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KEVIN CAREY says that a belief in small government and big military spending is an unsustainable paradox.
Economic blockade as a substitute for, rather than an adjunct to, military action has a poor success rate. The tactic was first developed by politicians and diplomats who could not stomach dictatorships and racist governments but who could not stomach shedding blood to drive them out.
Living in the age of the casualty-free war makes the use of sanctions even more likely. The fact that they have signally failed to overthrow President Saddam Hussein of Iraq is perhaps not quite so important as the fact that military invasion did not overthrow him. Better to impose sanctions as a signal of moral outrage than send a military force.
Moral outrage is, of course, highly selective. It helps that the Iraqi leader is egregiously, flagrantly and impartially unpleasant but what is the real point of imposing an economic blockade which does not affect, and might even strengthen, the Government's grip on its people? In the case of the Taliban it is not an individual but a collective target; who, after all, can have any sympathy with these belligerent misogynists?
The fact that they have sheltered Osama Bin Laden, the alleged terrorist behind the bombing of American Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, is surely a front. Many governments of every political stripe are harbouring terrorists of one sort or another. We in the West, however, only harbour good, worthy and fully justified terrorists fleeing political persecution, otherwise known as exiles or refugees.
If such sanctions could be shown to achieve their objective then the moral debate surrounding them would be more intense and evenly balanced but they are, even if well intentioned, futile.
Worse still, in many cases the imposition of sanctions is a piece of hypocritical self-indulgence. From being a tactic of the pacifist 'left' they have become a familiar weapon of the interventionist 'right'. Such people are supposed to profess deep scepticism about the ability of governments to do anything that radically alters the condition of the people which, they say, is determined by uncontrollable economic factors. On this basis they seek to cut taxes, close down public sector agencies, de-regulate business and wash their hands of any form of social engineering.
It is, then, to say the least, inconsistent to spend so much money on criminal justice at home and on armaments to be deployed abroad.
If social engineering does not work then its most extreme forms, imprisonment and officially sanctioned murder, must be discredited. If governments cannot affect the lives of their people then why try to overthrow governments? To substitute one leader for another makes no difference. That, at least, is the result when you apply the theory of small government consistently.
Because we fail to be scrupulous and consistent in our analysis at least 100,000 innocent people will die of cold and starvation in Afghanistan by the middle of March.
What possible justification is there for allowing a fanatical, factional government, caught up in a civil war as intractable as it is senseless, to be the pretext for our indifference? Can nobody on the 'far right' in politics see that the refugees they are creating in Afghanistan today will be wading ashore in Europe three months from now to be told by those very same people that they must go home?
Is it really a coincidence that last week hundreds of Kurds were dumped on the beaches of San Tropez after paying thousands of Dollars each to escape a war zone?
There is a perfectly good ethical argument which says that the Afghan government, being responsible for its people, sets the conditions under which they live and makes all external contracts and that such contracts depend upon mutual agreement between it and other Governments.
On that basis it follows that the Taliban is responsible for the deaths and not us; but hardly anybody believes, if they ever did, in the absolute sovereignty of nation-state government; we simply disagree about degree.
Where you would invade I would impose sanctions; where you would impose sanctions I would provide assistance to reconstruct civil society; where you would provide assistance I would do nothing. On that basis it is hard to see how our legalistic indifference to Afghanistan can be maintained.
One has to presume that it is these same tyrants on the wrong end of sanctions who are posing such a severe threat that we all have to fork out for a new nuclear missile defence system.
I am not sure, in purely moral terms, how I would justify bribery but I do know you can do a whole lot of it for the price of the proposed NMD, whether you are thinking of keeping a tyrannical leadership in vodka and caviar or whether you subsidise imports of chewing gum. Whatever it takes it can neither be as futile nor expensive as building a whole new system to deal with a handful of acknowledged 'rogues'.
It might also be worth asking why they might be inclined to lob a crude nuclear weapon in the direction of Manhattan; what have we done to deserve their friendship?
Admittedly, Saddam is an unpleasant character who despises most of his own people; admittedly the Taliban oppress women to a degree we find unacceptable; admittedly there are some loose cannons on the cusp of the Islamic world and the northern giants of Russia and China; and some people might persuade themselves that President Gaddafi of Libya might one day pick a nuclear fight with America.
But having admitted all this, every rogue has a price. I do not object in principle to strong and even expensive defensive capacity, my objection is purely pragmatic.If we were to treat those with whom we differ, no matter how wide or deep the difference, with more respect, if we were to be less judgmental and more consistent, it would be difficult to justify what we are doing to the poor in Iraq and Afghanistan.
At root, the problem is an assumption of moral superiority which is ultimately even more important than economics and certainly more important than human life.
We should no longer lazily accept the paradox of Republican small government but big military spending, the contradiction in believing your people should not do what your government says but that other people's people should do what your government says, backed by force if necessary, the assumption that domestic government can never be effective but that foreign governments always are. The inevitable conclusion is that those with unquestioning moral superiority hate government because, even in their hands, it possesses checks and balances.
When the system is dismantled God shall reign with a Dollar in one hand and a missile in the other and the ungodly shall be put to the sword and the New Testament shall be burned.
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