The Irrepressible Rothbard
Essays of Murray N. Rothbard
Edited by Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr.
THE DECEMBER SURPRISE
Nothing embodies the monumental klutziness of George Bush so much
as his manner of leaving office: bringing us a December surprise!
Only a George Bush could get us into a war after he has safely lost
his election. With luck, indeed, this "foreign policy" president
might have us fighting in no less than three wars by the time he
leaves office: Somalia, Bosnia-Kosovo, and Iraq. The media have
been writing of Bush's possible cleverness in sticking Clinton with
two and possibly three quagmires as he takes office. The heck with
Clinton; what about the legacy that this preppy Trilateralist boob
is bequeathing to us? At the end, in an allegedly major speech,
Bush specifically tried to reverse the wise advice of George Washington's
Farewell "ddress, and to keep us fighting in foreign entanglements
forever. The vaunted "graciousness" of the Bushes during the interregnum
completes the package, as the average Americano is supposed to be
reassured by the perception that both the incoming and the outgoing
elites are virtually the same, Clinton only a younger Bush with
a hoarse Arkansas accent. To top it off, Ronnie left the confines
of his Santa Barbara ranch to call for a permanent UN army to police
the world, while that other conservative icon, Maggie Thatcher,
keeps yowling for the immediate carpet bombing of the Serbs. It
is high time for conservatives to rethink their recent history,
to jettison the Reagans and Thatchers and Goldwaters, and return
to the older tradition of the Tafts and Brickers and Wherrys. Catch
any of them calling for a UN army!
The Somalia intervention is a genuine horror, for it is an intervention
that possesses not a single shred of national self-interest: strategic,
military, resource, or whatever. Hence, of all U.S. coercive actions
since World War II, this one is beloved of the entire "anti-war"
and "pacifist" left. For the first time in a half-century, veteran
anti-war leaders such as the Rev. Henry Sloane Coffin, and the troubadour
Pete Seeger, have signed up in a U.S. war. The veteran left-liberal
and ex-Communist Murray Kempton, sounding for all the world like
a villain in an Ayn Rand novel, writes that the wonderful thing
about the Somalian intervention is precisely that the U.S. has no
"selfish" interest in the war: that it is pure "humanitarian" altruism.
And he is seconded in this monstrous analysis by none other than
veteran "conservative" leader, William F. Buckley, Jr.
The idea of marching out with gun and missile to end starvation
in the world, carrying machine-gun in one hand and CARE package
in the other, is perhaps the most repellent vision of foreign policy
ever concocted. The United States and the Western world in general
have not escaped mass starvation out of sheer good luck or by "exploiting"
the impoverished Third World. On the contrary: the natural lot of
mankind, at least since our expulsion from Eden, is mass starvation
starvation that can only be overcome by steady hard work,
by productive capital investment, and by creating the conditions
and social institutions guaranteeing private property free of depredation.
In that way, people will be able to keep and exchange the fruits
of their hard-won labor. These conditions do not exist in the Third
World, especially in areas such as Somalia. The United States is
not wealthy enough, and hopefully not masochistic enough, to strip
ourselves to the bone in order to feed the entire world, a world
that is starving only because their social order has broken down,
and because they are not guaranteeing private-property rights.
The end of the year is the time to make awards, and surely the
Horselaugh Award for 1992 goes to whichever joker in Washington
promised that the U.S. troops would be out of Somalia by January
20. Yeah, sure. Somalia is a land of "criminal anarchy" the
sort of country that gives anarchism a bad name, a land where, instead
of peacefully competing defense agencies, there is no settled government,
certainly no effective peace-keeping agency, and warring bands are
trying to steal from each other and from the general populace. In
short, sort of like Harlem, only worse. But a land without a settled
government, whether criminally anarchic or anarcho-capitalist, is
almost impossible for an external power to occupy and govern. For
there is no political infrastructure, no settled government to whom
the occupying imperial power can transmit orders. How was little
Britain, in the old days, able to occupy the vast and far more populous
lands of the British Empire, e.g., India? British forces could conquer
the Rajahs, and then settle down to transmit orders to the Rajahs,
who in turn would govern the indigenous population. But in areas
where there was no indigenous political authority the Ibos,
in West Africa, for example, who were also devoid of political authority
the British found it almost impossible to occupy and govern.
Similarly in Somalia. Lands without government are peculiarly porous;
sure, the American soldiers came ashore, brandished guns, and were
met with little resistance at first; but soon we will find that
we are only occupying the actual small territory our troops are
walking on; the rest of the country that is, all the areas
not physically occupied by our troops will remain ungoverned
and beyond our ken.
The worst inciter in this mess is Boutros Boutros-Ghali, probably
the peskiest and most dangerous UN Secretary-General to date, who
keeps whooping it up for us to do more, more, to occupy, stay there
forever, and, most outlandish of all, disarm every Somalian. Yeah,
great; Boutros-Ghali wants us to fight to the last dollar and the
last soldier. Liberal gun-control in Somalia? Disarm the "thugs"
in Mogadishu when we don't seem able to disarm them in Harlem or
The United States, pestered continually by Boutros-Ghali, and understandably
reluctant to disarm all of East Africa, decided on a silly compromise:
OK, we would disarm or confiscate the dreaded "vehicles"
the jeeps with mounted weapons that were the main tools of battle
and power for the various clashing tribes and sub-tribes in southern
Somalia. (Oops, you're supposed to say clans, not tribes
since the masters of PC have decided that "tribe" has a "racist"
connotation.) Well, we started to disarm and confiscate the vehicles
in Mogadishu, much to our satisfaction, when lo and behold! we found
that at least the vehicles had been imposing some sort of power
structure in the city, since only the largest and best-financed
"thugs" could afford them. But now, without the vehicles, everyone
is down to his own Kalashnikov, and armed conflict in the town is
fiercer and more anarchic than ever. Typical example of government
creating more problems than it solves!
Have you ever wondered, by the way, why all the turmoil and hence
starvation is in southern Somalia, while northern
Somalia remains peaceful and relatively well-fed? It's because there's
only one tribe in northern Somalia, instead of the clashing welter,
the glorious "diversity," the gorgeous mosaic, of the tribes in
the benighted South.
Some truly loony-tunes ideas have come out of Washington for solving
the Somalian crime problem. One is for the U.S. to buy all
the guns from the Somalis. Right. The U.S. taxpayers pay a steep
price to bring the guns in, the Somalis take the money and buy still
more guns, as this "solution" happy for Somali warriors,
disastrous for the U.S. taxpayers, spirals out of control. An even
nuttier proposal states that the United States should literally
swamp southern Somalia with food, so much food that gluts will occur,
and the price will be driven downward toward zero, so that no one
will bother stealing it. Brilliant! But what would prevent the Somali
warriors from buying all this cheap food, and reselling it at a
higher price out of town or out of the country, thereby reaping
ever-higher profits at U.S. taxpayers expense, while the Somali
population continues to starve? Or do these Washington geniuses
think that food never travels from one spot of earth to another,
or perhaps they think they can glut the entire world?
And so we can predict that our short-term feeding will solve no
longer-run problems in Somalia, and that criminal anarchy will continue
to reign outside the physical presence of U.S. troops. The United
States, therefore, will quickly be presented with a critical choice:
either declare victory and get the blazes out of Somalia, or send
in ten million American troops, occupy every square inch of that
besotted land, pick some "pro-American" puppet, hold "free elections,"
and the rest of the trappings, and then be prepared to maintain
Somalia as a U.S. ward in perpetuity. And if so, when and where
will it all end?
And by the way, if the left strongly opposes all U.S. wars against
Communism, but endorses (all?) other interventions, what does it
say about the quality of their alleged opposition either to war
or to U.S. imperialism? And what does it say about their own
There are some other fascinating problems attending the Somalian
caper. One is the accelerating castration of the American armed
forces, which are already in the process of being weakened by feminization
and gayization. I am no great fan of militarism, but if the military
is to have any role at all it's got to be really military;
tough, purposive, disciplined, generally John Wayne or Clint Eastwood-like.
But our entire left-liberal culture detests nothing more than John
Wayneish "macho" heroes, and it has assiduously been trying to transform
the American military, perhaps successfully. It was therefore chilling
to read of the Marines distributing food in Mogadishu happily burbling
"now, I feel that it's right to be a soldier." Ohhh?
This odious theme of the humanitarian-with-the-gun is strongly
reminiscent of one of the great essays in political philosophy,
the chapter "The Humanitarian with the Guillotine" from The God
of the Machine (1943), by the marvelous Old Right novelist and
literary critic Isabel Paterson. The "humanitarian," writes Paterson,
makes it the primary purpose of his life to help others, even though
of course he himself hasn't the funds to do so. But "if the primary
objective of the philanthropist, his justification for living, is
to help others, his ultimate good requires that others shall
be in want. His happiness is the obverse of their misery...The
humanitarian wishes to be a prime mover in the lives of others.
He cannot admit either the divine or the natural order, by which
men have the power to help themselves."
"But," Isabel Paterson goes on, "he is confronted by two awkward
facts: first, that the competent do not need his assistance; and
second, that the majority of people, if unperverted, positively
do not want to be 'done good' by the humanitarian....Of course,
what the humanitarian actually proposes is that he shall
do what he thinks is good for everybody. It is at this point that
the humanitarian sets up the guillotine."
"What kind of a world," Paterson concludes "does the humanitarian
contemplate as affording him full scope? It could only be a world
filled with breadlines and hospitals, in which nobody retained the
natural power of a human being to help himself or to resist having
things done to him. And that is precisely the world that the humanitarian
arranges when he gets his way...Hence the humanitarian feels the
utmost gratification when he visits or hears of a country in which
everyone is restricted to ration cards. Where subsistence is doled
out, the desideratum has been achieved, of general want and a superior
power to 'relieve' it. The humanitarian in theory is the terrorist
in action." (Paterson, God of the Machine, pp. 241-42)
Another grave problem confronting us in the Somalia caper is yet
one more demonstration of the tremendous power of the TV media to
make foreign policy. It's policy made not by thought, but by instant
visual emotion. Consider: (1) TV cameras come to Somalia; (2) TV
cameras show horrible shots of emaciated and diseased children,
surrounded by flies; (3) shots are carefully arranged for maximum
emotional impact upon the American viewer (American soldiers were
stunned to find, when they invaded Somalia, many areas of productive
farms and happy, well-fed farmers they, of course,
were not shown on TV); (4) the American masses, stampeded by shots
of starving Third World kids, bombard Washington for calls to do
something anything to save the situation; (5)
America sends troops, despite all Pentagon or cost-benefit warnings.
The fact that the intervention will not stop starvation or will
likely prove counter-productive, means nothing: for long-run starvation,
or superior alternative use of resources cannot be shown
on television. This is foreign policy in fact, public policy
in general made by images cleverly selected by TV. All that
is needed to get the U.S. to send troops anywhere is for TV cameras
to show starving children and there are plenty available
at a moment's notice: Zaire, southern Sudan, Haiti, Afghanistan,
are just a few of the numerous places crying for TV attention. There
is no hope for any rational public policy in America so long as
we continue to have rule-by-TV camera. What can be done about it?
I don't know, but it is a question that needs serious consideration.
When Lew Rockwell, in response to the doctored Rodney King-tape,
humorously suggested outlawing camcorders, he was deluged by protests
from dimwit and serioso libertarians. But he was the first
person to raise a serious concern that must be dealt with.
And then there is Bosnia. George Bush is obviously itching to get
heavily involved against the Serbs. Well, you gotta hand it to the
Serbs: they are a proud and gutsy people. In mid-1992, the U.S.
accepted a deal in which Serbian-American California millionaire
Milan Panic went back to his Serbian childhood home as Prime Minister
of the rump of old Yugoslavia, a rump consisting only of Serbia
and its sister Serb republic of Montenegro. Panic was arbitrarily
exempted by the State Department from the law requiring loss of
citizenship by any American who presumes to take foreign political
office. Serbian President Slobodan ("Slobo") Milosevic offered the
deal expecting it would get U.S. and UN sanctions off his back.
But when Bush wouldn't go for eliminating sanctions, and Panic kept
urging peace upon the Serbs, then launching a bitter political struggle
against Slobo, the Serbs got fed up, understandably and perhaps
correctly denouncing Panic as a tool of U.S. imperialism and of
Finally, in December elections, the conflict came to a head: Milosevic
vs. Panic for election as President of Serbia. In addition to suspicions
of American manipulation, the Serbs couldn't cotton to Panic as
a person: he has a strong American accent, he waves his arms around
on the stump more like a Serbian-American than like a Serbian-Serb,
apparently he cracks jokes, is a former champion bicycle
racer, and in general impressed the Serbs as more American than
At this juncture, the U.S. and other Western nations made it very
clear that they wanted Milosevic out, and they threatened invasion
and even war-crimes trials if the Serbs dared to reelect Slobo.
It was a dumb as well as repellently arrogant move by the U.S.;
for the Serbs are not the sort of people to cave in to threats of
force, even from the mighty United States. The Serbs, bless them,
responded with an overwhelming victory by Milosevic, about 55 percent
to 36 percent to his nearest rival, Panic. It was a resounding repudiation
of U.S. intervention, current and prospective.
As usual, when they don't like the results, our vociferous champions
of democracy reacted by threatening to shoot the winners of a democratic
election. They claim that the election was stolen, and for a while
the Panic forces were demanding another vote. But soon the feebleness
of their case forced the Panic people to shut up. Good Lord! Five
percent of the voters were not registered, and so their votes were
lost! Well so what, that's about the number of fraudulent voters,
or fraudulent non-voters, in any given election in Las Vegas! The
international election observers couldn't find much fraud either.
Then, the grumblers had to fall back on the charge that Milosevic
was able to use the State-owned media to his own advantage. Yes,
but you see this argument cuts a bit close to the "democratic" bone.
Media bias? You mean unlike the good old USA where the media
were virtually pushing Clinton across the line with every move they
made, every word they uttered? Come on, guys! Eventually, then,
the "Democrats" had to shut up, and accept the overwhelming nature
of the Milosevic victory, Panic was then kicked out by Parliament
as Prime Minister.
But isn't Milosevic a damned Commie? Yes, but his popularity is
not due to his Communism, but to the fact that he quickly seized
the torch of Serbian nationalism. Commie, shmommie, he's a Serb!
More interesting than Slobo in the Serbian picture, and a comer
for the future, is the Serbian Radical Party, second only to the
Slobo Socialists, and headed by Vojislav Seselj. The "Radical" name
deliberately harkens back to the old Radical party of pre-World
War II Serbia, the classic party of royalism, right-wing nationalism,
and Greater Serbianism. It is Seselj and the Radicals, and not Slobo,
who is in communion with the Serb guerrillas in Krajina (Croatia),
Bosnia, and presumptively, in Kosovo, now represented in the Yugoslav
Parliament by their legendary leader (thug/Freedom Fighter) "Arkan."
Meanwhile, the U.S. continues to try to inflict pain on the Serbs
by maintaining sanctions against any inflow of arms, material, manufactured
goods, indeed everything except food. But the Serbian border is
like a sieve, and all manner of vital goods are getting through
all the time. In their frustration, the U.S. has finally found a
violator of the sanctions to crack down on: beleaguered American
chess wizard Bobby Fischer, who played a chess match in two spots
in Serbia; a resort hotel on an island off the Montenegrin coast,
and then in Belgrade itself. For defying U.S.BUN warnings, the U.S.
is pressing charges against Bobby, threatening him with: confiscation
of Bobby's $3.6 million winnings, an extra $200,000 fine, and several
years in jail. This for playing chess! I would like the U.S. authorities
to explain something to me: just exactly how did Bobby Fischer's
chess transaction aid the Serb economy, much less provide them with
the sinews of war against the Serbs' ethnic enemies? Bobby played
chess in Serbia, in return for which a Serb millionaire paid Bobby
$3.5 million plus expenses. The Serbs find themselves with $3.5
million dollars less to spend on sinews, while their enjoyment of
chess scarcely helps build one more plane or one more military base.
How wackily vindictive can the U.S. government get? Bobby of course
is not going to return to the U.S. to face the indictment, so the
latest is U.S. threats of extradition. Hey! Get that dangerous chess
Once again, Triple R raises the cry which we pioneered last
year: Free Bobby Fischer and all Political Prisoners!
The latest noise from Washington on the Serbian question is that
the U.S. may not send troops against the Serbs unless the Serbs
"carry their aggression" to Kosovo. But that is arrant nonsense;
the Serbs have no need to "extend" aggression to Kosovo; they are
already governing it. A couple of years ago, Slobo ended
the autonomy of Kosovo (south of Serbia) within the Serbian Republic,
and imposed Serb rule. The problem is that only 10 percent of Kosovo
is Serb; no less than 90 percent are Albanian! So there will be
no conflict with Kosovo unless and until the Albanians will rise
up and try to claim national self-rule, something the Kosovo Albanians
so far seem incapable of doing. Then there is the specter of Albania
itself intervening on behalf of their ethnic comrades in Kosovo
(on its northeast border); but Albania, just recently out from under
a long-term super-Maoist regime, seems in no condition to intervene
against anyone. A special fillip to this ethnic conflict is the
religious factor: the fact that the vast majority of Albanians are
Muslims, adding, as in Bosnia a special Christian vs. Muslim Holy
War ingredient to the seething Balkan cauldron. There is also a
special historical twist: the Christians in the Balkans rightly
suspect the original conversions by the Bosnian Slavs (ethnically
mainly Serb) and by the Albanians to Islam to have been motivated
not so much by sincere religious conviction as by the opportunity
to escape taxes under the Ottoman Empire. History always heavy,
especially among history's losers.
So thanks a lot for your rotten legacy, George, in foreign as well
as domestic affairs! The most appropriate song with which to pipe
George out of office and back to Kennebunkport is the old ditty
we used to sing in camp:
- We hate to see you go We hate to see you go We hope to Hell
you never come back We hate to see you go.