Monday, September 05, 2005

The Costs of War

Paul Craig Roberts, a sensible writer on issues of economics and history, has expressed thoughts similar to mine when I argued that the invasion of Iraq and other international interventions have placed so much strain on the United States that the efforts to help New Orleans were severly hampered:

Chalk up the city of New Orleans as a cost of Bush's Iraq war.
There were not enough helicopters to repair the breached levees and rescue people trapped by rising water. Nor are there enough Louisiana National Guardsmen available to help with rescue efforts and to patrol against looting.
The situation is the same in Mississippi.
The National Guard and helicopters are off on a fool's mission in Iraq

It should be obvious that this doesn't imply the invasion of Iraq was wrong, just that it has its domestic consequences (made worse when pursued unilaterally). The disaster in New Orleans may have had its origins in nature, but its become a man-made problem due to the way its being handled. It has provided a clear demonstration of vulnerability of the United States. Imagine if the scenario I'm discussing was a major terrorist attack involving weapons of mass destruction (e.g. an American Hiroshima) and the response was the same. It would be even more catastrophic. Blogger The G-Gnome Rides Out argues that this slow response represents a mortal blow to neo-conservatism in the same way the fall of the Berlin wall was to Soviet Communism. This is because the United States does not have the national power necessary to accomplish the aims neo-conservatism has set. Neo-conservatism in international affairs has always been about the remaking of the world order. As self-identified imperalists (read Max Boot or Niall Ferguson) they believe that the United States ought to embrace its role as a liberal power that is aggressively ambitious in its pursuit to remove tyrannys and establish more liberal regimes. Thus liberal humanitarians (who were always for vigorous overseas intervention such as Bosnia & Kosovo) became political allies with neo-conservatives as a result of their common desire to spread democracy and freedom. While their goals are obviously desirable, their means are less so. Neo-conservatism got it wrong in thinking that this is the responsibility of the United States (like it's their historic mission) and that more expansion and further involvement would be supported by its citizens. Niall, unlike others, largely grasped that the United States isn't suited for an imperial role. After September 11th, neo-conservatives believed that they had the requisite political willpower to pursue an expansive strategy. They were confident in America's power base (economic, military, diplomatic). This explains why Rumsfield believed 140,000 troops would be adequate to occupy and build a new government in Iraq and why the abstinence of major partners bar Britain failed to prevent intervention. Now the United States is beginning suffer from over-extension and neo-conservatives are going to take some of the blame. As G-Gnome said, when hacks and fulminators like John Podhoretz are openly criticizing the president, the Great Leader, the ideology is on the way out. So while neo-conservatism had some valid critiques of United States foreign policy (lack of morality clarity to take one example) it nevertheless promoted a dangerous solution: further involvement in the world rather than less.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Slow Response to Hurricane Proof of Bad Ethics

Most of you by now should be aware of the devastating damage that Hurricane Katrina caused to the American city of New Orleans and surrounding areas. What has shocked and appalled me is the slow response (and the way some see the situation as good for the economy). To paraphrase Andrew Sullivan, the situation has morphed from a natural disaster into social meltdown. New Orleans already had a robbery rate 10 times that of the American average and considering most of those left behind were the poor it's easy to imagine how bad the situation is. In these circumstances, a libertarian would view the governments proper role as upholding civil order. We obviously don't support a massive pouring of state funds into the area which is likely to happen long afterwards.
This slow response is a symptom of how the United States often places others interests above its own. The United States has forces stationed all round the world in the name of 'global stability' or for humanitarian causes. It's own interests are often pursued ruthlessly (for example its unwillingness to surrender any sovereignity to global bodies), but since it continues to massive undertake efforts for others it hampers its own ability to help itself when necessary. Thus U.S citizens die while waiting for 1 of the 2 helicopter's avaliable to arrive. See here for more proof:

On June 8, 2004, Walter Maestri, emergency management chief for Jefferson Parish, Louisiana; told the Times-Picayune: "It appears that the money has been moved in the president's budget to handle homeland security and the war in Iraq, and I suppose that's the price we pay. Nobody locally is happy that the levees can't be finished, and we are doing everything we can to make the case that this is a security issue for us."

"The system is in great shape, but the levees are sinking. Everything is sinking, and if we don't get the money fast enough to raise them, then we can't stay ahead of the settlement," he said. "The problem that we have isn't that the levee is low, but that the federal funds have dried up so that we can't raise them."

I await to see if Americans donate as much money towards private charties for New Orleans as they did for the Tsunami. I highly doubt so.

[Update: If you needed more convincing on how we do not face a serious oil problem see these articles by Thomas Sowell here and here]