The Closet Moderate: March 2011

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The End of Pax Americana?

Winds of change are blowing across the deserts of North Africa.  First Tunisians, then Egyptians, and now Libyans crowded the streets in protest and insurrection against their respective despots.  In 1989, when a similar wave of freedom swept the former Warsaw Pact, America's voice joined the voices of the oppressed as they cried out for freedom from their socialist masters.  Now, in Africa, those voices are raised again, but one voice is missing from the chorus.  Ours.

Between mutterings about the United Nations and the international community, between shifting blame to his Secretary of State and making his NCAA tournament picks, President Obama hasn't managed to say the one thing the Libyan rebels long to hear: we are with you.

The shores of Tripoli, 1804
Don't get me wrong: Obama's said plenty of words.  He's great at words.  But words are of no import without the action that makes them true.  Expressions of moral support are fine and good, but they pale in comparison to actual support.  For all the good he's done, Obama might have just changed his Facebook status.  LIBYA SHULD BE FREE!! IF U AGREE POST THIS AS UR STATUS!!!

If he was just a harmless fool with a Facebook page, there would be little reason to object.  But Obama's bully pulpit makes him America's voice to the world.  As Calvin Coolidge said, "[t]he words of a President have an enormous weight, and ought not to be used indiscriminately."  Obama should recall his wise predecessor when he speaks of support that is moral rather than material.  Or, as another wag once put it, don't let your mouth write checks your ass can't cash.

America's great power and willingness to use it has created what historians have called the Pax Americana.  Our national strength deters lesser powers from starting wars.  It has been an imperfect pax, to be sure, but without the threat of American reprisals the petty tyrants around the world would have nothing to stop them.  But our current peacenik-in-chief believes that his foreign policy can be all velvet glove, no iron fist.  If we just find a way to make everyone love us, all will lay down their arms.  Peace!  The goal of all good men!

But peace is not an end in itself.  Justice is an end.  Liberty is an end.  Equality is an end.  All of these ends can be applied to American policy at some point in our history.  Peace is often the way to achieve justice but so, at times, is war.  Peace did not keep Saddam Hussein from annexing Kuwait; war did.  Afterward, the knowledge that America would resort to war at need kept other despots' armies in their barracks.  Now, as Libyan rebels cry out for a no-fly zone, the sort of thing Bush and Clinton did all the time to protect rebels, Obama sits and thinks and talks.  But he does not act.  Is it a surprise that no other nation will step forward?  Is it a surprise that Saudi troops are suppressing democracy protesters in Bahrain?  Who's going to stop them?  The international community?


Thursday, March 10, 2011

Gorge Yourselves at the Trough of Freedom!

The former writer of this blog would have surely enjoyed this Slate piece in which Daniel Engber finally cries "hold enough" to all of the anti-obesity hatred going around (h/t Megan McArdle).  All of this hand-wringing over fatness disturbs me for a lot of reasons.  Much of it is fueled by bigotry, for one thing.  Skinny people talk about health, but what they really mean is that it disgusts them to see fat people.  And these are the same folks who'll tell you that people opposed to gay marriage are just bigots who are grossed out by two dudes kissing.  The Birkenstock pinches on the other foot, doesn't it?

But even more than their motivations, their insistence on doing something about it bothers me most.  I'm the only libertarian blogger on this site, so my co-bloggards may disagree with me, but this obsession with fixing other people is one of the most loathsome traits in the American character, all the more so because it seems, to me, so un-American.

W. Penn, hale and hearty
Then again, maybe it isn't.  We think about the Pilgrims as folks who were tired of being told what to do by the Church of England and came here to be free.  But that is only half of the story.  What sort of society did they build when they got here?  One as rigid and interfering as the one they'd left behind -- indeed, it was even more concerned with fixing people.  Pilgrims wanted to be left alone, but they weren't too keen on leaving other people alone.  True connoisseurs of liberty should look not to the Mayflower but to the Welcome, the ship that carried the first load of live-and-let-live Quakers to Philadelphia.  And let me tell you, William Penn could've dropped a few pounds.

According to the Slate readers Engber cites, our national weakness is that we are to soft on over-eating among children.  This is a problem Ethiopians wish they had, but even if you believe it to be a real quandry, what does this learned upper middle-class readership think is the solution?  Shame!  Shame!  Shame on fatty!  These hypocrites who quailed at the excerpts of Amy Chua's ideas on child-rearing are willing to bring out the big guns when Junior puts on some extra pounds.  What's more, they want the government to help them do it! 

Unsurprisingly, the Obamas stand ready to tell other people how to live.  I'm not going to bother asking from where in the Constitution they derive this authority -- many of my readers and co-bloggards avoid that document like Kryptonite.  But I will ask this: is this what government is for?  Is this the dream of Washington and Franklin, of Lincoln and Grant, of Teddy Roosevelt and FDR?  For damn sure it wasn't Taft's and Cleveland's vision of a more perfect union.  And was this in the hearts of those first primitives who, arising out of that state of nature into which mankind was born, banded together and formed the first government to protect their precious natural rights from thieves and murderers?  Was their fondest wish that someday, somehow, humanity could live under governments so powerful and so nosy that they could give every girl in America and eating disorder?  Consider, do-gooders, what if you're wrong? 


Wednesday, March 09, 2011

More Slate inanity

This article on Slate caught my eye.  It's about an obscure country, Mauritius, which is always interesting, and it says how much America sucks, which always generates a lot of comments.  As expected, it was stupid and shallow.  It is basically an article about how to succeed by being a free rider. Finance your government by letting other countries' citizens avoid tax, and reduce military spending to zero by depending on other countries to rescue you from foreign aggressors, should the need arise. Great plan, but the nature of free riders is such that only a few can do it.  The thesis is shallow, and ends with a non sequitur about the naval base at Diego Garcia.  It read like a leftist's postcard from a tropical vacation, and such was the depth of research that I half-expected the final sentence to read "sent from my iPhone."

So, I intended to comment on the ignorance of the journalist who authored it and close the browser, feeling smug and satisfied.  Then I read the byline: Joseph Stiglitz.  This is the work of a Nobel Prize-winner?  Could he be serious?  Can such a learned man believe that the solutions found in a tropical tourist destination and notorious tax haven are scalable and applicable to the world's largest economy?  I was truly disturbed.  I know it's not a scholarly journal, but didn't any editor at Slate ask the author why this little island has so much money flowing in from other countries?  The article doesn't even mention it, which would have sent up a huge red flag at the journal for which I once fact-checked.

Tax dodges, sugar cane, textile sweatshops, and beach vacations can employ a lot of people, but I doubt that they can support an economy that provides "free" healthcare and university education to 308 million.  I mean, look at this place.  You could walk from one end to the other in a day.  That's the kind of place that can afford their ridiculously high gas taxes.  Here, not so much.  And even with all of this free riding, the per capita GDP is $12,100.  Not bad, as that neighborhood goes, but a country like the United States (per capita GDP: $47,132) doesn't need to take lessons from them.