Liberty Cannot Be Delivered at the Point of a Gun

Liberty Cannot Be Delivered at the Point of a Gun

Iraq has again descended into anarchic terror as the government  and tenuous order left in place by the US crumbles without the power of the US military behind it.  Now the US finds itself once again forced to engage in a situation that will cost dearly both in terms of actual dollars and in lives lost or at least severely damaged.  We made a mess of it and understandably the world looks to us to clean up after ourselves, regardless of the futility of the exercise.

The American Solider is to me one of the most awe inspiring images.  He/She is the defender of those who cannot defend themselves, the strong hand that reaches out and provides food, shelter, and breathtaking levels of aid during times of crisis.  He/She is the fearless defender of freedom.  Whenever I see servicemen and women I thank them for their sacrifice, for taking on risks and enduring hardships that I cannot comprehend, affording me the luxury of enjoying a life in which I only have to sweat the small stuff.  The respect they deserve demands that our military not be used so readily and with so little thought as the the endgame.

Time and time again we send our precious men and women into a nation that is suffering under a horrid despot.  We march on in fancying ourselves to be the great liberators, freeing those terrorized under barbaric rule.   It is a noble image and one that has seduced repeatedly.

The reality is something entirely different.  Democracy cannot be spread at the point of a gun.  A nation cannot be handed democracy by an occupying military force.  Liberty cannot be delivered at the point of a gun.  The love of freedom, the deep belief in the sanctity of individual rights cannot be forced upon a people, no matter how noble the intent.  It is something that must be generated from within.  It is something that must be fought for by those suffering under despotic rule and if history is any guide, it must be earned by those who seek it in bloodshed and tears.

The US seems to repeatedly stumble into foreign military messes the way Justin Bieber tweets, frequently and without much thought.

The US accounts for roughly half of the world’s military spending, yet we still don’t feel safe.  In 2013 the US accounted for about 73% of NATO’s defense spending, despite the other 27 members having collectively a larger economy than the US.


It was not the use of American military force that instilled in Soviet era Russians the desire to smoke Marlboros or wear Levis, icons of American cowboy-style independence.  The world and the United States would be better served if, rather than engaging in military conflicts that only ended up trading one set of terrorizing leaders for another, we focus on being an example of what is possible when individual rights, innovation and success are revered.  We could do much more good in the world by serving as a safe haven for those who seek to escape terror abroad, welcoming with open arms and with high expectations that those who come here, push themselves to achieve to the best of their abilities, rather than treating them and much of our existing population, like incompetent children who require a paternalistic government to manage their lives.

Foreign Account Compliance Tax Act

Foreign Account Compliance Tax Act

I spoke at FreedomFest in Las Vegas… in July… yes, know my pain.  On my way out from my talk my dear friend Richard Rahn, (the infamous one-eyed economist) grabbed me and introduced me to the lovely Emerald Robinson so that we could talk about the recently enacted Foreign Account Compliance Tax Act aka FATCA and its impact on expats as I split my time between the U.S. and Europe.

America’s Foreign Foibles – rethinking foreign policy

America’s Foreign Foibles – rethinking foreign policy

The United States suffers from a significant mismatch between expectations and reality, which has up until recently been address by bureaucratic denial and protestations/assurances that if only more money/power are handed over, the dream can yet be realized.

This mismatch is possibly the greatest in the area of foreign policy. Most Americans are aware that they are incredibly fortunate to live in the United States, under the protection of the Constitution, a document which I find breathtakingly beautiful in its simplicity and respect for both the strengths and weaknesses of human nature. That awareness morphs into a desire to share our good fortune with others, to spread the ideals of democracy, liberty and respect for individual rights.

Unfortunately those beautiful and arguably noble sentiments are perverted into foreign wars and “engagements” that evolve into an attempt to spread respect for individual rights and freedoms through the barrel of a gun, a logical inconsistency that only government can tirelessly support.

A good deal of this perversion arises because anytime a politician has sufficient funds to allocate, someone will find a way to “wine and dine” them, thus foreign policy primarily serves special interests and is in practice often a far cry from the original noble intentions.

I am not advocating isolationism, but rather that American needs to appreciate the difference between being engaged in the world and being responsible for it. The former is consistent with our Constitution, respecting the rights and sovereignty of other nations and individuals. The later, while on the surface may sound admirable, is in reality closer to the bossy and invasive neighbor that chops down your favorite tree under the guise of helping you with your gardening.

America and the rest of the world would be better served if instead the nation focused internally, making itself an example of the joys and benefits of a free society. Showing the world the continually rising standards of living, the endless innovation and happiness enjoyed in a free society is our most powerful tool for global influence.

Forget Snowden and Focus on the NSA

Forget Snowden and Focus on the NSA

The NSA works for us.  The power to govern lies with We the People and flows from us to the government, not the other way around.  The NSA does not dictate to us what the appropriate constraints on its activities ought to be.  It may suggest, but We the People decide what controls we want on our government.  When the governing violate the constraints imposed by We the People, without our knowledge, someone like Snowden needs to take the risk to let us know.

“I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them.” ~ Thomas Jefferson

2013-07-04 WhistleblowerListening to the pundits finger-wag and vilify whistle-blower Edward Snowden for the past few weeks has me in a serious lather.  I’ll admit that the recent heatwave in Genova, Italy (my part-time home along with San Diego, CA) and my upcoming trip from here to Las Vegas for FreedomFest probably has me even more fired up than normal.  You haven’t lived until you’ve had to drive in Italy in the heat.  I swear it makes an already anarchic driving society even more lunatic, but I digress.  I’m usually one to pshaw conspiracy theorists, but the vehemence of the vile attacks on Snowden’s character by those who have scant information to go on has even my eyebrows raised.  He may be an angel.  He may be a demon.  But why the hell is that even the focus?  That’s like finding the lost city of Atlantis in a tropical sea and obsessing over the clarity of your goggle lenses!

Snowden has been referred to as a “cross-dressing Little Red Riding Hood” in the Washington Post, a grandiose narcissist in the New Yorker, and Fox New analyst Ralph Peters and Donald Trump want to bring back the death penalty for Snowden.  Seriously people?  Talk about going off half-cocked and gunning for bear.

Where is the focus on the Constitutionality of the NSA’s spying?  Oh but not to fear, Jed Babbin of the American Spectator assures us that the NSA is “a whole lot more trustworthy than most of the rest of our government,” and isn’t like the IRS.  Oh that’s comforting, given the NSA’s track record.  For the love of Pete, in 1978 the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was created specifically to limit the powers of the NSA after project SHAMROCK came to light, a project that Senator Frank Church claimed was, “probably the largest government interception program affecting Americans ever undertaken.”  That is until now of course.

Let’s not forget that the NSA is responsible for  the Gulf of Tonkin incident, reporting falsely that an attack had occurred on the USS Maddox, which ultimately led to the Vietnam war.  Ooops on that one too?

Now we’ve got National Intelligence Director James Clapper admitting in a letter to the Senate Intelligence Committee that his statement before Congress that the NSA did not have a policy of gathering data on millions of Americas had been “clearly erroneous”.  Right, you lied to the people you serve, but we’ll trust your judgment anyways.

A month after the Guardian broke this story, Snowden’s worst fears may be coming to pass, namely that nothing changes.  We have no Frank Church to lead the charge as he did in the 1970s, instead we have the likes of Cheney defending the NSA and calling Snowden a traitor.

The power of government must at all times be vigorously constrained because power will always end up being abused.  Perhaps we get lucky and have angels running the show for a while and we grant them all kinds of powers under the theory that they are there to protect us.  History has shown that angelic bureaucrats are a quickly fleeting dream.  Hell, if the NSA is so good at making sure this data doesn’t get into the wrong hands, how did Snowden get it?  Doesn’t look like he is exactly their poster child!

Liberty comes at a price.  Living in a society in which individuals are free to live their lives as they see fit, rather than living in a one-size-fits-all world comes at a price.  The more protection we ask for, the less freedom we have.  Keep this in mind.

All men having power ought to be distrusted to a certain degree.” ~ James Madison