The War on Tyranny briefly outlined
On January 20, 2005 in his Second Inaugural Address, President Bush launched the War on Tyranny with these words: "So it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world."
Possibly the President is sincere in his belief that such a policy serves "America’s vital interests." Possibly this policy is put out for public consumption to cover other goals. Possibly this policy suits the wants of the President, not the nation. All three of these can hold simultaneously. Concerning the President’s wants, my hypothesis, for what it’s worth, is that our President is a slippery, cagey, psychologically wounded flimflam man who so craves fame that he will torture reality into a grandiose portrait so that he will feel good and look good in the history books. These intuitions based on little beyond my personal sense of the man are inessential, although after penning them I did uncover this website. The incontrovertible fact and subject before us is that he has told us that our "mission" and "calling" is to "support expansion of freedom in all the world."
What "you can do for your country," as JFK put it, has transmuted into our standing up for a War on Tyranny (my words) disguised as the goal of spreading democracy to end tyranny. I surmise that the President, something of a (neo) con man, didn’t want to remind us of the Iraq War, so he cloaked his language. Every President lauded by the statists as among the "best" instigates at least one war. President Bush has now launched his third (maybe more — I don’t keep count). This one is far and away the most significant, which is why we should label it so that everyone knows what it is: the War on Tyranny. By the way, is the War on Terror still on, or has it been absorbed into the War on Tyranny? Frankly, I am confused by this expansive mission creep.
After thinking up this term, I searched on it and found that F. William Engdahl independently arrived at this designation back in February of this year. (It’s very hard to have an unique idea.) More importantly, he wrote a fine piece explaining that the War on Tyranny conveniently is being launched against countries (apart from North Korea) that possess vast oil resources located at geopolitical flash points. So the War on Tyranny not only fits the President’s predilections but also those of important oil and defense interest groups and the baleful harebrained neoconservatives.
Some of these countries ring China, so that U.S. foreign policy is apparently relaunching the dangerous containment policy of John Foster Dulles with China replacing the Soviet Union. Secretary of State Rice has listed a number of target countries and will soon no doubt be preaching the democratic gospel to them backed up by Washington’s toolkit of threats, pressures, aids, CIA actions, etc. One must break eggs to make an omelet. Other Washington "sources" have added to the list. It seems to include Algeria, Belarus, Cuba, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Yemen, and Zimbabwe. Others will be added such as Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan with their oil resources.
I wonder how the U.S. would react if another nation placed us on a list, followed by a trip to Washington by their foreign minister who told us what we must do in order to create a more perfect Union and establish justice or democratic rule. I wonder how we would react if China or another power established a policy of cozying up and seriously influencing Mexico and Canada, opened up a few bases there, or supported a few of their major companies on their soils. Watch how our leaders react to Chinese-Venezuelan relations.
Our policy makers have let it be known that all tyrannies are not created equal, or that the U.S. will pick and choose the ones it wishes to exert pressure on as well as the time to do so. This flexibility underscores the notion that the War on Tyranny is in part a War for Oil. In addition, it means that for many countries the War on Tyranny is simply a continuation of already existing policies and relations. For example, Algeria has already placed itself for its own reasons in the U.S. camp, while the U.S. policy of sanctions against Myanmar, in place since 1990, was extended under Bush. Such sanctions, illegal under the Constitution and accomplished by Executive Order, invariably harm the affected population, strengthen the controlling rulers, help certain manufacturers, and fail to democratize the affected countries.
Criticisms of the War on Tyranny
I can think of many ways to approach or view the War on Tyranny, and they all suggest the same thing to me. It’s wrong and bad. I’ll make a handful of these arguments.
Now supposedly the U.S. is called to a War on Tyranny in order to respond to some sort of "mortal threat" to the nation arising out of massive resentment and tyranny simmering beyond our borders. This is complete nonsense, and living up to this wrong theory will harm us greatly.
Haven’t Central and South America been full of resentment and tyranny for a nice few hundred years? And what about Mexico? Did the U.S. fight the War of 1812 with England because it resented us and was ruled by a tyrant? Was Jefferson Davis a tyrant who resented the U.S.? Was the Spanish-American War fought because Spaniards resented us? Or was it because the spheres of influence of two states conflicted and American industrial interests were being compromised in Cuba? Did the U.S. fight Hitler because he was a tyrant or because he was an expansionist tyrant?
Is bin Laden a tyrant or an expansionist? Maybe he’d like to be a tyrant; maybe he’d like to have an empire. I do not know. I am simply saying that to mis-diagnose the threats to the U.S. by seeing them as caused by resentment and tyranny is a very, very large error of judgment because it opens up a huge can of worms that will cost us dearly and lead invariably to even worse threats. It is simply a massive blunder.
Surely bin Laden’s problem is not resentment arising from lack of money. And he seems free enough in thought and speech. He moves about freely enough, although from cave to cave. The U.S. seems to have a big problem catching him. He might even be as free as the President in his expensive cocoon.
What is the logic in relating the unfree condition of many of the world’s peoples to the sheer inability of the U.S. to track bin Laden down and bring him to justice? It does not add up, friends.
There’s just about as much of a connection of terrorism to the tyranny we observe in foreign countries as to making everyone take their shoes off at the airport. But we’re trying that too. Very shrewd, our neocon leaders. They know how to seize a government, they know how to run their mouths, they know how to smear their enemies, they know how to work the system, they know how to instigate murder — the skills of dreadful evil men. They seem not to be able to bring us security, which is because their goal is not security but power. However, their grand schemes and visions of power so cloud their minds with misinterpretations and fallacies that they cannot think straight about the very thing they covet, causing them to blunder.
Mr. bin Laden is resentful of a whole bunch of things that he makes perfectly clear. His resentments over U.S. actions and policies do not, however, automatically translate into mass resentments of world peoples in a dozen or more countries who are poor and/or tyrannized. Given the perpetuation of the existing U.S. interactions with many other countries, however, our benighted policy makers might well cause this result to occur. The U.S. might strengthen bin Laden’s appeal, help him recruit, or create many more bin Ladens.
What about the "mortal threat"? The odds of most terrorist events are low. If there is a betting market out there on an atomic event in the U.S., I’d like to know about it, because we simply cannot and should not rely on one man’s word about such a matter, especially a man who can launch atomic attacks himself.
For anyone, terrorist or President, to launch a nuclear attack without very substantial reason and provocation would be to lose whatever moral high ground he might have or be seeking and create an even more resolute enemy. Even a terrorist has to consider the prospective gains of his acts (such as goading the opposition into wasteful wars or wars that aid his own recruiting) versus the losses (such as being tracked down and attacked vigorously.)
The next argument is a legal one. The U.S. Constitution doesn’t give the Federal government the powers that it will undoubtedly use to prosecute this war. There is no legal basis for military actions to free other peoples or bring down tyrants, unless those countries have attacked the U.S. There is no legal basis for providing foreign aid to rebel groups seeking to overthrow a tyrant or for foreign aid as a reward for setting up a democracy. There is no legal basis for channeling funds to the CIA or other covert operatives to destabilize governments. (Related issues involving the Afghanistan War are beyond the scope of this article.)
Another argument utilizes the non-aggression axiom. I argued elsewhere that the libertarian non-aggression axiom does not countenance aggression by C to free B from the oppression of A. When A consists of rulers tyrannizing their subjects B, the matter is internal to that State. However, if some of the subjects of C wish to cooperate voluntarily with some of the subjects of B to rebel against A, I see no problem with it. The only issue for rebels and those assisting them is that both should in fact be acting in defense of the rights of the rebels. I do see a problem with the entire State C assisting the rebel group B. For one thing, State C is coercing taxpayer funds in its effort. For another thing, this brings C into conflict with State A, virtually war. But since A has not aggressed upon C, there is no warrant for the war.
Now, one last and most important argument. Let us suppose that the U.S. Constitution allows a War on Tyranny and that the non-aggression axiom is not a consideration. Suppose that the War on Tyranny is really a War for Oil, on the grounds of national security, for example. Should it not be fought on that ground? Definitely not.
The national security argument is based on the fear of a loss of power or control. The premises are these. Energy based on oil is a vital commodity in peace and war. If we don’t control it, we just can’t be sure what will happen next. We will be at the mercy of forces beyond our control. All these statements are true. However, it does not follow either that we have a right to control or should try to control oil at its source by creating friendly democracies or by installing American bases everywhere or by related means.
We are in the same boat as many other peoples and countries on this earth who rely on trade for vital goods. The suppliers of these goods, whether they be oil, computer expertise, anti-tank weapons, water, cotton, grain, or capital, have an interest in providing a steady supply. Many countries import oil. If they did not import it, what would the suppliers do with it? If the Saudis didn’t sell oil to the U.S., they could not eat it, paper their palaces with it, or ride in it. They want to sell their oil to us. They have no reason not to.
If the French or the Chinese or the Finns buy some of it, who are we to say no, you may not, that it’s earmarked for us and us only? There is a world market for oil. There are many sources of supply and many sources of demand. The barrels are essentially indistinguishable once they enter the channels of trade. They can go anywhere and to anyone.
If the price rises, as it has, the incentive for more production increases. If price rises do not coax out more oil production, then the world will adapt to that situation by innumerable means. We will build more nuclear plants. We will alter the automobile. We will alter the location of work and living to diminish travel.
If oil or any commodity has a supply that can be interrupted, everyone knows enough how to deal with that uncertainty. They can have backup oil supplies. They can have backup means of producing energy. There will be those who will hold inventories just waiting for the day when an emergency arises so that they can sell them at a high price. Everyone knows that life is uncertain and we learn how to cope with it.
All of this is very well-known. It may even be known to politicians who act as if they do not comprehend economics. But that is an illusion. They understand. They simply have a different agenda. So what is the real issue with our rulers? Why do they harp so on the vital national security interest in oil? It’s a smokescreen to hide what they really are after.
They are afraid that they will lose their freedom of action to make war. They want power and more power and they view oil as a weapon of power. Their actions are based on a power mentality whereas the rest of us have a mentality of peace. They are not interested in our security at all, or national security, but in maintaining their options to wage war without constraint. They know that the Germans in World War II drove for the Baku oil, and that the Japanese occupied Indonesia to get oil (after the U.S. and Great Britain in 1940 imposed an oil boycott on Japan.) They do not want to see the U.S. hamstrung by a lack of oil in wartime or even by a threat in peacetime that might affect the U.S. economy and constrain their actions. They want power.
The U.S. already controls a great deal of oil and other things, but our leaders con us by claiming we are still not secure. The con is that they are correct but still misleading because no one is ever 100% secure and the quest for it by improper means brings the opposite result. The more power they seek (in the false name of security) by intruding everywhere in the world and trying to control everything, the less secure everyone else in the world gets. Then the more these other countries try to expand — missiles, submarines, armies, alliances against us, you name it. In other words, our leaders want power and open options in the future to exercise power, and by going for it, they create greater insecurity for us by inspiring others to act against us. They play their power games and we pay the price.
Practically speaking, I do not believe that the War on Tyranny will even bring to our rulers the power that they covet much less security to us. Once China or some other power has enough submarines, they can cut off U.S. oil supplies in any really big conflict because the U.S. is basically an island. Once a hostile power has enough nuclear weapons and is willing themselves to die, the U.S. power cannot prevail because we have a lot more to lose.
Anyway, even if our leaders had our security in mind, meaning the control over future outcomes so that the U.S. population can go forward in their SUVs unfazed by all contingencies, they cannot legitimately get it for us by means of power and force applied to other countries and peoples. That is wrong and everyone knows it, so that sooner or later it will elicit opposing forces against us such as terrorists.
The solution to this bad situation is straightforward. It will stop when we stop it. A lot more people have to (1) recognize that our rulers are conning us all the time, (2) recognize that they are out for themselves, not us, (3) recognize that their quest for power is dangerous and harmful to us, and (4) take away their powers.
Michael S. Rozeff [send him mail] is the Louis M. Jacobs Professor of Finance at University at Buffalo.