An Economist’s Case for a Non-Interventionist Foreign Policy: David Henderson at Hoover

The Naval War College, based in Newport, Rhode Island, runs a special 11-month course for foreign Navy officers. On February 3, the Naval War College held a special morning session at the Hoover Institution, where I am a research fellow. I was invited to speak. The best invites, in my experience, are those for which I get to choose the topic. That happened in this case. So the topic I chose was “An Economist’s Case for a Non-Interventionist Foreign Policy.”

The four speakers, in order, were Gary Roughead (Admiral-Retired), formerly the Chief of Naval Operations and a Distinguished Visiting Fellow at Hoover, me, Bruce Thornton, a professor of classics and humanities from Fresno State University and a research fellow at Hoover, and George P. Shultz, formerly Secretary of State under Ronald Reagan and a Distinguished Fellow at Hoover.

The audience was, I believe, all Navy officers. There were 47 of them, representing 44 countries. I was warmly received by many of them, especially the officer from Bangladesh, and courteously received by the few U.S. military officers in attendance.

Listen to the speech (30 min).

Leon Panetta: Wars Will Go On Forever

At a speech that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta gave at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey yesterday, I posed the following question:

Good morning, Mr. Secretary. I’m David Henderson, an economics professor here in the Graduate School of Business and Public Policy.

Ohio State University professor John Mueller stated in a recent article in Foreign Affairs:

an al Qaeda computer seized in Afghanistan in 2001 indicated that the group’s budget for research on weapons of mass destruction (almost all of it focused on primitive chemical weapons work) was some $2,000 to $4,000.

In your previous job [I made a mistake here: he was already Defense Secretary when he said it but it seemed clear that these data were ones he got as CIA Director], you yourself pointed out that there are fewer than two dozen key operatives left in al Qaeda. Given our huge budget deficit, when do you say, “Enough is enough. Let’s end those wars because the costs are so much higher than the hypothetical gains.”

Here’s his answer from Larry Parsons’ report in the Monterey County Herald, which agrees with the one I remember hearing:

Responding to an NPS faculty member’s question about winding down the costly wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Panetta responded sternly.

“Those wars will end when the individuals who have threatened this country are no longer there to threaten our country,” he said.

The goal is to leave Iraq and Afghanistan stable, secure and “in a position to build on the sacrifices that have been made,” he said.

We could do some parsing here, taking him literally, and say that Panetta is saying the wars will end when those who threatened the United States in the past are no longer there. That’s a plausible, though expensive, goal. But does anyone believe that if people in that part of the world threaten the United States in the future, he and his boss will say, “No problem: we got rid of all the past threats.” It seems clear from context that Panetta means that as long as there are threats there, the wars will continue. Which means that he is arguing for carrying on the wars forever. Although 2024 is not forever, last week, the Telegraph in the United Kingdom reported that the Afghan and U.S. governments are close to signing a deal to keep U.S. troops in Afghanistan through the end of 2024.

By the way, it was gratifying to have a number of my past students from my Cost/Benefit Analysis class stop me in the hallway or e-mail me afterward to comment that they got my point immediately because of the class I had taught them.

Cross-posted at the Library of Economics and Liberty blog.

Stossel on Hannity

To publicize his 20/20 special, “Bailouts and Bull,” ABC’s John Stossel went on Sean Hannity’s show that same evening (last night). There were two high (so to speak) points, one involving Stossel and one not.

In a discussion of the mess in Mexico, the following conversation occurred:

Stossel: That’s why we should legalize drugs. That’s our old argument. They’re killing each other because the stuff is illegal.
Hannity: Do you want to walk the same streets as people on crack and heroin?
Stossel: I assume I am. I’m living in New York city. They use it regardless of whether it’s legal or not.
Hannity: Every once in a while you just have to say “Checkmate. I lose.”

Note: I watch Hannity almost every night. This is the first time in a few years that I’ve ever seen him admit that he got bested.

Then Hannity went on to say that it’s people’s own responsibility. Stossel then pointed out that if that’s so, then people should be free to poison themselves. Hannity replied that they hurt other people by committing crime to buy the drugs. Stossel pointed out that the high price of drugs is due to the fact that they’re illegal.

Hannity then almost admitted that another of his pet views was wrong. He and liberal guest Julie Menin, of the Women’s Campaign Forum got into a discussion of waterboarding, which Hannity advocates.
Menin: Evidence has shown that those types of torture tactics [waterboarding] unfortunately do not work.
Hannity: Let me tell you something. If you dunk my head in the water, I’m going to tell you whatever I need to tell you to get–if it’s true–to get out of this.

You could almost see the “whoops” in Hannity’s eyes as he caught himself and added “if it’s true.” Hannity caught himself saying what I think he really thinks, which is what most of us think: we would say anything if doing so would stop someone from torturing us. But then he realized what he had said and so he added, “if it’s true.” If I were being tortured, I wouldn’t care whether what I said was true as long as it ended the torture.

BTW, I thought the Stossel show was one of his best. That’s saying a lot because many of his shows have been high-quality. My one objection was to the economist, whose face I didn’t recognize, who said that the United States will have hyperinflation like Germany’s in the 1920s. I hate it when people super-exaggerate to make a point.

Should the Israelis Arrest Benny Morris?

As Justin Raimondo points out in his article this morning, “A Brazen Evil,” noted Israeli scholar Benny Morris wrote an op/ed in Friday’s New York Times, “Using Bombs to Stave Off War,” in which he advocated that the U.S. government or the Israeli government attack Iran. In his op/ed, Morris wrote, “if the attack fails, the Middle East will almost certainly face a nuclear war — either through a subsequent pre-emptive Israeli nuclear strike or a nuclear exchange shortly after Iran gets the bomb.”

Why is this quote so striking? Because Morris implicitly admits that the Israeli government has nuclear weapons, even though that government has never so admitted. In 1986, Mordecai Vanunu, an Israeli nuclear technician, revealed that fact and for his troubles, was kidnapped by the Israeli government, tried for treason in secret, and forced to spend 18 years in prison, 11 of them in solitary confinement. His treason? Revealing Israel’s nuclear weapons program. It’s true that he violated a non-disclosure agreement, but that’s not treason. Presumably the treason is that he revealed Israel’s nuclear weapons program, with the non-disclosure agreement being irrelevant.

Guess what? In last Friday’s New York Times, Benny Morris revealed Israel’s nuclear weapons program. So shouldn’t he be charged with treason too?

Long WWII Tours Not an Issue?

I think highly of Ivan Eland as a person and as a foreign policy analyst. His piece on today’s site on the danger of recruiting into the military people with bad records of behavior is on target. On the way to making his points, though, Ivan writes the following:

One problem is that when the U.S. is not fighting a war against what the American public perceives as a dire threat (for example, the Nazis and the Imperial Japanese during World War II) – that is, the war is one of choice, such as Iraq or Vietnam – the nation is unwilling to make the sacrifices needed to win. In World War II, serving more than 12 months overseas was not an issue.

Is he sure that these tours were not an issue? Or could it be that people didn’t dare protest because they feared being accused of being unpatriotic or even feared being punished if they protested? After all, many of them probably knew how Woodrow Wilson had handled dissent during World War I. Maybe they learned the lesson. There is far too much nostalgia about World War II but, interestingly, less so from people who were actually in it. When I was a child in the 1950s and 1960s, I couldn’t get WWII vets to say much about their experiences. Maybe they thought no one would really listen.

But we need to listen. Next time you talk to a World War II vet, make sure you don’t presume to know what he thought and felt.

Two final notes about Ivan’s use of language. First, nations don’t make sacrifices; people do. Second, any war a government engages in is a war of choice. Even if your side is attacked, going to war is still a choice. It might be a good choice, but it’s a choice.

John McCain: “I’m a Terrorist”

Well, OK, he didn’t say that explicitly. But he did say it implicitly.

A basic logic lesson and please forgive me if you think I’m talking down to you. I’m really not. It’s just that I’m shocked at how many people, including McCain, don’t seem to get logic. If I say, “All crows are black” and I also say, “That bird is a crow,” then I’m saying that that bird is black even if I don’t say so explicitly.

On ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” on Sunday, April 20, John McCain called William Ayers “an unrepentant terrorist.” What was McCain’s evidence? McCain said that Ayers “was engaged in bombings which could have or did kill innocent people…” So McCain is saying that someone who engages in bombings which could have killed or did kill innocent people is a terrorist.

Now consider what McCain did. McCain flew a bomber, an A-4E Skyhawk, over North Vietnam. I don’t know whether he actually dropped his bombs before being shot down. But certainly he was engaged in actions that, if he had succeeded, could have killed innocent people. Which makes McCain, in his own words, a terrorist.

Now McCain could argue that that’s different because, as he said elsewhere in the interview, “I had a reconciliation with the Vietnamese, when we normalized relations.” Did he apologize to them? He didn’t say. If he did, that would make him a “repentant terrorist.” Too bad Stephanopoulos didn’t challenge him.