Pump and Dump - I have frequently argued that the USA should disengage from the Middle East. With the occupation of Iraq, I think we are morally beholden to stay at least long enough to try to create a decent government. That we will fail, I am fairly certain. But we must try; we broke it, we bought it. And more of our boys are gonna buy it, too, before we get out.

At Reason, Tim Cavanaugh discusses the situation:
In a move that will please critics of craven American foreign policy, the U.S. Air Force is reportedly planning to shift its major operations center in the Middle East from Saudi Arabia to Qatar.
This does please me. But as Cavanaugh suggests, it really doesn't mean anything. Radical arabs won't be impressed by it. And it certainly does not mean we are disengaging from the region.
Rumsfeld ... harbors no illusions about a serene future, for Iraq or for the United States. He knows, even if he doesn't quite come out and say, that we're going to be in the Middle East forever. There will be no disengaging—not from the Saudis, not from the Iraqis, not from the Israelis, not from anybody. This futureless land, where hatred, violence and madness constitute the coin of the realm, is our new home. That guy with the bloody head? He's your new neighbor. Your children's children will be dealing with him.
Surely a reason to rethink, IMO. But that's not going to happen with the neocons running the show.

Ultimately, we are in the mideast for one reason only: oil. Sure "terrorism" is an issue, but terrorism requires social injustice to get recruits, and it requires weapons and money; and those things are in the mideast only because they have oil. As has been pointed out repeatedly in blogdom, if we were really an empire, we wouldn't be paying the locals for "their" oil. We'd be ruling them outright and it would be "our" oil, no payment necessary. That we don't simply take the oil speaks well of our collective moral character. But the money we pay for the "their" oil has the unfortunate side effect of causing us problems. We are too nice *paying them) to get away with being nasty to them (supporting their venal rulers).

As long as rich terrorists hate us, we won't be safe. I propose to end the "hate us" part. But there are other options: end the "rich" part. The oil is finite. So we won't need to be over there unto the second generation; just another 20 years or so. When the oil runs out, there will be no more need for engagement. Perhaps Rummy and com'ny are crazy like a fox. It's a classic pump and dump, but on the level of countries - and very literal. We'll drain 'em, then we'll leave 'em high and dry.

I still think disengagement, as soon as possible, is a better strategy than engagement. That's because I think that within 20 years, rich terrorists will get a nuclear device. We can't stop that; we can only arrange to be on better terms when it happens. But I realize this is an unpopular viewpoint. Americans are Puritans, eager to scold, to preach, and to uplift. The Christian heresy of secular salvation is alive and well in America. And so we will continue to engage, as Cavanaugh says, even though we don't like to admit that to ourselves. Given that, I want our rulers to have a plan to deal with the terrorist Arab money problem - even if it is coldly cynical and exploitative. That's still better than if they were engaging for the pap reasons they feed to the public - to help Iraqis, to enforce the UN's mandates, etc.
The Consent of the Governed - Lew Rockwell has a great piece up, wherein he discusses the relationships between force, consent, and the ability to rule:
Consider the case of the typical prison, a place where everyone is a slave and where human choice is limited to the most extreme extent possible. Here, everyone sleeps behind bars. Everyone eats at appointed times and places and only what they are permitted to eat. Work, leisure, and associations are managed from the top down. It is the ultimate controlled society.

And yet anyone who knows about prison life can tell you that coercion and force are not the dominating means of order, nor are the wardens the main authority for day-to-day operations. Every prison includes a vast hierarchy that is informally organized, a structure of government in which wardens and prisoners trade decision-making power. There are leaders and followers, and wheels within wheels of these authority arrangements.

What's true for the structure of government in prison is also true for the prison economy, which is active and complicated, where the smallest items and services serve as money, and informal structures of saving, credit, investment, and consumption take root in a funhouse mirror reflection of commercial society in the outside world.

If force alone were to replace informal networks of authority and exchange, the result would be rioting and chaos, followed by destruction and death. Because humans are by their nature not amoebas but choosing, creative, rational, and complicated, the only way to rule by force alone is via extermination.

If this is true in prison, it is all the more true in society. Power is not a substitute for consent. Those wielding the power in every society are in the minority while those obeying are in the majority.
I don't ordinarily say this, because ordinarily it is not true, but: read it all.
Hubris - a couple of items related to the rebuilding of Iraq. First, this long story on the contradictions between democracy and US interests in Iraq:
President Bush promised a democracy in Iraq, but if elections are held, they might deliver instead a fundamentalist Islamic theocracy at odds with nearly every strategic aim of the U.S.-led invasion.
It doesn't take a genius to realize that democracy is incompatible with any fixed set of US goals, except via luck. The prewar failure to buy off Turkey is one example. What do you do if the people don't want democracy? What do you do if the people don't want freedom as we understand it? Both will be problems in Iraq.

Another thing we can expect is neighboring states trying to influence the state-building process to their advantage. For example, it seems that Turkey is trying to cause problems in northern Iraq:
Even as the U.S. works to stabilize a postwar Iraq, Turkey is setting out to create a footprint of its own in the Kurdish areas of the country. In the days after U.S. forces captured Saddam's powerbase in Tikrit, a dozen Turkish Special Forces troops were dispatched south from Turkey. ... They'd hoped to pass unnoticed. But at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Kirkuk they ran into trouble. "We were waiting for them," ... says U.S. brigade commander Col. Bill Mayville. "Their objective is to create an environment that can be used by Turkey to send a large peacekeeping force into Kirkuk." ... "We suspect their role was to strongarm or discipline the members of the ITF. What they're doing is crystallizing the ITF along the Turkish agenda," says Col. Mayville.
My goodness, the Turks interfering in Iraq. Who'd think that a state might try to interfere in the formation of a new neighboring state? Apparently not naive pundit Glenn Reynolds: "Is it just me, or does it seem like nobody in the region actually wants to see a free, prosperous Iraq?" A free and prosperous autonomous Kurdistan? No way. And do Iran's religious rulers want a bunch of free and prosperous Shi'ites living under the law of the infidel? No. Do Syria's rulers have an interest in a neighboring country that will allow American forces to mass there and remove them as they did Saddam? Does Saudi Arabia want a country that will displace it as the key American ally, thereby causing the USA to cut it off, thereby causing the house of Saud to lose power, and those members who can't escape in time be torn apart by mobs? Do the Palestinians want a regime in place that will acquience in their subjugation to Israel?
Do the French and the Russians have an interest in a state that will direct all its oil-service contracts, billions of dollars worth, to American and British companies?

Can we* build a "free, prosperous Iraq" when most states in the region are working against us? Do we think we can build a "free, prosperous Iraq" when most Iraqis are working against us? Do we realize there is any limit to our power whatsoever?

* "we" meaning: "people I am affiliated with, but not including me personally"
Insantorum - Andrew Sullivan is all over the Santorum remarks, as one might expect from an openly gay Republican die-hard/blow-hard. Check here, and read down for much more. Nice to see some humility from this guy:
I have been incredibly naive. I expected a basic level of respect for gay people from civilized conservatives. I've always taken the view that there are legitimate arguments about such issues as marriage rights or military service... But something this basic as the freedom to be left alone in own's own home is something I naively assumed conservatives would obviously endorse - even for dispensable minorities like homosexuals. I was wrong. The conclusions to be drawn are obvious.
Actually, the conclusions to be drawn are not obvious to me (I mailed to ask what they are; nothing posted as yet). Is Sully gonna quit the party over this? Doubt it. And just to be clear I fully support the idea that people can have whatever sort of consensual sex they want to, on their own property.

I am a bit surprised to see a self-identified "conservative" being shocked shocked about this, though. What does he think "conservative" means? Conservative means, very simply, someone who wants to conserve - someone against messing with the status quo. To know what a conservative is for, you must know the context. Well, for Rick Santorum, the context is 21st century Pennsylvania. Lots of traditional families there, and still lots of anti-gay bigotry. That's what you'd expect a true conservative to be conserving. Conservatives, it is true, do understand property rights as human rights - generally speaking. But that's not ideological; it's simply the status quo; and exceptions have been and still are made. And they are fine with that, as long as the exceptions are the same old ones (anti-sodomy) and not some new ones (i.e. forcing racial preferences on private businesses).

The idea that there might be ideological underpinning to a political situation is not conservative. It hearkens back to whatever political impulse got the situation into the status quo. This is, ideologically speaking, an inconsistent patchwork. So, part of what conservatives are conserving is ancient social mores including traditional family law. Some of it is enlightenment liberal notions such as free speech and gun rights. Some of it is modern liberal (socialist) notions like social security.
Still Unjustified - Radley Balko on the war: Was I Wrong?
Some of you have emailed to ask if I'll now admit I was wrong about the war with Iraq... My opposition to this war never rested on whether or not we could win it. It rested on whether or not it was necessary.

And, so far, I see nothing but validation for my point of view.
It's real nice for the Iraqi people that they are, at least for the time being, free. That's definitely a plus from the liberal western POV. We'll see if they can "win the peace", meaning, if they can establish a stable political system which maintains liberty and justice. I am dubious on this point.

Where we have lost is in setting the precedent of America the aggressor. This will promote the spread of RWMDs (real weapons of mass destruction, aka nuclear weapons). Our motives in attacking are irrelevant from this POV. The only thing that matters is the world's impression of how America can be deterred. It is now quite clear that you don't do that with a conventional mid-20th century army.

If the Iraqis fall back into rank despotism, then I will regard the war as almost completely wrong. We will have achieved practically nothing worthwhile that we could not have achieved unilaterally by ending the sanctions and waiting for Saddam to die of old age.

If the Iraqis do manage to build a political system worth having, but nukes continue to proliferate as looks likely, then I will regard the result as a mixed bag. If, also, by some miracle there is no more nuclear proliferation and on the strength of its military position the USA manages to negotiate the nuclear genie back into its bottle - then, and only then, will I admit that I was completely wrong about the war.
Mere Anarchy - The big news these days is the descent of Iraq's cities into anarchy following their liberation from Saddam Hussein's regime. I call myself an anarchist. But this Iraqi anarchy is clearly a bad thing. What's up wit' dat?

Anarchy has several meanings; and when I talk about it as a political thing (anarcho-capitalism, or just anarchy), I mean a stable system of governance where there is no ruler - an (without) archos (ruler). Here I take ruler to mean, in essence, the State: someone asserting a territorial monopoly on legitimate violence. Unless you have unanimous consent to such a thing, it is illegimate. And given what people are, you never will get unanimous consent to any ruler in a group larger than a few hundred.

The anarchy we are seeing in Iraq is the common meaning of anarchy; I sometimes distinguish it as "mere" anarchy following Yeats. Mere anarchy is certainly a form of anarchy; there is no state. However, neither is there government of any kind.

We aren't hearing about the non-city parts of Iraq; and there are two reasons for that. One is, the reporters are where the people are. The other is, that in the country people are probably much better behaved. They are not anonymous; they know their neighbors. There is probably some score-settling going on, but it will be minor compared to cities.

The cities combine lack of rules, anonymity, and large amounts of loosely defended persons and property; this is a recipe for a tragedy of the commons. Obviously this is bad. Mere anarchy is extremely unstable; within days or weeks at most, government of some kind will evolve. People hate random looting and violence, and where supply fails to meet demand, entrepreneurs will create supply. That's what we are starting to see.

What we are seeing in places (like Saddam city in Baghdad) is the evolution of protection agencies, or mini states. Unfortunately, the only models they have (or we have, really) for how to provide policing are monopoly models. So that's what they are likely to build. It is as if the US had a war where all the teachers were driven off and the schools blown up; in spite of the chance to build something new and different, we'd probably just rebuild the same old daycare prisons in spite of the fact that we know they don't work.

In Iraq, we are seeing the very fascinating process of the evolution of anarchy. It starts with the Hobbesian state of nature. It is every man for himself. Well, every man for himself and his family, and friends, anyway. Human ties exist in the state of nature. Having arms is vital (and we are hearing lots of stories about merchants with kalishnikovs; even hiring a man to help them). We are also seeing some assertion of authority by the US and Britain; but they will be unable control the situation because they are not natives. Government requires, among other things, particular knowledge of the people, and the ground, which occupying armies simply don't have. What is working is the religious leaders organizing protection. This is to be expected; the mosques were the only social organizations of any significance allowed outside of the Ba'athist state. So the imams are the only leaders with any authority. Thus they must serve as the nuclei around which government crystalizes. Leaders who choose not to organize protection groups will see others gaining political power.

We should expect to see the religiously organized militias evolving into police. They will, likely, impose Sharia, perhaps not completely but largely. They will certainly evolve a state, probably an Islamic one.

There is a good reason why mere anarchy never seems to evolve into anarchocapitalism: people are territorial by nature. We properterize stuff, mentally, even things that are not really ours. My girlfriend is mine. My job is mine. My apartment is mine. My little piece of the highway is mine. My country is mine. If you think on it, none of these things is owned by me. Yet I will react emotionally if I am deprived of them, as if there really was some sort of legal title to them. Property is a natural, innate concept to humans.

The case in point is protection agencies: unless they are ideologically motivated not to evolve into states, they will, very naturally. Or to put it another way: policemen in the anarchic state will start to feel territorial about the things they protect. Then they will evolve a state.

This, too, will happen in Iraq. It is likely to lead to fighting, probably not to the level of civil war, but very nasty. I can imagine a civil war breaking out if the Arabs try to rule the Kurds, or if the Sunni try to rule the Shiites or vice versa; but hopefully this won't happen due to fairly clean geographic separation between the various groups.

What would it take for mere anarchy to evolve into anarchocapitalism? I don't know for sure. I think it would help if the territory in question was sparsely settled including having few cities. It would help for the people involved to have a strong anti-state tradition. They should resent being ruled. And it would help if the people had different ideas about legal traditions, perhaps because they are all immigrants. (These things seem to have been true in Iceland, to my knowledge the only functioning anarchic government the world has seen.) The biggest helping factor would be if the people had previous experience with anarchocapitalism, and had thus internalized the idea that statism was an immoral idea, much the way that Americans understand the right to free speech.

I don't think it is likely that the first modern anarchocapitalist society will evolve "upward" from a situation of mere anarchy. Rather I think it will evolve downward in a liberal society, when the statist centers fail to hold. (Yeats had some good lines.)

UPDATE - check this out:
Muslims poured out of mosques and into the streets of Baghdad, calling for an Islamic state to be established, after the first Friday prayers since U.S. forces took control of the Iraqi capital.
As predicted.
Exodus - I went to a seder last night. For y'all non-Jews, the concept is basically celebrating the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt; that is, celebrating their liberation from bondage. That part, at least, I can get behind.

The means are a little problematic.

I was curious how it would go; I know the story as the bible has it well enough. God is, to put it euphemistically, a "freedom fighter". Pharaoh is bad. God gets worse: he never punishes Pharaoh; he punishes the people. What terror will He not use? None - He starts out with what are effectively demonstration plagues (the river of blood, frogs, lice, etc). Then He starts getting nasty (boils). Then He starts using WMDs against the people and crops (plagues, locusts, etc). Finally He ends up killing the firstborn. This act of terror not only goes unpunished (to our knowledge); it "works" - Pharaoh lets the Israelites go. (There was surely no USA then to crack down on such axis-of-evil type transgressions.) The Israelites are pursued, and God drowns the Egyption army (this one is OK by the rules of just war). Then we get back to the good parts of the ceremony, where we appreciate our freedom. And we involve the kids in that, making sure that they know why they are free ('cause God chose 'em and fought for 'em). It would have been enough if He had only done a few things; but He did the whole deal.

Anyway it was interesting to see how these things were explained to the kids, in the very liberal/feminist house I was in: they weren't. We got a bit about the archaeo-feminist Miriam. Meanwhile, after naming the biblical plagues and sacrificing a drop of wine for each, we named some other modern-day plagues. Liberal ones: the War, pollution, depletion of water, etc. (I only thought mine: the IRS.)

This is my first seder, and a good experience. I can see how Jews hang on to their separate identity as a people, using devices like this. It is a pity that we, the liberty-loving people, have nothing comparable. As L. Neil Smith argues, we need a culture of liberty. The futurist, dynamicist culture in scifi is part of that, and good as far as it goes. But it is cannot fill the need for roots; for a shared past; for shared communal celebration of values. That's what the seder seems to do, for Jews. That's what, to some degree, July 4 should mean for Americans; but we never systematized a propaganda/educational ritual the way the Jews did. There's a good reason why the youngest child is chosen to ask the four questions. And now we have lost July 4 to the nationalists, militarists, and flag-worshippers.

Well, if Kwanzaa can be hashed up from nothing, then it seems like we should be able to create a seder-like celebration of liberty for July 4 or maybe some other date. How would it go?
The Squeeze - The main item on the peacenik consciousness these days must be the heated rhetoric coming out of official Washington about Syria: U.S. charges against Syria set off alarms. My take on it: it's just saber rattling. Or perhaps not "just"... it's saber rattling, but clearly there's a point to it. The point is to get Syria to submit and obey Washington, if not in all things then at least in some. At this point in the game it is not clear to me exactly what the US administration wants; it is probably not yet clear to them, either. But they will eventually agree on something and let Syria know. I expect it is likely that they can get significant concessions from Syria.

In Iraq, the US government has demonstrated clearly that is has both the will to change the region, and the power to do so. Obviously, they are trying to make the most of the political moment.

That US power may not extend to nation-building doesn't matter. For one thing, right now that power is yet to be tested (though Afghanistan is not promising; and if one knows much about capitalism and liberty one will doubt whether "nation-building" is ever really possible). But the main reason is that any authoritarian state is concerned only with its own existence, not whatever might result for its serfs if it is removed. It is a gross misreading to history to believe that a state like Syria cares for anything other than its own power.

The US government does have to worry about nation building, since the eyes of the world are on us, and doubly so when we instigate wars. Also, in Syria we don't have even the fig-leaf of pretending to enforce UN resolutions that the UN is too irresolved to enforce itself. An attack on Syria would be even nakeder aggression than last time. Finally, Bush would have domestic political problems in getting authorization for such a war from the Congress.

But it is worth thinking about the logic of threats and bluffing here. The problem with a threatening pose is one of credibility. If the victim knows that you can't follow through, or don't intend to, he has no reason to conform to your desires. Therefore, as in poker, you can never "show your hand" - in this case, the US government won't give credible assertions that it really won't invade Syria. The standard way to run things like this is a good-cop/bad-cop routine. From lots of neocon sources in government and out, we should expect belligerence. From Colin Powell, tolerance, and from Bush ambiguity. In other words, they'll work it just the way they did on the buildup to the Iraq war.

The problem of credibility explains a lot of the actual conflict in the world. Both sides may bluff to try to get the other to back down; and part of good bluffing (at the level of states, anyway) is actually believing in yourself. But if, as a strategic move, you convince yourself that a course of action is the right thing, the problem is that you may be tested. (I leave it to the reader to unpack all the "you"s there in the context of a large organization like a state.) And thus, before a war starts, it is important for those of us outside to keep a focus on the realities.

After the war starts, reality will assert itself in the test of arms, and one side or the other (often both) will find itself disappointed. In Iraq, that process has happened extremely quickly; read this UO entry about it. The reality was, no army can stand up to the US army without airpower, and Iraq had no airpower. The reality was, Iraqis on the whole would not fight for the regime, which they hated. Absent both official and unofficial resistance, there was little resistance, and the regime quickly collapsed.

Of course, winning the war does not mean that it was a good idea or that the neocons are realistic in thinking they can reform the middle east by force. Winning the war only tests part of their asserted worldview. They were right that the US could easily win the war and that the Iraqi people were oppressed and would not hinder us (and I agreed with them, and was also right). Now the question is, who's right about the postwar evolution of Iraq? Will "democracy" really work there? I doubt it. I hope I am not right. I fear I am realistic. We shall see.

The question of nation building thus looms large, for those on our side, for the issue of war or peace. But we must keep in mind that it does not matter at all for Syria's rulers. They are likely to think we are just as cynical about the little people as they are; and that's one reason why our bluff (if that's really what it is) will probably work on them.
Whither the Peace Movement? - Jesse Walker with a fine essay on where to next:
the one positive byproduct of the conflict is that Saddam and his totalitarian state are being torn to the ground. But this only justifies the invasion within the constraining limits of the debate over U.N. resolutions, in which the only options on the table were military conquest or military "containment," i.e., lethal sanctions and periodic air raids. The latter policies did not merely drag out the ridiculous where's-the-weapons shuffle. They strangled Iraqi civil society, helping prevent an indigenous resistance from developing. Now, with the country conquered, that makes it all the more difficult to establish a more free system. Except in the Kurdish areas, the popular institutions that should be the heart of the new Iraq have been decimated, not just by Saddam but by his foreign enemies. A dozen years of deprivation will do that to you.

If I was relatively mute on these topics during the fighting, it was because I had so little that was constructive to say. I wanted peace, I wanted security, and I wanted a freer Iraq. War was clearly bad for the first two ends, and was an imperfect path at best to the third; still, once American troops were on the ground, their quick victory seemed like the only route remaining to something roughly akin to those goals.
Just how I felt too. And I agree with Jesse on this, too: it's time to declare victory and as rapidly as possible pull out, not just from Iraq but from the middle east, and the world in general. Think it's gonna happen? Not bloody likely. The warmongers, as Jesse notes early in the essay, are having their time of triumph, and to the objective observer it ain't pretty.

Look for hubris.
Iraqi Guns and Tyranny - There's been a meme floating about the weblog world lately, expressed nicely by Patrick Hayden::
If gun ownership is such an effective and important bulwark against tyranny, how is it that a country in which most households own at least one gun turns out to be one of the most oppressive dictatorships in the world?
There's several lines of answers to that which make sense, and Jane Galt summarizes them nicely:
The answers that have been given to this question are, broadly:
a) Neil McFarquar, the New York Times reporter who claimed that "nearly every household in Iraq has a gun", is wrong.
b) The public has guns, but the government has better ones
c) Gun ownership helps to secure liberty, but is not the sole condition for doing so.

c) is correct, but not very helpful. b) is also correct, but also not helpful, unless you're advocating allowing members of the American public to possess howitzers and nerve gas. But that's not why I lean towards explanation a); rather, the argument that nearly every household in Iraq has a gun (or "access to one", the refinement Noah made when readers pointed out that McFarquar couldn't possibly have done a statistically valid survey on the matter), goes against both my knowlege of history, and what I've read about the war in the hallowed pages of the Grey Lady.
Jane goes on to discuss for several paragraphs reasons why one would doubt that gun ownership is as widespread in Iraq as "a gun in every house" would suggest. I tend to agree with her reasoning, based on what little I know. But still, doubt lingers. Certainly, guns seem to be a lot more acceptable in Arab culture than in haught liberal culture in America. And it is notoriously difficult to disarm rural people, who need guns for pest control and hunting as well as for personal security. I would not be surprised to find Iraqis as well armed as Americans. Probably they are better armed in terms of assault rifles, and less well armed in terms of handguns.

This leads me to one suggestion that I have not seen yet: perhaps only certain kinds of guns are important for controlling political vermin. If we look at the self-defense movement in America, what we are fighting for here is mandatory issue of concealed carry permits. Concealed carry is the issue, in part because it allows the citizen to "ambush" a criminal. Clearly criminals would be unlikely to pick on a person toting an AK-47. But if the only guns allowed were assault rifles, then criminals would have it almost as easy as now; just look for the person without a gun, and proceed as normal. A person carrying concealed deters not only attacks against himself; but rather he protects everyone a little bit, by raising uncertainty about getting shot in the minds of all criminals. Concealed carry is a public service.

Now think about not the average "unorganized" street criminal, but rather organized crime. Does widespread gun ownership deter them? Yes, but clearly less so than individual criminals. The reason is simple: they expect an ongoing relationship with their "customer". So they will be willing to kill, not for the effect on the dead customer (he's a write off) but for the effect on other customers. It is worth it to kill, if necessary, to achieve "respect" - compliance. With or without guns, if a gang of men want to kill someone there is little he can do to stop it; any two normal men have an awesome fighting advantage against one; five thugs will beat any man, Hollywood to the contrary. With guns, any one man unknown to another can pretty easily kill him. Guns may help a customer in other respects against organized criminals - perhaps buying him time when they threaten him. And guns also constrain criminals from too blatently disrespecting a customer; he might go psycho and kill a lot of them before they take him down. For these two purposes, concealable weapons might be helpful.

But there is one more way to fight a criminal gang: form your own vigilante gang, and go to war. In this case, you want firepower. Lest you think it unrealistic, don't think of facing the mafia, but rather, showdown at the OK corral. If the criminal gang is small enough, it can be matched and fought, and beaten.

States are a form of organized crime. Like other mafias, their sustenance is taxes or drafted labor; they must extract resources or their profession is pointless. So the exact same deterrent effect applies to them as to organized crime. Note, though, that the second option - forming up the militia to fight them - is rarely very promising. The state is the gussied-up biggest gang around. Sometimes revolutions work; but usually they don't. It doesn't really matter if you think people should have private attack helicopters or not; the problem in fighting the state is not weaponry as much as organization.

States cannot easily be fought by organized violence. Thus the threat of the people getting organized will only deter the state from the most extreme excesses. But this is hardly a small thing; the worst excess of states is genocide, and genocide is always preceded by gun control. Deterring genocide has great value; in the 20th century, states genocided an average of 1.7 million people/year. Put another way: the risk of death from genocide in the 20th century was on the order of 1 in a thousand. This is roughtly 100 times greater than the (private) murder rate. (Reasoning like this is one way of getting to anarchy: can a stateless society really be that much worse than what we have now?)

I regard the anti-genocidal properties of gun rights to be sufficient to convince an honest utilitarian. No more justification is needed, but let's do it anyway.

Another thing private arms do is to check all state depredations to a mild extent, by ensuring the possibility of disorganized resistance. If you look at the only the outcome of such a contest, states appear unbeatable. David Koresh and most of his loonies are dead; most of the men who killed them walk free. Unjust? Sure. Did the state "win"? By any boolean standard, yes. Still, the mindset of those men were changed by the event. They know that some of their number got dead. And the outcry over Waco, from the rest of us, lingers on.

Note, though, that beauty of an armed society as a political institution is that you never know, for any given person, where their "line" is beyond which they snap. Murder their family, and many men will come looking for you, concealed pistol in their pants. But some will if you just hurt their family; a tiny number will snap over a parking ticket. Politicians know this; they fight back, of course, by restricting physical access to them. They don't feel secure without bodyguards, metal detectors, and barriers around their workplaces; Saddam as well as Bush. But they must contact the public, at least a little, or they risk appearing to be tyrants. This will not disturb a real tyrant like Saddam. But it will disturb a "free" people, like Americans. Surely all the security in our government disturbs me.

This is an effect, but it is hardly a guarantor of liberty. To see that, think about the psychos that shoot up abortion clinics. If you believe in abortion rights - and I do - then it should be obvious that individual resistance can be applied against "good" liberty just as easily as "bad" socialism. (If you don't like abortion as an example, then imagine environmental extremists murdering medical researchers.) Examples like these show that the effect of empowering individuals is not libertarian per se. People are willing to accept what they grow up with, even if it is unjust. Only funny radicals like me protest against social security. It is changes which are likely to draw resistance. Thus, the effect of guns on state politics is simply conservative. It makes change in any direction slower.

Guns do increase individual power; and as such, they must aid liberty at least a little. I think that people are much more likely to resist an usurpation of liberty, than a restoration of it. Nonetheless, the meaning here is clear. Guns don't cause liberty; they cause stasis. So they will help to "lock in" liberty - which is good for places that have it. They will also help to "lock in" tyranny in other places. This is the case in Iraq. As Jane said way back there: (c).

A socialist society, no matter how well armed, is not free. And a capitalist society, no matter how disarmed, is free - but it will stay capitalist only until the few men with guns realize that political power grows out of the barrels thereof. The idea that guns by themselves cause freedom is clearly wrong. If it were, there would be no need to invade Iraq - we'd just airdrop a million guns to the people.

UPDATE - some more interesting discussion of this at Unqualified Offerings, also here.
Political Leadership - I've been meaning for a while to put up some thoughts on politics and the duration of one-party states.

To most people, the personal may not be the political, but the political is personal. Average people support a leader based on their knowledge of his history, and his personality. They do not support leaders based on rational thought about, or understanding of, policy. Charisma is obvious enough, even if hard to explain. Some men are simply likable, either in person, or on TV, or -- hopefully -- both. This gives them an advantage in politics, as in other things. But many men have charisma; it is not enough to explain politics.

What I want to look at here is the effect of participating in certain rare communal happenings upon politics. This seems to work as follows: a large social movement happens; a common understanding of that movement is formed which emphasizes its goodness; and from that, the men who led and/or even participated in the movement (on the post-facto winning side), are deemed good leaders. They then proceed to control politics.

There is one main form of a social movement: a full-scale war. Other events that seem to generate the leaderly aura are revolutions (though this usually involves at least some war), and mass resistance movements to unpopular governments.

How can we tell apart "full-scale" events from lesser ones? In America, it's pretty easy - look at the presidents. The full-scale events generate two generations of presidents; a first generation of the leaders of the movement, then a second generation of the "soldiers". Consider the (first, successful) Revolution. Every president from Washington through the second Adams was involved in the Revolution. That's a period of 40 years; but that does not count the 6 years under the Articles of Confederation, and the period with no formal government at all during the fight.

Or consider the Civil War. (Really, "Civil War" - scare quotes are appropriate when calling a failed war of secession a civil war.) Afterwards, every President except one until 1901 served the Union in the military. (The one who didn't, Cleveland, drew straws with his two brothers for who would pay a replacement and stay home; he lost.) That's a period of 35 years.

Or the final big event: WWII. All of the presidents from Eisenhower until Clinton, excepting one (Carter), served in the war. (Carter was a naval officer commissioned just after the war with honorable service; so his service was not a political issue. Reagan is an exception proving the rule: he "served" as it were from Hollywood.) That's 38 years. George W. Bush would not be president but for his name, and thus, there is a lingering effect of WWII even now. (That's probably also true for those earlier events; this one I just happen to know more about.)

The obvious deduction to make from this data is that participation in a defining event, like a popular war, will monopolize leadership - until the set of people who participated are literally too old and feeble for politics.

Is this just an American phenomenon? No, I don't think so. I can think of one good example immediately (more in a bit). But it's clearly dependent on the political system. Here's a counter example: I looked at the British Prime Ministers, and there seems to be little pattern there of war service. This may be because getting to be PM is a matter of intra-party popularity more than popularity in the general electorate. The PMs seem to be of the Newt Gengrich mold, not the Clinton one.

But anyway, what's another good example? The USSR. Surely the revolution (and subsequent civil war that really was a civil war) was a defining event. So the regime, even though it was one of the most murderous in history, would have lasted at least until 1917+40 years - 1957 or so. But of course WWII intervened, and the USSR got a new war of national defense to relegitimize a new generation of leaders. And so it lasted until the end of hostilities, 1945, plus ~40 years. Here's a description from the page linked above:
Brezhnev and his buddies, Kosygin, Chernenko and Andropov, were old men who survived in office for just a brief period of time. By the 1980s, political life was suffocating and the political system had ossified. Marxist-Leninist ideology had long since turned into what one Soviet official called "stale bread." The condition of the leadership was a metaphor for a system that was itself dying. Brezhnev died incompetent at age 75 in 1982, Andropov in 1984, and Chernenko barely lasted a year having died in 1985 at the age of 73. The Soviet system was regarded by increasing numbers of people with cynicism, contempt and ridicule.
Gorbachev was the first General Secretary to not have served as a political commissar in WWII. He was relatively young, and certainly dynamic. But he was the one that lost control.

So the general theory is: defining event, then 40 years of political control by the men who participated. Toward the end, if the system is not open the leaders will be doddering old men. After that perhaps a few years of drift with a younger leader; he may look and sound good, but he will not have the credential to lead. Then, change. To an open democracy, change is not a problem. But change comes hard to authoritarian states.

Now the fun part: predictions. The theory tells us that all the nasty states founded until about 1960 should have already fallen apart, changed dramatically, or at least become desperately weak. The ones created during the 60s may have a few years left, depending on the flukes of longevity of their leaders.

In particular, several interesting cases present themselves.

China - revolution ended in 1949. Theory says it should have collapsed in 1989 or so. It did not, but the market liberalization has been appeasing people starting about 1980. Prediction: since there is nobody left with revolutionary credentials, the reforms will be impossible to undo, and if the regime tries it will be swept aside. It's possible, though, that the Cultural Revolution counts as a defining event. In which case we should look for substantial change in just a few years.

North Korea - the war ended in the mid fifties. Kim Il Sung used that to rule. His son is riding the tiger; he has no legitimacy, and probably knows it. North Korea will throw him off in the next few years.

Cuba - the revolution was Castro. When he dies, the regime changes. Any year now.

Iran - the revolution was in 1979. We can hear the desires of some of the younger people for change now, but nothing will happen to the regime for another 15 years or so.

I think America should be isolationist - pull back from the world and just trade peacefully. But let's assume the role of a global social engineer, like the Democrats and Republicans. What do we need to do about the "Axis of Evil"? Contain them, at most. They will fall apart, just as other tyrannies have, when the old revolutionaries die off.
Thunder Run, Route - It's funny the way the media are covering the war. I watched an hour or two of coverage of the war over the weekend. Obviously the leading story was the raid into Baghdad, including the rather awesome footage on fox of the burning shells of vehicles, exploding tanks, smoke columns, etc. But the TV reports I saw never showed a map of where the run went, so it was hard to assess what it might mean politically and militarily. Using New York City as an analog: was this like driving down 5th Avenue shooting everything that resists? Or was it a drive-by in Queens? Don't tell me; show me. Here's a map of the raid route at the nytimes. You can see for yourself this was not quite 5th avenue, but it was a lot more serious than pissing around in the 'burbs.
Bush IQ Update - Here's some first-hand testimony from Donald Luskin, who's a libertarian; thus, usually critical of the Bush administration.
I was invited to a meeting with President Bush, Treasury Secretary Snow, and National Economic Council chair Stephen Friedman -- along with eleven other economists (not including Paul Krugman), to discuss the prospects for Bush's tax-cuts. ...

I have to tell you that I was impressed -- especially by George W. Bush. I was expecting the self-conscious, sometimes painfully tongue-tied man I'd seen television. But the man I spent an hour across the table from was entirely different. In an informal give-and-take format, Bush spoke with passion, clarity, depth and insight. He was surprisingly real...
Obviously Bush plays better in person than on TV. Which, if you think on it, is probably true of 99% of the population. If you've ever spoken in front of a large audience, you probably sympathize; if not; don't knock; try.

Luskin ends with this: "I left this meeting with a strong sense of confidence that capitalism has in the White House right now about the best friend it's likely to get nowadays." Lusking sees this somewhat hopefully. I think it's sad.
Wasted - Finally, the war has touched me. Michael Kelly died in Iraq. The man was intelligent, a great writer and reporter. I've read his stuff in the Atlantic Monthly and probably other places with admiration. No more.

I sure hope I don't see the word "sacrifice" used in this context. What a shame. What a waste. This is why I am against war.
Poet Laureate - Like Gene Healy, I am impressed by The Poetry of D.H. Rumsfeld:
You're going to be told lots of things.
You get told things every day that don't happen.

It doesn't seem to bother people, they don't --
It's printed in the press.
The world thinks all these things happen.
They never happened.

Everyone's so eager to get the story
Before in fact the story's there
That the world is constantly being fed
Things that haven't happened.

All I can tell you is,
It hasn't happened.
It's going to happen.
All of them are good. At least, to a philistine like me without the slightest appreciation of real poetry.
Jane Galt wonders why people say they support the troops but oppose the war:
This is not Viet Nam, the war whose mistakes both sides seem grimly determined to avoid. All of our troops are volunteers. From what I can glean, a landslide majority of them support this war. In essence, they are going over to a foreign country, bearing immense personal hardship to do so, in order to fire deadly weapons at perfect strangers. If you think this is the kind of horribly wrong thing that most anti-war protesters, to judge from the signs, do, why on earth would you declare your support for the people carrying it out? It's like saying that you're against murder, but simultaneously declaring your "support" for the DeGenovese foot soldiers whacking errant customers.
To me, asking whether or not I "support" our troops is rather like asking whether or not I "support" taxi drivers. If I think on it a bit, then yeah, sure I support them. They serve a useful function. But it is not a very concrete sort of support - it is just a general feeling of acceptance of a useful economic function, combined with an acknowledgement that people make it happen.

The war is a bad idea for America. It will hurt us in three ways: in promoting nuclear proliferation; in wasting our valuable wealth; and by making more terrorists hate us. But it is, or at least can be, good for (most) Iraqis. The war, in a social vacuum, would be just. On that basis I can support the troops (who cannot influence other nations nor terrorists).

Maybe "support" is strictly affiliational: do I feel sympatico to American soldiers? I do, and I have a long history of fascination with both soldiers (of all nations) and with Americans and things American. I am an American. I certainly identify much more with American soldiers than I do with, say, Iraqi soldiers, or even civilians. The Americans speak English (my language) listen to rock and rap; they eat burgers, Chinese, Indian, Thai, Tex-Mex, and pizza when they can; they know the Simpsons and Star Trek; and they understand in their gut the concept of individual liberty. In other words, they are like me. I get the feeling a good part of the "support" question is really cultural narcissism; conservatives can't believe that anyone would really feel closer to foreigners than to her own countrymen. I rather agree with them on that.

Or perhaps "support" strictly means financial. In that case, I have two answers. I do, perforce, support the troops; for I am taxed, and will be taxed in the future, to pay their salaries. Taxes are not voluntary. I don't want to be taxed for this purpose (and any others, for that matter). I'd willingly pay for a certain level of defense, but surely not one that tempts its executives to distant foreign adventure. So in that second sense - voluntary payment - I do not support ("oppose"?) the troops.

In recent history, roughly one-third of the federal budget is the military. Another third or so is interest and debt, which has been run up in part by military spending in the past. So I'd guess that near to half of our federal tax dollars are paying either for the current military or for the costs of previous ones. So, here's another way to look at the question: if you were offered a choice to check a box on your 1040, "opposing" (and defunding) the troops, and in so doing would pay half as much tax - would you? I would. I invite conservative readers to think on that.

Do I think America is on the wrong track? Yes! But do I love America anyway? Yes! Isolationism is patriotic.
Wartime Politics at a Glance - this Ted Rall comic made me laugh.