Primary

Chris Christie vs. the Constitution

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie condemns those who attack the National Security Agency (NSA) for gathering private phone and Internet data from Americans.

President Barack Obama and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie talk with local residents at the Brigantine Beach Community Center, which is serving as a shelter for those displaced by Hurricane Sandy, in Brigantine, N.J., Oct. 31, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie talk with local residents at the Brigantine Beach Community Center, which is serving as a shelter for those displaced by Hurricane Sandy, in Brigantine, N.J., Oct. 31, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

His attack takes it for granted that such policies make Americans safer from terrorism than they otherwise would be.

“You can name any one of them that’s engaged in this,” Christie said of lawmakers (in both parties) seeking to reduce funding for the NSA. “I want them to come to New Jersey and sit across from the widows and the orphans and have that conversation. … I’m very nervous about the direction this is moving in.”

He also added, “I think what we as a country have to decide is: Do we have amnesia? Because I don’t,” he said. “And I remember what we felt like on Sept. 12, 2001.”

These arguments appeal to emotion, as most flawed arguments do. But they still don’t offer any proof that peering into the private lives of American citizens, with few or no checks on such power, actually helps protect us from terrorism.

Correlation is not causation. In other words, the fact that the government is doing something at the same time a terrorist attack is absent, does not prove that one caused the other.

Christie, like most career politicians, has unlimited faith in unlimited government. To people like him, the only cause of terrorism could be a lack of government activity, while the only cause of safety could be the presence of government activity.

The real question here is: What causes terrorism?

Terrorism of the 9/11 variety is mainly caused by American activity and involvement in the Middle East. The Middle East is a region rife with the violent ideology of militant Islam. If Americans didn’t need oil from the Middle East, we wouldn’t have so much trouble with that region of the world. We could protect our own sovereignty and leave these primitive socities to fend for themselves, or perhaps discover rationality and freedom on their own some day.

Depending on who you talk to, the solution to this problem will vary. Environmentalists say we should simply use less oil and cut back on industrialized civilization. This, of course, is absurd, and it’s not something most environmentalists themselves are prepared to do.

Others say the answer lies in alternative fuel. That’s well and good, but there’s nothing on the horizon at present that can conceivably compete with oil, much less take the place of it. “Encouraging green energy” is absurd, because the incredible profit potential of discovering an alternate energy source will make anyone who does the next John D. Rockefeller. The reality, at present, is that alternative energy is simply fantasy.

The only rational solution is to permit oil companies to drill in places outside of the Middle East, and do things like build pipelines. Under the Obama administration, and probably under the next one too, there is absolutely no chance this will ever happen. So we’re stuck doing business in a part of the world where our very existence frightens and angers many of the people to the point of violent rage.

If politicians like Chris Christie and Barack Obama care so much about national security, then why don’t they stop peeking into our computers and phone records and try to do something to open up a marketplace for oil outside of the insane and dysfunctional Middle East?

We’re never going to solve the problem of terrorism until we first identify its causes, and come up with solutions that actually decrease our vulnerability. Politicians are less concerned with causes and solutions than with how they look. Governor Christie is no different from any of the others, in this respect. He sneers at anyone who questions NSA policies and calls them “libertarians.” It’s not “libertarianism” he’s attacking; it’s liberty.

Politicians don’t wish to be seen speaking the truth, including the truth about terrorism and the Middle East. Yet that’s what leaders are supposed to do, isn’t it? Not follow the pack and spread the falsehoods and evasions which maintain the cycle of doing everything wrong and continuing to expect different results.

Christie, Obama and others will have you believe that in order to preserve freedom, you must sacrifice it. In order to protect individual rights, you must deny their existence. Perhaps they won’t apply it to every issue, but that’s their only principle of justification for what they’re doing. Our “leaders,” with rare exception, are attempting to lull us into the complacency of evasion, denial and wishful thinking. With leaders like this, who needs enemies?

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  • Grantsinmypants

    Interesting. I remember making this very same argument just months after 9/11 – and being denounced as an appeaser, a pacifist, a moral relativist, and a Libertarian by my fellow Objectivists for doing so. It’s nice to see that at least one relatively well-known Objectivist has finally (or, in his case, always?) understood the true causes of Middle-East-based Islamic aggression against The West, as well as how to truly put a stop to it. Better late than never, I guess.

  • writeby

    I wonder who those Objectivists were.

    I was disgusted with Bush’s response (treating proxy soldiers of Iran & Saudi Arabia as individual criminals) no matter how many times the press hailed his behavior as “Presidential.”

    Instead, he ought to have 1) declared war on Iran*, the ideological center** of Islmaic Jihad theocracy (thus placing all war time security legislation within the constraints of the Constitution, which would result in all those measures ending when the war ended); and 2) nuking both nations, placing “boots on the ground” only to retake and secure oil drilling facilities, after which the fires and wreckage (from the planted explosives set off by each regime) could be cleared and the areas returned to the French, British & American oil companies.

    (Interestingly enough, in light of attacks on the French for their seeming pacifism post 911, in the 40s & 50s, both the French & British governments–who were mounting military strikes–were restrained by both Truman & Eisenhower when oil companies in the Mideast were first being nationalized. Who were the real “wimps” in all this? The Frogs? Pas une chance! Le Americans!)

    Once the war was over (24 hours later), so would end the Patriot Act, etc.

    *In 1983 the Iranian government financed the truck bombers
    who murdered 241 U.S. Marines in Beirut, Lebanon.

    In 1994 then Iranian “president” Hashemi
    Rafsanjani, declaring war on American interests worldwide, urged Arab
    terrorists to hijack planes or to blow up factories in Western nations.

    In 1998 the New York Times reported: “Evidence suggests
    that Iran sponsored the attack” in 1996 that killed 19 U.S. soldiers in their
    barracks in Saudi Arabia.

    In 1999 the State Department reported Iran to be “the most
    active state sponsor of terrorism” in the Mid-East.

    In
    May of_2001_(!), in Teheran, an amalgam of the world’s foremost
    terrorist groups met and resolved to unite against the U.S., _declaring a “Holy
    War” against America_.

    **As with the ideological center of Marxism, the Soviet Union, with the collapse of Iran, Islamicism would also collapse.

  • writeby

    PS. And here’s a well known Objectivist–Ron Pisaturo–who agreed on 092801: http://capitalismmagazine.com/2001/09/why-and-how-to-conquer-the-savages/

    The key to avoiding the bunker mentality–and the police surveillance state that follows–is to have declared war on the Arabs and then to have wiped them out.

    Now, if you reject that solution, *then* you may happily accept the labels you mentioned, e.g., pacifist, Libertarian, etc.

  • DogmaelJones1

    I’ve been making the argument for years that Islam is our enemy, as much as was once Communism and the Soviet Union. You can go back as far as the end of WWI to see just how wimpy the West, and especially the U.S., has become. Wilson okayed sendng U.S. troops to Russia to help the British and French put down Lenin and the Bolsheviks. But because neither of the Allies knew explicitly what they were there for, they lost and pulled out, giving Lenin and Trotsky an unearned victory which Russians still crow about today. During WWII, we fought the Nazis on Stalin’s terms. The collectivists and Leftists never left our government, not even during Eisenhower’s tenure. As one reader here notes, it was he who let the Communist-trained Nasser take over the Western-built Suez Canal by intervening in the British-Israeli conflict with Egypt. There isn’t a single American president from Wilson on who has ever acknowledged Islam as a predator, totalitarian ideology bent on conquest. And now we have a president who actively encourages the empowerment of the Muslim Brotherhood. Why has American political leadership never shaken this mindset over so many decades? Because to take the ideas of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness seriously, does not mean “working things out” with one’s enemies. It does not admit statism or pragmatism.

  • writeby

    Here, here.

  • Grantsinmypants

    Do I agree that the prescription for Islamic aggression that yourself and other Objectivists advocate was necessary and moral? Yes. Absolutely. In the short-term it’s what was necessary, and I never abvocated anything less*. In the long-term, however, I regarded it as counter-productive (and therefore immoral).

    What I mean by “counter-productive” is that events (ie: 9/11) only came to the point where such actions were necessary because of America’s failure to stick to it’s principles. Had that been done, Islamic aggression wouldn’t have ever become what it is was (and still is), and Islam’s (inherent and inevitable) animus against The US would been marginal marginal and effectively impotent. I regarded such actions as you advocate as merely the first step in a reversal of course – a costly correction – and nothing more. Not all Objectivists did.

    Most Objectivists – people like Peikoff and Brook and Binswanger (and the rank and file that parrot them) – said that pure, unrestrained war against the targets you list was the solution to Islamic aggression against The West (not merely part of a solution, but the solution). They thought that an overwhelming show of force would not only destroy Islam’s will and capacity to attack, but also the “Arab street’s” view of it’s own religion (ie: that it would cause Islam-dominated cultures to come to regard Western Civilization as good as desireable – a la Japan post-WWII). These Objectivists advocated that America act on principle in this one, ad hoc instance – and that that would somehow be enough to ensure that the threat was destroyed. It was ridiculous to expect that America – a country that is so far from it’s principles in every way – would act on principle in that one (most dramatic and demanding) instance, so even if (and that’s an extremely small if) the things that these Objectivists advocate had happened, it wouldn’t have represented anything except (at best) a sense-of-life response, or (at worst) a fear and rage-based desire to survive simply for the sake of surviving. It certainly wouldn’t have been acting on the principle of egoism, as they wanted it to be.

    There are other Objectivists – such as your Mr. Pisaturo – who understood that there was more to this whole “Islamic terrorism” thing, and so went further in their commentary about the situation. However, even their interpretation of the underlying issues didn’t suffice. These Objectivists advocated everything that the first group did, but then declared that “America” (whoever that was, exactly) should have seized the wealth of Middle-Eastern countries. Did I regard that as immoral in and of itself? No. Absolutely not. I understand and agree that Middle-Eastern countries themselves have no moral right to that wealth – and I do believe that someone should have relieved them of that which was not theirs (I still do) – but again, I didn’t regard this demand (even if in conjunction with “destroying states that sponsor terrorism”) as a permanent solution to Islamic aggression either. The reason I didn’t is because “America” is a physical place, and as such the rights of it’s citizens are (by contract, signed in 1776) only guaranteed to be proteced by it’s government within those boundaries. If some Americans chose to place themselves or their property outside of the country’s borders, they should be free to do so, but they should also suffer the consequences alone. Forcing some Americans to pay for the reclaimation (via military action) of the Middle-Eastern wealth of other Americans represents yet another departure from America’s principles; no different than domestic welfare programs. I advocate the use of force to reclaim, and then protect, Western assets in The Middle-East, but only at private expense. I only regarded doing so at public expense (ie: the military) as a temporary, ad hoc measure – given the mess America’s lack of fidelty to principle had placed it in. A first (or I guess second, after nuclear war) step in a reversal of course back to principle.

    I think that the reason why most Objectivists chose to ignore these contradictions to (deeper) principle (ie: always keeping context simply as a dedication to reason itself) – while pleading that America act on principle no less! – was because the issue of Islamic aggression was a great opportunity to promote egoism (as against altruism). To say things such as “drop nuclear bombs on Tehran” or “use the military to repatriate the oil fields” were attempts to strike an emotional chord with the general public. They were sexy and provocative. They were “what most people were thinking but not saying.” It was an attempt to show whoever would listen just how morally (and therefore psychologically) unencumbered being an Objectivist could make a person.

    To say these things (with disclaimers) was fine, but to say them by themselves – as self-contained thoughts – was not what people calling themselves philosophers were supposed to be doing. A philosopher is supposed to take a wider view of things. His purpose is not to prescribe fixes to immediate problems (even if his fixes are correct), but to show why immediate problems arise. Advocating a principled approach to directly dealing with Al Queda, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Hezbollah and all the rest hinted at the notion that it was a lack of principle that was the cause of the immediate problem, but it didn’t convincingly demonstrate it. It didn’t show why principle (or the lack of it) would fix (or fail to fix) the problem – and more importantly: what role principle (or the lack of it) had in allowing the problem to arise in the first place. It got people’s attention to say such things, but (obviously, if the present is any proof), it didn’t teach them anything. Do you really think Objectivist advice will be heeded if there’s another 9/11 tomorrow? And, more importantly, do you really think that another 9/11 happening tomorrow is any less likely than it was on 9/10/01? I doubt you do – and for good reason.

    To the extent that they could have influenced it, I lay the blame for that at the feet of all of the so-called Objectivists who were more interested in self-promotion (ie: using it as an opportunity to win conservative converts who might have, for whatever reason, thought the philosophy to be too liberal or unAmerican) than in exposing the truth. I do think that it was for lack of trying. Dr. Hurd explained what the true causes of Islamic aggression (being a potent and motivated force) are in the article above, so I don’t need to repeat them here. I simply contend that it was possible to connect those same dots just after 9/11 (or even before and predict it), but clearly that didn’t happen.

    I think that there was much to be gained personally and professionally by saying the types of provocative things that were said (or agreeing with, and defending, those who said them), and I think that that is why Objectivism, for a time, became just a soap box for polemics instead of a school of philosophical thought. I resent the hostility and the denunciations I received, and the names I was called, by those people because my doing so threatened their (nefarious) goals. To pervert the meaning of “principle” is bad enough, but to do it under the pretense of arguing for principle (because projecting that image is one’s stock and trade) is even worse.

    *I’m not sure that I advocate doing those same things now, in 2013. Given that so much time has passed, and how America has behaved in the interim, I wonder if the intended message would fall flat (ie: they would just create more rage, instead of a couple decades of paralyzing fear).

  • Grantsinmypants

    I should mention that Ron Pisaturo is, more or less, a glaring exception to the types of Objectivists I criticize in my other comments. It had been awhile since I heard that name, and I only skimmed the article you linked to. I read it just now, after my latest comment, and it’s pretty much spot on. I wish it had been the definitive Objectivist take on Islamic terrorism. I will say this though: even though Pisaturo might have once been a leading Objectivist (I don’t know), he certainly isn’t now. I wouldn’t be surprised if his opinion about this issue wasn’t part of that’s the case.

  • DogmaelJones1

    Relevant to this subject is the Battle of Omdurman of 1898, when the British decided to put an end to the spread of Islamic jihad in North Africa. Without going into details about the political and military background
    behind the battle, the British policy was a correct one. The Mahdi, who besieged Khartoum and General Gordon in 1885, killed him and other foreigners, and sacked the city, died shortly after Khartoum, probably of typhus, and was succeeded by the Khalifa, who survived the battle to escape. The British pursued
    him and his remaining forces and wiped them out at the Battle of Diwaykarat about a year later. That was the end of aggressive Islamic jihad until the end of
    WWI, when the British and French parceled up the Mideast and created a number of artificial Islamic-governed states. That is roughly when the “intellectual” foundation of Islamic supremacism began to form, in the 1920’s, beginning with the Muslim Brotherhood, coupled with an aggressive Arab
    nationalism. Up until then, Westerners, particularly artists, romanticized the Arab “Orient” (and many of their paintings are magnificent, and their like certainly isn’t emulated today, as is very evident), when the reality was a brutal, subhuman existence under Islam for Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Winston
    Churchill, who served in the British cavalry during Omdurman, and also during a British campaign in Afghanistan, had no good things to say about Islam (in
    “The River War” and “The Malakind Field Force”).

    Westerners in that period did not view Islam as a totalitarian ideology, but as just a religion however wholly incompatible with Western notions of freedom (this was implied, but never articulated, more’s the pity). Western political leaders today, on the other hand, view Islam as just another religion whose adherents have a right to practice without restraint or qualification or criticism. Some of them even subscribe to the notion that Islam is a “race,” as well (thus betraying their own racism and ignorance). Had the Western powers post-WWI just left the Arabs to themselves (incessant tribal warfare), Islam would
    not have gained the impetus and influence it has today. What it would take today is the incineration of Mecca and Medina to knock the wind out of Islam.

  • writeby

    Ah, now I see. Sorry, I disagree that our gov’t defend only aggression against Americans *within* our borders.

    Ludicrous.

    The Barbary pirates come to mind; sinking American ships on the high seas comes to mind; &c.

    That’s typical Libertarian foreign policy, based on the political principle of non-coercion untethered from any form of ethics, floating free, like some sort of a’priori concept.

    Where I *will* agree is for every military action against a foreign gov’t, the Congress must declare war. This notion of military action against a foreign gov’t cited in, iirc, the War Powers Act, whereby the Pres. can do so–for 90 days, I think–w/o approval by Congress is also ludicrous. The only approval, too, that Congress can give is a declaration of war.

    I’ll also agree that the U.S. created this mess by not acting on principle and that, of course, to suddenly act on principle in this instance would be surprising, to say the least.

    As for ending Islam, once Mecca was nuclear ash, it would collapse. See the Quran.

  • Grantsinmypants

    Straw man. I didn’t say that America only defend aggression within it’s borders. I said that the defense of it’s borders is the only legitimate reason for military action (which of course could include preemptive engagements). The military doesn’t belong to American shipping companies, or oil companies. It belongs to everyone who pays for it, and that means that it should only be used for things that directly protect everyone who pays for it. Which means: borders. If borders aren’t what keep us safe, why do we have them? Why do we enforce them? Why not just let anyone and everyone come and go as they please, never checking for anything whatsoever, and if someone does something wrong, well, then the poli – sorry, military – can go chase after them? “America” can be everywhere and nowhere at the same time! Talk about ludicrous.

    Also, for the record (again), I don’t advocate the non-coercion principle. I think that the reason why coercion, in the case of the military being used to protect Americans who *choose* to leave the borders of America, should not be used is because it’s immoral (ie: it’s robbing one American to pay for another). You can try to smear that as me advocating that the military should never be used offensively (ie: preemptively), but that’s all it is: a smear. If, for instance, The Soviet Union were in the process building missle silos in Cuba and pointing them at The US, I would fully support an attack against them (and I would denounce any half-hearted, ineffective attack as immoral).

    Why are you talking about Congress and declaring war? That’s completely tangental to this discussion. I think you’re attacking some concept of “libertarian” in your mind – with a set of pre-packaged opinions and preoccupations – instead of the things I’ve actually said.

    I don’t know what else to say, because you didn’t address the crux of my argument at all.