The Long View 2007-04-05: Piracy, Democratic Plan B, More Piracy, Alger Hiss, Fukuyama's End

No letters of marque for you

No letters of marque for you

Letters of marque never really took off, but private military companies seem to have done relatively well in the years since the Iraq War.


Piracy, Democratic Plan B, More Piracy, Alger Hiss, Fukuyama's End

Could the United States prosecute the Terror war by licensing pirates? Instapundit entertains this libertarian fantasy in a posting entitled: BRINGING BACK LETTERS OF MARQUE:

A reader is interested in the idea:

Thing is, I've enough money to hand to train, equip, and deploy six people for six months in the area between Baghdad and Kabul. I'm ex-military, and I'm young enough to be up for a challenge.

Why not open-source the Global War on Terror?

As I recall, the Independent Institute -- a libertarian thinktank not to be confused with that other libertarian thinktank, the Independence Institute -- was pushing this idea right after 9/11. And so was Ron Paul. If I recall correctly (and Wikipedia says the same thing) the United States never signed the treaty renouncing letters of marque and reprisal. So if you want one, apply to Congress, but I doubt the application will be received favorably at this point.

You can read about Letters of Marque here. Again, they were authorizations by a sovereign to private persons to seize and sell the shipping of a designated entity. The point of the authorization was to prevent the recipient of the letter from being hanged as a pirate. In any case, it is irrelevant whether the United States ever signed the Declaration of Paris of 1856, whose signatories foreswore the issuance of these documents. Letters of Marque have dropped out of customary international law in even the most conservative sense. Other states would not recognize them, so parties purporting to operate under their authority would be treated as pirates.

* * *

Speaking of hijacking, Daniel Henninger at Opinion Journal asks whether the attempt by the Democratic Congress to take control of the foreign and military policies of the United States might backfire:

Carried aloft on the gassy fumes of politics, the congressional Democrats may be overshooting on Iraq. Six months from now, they may wish they had been more temperate. Helped finally by the right U.S. military strategy, the Iraq nightmare might be ebbing. Then what?

Actually, there would be a perfectly obvious Plan B. If the Surge in Iraq succeeds (as indeed seems likely at this point: it is really a modest operation), the Democrats could always argue that the establishment of relative peace in Iraq justifies a US withdrawal within a year. Withdrawal could become what tax cuts are to Republicans: a policy for every conceivable situation.

That said, we should remember that the Bush Administration had actually planned to have largely withdrawn by now. Those plans were interrupted by the demolition of the Golden Mosque in 2005 after the last general elections, before which it looked as if peace was supposed to break out. The difference now that a withdrawal can be made to look like a defeat, which suits both the Democrats and Al-Qaeda just fine.

* * *

Returning to piracy in a less metaphorical sense, Victor Davis Hanson says the Iranians captured those British sailors because the Iranians need a war:

It's probably a good rule to do the opposite of anything the Iranian theocracy wants. Apparently, this government is now doing its darnedest to be bombed. So, for the time being, we should not grant them this wish.

In the last three years, the ranting adolescent theocrats in Tehran have alienated the United Nations' Security Council to the point of earning trade sanctions. That's a hard thing to do, given the U.N.'s bias toward the former third world and the way China and Russia value petroleum and trade above all else....

Prior to capturing last month 15 British Navy personnel, Iran had for years misled and embarrassed Britain, Germany and France, who all tried to negotiate a peaceful end to Iranian nuclear proliferation. And as a rule, these are European nations that will suffer almost any indignity to talk a problem away....

It is also nearly impossible to offend the Russian government on any matter of law - except squelching on debts. Still, Iran even accomplished that. Moscow is withdrawing from the country its nuclear technicians, who are critical to Tehran's efforts to obtain the bomb...Those "realists," like former Secretary of State James Baker, who insisted that we talk to Iran are now silent. Iran's serial provocations seem to have finally turned off even those in the West who were always willing to give it a second and third chance...

The Iranian government is desperate to provoke the West to win back friends in the Islamic world...Despite having among the world's largest petroleum reserves, their production is shrinking and they have managed to earn increasingly less petrodollars even as the world price has soared...Their strategy seems to be to find a way to provoke someone to drop a few bombs on them, on the naive assumption that such an assault would be of limited duration and damage. Such an attack, they may figure, would earn them sympathy in much of the world.

There is something to be said for the proposition that the Islamic Republic is like an Eastern European Communist state in the 1980s. I would still argue that the current Iranian regime is working less from desperation than from ambition: they want to show that they can get away with this kind of thing. From what I can gather, however, the resolution has not been a great boost to the domestic popularity of the current regime. Maybe they can't get away with it, but for reasons other than one might have supposed beforehand.

* * *

It's much too late for this:

NEW YORK - A Russian researcher, delving anew into once-secret Soviet files from the Cold War, says she has found no evidence that Alger Hiss spied or that Soviet intelligence had any particular interest in him. In a speech to be delivered at a New York University symposium Thursday, Svetlana A. Chervonnaya says neither Hiss' name nor his alleged spy moniker, Ales, appears in any of dozens of documents from Soviet archives that she has reviewed since the early 1990s.

...[Alger Hiss's son] Tony Hiss, a New York-based writer, said he was encouraged by Chervonnaya's research.

"Her stating of the negative in all this is so strong that it almost becomes a positive," he said. "With her findings, plus new findings from FBI files, we envision reopening the whole field of investigation. After looking for so long like a played-out mine, it's now revealing new veins and whole new galleries of material, but it's far too soon to say this has reached any kind of positive conclusion."

If the Internet had existed in the 1940s and '50s, the Communist-contrived legends of the innocence of Alger Hiss and of the Rosenbergs (the piece mentions them, too) would have been Fisked to shreds in a week or two; there is no reason to suppose this strange attempt to revive them will fare any better. This effort is anachronistic for a deeper reason, however.

It was thought necessary in the Leftist circles of two generations ago to conceal the Soviet element in the American Establishment, until the day would come when progressive influence had grown broad enough to promote Marxism openly. That day arrived in the 1960s. The fellow-traveler network was no longer necessary, because the fellow travelers could work without subterfuge. Well, Der Tag was a dud, and today some explanation is required for younger people to understand what the fuss was all about. These Cold War controversies are less than irrelevant; they are becoming as incomprehensible as Prohibition.

* * *

Moving on to the glorious future, Francis Fukuyama is keen to explain why the thesis he presented in The End of History and the Last Man is not the basis for President Bush's foreign policy. As we read in The Guardian:

To be sure, the desire to live in a modern society and to be free of tyranny is universal, or nearly so...But this is different from saying that there is a universal desire to live in a liberal society - that is, a political order characterised by a sphere of individual rights and the rule of law....The Bush administration seems to have assumed in its approach to post-Saddam Iraq that both democracy and a market economy were default conditions to which societies would revert once oppressive tyranny was removed, rather than a series of complex, interdependent institutions that had to be painstakingly built over time.

Fukuyama has a point when he suggests that the Bush Administration credited Iraqi society with powers of self-assembly it does not possess. However, the point would be more interesting if The End of History were about the sociology of institutions. In fact, it's about the evolution of political culture, as indeed was the Hegelianism of the vile Alexandre Kojève on which Fukuyama's thesis was based. The End of History really does suggest that any regime short of a liberal democracy will be unstable and ephemeral. That thesis may or may not be true, but Fukuyama is, if you will excuse the expression, The Last Man who could claim that his ideas counseled a Burkean caution that the Bush Administration disregarded.

Not content with distancing himself from the Bush Administration, Fukuyama makes a gesture toward tossing America itself into the dustbin of history:

The End of History was never linked to a specifically American model of social or political organisation. Following [the loathsome] Alexandre Kojève, the Russian- French philosopher who inspired my original argument, I believe that the European Union more accurately reflects what the world will look like at the end of history than the contemporary United States. The EU's attempt to transcend sovereignty and traditional power politics by establishing a transnational rule of law is much more in line with a "post-historical" world than the Americans' continuing belief in God, national sovereignty, and their military.

As an aside, we may note that the Bush Administration thought it was establishing the transnational rule of law when it invaded Iraq. Only later did it become clear that the principal international opponents of the invasion were chiefly interested in kickbacks from the Baathist government. The most dispiriting thing about the years around the year 2000 is not that transnational mechanisms were subverted by American hegemonism, but that those mechanisms, many of them lovingly maintained in storage since the 1940s, fell apart as soon as they were turned on.

As for Fukuyama's larger point, it is possible to imagine an EU-like world modeled on that of Isaac Asimov's Trantor: conceived in red-tape, and dedicated to the proposition of the form in quadruplicate. However, such a world would not necessarily be the closed, nihilist sphere of immanence projected onto the future by Kojève.

I never put much credence in the master-slave dialectic that powers Kojève's model of history, but much the same result is reached by the logic of expanding networks that Robert Wright outlined in Nonzero. So, yes, societies move toward civil equality for their citizens; local patriotisms fade; multiple sovereignties move toward structures of universal justice. However, the effect of this broadening of human intercourse is not to banish the transcendent from human experience: quite the opposite. This is the irony of the universal state, something that the unphilosophical Toynbee understood, but which Hegelianism seems to obscure. When the historical process of civilized history eventually clears away the foliage of king and caste, the sky becomes visible, and it turns out not to be empty.

Copyright © 2007 by John J. Reilly

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