Monday, February 14, 2011

Arguing with Republicans

This guy.
For the last few years, it seems like all I've done is debate with leftists, liberals and progressives who's poor grasp of economics and annoying tendency to support style over substance has turned a good many of them into socialist weasels.

Obviously, I've had this experience because from the moment the stock market collapsed onward, these people have been pushing the idiotic memes that our economy is in such abysmal shape because of "the free market", and that capitalism needed to be "saved from itself" just like when FDR rushed in and "saved the day" in the 1930's... All in spite of the fact that real free market economists had been warning of the bubbles in real estate & stock prices for years before the collapse, and in spite of the obvious fact that far from being a laissez-faire guy, Bush was a big government catastrophe.

So naturally, I've spent an inordinate amount of time trying to explain to the statist yokels that they are wrong, and as a result, their policies are doing significant harm to the economy.

This has made me temporarily well liked by a few Republicans & "conservatives", and somehow I've managed to collect a fair number of Republicans as "friends" on Facebook and such. To an extent, I'm fine with that... I welcome debate, and on some issues, like monetary policy and the deficit some of these people seem to be alright.

But until yesterday, I'd honestly somewhat forgotten about the paranoid, crazy & xenophobic element to the Republican Party.

An article I read the other day considered the modern Republican Party a "three-legged stool" consisting of Social Conservatives, Military/"Defense"-Hawks, and Libertarians.

I suppose that's generally accurate, but since I primarily talk to the most "libertarian" of Republicans, I don't usually see a lot of the other two "legs".

Obviously, I have nothing in common with "social conservatives", who tend to be both extremely religious and fans of every possible iteration of the nanny-state. As an atheist who believes that no activity adults engage in should be illegal unless it explicitly harms someone else, I am not exactly going to wind up on Pat Robertson's speed-dial anytime soon.

The "Religious Right" are often on the hit-list of my atheist friends & acquaintances - many of whom are moderate leftists to socialists - but the Social Conservative thing really doesn't scare me at all. These people are a dying breed and basically everyone except for themselves knows it. The whole anti-science schtick is not winning those folks any prizes - nor is their despicable treatment of gays and virtually anyone who doesn't subscribe to the pre-ordained, "Christian" lifestyle. Their own stupidity, hatred and just a little bit of time will finish them off without any special effort from me.

However... I realized yesterday how little in common I have with the War-Hawk types as well - and how much more dangerous they really are.

It all really started when Ron Paul won the CPAC straw-poll. Suddenly, "Neo-Conservatives" were out in full force - predictably denouncing the man as some kind of lunatic for wanting to end the nearly decade-long occupations of Iraq & Afghanistan.

A lot of the ridiculousness involved the assertion that all Ron Paul fans are anti-Semitic Jew-haters who want to see Israel get annihilated by surrounding countries - never mind the fact that it is entirely possible to dislike the idea of sending gobs of foreign aid and US military support to Israel, and to disapprove of their domestic & foreign policies while also not actually hating the Jews. As any of my many Jewish pals could tell you - I do it all the time.

Also, I've been told that all Ron Paul supporters are pot-smoking college kids who might as well be America-hating Democrats. Speaking as a moderate fan of Dr. Paul, and as someone who is emphatically not a Democrat and maybe most importantly; as someone who has never smoked a puff of marijuana in his entire life... I have to say... Uh... What!?

I'm pretty sure it's easy for most sane people to realize how crazy those "arguments" are, so I'll probably just leave them alone.

Indeed, the main argument I want to deal with now centers around "Islamic Extremists" or "Radical Islam" and the Neo-Cons' perceived need to bomb the ever-loving crap out of countries which might be home to Muslims. Because... You know... They're probably towel-headed terrorists who want to destroy the United States by any means necessary. Pretty much all Islamics are... Or so I'm occasionally told.

For instance, here's one comment directed towards me:
"Anybody that blames America's foreign policy for the Islamic radicalism---is at best a well meaning idiot. Such people must be marginalized. They are similar to a little child playing with matches."
Over the course of the ensuing discussion, all the standard Neo-Con arguments came into play...
  1. Extremism is "mainstream" for Muslims
  2. The Terrorists(tm) hate us for our "freedoms"
  3. Ignore the 50+ years of American interventionism and military occupations in the Middle East... Ignore the damaged reputation, ignore the unaffordable costs & economic damage, ignore the ridiculous loss of life, ignore the man behind the curtain... None of it matters. Boogeyman! Be afraid!
All this fear mongering is remarkably stupid and dangerous.

Thanks, but... No thanks.
First of all... There are plenty of people in the United States who want to impose all sorts of puritanical rules based primarily on their interpretations of Christianity too, so public opinion polling of highly religious people is a remarkably disingenuous way to assess the risks that those people actually represent.

Christian theocrats won't succeed in imposing religious law here, and neither will Muslims.

Moreover, Muslims are not only NOT even succeeding in getting illiberal laws implemented in Europe - where they have an arguably better opportunity than in the United States - they are actually losing ground substantially as "multicultural" havens like France actually ban the wearing of Burqas* and other religious head-coverings and European leaders are starting to rail against non-assimilated Muslims in the UK & Germany.

*I don't agree with the banning of Burqas, as it is the opposite of what any society valuing freedom of speech & belief should be doing... But it does go to show that Muslims aren't just going to "take over" everything and impose Sharia Law as I was told the other day that they wanted.

So from the start, the Neo-Cons I was talking to were blatantly making up stuff about what "most Muslims" think and about the dangers Muslim extremists actually reflect...

In fact, the single opinion poll one guy had linked me to only talked about Muslims in Egypt, as well as Muslims in Pakistan and a few other Middle Eastern countries. It did not address the opinions of Muslims living in the US, in Canada, in the UK, Germany, France, etc. nor did it address the immense population of Muslims living in most of Asia.

Furthermore, contrary to what nonsense I was told about the poll from the Neo-Con I had talked to, actually reading poll led me to discover that while the Muslims questioned tend to view Hamas & Hezbollah somewhat positively, they almost universally rejected Al Qaeda and Osama bin Ladin. This actually reflects a shift in how Hamas & Hezbollah are classified to some degree because for the last several years, both organizations have been readjusting their public images to appear less extremist and more mainstream.

Their PR campaigns may not reflect the reality of those organizations perfectly, but people's perceptions are naturally effected by Hamas' branding outreach - and the fact that people have grown to support those organizations as they've gotten less extreme certainly seems relevant, doesn't it?

But that's not all!

While we're on the subject of opinion polling Gallup's survey of 50,000 Muslims found that just 7% thought the 9/11 attacks were acceptable. And of those, virtually all based their opinion on US foreign policy and not on religious differences.

So let's get that stupid myth out of the way right now.

Additionally, my Neo-Con "buddy" wrongly assumes that what someone might like to see happen (i.e. more theocracy in America) is representative of what actually can happen... and worse, their paranoia makes them believe that people who believe in a different religion are intrinsically prone to radical acts of violence.

And it's simply crazy... if not pure projection.

The mistakes in their reasoning and in their "information" are glaringly obvious... And while I realize at this point that they're unlikely to admit to them, the kinds of policies Neo-Con war-hawks have been supporting have put us all in more danger than we were in before 9/11.

A pretty large subset of professionals in the military & US intelligence agencies agree, too... Take note this, from the New York Times:
"The classified National Intelligence Estimate attributes a more direct role to the Iraq war in fueling radicalism than that presented either in recent White House documents or in a report released Wednesday by the House Intelligence Committee, according to several officials in Washington involved in preparing the assessment or who have read the final document.

The intelligence estimate, completed in April, is the first formal appraisal of global terrorism by United States intelligence agencies since the Iraq war began, and represents a consensus view of the 16 disparate spy services inside government. Titled “Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States,’’ it asserts that Islamic radicalism, rather than being in retreat, has metastasized and spread across the globe."
And from Foreign Policy magazine, there's the matter of this:
"But in a broader sense, America has become perilously unsafe [since the "War on Terror" began].
New research provides strong evidence that suicide terrorism such as that of 9/11 is particularly sensitive to foreign military occupation, and not Islamic fundamentalism or any ideology independent of this crucial circumstance. Although this pattern began to emerge in the 1980s and 1990s, a wealth of new data presents a powerful picture.

More than 95 percent of all suicide attacks are in response to foreign occupation, according to extensive research that we conducted at the University of Chicago's Project on Security and Terrorism, where we examined every one of the over 2,200 suicide attacks across the world from 1980 to the present day. As the United States has occupied Afghanistan and Iraq, which have a combined population of about 60 million, total suicide attacks worldwide have risen dramatically -- from about 300 from 1980 to 2003, to 1,800 from 2004 to 2009. Further, over 90 percent of suicide attacks worldwide are now anti-American. The vast majority of suicide terrorists hail from the local region threatened by foreign troops, which is why 90 percent of suicide attackers in Afghanistan are Afghans."
And meanwhile, here in the United States, the fear-mongering that's got this group of Republicans & "conservatives" all worked up has allowed the US government license to spy on people, to detain people indefinitely without cause or a trial, to pass all manner of new laws dictating people's lives personally & economically, and they've made traveling internally into a hellish nightmare.

All in, America is losing ground on every conceivable metric of freedom that exists - and virtually any of the groups that rank freedom in the world (Heritage Foundation, Fraser Institute, Freedomhouse, etc.) confirm the trend that everyone with a pair of eyes and a reasonably well-functioning mind can already see.

So seriously, let's review:
  • The War on Terror and occupations of Iraq & Afghanistan has increased and not decreased the radical element of Islam.
  • The War on Terror has resulted in vastly more US citizen deaths, not to mention dozens of times more Iraqi & Afghani deaths, than the 9/11 attacks themselves caused (thus making the cost-benefit seem more than a little bit skewed).
  • We cannot actually afford an endless, war which is already into its 10th year and is currently a massive contributor to the deficits & debt bankrupting the US (not to mention misallocating capital resources into bombs and tanks instead of meeting peaceful consumer demand in the market)... Small detail.
  • Only a tiny fraction of the Muslim people actually support violence in the name of their religion - and of those, most actually respond to US foreign policy more than any religious differences. Did I mention that there are something like 1.57 Billion Muslims in the world, and by even the most generous estimates, extremists & terrorists are measured in the 10s of thousands? Out of the whole population of Muslims, even if there were 100,000 suicide bombers out there, that would still only an infinitesimally small fraction (maybe 0.00637%!) of all Muslims... Far from "mainstream" as I was told. Again... Small detail.
  • As a result of the War on Terror, US citizens have lost substantial amounts of liberty and are routinely treated without due process and the presumption of innocence has basically been tossed out the window.
  • Warfare is economically disastrous for everyone involved, and that is to say nothing of the immense loss of life - far outweighing the human cost of terrorism actually in the United States.
So we're less free and less safe, our actions are contributing to the radicalization of people who otherwise wouldn't have cared all that much about the US, and our military occupations are setting the stage for future extremists. Soldiers, contractors and civilians of all nationalities are getting killed en masse every single day... And yet these people are still hawking for more violence and more warfare!

Not only does this seem to me to be a morally reprehensible and utterly insane position to take regarding United States foreign policy... It's also not all that "conservative" when you think about it.

But most of all... It flies in the face of one of the greatest pieces of advice many of our "founding fathers" gave to this country:
"Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations — entangling alliances with none" --Thomas Jefferson
Foreign policy honestly just shouldn't be so complicated... Given that we have a government, its primary role must be that of defense of the individual citizen, and of the citizens' natural rights to life, liberty & property.

This probably means being prepared to thwart any actual attack on the United States, but it most certainly does not mean imperialism and empire-building world-wide. Meddling in Middle Eastern politics, installing or supporting dictators like Saddam Hussein, Hosni Mubarak and even terrorist dirt-bags like Osama bin Ladin (all of which the United States government has done!) is not... under any reasonable definition... "defense".

So frankly, on a pragmatic note... Apart from having a kick-ass anti-ballistic missile system, and a top-notch & well trained Air Force or Navy to defend the borders of the United States from foreign invaders... I honestly don't think the military should have much of a role in people's lives at all.

The majority of "foreign policy" should be simply staying out of the way of people who wish to trade and interact with each other. No more tariffs and protectionism, no more travel restrictions for US citizens, no more CIA coups.

Any activities beyond that scope merely sets up the kinds of "unintended consequences" that we've been dealing with in recent years... Dictators we used to support get over-thrown or they turn on us and use the weapons we provided them (ostensibly to fight the USSR, for instance?) against our own soldiers.

It is utter madness to want to continue these courses of action - and yet, that was precisely what the Republicans I was talking to yesterday wanted.

Sanity in US policy - economic, social, foreign... doesn't even matter - really is a long way off, isn't it?


Unknown said...

What good is a kick-ass anti-ballistic missile system if you never use it?

Bryan White said...

The neo-conservative strain in foreign policy is actually the influence of Jewish (former) Democrats who imported the idea of democratizing for peace into the traditional "realist" view of foreign policy. The realist view takes war as just one more method of diplomacy. The other major view is the "liberal" view (President Wilson was an early proponent) which pushed the notion that if we all trade together and stuff the peace would result based on the shared common sense about the evils of war.

The problem is that there's quite a bit of truth to the realist position. Have you studied von Bismarck? His approach to war remains in play. When you've got a sufficient technological advantage then war is very practical means of diplomacy. Our founding fathers preceded Bismarck, and the world has shrunk in the meantime. The oceans are no longer the buffer against military action they once were. A handful of nutcase Islamists could potentially end the U.S. as we know it with a nuclear pulse weapon. And that's to say nothing of future advances in weaponry.

Personally, I don't see how we can afford to ignore what people who hate us are doing in other countries. The liberty we enjoy (and you apparently treasure in particular) are exceptional in the annals of history. It won't be hard to lose them, and war is one of the realistic means that might bring that end about.

The Times article about foreign wars supposedly giving impetus to terrorist recruiting was unconvincing, by the way. The key graph was a single quotation from an anonymous source. The story had a number of such sources and it didn't seem like a common theme.

Mainly, though, I want you to realize that "neocon" foreign policy is an attempt by realists to borrow one big page from the liberal camp--spreading representative democracy in hopes that the liberal approach to world peace can take hold in that setting.

If you don't think it's workable then I'd like to hear your alternative.

Sean W. Malone said...


I am actually aware that the neo-conservative roots come from the disgruntled progressives/Democrats who supported a bigger war-fare state.

However, under no remotely sane definition does war qualify as just "one more method of diplomacy". Diplomacy is peace and dialogue, war is violence and destruction. Only the most idiotically Orwellian among us would suggest that "War is Peace" - which is essentially the argument any neo-con taking that view is making.

As for people "hating us", I've already explained (and more importantly so have numerous studies, policy experts, Muslim/Middle East experts, and experts & experience military & intelligence operatives (of whom, I may note, my own father is probably included - and while he and I don't agree on a lot of things, I'm pretty sure we agree on this)... We are actively "hated" not because of our "freedoms" or culture, but as a result of our decades of meddling and aggressive foreign policy and occupations throughout the Middle East.

Ignoring the consequences of our own policy in this realm is the height of stupidity.

Also, suggesting that Woodrow Wilson was in favor of free trade is nonsense. Likewise, the belief that free trade is a way to solve political problems (and it most assuredly is, by the way) is in no way what I'd describe as a "liberal" position. At least in the modern usage of the term.

There are only two ways to deal with other people.

1. Violence (i.e. WAR)
2. Non-violence (i.e. Trade & Commerce)

Mutually beneficial trade with other countries results in peace because trade necessarily fosters an environment of trust and symbiosis. With I believe only two almost unnoticeable exceptions, no two countries who trade with each other regularly have gone to war with each other. One exception was the South Ossetia war fought by Georgia & Russia, and that lasted all of one day.

As a side-benefit, trade requires human interaction, and consistent interaction requires trust and that breeds mutual respect - and that is a great way to stop people from wanting to kill you.

It's the isolation and aggressiveness that is the problem, and the more we cut ourselves off and differentiate ourselves with people in parts of the Middle East (and the more they isolate themselves), the more likely war becomes.

Ultimately, I think that while political diplomacy is better than war, it's not even a fraction as good at fostering peaceful relationships than international trade and markets.

So I guess to summarize here:

1. Accurately assessing the threat of Islamic terrorism is not "ignoring" the possibility of problems, it's actually being a "realist", and reality is simply that it's not that big of a risk.

See a new article by Shikha Dalmia on the topic:

2. "Spreading Democracy" is what got us in the hated position we are in, and more of that makes us less safe.

3. Trade, and opening up our markets to producers from anywhere around the world is a good thing for everyone involved and is the best hope we have of not only remaining attack free, but also actually genuinely spreading the ideas of liberty world wide.

You can't increase liberty in the world at gun point.

Bryan White said...

Begging your pardon, foreign policy realism (it's a standard term) regards war as another tool of diplomacy by definition. You're playing your own Orwellian game by using the term otherwise (though I can accept it as mere wordplay).

I didn't mention "free trade."

We're not going to communicate effectively unless we're speaking the same language. "Liberal" and "realist" have meanings that you're not employing in your response. Look them up in conjunction with "foreign policy."

Sean W. Malone said...

It doesn't matter if so-called "foreign policy realists" regard warfare as "diplomacy".

It isn't.

War is quite obviously the opposite of diplomacy.

To describe war as if it's just another type of diplomacy is - as I noted earlier - literally Orwellian nonsense ("War is Peace" ring a bell?), and pointing out that simple fact does not make me the one who is twisting words around.

Diplomacy is talking, negotiating & compromise geared towards peaceful (read: non-violent) solutions to international disputes.

War is extreme violence.

These aren't compatible ideas in the slightest - regardless of what spin-meisters in the neo-conservative camp would like people to believe.

Also... I agree that we should standardize definitions here... For instance, "liberal" has a bunch of different usages.

When you describe something in 2011 America as a "liberal position", you are generally referring to a Democrat/Progressive/Leftist view point. This is not at all in alignment with the original definition of "liberal", which is to be in favor of liberty. But for better or worse, that's the definition most people use any more.

While you didn't use the words "free trade", you were talking about that in principle as if it was a part of Woodrow Wilson's international relations strategy - which is mostly nonsense - and then you defined that as a "liberal" position.

Now... If you meant that "the notion that if we all trade together and stuff" is liberal in the classical liberal/libertarian sense of being in favor of individual liberty, then sure - you'd be correct.

However, if you meant that it is remotely the policy advocated by modern "Liberals" and Progressives like Woodrow Wilson, then you're off your nut. When precisely was the last time you heard a died-in-the-wool liberal (in the "Progressive" sense) rally for free trade?

So yeah... Defining terms sure is important - but so is using words in sensible ways. Manipulating words like "diplomacy" to include foreign interactions which are obviously not diplomacy is not gonna fly around here.

I hope we're on the same page.

Bryan White said...

Physician, heal thyself:

"Defining terms sure is important - but so is using words in sensible ways. Manipulating words like "diplomacy" to include foreign interactions which are obviously not diplomacy is not gonna fly around here."

You're mixing two different definitions of "diplomacy." More recently, "diplomacy" refers to tact, as in resolving things without resort to rancor or violence. The senior definition carries no such connotation:

The art or practice of conducting international relations, as in negotiating alliances, treaties, and agreements.

Contrary to what you argue, it is an act of diplomacy to attack country C and then tell country B that if it doesn't accept trade agreement X then it may be next. Or, if you fail to accept the point with the sugar coating, one can get a nation to accept what it sees as a poor trade relationship by conquering that nation (Japan, Manchuria). It's one way of conducting international relations.

Sean W. Malone said...

"The art or practice of conducting international relations, as in negotiating alliances, treaties, and agreements."

...pretty much precludes bombing the crap out of people.

Alliances, treaties & agreement ≠ violently destroying a country's resources and annihilating its people.

Seriously man, this isn't difficult stuff. If you use the word "Diplomacy" to mean "War", the words have both lost all their meaning.

Sean W. Malone said...

And... PS... I never argued that extreme violence and threatening extreme violence wasn't "one way to conduct international relations".

Of course it is!

It's just the worst way imaginable if you want mutual respect, lasting peace and economic prosperity.

It's only a "good" idea if you want to make your country the most hated nation world-wide, and to open yourself up to perpetual opportunistic attacks by every country you've screwed over and every country that thinks you're about to screw them over.

Bryan White said...

"The art or practice of conducting international relations, as in negotiating alliances, treaties, and agreements."

...pretty much precludes bombing the crap out of people.


Is bombing people not one way of conducting international relations?

I can't wait to see the logical support behind your assertion.

Gary Parr said...

I'm late to the party, but wanted to toss a thought into the ring.

First, I feel that arguing over WHY we are hated/attacked/bombed/dragged from embassies is mostly irrelevant. I'm not saying it should be ignored, because that is not the case. I truly believe we need to study and understand in order to grow and learn from history. However, we really can not dig into such a complex topic while we are in the middle of it without falling into logical traps and passionate diversions from reason.

Second, whether you believe we brought this upon ourselves or that we are a scape goat used by power seeking radicals to whip up the masses the best solution is complete disengagement backed up by a strong commitment to retaliatory strikes if necessary. If the progressives are correct then we should see anger towards us die off and no military actions would be necessary. If the hawks are right, then we will still see actual US deaths diminish, defense costs go down, and have more justification for retaliation with fuller support of the international community when required.

Third, as long as the major parties continue to push for interventionist policy then the conversation must shift towards the debate over which form of intervention is better. From my perspective, this is where 99% of the left/right policy divide comes into play. Hawks and Progressives seem to take it as a matter of course that we must be out there in the world, pumping money and support into this country or that, training resistance fighters here and there or propping up democracies around the world to either give people freedom or to create an ally out of thin air. In this respect, I must say I agree with the hawks. As long as we are out there, we should be aggressive. A passive interventionist approach is just a faster form of suicide.

Anyway, just my thoughts.

Jason in KT said...

"As an atheist who believes that no activity adults engage in should be illegal unless it explicitly harms someone else..."

To your credit, you wave your short-sightedness like a banner. Hopefully you have a similar statement on a t-shirt so as to make yourself easy to avoid in public.

Sean W. Malone said...

Care to elaborate Jason? You're being awfully vague.

Is it my atheism that you think is short-sighted, or my desire not to put people in jail for doing things that don't actually harm anybody else?