Posts tagged ‘Egypt’

The Problem Is That We Should Not Care About "Democracy", We Should Care About Protection of Individual Rights

Perhaps this is yet another negative legacy of Woodrow Wilson and his "Making the world safe for democracy" meme.  We talk all the time about allying with and siding with and protecting democracies, but all "democracy" really means in practice (at least today) is that the country has some sort of nominal election process.  Elections are fine, they are less bad than most other ways of selecting government officials, but what we really should care about is that a country protects individuals rights, has free markets, and a rule of law.  If a county has those things, I am not sure I care particularly if they vote or pick leaders by randomly selecting folks from the phone book.

You can see this problem at work here, in an essay by Ilya Somin:

Most democratic governments – including the United States – condemned the attempted recent military coup against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and welcomed its failure, citing the need to respect Turkey’s “democratic” institutions. But in the aftermath, Erdogan took the opportunity to persecute his political opponents on a large scale, including firing thousands of judges who might constrain his authoritarian tendencies. Erdogan’s government was also severely undermining civil liberties long before the coup, even going so far as to pass a law criminalizing “insults” to the president, under which hundreds of people have been prosecuted. Erdogan’s own commitment own commitment to democracy is questionable, at best. He famously once called democracy a tram that “[y]ou ride it until you arrive at your destination, then you step off.”

This raises the question of whether the coup attempt against Erdogan might have been justified. More generally, is it ever justified to forcibly overthrow a democratic government? In this 2013 post, written after the successful military coup against Egypt’s radical Islamist government, I argued that the answer is sometimes “yes.” There should be a strong presumption against forcibly removing a democratic regime. But that presumption might be overcome if the government in question poses a grave threat to human rights, or is likely to destroy democracy itself by shutting down future political competition.

While we can argue if Erdogan is "committed" to democracy, I think it is pretty clear that he is not committed to the protection of individual rights.

What we need is a new alliance not to protect the world for democracy -- that word may originally have meant what I want it to mean but now it seems possible to just check the democracy box merely by having some kind of voting.  We need a new (much smaller than the UN) alliance to make the world safe for, what?  We need a name.  What do we call a country with strong protections of individual rights, free markets, and the rule of law?

Postscript:  yes, there are snarky answers to the last question, such as "increasingly rare" and "net here anymore".

Why I Dislike the "Bush Lied About Iraq" Formulation (And Its Not Because I Want to Defend GWB)

I really don't like the meme that Bush lied about Iraq (on WMD's, possession of yellow cake uranium, whatever).  Here is why:  the implication is that if we just had smarter, more honest politicians, all of our interventionist foreign policy would work great.  But beyond the fact that we never have smarter and more honest politicians, this meme prevents us from learning the right lesson from the Iraq war.

If I were a candidate in the debate asked to comment on Trump's "Bush lied" comment, I would say this:

While politicians lie all the time, I think it is entirely possible that the Bush administration honestly believed Saddam had WMD's at the time of the Iraq war.  In fact, it appears that as a minimum, Hussein was bluffing like hell to make the world think he had such weapons.  But the issue of whether it was a lie or not is all a distraction.  The real issue for me is that we have no idea what we are doing when we intervene in these nations.  Typically in the rush of political sound-bites, we oversimplify ancient, five-sided conflicts as black and white, and even our most well-intentioned efforts to eliminate certain problems (such as Saddam Hussein or Qaddafi) tend to result in unanticipated consequences that might be many times as problematic as the original issues.  In Iraq, in Egypt, in Afghanistan, in Syria, in Libya -- we had hundreds of people in and out of government who act like they know it all but in fact we as a county had no idea what we were doing.  And we simply can't know.

The lesson from the Iraq War is not that our foreign policy would be perfect if only we purge liars from the government (and good luck with that).  The lesson from the Iraq War is that we are never going to have a sensible foreign policy until we adopt some humility -- a lot of humility -- about our ability to understand other countries and manipulate them by force.  Is this really what you expect out of Donald Trump?  More humility?  While there is still a role for America's strength in the world, we need to set a much higher bar for when we use that strength.


Postscript:  They say that a converted Christian is more passionate that those who have been Christian all their lives.  I will confess that I am a convert to foreign policy humility.  I grew up in a Texas conservative Republican family, though I shed a lot of the social conservative baggage, as well as any team allegiance to the Republicans, decades ago.  I did hold on to sort of neo-Conservative forceful foreign policy, though.  I am embarrassed to say that I was a participant in my generation's August madness**, getting all rah-rah about the Iraq invasion.  At least I admit it, unlike a number of other folks *cough* Hillary and Trump *cough* who try to whitewash history.  I will use a famous quote here from Robespierre, though in the end he did not follow his own advice:

The most extravagant idea that can be born in the head of a political thinker is to believe that it suffices for people to enter, weapons in hand, among a foreign people and expect to have its laws and constitution embraced. No one loves armed missionaries; the first lesson of nature and prudence is to repulse them as enemies.


** There are surprisingly few good online sources I can find discussing the August Madness.  It refers to the public celebrations that occurred in the first month of World War I in nearly every combatant country.  The beginning of the war was met by a surprising amount of enthusiasm, even from groups (e.g. the Socialists) who were expected to actively oppose a general war.  Growing nationalism combined with a certain strain of 19th century romanticism and even a certain amount of progressive social Darwinism all came to a head to create general (though not universal) enthusiasm for the war.

Triumphalism Indeed

For years I have argued that most high-speed rail makes no sense economically -- that in fact it is an example of the political impulse towards triumphalism.  Government leaders through the ages have wanted to use other people's money and sweat to build vast monuments to themselves that would last through the ages.

I meant that as ridicule, and assumed most readers would recognize it as such, but apparently not the LA Times, which editorialized in favor of California high speed rail in part because its just like the pyramids

Worthwhile things seldom come without cost or sacrifice. That was as true in ancient times as it is now; pharaoh Sneferu, builder of Egypt's first pyramids, had to try three times before he got it right, with the first two either collapsing under their own weight or leaning precipitously. But who remembers that now? Not many people have heard of Sneferu, but his pyramids and those of his successors are wonders of the world.

As a reminder, this is what I wrote at the article linked above in Forbes

What is it about intellectuals that seem to, generation after generation, fall in love with totalitarian regimes because of their grand and triumphal projects?  Whether it was the trains running on time in Italy, or the Moscow subways, or now high-speed rail lines in China, western dupes constantly fall for the lure of the great pyramid without seeing the diversion of resources and loss of liberty that went into building it.

For Some, There Can Never Be Enough Government Spending

In his New York Times column, Paul Krugman blames the coming British recession on the government's "austerity."  In the Left's parlance, "austerity" means the government is not spending and in particular deficit spending enough.

But it turns out that

a. Of 44 major economies in the world, the British have been running the highest budget deficits of any country except two - Greece and Egypt are higher.

b. British real government spending has risen every year through the financial crisis

Presuming Krugman has access to these basic facts, is his argument that Britain should be deficit spending even more (and if so, wtf is enough?) or is this just political hackery to help Obama dispel concerns about his deficits?

I Told You So (Health Care Edition)

For about a year now, I have been arguing that public funding of health care will be used as a Trojan Horse to introduce a near fascist micro-regulation of our lives.  I argue that if the government is funding health care, then they will claim a financial stake in your health, and begin regulating everything from your food intake to your exercise habits, even your risk choices (e.g. snowboarding).  I made this argument here and here, among other places.  The general reaction has been, "gee Coyote, nice theoretical argument but you can put your tinfoil hat away now.  You are being paranoid."

Well, check this out:    (via Reason)

Another doctor who examined the journal report was Dr. Brian
McCrindle, a childhood obesity expert and professor of pediatrics with
a pediatric hospital in Toronto.

He warned that the looming problem must be addressed.

"The wave of heart disease and stroke could totally swamp the public health care system," he said.

He warned that lawmakers had to take a broader view of the looming
problem "” and consider doing things such as banning trans fats and
legislating against direct advertising of junk food toward children.

"It's not going to be enough any more just to say to the consumer 'You have to change your behavior,'" he said.

Notice that he left the second half of his last sentence unsaid.  That second half is "the government is going to have to force them."  Of course, none of this is an issue if we all have personal responsibility for our own health care costs and therefore for the consequences of our own decisions.

Postscript:  By the way, for anyone older than 30 who grew up in the sixties and seventies when all the intelligentsia were painting pictures of Malthusian starvation nightmares, this is GOOD news:

The percentages of overweight children also are expected to increase
significantly in the Middle East and Southeast Asia. Mexico, Chile,
Brazil and Egypt have rates comparable to fully industrialized nations,
James said.

He estimated that, for example, one in five children in China will be overweight by 2010.

The reason for this is not because of some evil corporate conspiracy (though that's what the article attributes it to) but due to the fact that these kids are simply not starving to death any more.  I am absolutely sure that the public health "crisis" from these overweight kids is less of a problem than the public health crisis of 30 years ago, when they were all malnourished and dying of being, well, severely underweight.  I mean, are there any of you out there in the over 40 crowd who didn't get the "there are starving kids in China" guilt trip growing up when you didn't eat your dinner?

More Arizona Cotton Subsidies

A while back, I wrote the Porkbusters post on Arizona farm subsidies, which are mainly cotton subsidies.  Cotton gets subsidized both with direct farm subsidies as well as price-subsidized water (this is a desert, after all, and unlike Egypt we don't have the Nile running through it).

Porkopolis is on the case with a further potential subsidy, as the US Government is apparently transferring a valuable piece of Phoenix commercial real estate to Arizona cotton growers:

A review of the final bill passed by both the House and the Senate shows that Senators DeWine and Voinovich, along with 97 other Senators,
voted for a provision that transfers a federal facility and surrounding
land to the Arizona Cotton Growers Association and Supima:

783. As soon as practicable after the Agricultural Research Service
Operations at the Western Cotton Research Laboratory located at 4135
East Broadway Road in Phoenix, Arizona, have ceased, the Secretary of
Agriculture shall convey, without consideration, to the Arizona Cotton Growers Association and Supima all right, title, and interest of the United States in and to the real property at that location, including improvements.

They've got a very deep investigative report.