Category Archives: Foreign Affairs

Weakening Encryption: The China Problem

By now, you’ve heard that the FBI has asked Apple to help break into the iPhone belonging to one of the San Bernardino terrorists. USA Today describes the specific request:

Right now, iPhone users have the option to set a security feature that only allows a certain number of tries to guess the correct passcode to unlock the phone before all the data on the iPhone is deleted. It’s a security measure Apple put in place to keep important data out of the wrong hands.

Federal prosecutors looking for more information behind the San Bernardino shootings don’t know the phone’s passcode. If they guess incorrectly too many times, the data they hope to find will be deleted.

That’s why the FBI wants Apple to disable the security feature. Once the security is crippled, agents would be able to guess as many combinations as possible.

Suppose Apple can do this. Suppose that the courts, up to and including the Supreme Court find that they must.

At that point, every device maker who wants to sell a device in the US would have to build this weakening capability into their products.

Putting aside the obvious fact that this capability will be reverse engineered by the wrong people, the impact of this decision on the rest of the world (and Americans abroad) has not received the attention it should.

Nothing stops other countries from presenting similar demands under their own laws. In the case of liberal democracies, the harm to the innocent would be limited. Repressive regimes, though, would quickly utilize this new capability.

Imagine a case in which China got hold of the iPhone of a US citizen at the border about whom it was suspicious. It could present the phone to Apple to decrypt under Chinese law.

Why pick China for this example? While a company might be able to tell of Iran, Venezuela, or even Russia, China is an integral part of the global technology supply chain. They are uniquely positioned to exert leverage in the technology sector where other repressive regimes are not.

The only thing preventing China from using its leverage today is the mathematical impossibility of cracking the encryption. Take that out of the picture, and things get interesting for device makers.

Why pick a US citizen? This one is more interesting. The US government (and states and localities) have multiple ways to digitally spy on their citizens. They can capture traffic on American internet connections. They can subpoena information from cell phone carries and ISPs under the third party doctrine.

Foreign governments don’t have access to any of these. While the US does share intelligence with friendly government, repressive regimes such as China are left out in the cold. Capturing the device of an American is one of the few possible ways for a repressive regime to get at the info.

By demanding that Apple weaken security around its encryption, the FBI will be handing China an entirely new ability to compromise the security of American citizens while only marginally increasing its own reach. Considering that China has been expanding its hunt for dissidents to other countries, the last thing that the US government should consider doing is making Americans with smartphones more attractive targets.

Donald Trump: Corporatist Bully (Re-post)

I originally wrote the following post in the very early days of the 2012 presidential campaign. At the time, Donald Trump was threatening to enter the race but decided not to do so. A little over four years later, Trump has decided to run in an already very crowded 2016 Republican primary. I have friends and family members who are intrigued (who ought to know better) with the Donald. The reason I decided to re-publish this post is to remind readers why a President Donald Trump would be no friend of limited government or liberty.

I do not like Donald Trump. I don’t dislike him because of his wealth; he probably earned most of his wealth honestly. Some dislike Trump because he is a self promoter. I don’t dislike Trump for this reason either. Many successful individuals are great at self promotion and developing a successful brand (a very good attribute to have to have a successful political campaign).

No, the reason I really dislike Donald Trump – even putting aside his becoming the new face of the Birther movement in recent weeks, his support of the auto bailouts, raising taxes, his anti-free trade proposal that would place a 25% tariff on all Chinese products, and his support for single payer universal healthcare – is quite simply that he is a corporatist bully.

For those who don’t quite understand the difference between a capitalist and a corporatist, I highly encourage you to read Brad’s post “Mercantilism, Fascism, Corporatism — And Capitalism.” This distinction is an important one. Donald Trump is the poster child for what many on the Left as a greedy capitalist; a caricature of everything that is wrong with capitalism as preached by the Ralph Naders and Michael Moores of the world.

But those of us who know better know that Donald Trump isn’t a capitalist at all but a corporatist. Trump doesn’t try to work within a framework of a free market as a true capitalist would, but like far too many businessmen, he uses his wealth and influence to encourage the government to work on his behalf to his advantage (and at the expense of anyone else who would dare get in his way).

In the early 1990’s, an elderly widow by the name of Vera Coking was in the way. Coking’s home that she had lived in for 30 years was on a plot of land that the Donald coveted. The Donald wanted the property so he could add a limousine parking area to one of his Atlantic City casinos. When Coking turned down his $1 million offer to buy the property, the Donald decided to enlist the help of his goons on the New Jersey Casino Reinvestment Authority. In 1994, these government thugs filed a lawsuit to take Coking’s property for $251,000 and gave her 90 days to leave her property (if she were to stay beyond the 90 days, men in uniforms with guns would forcibly remove her from her home).

Fortunately, Coking’s case gained enough media publicity to gain the attention and help of The Institute for Justice (think a more libertarian ACLU with a focus on property rights). With the IJ’s help, Coking was able to keep her property. In 1998, a judge made a decision that turned out to be final finding that the Donald’s limousine parking area was not a “public use.”

John Stossel confronted the Donald about his failed attempts to take the widow’s home away; he reprinted this exchange in his book Give Me A Break on pages 152 and 153:

Donald Trump: Do you want to live in a city where you can’t build roads or highways or have access to hospitals? Condemnation is a necessary evil.

John Stossel: But we’re not talking about a hospital. This is a building a rich guy finds ugly.

Donald Trump: You’re talking about at the tip of this city, lies a little group of terrible, terrible tenements – just terrible stuff, tenement housing.

John Stossel: So what!

Donald Trump: So what?…Atlantic City does a lot less business, and senior citizens get a lot less money and a lot less taxes and a lot less this and that.

Earlier in the book (page 25) Stossel gives his impressions of this confrontational interview:

Donald Trump was offended when I called him a bully for trying to force an old lady out of her house to make more room for his Atlantic City casino. After the interview, the producer stayed behind to pack up our equipment. Trump came back into the room, puffed himself up, and started blustering, “Nobody talks to me that way!”

Well, someone should.

Had this case taken place after Kelo, the Donald may well have prevailed. In the wake of the Kelo decision, Neil Cavuto interviewed the Donald on Fox News (7/19/05) to get his reaction.

Trump:

I happen to agree with [the Kelo decision] 100 percent, not that I would want to use it. But the fact is, if you have a person living in an area that’s not even necessarily a good area, and government, whether it’s local or whatever, government wants to build a tremendous economic development, where a lot of people are going to be put to work and make area that’s not good into a good area, and move the person that’s living there into a better place — now, I know it might not be their choice — but move the person to a better place and yet create thousands upon thousands of jobs and beautification and lots of other things, I think it happens to be good.

Donald Trump is not one who respects property rights (other than his own). “Tremendous economic development” and “jobs” are great reasons to employ the full police power of government to take away someone’s property in the Donald’s world view.

I shudder to think of what a Donald Trump presidency would look like. Imagine the Donald with control of our CIA and our military. The Donald doesn’t have any problem using force to get what the Donald wants.

Now consider President Trump with a vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court. What sort of Justice would he appoint? Most likely one who would view Kelo quite favorably.

This bully, Donald Trump is the guy who is polling second place in some early Republican primary polls? Wake the hell up Republicans!

Quote of the Day: Neoconservatism vs. Traditional Conservatism Edition

Jason Lewis wrote an opinion piece in the Star Tribune reminding readers that the foreign policy approach of Rand Paul (and even more so, his father Ron Paul) has more in common with 20th century Republicans than his contemporary rivals. Lewis opened his article with anti-war quotes from Ronald Regan, Robert Taft, Dwight Eisenhower contrasting with quotes of neocons Sen. John McCain, Sen. Tom Cotton, and Sen. Lindsey Graham.

Lewis writes:

The backlash against the Kentucky senator has been swift and unanimous — at least from the ranks of fellow would-be nominees for president. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s over-the-top rhetoric, suggesting Paul is “unsuited to be the commander in chief,” is only the beginning. The Cheneys (Dick and Liz, that is) have said Paul is “out to lunch” on foreign affairs. […]

[…]

But the neoconservatives who have taken over the GOP are also running against party tradition. Indeed, the defining characteristic of 20th-century Republicanism could be defined as a wariness of war-minded leaders — from Woodrow Wilson to Lyndon Johnson. […]

[…]

Perhaps it’s time for all of today’s gung-ho Republican candidates and commentators criticizing Sen. Paul to explain once and for all why the GOP heroes of the past were wrong and how it is that big government abroad can ever lead to small government at home.

Traditionally speaking, I think Lewis is right: Rand Paul is the only Conservative Republican running for president so far.

Neocons Gonna Neocon

kristol

Neocon William Kristol, writing on the pages of USA Today writes that “We were right to invade Iraq in 2003 to remove Saddam Hussein […]Even with the absence of caches of weapons of mass destruction…”

It’s quite clear that not only has Kristol not learned the lessons of Iraq but also is willing to rewrite the history in such a way to exonerate the Bush administration from its failings.

When President Obama took office, Iraq was calm, al-Qaeda was weakened and ISIS did not exist. Iran, meanwhile, was under pressure from abroad (due to sanctions) and at home (due to popular discontent, manifested by the Green uprising in the summer of 2009).

The Obama administration threw it all away. It failed to support the dissidents in Iran in 2009, mishandled the Iraqi elections in 2010, removed all U.S. troops from Iraq at the end of 2011, and allowed the Syrian civil war to spiral out of control from 2011 on.

Oh yeah I forgot, things were going great in Iraq until Barack Hussein Obama took office. If only the U.S. got more involved in the Iraqi elections (whatever that means) and “supported” dissidents in Iran (whatever that means) and kept U.S. troops in a bit longer (say another 100 years or so?) why today we might well be witnessing Jeffersonian democracy or a Madisonian republic in the Middle East! And the whole bit about WMD not being found in Iraq? Details. Who cares!

The USA Today editorial on the Iraq question has a bit more of a honest assessment directly challenging the Neocon narrative:

Nearly 4,500 Americans died, tens of thousands more were wounded, and $2 trillion was squandered in a war to destroy weapons of mass destruction that were never found.

And though the war disposed of a bloody dictator, Saddam Hussein, it ushered in something worse, at least for the United States: A sectarian civil war that killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and gave birth to Islamist terrorism, now under the banner of the Islamic State.

The more legitimate Afghanistan War was orphaned, turning it into a quagmire, and allies were alienated.

Today, Iraq is splintered and reeling. With the capture this week of the key Sunni city of Ramadi, ISIL is firmly in control of one chunk, and Iran — the war’s big winner — has great sway over another.

Okay, fair enough. But, but Obama set a premature timetable for retreat from Iraq before the mission could be accomplished…

Obama’s policies have indeed made things worse. But in arguing that he should have kept troops in Iraq longer, his critics skip over the inconvenient fact that he pulled out on a schedule negotiated by Bush. And, of course, had Bush not launched the war in the first place, there would have been no such mistakes to make.

There’s just no getting around those fundamental facts. The Neocon experiments have failed.

But what can you do? Neocons are gonna Neocon.

Recovered From the Memory Hole: Benjamin Netanyahu’s Prophesies of Doom

netanyahu

Benjamin Netanyahu is an incredibly gifted speaker – no question about that. Never can I recall any particular speech being met with so much anticipation, trepidation, and controversy as the speech that he delivered to a joint session of congress just days ago. What is it about this man – Benjamin Netanyahu, the current Prime Minister of Israel that causes emotions to run so high?

Among conservatives, evangelical conservatives in-particular, to be the slight bit critical of Netanyahu or his policies is akin to hating the Jewish people. We are told we must “stand with” or “support” Israel (whatever standing with or supporting entails) no matter what.

At the risk of being met with these criticisms and others, my position is that Benjamin Netanyahu is a politician who has a geopolitical agenda. Israel is another nation which has a government that has its flaws as all governments do. I do not intend these statements to be pejorative but to bring both the PM and his government back into the realm of the real world.

Let me call what Netanyahu’s speech what it was: a political speech. Political speeches, by their nature, are designed to promote a point-of-view. Stretching the truth to its absolute limits, hyperbole, and minimizing opposing opinion is part and parcel of political speeches. In this particular speech, we are to believe that the current negotiations will only “pave the way” for Iran to getting the bomb. Iran is years or even months away from getting the bomb.

The thing is, Iran has been years or months away from getting nuclear weapons for 20 or so years now according to Netanyahu. As Murtaza Hussain writing for The Intercept points out:

“The conclusion from this history is inescapable. Over the course of more than 20 years, Benjamin Netanyahu has made false claims about nuclear weapons programs in both Iran and Iraq, inventing imaginary timelines for their development, and making public statements that contradicted the analysis of his own intelligence advisers.

Despite this, he continues to be treated by lawmakers and media figures as a credible voice on this issue.”

Jon Stewart makes many of the same observations (below). Both Iraq and Iran were supposedly getting close to acquiring nuclear weapons. Obviously, nothing of the kind was ever found in Iraq following Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Obviously, I am no fan of the despotic theocratic regime in Iran. The idea of such a regime acquiring nuclear weapons is quite frightening. And while the concept of mutually assured destruction may or may not be an effective strategy, I see no harm in diplomacy and regular unannounced inspections of Iran’s nuclear programs.

1 2 3 62