David R. Henderson  

Great Moments in Arguing: Lindsey Graham Edition

PRINT
Camille Paglia on making a car... Happy Birthday, F. A. Hayek!...
Taking the lead in bashing Trump at the Milken conference was South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham, who on a panel said that his party had "lost its way" in nominating the New York real estate magnate. Referencing Trump's recent lament that the United States ousted brutal dictators like Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi, Graham questioned Trump's foreign policy judgement. "You want to be the leader of the friggin' free world, and you're yearning for dictators," Graham said, angrily. "Why don't you live in Gaddafi's Libya? Why don't you live in Saddam's Iraq?" he added.
This is from Chris Matthews, "At Top Finance Conference, 'Never Trump' Wins Support," Fortune, May 4, 2016. HT2 Tyler Cowen.

Often, when I point out the unintended consequences of a government intervention, I am attacked for favoring the thing that the intervention was supposed to address. So, for example, when I oppose making drugs illegal, I am accused of wanting to use what are now illegal drugs. When I oppose forcing employers to hire people of another race, I am accused of favoring the employers' discrimination on the basis of race. When I oppose using taxpayers' money to subsidize the arts, I am accused of being against the arts.

I couldn't help but think of those kinds of accusations when reading Lindsey Graham's attack above. The obvious answer to his rhetorical questions of Trump is that neither Trump nor anyone can live in Gaddafi's Libya or Saddam's Iraq because Gaddafi and Saddam are dead. And they are dead as a direct consequence of U.S. foreign policy.

But the other, apparently to Graham less-obvious, response is that to oppose ousting Gaddafi or Hussein is not necessarily to favor them but to realize, which Graham apparently still hasn't, that the unintended consequences of those two actions have been far more horrendous than the situations under those two dictators. Lindsey's reasoning is really poor.


Comments and Sharing






COMMENTS (23 to date)
mico writes:

Suppose that the unintended consequences of legalising drugs were worse than the war on drugs. In this case would you set aside your moral beliefs and favour the war on drugs?

This is not an attack on your position - I am simply unclear if you have purely utilitarian ethics or not.

Tom West writes:

Ah, the old "what you permit, you promote" belief.

Like any pithy saying, I've seen it used for good (it was the driving philosophy of our primary school prinicpal who changed a school from newspaper-worthy bullying to one of the best-loved schools in the city) and for evil (used to bully those who are tolerant of any belief outside the mainstream).

As for Mr. Trump, I'd rest slightly easier if I wasn't fairly convinced that it's not so much a tolerance, but a preference for "strong" leaders.

pgbh writes:

The root issue here is ignoring costs - a common mistake for people without much knowledge of economics. If removing Saddam has no costs, then the only possible reason to oppose doing so is that you like Saddam.


The US is an extremely rich and powerful country. Hence, the costs of interventions abroad are usually tiny relative to our available resources. This makes it easy to forget that those costs can still, overall, be very large.

Edogg writes:

What Tom West said.

Trump has explicitly praised these dictators as well as Assad and Putin.

Edogg writes:

Although, I should have acknowledged that I agree with your logical point. And I think our political discourse suffers greatly from such fallacious reasoning.

Graham's response might be on point, depending on which of Trump's statements he was responding to. (The article doesn't really say.) On the other hand, I don't have confidence Graham makes the distinction in any case.

"...that the unintended consequences of those two actions have been far more horrendous than the situations under those two dictators."
I guess I'm in a quibbling mood today. On the one hand, an intervention may not be worth it even if the consequences are far less than the past actions of the dictator. However, considering that Libya was in the middle of civil war when we intervened, I'm not so sure our intervention there was worse than the counterfactual.

Andrew_FL writes:

I don't really buy the argument that the Iraq war is to blame for the Islamic State. I consider that a different question from whether the US should have overthrown Saddam or invaded Iraq at all. But the proximate cause for the rise of the Islamic State was the US not be willing to commit to keeping Iraq free once establishing democracy there. Of course, the flakiness of public opinion on such things is itself an argument why we shouldn't have gone in in the first place.

But on Libya, yeah Graham is way off base.

That being said, if you believe for one second Trump will have a non interventionist foreign policy, I've got a bridge to sell you in Brooklyn.

Jon Murphy writes:

I am sure you are quite familiar with this quote from Bastiat:

"[E]very time we object to a thing being done by government, the socialists conclude that we object to its being done at all...It is as if the socialists were to accuse us of not wanting persons to eat because we do not want the state to raise grain.”

The Sen. Graham quote above reminds me of this.

We invaded Iraq and it's a mess.

We bombed but did not invade Libya and it's a mess.

We stayed out of Syria and it's a mess.

MikeP writes:

"We" involved ourselves in Syria and it's a mess.

How quickly we forget the red line...

MikeP writes:

But the proximate cause for the rise of the Islamic State was the US not be willing to commit to keeping Iraq free once establishing democracy there.

The proximate cause for the rise of the Islamic State was the US dissolving the Iraqi military.

Just as in Syria, this is an example of wishful thinking that eliminating the power structure will mean peace and prosperity instead of the emergence of a worse power structure.

The US should not be tromping around the Middle East, either militarily or rhetorically.

Nathan W writes:

Yes, all the black and white thinking these days is very childish.

We live in a world of grey.

Outrageously hypocritical double standards have also become the norm in many circles.

I do not think 16 year olds should go to prison for having sex with people of a similar age. But that does not mean I think it is better if they start so early. And a million other examples ...

David R. Henderson writes:

@mico,
Suppose that the unintended consequences of legalising drugs were worse than the war on drugs. In this case would you set aside your moral beliefs and favour the war on drugs?
To answer your question, I would need to know more. In this hypothetical situation, what are these consequences? A related question: for whom are they worse?

David R. Henderson writes:

@Edogg,
Trump has explicitly praised these dictators as well as Assad and Putin.
Please provide some cites.
@Andrew_FL,
I don't really buy the argument that the Iraq war is to blame for the Islamic State.
So you’re saying that without the Iraq War, ISIS would be just as powerful? I find this hard to believe.
@Joseph Hertzlinger,
All good points, with the exception of your use of the word “we.” See my “Who is ‘We’?"

gda writes:

So which is better from a "moral" point of view:

A) Support (albeit reluctantly) a dictator who ruthlessly eliminates his opponents and kills thousands in the process
OR
B) Help overthrow the dictator and trigger unintended consequences leading to hundreds of thousands of deaths and millions of displaced lives

I'll take Trump's solution over the starry-eyed ideologues any day.

Andrew_FL writes:

"So you’re saying that without the Iraq War, ISIS would be just as powerful? I find this hard to believe."

I don't know how you get that from what I said at all. The Islamic State would not exist if Saddam was still in power. So? It also would not exist if the Ottoman Empire still existed.

It also could have been prevented if the US maintained military presence in the region. Acknowledging that this is true does not mean endorsing doing so, or endorsing the invasion.

@MikeP-I don't think you know what "proximate cause" means.

Edogg writes:

@David R. Henderson
Had to do some googling. I do not endorse any of the editorial lines of these sources. I acknowledge you could give a charitable reading to some of these cases. But I think that would swimming against the pattern of his statements.

On Saddam and Gaddafi,

the benefits of one day trials
http://www.theburningplatform.com/2015/10/06/donald-trump-saddam-hussein-and-gaddafi-made-the-world-safer/


http://www.mediaite.com/online/trump-saddam-hussein-was-terrible-but-he-killed-terrorists/

during a debate, ctrl-f "at least they killed terrorists"
http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=111634

ctrl-f "professional terrorist killer"
http://www.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/1603/09/acd.01.html

On Assad,
actually couldn't immediately find a good quote, but here's one from his campaign manager
https://www.buzzfeed.com/andrewkaczynski/trump-campaign-manager-assad-keeping-things-in-check-in-syri?utm_term=.cwEvN8OYm#.tued708DM

On Putin,
http://www.rferl.org/content/us-candidate-donald-trump-gives-putin-a-for-leadership/27278503.html

http://www.cnn.com/2015/12/18/politics/donald-trump-praises-defends-vladimir-putin/

BONUS!
On Kim Jong Un,
http://thehill.com/blogs/ballot-box/gop-primaries/265353-trump-kim-jong-un-deserves-credit-for-taking-out-rivals

On Tiananman Square and Gorbachev,
http://www.ijreview.com/2016/01/513180-trumps-comment-about-chinese-government-at-tianenman-square-shows-hes-strongman-america-needs/
(Although this is an old interview.)

However, Trump still calls the protests a "riot".
http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/mar/11/donald-trump-tiananmen-square-china-playboy-interview

Edogg writes:

@David R. Henderson
I should add that I was being too sympathetic to Graham in my earlier comment. You've almost certainly got him pegged.

David R. Henderson writes:

@Edogg,
I should add that I was being too sympathetic to Graham in my earlier comment. You've almost certainly got him pegged.
Thanks, Edogg, and thanks for the links.
I will check them out later. I’m tired after over 4 hours of driving.

David R. Henderson writes:

@Andrew_FL,
You quoted my statement:
So you’re saying that without the Iraq War, ISIS would be just as powerful? I find this hard to believe.”

And then wrote:
I don't know how you get that from what I said at all. The Islamic State would not exist if Saddam was still in power.

I’m glad we agree.

Here’s why I thought you thought the opposite. Your first statement in your earlier comment was this:
I don't really buy the argument that the Iraq war is to blame for the Islamic State.
Do you see how that seems to contradict your statement: "The Islamic State would not exist if Saddam was still in power."

David R. Henderson writes:

@Edogg,
I have now checked the first 4 links you sent, the ones on Trump re Saddam.
In none of the 4 cases does he praise them. He simply says that Saddam was better for his country than what we have now. And that’s true. Trump even says at one point that Saddam was not a nice guy.
I’ll check the others later.

Andrew_FL writes:

@David R. Henderson-It's not a contradiction. "X would not happen without Y" does not mean "X caused Y"

For example one could say, a shooting would not occur if guns did not exist. Does that mean the existence of guns caused the shooting?

Just to clarify here, is it your belief that if the US had maintained a military presence in the region, that they would have been successfully overcome by the nascent Islamic State and the Islamic State would have come into existence regardless? Because if so, then no, we don't agree.

Steve Sedio writes:

Trump is the symptom, not the disease.

Graham said "his party had "lost its way" in nominating the New York real estate magnate."

His party the voter? Or, his party the leadership?

When #1 is Trump and #2 is Cruz, the voter and the leadership are on very different pages.

Reagan said he didn't leave the Democratic party, it left him. A large majority of Republican voters have stated, by their vote, they feel the same way about the Republican party (leadership).

mico writes:

David R. Henderson writes:
To answer your question, I would need to know more. In this hypothetical situation, what are these consequences? A related question: for whom are they worse?

They are just worse, in the same vague sense you have asserted that Libya is worse now than under Gaddafi. It is hard for me to draw a reasonable analogy as you have not explained in any detail why you think Libya is worse now than under Gaddafi.

Separated from the specifics of any scenario my question is whether you oppose the drug war on deontological grounds or utilitarian grounds. There are certainly deontological arguments for foreign interventions, while it's not obvious (and perhaps unlikely) that domestic policies favoured by deontological libertarians always result in the best utilitarian outcomes.

Comments for this entry have been closed
Return to top