David R. Henderson  

Henderson on Tillerson

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Someone not familiar with the ISIS story might conclude that Tillerson was saying that the US government defeated ISIS. Of course, if you read his speech carefully, you'll see that he didn't say that. What he said was that the US government had a plan and had been active in defeating ISIS. He didn't list other entities that had fought ISIS. What ones did he leave out? Two major ones: the Russian government and the Syrian government under Assad. Why? I think it's obvious: it didn't fit Tillerson's narrative. The narrative is: Assad is bad; the US government needs to get rid of him. If Tillerson had admitted what I'm sure he knows well--that the Russian government has helped Assad go after ISIS--then he would have introduced complexity into what he wanted to tell as a simple story: Assad bad; let's get rid of him.
This is from David R. Henderson, "Rex Tillerson at Hoover," Antiwar.com, January 22, 2018.

Another excerpt:

Sanctions tend to hurt and, in this case, kill largely innocent people. One thing I'm quite confident of is that the sanctions won't cause North Korea's dictator, Kim Jong-un, to miss a meal. What else will they do? One of Tillerson's predecessors as Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, when asked whether half a million children killed by sanctions in Iraq "is worth it," said that it was. (We don't know what the real number was: Matt Welch claims, with some evidence, that it was substantially lower than 500,000; Matt Barganier challenges Matt Welch. But we do know two things: (1) the number of children killed was very high and (2) Albright believed that even the number of deaths really had been 500,000, she thought it was a worthwhile price.) Does Tillerson believe that the horrible effects of these sanctions are worth it? I wish someone would ask him.

Read the whole thing.


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COMMENTS (17 to date)
Jon Murphy writes:

To your discussion of sanctions:

Sanctions, by their very nature, seem manifestly unjust to me. As Adam Smith says in Theory of Moral Sentiments (page 155 of the Liberty Fund edition):

That the innocent, though they may have some connexion or dependency upon the guilty (which, perhaps, they themselves cannot help), should not, upon that account, suffer or be punished for the guilty, is one of the plainest and most obvious rules of justice.

Since sanctions target, fall upon, and ultimately kill the citizens of a country rather than those who are actually making the decisions the US government doesn't like, it seems to me that sanctions are unjust. It's the old adage: two wrongs do not make a right.

So, can sanctions ever be worth it? I say no.

Mark writes:

Political scientist Robert Pape did a study claiming to show empirically that economic sanctions were not very effective. It’s worth reading.

Jon writes:

Assuming both of the above arguments are true, Jon Murphy's argument seems easily dismissed while Mark's seems dispositive.

Niko Davor writes:

Henderson claims that Assad and Russia fought ISIS. This is disputed, not just by Tillerson, but even far left outlets like Vox. Vox says that Assad encouraged ISIS activity and minimized conflict with the most egregious of ISIS to paint his opposition as negatively as possible and to make it harder for foreign powers to fight him. Vox also says Russia and Turkey had little interest in attacking ISIS.

I'm definitely not remotely an expert on this type of global politics, but the Vox version sounds a lot more believable than Henderson's simplistic version.

David R Henderson writes:

@Niko,
Please give me the cite(s) on this and I will take a look.

David R Henderson writes:

@Jon Murphy,
Thanks for that Adam Smith quote. I hadn’t known about it.
@Mark,
Thanks. Also, my Concise Encyclopedia of Economics also has an excellent piece on sanctions. It’s here.

Manfred writes:

As for sanctions on a country, were sanctions on South Africa (while the apartheid system was in place) to be celebrated or decried?

David R Henderson writes:

@Manfred,
As for sanctions on a country, were sanctions on South Africa (while the apartheid system was in place) to be celebrated or decried?
Decried. See the last 4 paragraphs of “Apartheid” in The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics.

David S writes:

@David Henderson,
Is there an alternate method of somewhat forcible persuasion that you would prefer? I recall that you are not in favor of military action - what would you propose that country A do to country B when they threaten and commit violent acts against the citizens of country A?

I'm unable to come up with a non-violent alternative, but I believe that if ignored the problem tends to get worse until many people die and war is inevitable.

David S writes:

A thought - maybe you offer a bounty of $1T to whomever turns over control of North Korea to South Korea?

It would be cheaper than waiting for the inevitable war, and more humane than sanctions?

David R Henderson writes:

@David S,
Is there an alternate method of somewhat forcible persuasion that you would prefer? I recall that you are not in favor of military action - what would you propose that country A do to country B when they threaten and commit violent acts against the citizens of country A?
It’s a good question. To answer it, I would have to know the circumstances better.
I’m curious, though, what your answer is. When the U.S. government, along with the British and UK governments, used force to enforce sanctions against Iraq, causing at least tens of thousands of deaths in country A (Iraq is country A), would you have had the Iraq government use force against people in the United States, the U.K., and France (these are countries B)? If not, why not?

David S writes:

@David Henderson
I don't have an answer, beyond maybe posting a bounty - but that would probably be messy as it got claimed as well. Country A would still have blood on its hands, just indirectly.

When the U.S. government, along with the British and UK governments, used force to enforce sanctions against Iraq, causing at least tens of thousands of deaths in country A (Iraq is country A), would you have had the Iraq government use force against people in the United States, the U.K., and France (these are countries B)?

Also an interesting question. It would depend on what "enforcing sanctions" meant. If it meant "refused to trade with me, and encouraged others to not trade with me (including threats to others)" I'd say no. Country A annd country B both have the right to decide who to trade with.

On the other hand, if "enforcing sanctions" meant sitting in international waters blowing up shipping that is headed towards me, yes that should cause a military response. My military would need to go to the same waters and protect the ships. If the US then fired on my military, then war was going to happen anyway.

Of course, letting it get anywhere near that far is the foolish mistake. North Korea should not be designing nukes with the stated intention of nuking Japan. Iraq should not have been paying terrorists to kill Americans.

David S writes:

@Prof Henderson

As a more specific example, what if the US offered to pay $600B to the North Korean military if it deposed the current regime and stood down, turning control over the country to South Korea?

Although there are about 6 million people in the army of North Korea, the total budget for that army is about $6B. So you could offer every member of the army 100 years pay to cause regime change.

From a pragmatic standpoint, a nuke going off in Japan is going to cost more than that. A war to directly change the regime would cost more than that. Honestly, the fear in the US and Japan caused by that crazy guy is probably worth more than that. (I think the average American would pay $2,000 to permanently and somewhat peacefully get rid of the North Korean nuke problem)

So would that be ethical?

It would be great to have an option that is short of war, but that causes the other country to stop trying to kill us. As you point out, that isn't sanctions. What could it be?

David R Henderson writes:

@David S,
It would depend on what "enforcing sanctions" meant. If it meant "refused to trade with me, and encouraged others to not trade with me (including threats to others)" I'd say no. Country A annd country B both have the right to decide who to trade with.
Enforcing sanctions means using force against those who want to trade. Refusing to trade is not sanctions; it’s simply boycotting. I agree with you that people in Country A and people in Country B have the right to decide whom to trade with. It’s that very right that is violated by governments, whether in Country A or Country B.

Jon Murphy writes:

@David S

Why are we beginning with the assumption that war is inevitable? That seems to me to be creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. I mean, if you go into a situation assuming your opponent is going to attack you, everything you do will be toward that end as opposed to trying to defuse such a conflict. Perhaps the only reason sanctions are used in the first place is because no one explores the diplomatic avenues first.

Niko Davor writes:

@Henderson,

Here is Vox's video "Syria's war: Who is fighting and why"
https://youtu.be/JFpanWNgfQY

Normally, I don't like Vox, but this video seems pretty reasonable and it's extremely well edited and produced. I'm eager to hear the Henderson take.

David R Henderson writes:

@Niko Davor,
Thanks. I’ll take a careful look. Meanwhile I’ve found some other materials. Since few people follow comments, my next posting on this will likely be a blog post, not a comment.

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