Trump and Netanyahu: “Mutual Defense” or Just Mutual Political Back-Scratching?

On September 14, US president Donald Trump tweeted (of course) the suggestion of a US-Israel “Mutual Defense Treaty,” citing a call with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Hopefully there’s less going on here than meets the eye: The tweet may just be another mutual publicity back-scratch of the type Trump and Netanyahu frequently exchange when they find themselves in political pickles. And Netanyahu is likely in the biggest such pickle of his career.

After failing to put together a ruling coalition in the wake of April’s general election, Netanyahu called another election for September 17.

Netanyahu also faces imminent indictment on three corruption charges, with a court hearing on the charges scheduled for early October. In June, his wife Sara took a plea deal and paid a fine for misusing state funds.

Netanyahu’s personal future may well depend on him having a political future. He’s pulling out all stops to change the April results, from approving new Israeli squats (“settlements”) in, and even promising to annex parts of, the occupied West Bank, to conducting military attacks in Syria and Iraq and along the Lebanese border.

Talk of a “Mutual Defense Treaty” with the US may well drive some badly needed votes his way, especially to the extent that such a treaty might be thought available only to Netanyahu and his Likud Party but not to Benny Gantz’s Blue and White alliance (the platform of which, by the way, bars indicted politicians from serving in the Knesset, Israel’s legislature).

So maybe Trump’s tweet is just politics. But if it’s for real, it’s a bad idea for the US, a bad idea for Israel, and a bad idea for world peace.

The US doesn’t need Israel’s assistance to defend itself. It already spends far more than any other state in the world on its military,  that amount is many multiples of any amount reasonably related to actual defense, and it faces no existential military threats other than attack with nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missiles, which Israel couldn’t plausibly reduce.

Israel hasn’t faced a military threat to its existence since 1973, and given the web of US-influenced and US-financed relations it’s created with Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, isn’t likely to face any such threat not of its own making for the foreseeable future .

As for peace in general, Trump proposes a “Mutual Defense” pact with a rogue nuclear garrison ethno-state in a tinderbox region. What could possibly go wrong?

A “Mutual Defense Treaty” with the US would only encourage further bad behavior and saber-rattling on the part of the Israelis toward e.g. Iran and Syria. That’s the kind of behavior bound to eventually CREATE a real military threat, resulting in the Israelis demanding US support pursuant to the treaty, on a claim of “Mom, he hit me back FIRST.”

It’s time for the US to start furling its post-World War Two “security umbrella” instead of inviting suspect new partners to join it beneath that umbrella. America’s future, if it is to have one, requires a non-interventionist foreign policy.

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You’re All A Bunch of Socialists

A fun figure from Tetlock et al.’s “The Psychology of the Thinkable”.

 

Background:

Participants were told that the goal of the study was to explore the attitudes that Americans have about what people should be allowed to buy and sell in competitive market transactions:

Imagine that you had the power to judge the permissibility and morality of each transaction listed below. Would you allow people to enter into certain types of deals? Do you morally approve or disapprove of those deals? And what emotional reactions, if any, do these proposals trigger in you?

Respondents then judged two types of trade-offs: routine (secular-secular) and taboo (secular-sacred). The five secular-secular trade-offs included “paying someone to clean my house,” “buying a house,” “buying food,” “paying a doctor to provide medical care to me or my family,” and “paying a lawyer to defend me against criminal charges in court.” The nine secular-sacred trade-offs included buying and selling of human body parts for medical transplant operations, surrogate motherhood contracts (paying someone to have a baby whom the buyer subsequently raises), adoption rights for orphans, votes in elections for political offices, the right to become a U.S. citizen, the right to a jury trial, sexual favors (prostitution), someone else to serve jail time to which the buyer had been sentenced by a court of law, and paying someone to perform military service that the buyer had a draft obligation to perform.

Libertarians are notorious for gratuitously alienating everyone who doesn’t agree with them.  Looking at diverse critics and sneering, “You’re all a bunch of socialists” is a classic example.  Figure 1 shows, however, that there is a more than a kernel of truth in this unfriendly observation.  Conservatives, liberals, and socialists are all highly and almost equally hostile to creative expansions of the domain of the free market.  Is this because the “unthinkable” proposals are too radical to appeal to anyone who isn’t a libertarian?  Not really; many economists with zero libertarian sympathies would be on the same page.

Could the socialists analogously gripe, “You’re all a bunch of capitalists”?  Not easily.  Even self-conscious socialists are only moderately outraged by routine trade-offs – and this outrage tapers off almost linearly as we move from liberals to conservatives to libertarians.  At least in this data set, libertarians are clear outliers – and the disagreements between conservatives, liberals, and socialists are marginal.  I wish it were otherwise, but it rings true.

Last point: Tetlock et al.’s data helps explain why so many people falsely imagine that most economists are libertarians.  How so?  Because they are the only two groups that routinely transgress anti-market taboos.  Even left-wing economists, for example, have been known to endorse a market in human kidneys.  Even if they disagree, most will politely discuss an issue that almost everyone else considers beyond the pale.  Upshot: When libertarians tell mainstream economists, “You’re all a bunch of socialists” they’re not merely being undiplomatic.  They’re being wrong.

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Trump Didn’t Start the War in Afghanistan, But He Owns It

National Security Advisor John Bolton became the latest American casualty of Washington’s 18-year war in Afghanistan on September 10, fired by US president Donald Trump shortly after Trump announced that he had planned, but was canceling, a meeting with Taliban leaders at Camp David to ink a “peace deal.”

Firing Bolton is a good start. Nobody sane wants a guy who looks like Captain Kangaroo but talks like Dr. Strangelove whispering foreign policy advice in a president’s ear. The main effect of his departure from the White House is to shift perceived responsibility for America’s ongoing fiasco in Afghanistan back where it belongs: Squarely on the shoulders of Donald J. Trump.

Before Trump became a presidential candidate, his views on the war made sense. “We should leave Afghanistan immediately. No more wasted lives,” he tweeted on March 1, 2013. In November of that same year, he urged Americans to “not allow our very stupid leaders to sign a deal that keeps us in Afghanistan through 2024.”

Unfortunately his position on the war became “nuanced” (read: pandering and weaselly) as he became first a presidential candidate and then president.

As president, he increased US troop levels in Afghanistan and dragged out the war he once said he wanted to end. In fact, the notional Camp David “peace deal” would merely have reduced those troop levels back to about where they were as of his inauguration. Some “peace deal!”

Throughout Trump’s presidency, his non-interventionist supporters have continuously made excuses for his failure to end US military adventures in Afghanistan, Syria, and elsewhere.

It’s always John Bolton’s fault, or Mike Pompeo’s. It’s always this general, or that bureaucrat, or the “fake news media,” or the “deep state” undermining poor, powerless little Donny Trump, thwarting his sincere desire to do the right thing and bring the troops home.

Oddly, those same supporters would have us believe that Trump is a bold and commanding genius, scattering his opponents before him as he  maneuvers 5D chess pieces around their tiddlywinks with his abnormally small hands, Making America Great Again.

It can’t be both. Nor is it necessarily either of those things. Whatever it is, this is necessarily part of it:

“The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States …” — Article II, Section 2, US Constitution

Trump can pick up his phone any time, call the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and order the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan. If his order is disobeyed, he can relieve the generals who fail to follow it and replace them with others who’ll do their jobs.

John Bolton didn’t stop him from doing that. Mike Pompeo can’t stop him from doing that. The “fake news media” and the “deep state” don’t get to countermand presidential orders to the armed forces.

Donald Trump owns this war. If he doesn’t end it, that’s on him and no one else.

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The 9/11 Attacks: Understanding Al-Qaeda and the Domestic Fall-Out from America’s Secret War

With American military personnel now entering service who were not even alive on 9/11, this seems an appropriate time to reexamine the events of September 11, 2001 – the opaque motives for the attacks, the equally opaque motives for the counter-offensive by the United States and its allies known as the Global War on Terror, and the domestic fall-out for Americans concerned about the erosion of their civil liberties on the homefront.

Before venturing further, it’s worth noting that our appraisal is not among the most common explanations. Osama bin Laden, his lieutenants at Al-Qaeda, and the men who carried out the attack against the World Trade Centers and the Pentagon are not “crazy,” unhinged psychopaths launching an attack against the United States without what they consider to be good reason.

Nor do we consider then-President George W. Bush to be either a simpleton, a willing conspirator, an oil profiteer, or a Machivellian puppet whose cabinet were all too happy to take advantage of a crisis.

The American press tends to portray its leaders as fools and knaves, and America’s enemies as psychopathic. Because the propaganda machine hammered away so heavily on the simple “cowardly men who hate our freedom” line, there was not much in the way of careful consideration of the actual political motives of the hijackers, the Petro-Islam that funded them, the ancient, antagonistic split between Sunni and Shi’a, the fall-out from the 1979 Iranian revolution or the 1970s energy crisis, the historical context of covert American involvement in the Soviet-Afghan War and the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s, nor the perceived “imperialist humanitarianism” of American military adventures of the 1990s in Muslim nations like BosniaIraqSomalia and Kosovo. Alone, none of these factors were deadly. Combined, they provided a lethal combination.

It is our considered opinion that the events of 9/11 and those that followed in direct response to the attacks – including the invasion of Iraq – were carried out by good faith rational actors who believed they were acting in the best interests of their religion or their nation. There are no conspiracy theories here; sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.

This opinion does not in any way absolve the principals from moral responsibility for the consequences of their actions. It does, however, provide what we believe to be a more accurate and nuanced depiction of events than is generally forthcoming from any sector of the media – because we see these principals as excellent chess players who, in the broad sweep of events, engaged in actions which are explicable.

Continue reading The 9/11 Attacks: Understanding Al-Qaeda and the Domestic Fall-Out from America’s Secret War at Ammo.com.

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Christopher Preble: War Is the Health of the State (54m)

This episode features an interview of U.S. foreign policy academic Christopher Preble from 2015 by Trevor Burrus and Aaron Powell, hosts of the Free Thoughts podcast. They ask whether there exists a single libertarian foreign policy that all libertarians would agree with; talk about the idea that war powers, resolutions, and laws passed during wartime don’t recede in times of peace; give a quick rundown of American military history; and discuss the rise of a permanent private industry supplying the military. When should the United States go to war? When did the American military really start to get massive? How much do we spend on the military today? Relative to recent history? Is the military open to the same kinds of critiques that libertarians make about other government programs?

Listen To This Episode (54m, mp3, 64kbps)

Subscribe via RSS here, or in any podcast app by searching for “voluntaryist voices”. Support the podcast at Patreon.com/evc or PayPal.me/everythingvoluntary.

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The Downside of Guns

I am a fervent supporter of gun rights– of all human rights. This doesn’t mean I don’t know there’s a downside to guns. It’s just that I know the drawbacks are vastly outweighed by the benefits.

Recently Scott Adams was caught pretending he is the only person with an actual opinion about guns because he pretended no one else ever considers both the benefits and the downsides, and because no one else will say how many “gun deaths” they are willing to accept in order to preserve the right to have guns.

He’s wrong about guns… again.

He stated a willingness to accept 20,000 “gun deaths” per year to “keep” the right to own guns. He says this means he’s the only person with a real opinion because unless you’re willing to put a number on it you’re only experiencing half of an opinion. He’s being misleading. Intentionally?

Putting a number on it as he did pretends that guns only kill innocent people, and ignores all the innocent people saved by guns– most of whom never make the news. Many innocent lives are saved, and many more gross violations which wouldn’t necessarily result in death are also prevented. His is a sneaky, dishonest tactic that I’ve seen used many times in the past; he’s not the first. Unless you can say with certainty how many lives (and bodies) are saved by guns, saying how many deaths you’ll accept is lying, because your numbers are meaningless. It’s less than half of the picture.

But back to the bigger topic. There have been many times I have talked about the costs and benefits of guns, and other people have been doing so since before I was born and it continues to this day. That someone like Scott has managed to avoid this information for 60+ years doesn’t mean it’s not out there. I can’t relate to the arrogance required to imagine no one else has thought of this before.

Everything has costs and benefits. Nothing is immune to this natural law.

But, for the record, here’s another list (and analysis) of the downsides to guns.

  • Bad guys use guns to intimidate and murder. Bad guys include muggers, cops, rapists, IRS agents, inner-city gangs, the military, bank robbers, kidnappers, evil loser mass-shooters, and other archators.

This drawback is negated by the fact that good guys can use (and often require) guns for a real chance at stopping the bad guys without being hurt in the process. To save lives. Wouldn’t you rather have even the hope of a chance to fight back and win than no option better than cowering and waiting to die?

  • Suicidal people use guns to kill themselves.

This is negated by the fact that suicidal people can– and do— use other methods to kill themselves. Look at Japan if you doubt this. If someone wants to kill themselves there’s probably nothing you can really do to stop them. Yes, they might be slowed down if there’s not a gun available– and some of those might then change their minds about killing themselves. But how many? And will that number exceed the number of lives saved with a gun?

Plus, suicide is a human right, even if you don’t like it being exercised.

  • Guns scare people.

This is negated by the fact that someone, somewhere is scared of any object you can think of. I knew a kid who screamed in terror every time she saw a balloon, and working in pet stores I was astounded at how many people are deathly afraid of birds.

Plus, the fact that guns scare people is part of their utility. That way you don’t usually have to shoot the bad guys; just let them be scared by the sight of a gun so they’ll run away or surrender.

  • People have accidents with guns– which results in tragic injury and death.

People have accidents. No further words are necessary. Education and familiarity are the best way to reduce the rate of accidents with guns and other tools– as has been happening for decades now, even as the number of guns goes up. Education and familiarity are even more important where kids are concerned. It’s a bad idea to regulate or ban something just because a certain number of people will always manage to have accidents. Everything would be banned if that were a legitimate criterion.

There may be others I’m not thinking of right now, but if so I’d be willing to bet I’ve considered them in the past, and probably even discussed them. Maybe even on this blog.

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