Bastiat, Obama, and the Russians

The early 19th-century French radical Frederic Bastiat proclaimed, "I shall not hesitate to vote for disarma­ment because I do not believe in invasions." Bastiat is sometimes unwisely quoted by conservatives because of his opposition to socialism. But as something of an anarchist, Bastiat was opposed to lots of things, including national defense and the normal concerns of foreign policy. He should not be quoted out of the context of his larger worldview, which is anything but conservative. Bastiat made the following argument in 1849 about a Russian invasion of France which has relevance to today's crisis in the Ukraine;

If the emperor Nicholas should venture to send 200,000 Muscovites, I sincerely believe that the best thing we could do would be to receive them well, to give them a taste of the sweetness of our wines, to show them our stores, our museums, the happiness of our people, the mildness and equality of our penal laws, after which we should say to them: Return as quickly as possible to your steppes and tell your brothers what you have seen.

Bastiat did not bother to mention how he would get the Russians to return to their steppes if they did not wish to go. Nor was this an academic question given France's problems over the next century with "visiting" Germans.

President Obama seems to be taking a similar "soft power" line regarding Russia's invasion of Ukraine. The U.S., Britain, and France may boycott the June G-8 meeting set to be held at the site of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. They may even try to expel Moscow from the G-8 itself. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), the Assistant Majority Leader, told CNN Sunday morning that Russian officials should be limited in their travel to Europe as a form of pressure. In short, the Russians should be isolated from the wonders of Western culture (wines, stores, museums) until they adopt its values. Yet, there is no sign that President Vladimir Putin is any more interested in adopting a liberal outlook than was Tsar Nicholas II.

Even the editorial board of the Washington Post declared March 2 that "For five years, President Obama has led a foreign policy based more on how he thinks the world should operate than on reality... Invasions, brute force, great-power games and shifting alliances -- these were things of the past... Unfortunately, Russian President Vladimir Putin has not received the memo on 21st-century behavior. Neither has China’s president, Xi Jinping who is engaging in gunboat diplomacy against Japan and the weaker nations of Southeast Asia." To be fair to the current occupant of the White House, the hope that Moscow and China would peacefully integrate into an enlightened global system has been indulged in for some two decades by leaders of both major parties. But if the Washington Post can conclude that this approach has been naive, there is no reason anyone else should still cling to the fallacies of classical liberalism.  

CNN's Candy Crowley asked Sen. Durbin whether this was a good time to adopt President Obama's defense budget which cuts, among other capabilities, the U.S. Army to a level below what it was in 1941 (or more to the point, below what it was on 9/11). The Democratic lawmaker has never hesitated to vote for disarmament. He said that the U.S. should not be looking to fight any more land wars. What this means is that the U.S. will not contend for control of territory which requires boots on the ground. The last time the Army suffered such large cuts was under President Bill Clinton, who claimed in 1999, "Perhaps for the first time in history, the world's leading nations are not engaged in a struggle with each other for security or territory." That was not true then, and it certainly is not true now.

Sen. Durbin then suggested that NATO should be strengthened. Yet, even at the height of the Cold War, NATO suffered from a lack of ground troops. Despite a larger population and vastly more wealth, NATO could not match the Red Army. The first thing Putin did when the crisis started was to stage large military maneuvers near the Ukraine border. There have been no calls for NATO to hold military exercises in Poland. Such an effort would do more to reveal the military weakness of NATO than to demonstrate the resolve of the Western powers.

Thus, Obama has no more of an answer that Bastiat had 165 years ago about what to do if the Muscovites could not be talked into going home.

The early 19th-century French radical Frederic Bastiat proclaimed, "I shall not hesitate to vote for disarma­ment because I do not believe in invasions." Bastiat is sometimes unwisely quoted by conservatives because of his opposition to socialism. But as something of an anarchist, Bastiat was opposed to lots of things, including national defense and the normal concerns of foreign policy. He should not be quoted out of the context of his larger worldview, which is anything but conservative. Bastiat made the following argument in 1849 about a Russian invasion of France which has relevance to today's crisis in the Ukraine;

If the emperor Nicholas should venture to send 200,000 Muscovites, I sincerely believe that the best thing we could do would be to receive them well, to give them a taste of the sweetness of our wines, to show them our stores, our museums, the happiness of our people, the mildness and equality of our penal laws, after which we should say to them: Return as quickly as possible to your steppes and tell your brothers what you have seen.

Bastiat did not bother to mention how he would get the Russians to return to their steppes if they did not wish to go. Nor was this an academic question given France's problems over the next century with "visiting" Germans.

President Obama seems to be taking a similar "soft power" line regarding Russia's invasion of Ukraine. The U.S., Britain, and France may boycott the June G-8 meeting set to be held at the site of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. They may even try to expel Moscow from the G-8 itself. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), the Assistant Majority Leader, told CNN Sunday morning that Russian officials should be limited in their travel to Europe as a form of pressure. In short, the Russians should be isolated from the wonders of Western culture (wines, stores, museums) until they adopt its values. Yet, there is no sign that President Vladimir Putin is any more interested in adopting a liberal outlook than was Tsar Nicholas II.

Even the editorial board of the Washington Post declared March 2 that "For five years, President Obama has led a foreign policy based more on how he thinks the world should operate than on reality... Invasions, brute force, great-power games and shifting alliances -- these were things of the past... Unfortunately, Russian President Vladimir Putin has not received the memo on 21st-century behavior. Neither has China’s president, Xi Jinping who is engaging in gunboat diplomacy against Japan and the weaker nations of Southeast Asia." To be fair to the current occupant of the White House, the hope that Moscow and China would peacefully integrate into an enlightened global system has been indulged in for some two decades by leaders of both major parties. But if the Washington Post can conclude that this approach has been naive, there is no reason anyone else should still cling to the fallacies of classical liberalism.  

CNN's Candy Crowley asked Sen. Durbin whether this was a good time to adopt President Obama's defense budget which cuts, among other capabilities, the U.S. Army to a level below what it was in 1941 (or more to the point, below what it was on 9/11). The Democratic lawmaker has never hesitated to vote for disarmament. He said that the U.S. should not be looking to fight any more land wars. What this means is that the U.S. will not contend for control of territory which requires boots on the ground. The last time the Army suffered such large cuts was under President Bill Clinton, who claimed in 1999, "Perhaps for the first time in history, the world's leading nations are not engaged in a struggle with each other for security or territory." That was not true then, and it certainly is not true now.

Sen. Durbin then suggested that NATO should be strengthened. Yet, even at the height of the Cold War, NATO suffered from a lack of ground troops. Despite a larger population and vastly more wealth, NATO could not match the Red Army. The first thing Putin did when the crisis started was to stage large military maneuvers near the Ukraine border. There have been no calls for NATO to hold military exercises in Poland. Such an effort would do more to reveal the military weakness of NATO than to demonstrate the resolve of the Western powers.

Thus, Obama has no more of an answer that Bastiat had 165 years ago about what to do if the Muscovites could not be talked into going home.

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