Trump’s Bombing of Syria:
Self-Interest or Self-Sacrifice?

Here are some belated observations on President Trump’s recent decision to launch cruise missiles against Syria in retaliation for its use of a deadly gas against its own citizens:

Americans generally applaud the decision. And it’s an understandable, and laudable, response. It’s a reaction to years of a foreign policy that dealt with our enemies by means of conciliation, apology and appeasement. So people are heartened when a president seems to be acting resolutely in confronting a loathsome tyrant. Attacking Syria’s Assad is interpreted as a sign of strength, as a welcome act of American self-assertiveness. Trump is seen as forcefully defending America’s interests.

But this is a serious misinterpretation. Bombing Syria is actually detrimental to our interests. Not because it upsets our relationship with Russia. Not because there was no prior approval from the United Nations. And not because of the shibboleth that “force is not a solution to global problems.” Rather, it’s because of the standard by which Trump chose to justify the use of force.

Trump took military action against the Assad government, despite often stating that he wouldn’t, because he was distraught over pictures of the victims of the chemical weapons, particularly children. Trump did not suddenly determine that U.S. interests were being jeopardized; he simply felt a duty to alleviate the Syrians’ suffering. As Secretary of State Rex Tillerson explained several days after the attack: “We rededicate ourselves to holding to account any and all who commit crimes against the innocents anywhere in the world.”

In other words, if there is a conflict somewhere in the world, if warring factions are trying to impose their respective brands of oppression and are crushing innocent victims in the process, we will mitigate the destruction. This means that the basis for American involvement is not our self-interest, but the needs of others. It means that American wealth and America lives will be sacrificed for the sake of those in need. Plainly, this is not self-assertiveness, but selfless-assertiveness.

Syria poses little danger to the United States. But there are demonstrable threats to us elsewhere, such as from North Korea and Iran. A genuine act of self-assertiveness would be to eliminate those threats, which for a long time we have not only tolerated but actively abetted.

When a country’s foreign policy rests on no clear principles—when it’s an unpredictable and indecipherable hash of emotionalism, altruism and ad hoc machinations—when no firm guidelines exist to determine when we will or won’t use force—then “red lines” sprout up everywhere. And if America has an obligation to take action against “any and all who commit crimes against the innocents anywhere in the world,” then any failure to do so becomes evidence of weakness. If every evil committed by some vicious dictator is an assault against “America’s interests,” then inaction against such dictators shows a lack of will to uphold those “interests.”

If, however, we had a principled foreign policy, our government would understand that politically Americans have only one fundamental interest: their freedom—and that our policymakers’ sole task is to protect that freedom. When facing a situation like the one in Syria, therefore, they would morally condemn Assad’s tyranny while remaining true to the principle that we use force only when the liberty of Americans is threatened. They would refuse to treat Americans as selfless servants to the needs of the world. And they would make sure to employ force decisively against those who actually threaten us.

For a full explication of a proper foreign policy and of the meaning of a free country’s interests, see The Foreign Policy of Self-Interest: A Moral Ideal for America

The Collectivist Mentality

[This article appeared in Huffington Post, Nov. 9, 2015:  http://huff.to/1RINNZY]

China’s mandatory limit on the number of children a couple may have, which the communist government recently announced is being changed from one to two, attracts little support in the West. Apart from the most ardent environmentalists, people generally recognize the evil of such a policy.

But do they understand what, at root, makes it so abhorrent? Or do they tolerate, even embrace, variants of the same idea in other areas? Consider, for example, the following three positions and ask yourself whether there is a common belief underlying all of them:

  • The communist’s prohibition against having more than one (or two) children.
  • The conservative’s demand that assisted suicide be banned.
  • The liberal’s campaign against income inequality.

These seemingly diverse views are actually products of the same mindset: a collectivist mentality.

Under the collectivist philosophy, the individual has no independent existence or value. He is merely one of many indistinguishable, disposable cells within the “social organism.” It is the group that has primacy. Consequently, all important decisions must be made, not by the individual, but by society — i.e., by the state.

When it comes to child-bearing, on this view, everything you give your child — every morsel of food, every drop of water, every inch of space — represents a resource taken away from society. All acts of consumption become acts of expropriation. You therefore need public approval before having a child. You must be given permission to use up society’s scarce resources. And what about your rights? You have none, according to the doctrine of collectivism. The demands of the group, not the rights of the individual, set the standard for social policy.

Similarly, those who oppose assisted suicide believe that your life is not really your own. You are a fragment of society, they say, not an independent human being. The decision to terminate your life, no matter what agonies you may be suffering, cannot be made by you or by those who choose to assist you. Rather, it must be made by the collective. As one legal brief, written for a Supreme Court case, put it: “[Suicide] is an intensely social act . . . amenable to social control, since it has a dramatic impact on others.” It is an act “requiring the assent of society as a whole.” (And even those who oppose suicide on strictly religious grounds share the collectivist’s basic premise: the presence of some “higher power” to which the individual must subordinate himself.)

This point is articulated more starkly in an 1802 handbook of English law (cited approvingly in the aforementioned brief): “The law regards [suicide] as an heinous offence . . . for as the public have a right to every man’s assistance, he who voluntarily kills himself is with respect to the public as criminal as one who kills another.”

In other words, suicide and murder are equally objectionable since both diminish the human resources available to society. We are all supposed to accept the role of rightless serfs, serving as fodder for some “greater good.”

The same philosophy underlies the crusade for income equality. “Why should the top 1 percent own close to 50 percent of the wealth in America?” the crusaders ask. Or, looking at the issue more globally, “Why should the U.S., with under 5 percent of the world’s population, have more than 20 percent of the world’s GDP?” If your life is not yours, neither is your money. Instead it supposedly belongs to the collective, which then determines how much you should be allowed to have.

But don’t the rich have more because they have produced more? Doesn’t a Bill Gates or a Warren Buffett or a Sam Walton create his wealth through his own efforts? No, says the collectivist emphatically — no one does. This view holds not just that your money may be seized at will by society, but that you never earned it in the first place. It’s the view that your income is a collective product.

“It takes a village to raise a billionaire,” according to the organization Responsible Wealth. “You didn’t build that,” according to President Obama — society did. To the collectivist, wealth is never an individual achievement. Rather, it materializes, causelessly and anonymously, from the social organism. And since we’re all just interchangeable cells of that organism, why should any single cell receive a bigger paycheck than any other? Why shouldn’t we all be “equal”?

Exercising our rights over our lives — from keeping our own money, to bearing children, to choosing suicide — depends on a moral code of individualism. Every attack on our freedom stems from the notion that the individual must be sacrificed to the collective. These attacks will not end until the individual is upheld as an end in himself, rather than merely a means to the ends of others.♦♦

Unsoaking the Rich

The most distressing aspect of soak-the-rich schemes is not that the left keeps pushing them-but that the right regularly fails to offers a convincing refutation.

When Democrats declare that the rich are not paying their “fair share” of taxes, the Republicans’ typical response is: Oh yes, they are; look at how much more they pay, in both absolute dollars and percentage of income, than those in lower brackets. Besides–Republicans usually add–refraining from imposing higher taxes on the rich helps “society as a whole,” because of all the jobs produced through their investment capital.

But this type of response does not address the core question. The nature of that question, as well as the absence of a compelling answer, is hinted at by James Taranto, writer of the Wall Street Journal‘s “Best of the Web” column, in his examination of a recent New York Times article. . . .

[For the full article, see “The Correct Answer to All the Soak-the-Rich Tax Schemes” at RealClearMarkets.]