Bipartisan Madness

Until this past week or so, many Americans did not know that there was a country of Georgia. Although I don’t applaud geographical ignorance, in this case, the lack of knowledge may have been understandable. Georgia lies in an area of the world that Richard Maybury has aptly named Chaostan—an area not known for peace, prosperity, or for sharing western values.

Maybury has observed, “there are only three possible political conditions, liberty, tyranny, or chaos.” Chaostan, the region of the world, located mostly in Central Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa, has mostly experienced chaos. Maybury writes, “Since the beginning of history this area has been inhabited by hundreds of nations, tribes and ethnic groups that have hated and fought each other constantly. Russia alone contains some 250 of these groups, and they know nothing of the legal principles that make an advanced, peaceful civilization possible.”

We are told the story repeatedly on the nightly news that Georgia, a peaceful democratic country, was invaded for no reason by Russia. McCain was way over the top when he exclaimed, “Today, we are all Georgians.” Obama dispatched supposed foreign policy expert Senator Joe Biden to Georgia who pronounced, “(Georgia) has become a question of whether and how the West will stand up for the rights of free people throughout the region.” Bush and Secretary of State Rice have both made frequent menacing statements directed at Russia.

But wait! No doubt, Russia’s Putin is not exactly the poster boy for a kindly and peaceful world statesman, but neither is Georgia’s Saakashvili. In 2004, Saakashvili won the Georgian presidential election with 96% of the vote cast. To me, that sounds more like the percentage a winner gets in a totalitarian state and not in a democratic society. And Russia’s military action came only after Saakashvili recklessly invaded the breakaway region of South Ossetia. South Ossetia is inhabited mostly by ethnic Russians and has been autonomous since about 1991.

Why would we want to pick a pony in this race? Since the fall of the Soviet Union we have enjoyed peaceful and if not warm, certainly cordial relations with Russia. The absence of a cold war with Russia is a good thing not to be dismissed lightly. Why would we spoil our relationship with Russia to back Saakashvilli’s wild adventure?

A new cold war with Russia will further increase economic strains. Our country is already near economic ruin in part because of needless foreign wars. Chalmers Johnson, a former naval officer, observes this about our current military expenditures:

It is virtually impossible to overstate the profligacy of what our government spends on the military. The Department of Defense’s planned expenditures for the fiscal year 2008 are larger than all other nations’ military budgets combined. The supplementary budget to pay for the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, not part of the official defense budget, is itself larger than the combined military budgets of Russia and China. Defense-related spending for fiscal 2008 will exceed $1 trillion for the first time in history. The US has become the largest single seller of arms and munitions to other nations on Earth. Leaving out President Bush’s two on-going wars, defense spending has doubled since the mid-1990s. The defense budget for fiscal 2008 is the largest since the second world war.

Once again, it is wise to consider the timeless advice of George Washington is his 1796 Farewell Address:

Observe good faith and justice towards all nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all.

Harmony, liberal intercourse with all nations, are recommended by policy, humanity, and interest.

…Nothing is more essential, than that permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular Nations, and passionate attachments for others, should be excluded; and that, in place of them, just and amicable feelings towards all should be cultivated.

The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible.

There are widespread but silly beliefs about military spending and war. Contrary to what many believe, war does not foster prosperity. Maybury succinctly explains:

The answer is that an absolute, unavoidable prerequisite for genuine, lasting prosperity is peace — because war is the most expensive thing humans do. The US cannot have peace and prosperity as long as Washington meddles in other countries, supports foreign dictators, and keeps its troops and bases in foreign lands. These things provoke war.

Besides being bad for peace, our ill-advised bipartisan support of Saakashvili is one more step on our continuous slide into economic misery.

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15 Responses to Bipartisan Madness

  1. On April 1, 2008 Congressman Ron Paul, before the US House of Representatives, spoke prophetically against NATO expansion:

    NATO expansion only benefits the US military industrial complex, which stands to profit from expanded arms sales to new NATO members. The “modernization” of former Soviet militaries in Ukraine and Georgia will mean tens of millions in sales to US and European military contractors. The US taxpayer will be left holding the bill, as the US government will subsidize most of the transactions. Providing US military guarantees to Ukraine and Georgia can only further strain our military. This NATO expansion may well involve the US military in conflicts as unrelated to our national interest as the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia in Georgia. The idea that American troops might be forced to fight and die to prevent a small section of Georgia from seceding is absurd and disturbing.

  2. igli1969 says:

    In any sufficiently large organization, whether public or private, it does not matter whether the people who seem to be the leaders are intelligent or not. The organization is run by the entrenched bureaucracy, who often have a different agenda than those the public perceives as the leaders.

    So a large corporation (I can speak from experience) will adopt a software platform that makes it easier for paper-pushers to generate all sorts of reports that are of interest only to each other. The actual operting personnel (sales, operations, collections, engineering, etc.) will be worse off, however, because the software was not written with real-world activities in mind, but rather with mapping those activities. (The map is not the terrain, lieutenant!)

    In the government, as we all know, the bureaucrats are interested in empire building, not in the unintended consequences of that activity. So what if several (hundred) thousand foreigners die? Or volunteer service men and women? The bureaucrats have a better title and a bigger budget. Or more prominence because their world vision seems to have been accepted by the “leaders.”

    This is one more reason why government only produces evil and stupid results. Hayek, of course, noted this and many more in “The Road to Serfdom.”

    Chris C.

  3. Chris,

    Thank you for your observations. Not much will change until our way of life is unsustainable or our collective awareness increases. Let’s hope the latter comes first–awareness of the enormous cost of war and awareness of the terrible human suffering. The nightly news each night presents a packaged sanitized view of war.

  4. Bob G. says:

    Dr. Brownstein,

    The article below is a prime example of how our politicians are generally held to a lack of accountability and are even rewarded for pursuing personal ambitions at the expense of principles and authenticity.

    If ever there was a clearer case of politicians thinking that Americans are stupid and are generally swayed by the talking head pundits, this has got to be it!

    I suppose, in the end, however, these politicians are correct in their assessment of the American people in general.

    As Simon and Garfunkel said in the song (“Mrs. Robinson) “… either way you look at it you lose!” It is incredulous to me that our choices are so mediocre!!!

    Bob G.

    ‘Just Words’ That Joe Biden Would Like To Forget
    The curse of a loose mouth and Nexis.

    By Jim Geraghty

    The fun thing about an Obama-Biden ticket is that the McCain campaign can point to a new awkward comment by Joe Biden — either on the importance of experience, in praise of McCain, or in support of invading Iraq — that contradicts the stands and qualities of the Democratic nominee for every day from now until Election Day.

    On McCain:
    Biden, on a post-debate appearance on MSNBC, October 30, 2007: “The only guy on the other side who’s qualified is John McCain.”

    Biden appearing on The Daily Show, August 2, 2005: “John McCain is a personal friend, a great friend, and I would be honored to run with or against John McCain, because I think the country would be better off, be well off no matter who…”

    On Meet the Press, November 27, 2005: “I’ve been calling for more troops for over two years, along with John McCain and others subsequent to my saying that.”

    On Obama:
    Reacting to an Obama speech on counterterrorism, August 1, 2007: “‘Look, the truth is the four major things he called for, well, hell that’s what I called for,’ Biden said today on MSNBC’s Hardball, echoing comments he made earlier in the day at an event promoting his book at the National Press Club. Biden added, ‘I’m glad he’s talking about these things.’”

    Also that day, the Biden campaign issued a release that began, “The Biden for President Campaign today congratulated Sen. Barack Obama for arriving at a number of Sen. Biden’s long-held views on combating al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan.” That release mocked Obama for asking about the “stunning level of mercury in fish” and asked about a proposal for the U.S. adopt a ban on mercury sales abroad at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing.

    Assessing Obama’s Iraq plan on September 13, 2007: “My impression is [Obama] thinks that if we leave, somehow the Iraqis are going to have an epiphany” of peaceful coexistence among warring sects. “I’ve seen zero evidence of that.”

    Speaking to the New York Observer: Biden was equally skeptical — albeit in a slightly more backhanded way — about Mr. Obama. “I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy,” he said. “I mean, that’s a storybook, man.”

    Also from that Observer interview: “But — and the ‘but’ was clearly inevitable — he doubts whether American voters are going to elect ‘a one-term, a guy who has served for four years in the Senate,’ and added: ‘I don’t recall hearing a word from Barack about a plan or a tactic.’”

    Around that time, Biden in an interview with the Huffington Post, he assessed Obama and Hillary Clinton: “The more people learn about them (Obama and Hillary) and how they handle the pressure, the more their support will evaporate.”

    December 11, 2007: “If Iowans believe campaign funds and celebrity will fix the debacle in Iraq, put the economy on track, and provide health care and education for America’s children, they should support another candidate,” said Biden for President Campaign Manager Luis Navarro. “But I’m confident that Iowans know what I know: our problems will require experience and leadership from Day One. Empty slogans will be no match for proven action on caucus night.”

    Also that night, Biden said in a campaign ad, “When this campaign is over, political slogans like ‘experience’ and ‘change’ will mean absolutely nothing. The next president has to act.”

    September 26, 2007: Biden for President Campaign Manager Luis Navarro said, “Sen. Obama said he would do everything possible to end the war in Iraq and emphasized the need for a political solution yet he failed to show up to vote for Sen. Biden’s critical amendment to provide a political solution in Iraq.

    December 26, 2006: “Frankly, I think I’m more qualified than other candidates, and the issues facing the American public are all in my wheelbarrow.”

    On Iraq:
    Biden on Meet the Press in 2002, discussing Saddam Hussein: “He’s a long term threat and a short term threat to our national security… “We have no choice but to eliminate the threat. This is a guy who is an extreme danger to the world.”

    Biden on Meet the Press in 2002: “Saddam must be dislodged from his weapons or dislodged from power.”

    Biden on Meet the Press in 2007, on Hussein’s WMDs: “Well, the point is, it turned out they didn’t, but everyone in the world thought he had them. The weapons inspectors said he had them. He catalogued — they catalogued them. This was not some, some Cheney, you know, pipe dream. This was, in fact, catalogued.”

    Biden, on Obama’s Iraq plan in August 2007: “I don’t want [my son] going [to Iraq],” Delaware Sen. Joe Biden said from the campaign trail Wednesday, according to a report on Radio Iowa. “But I tell you what, I don’t want my grandson or my granddaughters going back in 15 years and so how we leave makes a big difference.” Biden criticized Democratic rivals such as Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama who have voted against Iraq funding bills to try to pressure President Bush to end the war. “There’s no political point worth my son’s life,” Biden said, according to Radio Iowa. “There’s no political point worth anybody’s life out there. None.”

    Biden on Meet the Press, April 29, 2007: “The threat [Saddam Hussein] presented was that, if Saddam was left unfettered, which I said during that period, for the next five years with sanctions lifted and billions of dollars into his coffers, then I believed he had the ability to acquire a tactical nuclear weapon — not by building it, by purchasing it. I also believed he was a threat in that he was — every single solitary U.N. resolution which he agreed to abide by, which was the equivalent of a peace agreement at the United Nations, after he got out of — after we kicked him out of Kuwait, he was violating. Now, the rules of the road either mean something or they don’t. The international community says “We’re going to enforce the sanctions we placed” or not. And what was the international community doing? The international community was weakening. They were pulling away.”

    Biden to the Brookings Institution in 2005: “We can call it quits and withdraw from Iraq. I think that would be a gigantic mistake. Or we can set a deadline for pulling out, which I fear will only encourage our enemies to wait us out — equally a mistake.”

    Analyzing the surge on Meet the Press, September 9, 2007: “I mean, the truth of the matter is that, that the — America’s — this administration’s policy and the surge are a failure, and that the surge, which was supposed to stop sectarian violence and — long enough to give political reconciliation, there’s been no political reconciliation… The reality is that, although there has been some mild progress on the security front, there is, in fact, no, no real security in Baghdad and/or in Anbar province, where I was, dealing with the most serious problem, sectarian violence. Sectarian violence is as strong and as solid and as serious a problem as it was before the surge started.”

    Biden in October of 2002: “We must be clear with the American people that we are committing to Iraq for the long haul; not just the day after, but the decade after.”

    On Meet the Press, January 7, 2007, assessing the proposal of a surge of troops to Iraq: “If he surges another 20, 30, or whatever number he’s going to, into Baghdad, it’ll be a tragic mistake, in my view, but, as a practical matter, there’s no way to say, ‘Mr. President, stop.’”

    On Meet the Press, November 27, 2005: “Unless we fundamentally change the rotation dates and fundamentally change how many members of the National Guard we’re calling up, it’ll be virtually impossible to maintain 150,000 folks this year.” (The number of troops in Iraq peaked at 162,000 in August 2007, during the surge.)

    Having said all that: “There’s something decent at the core of Joe Biden.” — Jim Geraghty, December 13, 2007

    — Jim Geraghty writes the “Campaign Spot” blog for NRO.

  5. Bob,

    Indeed, one has to wonder how bad things have to get before we the people are ready for a real choice.

  6. igli1969 says:

    Just remember, half the population has below-average intelligence.

    Chris C.

  7. Frank v2 says:

    Dr. B.,
    It is sad that we as a nation feel it is our duty to spread our democratic principles to the rest of the world. As a Naturalized American, I must begin by saying that I love this land and the basic freedoms and political platform that the country was built on, but I don’t support the belief that what works in our culture is ideal for the rest of the world. Our slamming of our ideology down the throats of other nations is no different than the various religions trying to convert others to their way of life. And millions of people have died in the name of religion. I would be quick to defend our turf if we were attacked, but I fear that our self-elected international democratic policing efforts have not only weakened us in terms of being able to defend our homeland, but we have created unnecessary debts that our grandchildren will never be able to pay back.
    And annoying the Soviet Union, after spending years trying to improve relations, is not only stupid, but down right scary. We should heed Washington’s words. Unfortunately our track record has shown that we feel it is our duty to stir things up in the name of democracy. Our foreign policies since World War II have created a lot of animosity with a lot of people around the world. I find this very sad indeed. I would suggest that this nations founding fathers must be shaking their heads at our current state of affairs and asking themselves, “where did we go wrong?”

  8. Bob G. says:

    Dr. Brownstein,

    A quick follow up to your response my post and referenced article;

    The “real choices’ will come when we are ready to pivot away from the illusion that we can maintain ourselves and the path we are on.

    The “real truth” is scary and it is often more comforting to stay warm for a few hours longer in a shelter that is about to collapse than it is to get out and build a new shelter before the snow and cold make it impossible. The lack of belief in the impending collapse is stronger than our collective desire to give up the warmth of the current hour.

    Facing the hard truths is hard enough for each of us individually – but doing it collectively as a nation or society is impossible! That is why all nations and societies have a finite period of greatness and a life cycle. History is clear about this.
    Even the best and longest experiments in nations and societies give way to the ultimate human condition – over and over again.

    What is perplexing is the fact that while we can recognize this and validate it historically, we seem powerless to be able to change the pattern.

    Bob G.

  9. James D. says:

    I have to agree with Bob G. Like an addict who won’t change until they hit bottom, our nation will not change its course until we reach the breaking point. At that time the question will not be whether or not we will change (because we most definitely will), but whether or not we can rise above barbarism and chaos and choose to walk a better path. No matter which candidate gets elected in November, no matter what they do, it will not be the change we need. Its the nature of the political process. The fat and wealthy want to keep getting fat and wealthy, not matter the cost to others, and won’t stop until the bottom comes.
    I also have to agree with the words of Washington, who was echoed by Jefferson and many others, that foreign entanglements will cause nothing but trouble.

  10. Chris,

    Plenty of “intelligent” individuals work actively to undermine freedom.

    Frank,

    I agree but just to clarify–the idea that we are spreading democracy is just political propaganda. We have no problem supporting vicious dictators when our “interests” are served. In any case Georgia is not a democracy.

    Bob,

    I agree with you we seem to be collectively unable to face reality and the consequences of that failure are compounding everyday.

  11. Frank v2 says:

    Dr. B,
    You raise a good point when you suggest that we have no problem supporting non-democratic leaders when our “interests” are at stake. And we are quick to move our friends into the enemy category if things no longer work in our favor. For example, in the early 1980’s Saddam Hussein was our buddy. What a difference 25 years can make. (http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB82/index.htm )
    Frank v2

  12. James D. says:

    Barry,
    I think its your response to Frank that is the salient point here. We don’t spread democracy. We serve our own interests by supporting whatever local tyrant is most pro-American (even though he’s only pro-American because it serves HIS interests). We supported the Shah of Iran in the 70’s–a mistake. We bought Saddam’s army for him in the 80’s and supported him because he was fighting Khomenei’s newly anti-American Iran; that bit us in the tail. Whatever petty dictator we are supporting in Georgia we are doing to snub Russia’s recent resurgence into controlling its neighbors. But is what Russia doing any different than what we did with the Monroe Doctrine, basically telling the British and the French to stay out of our hemisphere?

    Another point to the quotes from the Founding Fathers in the original post is that when the US was formed, we had no standing army, only the militia. The Founding Fathers understood that standing armies are expensive to maintain and serve only to make sure the current gov’t in power has an enforcement arm to assert its will. Any one remember the 3rd Amendment in the Bill of Rights? The British quartered soldiers in people’s homes to harass the colonists. While in the current environment I don’t think dropping the military altogether is a good idea, the money we spend on maintaining a military as large and powerful as ours only serves to strengthen the power of the federal gov’t and its bureaucrats.

  13. igli1969 says:

    Dr. B:

    But with a political system where a majority of voters get to pick who the chief distributor of spoils will be each period, having a lot of uninformed people who are unable to think (much less think analytically) means that the thieves have a much easier time of “fooling most of the people most of the time.”

    James D. – A side effect of quartering troops in civilians’ homes (well known to both British and the colonials) was to impoverish the colonials forced to provide room and board to the soldiers. And how is our current system of taxation and all-encompassing regulations any different from quartering troops in people’s homes? Talk about harassment!

    Chris C.

  14. Jim and Frank,

    Well said!

    Chris,

    I agree and even many of those who can think analytically want more government (since they are on the “payroll” directly or indirectly).

  15. James D. says:

    Chris, you are absolutely right on both points!

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