Archive for the ‘neocon’ Category

Barbarians at the gate? The WSJ wrings its hands over Somali pirates but ignores the failure of property owners to defend themselves

November 26th, 2008 No comments

The Wall Street Journal runs a remarkably whiny and unperceptive piece by weekly “Global View” columnist Bret Stephens about the expanding problem of ocean piracy off of Somali waters in and around the Gulf of Aden.   An unvarnished neocon and former editor of the Jerusalem Post, Stephens rather reflexively reviews the outbreak of piracy as an existential threat by barbarians to a civilized, flabby and impotent West, for which the proper response is a wakening resolve to defend civilization via a “muscular” (i.e., violent) response by the US and other civilized Western states, less hampered by a concern for legal niceties.  The editorial is accompanied by a video clip of an interview of Stephens by WSJ assistant editor James Freeman in which Stephens states his views even more strongly.

Under a headline of “Why Don’t We Hang Pirates Anymore?”, Stephens uses his soap box to decry a “legal exquisiteness” that has left the civilized West apparently impotent to deal with “the most primordial” of the various forms of “barbarism” alive today – the growing number of ragtag but surprisingly effective Somali pirates.  (What are the other forms of barbarism that merit mention by Stephens?  The “suicide bombers on Israeli buses, the stonings of Iranian women, and so on.”)  Stephens argues that a move from the halcyon days when captured pirates could be quickly and harshly dealt with – which treatment he argues was responsible for the elimination of piracy in the late 18th century (“a civilizational achievement no less great than the elimination of smallpox a century later”) – to modern civilized justice is responsible for this outbreak of piracy, and calls for a defense of civilization that keeps in mind the lesson for how such barbarism was defeated in the past (viz., quick and harsh treatment of pirates).  Says Stephens,

our collective inability to deal with it says much about how far we’ve regressed in the pursuit of what is mistakenly thought of as a more humane policy. A society that erases the memory of how it overcame barbarism in the past inevitably loses sight of the meaning of civilization, and the means of sustaining it.

Someone a little more skeptical of the benefits of government action might note that not only do the Somali pirates certainly not threaten civilization (and to date have used very little violence), but that the success of the pirates can be laid at the door of the owners of the vessels and cargo and their insurers, who have to date apparently failed utterly to even try to fend off any of the pirates.  The success of a few pirates has simply invited more piracy attempts – crime is contagious, as Ron Bailey notes today on Reason.  No doubt there are plenty of governments that would love to have their military actual provide some useful services, but why should the failure of property owners to take even minimal precautions and self-defense measures not only not be mentioned, but be rewarded with government stepping into the breach?

Given the lack of self-defense by vessels, it is hardly surprising that Somalis and others view ships as equivalent to common property, to be harvested on a first-come, first-served basis, with a resulting rush of entrepreneurial Somalis entering the new profession.  Sure, we could use a little law and order, but there’s a reason why firms that wish to survive and prosper put a little effort of their own into protecting their own assets (and those of their customers).

Stephens’ own failure to consider the responsibility of property owners to protect their own assets is surprising.  And Stephens strikingly and conveniently fails to note the role of the US in hampering the emergence of a Somali state and perpetuating lawlessness.  But to a neocon, so many problems look existential and seem to require the application of violence by states.  In spying “barbarous” actions by others, neocons (i) never seem to consider how barbarous are our states themselves (look at the many innocent deaths that the US is responsible for, directly or indirectly, in Iraq and Afghanistan), (ii) often ignore the role of government in creating problems, and (iii) frequently overlook the much vaster thefts perpetuated by governments and by corporate insiders who line their own pockets while persuading governments to socialize losses.   Neocons seem to form a part of the “Great Theft Machine”, by which every problem looks like a nail for the hammer of state, and whereby those calling for more hammer blows conveniently forget to call attention to those who benefit most from the use or manufacture of hammers.

It is a shame that the Wall Street Journal sees so many problems just crying out for “strong states” to solve, while ignoring the real and much more pressing problems that such states themselves create.  (We have encountered Stephens before, in an intelligence-insulting piece that dissed the leading National Academies of Science, the American Geophysical Union, the American Meteorological Society, Stephen Hawking, Thomas Schelling and now Exxon and AEI as “deluded” believers in the “sick-souled religion” of global warming.)