Afghanistan: In Search of Monsters to Not Destroy

America, John Quincy Adams said in 1821, “goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.” That’s as good a summary ever spoken of the non-interventionist position.

US Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) disagrees. He opposes President Trump’s quest for a peace agreement with the Taliban in Afghanistan as “reckless and dangerous,” entailing “severe risk to the homeland.”

Nearly 18 years  into the US occupation of Afghanistan, at a cost of  trillions of dollars, more than 4,000 Americans dead and more than 20,000 wounded, Graham and his fellow hawks clearly aren’t really looking for monsters to destroy.  They want those monsters alive and at large, to justify both their own general misrule and the perpetual flow of American blood and treasure into foreign soil (read: into the bank accounts of US “defense” contractors).

The US invasion of Afghanistan was never militarily necessary. The Taliban offered to hand over Osama bin Laden upon presentation of evidence that he was the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, an offer President George W. Bush arrogantly declined in favor of war.

The extended US occupation of, and “nation-building” project in, Afghanistan, was even less justifiable. Instead of relentlessly pursuing the supposed mission of apprehending bin Laden and liquidating al Qaeda, US forces focused on toppling the Taliban, installing a puppet regime, and setting themselves to the impossible task of turning Kabul into Kokomo.

It hasn’t worked. It’s not working now. It’s not going to start working.  Ever. It should never have been attempted. Afghans don’t want Lindsey Graham running their affairs any more than you want him running yours. Can you blame them after as many as 360,000 Afghan civilian deaths?

Afghanistan is not and never has been a military threat to the United States, let alone the kind of existential threat that would justify 18 years of war. Yesterday isn’t soon enough to bring this fiasco to an end. But Graham and company would, given their way, drag it out forever.

They’re  the kind of grifters H.L. Mencken had in mind when he noted that “[t]he whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.” But they’d rather keep old hobgoblins alive than have to manufacture new ones.

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Yes, Parents Are Capable of Choosing How Their Children Should Be Educated

At the heart of debates around education freedom and school choice is the subtle but sinister sentiment that parents can’t be trusted. They are too busy, too poor, or too ignorant to make the right decisions for their kids, and others know better how to raise and educate children. Never mind that parents have successfully cared for and educated their children for millennia, ensuring the ongoing survival and continued success of our species.

Distrust of Parents

As economist Richard Ebeling writes in the introduction to Sheldon Richman’s book Separating School & State:

The parent has been viewed—and still is viewed—as a backward and harmful influence in the formative years of the child’s upbringing, an influence that must be corrected for and replaced by the “enlightened” professional teacher who has been trained, appointed, and funded by the state.

We see this distrust of parents play out in a number of policy areas, including most recently with the implementation of universal government preschool for four-year-olds (and increasingly three-year-olds) in cities like New York and Washington, DC, and in academic reports arguing for “Cradle to Kindergarten” government interventions. These efforts are nearly always framed as helping parents, taking the burden off of low- and middle-income families, and addressing inequality and achievement gaps. But the message is clear: parents, and especially disadvantaged parents, can’t be expected to effectively raise their children and see to their education without the government’s help.

Some researchers say this outright. In an article published in this week’s Washington Post about alleged summer learning loss among schoolchildren, Kelly Chandler-Olcott suggests that to fix the problem, we need to stop expecting parents to nurture their children during the summer months and instead rely on experts to do it for them. She writes:

Also troubling is the assumption that families, not educators, should promote learning in specialized areas such as mathematics, reading and science. Although families from all walks of life promote varied kinds of learning in everyday life, most parents lack preparation to address academic subjects, and their year-round obligations don’t end just because school is out for their offspring.

This is during the summertime, mind you, when parents have long been responsible for the care of their children. Apparently now the academic crisis is so dire, particularly for low-income children, and parents’ “year-round obligations” are so huge, that we should entrust others to do throughout the summer months what seemingly didn’t work well during the academic year. As I wrote at NPR, we need to ask ourselves if kids can so quickly forget during summertime what they purportedly learned during the school year, did they ever really learn it at all? And if “most parents lack preparation to address academic subjects,” then what does that say about the education they received through public schooling?

“Perennial Force” of Parenthood

The idea that parents get in the way of children’s education and can halt their flourishing is nothing new. As he was designing the architecture for compulsory mass schooling in the 19th century, Horace Mann argued that education was too important to be left to parents’ discretion. He explained that strong parental bonds are obstacles to children’s and society’s development, writing in his fourth lecture on education in 1840:

Nature supplies a perennial force, unexhausted, inexhaustible, re-appearing whenever and wherever the parental relation exists. We, then, who are engaged in the sacred cause of education, are entitled to look upon all parents as having given hostages to our cause.

Mann goes on to say that “just as soon as we can make them see the true relation in which they and their children stand to this cause, they will become advocates for its advancement,” supporting the complete shift in control of education from the family to the state. It’s for the good of all, Mann said—except for parents like him who homeschooled his own children while mandating forced schooling for others.

The solution is for parents to push back against creeping government control of education and child-rearing. Don’t be wooed by the siren song of feigned empathy for your burdens of work and family. Don’t be convinced of the false belief that you are incapable of caring for your children and determining how, where, and with whom they should be educated. Don’t let your “inexhaustible” parental instincts be weakened by government guardians who think they know what is best for your child. Demand freedom and choice.

Parents are powerful. They are not perfect, and they do fail, but they are more perfect and fail much less than state agents and government bureaucracies intoxicated by authority and ego. They should take back control of their children’s education by advocating for parental choice and resisting efforts to undermine their innate capacity to care for their children’s well-being.

Place trust in the “perennial force” of parenthood, even when—or perhaps especially when—others distrust it.

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Westminster: Bulldog, Not Poodle, for Best in Show

As of July 23,  members of the United Kingdom’s Conservative Party will have chosen a new leader. On July 24, Queen Elizabeth II will appoint a new prime minister,  almost certainly that new party leader. The two remaining contenders for those jobs are former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and current Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

The elephant in the UK’s political room at the moment is, of course, Brexit. But another issue looms large as well, especially from across the Atlantic. That issue is foreign policy, particularly the UK’s tendency to throw in with US military interventions in the Middle East.

On July 16, when asked about the prospect of the UK joining the US in a war on Iran, Johnson responded bluntly while Hunt prevaricated.

Johnson: “If you ask me if I think, were I prime minister now, would I be supporting military action against Iran, the answer is ‘No.”‘

Hunt: “The risk we have is something different, which is an accidental war, because something happens in a very tense and volatile situation.”

On the one hand, it’s naive to take any politician at his word, especially when that politician is lobbying for election to public office or a party leadership position. On the other, a seemingly straight answer is probably a more reliable indicator than a transparent dodge.

Johnson gave that seemingly straight answer — the answer of a bulldog relentlessly focused on his country’s interests rather than on maintaining  its “special relationship” with the United States.

Hunt’s answer, unfortunately, immediately brought to mind former PM Tony Blair’s unconvincing denial of accusations that he was US president George W. Bush’s “poodle” in the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

“I choose my own way …” Blair insisted. “[T]hat region of the world — most of all the people of Iraq — would be in a far better position without Saddam Hussein.  Does that mean that military action is imminent or about to happen? No. We’ve never said that. We have said ‘Here is an issue. It has to be dealt with. We will deal with it, but how we’ll deal with it is an open question.’”

Blair ended up committing the UK to what turned out to be a ruinous project for pretty much everyone involved. An official inquiry into the fiasco, conducted by Sir John Chilcot, resulted in a 2016 report accurately characterized by The Guardian‘s Richard Norton-Taylor as “an unprecedented, devastating indictment of how a prime minister was allowed to make decisions by discarding all pretence at cabinet government, subverting the intelligence agencies, and making exaggerated claims about threats to Britain’s national security.”

Johnson’s seemingly firm position is no guarantee that as prime minister he would wisely refrain from joining in future US military adventures.

Hunt’s decision to muddy the waters is virtually a guarantee that, like Blair, he would prioritize maintaining the “special relationship,” no matter the cost in blood and treasure to the United Kingdom, and no matter the damage to the cause of world peace.

Choose wisely, Tories. It matters.

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Kamala Harris: Trump, But with Darker Skin and Better Hair

In the wake of her supposed “victory” in the first round of Democratic presidential debates, US Senator Kamala Harris  rose from fifth place to a tie for third place (with fellow US Senator Elizabeth Warren) in a Morning Consult poll of her party’s primary voters. Her gain came mainly at the expense of  the front-runner, former vice president Joe Biden. More interesting than Harris’s sudden ascent is how she managed it: By ripping a page out of Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign playbook.

John McCain, said Trump in 2015, is “not a war hero. He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”

That’s exactly what Harris did to Joe Biden in Miami. She picked an opponent to take down and attacked that opponent on a signature bit of his personal history (support for the civil rights movement), confident that the facts would get less attention than the chutzpah of the attack itself.

Unlike Trump, she at least picked an opponent who’s actually in the race. Also unlike Trump, she was generally lauded, rather than savaged, for taking the low road.

If the similarities between Harris and Trump ended there, Miami might seem like coincidence. But they don’t. Different as the two are — he was a businessman and “reality TV” star before running for president, she’s a Democratic Party apparatchik who’s spent decades clawing her way up the political ladder; he’s white and male; she’s black and female — they’re a lot more alike than different.

Like Trump, Harris has difficulty holding a policy position for more than a few minutes under pressure.  He favors non-interventionism, except when he’s “the most militaristic candidate” of the bunch, unless he changes his mind tonight and again next week. She favors banning private insurance as part of a single-payer health program, except no, she doesn’t, except she kind of does, except maybe she misheard the question.

Like Trump, Harris is contemptuous of a free press.  He wants to “open up” libel laws to go after political opponents who write “hit pieces.” She wants to suppress publications which accept ads for “adult services,” so much so that as attorney general of California she filed charges against Backpage.com that were dismissed because there was no applicable law involved, then in the US Senate successfully pushed through a bill to outlaw such ads.

Like Trump, Harris is a big fan of unilateral executive power whether the Constitution authorizes it or not. He declared a fake “emergency” to misappropriate money for his border wall in illegal defiance of Congress’s “no.” In Miami, she bragged that as president she would give Congress 100 days to pass a gun control bill she liked, after which she would just rule by decree if they didn’t.

The math says that Trump’s path to re-election is exceedingly narrow. In order to lose in 2020, the Democrats would probably have to nominate a candidate even more openly narcissistic and authoritarian than Trump (or Clinton). In Harris, they may have found their next loser.

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Road Test

Nobody asked but …

Here is a good way to check your latent tendencies on the voluntaryist/interventionist scale.

When you are riding shotgun with a significant other or a close associate driving, do you:

  • Give unrequested directions?  If not, you might be a voluntaryist.
  • Ask what route will be taken?  If not, you might be a voluntaryist.
  • Mime the mechanical techniques of operating the vehicle?  If not, you might be a voluntaryist.
  • Point silently turns that could be made?  If not, you might be a voluntaryist.
  • Supervise braking, accelerating, and speed decisions?  If not, you might be a voluntaryist.
  • Relax and trust the driver?  If so, you might be a voluntaryist!

— Kilgore Forelle

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One Cheer for Trump on Iran

On June 21, President Donald Trump informed the world (via tweet) that after getting US forces “cocked and loaded” to carry out strikes on Iranian targets the night before, he had canceled those strikes at the last minute rather than prospectively kill 150 people. “Not proportionate,” he wrote, “to [Iranian forces] shooting down an unmanned drone” earlier that week.

Anti-interventionists (including me) cheered the move. US hawks moaned that Trump had suddenly and inexplicably gone soft by avoiding the war they want so badly. Pretty much everyone thinks the “proportionality” claim isn’t the true explanation, given Trump’s over the top predisposition on most things.

But hey, I’ll take it, and I’ll thank Trump for it. Every time he avoids escalation toward outright war with the Iranians or anyone else, he’s doing the right thing and should get credit for it.

As to the bigger picture, the question now is whether Trump will undo his earlier errors on US policy toward Iran instead of compounding them.

He doesn’t seem inclined to. On June 24, he signed an executive order imposing new sanctions on Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khameini, and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, also in retaliation for the downing of a US drone — possibly over Iranian airspace, certainly  more than 5,000 miles from airspace it had any business in.

Unfortunately, Trump considers his warlike attitude toward Iran a campaign promise and seems to have every intention of keeping that promise. He was elected president on, among other things, his stated intention of undoing former President Barack Obama’s most significant foreign policy accomplishment, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, (the “Iran nuclear deal”).

That JCPOA began winding down four decades of mutual belligerence  that began when Iranians had the gall and temerity to overthrow a dictator installed by the US , replacing him with a government more to their own liking. In exchange for partial lifting of sanctions and return of some money stolen by the US government after their revolution, the Iranians gave up a nuclear weapons program they don’t appear to have actually had, going above and beyond their already existing (and apparently kept) obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Trump violated the deal, pretending that he was “withdrawing” the US from it (the deal is codified as a UN Security resolution; the only way to withdraw from it is to withdraw from the UN itself). He’s reimposed US sanctions and pressured US allies to do likewise.

In violating the agreement and returning to a belligerent footing, he confirmed something the Iranians, like the Sioux, have long had good reason to believe:  That the US government can’t be trusted to keep its word.

That’s a lot of toothpaste to get back in the tube, and it’s not clear that Trump intends to even try.  Canceling the strike may have just been a message to Iran and to recalcitrant US allies: “We could have gone to war but CHOSE not to.”

We should be glad he chose not to, and hope he keeps choosing not to.

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