Power is wrong on Libya

March 30, 2011

Earlier I complained about Samantha Power’s book about Western powers’ failure to prevent genocides in recent history. Her book had aspects of historical fiction. For example, she asserts that had the US destroyed and jammed Rwandan communications the genocide would have fizzled out. Would those murderers really have given up so easily? Her position assumes that genocide can be averted cheaply with little risk to American soldiers. Now she’s back arguing that the US should prevent mass murder in Libya. Her position will be put to the test because Qaddafi will likely fight to the bloody end. If air support is not enough and the ragtag rebels can’t push towards Tripoli, Libya will descend into long-term civil war. Will the US and NATO provide more assistance to help the rebels, such as weapons, training, communications, air power, etc? How much and for how long will the West support one side in a civil war? It’s been 10 years since her book was published and she still doesn’t have a rationale beyond “genocide is bad, please stop it!”.

I believe that the US must commit to a policy goal and be willing to apply all resources to quickly achieve that goal. But that means you need the support of the people and Congress, which probably requires that it be a direct threat to the US. Obama said it is US policy that Qaddafi must go. Is he willing to commit US troops to finish the job? Are the American people willing to see soldiers die (remember Somalia?) for a civil war that doesn’t threaten us? I doubt it. Afghantistan is the only recent war that was a direct threat to the US and deserved to get smashed. Pakistan’s Waziristan area is IMO looking like another area that deserves to get flattened.

Right now the best NATO can hope for is another Afghanistan. US Special Forces armed, trained and followed Afghan Northern Alliance fighters. They were able to call in air support to destroy Taliban forces and quickly capture the country. It is very likely that the US is threatening and bribing the generals around Qaddafi right now, urging them to give up or die. If I were running things, I’d tell the various tribes in Libya that they’ll get double their current income from oil without Qaddafi stealing all that money. In the end, money talks.


I’m listening to Henry Kissinger defend supporting dictators for our national security interests. The choice is not obviously autocracy vs. democracy with an amiable government. Everyone would choose a nice Nordic democracy were it possible. Instead, the choice is usually presented as autocracy vs. some scary unknown bogeyman. In Egypt the bogeyman is the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization dedicated to destroying Israel and opposing the US. Given a choice like that, everyone would hold their nose and choose the dictator. And dictators know this. They kill the political center to leave the lunatics as the only alternative. This forces the US to continue supporting the dictators.

This approach looks good in the short-term, but is bad for the US in the long-term. By supporting Mubarak and the military, we’ve made 1 friend and 80 million enemies. We’ve also condemned Egypt to 50 years of terror and economic stagnation under Sadat and Mubarak. During the Cold War this may have been the only alternative, especially since the Muslim Brotherhood really were wackos back then. But since the Cold War ended and the US is the last superpower standing, we are in a position to generally take the high road in foreign policy. This means sacrificing some short-term stability for, hopefully, longer-term gains. Despite the rhetoric of the Bush and Obama administrations, they’ve continued to coddle dictators.

The main reasons the US meddles in the Middle East is (1) to guarantee our supply of oil and (2) to protect Israel. The first is not a serious problem. Most oil producing countries are in such severe debt that they need to sell oil in the international market to keep their kleptocracies going. And if they raise prices too much we’ve got the know-how, but not the self-control, to cut oil consumption enormously. I’m pretty sure higher oil prices give the US an economic advantage vs. China. The second is also fairly easy. Put American arms and troops in Israel and promise to blow the shit out of any attacker, just as the US already does now in Korea.

It is true that democracy is more than just elections. Democracy is a culture that allows Bush to take office even though the Supreme Court blatantly stole the election. The most likely scenario for Egypt’s next election is there will be rampant voter fraud, the winner will be illegitimate, all sides will go nuts and the military will install another strong man to enforce order.

Blackwater Peace Keepers

October 16, 2007

On The Charlie Rose Show, the CEO of Blackwater suggested that he could provide soldiers to help protect people in places like Darfur. Or his company could provide support and training for African Union and/or UN soldiers. US or UN soldiers could provide oversight and his men would submit to American legal jurisdiction should a few of his soldiers go nuts. I think this is a terrific idea bound to go nowhere.

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Sell more CFLs

September 28, 2007

We need everyone to replace most of their light bulbs with compact flourescent lights to reduce energy consumption. Unfortunately, CFLs cost more than regular bulbs. An alternative is for the government to give them away at cheap prices and recover the expense with a tiny energy tax. Those who buy the CFLs will have a lower total energy bill anyway. Those who don’t buy them will pay a slightly higher bill. Problem solved.

Torture saves lives

August 8, 2007

The New Yorker has an excellent story on the CIA’s use of torture and secret prisons to force confessions from captives. Since I’m completely opposed to the use of torture, I’ll argue the other side: in the big picture, torture is more humane than the alternatives. Consider: the CIA had Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM) in a secret prison in Afghanistan. He’s clearly a bad guy with direct knowledge of ongoing terrorist operations. Should he be tortured? If the CIA does not get info from him, there are two alternatives: (1) terrorists kill innocent people, or (2) US forces attack villages that might be harboring terrorists and kill some of them, plus lots of Afghan bystanders. Innocent people are killed in both scenarios. Instead, extracting info from KSM might allow the CIA to capture other terrorists before they attack with minimal collateral damage. Even if the CIA butchers KSM, one less terrorist is much better than lots of innocent deaths. Torture saves lives in the long run.

Eating Humble Pie

August 6, 2007

Michael Ignatieff, former professor of political science at Harvard, admits he was wrong to support the Iraq war. He visited the Kurdish areas in 1992 and allowed his emotions to cloud his judgement. So why is he publishing a public apology? He is now a member of the Canadian parliament and the Liberal Party. He wants to be Prime Minister someday, so he has to explain himself to his staunchly anti-war constituents. Better to do it now then during the campaign where he will be accused of political opportunism. In fact, the whole article is clearly laying the groundwork for his eventual campaign. It’s irritating, really. During the debates leading up to the Iraq War, there was no way to puncture the self-righteousness of these pro-war morons. And now when he wants to run for higher office, he says “whoops, my bad!” and will continue to make the same mistakes. The Iraq War has exposed the small minds behind the curtain of fancy degrees. Next time I won’t give the benefit of the doubt to intellectuals with Ivy League vocabularies.

Contrary to popular opinion, Western countries should use more foreign fuel resources to save the environment. The price of oil is influenced by the OPEC cartel and the global marketplace. If the West reduces demand for oil, the price of oil will fall. There are actually lots of caveats there since OPEC can manipulate prices by throttling supply. However, developing countries around the world have a growing appetite for large amounts of oil, particularly India and China. Therefore, demand from these growing economies could easily replace the lost demand from the West. OPEC will see little change in their net revenue. The big difference, however, is that oil will now be consumed by countries with no environmental protections, rather than by the relatively clean West. A barrel of oil burned in the West will produce fewer pollutants than the same in the other countries. Ignore Tom Friedman‘s idiotic ranting: reducing oil consumption in the US will have no serious impact on the Middle East nor the global environment.

Conversely, the West can drive prices up by increasing consumption of oil, delaying development of more oil fields, and starting hopeless wars. Developing countries will be forced to use energy more efficiently, which generally means more cleanly. The West can vastly improve their efficiency and cleanliness, too. This means less pollutants will be produced per barrel of oil. The unfortunate side effect is that OPEC will be rolling in mountains of cash. In an ideal world, they would use the money to develop their country and improve the lives of their people. In the real world, they will buy off their enemies and choke the life out of their country. Personally, I don’t care what they do over there as long as they stay over there. In a weird way, the Iraq war drove the price of oil up and forced the world to use energy more efficiently. The Iraq war is good for the environment.