We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdata slogan of the day

They ask why we don’t get rid of Mugabe, why not the Burmese lot? Yes, let’s get rid of them all. I don’t because I can’t, but when you can, you should.
- Tony Blair in Sir Peter Stothard’s book about Downing Street during the war

43 comments to Samizdata slogan of the day

  • Guy Herbert

    How odd. The world is full of nasty little tyrannies, most of them much weaker than Saddam, at whom this remark must be aimed.

  • Lorenzo

    After the “they are only going to war for the oil” argument the most annoying lefty anti-war argument was alway why don’t they deal with “all of the other ills in the world first”. Hopefully, they (Bush & Blair) will work their way down the list of the worlds tin despost and get rid of them all but the fact that he was not the only one was never a reson for not going after Saddam.

  • Johnathan

    While I can understand the libertarian sentiment in wishing to overthrow tyrants, I am not totally sure that the goal of achieving small government here is really compatible with acting as the fire service for the rest of the world

  • Guy Herbert

    My point is it that it was never a reason for going after Saddam: it’s post hoc justification of a moralistic Blairite cast. THis statement tries to re-align himself with the “lets deal waith all the ills in the world lobby” of which he was previously a paid-up member.

    I strongly suspect the underlying reason was and remains grand-strategic–to do with oil only consequentially–but that the difficulty of the reconstruction phase has been underestimated, and hence badly prepared.

  • Bombadil

    As a self-described libertarian, I am deeply conflicted over the premise that it is desirable to overthrow all “tyrants”.

    Who gets to decide the nature of tyranny? What are the criteria for unacceptable and acceptable governments? Must they be democratic in nature? Must they be representative democracies?

    Note that I was/am completely in favor of our actions in Iraq. When thugs such as Mugabe and Saddam Hussein have a stranglehold on the population, using terror and intimidation to rule their people, it is time for capable and responsible nations to step in and stop the slaughter.

    But how about a nation ruled by a monarch, who is (let us posit) much beloved of his people? May we permissibly send tanks into his nation because there hasn’t been a free election in 25 years?

  • It’s easy, Bombadil. Look at the life on an individual in the country in question… That is my criteria, anyhow.

  • Scott Cattanach

    Blair ‘will back policy of armed invasion’
    By Andrew Sparrow, Political Correspondent
    (Filed: 14/07/2003)

    Tony Blair is expected to put his name today to a declaration justifying armed intervention against failing states.

    He and other Left-wing national leaders will expound the principle, which runs counter to traditional thinking about national sovereignty, at the end of a four-day conference on the subject of “progressive governance”.

    The participants will issue a joint communiqué and, according to a draft leaked over the weekend, it will claim that the international community has a right to intervene in the internal affairs of failing states.

    The key section said: “Where a population is suffering serious harm, as a result of internal war, insurgency, repression or state failure, and the state in question is unwilling or unable to halt or avert it, the principle of non-intervention yields to the international responsibility to protect.”

    Another section justifies this stance on the grounds that, just as individuals have rights and responsibilities, nations do too.

    “The right to sovereignty brings associated responsibilities to protect citizens,” the draft said.

    …In a recent book about the Iraq war, he is quoted as saying in private: “They (critics of the war) ask why we don’t get rid of Mugabe, why not the Burmese lot?

    “Yes, let’s get rid of them all. I don’t because I can’t, but when you can, you should.”…

    And this works toward shrinking our governments exactly how? All I see are states pledging to prop each other up indefinitely.

  • Bombadil

    Gabriel:

    I am not sure what you mean. Do you mean that if the standard of living of the average individual in a country is below a certain level, it is permissible to overthrow their government?

    Or do you mean that if individuals don’t have certain rights and liberties it is permissible to do so?

    In either case, which ones? What standards? Does this mean that China should be allowed to invade, say, Tibet, if Tibetans don’t have a very high standard of living?

    Does it mean that Canada has at least the moral right to invade the US and replace its government because some convicted murderers are put to death there?

    There are certain despots who are clearly in need of a good butt-kicking; I concede the point gladly. But in the absence of a bright sharp line dividing butt-kickers and butt-kickees, I would prefer that we (as a people) agonize and quarrel a little amongst ourselves over each regime change we involve ourselves in.

    What criteria would I propose?

    1) The citizens of the country are being (killed / tortured / imprisoned) in considerable numbers, without any “due process”, by the government in power;

    2) The government in power maintains control over the population via a military large enough to effectively put down any popular uprising;

    3) There is no effective internal process for change or reform in place. This would necessarily exclude processes that are entirely controlled by the government in power.

    How about those for a start? Note the absence of any “civil liberties” or “quality of life” requirements.

  • S. Weasel

    Wait, wait…when did overthrowing tyrants become a libertarian policy? I thought leaving people alone while they left you alone was the libertarian deal. (And the Iraq debate was about how much of a threat Saddam’s aggressiveness posed to us, and whether threat alone was sufficient justification for military action).

  • Scott Cattanach

    Wait, wait…when did overthrowing tyrants become a libertarian policy?

    Libertarianism is about making the world a better, safer place by government action, as long as the government agents involved are wearing snazzy uniforms.

  • Bombadil

    S. Weasel: I am not arguing that we are compelled to overthrow murderous tyrants – only that we should do so when we can.

    Leaving people alone while they leave you alone is a fine principle, but there is an implied civil contract between people as well. Part of that contract is “mutual aid”: if I see someone beating you to death, I have at least a moral (if not legal) obligation to render assistance (calling the police, honking my car horn, grabbing my shotgun, whatever).

  • Scott Cattanach

    We should overthrow murderous tyrants when voters need to be distracted from bad economic news, a stained blue dress. etc.

  • Jacob

    “We should overthrow murderous tyrants when voters need to be distracted from bad economic news, a stained blue dress. etc.”
    Scott, it is easy to be sarcastic, you probably never lived under some tyranny, never experienced these conditions close up and craved for some help.
    I prefer Bombadil’s suggestion:
    “I would prefer that we (as a people) agonize and quarrel a little amongst ourselves over each regime change we involve ourselves in.”

    Removing tyranny and preventing horrenduous suffering is always worth agonizing over, and never beeing dissmissed out of hand with sarcasm.

  • “All I see are states pledging to prop each other up indefinitely.”

    I agree with Scott here. I think that is precisely the intention although it is worth adding that it has been the unspoken policy for some time. It was merely formally announced at the conference.

    I wonder what they will construe as a ‘failing state’?

  • Scott Cattanach

    Removing tyranny and preventing horrenduous suffering is always worth agonizing over, and never beeing dissmissed out of hand with sarcasm.

    I’m dismissing our own governments’ claims of moral purity about their motives for overthrowing anything (and replacing it, ultimately, with who knows what). Their motives are important, because their motives hint to what they actually intend to do, instead of what they claim to be doing.

    Bush, Blair, Clinton, Gore, etc, do deserve being dismissed out of hand with sarcasm. I don’t have to agonize over whether to believe them – anything they say is a self-serving lie until proven beyond a shadow of a doubt otherwise.

  • Bombadil

    I’m dismissing our own governments’ claims of moral purity about their motives for overthrowing anything (and replacing it, ultimately, with who knows what). Their motives are important, because their motives hint to what they actually intend to do, instead of what they claim to be doing.


    Bush, Blair, Clinton, Gore, etc, do deserve being dismissed out of hand with sarcasm. I don’t have to agonize over whether to believe them – anything they say is a self-serving lie until proven beyond a shadow of a doubt otherwise.

    What possible proof could exist that would prove to you “beyond a shadow of a doubt” that they did not lie? Do you personally need to hold the uranium in your hand?

    You reveal your own motives when you say this – and I think I will dismiss your argument out of hand (sans agony) until you can prove to me, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that your reasons for doubting the sincerity of Bush et al. have some rational basis.

    And BTW, I think that what they actually do hints at what they intend to do better than some speculation about their “motives”. Empirical observation etc etc …

  • Scott Cattanach

    What possible proof could exist that would prove to you “beyond a shadow of a doubt” that they did not lie? Do you personally need to hold the uranium in your hand?

    You reveal your own motives when you say this – and I think I will dismiss your argument out of hand (sans agony) until you can prove to me, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that your reasons for doubting the sincerity of Bush et al. have some rational basis.

    Other than the fact that holding the uranium in my hand might be dangerous, yes, that is my standard. Sorry if my lack of faith in our “leaders” bothers you. I really don’t care if you believe me – I’m not asking for government power to tax you, regulate you, and throw you in jail for defying me. They are. That fact alone brings their morality and therefore honesty into quesiton.

  • Bombadil

    Your lack of faith in our leaders doesn’t bother me at all (I generally share it – but I try to be rationally skeptical, rather than taking the “liar liar pants on fire” stance).

    I assumed that you were sharing your views as an addition to the discussion (since this is a message board), and that they were therefore fair game for debate. My bad.

  • A dogmatic insistence that politicians are always lying is no more astute than the converse insistence that they are always telling the truth.

    I recall that Ronald Reagan once said something about government not being the solution to our problem, government is the problem. Was that a lie?

    Of course politicians do lie and far too often. Sometimes though they just make mistakes. Occasionally they tell the truth. The trick lies in being able to sort the wheat from all the chaff.

  • Scott Cattanach

    When did I say my views were beyond debate? Our difference is that I put the bar higher than you do for our “leaders” to overcome the skepticism we both seem to share, and point out that my (hypothetically) lying to you is nowhere near as harmful as the govt lying to you.

    And BTW, I think that what they actually do hints at what they intend to do better than some speculation about their “motives”. Empirical observation etc etc …

    No, because that would involve looking at our govts’ previous acts of installing third world rulers, and pointing out those failures means I hate America, the West, myself, etc. and want everyone on Earth do be killed by nuclear armed Arab terrorist madmen.

    Have you empirically observed any general honesty in anyone who has managed to get himself or herself elected to public office?

  • S. Weasel

    Scott: it may be that you debate from a position of skepticism about politics and politicians, but I gotta tell you – the short-hand, sarcastic version always makes it sound like you’re really just saying, “grownups suck!”

  • Scott Cattanach

    A dogmatic insistence that politicians are always lying is no more astute than the converse insistence that they are always telling the truth.

    That would depend on the number of important truthful statements (I’ll take the president’s word for it that his first name really is George) vs. the number of important untruthful ones.

    That wasn’t as much a dogmatic insistence that they always lie as it is that the word of a politician is meaningless to me.

    Reagan saying the govt is the problem was a lie in the sense that he implied govt would shrink, but it grew when he was president. It was no different than Clinton saying the era of big govt is over.

  • Scott Cattanach

    Scott: it may be that you debate from a position of skepticism about politics and politicians, but I gotta tell you – the short-hand, sarcastic version always makes it sound like you’re really just saying, “grownups suck!”

    Who ever said politicians were grownups?

  • Scott Cattanach

    Does my low opinion of politicians in general differ from y’all’s low opinion of liberal Democrats (or Labor, or whoever, depending on where you live)? If I limited my statement to “I don’t believe anything the Democratic party leadership says”, would you guys have the same disagreement with me?

  • S. Weasel

    Scott: if you had said “I don’t believe anything a professional politician says” I wouldn’t’ve had much quarrel with you. But you don’t post like that, as a rule. It’s more a matter of style than content. The combination of unyielding downerism and relentless sarcasm makes you sound like a spotty, peri-pubertal, mad-at-the-world sulk-monster.

    Half the time, there’s a point buried in there somewhere I don’t disagree with.

  • Scott Cattanach

    I’m honestly not quite sure what difference there is between saying I don’t believe our “leaders” and saying I don’t believe “professional politicians” (w/ “high ranking” somewhat implied – my beef isn’t w/ the guy running for county dogcatcher).

  • S. Weasel

    Scott: there is no difference. But you didn’t say either.

  • Scott Cattanach

    Scott: there is no difference. But you didn’t say either.

    This started with:

    “Bush, Blair, Clinton, Gore, etc, do deserve being dismissed out of hand with sarcasm. I don’t have to agonize over whether to believe them – anything they say is a self-serving lie until proven beyond a shadow of a doubt otherwise.”

    They are liars – I don’t believe them.

  • Scott,

    Has it occured to you that Mr.Reagan meant what he said but was unable to deliver? That is not lying. He may have underestimated the task at hand but that is not the same as dishonesty.

    As for the Democrats, well, allow me to refer to their British counterparts, the Labour Party. Now I loathe the bloody Labour Party but they do tell the truth from time to time. They were swept to power in 1945 on a promise to establish a National Health Service and they did exactly that. I think it was a bad idea but they were certainly good to their word.

    Similarly, Margaret Thatcher came to power in 1979 on a promise to cut the Trade Unions down to size. And, boy, did she cut them down to size. They have never really recovered.

    Politicians do tell the truth. I frequently disagree with them but that doesn’t mean they are lying.

  • S. Weasel

    No, Scott, it started with “Libertarianism is about making the world a better, safer place by government action, as long as the government agents involved are wearing snazzy uniforms. ”

    Or perhaps it was, “We should overthrow murderous tyrants when voters need to be distracted from bad economic news, a stained blue dress. etc.”

    Sentiments which may contain valid points, but delivered in a way that make me want to smack you upside the head with a tin of corned beef.

  • Scott Cattanach

    Has it occured to you that Mr.Reagan meant what he said but was unable to deliver? That is not lying. He may have underestimated the task at hand but that is not the same as dishonesty.

    Running for office saying we need to abolish, for example, the Dept of Education, pushing the legislation, and having it fail is “unable to deliver”. Running for office saying to abolish it, then doing nothing about it is lying. Saying he wanted to abolish if he knew it was so pointless to try that he didn’t intend to bother is lying.

    Or perhaps it was, “We should overthrow murderous tyrants when voters need to be distracted from bad economic news, a stained blue dress. etc.”

    Sentiments which may contain valid points, but delivered in a way that make me want to smack you upside the head with a tin of corned beef.

    Clinton did bomb Iraq just to get Monica off the front page. Bush would be in serious re-election trouble if it weren’t for his being a War Leader. Saddam was merely a useful prop.

  • “Saying he wanted to abolish if he knew it was so pointless to try that he didn’t intend to bother is lying.”

    But do you know for sure that he didn’t intend to bother? It is equally (if not more) likely that his intentions were quite sincere but, in the event, quixotic given the entrenchment of the bureaucratic vested interest. That is not lying.

    Oh and, by the way, if you believe that Reagan didn’t intend to bother perhaps I should ask you to prove that beyond a shadow of a doubt.

  • Scott Cattanach

    Oh and, by the way, if you believe that Reagan didn’t intend to bother perhaps I should ask you to prove that beyond a shadow of a doubt.

    No, because neither of us are elected officials demanding political power.

  • Bombadil

    Scott: I am not sure I see your point at all. Is it that you are saying that you won’t believe anything the President or the Prime Minister say unless they somehow prove it to you beyond any possible doubt, or is it that you are trying to argue that the President and Prime Minister shouldn’t be believed unless they somehow prove their claim beyond any possibility of a doubt?

    If the first, fine. You are free to believe (in the absence of any evidence) that its all lies, all the time from Bush and Blair.

    If you are trying to convince others to think the way you do, you need to answer the following question: why is it reasonable to believe statement X is a lie in the absence of evidence, but not reasonable to believe statement X is true, or (even better) to remain skeptical about its veracity without claiming it to be a lie?

    Also: do you agree that it would be physically impossible for any leader to go around “proving beyond any doubt” each statement that they made, to each citizen of their country? That basically, your requirement of proof allows you to cry “Liar Liar” regardless of what is said or what occurs? Your right to do so, of course, but not very edifying nor usefully predictive.

  • “No, because neither of us are elected officials demanding political power.”

    I am not going to demand any such standard of proof from you. But you have failed to convince me that Reagan was lying and that is a position I have every right to take.

  • Scott Cattanach

    Bombadil: If you are trying to convince others to think the way you do, you need to answer the following question: why is it reasonable to believe statement X is a lie in the absence of evidence, but not reasonable to believe statement X is true, or (even better) to remain skeptical about its veracity without claiming it to be a lie?

    A fact just is, regardless of who states it. A claim (i.e. something at the very least unproven), however, is usually judged in part by the person making it. Unless you can prove “statement X” is indeed a fact, you cannot ignore where it came from like you did above. If the person making the claim has a motive to lie, and any history of lying, I have every right to take that into account.

    your requirement of proof allows you to cry “Liar Liar” regardless of what is said or what occurs? Your right to do so, of course, but not very edifying nor usefully predictive.

    Actually, saying “liar” every time a politician opens his or her mouth is quite predictive – if its not always correct its much more likely to be correct than not.

    David Carr: I am not going to demand any such standard of proof from you. But you have failed to convince me that Reagan was lying

    Fair enough. You asked me if I thought Reagan was lying and I answered “yes”.

  • Phil Bradley

    Bombadil asked an important question, which is how do we determine which regimes are sufficiently bad to warrant getting rid of (and how).

    Then Scott Cattanach irretrevably pollutes the thread with his adolescent self-justifications.

    Sigh!!!

  • Scott Cattanach

    My point is that Phil’s chosen tool to get rid of tyrants (our govts) won’t care about how bad those tyrants are, they will decide which ones to remove on their own criteria.

  • Jacob

    “… important question, which is how do we determine which regimes are sufficiently bad to warrant getting rid of (and how).”

    It is indeed a difficult question, but it should not be used to induce paralysis and inaction. It does not mean we can never know if “regimes are sufficiently bad” and therefore can never engage in regime change by force. It means that many times we are in doubt. However, many other times we are not in doubt; we know. Such are the cases of Saddam, Mugabe, Liberia.
    That does not mean we have a moral obligation, or even a practical necessity of removing all bad regimes. We have moral justification but no moral obligation.
    Additional factors must be considered: chiefly – the cost, then side effects – security, regional stability, oil, etc.
    I don’t think the no-war libertarians argue that removing foreign tyrants by force is morally bad. What they argue is that imposing the cost of the expeditionary force on OUR citizens is unacceptable.

  • Bombadil

    Jacob: well said.

    Considerations for regime change:

    When we may (moral justification);
    When we can (capability);
    When we want to (self-interest, cost, etc)

    If we may (we are morally justified), can (we have the ability), and want to (it’s in our self-interest to do so) we should remove regimes. Otherwise, we abstain.

    We have moral justification: When civilians are being killed or imprisoned, etc in significant numbers; When the regime has a military sufficient to quell any (plausible) popular uprising; When there are no effective internal processes for reform not controlled by the regime.

    We can take action: When doing so does not compromise our own security to a significant degree; When we have a good chance of success in a military sense; When the geopolitical situation allows us to have sufficient access to the region; When there is sufficient support for action at home to prevent a “mid-stream” switch before the action is complete.

    We want to take action: When the total costs (human life, material, capital, political influence, etc) are exceeded (or at least matched) by the total expected gains.

    My first draft at a reasonable calculus of invasion. Most of the points are subjective, but I don’t see any way around that.

    Thoughts?

  • Phil Bradley

    Jacob/Bombadil, I pretty much agree with everything you say, but am nervous about attempts to formalize criteria and put in place institutions to evaluate and decide these things.

    I am not sure if the Iraq war’s ‘coalition of the willing’ reflected a new strategic policy that will be the model for international interventions in the future by the likes of the USA/UK, but I think it is the right way, with the UN as hopelessly compromised as it is.

    One difficulty is that there is a significant list of problem countries that need to be dealt with after so many years of (UN supported) inaction. So how to decide which country comes first? FWIIW N. Korea and Myanmar would come higher up my list than Zimbabwe, although I would agree that Zimbabwe looks an easier nut to crack.

  • A_t

    oh, i like it… ” (UN supported) inaction”… like, everyone else was enthusiastically champing at the bit to sort out these dictatorships, but the UN maintained the status quo? Gimme a break. You may be able to plausibly put the blame for *a few* of the world’s troubles at the UN’s dorstep, but don’t even try & sell me that line. In terms of lack of morality, most of our governments have acted far more despiccably; not just ignoring dictatorships, but actively supporting them, for various expedient purposes.