David R. Henderson  

Retired U.S. Admiral: Iranians are Human Too

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Does Bob Schieffer Owe Ron Paul an Apology?

ADM. FALLON: Yeah - just to add, if I could, to what General Cartwright said: I think it's really important that at the end of the day, these are people - 70,000,000 of them [Iranians]. They have aspirations and desires, and there needs to be, for demonstrated cooperation and a willingness to walk away from things that are detrimental to the region - that there's something in this for them. And so having some light at the end of the tunnel, not closing off all options, but letting them - hey, we're willing to have you play a role in the region. You got a lot of capability, you got a lot of smart people, a lot of things you could - you could really be helpful if you decided to be cooperative in your dealings with your neighbors.

This is from "Iran: U.S. Policy Options," an event held at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) last week. The transcript (.pdf) is here. Fallon's meaning is a little unclear but, taken in context, he seems to be saying, among other things, that there would a lot of innocent Iranian victims if the U.S. government and/or the Israeli government made war on Iran.

His sympathy for Iranians, though, did not seem to extend to the innocent Iranian victims of the sanctions. He stated:

I've felt for some time that one of the more effective - if you're going to - going to try to put somebody in irons, that getting their pocketbook is usually a way to make people pay attention. That appears to be the case now. I've seen a lot of evidence, and you - David [Sanger, NY Times reporter], you may have more of this than I see, that in the economic sphere, it's extremely - getting very, very difficult for them to do simple things, like even get food imports into the country, because they can't pay for them because nobody will deal in dollars and their currency's not worth too much now.

Granted that this is a simple factual statement that's probably accurate and also that it's in "if" statement: IF you want to put somebody "in irons," here's the way to do it. So Fallon could actually be sympathetic to the Iranian victims of the U.S. and European assault on free trade. Read the transcript and judge for yourself.

Interestingly, the session was chaired by CBS's Washington Correspondent, Bob Schieffer. Indeed, the session was part of the "Schieffer Series." Throughout the session, Schieffer respectfully countenanced somewhat antiwar views from the three people on the panel. In an interview with Schieffer three months ago, Ron Paul stated similar views about Iran, and, by the way, did so in plain English, without the new Washington euphemism for war--"kinetic act"--a term that former Vice-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff James Cartwright used. But Schieffer dissed Ron Paul. (See this video at the 3:06 point and on.)

HT to John Glaser.


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CATEGORIES: International Trade



COMMENTS (29 to date)
Craig writes:

David,

Do you have no sympathy for Israelis threatened by this appalling regime? Or for Iranians who do not want to live under a theocratic-terrorist state and might welcome sanctions?And do you seriously think that in the absence of sanctions the Iranian regime would allow free trade?

Anti-war/anti-imperialist libertarianism always means leaving terrible regimes in place. So much for your concern for Iranians ( or Afghanis or Iraqis).

David R. Henderson writes:

Craig asks a number of questions that all deserve answers. Here they are in order:
Do you have no sympathy for Israelis threatened by this appalling regime?
I have a lot of sympathy for them, just as I had and have for Canadians and Americans who felt threatened by the USSR’s thousands of nuclear weapons. But I advocated not invading the USSR, not bombing the USSR, and trading with the USSR. Actually, trade seems to have undercut the Soviets somewhat.
Or for Iranians who do not want to live under a theocratic-terrorist state and might welcome sanctions?
I do feel much sympathy for them. That is, in part, why I wrote this post. I’m not aware of many Iranians who welcome being cut off from trade. Are you?
And do you seriously think that in the absence of sanctions the Iranian regime would allow free trade?
No, but clearly it would allow freer trade than are yielded by the sanctions. Otherwise, the sanctions would have zero effect.
Anti-war/anti-imperialist libertarianism always means leaving terrible regimes in place. So much for your concern for Iranians ( or Afghanis or Iraqis).
Not so. I favor allowing people to donate their own funds to fighting tyrants. That’s something the U.S. government does not allow. Craig, are you willing to join me in favoring getting rid of that ban so that we and others can contribute?

RPLong writes:

I'm sure he feels sympathy for the innocent potential victims in Iran, but that's not what I took to be the thrust of Fallon's comments. My reading is that old rule of diplomacy where you have to figure out how to give a cornered dog a way out. If the world were somehow able to present Iran with the option of saving face and avoiding conflict, then we could defuse the situation.

I thought the inefficacy of trade sanctions was widely understood, but Fallon's and Craig's comments lead me to believe otherwise.

Ken B writes:
I favor allowing people to donate their own funds to fighting tyrants.

I take it you also support allowing people to donate their own funds to support and impose tyrants?

Craig, are you willing to join me in favoring getting rid of that ban so that we and others can contribute?

Is this the same ban that shut down much of the IRA's funding?

Ken B writes:

@RPLong: I can think of at least one important case where trade restrictions had a likely influence on regime change: smoot-hawley. By making the depression worse this likely helped undermine herbert hoover, the weimar republic, the bennet government in canada, and probably several more. The reader may judge for himself the wisdom and benefits.

Thomas Lee writes:

I appreciate the post here. Discussion of war is generally this abstract thing. But war destroys people and property. It ruins the lives of ordinary people and often leaves despotic power structures intact. The sufferings of innocents are ignored or rationalized by comfortable pundits and politicians on the other side of the world. None of the warhawks think very much about reconstructing broken lives once the bombing stops. They would be appalled by the idea of sending their own funds to help these people; instead it's on to the next war. American elites are so out of touch with the reality of war that they would drop bombs as easily as stir cream into their coffee.

David R. Henderson writes:

@Ken B,
I take it you also support allowing people to donate their own funds to support and impose tyrants?
Yes. And I also believe that people in the U.S. will tend to do what they ask their government to do: give money to the causes that are more just.
Is this the same ban that shut down much of the IRA's funding?
I’ll ignore your sarcasm and go to the substance. It is the same ban. What your example illustrates is that the government selectively enforces the ban. The IRA and the Israeli government seem to have been exempt.

Ken B writes:

David: No sarcasm. I am making a substantial point. Substitute hezbollah or the Tamil tigers, or the FLQ. I wanted to pick a terrorist organizarion unrelated to the Iran/Israel example is all, and the IRA is the best known. I meant to argue that your position seems to allow for supporting the IRA and others of that ilk, since the same law you wish to repeal applies to them.

And I also believe that people in the U.S. will tend to do what they ask their government to do: give money to the causes that are more just.
I think it more likely that they will give to both sides. Craig objects to that(I expect) as moral abdication, and I don't think your response refutes him. The gravamen of his complaint was that your kind of libertarianism seems not effective in promoting actual liberations, or standing up to actual oppressions. I take it your position is, our government should not take sides. I think that is Craig's charge. As Orwell put it, "pacifists are objectively pro-fascist." Craig's complaint is that your kind of Libertarianism is 'objectively pro-terrible regime'.


For the record, I am rarely sarcastic. I am often sardonic.

ThomasL writes:

The title is a bit baiting.

It implies that someone, somewhere is suggesting that Iranians aren't human. It simultaneously implies the existence of a rarefied moral air breathed by those that notice that Iranians are, in fact, human beings.

Where, if I might ask for a reference, are the people the don't think Iranians are people?

Even the people that want to go to war with the Iranian people want to do so precisely because they are people. They talk about justice and self-defence--entirely different language than if they were proposing action against some morally neutral but dangerous "thing" like an asteroid.

joeftansey writes:

ThomasL

"Where, if I might ask for a reference, are the people the don't think Iranians are people?"

The same people who say the death toll of the Iraq war is 3,000.

"Even the people that want to go to war with the Iranian people want to do so precisely because they are people. They talk about justice and self-defence--entirely different language than if they were proposing action against some morally neutral but dangerous "thing" like an asteroid."

The keyword here is "talk".

joeftansey writes:

And I'm pretty sure David Henderson's politics would result in infinitely more liberty for Iranians than bombing them would.

Massive immigration is the fastest and easiest way to move people out from oppressive regimes... Whereas a war with Iran means hundreds of thousands dead, millions displaced, and a basket-case economy for the next 10 years. And then who knows how *cough* liberal a government they'll get.

Also, just ask the Iranians right? If war is so good for them, they should support it. Except...

What do Iranians want most from talks with the U.S.? Sixty-three percent said that both a "free trade treaty between the U.S. and Iran" and "increasing visas for Iranians to come to study or work in the U.S." would enhance their opinion of the United States. However, U.S. efforts "to spread democracy inside Iran" are less welcomed by the Iranian public: Only 32 percent said this would improve their opinion of the U.S. [TFT, Q 22a, 22d, 22f]

http://worldpublicopinion.org/pipa/articles/brmiddleeastnafricara/527.php?lb=btis&pnt=527&nid=&id=

Man it looks like they prefer Dr. Henderson's policies to having their kids grow up in a war zone :(

Also as an ulterior point, Iran isn't anywhere near the country in most dire need of regime change. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_ongoing_military_conflicts

[one of two similar comments by same commenter, both of which were accidentally held up by the spam filter--Econlib Ed., Mar. 3, 6 a.m. EST]

Jim Glass writes:

Iranians are Human Too ... Fallon's meaning is a little unclear but, taken in context, he seems to be saying, among other things, that there would a lot of innocent Iranian victims if the U.S. government and/or the Israeli government made war on Iran.

Germans were people too. Unfortunately, Hitler and the Nazis set their national policy. The German people -- who were no more pro-war than anyone else -- did not.

The result was a huge number of innocent German and other victims when they made war on the West and Soviets, and when the US, West and Soviets made war on them.

But this number of victims would have been *hugely less* had the West acted with force earlier against that Nazi national policy, e.g. when they remilitarized the Rhineland in 1936, or seized the Czech lands in 1938 (when the British and French threw their treaty commitments to the Czechs overboard in the name of peace in their time.)


joeftansey writes:

"But this number of victims would have been *hugely less* had the West acted with force earlier against that Nazi national policy"

Or if the West had acted not at all.

Jim Glass writes:

I advocated not invading the USSR, not bombing the USSR, and trading with the USSR. Actually, trade seems to have undercut the Soviets somewhat.

Let's consider this policy re Iran in light of the great object lessons of the 20th Century, Hitler and Stalin.

They were very similar in many ways -- when Hitler murdered the brownshirts during the Night of the Long Knives, Stalin spoke admiringly of him to his friends ("There's my kind of guy!"). Arguably Stalin was worse because Communism was historically more successful than Nazism, and so murdered, imprisoned and impoverished many-fold more innocent people -- regardless of which there is a KGB Bar in Manhatttan, NYC, that is a favorite of the liberal literary set, while there is no Gestapo Bar ... but I digress.

But Hitler and Stalin were very different in one very important way.

[] Stalin genuinely believed that time was on his side, and the side of communism. So while he would grab all the lands and murder all the enemies of communism (real and imagined) within them that he *safely* could, when faced with the risk of push coming to blows with the West he would very rationally back off. It would have been irrational of him to risk calamity in the short run when he was going to win in the long run.

[] Hitler believed time was against him -- and he was entirely right. He knew that as Britain, France and the Soviets re-armed they would soon be able to overwhelm him militarily. He had only a short-term advantage that was about to disappear. He had to attack fast to win. Moreover, in his philosophy (theology) it was win or nothing -- he didn't care about the cost of defeat, no matter how awful it might be.

The West believed (correctly) that time was on its side against both Stalin and Hitler -- but this created two very different situations.

1) When each of two opponents believe time is on its side, a stable equilibrium results because it is irrational for either of them to risk all in the short run. They wait each other out. As they do, exchanges between them (trade, travel) over time build relationships that further stabilize the equilibrium. In end, normal peaceful relations can break out. See: USA - USSR.

2) When one opponent believes time is on its side, but the other believes time is against it -- and if it doesn't act soon, everything it most values will be destroyed -- the situation is very unstable and Bad Things Will Happen. The challenge is how to minimize them. See Europe, 1936-39.

In situation #1 firm but peaceful and friendly-as-possible containment is the optimum policy. In situation #2 believing you are in situation #1 and acting accordingly can be a dreadful mistake.

The big question re Iran is: Are the ruling Iranian Theocrats fundamentally...

a) Defensive, like Stalin, offensive opportunistically but unwilling to risk their own personal wealth, status and power in a near-term conflagration. Like the typical ruling class of most any typical authoritarian society. Or...

b) Offensive, with a Hitler-like theology that if they strike their enemies (not just Israel, also the Arabs, remember the Iraq war) they can create a new millennium -- while if they don't act soon they will lose everything, as their grandchildren are Westernized by satellite television, travel abroad, Internet blogs and videos, Facebook and Twitter.

I don't know the answer to this question. But it is very naive to *assume* it is (a) just because it was with Stalin. It sure wasn't with Hitler.

ThomasL writes:

@joeftansey

The same people who say the death toll of the Iraq war is 3,000.

That doesn't make any sense. If Iraqis weren't considered human there would be no point in minimizing the death toll. Why would it matter how many non-humans died? Does anyone argue over the mosquito death toll?

It is precisely because they are known to be human beings that other human beings feel the need to either justify or hide their deaths.

Jim Glass writes:

Or if the West had acted not at all.

Entirely wrong. The West barely acted and got the conquest of the west with e.g. the Jews in France Belgium, etc, being shipped off to concentration camps.

If the west had run up the pacifist white flag of utter surrender that would have happened on an even *larger* scale AND Hitler would have then turned east to attack the Soviets and exterminate the Slavs -- exactly as was always his primary intention, as he stated many times right out loud. The result would have been massive eastern-front war and mass scale death to civilians, not just as war casualties but as the victims of extermination. Much as actually occurred.

In 1936 to 1938 the West had multiple opportunities to stop Hitler cold, if they'd had the will. (Hitler himself said that as events occurred, mocking the weakness of western democratic politicians.) All that death could have been avoided.

But the west had to do something to do it. In several cases not very much -- certainly only negligible amounts compared to the effort they wound up making -- but something.

joeftansey writes:

@ThomasL,

"It is precisely because they are known to be human beings that other human beings feel the need to either justify or hide their deaths."

Exactly my point. They say the death toll is 3000, but they don't count the Iraqis who have died. They don't care and they don't feel the need to justify it.

@Jim Glass

"Entirely wrong. The West barely acted and got the conquest of the west with e.g. the Jews in France Belgium, etc, being shipped off to concentration camps."

Even if every Jew in Europe had been exterminated, fewer people would have died.

"If the west had run up the pacifist white flag of utter surrender that would have happened on an even *larger* scale AND Hitler would have then turned east to attack the Soviets and exterminate the Slavs"

I didn't say anyone else should have fought either. And it isn't like the Slavs faired much better under Russia.

"In 1936 to 1938 the West had multiple opportunities to stop Hitler cold, if they'd had the will. (Hitler himself said that as events occurred, mocking the weakness of western democratic politicians.) All that death could have been avoided. "

Red herring. The question is what minimizes deaths, not what sounds more badass.

"But the west had to do something to do it. In several cases not very much -- certainly only negligible amounts compared to the effort they wound up making -- but something."

What?

Here's an alternative policy. Instead of fighting Germany, take whatever country Germany attacks and offer them free and unrestricted immigration.

As far as I can see, Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia are basically the same sort of deal. There's an annoying superdictator who is killing millions of people. Except with Russia we just kind of waited it out and let the economics do the talking. I see no reason not to do it twice.

Unless you think the US should have invaded Russia during the cold war.

ThomasL writes:

@joeftansey

Nevermind, I misunderstood. On review I see that you mean those that mention the US death toll without also and at the same time mentioning the Iraqi death toll.

It is hardly unusual in any war for a country to count and refer to their dead and wounded separately than their enemy's dead and wounded. That is not restricted to war. In any court case, or business deal, or divorce, or you name it, when people talk about the cost, they often refer to their cost without including the costs of others.

That does not mean that they are necessarily denying that those deaths (or costs) exist, or that they occurred to actual human beings.

joeftansey writes:

@ThomasL,

"It is hardly unusual in any war for a country to count and refer to their dead and wounded separately than their enemy's dead and wounded."

This would seem to corroborate the "less than human" thesis. Dehumanization of the enemy is virtually omnipresent in the West's wars.

"That is not restricted to war. In any court case, or business deal, or divorce, or you name it, when people talk about the cost, they often refer to their cost without including the costs of others."

Even if you buy this, when "their" loss is literally 100x greater than "our" loss, it becomes more and more suspicious to omit.

"That does not mean that they are necessarily denying that those deaths (or costs) exist, or that they occurred to actual human beings."

But it is consistent with this position. And when they support wars that hurt "them" a whole lot more than they help "us", it becomes more and more likely that they really don't give a damn about Iraqi children.

(The "them"/"ours" are in scarequotes because both New Yorkers and Iranians are equally outside most people's immediate circle.)

Jim Glass writes:

joeftansey writes:

Even if every Jew in Europe had been exterminated, fewer people would have died.

Dude, how does killing *many more* people result in killing fewer? Did you read what I wrote? Do you imagine all the other killing wouldn't have occurred?

"In 1936 to 1938 the West had multiple opportunities to stop Hitler cold, if they'd had the will. (Hitler himself said that as events occurred, mocking the weakness of western democratic politicians.) All that death could have been avoided."

Red herring. The question is what minimizes deaths, not what sounds more badass.

Dude, read before posting.

ThomasL writes:

@joeftansey

This would seem to corroborate the "less than human" thesis.

If there is a train crash and I turned to someone and said, "They're dead! Both of my children are dead!" my utter omission of all of the other deaths suffered by all of the other families--which undoubtedly far outweigh mine in number--does not at all suggest that I think they were less than human or not deserving of sympathy or consideration.

I think some modernists (and EconLoggers) would rather my first, instinctive cry be, "Oh, the humanity!"

joeftansey writes:

@Jim Glass

"Dude, how does killing *many more* people result in killing fewer? Did you read what I wrote? Do you imagine all the other killing wouldn't have occurred?"

... what master plan are you imagining? That the US could go to war with Germany early and somehow it would be less catastrophic than going to war later? You know they still have to fight a war even if they fight the war early right?

You're just pretending like you control the government as your puppet. This isn't Command and Conquer dude. Yes it is THEORETICALLY possible for governments to fight clean-ish wars, but public choice economics exists for a reason. And that's because incentives matter.

The USG never gave a damn about civilian life, and so they would never attempt to minimize it while fighting. In fact, the USG maximizes its own utility by waiting till the end of the war after everyone has died. This has several more advantages and they should all be obvious. They are all corroborated by the fact that the US actually DID stay out of the way until the last minute.

So don't pretend like WWII is justified just because maybe there was a way the USG could have surgically fought it in some humane way. You can use the same argument on virtually any government service. It's meaningless.

My point is that fighting WWII is wrong. Not because it is physically impossible to make the situation better via military conflict, but because it is institutionally implausible.

@ThomasL

"If there is a train crash and I turned to someone and said, "They're dead! Both of my children are dead!" my utter omission of all of the other deaths suffered by all of the other families--which undoubtedly far outweigh mine in number--does not at all suggest that I think they were less than human or not deserving of sympathy or consideration."

Except it's been like, almost 10 years and we're still not even acknowledging the deaths of hundreds more people. And you also wouldn't claim that the deaths of your children justified the killing of 200 other innocent children.

Ken B writes:
My point is that fighting WWII is wrong.

And posters here wonder why libertarianism is a fringe movement.

joeftansey writes:

"And posters here wonder why libertarianism is a fringe movement."

Au contraire. The libertarian movement romanticizes WWII. Good guys beat bad guys. America so badass killin all da nazis. Stoppin' them murderin' rapin' japs. Bla bla bla bla. Last war declared by congress.

Ron Paul goes on and on about it on TV. It's only people who really don't care about getting the consent of the lowest common denominator who are willing to make more nuanced arguments.

TLDR you overestimate libertarianism.

Colin K writes:

If conquest is cheap and largely bloodless for the aggressor, then you can expect to get a lot more of it, no? Eventually the free people of the world will run out of places to hide.

joeftansey writes:

Colin,

Sounds like a pretty good argument against getting the state anywhere near warfare. It's cheap and costless for state agents.

Fortunately, empire building is its own curse.

Jim Glass writes:

joeftansey writes:

@Jim Glass

"how does killing *many more* people result in killing fewer? Did you read what I wrote? Do you imagine all the other killing wouldn't have occurred?"

... what master plan are you imagining? That the US could go to war with Germany early and somehow it would be less catastrophic than going to war later? You know they still have to fight a war even if they fight the war early right?

You insist on not reading what you are replying to.

Again: the British and French use military force to stop of the Nazi re-militarization of the Rhineland in 1936 -- enforcing existing treaties -- and the rest doesn't follow. Hitler's govt likely topples. Hitler said so himself. They could have stopped Hitler as late as 1938, by enforcing the treaties they had signed.

So no, the West wouldn't have had to fight a huge war later if they had used a small amount of force earlier. And no the USA wouldn't have fought one at all.

That's what "All that death could have been avoided" means.

Is it necessary that militant pacifists be ignorant of history?

So, maybe you want to clarify again exactly how....

"Even if every Jew in Europe had been exterminated, fewer people would have died."

... being that you are starting with millions more dead right there, for starters.

Do you imagine all the other killing wouldn't have occurred, when Hitler turned east with the avowed intention of exterminating all the Slavs? Following the war with the Soviets, which he now would have been much more likely to win, making his project of mass extermination much more attainable, on top of all the death of the war with the Soviets?

Just how do you get a *smaller* body count out of that compared to if the West used force to stop him in 1936?

"This isn't Command and Conquer dude. Yes it is THEORETICALLY possible for governments to fight clean-ish wars, but..."

Dude. Try to get closer to reality. If you don't want to deal with real history, at least try to make your comments relate to something someone actually said.

Babinich writes:
joeftansey writes:

Here's an alternative policy. Instead of fighting Germany, take whatever country Germany attacks and offer them free and unrestricted immigration.

We should test that theory. Lets begin with a micro-level analysis: the bully in the schoolyard.

The bully takes other children's money and those victimized are subsidized (with all willingness mind you) by those not yet under the yoke of the bully.

Robert writes:

Stalin was killed by Moltov in order to prevent an invation of Western Europe.

We sometimes forget that the people in countries do not have a choice in what the government does. For example, the vast majority of Russians would prefer it if the Kremlin does not sell nuclear technology to Iran, but the leaders sell the technology for money and to raise the price of oil.

The very Quaker idea that no military action would be preferable to any military action since all life is equally valuable would most likely lead to a very Shaker legacy. What figures of reported war dead has the Japanese government provided for the rape of Nanking? Without military protection why would the rape of Nanking be less likely as opposed to more likely to happen?
Can anyone provide counter-examples of where a reduction in the threat of force provided more compliance?
There are examples where threat of military force has provided more compliance and quicker breakdown of hostile dictatoriship.
Russia, the arms race backrupted the counry.
Lybia, revealed their weapons program after the US attacked Iraq.
Liberia, where the tyrant was removed by a small military force. Ironic end to the Blood Diamond movie, eh?

Mass migrations sound like you could look it up in the dictionary under unintended consequences.

The philosphy sounds overly simplistic, unrealistic, poorly reasoned.

[Comment edited with permission.--Econlib Ed.]

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