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February 01, 2008



Though I think ascribing the world's improvement to Bush is hilarious, I will agree in liking children. Of course, I'm perfectly happy with population growth in the single digits. The population explosion in the undeveloped world was not helping them at all, and it's nice to think that in 15-20 years they'll be at the apex of an era of advancing quality of life.

Nathan Smith

Oh, I didn't *ascribe* it to Bush, did I? I just said it occurred on his watch. Even if he contributednothing to these good developments at all, he'd still benefit from the pleasant assocations.

As for whether Bush deserves any credit for the good developments, that's hard to say. Of course, some of the good developments were underway well before Bush came into office, so he certainly can't be credited with those. But a lot of bad trends-- financial crisis, economic stagnation-- have turned around in the Bush years. Again, it might be a coincidence, and to some extent it probably is. Correlation is not causation. But the same complexity that makes it foolish to say that Bush *did* cause (some of) the good developments of the past few years makes it foolish to say that he didn't. Rather more so, actually, since the hypothesis that the good developments would have unfolded just the same way if a major variable was taken out of the equation is inherently improbable. In a sense, even the hypothesis that things would have been *even better* without Bush is more probable than that he had no effect at all. But it's hardly likely, since the world doing even better than it has in the past few years rarely if ever happens.

If Bush did contribute to the golden age of prosperity and peace, two scenarios might be distinguished: (a) he envisioned the positive changes, deliberately set out to achieve them, and succeeded, or partly succeeded, vs. (b) some actions that he took for wholly different ends happened to have positive unintended consequences. In the first case he deserves moral credit. In the latter case we should be very glad that he was in office, but not necessarily give him any credit.

There may be a third case: (c) Bush didn't envision the particular good results that he wanted to achieve, but he conducted himself according to principles-- virtues, if you will-- that tend to engender good outcomes, even if the practitioners of the virtues don't typically understand *ex ante* what those are.

What Bush did that benefited the world most-- I'll offer this as a hypothesis of which I'm by no means entirely confident, but which I'm increasingly leaning towards from watching the world economy-- may be to cut taxes, spend a lot, and thus run big deficits and give a big stimulus to the world economy. This is a Keynesian-style hypothesis: a big fiscal stimulus got the world economy going. I'm not sympathetic to Keynesian economics at the theoretical level. I can't get my head around it. But the world economy's behavior in the past few years has made me more sympathetic to it. It seems there was slack in the world economy, the human and institutional capital was in place for a big boom but not the energy to get it moving, and "priming the pump" was enough to buoy it up. Now, if Bush benefited the world through a fiscal stimulus, this doesn't seem like (a). There's no sign that Bush consciously pioneered a new brand of globalistic Keynesianism. He did care about the developing world, as his AIDS and Millennium Challenge Corporation initiatives showed, and they've probably done some good, but trivially small compared to the trends described in this post. He was just engaging in elecion-year pandering, or at best consciously stimulating the *American* economy, and he got lucky that this happened to excellent medicine for the world economy as a whole.

The other big thing Bush did, big enough, at least, to have contributed substantially to the world economic boom although it might not have had that effect, is the Iraq War. Since the boom started almost immediately after the Iraq War it's worth thinking of reasons that they might be linked even if for a long time yet they'll probably be purely speculative.

One link is that the removal of Saddam, and the display of American muscle suggesting that other threats would be dealt with too, might have given investors confidence. Economist Robert Barro has recently been exploring the possibility that low-probability catastrophic events explain the mysterious equity premium, the observed regularity that stocks earn "too much" relative to bonds over time. At least, that's what I understood from a brief reading; I don't remember the whole theory... still, if improbable catastrophes are a significant factor in investors' behavior, the removal of a regional troublemaker in the heart of vital oil country who almost surely had latent nuclear ambitions and was wriggling free of sanctions, might have boosted confidence. Of, the demonstration of the American superpower's willingness to be pro-active and take casualties in the cause of civilization might have encouraged them.

Another possibility is that the overthrow of Saddam affected the behavior of other dictators around the world. Saddam reduced his people to misery but was able to stay in power through pure violence. A lot of dictators who liberalize and bring about economic booms find that their people decide they don't need them anymore and throw them out. The Saddam model might look more attractive than the Pinochet model-- until Iraq. If *that* can happen, well, the fate of a Pinochet or a Suharto starts to look not so bad. Everyone knows America wouldn't have done it if Iraq had been prosperous, even if it were a ruthless dictatorship and hostile to the West. So dictators' incentives are altered.

There might be subtler stories. In the Cold War, the Soviet Union and the United States vied for influence in Third World countries, and this led to a lot of foreign aid, even if some of it was detrimental. Iraq triggered a sort of a cold war-- much milder, of course-- between the US and a vaguer entity that might be called, making a concession to the tendentious phraseology of its proponents because it happens to conveniently fill the terminological lacuna in my argument, the "international community," which extends beyond (or among, as it were), but may be described by more concrete entities like the EU, the UN, etc. Again, they competed by means of foreign aid and more attention to the developing world.

If Iraq has something to do with the global boom, I'd call that case (c); Bush practiced virtues (courage, love-- towards the liberated-- and justice, for example) which had good effects, unforeseen yet nonetheless creditable to him.

History goes on being written for a long time. We have years and decades and generations to untangle the threads of causation. In the meantime, I think a fair appraisal of the evidence must yield the tentative judgment that, with much better than even probability, Bush is a great, if to some extent inadvertent, benefactor of humanity.


Ron Paul is not strictly non-interventionist, as has been mentioned many many times by himself and others. He supported the war in Afghanistan, he would have supported our intervention in WWII. What he is against is foreign policy that props up dictators like Saddam Hussein and the Shah of Iran, funds and trains terrorist regimes like that of the Taliban and Bin Laden, assassination attempts against political foes, threatens countries with preemptive nuclear strikes, etc. If Paul had been President during any of those times, there wouldn't even be a reason today to "intervene" in Iraq, or Afghanistan. Your broad-brush painting of Paul as lunatic-fringe is grossly ignorant and intellectually insulting.


Oops, I commented on the wrong post. That was supposed to be in response to one of your other comments. Oh well, I'm sure you can figure out which one.


"Presided over" was suggestive.

Nathan Smith

"Ron Paul is not strictly non-interventionist, as has been mentioned many many times by himself and others. He supported the war in Afghanistan, he would have supported our intervention in WWII."

This isn't straying too far from the libertarian ranch. After all, in both WWII and on 9/11, the US mainland was physically attacked. I'm not sure I'd call supporting those wars "interventionist," depending on what one's reasons were.

"What he is against is foreign policy that props up dictators like Saddam Hussein and the Shah of Iran, funds and trains terrorist regimes like that of the Taliban and Bin Laden, assassination attempts against political foes, threatens countries with preemptive nuclear strikes, etc."

Quibbles: bin Laden is not a "regime," and we didn't fund the Taliban when it was a "regime"; and "dictator" is an odd term to use for a hereditary monarch like the Shah of Iran; I'm not aware of any assassination attempts against political foes since what's-his-name (Diem Bien Phu or something like that) in Vietnam; and I'm pretty never has, and probably has never contemplated seriously at high levels, threatening anyone with a pre-emptive nuclear strike. Of course, Tom/Paul doesn't say here that we *have* done so; he simply says that he's against it, as if he's contrasting himself with other candidates who are *for* those things.

If Paul thinks that the list of actions above is an apt characterization of US foreign policy as a whole, he is at best a fool, and probably something more sinister. But of course, some of the stated actions have occurred. We did support Saddam, no doubt our worst action in the late 20th-century. Better men than Ron Paul have recognized that the appropriate penance for this mistake was to liberate the country. As for the shah of Iran, he was a lot better than the regime that succeeded him, so the real argument against supporting him is less that he was a dictator but that it didn't work. But it might have worked if Carter hadn't *stopped* supporting him in the late 1970s. Tough call.

"If Paul had been President during any of those times, there wouldn't even be a reason today to 'intervene' in Iraq, or Afghanistan."

How do you know? And if you have the sense to recognize that you don't, why do you pretend that you do? Please note that when we supported mujahideen fighters against the Soviets-- some of the muj became Taliban and bin Laden and some other terrorists came as volunteers at the same time, but it's too simplistic to simply say that we supported the Taliban and bin Laden-- the Communist regime that the Soviets imposed was also pretty darn brutal. I'm not sure the Taliban were worse than what came before. The bad guys in Teheran against which we supported Saddam were probably *not* as bad as Saddam himself, but they did have boundless ambitions, and if they'd swept through Iraq and maybe further it would have made things pretty dangerous. A sensible appraisal of the might-have-beens would lead to the anti-Paulista conclusion that there might have been as much or more reason to intervene in those places now if we hadn't done it then.

I'm not saying that those interventions were necessarily good ideas; on balance, I'd say supporting the muj was smart, while Saddam was just too nasty to support regardless of the geostrategic considerations. But Tom/Paul seem to think that all the problems in the world are caused by US interventions. "Lunatic fringe" is a good way to describe that view.

There's a huge elephant-in-the-room Lesson of History which has shaped US foreign policy for two generations and which just about everyone who bothers to have opinions about foreign policy understands except Paulista crackpots. It's a lesson from WWII, but it's not that we were right to join it; it's that we joined it *way too late*. Had we stayed engaged after WWI, we could have prevented Hitler from getting started. We could have nipped him in the bud anytime in the mid-1930s. Instead, we tried to retreat into our continental Arcadia and pretend the world didn't exist. The tens of millions of deaths that resulted from our cowardice, sloth and negligence could have been avoided. And of course, isolationism didn't bring security: we not only got dragged into war again, but faced far more dangerous enemies than we had before. Our whole post-WWII strategy has been motivated by the imperative not to make that mistake again. "Libertarian" foreign policy (a misnomer I think: it has no relationship to the liberty-loving creed of, say, Hayek) is a sort of Rip Van Winkle, which has never woken up from the 1930s' isolationist dream.


Nobody at the time knew that Hitler was a crazed lunatic intent on world domination. Most people didn't even know about the Holocaust until after the war was already over. Hindsight is always 20-20, isn't it? There were also plenty of indicators that Japan was going to attack Pearl Harbor, but nobody seriously considered that as a possibility. Don't forget that we didn't have the military infrastructure to preempt the war or to even join in the war when it initially started. Heck, when Germany was annexing Poland, the rest of the world wasn't sure that war was going to break out. "We joined late"? Maybe by a couple years, but I don't see how we could have seriously joined earlier than that.

Regarding your quibbles, this is from wikipedia:
"...some basis for military support of the Taliban was provided when, in the early 1980s, the CIA and the ISI (Pakistan's Interservices Intelligence Agency) provided arms to Afghans resisting the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and the ISI assisted the process of gathering radical Muslims from around the world to fight against the Soviets. Osama Bin Laden was one of the key players in organizing training camps for the foreign Muslim volunteers. The U.S. poured funds and arms into Afghanistan and "by 1987, 65,000 tons of U.S.-made weapons and ammunition a year were entering the war".[15]

The Taliban were based in the Helmand, Kandahar and Uruzgan regions, and were overwhelmingly ethnic Pashtuns and predominantly Durrani Pashtuns. They received training and arms from Pakistan, the U.S. as well as other Middle Eastern countries who had been recruited by the U.S. to thwart the Soviet invasion of this region."


"The CIA has been linked to several assassination attempts on foreign leaders, including first democratically elected prime minister of the Republic of the Congo Patrice Lumumba, Jaime Roldos of Ecuador[117],former leader of Panama Omar Torrijos[118] and the President of Cuba, Fidel Castro. Between August 1960, and April 1961, the CIA with the help of the Mafia assassins pursued a series of plots to poison or shoot Castro according to the assassination plots proposed by Colonel Sheffield Edwards, director of the CIA's Office of Security.[119] ... Revelations about past CIA activities, such as assassinations and attempted assassinations of foreign leaders, illegal domestic spying on U.S. citizens, provided the opportunities to execute Congressional oversight of U.S. intelligence operations."

From just a week ago:
"The west must be ready to resort to a pre-emptive nuclear attack to try to halt the 'imminent' spread of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction, according to a radical manifesto for a new Nato by five of the west's most senior military officers and strategists."

From the NH debate:
"Nine of ten candidates for the Republican presidential nomination explicitly or tacitly supported a [preemptive] US attack on Iran using nuclear weapons, in response to a question at Tuesday night’s nationally televised debate in New Hampshire."

These are facts, not asseverations. Are these facts an apt characterization of our historic foreign policy? I suppose facts wouldn't be apt to the ignorant, but otherwise I'd say that, yes, they are apt.

If Paul had been present, how do I know that we wouldn't have supported Saddam, Bin Laden, the Taliban, and the Shah? Well, Paul has certainly indicated that he wouldn't have dealt with the aforementioned, so I guess I'd just have to take his word for it.

And no, I never said that "all problems in the world are caused by US intervention". But clearly, we have created a non-zero number of problems through inappropriate intervention. Paul would rather play it safe in that regard, and I can't really blame him for that stance. I don't fully agree with it, but I think it's a reasonable position to take. But if you disagree, I suppose you could just call us crazy and win the argument that way.

Nathan Smith

The examples of assassination are from the 1960s. Republican presidential *candidates* suggesting something (according to a journalist) is not having something "contemplated at top levels." (Who's the one-week-ago quote from?) Maybe "we didn't have the military infrastructure to preempt the war" in the 1930s-- that's the problem! It's a lesson the rest of us learned; since then, we've tried to have it. And use it. Result: no Hitlers. The "apt characterization" point is, of course, a question of proportions: if a man told ten jokes forty years ago, and thought about several jokes since then, the best description of him is probably not, "He's a joker." But never mind.


I watched the NH debate, and yes, all of the candidates sans Ron Paul were perfectly willing to launch a preemptive nuclear strike against Iran. I was horrified when I watched that debate, and I have been a Ron Paul supporter ever since.

Here's one link to the article from a couple weeks ago: http://www.commondreams.org/archive/2008/01/22/6529/

Here's another article from 3 years ago to let you know that this is not a recent idea:

Here is another article from 2 years ago just for giggles:

Nathan Smith

That's the closest thing to a creditable reason to support Paul's candidacy that I've heard. But don't lose sleep over it. I think the odds of a preemptive nuclear strike on Iran are pretty close to nil, regardless of who's in the White House.

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