Tag Archives: Middle East

Bill to allow Americans to sue Saudi Arabia for terrorism is against the rule of law (that it passed unanimously is a telltale sign)

It’s odd that we side with President Obama as he is facing the first veto override of his term.  Though the fact that the bill passed both the House and the Senate unanimously is a hint of its perniciousness.

The bill, called the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), would allow citizens who can convince a jury that they were victimized by terrorism to sue governments that they believe contributed to the terrorist acts.  We agree with the high-minded reasons that both the Obama Administration and some of the Republicans’ best legal and foreign-policy minds put forth in illustrating the bill’s dangers:  it undermines sovereign immunity, could prompt retaliatory lawfare from other countries, and  could place Americans abroad at risk of being detained by countries where the divide between civil and criminal prosecution is not as clear as in America.

We also fret that—while we are not condoning our supposed allies like Saudi Arabia in creating the environment for and directly supporting attacks on the U.S.—subjecting more defendants to the whims of the U.S.’s tort system is not the definition of justice.  Supporters of the bill reflexively cry that “it’s not about the money,” but we’re sure that the tort bar doesn’t see it that way.

The lawsuit industry undermines the U.S. economy every day via “jackpot justice,” in which it’s not that hard to employ emotionally-charged arguments to convince juries that some faceless, deep-pocket foreign defendant should pay up.  The preponderance-of-the-evidence standard on such civil matters is a dangerous substitute to deal with complex issues that should be left to the international political process.

The bill, while not unconstitutional, violates the spirit of the American constitution’s visionary prohibition of Bills of Attainder and ex post facto laws.  JASTA strikes us as a ham-handed attempt to scapegoat for imprecise reasons a defined boogeyman after the fact—a a sophisticated form of mob rule that these constitutional provisions were designed to deter.

Most bills that pass Congress unanimously are trivial, with the only down-side being wasted legislative resources.  When they are not trivial, such laws almost always increase government and erode liberty, as the political class generally agrees on these values as opposed to their converses.  Unanimous laws generally fit the pattern of benefiting from emotional resonance—as in the case of JASTA—and being seen as having little down-side.*

JASTA is not trivial and carries significant down-sides, though it does fit the general pattern of feel-good unanimous legislation and all of its ills.

*We would like to see a historian write a book on unanimously-passed legislation and the dissenters (like former Rep. Ron Paul (Tx.)) who have stood alone against them.  Such a work would certainly be filled with anecdotes that would educate and often amuse political junkies.

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We never get the right questions on re-thinking the Iraq war

The most obvious way for a politician (or non-politician) to explain his ostensible waffling on support for President Bush’s war on Iraq beginning in 2003 is to say that it was a reasonable idea at the time, but, given the history, he wishes that we hadn’t begun it.  This result was not inevitable from the outset, but rather came about because of our insane rules of engagement—in which President Bush tied one had behind our proverbial backs and then President Obama tied the second hand too.  Moreover, Obama made the fatal mistake of promising to withdraw and then doing so before the job was finished, erasing gains that we had made after the surge toward the end of Bush’s term.

This seems like a simple and valid reading of history (and is our position).  Yet the media never ask the right question.  At Wednesday’s “commander-in-chief” forum for the presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton duly said, “I think the decision to go to war in Iraq, and I have said that my voting to give President Bush that authority was, from my perspective, my mistake.”

Perhaps it’s implicit, but she didn’t explain why.  Nor do the media ever drill down on this point.  The hard left would say that many members of Congress who voted for the war were simply duped by the Administration’s false intelligence.  But very few people in either party offer the view that the decision to go to war was a mistake only in light of how it turned out due to conscious decisions once we were at war, and why that is the case—simply circumstance or bad luck, the realization that America simply doesn’t have the will to do what it takes to win a war, or President Obama’s fecklessness?  Even putting aside the issue of blame, is our polity not mature enough to understand that it is possible that an action might have been warranted at the time but simply didn’t work out as we had hoped—and that doesn’t mean it was a mistake?

There are different types of mistakes:  (1) decisions that were inherently erroneous to begin with, (2) those that were simply calculated risks but didn’t turn out well, and (3) those that might have been right but in which execution failed (and perhaps should have been predicted to fail).

“Mistake” is an odd word; it has acquired an imprecise definition in common usage, though the dictionary definition seems to mirror (1) above.  Is buying a lottery ticket a mistake if you don’t win?  We would say no.  Getting married to your ex-wife?  Probably yes.  Launching “New Coke”?  Hard to say.

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Debates about guns and Muslim immigration don’t explicitly discuss trade-offs

I am willing to tolerate higher levels of gun violence in America in exchange for having a Second Amendment.  We don’t often hear our fellow rightists state the case so explicitly, but most probably have arrived at this cognitive consonance.

(It is true that more guns means less crime in general.  It is also true that America has the highest rate of mass shootings and other gun violence of any industrialized country, and this is due at least in part to the wide availability of firearms.  America’s unique history, culture, legal environment, and demographics all contribute to these seemingly contradictory realities.  The quote above is the position of this blog, and we also believe that the best way to counter the threat of Islamist terrorist attacks like the Orlando night club shooting is to facilitate more people being armed.)

The alternate universe in which the U.S. never had a Second Amendment, in which there were not hundreds of millions of guns in circulation, in which the police have all the firepower, and in which mass shootings and other instances of gun violence were extremely rare, is easy to envision.  That’s the situation in the United Kingdom, Australia, Japan, and most other industrialized countries (as well as in most police states).  Count ours as one vote in favor of the American status quo.

The left doesn’t really possess the vocabulary to present its own arguments about the trade-offs associated with gun rights (or most other issues).  We rarely hear progressives espousing the values of individual liberty anymore—except in a few specific scenarios that turn the Bill of Rights on its head—and they are even less sympathetic to the concept of individual self-defense.  The left apparently isn’t able to comprehend the main reason why the founders included the Second Amendment to begin with:  protection from government tyranny.  We will have a social contract in which only the benevolent government will have guns, and in exchange the citizenry will trust the government to use them to protect citizens’ liberty and well-being is also not a scenario that liberals articulate very often, even if this is what they believe.

It is a legitimate political stance to try to persuade the American electorate to move our country in that direction, although we don’t see the left doing so very often:  as opposed to openly arguing for repeal of the Second Amendment, they usually use stealthy Federal and local legislative, regulatory, and judicial actions to end-run around it.  Fortunately democratic means couldn’t succeed nationally at this point.

The debate about Muslim immigration, or immigration in general, similarly seems devoid of a discussion about trade-offs.  We would like to hear Donald Trump state, Of course in principle I don’t like the idea of banning an entire group [Muslims] from visiting or immigrating to the U.S.  Such a ban would certainly affect some innocent people who don’t intend to harm the country.  However, we are in a time of war, so we need to accept this trade-off in order to reduce the number of Muslim terrorists we admit.  We presume that Trump feels this way—and he has implied an understanding of the trade-off in his call to pause Muslim immigration until we “can figure out what’s going on”—but it would be nice for him to make it explicit.

Similarly, it would be nice if President Obama, Hillary Clinton, or other liberals made explicit their own views of a trade-off.  The U.S. is the most multicultural, open country in the world.  I want to accept more Muslim immigrants, and in fact all types of immigrants, because they make America better.  I acknowledge that, in so doing, we might inadvertently admit some people who will go on to commit terrorist attacks, but a few hundred or a few thousand dead Americans is a reasonable price to pay for the vibrancy that immigrants contribute to our society.  We have little doubt that Obama, Clinton, and most of the cosmopolitan left, including the mainstream media, feel this way.  (Though even this may be a charitable portrayal of their views:  the hard left, like President Obama, has demonstrated that it thinks that traditional American culture is an anachronism that should be replaced by a culture that is more collectivist, authoritarian, and brown.)

A sympathetic article, “What Obama Actually Thinks about Radical Islam,” by Jeffrey Goldberg (h/t James Taranto) seems to serve as a rare reveal of Obama’s view:

Obama believes that the clash is taking place within a single civilization, and that Americans are sometimes collateral damage in this fight between Muslim modernizers and Muslim fundamentalists.

Taranto rightly expresses puzzlement at the phrase “collateral damage” as it relates to Americans being killed in a “fight between Muslim modernizers and Muslim fundamentalists.”  One way to reconcile this apparent misreading of the current state of the world—there doesn’t seem to be much of a “fight” pitting Muslim modernizers against Muslim fundamentalists, especially on American soil—is to speculate that Goldberg misinterpreted Obama’s statement.

Obama possibly seems himself as the “Muslim modernizer”; inasmuch as he is not actually a Muslim, he could be fairly called a “‘Muslimist‘ modernizer,” to use Steve Sailer’s term.  Obama may not identify precisely as a Muslim, but he was raised in a Muslim environment and considers himself an enlightened exponent of the Muslim faith (as does Hillary Clinton).

Goldberg posits that “Obama sees the problems affecting parts of the Muslim world as largely outside American control,” though he cites the president asserting that the way we address Muslims around the world talking about the problem of radical Islam—including his infamous refusal to label the motivations of terrorism as such—plays an important role in addressing it.  And Obama has strongly condemned Trump’s call for a moratorium on Muslim immigration to the U.S. while increasing admission of people who claim to be Syrian refugees.  Obama probably sees himself as playing a righteous, central role as a “Muslim modernizer,” by importing more Muslims to the U.S., by his imposition of political correctness on all government discussions of terrorism, and by the virtue-signaling language he insists on using to assert solidarity with Islam.  If these accommodations carry some costs, then it’s worth it.

So, if Goldberg is accurately portraying What Obama Actually Thinks about Radical Islam, then it appears that what Obama is really saying is, The United States can play a role in the clash between Muslim modernizers and Muslim fundamentalists, by, among other things, welcoming Muslim immigrants to the U.S.  A few dead Americans as collateral damage is a price that I am willing to pay to promote Muslim modernization.   Such a viewpoint would fall within the bounds of legitimate debate within our political system—as taking sides in any war involves the conscious sacrifice of American lives—though we assume that vast majority of Americans would vehemently disagree with it and would redeem their disagreement through all democratic mechanisms available.  Let’s have the debate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Media tropes on immigration obscure legitimate debate about trade-offs

We know, you could substitute virtually any issue for “immigration” in the title and the story would be valid.  But the mainstream media’s (and Republican establishment media’s) desperation in trying to stop Donald Trump have brought out the worst in our discourse.

The Washington Post cites a couple of legal scholars in the first few paragraphs of an article headlined “Experts: Trump’s Muslim entry ban idea ‘ridiculous,’ ‘unconstitutional,'” but then—in a juxtaposition certainly worthy of James Taranto’s “Two papers in one!” meme—adds, well, actually, it wouldn’t be unconstitutional:

Barring Muslims who are not U.S. citizens from entering the country may not violate U.S. law in the same way, the experts said, because the Constitution’s protections generally do not apply to people outside the nation’s borders.

Duh.

The Post article then cites a partial precedent, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which was not found unconstitutional.  The article also repeatedly refers to “principles of international law and agreements the U.S. has signed with other nations” without specifying any of them.  One critic asserts, “I’m sure it would violate innumerable treaties if we suddenly started banning citizens of NATO countries, of Southeast Asian countries.”  Tell that to a Turk or Thai who has been denied a visa despite their countries’ close alliances with the U.S.

A point that the article, and most like it, fail to make is that the U.S., like any sovereign nation, has the right to grant or deny a visa to any individual, for any reason at all, and also to deny entry to anyone attempting to travel to the U.S., including those from countries whose nationals do not require a visa.

Meanwhile, Ben Shapiro, writing in The Daily Wire, brings out various straw-man arguments about American military members (which he rightly corrects in a later update clarifying that Trump was not referring to barring citizens) in characterizing Trump’s stance as “desperate.”  Um, Mr. Shapiro, Trump is leading in the polls, and his support has only increased since he called for more scrutiny of Muslims attempting to immigrate to the U.S.  The idea of trying to ban all Muslim immigration has wide support in polls.  Trump has made a policy proposal from a position of strength, not desperation.

Donald Trump did not call all Muslims terrorists.  He did not call for a database of Muslims living in the U.S., as the media was quick to accuse him after he didn’t forcefully reject a reporter’s suggestion to that effect.  Banning Muslim visitors is not at all like the internment of American citizens of Japanese and other origins in Axis countries during World War II, a comparison that the media has been quick to breathlessly make.

Attempting to ban all Muslim immigrants may or may not be a good idea.  It may or may not violate various treaties.  It would likely harm America’s standing in the world, victimize innocent people, and, above all, not be practical to implement.

However, none of these is reason to dismiss the merit of the proposal out of hand.  It wouldn’t be that difficult to bar foreigners who are obviously Muslim (Muslims often have names identifying them as such, as many countries list religion on their passports), who come from predominantly Muslim countries, and/or whose passports show visits to Syria, or Iraq, or Turkey (the gateway to ISIS-controlled territory).  Obviously such a ban would not catch everyone who is a threat.  We are not necessarily endorsing any such restrictions.

The real problem with the discussion about Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims from visiting the U.S. is that very few commentators acknowledge (1) we are at war and (2) there are always trade-offs in policy decisions.

Almost no one—including, we would venture to guess, Donald Trump—would like the idea of banning people of a certain religion from entering the U.S. in principle.  Plenty of Muslims contribute to American society; want to visit as tourists, students, or businesspeople; and wish no harm on the country.  However, since there is a significant population of Muslims who consider themselves at war with the U.S., we are right to consider trade-offs.  President Obama or the pontificators calling Trump’s idea “ridiculous” have not addressed the question of how many innocent Muslims can reasonably be barred the privilege of traveling to the country in exchange for keeping the country safe from terrorists.

 

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Media desperately attempts to search for the root of “radicalization”

It was surreal to see CNN the other night (12/07/15 EST) alternating headlines between revelations about how the couple behind the Islamic terror attack in San Bernardino were “radicalized for ‘quite some time'” and bashing Donald Trump for trying to address the problem of Muslim terrorist infiltration in the U.S.

MSM navel-gazing about how a Muslim could be mysteriously “radicalized”—as if entering a black box then emerging from it—is nothing more than a red herring, just another mechanism to obscure the linkage between Islam and terrorism.  It’s also consistent with the victimization narrative that so dominates our society:  the passive construction of the word “radicalized” implies that it creates victims who have had some vague action done upon them as opposed to having made their own decisions for which they are accountable.

To hear the media tell it (with due credit to South Park), some sequence of events like this occurs:

  1. Islam
  2. ??
  3. Radicalization
  4. Terrorism

While it’s trivial to observe that not all Muslims are “radical” in the sense that they wish to terrorize and kill non-Muslim populations or are sympathetic to those who do, it is also equally obvious that something inherent in Islam promotes “radicalization.”  Anyone who attended an Islamic school (i.e., almost everyone) in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iran, or the Palestinian territories—or any number of madrassas in many countries in the world—has been “radicalized.”

A better heuristic to understand the phenomenon of Islamic terrorism might be to explore how so many Muslims have become de-radicalized in light of the societies from which they have emerged.

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Only 6.8% of those released from Guantanamo during the Obama administration have returned to terrorism to far. Progress!

Cliff Sloan, the bureaucrat responsible for winding down the terrorist detention center at Guantanamo for the past 18 months, takes to the pages of the New York Times to laud progress during his tenure and downplay the perceived challenges in finishing the job.

One of his main arguments suffers from some fatuous logic.  He cites former Vice President Dick Cheney’s report that 30% of those released are “confirmed” or “suspected” to have returned to Islamic terrorism after their release as a “deeply flawed” exaggeration because only half of those fall into the “confirmed” category.  Great, so only 15% of the released detainees certainly returned to terrorism!  (Thankfully, some of these have been killed or recaptured, and others have bounties on their heads, which should certainly give us pause in praising the wisdom of releasing anyone.)

He claims as some sort of success that fewer still of those more recently released have returned to the battlefield:

Of the detainees transferred during this administration, more than 90 percent have not been suspected, much less confirmed, of committing any hostile activities after their release.  The percentage of detainees who were transferred after the Obama-era review and then found to have engaged in terrorist or insurgent activities is 6.8 percent.

By definition, the more recent the sample size we are examining at any point in time, the lower the percentage of recidivism will be.  This obvious logic seems lost on Sloan.  Among terrorists who were released yesterday, the recidivism rate is zero!  Complete success!  Naturally it takes time for released terrorists to escape Uruguay, Kazakhstan, Qatar, or wherever they are sent from Guantanamo, be debriefed, reintegrate into the terrorist network to resume their calling to jihad, and come to the attention of our intelligence agencies.

Reasonable people can disagree about our Guantanamo policy.  There are legitimate arguments to be made about efficacy, cost, and even due process.  (Though Sloan’s quote from an anonymous “high-ranking security official from one of our staunchest allies on counterterrorism” that “The greatest single action the United States can take to fight terrorism is to close Guantanamo” seems like a non sequitur.)

Most Americans probably agree with the maxim that it is “better for 100 guilty men to go free than for one to be wrongly convicted.”  But this applies to American criminal defendants subject to U.S. constitutional protections.  It is easy to make the opposite argument—or at least to prescribe the presumption of guilt—when it comes to foreign terrorists captured on the battlefield taking up arms against the U.S. and its interests.

In any event, the citation of 6.8% of those released having definitively returned to terrorism in a relatively short time should be a red flag, not a celebration of success.  Not only does all evidence and logic inform us that that number will necessarily increase as time goes on, but there is no doubt that a principle of diminishing returns applies.  Presumably the 127 Muslim terrorists still detained at Guantanamo are the most risky cases, which is why they haven’t been released so far.

Let’s not throw around small-sounding (and artificially deflated) numbers as a means to take credit for the perhaps relatively lower-hanging fruit in an effort to obscure the grave risks of releasing terrorists back into the war against our civilization.

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John Kerry joins the French on the “Daesh” bandwagon

At a meeting in Brussels among the 60 countries fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Secretary Kerry refers to the group as “Daesh.”

Some Arabic media, notably the Gulf News, Dubai’s flagship newspaper, added “Daesh”–which is sort of an acronym of the terrorist group’s name in Arabic—to its style guide in an obvious effort to obscure the “Islamic” element of the name.  The name hasn’t really caught on in the West, except, naturally, for the French, who object to associating Islam with a group that it claims, absent any evidence, that “the vast majority of Muslims finds despicable.”

We haven’t found an explanation of the usage from Sec. Kerry’s office, but we can assume that it’s due to the same concern for political correctness.

The U.S. government apparently hasn’t devised a consistent policy on the group’s name.  Rear Admiral John Kirby, Defense Department spokesman, usually refers to the group as “ISIL” (pronounced “eye-ess-eye-el”), for the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.  President Obama usually refers to the group as “ISIL” (pronounced “eye-sl”), probably choosing that moniker over “ISIS” to obscure the “Syria” element of the name, lest we be reminded that his bungling of the “red line” has been a major enabling force for the group.

None of this is to make light of our mandatory—existential—fight against the group and its enablers.  Let’s hope the Brussels meeting was productive.

At least the terrorists hate the name.

 

 

 

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