Category Archives: Foreign Policy

The Right To Leave

Nothing demonstrates the impotence of the United Nations quite so starkly as the long suffering of the North Korean people.  Living in wretched conditions and subjected to ongoing famine, North Koreans are two inches smaller than their South Korean cousins.  One in three North Korean children is chronically malnourished.

This has been going on since 1953.  North Koreans living today were born into suffering, and have never known any other life – even though South Korea, across the border, is one of the world’s most affluent nations.

Article 13.2: Everyone has the right to leave any country

A better life for these people is literally within walking distance, but they are imprisoned by their own leaders – a dynasty of brutal dictators who build monuments to themselves while the people starve.  The previous dictator, Kim Jong-Il, died of old age, blissfully untouched by the world’s opprobrium.  If the United Nations had any purpose at all, it would be to end such regimes.

We might as well say the same about Cuba and, in its time, the Soviet Union.  In an international context, the most fundamental right is the right to leave a bad country.  Properly enforced, this would limit the amount of suffering any dictator could impose, and ultimately compel some of the higher order human rights.

The United Nations has a lengthy declaration of human rights, including health care and free education, but it lacks a mechanism to enforce – or even encourage – its principles.  One of these is, in fact, the right to leave.

The U.N Security Council regularly votes against interference in the “internal affairs” of any country.  However much we might criticize China for human rights abuses, this is a gray area.  The Chinese could point back at Guantanamo or race relations.  No one wants the U.N. to be the arbiter of how well a country treats its people – certainly not China, and they’re a permanent member.

Whether the people are free to leave, however, is completely objective.  They’re either free, or they’re not.  The United Nations could, with perfect clarity, make Article 13.2 the acid test for human rights.  Resolutions should follow, with sanctions including military intervention.  The North Koreans are prisoners, and the world has a duty to free them.


Leave a comment

Filed under Civil Rights, Foreign Policy

The Chinese Worker Protection Act

comradeJeremiah, as you know, takes a nuanced view of protectionism.  We favor free trade, but we recognize the role of negotiation.  Since our new president has promised to get tough on China, here is a suggestion: use trade barriers to promote environmental and worker protection standards around the world.

For example, if a Chinese (or any) exporter enjoys a labor cost advantage because it exposes its workers to hazardous conditions, slap punitive tariffs on them until they reform.  Good luck challenging that at the WTO.  If they are polluting Shenzhen, we don’t need to buy their products.

American manufacturers complain that our trading partners can offer cheap goods because they abuse their workers, and it’s true.  Just look factory fires in Bangladesh.  These people labor like slaves in conditions we outlawed a hundred years ago.  Labor advocates worry about a race to the bottom.  We can halt this race using … protectionism!

Now, here is a trade policy that should draw bipartisan support.  We can protect our manufacturers by holding foreign companies to American standards.  This will create jobs in America, and at the same time make life better for exploited workers around the world.

Leave a comment

Filed under Business, Economy, Foreign Policy

Moving to Canada

People are saying they will flee to Canada if Donald Trump is elected.  Canada has already endured waves of disgruntled Americans fleeing George W. Bush, and then President Obama.  The Trump case is funny, though, because of The Donald’s position on immigration.  One Twitter wag suggested that Canada should build a wall.

To gain permanent residency in Canada, you must have a sponsor, a trade, references, a background check, and speak either English or French.  The process takes at least two years.  If you sneak in and overstay your visa, you will not be able to get a driver’s license, a health card, a job, or rent an apartment.  The RCMP will hunt you down and send you back.

So, people who are offended by Trump’s remarks about immigration plan to protest by burdening the immigration system of our northern neighbor.  Funny, eh?  The only thing funnier would be if they tried moving to Mexico.

See also: Arizona has rights, too

Leave a comment

Filed under Foreign Policy

Syrian Hypocrisy Roundup

Hungary is getting a lot of flak for closing its borders to Syrian refugees. Never mind that Austria closed its own border, creating the backup in Hungary. Never mind that Greece, which has a treaty obligation to control the European border, waves them through.

Although you [The Economist] clearly understand the difference between refugees and economic migrants, you continually elide that distinction – Simon Diggins

People have noticed that the migrants are mostly able-bodied young men. From a humanitarian perspective, this means that the women and children, the old and the weak – the people most in need of help – are abandoned in Syria.

Best practice is to settle refugees near home and temporarily, with the goal of resolving the crisis and keeping families together. Transplanting a nation’s labor force is a different project entirely, and of dubious humanitarian value.

For the effort, however, Angela Merkel was tipped for the Nobel Prize. Never mind that Turkey is already hosting 2.5 million refugees, and never mind that Europe has no common immigrations policy.  This prize offer, like the one inflicted on President Obama, is intended to be a bribe.


Finally, we note that our own inept policy in Syria (as in Libya) is what changed a harsh but stable dictatorship into an anarchic hellhole, causing the refugee crisis. It also ended decades of American dominance in region.

Speaking of Russia, has anyone noticed that the “axis of common sense” led by Hungary is all the old Warsaw Pact nations? Hmmm.

Leave a comment

Filed under Foreign Policy

The Uncertainty Principle

HeisenbergThis month’s Foreign Affairs has a nice, short article about Henry Kissinger, by historian Niall Ferguson. If you don’t understand Kissinger, this is a good place to start. Ferguson offers an alternative to the usual narrative, and he backs it up with citations from history and Kissinger’s own writings.

The sophomore version is that Kissinger was a “policy realist,” with the insinuation of amorality, Machiavellianism, etc. No article is complete without a mention of realpolitik. In our estimation, it helps to note that Kissinger was a Jewish refugee who enlisted in the U.S. Army and went back to fight Hitler. This was obviously a formative experience for the young soldier and future diplomat, but not in a sentimental way. It showed what can happen when foreign policy fails.

Ferguson describes Kissinger’s approach in terms of four general principles. One of these, the principle of making decisions under uncertainty, is so strong that it should be a law of nature. In fact, it is a law of nature.

In quantum physics, the uncertainty principle says that there are things we cannot know, because running the experiment changes the state of nature. For example, even dim light exhibits interference, suggesting that a given photon can be in two places at once. Scientists can pin down the photon’s location, but then the interference stops.

In policy, Kissinger says you must make the best decision you can with the information you have and, furthermore, you can never know what would have happened in the counterfactual. For example, if the allies had held firm and whipped Hitler in Poland, no one would ever know the scale of the tragedy they had averted. Instead, they would have been pilloried as interventionists.

Leaders must make decisions without perfect information, and also without moral clarity. This is where the realism comes in. Foreign policy does not present clear choices between good and evil. There are only shades of gray. We had to work with Stalin to defeat Hitler.

The politically safe approach, therefore, is to wait and do nothing until an absolutely clear need arises. This is a purely reactive approach, forever overwhelmed and overtaken by events. Sound familiar?

See also:  Values, not Interests

Leave a comment

Filed under Foreign Policy

The Muslim Reformation

HirsiThe July issue of Foreign Affairs has back to back essays on the Muslim Reformation. The first is by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and the second is a rebuttal by William McCants of Brookings. This is a fine example of how Jeremiah is always telling you to form your own opinions.

If you read the New York Times, for example, they equip you with one (1) standard issue opinion, backed up by enough talking points to debate someone who has gotten his opinion from the Wall Street Journal. Foreign Affairs presents debates, like this one, with no guidance but your own.

Jeremiah has a lot of respect for Hirsi Ali, based on the personal risks she has taken to spread her message of Islam – which others call blasphemy.  Her essay was compelling, and resonated with our earlier report on this topic. The call for U.S. involvement, however, might not be a good idea. This brings us to the second essay.

McCants begins defensively, and his first few pages are a straw man attack on Hirsi Ali’s premises. She never suggests a fundamental problem with Islam, i.e., from Scripture. What she says is that terrorists are able to justify themselves as jihadis, and that it is the job of Islamic scholars to deny them cover.

We must not embellish things and say that Islam is a religion of compassion, peace and rose water, and that everything is fine – Ayad Jamal al-Din

Overall, Hirsi Ali has a better grasp of the situation and the desired outcome. She is also more honest in her use of language. McCants adheres to the weasel words of diplomacy, wherein a “violent extremist” is just a “religious conservative” gone bad. On the other hand, he is probably right about the pitfalls of America trying to influence a profound debate at the heart of Islam.

This is where a morality-based foreign policy pays off, bizarre as that may sound. On principle, America should demand freedom of speech for all participants in the debate – no fatwas, no intimidation – and we can make our other values known, too, like gender equality.

Hirsi Ali says we should stand up for the reformers, in our negotiations with allies and foes alike. It may not be constructive for us to take a side in this debate, but we do have a right to articulate our own values – a right, and an obligation.

See also: What Ayaan Hirsi Ali Doesn’t Get about Islam

Leave a comment

Filed under Foreign Policy

The Last Straw

We thought Islamic extremism had jumped the shark last month in Peshawar, and now we have Paris. The Taliban’s murder of Pakistani schoolchildren has galvanized opinion. Decent, God-fearing locals have turned against the Taliban. Prior to this event, authorities have somewhat tolerated the Taliban because they could claim to be fighting the good fight against infidels, apostates, and American stooges.


Pakistan would shelter terrorists operating in the border region, attacking targets in Afghanistan – and Afghanistan would return the favor. If you think it’s crazy that the Taliban could successfully play two sovereign Muslim countries against each other, look at how Russia and America have failed to make common cause against al-Qaeda in the Maghreb or Islamic State in the Levant.

Egypt’s Grand Mufti recently described the “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant” (ISIL) as a “terrorist entity” that has “violated all Islamic values and the great purposes of sharia.”

Pakistan and Afghanistan will now share intelligence, treating the Taliban as a common enemy, and jointly defending the border region. As much as Jeremiah has favored military support for Afghanistan, it’s hard to deny that this breakthrough owes something to the waning of American influence in the region.

No longer can the Taliban claim to be fighting a foreign aggressor. They are, themselves, the enemy of innocent Muslim civilians. It’s pretty hard to attach terms like “holy struggle” and “martyrdom” to the slaughter of children.

The same goes for Paris. Sheikh Nasrallah of Hezbollah, hardly an American stooge, was quick to denounce the extremists, saying that they are a bigger insult to the faith than any number of satirical cartoons. It doesn’t get much press in the West, but Islamic leaders have been denouncing terrorists for some time.

The fatwa by Muhammad Tahir ul-Qadri … terrorism is “haraam,” or forbidden by the Quran

Back in August, the Grand Mufti of Egypt denounced ISIL, and so did President al-Sisi. Muhammad Tahir ul-Qadri of Pakistan issued a lengthy and stern fatwa. A roundup of condemnation from official Muslim sources is here. The list is long, and it didn’t just start this week. If you are squatting in the banlieue somewhere, thinking you can suicide bomb your way into heaven – you’re wrong. Stick with prayer and fasting.

On the other hand, there are plenty of Muslims who really do believe the crazy stuff, like killing people who leave the faith. Eugene Volokh is here, with a nice roundup of both sides. He also reminds us that Christianity went through its own crazy period, including the Inquisition, right up until the nineteenth century – or later, if you count Belfast.

At this point, just as Christianity was in 1527, Islam is ripe for al-Sisi’s revolution. The crazies can keep the term “jihad,” which they have stained with blood, and the mainstream can shun them. Some change in language or customs would be appropriate. Catholics kept their monopoly on “priests,” for example, and Latin.

As policy, we should certainly support the anti-terror clerics – with the caveat that overt American support might be counterproductive. What we can do is keep up the pressure of moral condemnation on all sides. The civilized world, including Islam and all faiths, denounces violence, which is the faith of the faithless. Those are the true apostates.

See also: Peshawar Photo Essay

Leave a comment

Filed under Foreign Policy