covered too-long-in-Washington crowd cannot help themselves. War, war, what we need is more, more war…
Amidst the interventionist’s disjointed and frankly incoherent rhetoric,
Amidst the gathering gloom that sees enemies behind every friend,
And friends behind every enemy,
The only consistent theme is war.

These barnacled enablers have never met a war they didn’t like.

They beat their chests in rhythmic ode to failed policies.

Their drums beat to policies that display their outrage but fail to find a cure. ..

To those who wish unlimited intervention and boots on the ground everywhere: Remember the smiling poses of politicians pontificating about so-called freedom fighters and “heroes” in Libya, in Syria, in Iraq …

When will we quit listening to the advocates of perpetual war?

When does a track record of being consistently wrong stop you from being a so-called expert when the next crisis arises?

We should remember that they were wrong, that there were no WMD’s, that Hussein, Khaddifi, and Assad were no threat to us. …

We should remember that those who believe that war is the answer for every problem, were wrong.

We should remember that war against Hussein, that war against Khaddafi, that war against Assad led to chaos.

This is completely over the top. No one wants “perpetual war,” no one wants “boots on the ground everywhere,” no one believes that “war is the answer for every problem.” To the extent he is talking about members of his own party, Paul is choosing a peculiar path to the presidential nomination.

Much of what Rand Paul said today was sensible. It is certainly true, as he argued, that arming supposedly moderate Syrian rebels is at best fraught with difficulty and uncertainty. Arms that we send to Syria may well end up in enemy hands, and our efforts could make the situation there even worse. Paul’s opposition to the administration’s plan may turn out to be well-founded. As I wrote earlier today, I don’t think the administration has a serious plan to succeed in Syria or elsewhere in the region, but is only interested in pretending to deal with ISIS until November.

But Paul could have made those points without asserting his overarching claim that the “prime source” of Middle Eastern turmoil and terrorism is America’s actions. That comes perilously close to the “blame America first” philosophy of the Democrats in the 1970s. Likewise, he could have made his more cogent arguments just as well–and gotten a better hearing from his fellow Senate Republicans–if he had stuck to the topic immediately at hand, Syria. Rand Paul needs to decide whether he wants to be the leader of one of America’s two great political parties, or of a bunch of fringe college students.

Scottish independence from Britain and British independence from Scotland

I don’t think we’ve written recently about today’s vote by Scotland on whether to become independent from the United Kingdom. However, I presented my views back in March.

The March post continues to reflect my opinion as to (1) what is driving the independence movement and (2) whether Scottish independence would be desirable. Accordingly, I will repost what I wrote back then about this:

What is driving the move for Scottish independence? One immediately suspects old-fashioned Scottish nationalism — Braveheart and all that. But according to Jonathan Freedland, writing in the New York Review of Books, this is not the pitch of the Scottish National Party (SNP) — the entity that’s driving the movement for independence. Nor is that movement particularly nationalistic (it is pro-immigration, for example) or anti-English.

Is the grievance, then, about money — a reaction to England disproportionately taking Scottish resources — along the lines of the Flemish secessionist movement in Belgium? Apparently not. Indeed, the SNP takes pains to reassure Scots (implausibly, one suspects) that independence would not disturb existing economic arrangements such as the currency, access to the national health care system, participation in the EU, the continued presence of the large financial sector in Scotland, and so forth.

(Interestingly, the SNP also assures Scots that “current [television] programming like EastEnders, Doctor Who, and Strictly Come Dancing…will still be available in Scotland.” Here’s a thought experiment: how many upscale American liberals would continue to vote for Democrats if it meant not being able to watch Mad Men, Breaking Bad, House of Cards, etc.?)

So what grievance is driving the Scottish independence movement. In essence, according to Freedland, it’s the fact that England isn’t sufficiently left-wing:

For the Nationalists, Scotland has become a land of social democratic consensus, one that believes it has more in common with the high-tax, high-spend northern neighbors of Scandinavia than it does with the turbo-capitalism of the City of London.

“There is a strong sense that the UK is evolving towards the US model, where you can never give enough to the top one percent,” Blair Jenkins, formerly of the BBC and now chief executive of the Yes campaign, told me when we met at the Yes headquarters in Glasgow. “A more collective sense of society, of looking out for one another, is a strong part of Scottish life.”

This explanation, though not necessarily the value judgment it entails, rings true. Scotland has veered sharply to the left of England. The Conservative Party has ceased to exist as political force north of the border, having never recovered from the “stain” of Thatcherism. Even the selection of a 35 year-old lesbian as head of the Party hasn’t helped.

Virulent anti-Israel sentiment also separates Scotland from England, though there is no reason to believe that this sentiment is a factor in the independence movement. As Haaretz reported:

There is a proud radical left-wing tradition in Scottish politics and public life, and Glasgow is often referred to as the most leftist city in Britain. Beyond a belief in trade unionism and the welfare state, this has also been translated into support of foreign causes favored by the left.

This previously included the anti-apartheid struggle and, in more recent years, the Palestinian issue. . . .[I]t seems that feeling among locals regarding Israel is much more negative than south of the border in England.

The BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) movement calling for a ban on anything Israel-related is particularly prevalent in Glasgow. In Edinburgh, pro-Palestinian campaigners have lobbied the city council not to hire French utility company Veolia, due to its work on the Jerusalem light rail system. And while similar boycott efforts also occur in England, there is a consensus that “it’s worse in Scotland.”

How should American conservatives feel about the prospect of Scottish secession? Frankly, I’d be fine with it. If it turns out that the Scots enjoy life more in a high-tax, high-spend workers’ paradise, good for them. If they come to regret being unmoored from English style capitalism, then a valuable lesson will have been learned — and not, one hopes, by the Scots alone.

Meanwhile, from a conservative perspective England should benefit from the absence of 59 Scottish MPs, many of whom represent safe Labor seats. In that scenario, Labor’s prospects for forming future governments will be diminished.

I should add that, if Scotland goes, the alienation of the north of England from “London” will increase, since the North will no longer have Scotland to help it counter-balance the more conservative South.

There will be many other drawbacks, complications, and disputed issues (which presumably will all be worked out by compromise), as well. But over the long haul, I believe Britain will be made stronger, and a better U.S. ally, by the separation of its most left-wing precincts.

For other views on Scottish secession you can consult the estimable Niall Ferguson, who implores the Scots to vote “no,” and Tom Wilson of Commentary, who sees Scottish independence as the “insane” product of the left’s systematic erosion of British identity>

Begich draws the short straw on amnesty

The Senate divided 50-50 today on whether to vote on an amendment by Sen. Jeff Sessions to block the executive amnesty President Obama intends to grant many illegal immigrants after the election. The amendment thus failed.

To block Sessions’ amendment the Dems needed the vote of one of the following endangered Democrats — Mary Landrieu, Mark Pryor, Kay Hagan, Jeanne Shaheen, or Mark Begich. One of them, in other words, had to take one for the team.

Begich must have drawn the short straw because it was his vote that gave Harry Reid the 50 votes he needed. Landrieu, Pryor, Hagan, and Shaheen all voted with Sessions (and the rest of the Republicans, plus maverick Democrat Joe Manchin who is not up for reelection).

A month ago, I suspect, Shaheen might have been the one to rescue Harry Reid. Her vote suggests to me that this race has tightened considerably.

But Shaheen, Landrieu, Pryor, and Hagan aren’t necessarily out of the woods on the issue of the impending amnesty. As Joel Gehrke points out, all four opposed the same amendment Sessions proposed today.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali at Yale: The speech they didn’t want you to hear

The William F. Buckley, Jr. Program at Yale has just posted the video of its entire September 15 event featuring Ayaan Hirsi Ali. WFB Program president Rich Lizardo tells the story of events that followed the WFB Program’s public announcement of the event in the Yale Daily News column “We invited Ayaan Hirsi Ali to speak at Yale–and outrage ensued.”

Following the public announcement, the Muslim Students Association at Yale went through its usual routine, first seeking to have Ms. Hirsi Ali disinvited (though it disputes this), then to limit the subject matter of her speech, then to impose conditions on her speech that would stigmatize her. In the spirit of WFB himself, Lizardo stood firm.

The MSA routine worked at Brandeis; at Yale, not so much. Not this time. The video below brings us the speech they didn’t want you to hear: “The clash of civilizations: Islam and the West.”

Obama’s Real ISIL Strategy

I think President Obama sold himself short when he said, repeatedly, that he didn’t have a strategy to deal with ISIL. I think he has an objective, in support of which he has a clear strategy. His objective is to get past the midterm elections without paying a price for the chaos in the Middle East that his fecklessness has produced. His strategy is to “do something” in the form of a modest bombing campaign, combined with arming selected Syrian moderates (if there are any left).

Obama doesn’t expect this strategy to succeed, if by “succeed” you mean stopping the threat from ISIL. But he does think that its failure won’t be undeniable between now and November. Thus, his strategy will help stem the only threat he cares much about, the one posed by Republicans.

Michael Ramirez makes the point visually; click to enlarge:


Why the NFL should lighten up

In writing about the NFL’s handling of the Ray Rice matter, my position has been that the commissioner should not be meting out discipline to players for personal misconduct. Non-football related misbehavior should be an issue for the player’s employer (his team) and, in appropriate cases, law enforcement.

It also seems to me that if the NFL commissioner Roger Goodell hadn’t taken to issuing discipline for personal conduct, he would have avoided much of the criticism he now faces for initially not coming down hard enough on Rice. Goodell’s assumption of the power to judge carried with it the responsibility to judge wisely.

Judging wisely isn’t as easy as it sounds, and judging in a way that will seem wise across the range of modern interest groups is impossible.

I’m pleased that Sally Jenkins, an outstanding writer and an independent thinker in the knee-jerk-liberal world of sports-writing, views these matters the same way. She writes:

The scandals now engulfing the league can be traced to a single source: the superciliousness of a commissioner who thought the deepest societal ills — domestic abuse, sexual violence, drug use — could be handled with a morals clause.

I wish I had put it that way.

Jenkins continues:

It’s possible to be frustrated by Goodell’s handling of the slug-fisted Ray Rice, and the whip-handed Adrian Peterson, yet have an uneasy sense that the last thing the NFL needs is a more discipline-minded commissioner.

I would have said that the more frustrated we are by Goodell’s decisions, the less we should want a more discipline-minded commissioner.

Goodell has assumed the rule of uber-disciplinary on the theory that the NFL needs to protect its “brand” from miscreant players and opportunistic teams that employ them. I maintain that this argument misunderstands the NFL’s appeal. Jenkins seems to agree:

Andrew Brandt, who spent a decade in the front office of the Green Bay Packers, remembers an occasion when the team considered signing a player with a rap sheet as long as a street block. Brandt said, “I just don’t feel good about bringing this guy in.” To which another team official replied: “What do you think we’re asking these guys to do? We want this guy to get into 75 street fights every game, and win ’em. We’re not asking him to lead a boys choir.”

The conversation, Brandt says, “always struck me.” The underlying assumption was that a certain amount of uncurbed, foaming brutality was not just tolerable, but desirable and worth the exchange. You can’t expect a T-Rex to have table manners.

The NFL network uses “T-Rex’s” like Warren Sapp and Michael Irvin as on-air personalities.

There’s plenty more wisdom on Jenkins’ column, but I’ll wrap it up with this:

[The Rice incident and others like it] have utterly exposed Goodell’s paternal “higher standard” talk, his “protect the shield and the integrity of the game” nonsense as the archaic fantasy-peddling it is. America quit asking actors, musicians and politicians to live up to morals clauses a long time ago, for the simple reason that reality overtook naive hero-worshipping. The audience came to a more human, if disappointed, understanding. . . .

Goodell’s policy is a failure because it stigmatizes players while failing to address the fundamental, profound reality that there are some ills that get the best of people.

Blaming Blabbermouth

The lead story at Politico is Edward-Isaac Dovere’s “Democrats turn on Debbie Wasserman Schultz.” Better known among listeners to Rush Limbaugh as Debbie Blabbermouth Schultz, the lady is Obama’s handpicked chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Ann Althouse asks: “[W]hat is going on here?”

Good question. Ann has her own thoughts, always worth taking into account. The story reads like a catfight on the left. If only for that, I would find it a source of unalloyed pleasure at a worrisome time. But I think it signifies something important, something beyond the Democrats’ continuing war on low-information women voters.

According to Dovere, “[t]he White House, congressional Democrats and Washington insiders” — that’s a broad group of Democratic potentates — “have lost confidence in her as both a unifying leader and reliable party spokesperson at a time when they need her most.” You can talk about polls and patterns and tea leaves all you want. This story gives us an insight into the concerns of Democrats with access to far better information than is available to the public. I read this story as an attempt by well-informed Democratic party powers to allocate blame for what they must perceive to be a looming electoral disaster. To me, this story represents the most persuasive good news I have read in this election season.