Thoughts on economics and liberty

Obama, liberty is for everyone, even the Taliban!

Shailesh has raised a new and unexpected slant on my observations that USA presence in Afghanistan is no longer justifiable. Effectively, USA is turning into an aggressor, Evil itself.

Shailesh suggests that “different rules apply to domestic and international conduct.” According to him, “US goes to war with everyone or does anything whenever it expects an overall net benefit”. And that “Its a jungle out there!”

To me such an approach smacks of serious moral relativism. Anyone who postures a defence of integrity in public life (Shailesh has actively worked for IAC) and basks under the shadow of Gandhi (even if it was a fake shadow: for fasting was Gandhi's method of self-purification – which IAC/ Team Anna did not even remotely understand) should presumably be able to avoid moral confusion. 

As I've briefly explained to Shailesh, to me there is no difference between the two (situations). To agree with Shailesh would be like saying there must be a real Obama and a false Obama. A Jekyll and Hyde. Two of us.
We are one person. Humans, ABOVE ALL. All of us. We must have one standard of accountability for all.
Yes, war is indiscriminate. It is urgent. One can't uphold perfection during war. Innocents will be killed. But that's not because we are INDIFFERENT to their killing but because we have been forced, under extreme duress (e.g. attacks by Osama bin Laden on World Trade Centre Towers) to apply extreme, immediate and widespread punishment for defence of our territory and citizens.
But war is indiscriminate NOT because there are two standards of liberty – one inside USA the other outside – but because there is no opportunity to apply diligent, careful, judicious standards of accountability in such a situation. If we had a way to bring back to life the innocents, we would do that. The goal of war is clear: ONLY kill those who have directed harm (e.g. Osama bin Laden) or directly caused us harm (his key soldiers). We don't want to indiscriminately punish, definitely not  even ONE innocent person.
Why is this the ONLY standard of war? Because Obama himself, in a speech ("A New Beginning")  he gave in Egypt in June 2009 (perhaps the only thing he did in his life  to promote "world peace", and for which he was given a Peace Prize by a hasty, mindless and obsequious Nobel Committee – unwilling to let him act for a while for his true colours to emerge), said:
“I do have an unyielding belief [Sanjeev: Ha! Nice joke, Obama!!] that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn't steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose. Those are not just American ideas, they are human rights, and that is why we will support them everywhere.” [Source]

Because the Universal Declaration of Human Rights agreed by all nations says that "Everyone has the right to life, liberty". Presumably that includes even the Taliban! [Note: I disagree with aspects of this UN resolution such as "right to work", though.]

And because I have outlined in detail the basic philosophy of freedom in DOF, which shows that freedom MUST BE ACCOMPANIED by accountability. In all cases. No exception.

Yes, during war it is not possible to guarantee these rights to every human being born on this planet, but war is NOT an occupation that goes on for ever. It has a short duration – 5 days, 10 days, even 1 year. But 11 years! Really? That is also war?

That too a "war" by a MEGA POWER (USA) against a tiny ragged bunch of jokers (Afghanis) who don't have the capability to install a water tap and can't write their name!  A full on attack by Goliath against David. That too is war?

For 11 years the USA has professed that it is fighting the Taliban. But in this process, its "war" became a routine job like that of a hairdresser. Just a routine job. Snip hair. Press a few buttons and kill a few people each day.

This is not war, regardless of any US parliamentary "authorisation" or protestations to the contrary. War has certain characteristics. There have been NO characteristics of war since the bombing of Tora Bora came to an end. It is all police action. Lawless police action. Controlled by an ENTIRELY UNACCOUNTABLE armed force. No judicial inspection of the killings.

Back to some basics, again:

We create a government for the defence of our life and liberty. We then circumscribe it with a Constitution so that it doesn't misuse its monopoly power (over arms) against us – or against others humans on this planet.

What you are saying, Shailesh, is that Constitutional restrictions don’t apply outside one’s borders. 

To justify this stance, you have raised the issue of enforcement.

But it doesn’t matter that there is no World Government (I’d oppose such a thing tooth and nail – and this time I really mean tooth and nail!) to enforce accountability.

Exactly as it doesn't matter what the US parliament says (it can say it is undertaking a "peace" mission in Afghanistan for all I care: only actions matter), it doesn't matter if no one can bring Obama to account. Enforceability doesn't make an action right or wrong. An action's merit depends ONLY on its innate characteristics.

We need to determine whether an action is free. We need to ask: has freedom been exercised properly? 

This is the fundamental message of liberty – that there is no licence to harm, no licence to kill. All our actions must be accountable.

An opinion about right or wrong can’t be informed by the existence of institutions of accountability. Many such institutions should exist (e.g. you have fasted for one such institution-  Lokpal, although I don't think this one is needed, but that's a different matter), but their non-existence does not give a blanket cheque for wrong action (e.g. corruption in India, or the American killing, like flies, of Afghans without due process).

Obama says that human rights must be supported everywhere but he doesn’t mean it. For immediately thereafter he goes home and starts punching holes into people's heads through his drones, while sitting on a computer screen half way across the world.

I'm not able to stop him or bring him to account. He should pause and think about what he said in Egypt. And stop himself. The most urgent implication of freedom is self-restraint; discipline; responsibility. Without such self-restraint there will be no end to chaos, corruption, and violence.

But I'm definitely able to point out that he is wrong. I don't see why I should stop speaking the truth just because someone powerful is a liar! Do you want me to support the murder of innocents, Shailesh? Even as you pretend to don the mantle of Gandhi?

Shailesh, I trust this discussion has made the THEORETICAL case, the moral case, about the limits of freedom very clear. What Obama does or not do is up to him, but he remains accountable for ALL his actions. Always will. We all will, too. Always. For ALL our actions. Regardless of their existing any system of enforcement.

Even regardless of any such enforcement system in any afterlife (whose existence I question).

We live on this planet as EQUALS. We must debate and discuss. And not kill unless it is absolutely necessary.

There is no difference in this principle within one's national border or outside it.

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Sanjeev Sabhlok

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23 thoughts on “Obama, liberty is for everyone, even the Taliban!
  1. Shailesh

    “Shailesh suggests that “different rules apply to domestic and international conduct.” According to him, “US goes to war with everyone or does anything whenever it expects an overall net benefit”. And that “Its a jungle out there!”

    To me such an approach smacks of serious moral relativism”

    You’ve totally misunderstood this. eg: you incorrectly suggest that I am justifying these things..I am NOT ….I am just stating facts: Its a jungle; US is the most powerful animal in the jungle and always does a lot of wrongs.

    I am no Obama or US fan. I actively dislike Obama’s numerous actions and I especially detest US foreign policy in general (including their trigger happy actions, their treatment of Wikileaks and Assange, etc.)

    I only disagreed with your views and arguments on Assange and Afghanistan war. eg: I disagree with your views on war, use of drones, need for ‘judicial approval’ before killing any Taliban, etc.

    Again, I am not detailing my views since, as I said, I broadly agree with Supratim’s line of thought which you’ve already dismissed.

  2. Sanjeev Sabhlok

    Sorry, Shailesh, I expected better from you. You can’t just start waving your arms about, and flee!

    You challenged my argument. I like that. For that’s an opportunity to clarify my views.

    Now you can’t disappoint me a) by citing Supratim’s arguments which were all entirely refuted, one by one, or b) by claiming that I’ve misunderstood you.

    Let me check this:

    So you are a believer in “facts”.

    So you agree that there is corruption because of absence of Lokpal (which is why you went on fast).

    So you agree that it is a FACT that in the absence of Lokpal corruption EXISTS.

    And so you agree that it is JUSTIFIED. [Till Lokpal is passed]

    Is that your line of thinking about things?

    A thing exists, so it must be right.

    If that’s not what you are saying, what are you saying? Please let’s crack this code of logic. I’m confused by your waving your arms about.

  3. Shailesh

    Sanjeev – Either you are not reading my comments or I have totally lost it.

    I am saying those things are NOT justified. US is a big bully and that is NOT justified.

    But use of drones in war does not make it a bully. Not treating Osama’s death as the obvious brightline that signifies end of war does not make it a bully. Lack of ‘judicial approval’ before killing a Taliban militant during war does not make it a bully.

    You think that you have refuted Supratim’s arguments but, in my view, his arguments make more sense than yours. You have almost shouted him down. I’ve also acknowledged that I am incapable of adding more value. So, you are entitled to your views. I don’t know why you insist on me going thru the same arguments that Supratim went thru with you. If you take time to re-read the already existing comments on these posts, they might be more valuable.

    And yes, absence of an independent investigation authority is indeed one of the causes of corruption in India. FPTP system is probably a bigger cause and, even while commenting authoritatively on FPTP vs PR, you have not just studiously avoided discussing this issue but also expressly prohibited comments on this issue.

    If you indeed like challenges to your arguments, then I challenge you to discuss FPTP vs. PR with me. My only condition is there should be another person or two judging our arguments and postions. You pick the judges. Any FTI member(s) will also do. The reason for this is I don’t trust my ability to make you listen to a complex argument against your position.

  4. Sanjeev Sabhlok


    You are merely asserting the same incorrect statement: “use of drones in war does not make it a bully”.

    I’m questioning that this is war. Don’t you see the point? That’s the first principles point. That is derived from the first principles of why we have a state. Everything starts with that.

    And with the fact that war must be justified. You can’t go about killing thousands of people each year for ever, on the pretext that 11 years ago 19 people attacked you.

    That’s why I want you to prove that this war, before making further comment. I’ve shown clearly that war is long over. At best the hunt for Osama could be classified as war (and the way in which he was killed was precisely reminiscent of the definition of war). But EVERYTHING ELSE is police action. And NO police action can include violence without judicial authorisation.

    USA has practically been functioning as the government of Afghanistan. As an occupation force. Not as a force that is undertaking war. It is basically an imperial force. Imagine if the British in India went about shooting people without judicial authorisation, using drones, when they were in India. Would that be acceptable?

    Please don’t assert. I am very quick to pick the key argument. You’ve NOT offered any argument. Merely an assertion.

    I won’t comment on other issues since I will elaborate on FPTP/PR separately. In the meanwhile, if you have an open mind, please (a) define your theory of state very clearly – for that has the most significant impact on this discussion, and (b) please read all academic studies on the incentives found within the two systems. You are quite capable of reading solid academic papers, so please do so.


  5. Shailesh

    you are right that I didn’t offer any argument and merely asserted. But you refuse to notice that I do NOT want to argue on this issue. I was just re-stating / clarifying my position since you misinterpreted it.

    Will wait till you are ready for a debate on FPTP vs. PR. I’ve been meaning to explain my position on a blogpost. Wish I had 10% of the writing and time management skills you have.

  6. Sanjeev Sabhlok

    Shailesh, let me say I’m very disappointed in your approach.

    Supratim and I are FTI members. We have vigorous debate so we can determine the truth. FTI is all about determining the valid policy position from first principles (of liberty). I welcome solid arguments which I can then analyse and consider.

    But you have failed to even offer an entry level argument! You are merely insisting that I’m misinterpreting your position. But I’m not. I can’t read your mind, but from what you have written, you are wrong. Just asserting that you are right doesn’t make you right. I trust you realise this fallacy of argument!?

    Re: PR I do hope you will be more open (and capable?) of debate. Please prepare well. Do also read all Constituent Assembly debates on this and related issues. I have been reading quite a bit, and nothing so far has persuaded me in favour of PR. If you start from first principles, you’ll realise your error right away.


  7. Supratim


    I wish you would not spread canards – maybe, in your mind, you refuted my arguments. And, maybe in your view, my arguments were emotion based.

    However, my arguments were based clearly on a rational approach and incentive structure for Assange – pure game theory and Bayesian Analysis (which you were also claiming to use).

    I think the key issue is that your basic premise is that a State should not be challenged by an individual through non-conventional tactics – you are happy for the individual to become so much canon fodder, to uphold the basic premise of a justice system. But, you are unable to see valid exceptions.

    And, then you get libelous – calling my arguments ‘n’ number of names. Again, given that this is your blog, your are fully entitled to your POV but do not allow comments then.

    And, from a practical perspective, I seem to have convinced Shailesh! Thanks, Shailesh. Who have you convinced on the Assange issue?


  8. Sanjeev Sabhlok


    Let’s start again if you think you have any valid argument to suggest re: Assange. I’m happy to relitigate the issues.

    I’m not spreading any canards, just the results of the debate. I don’t mind another debate with a fellow FTI member. It is impossible, in my opinion, for two persons who claim to advocate liberty, to come to two ENTIRELY opposite views.

    Your claim does not arise from the defence of liberty. It arises from a defence of liberty without accountability. That’s the key difference. That’s libertarian, even libertine, not classical liberal.


  9. Sanjeev Sabhlok


    I’ll have a read of your work as well while finalising my analysis of FPTP, etc. Please do ensure you start with the theory of state. Why do you want the state. Then explain why you want democracy. Don’t please start with why you want x y or z electoral system. Such superficial thinking (typical of most thinkers) is certain to lead anyone astray.


  10. Supratim

    I am questioning this single point here – since you raise the timeline of war here, but I will be posting in more detail on your other post about US in AF.

    Who determines the timeline of a war? You? On what basis? What is the first principle involved in determining when a legitimate war has crossed over into occupation? (I have plenty more to write about legitimacy of occupation against the aggressor, but I will do this on the other post).

    The military engagement signed off by the US Congress has some clear goals – elimination of the AL-Qaeda and the Taliban. While the first has largely been achieved in Af-Pak, the second is far from being achieved – the Haqqani network and the Pakistani Taliban continue to attack US interests, and not just in Af – but in the US itself – remember the attempted Times Square bombing? I would support the view that the aim of degrading the attack (not defence) capabilities of the Taliban is far from done.

    Talking about the AQ/Taliban in terms of their ability to provide water taps is plain stupid – this is asymmetric warfare and the Talibans (like Shivaji in India) have proved themselves to be extremely good at it. And, who thought of the idea of turning civilian airplanes into weapons? People sitting in caves without modern technology – so, thinking out of the box and intelligence is not denied to the Taliban.

    You may mock the US forces for their inability to wipe out the Taliban certainly – it arose from a strategic thought blunder – that Pakistan was their friend. This has been corrected in the past 3 years, and given that US currently still does not want to invade or destroy Pak, drone attacks turned out to be the most efficient way of taking out the Talib LEADERS (wasn’t that one of your KRAs for the war?) – they are doing that now.

    And, as far as asymmetric warfare goes – let us remember that Shivaji and his forces and his descendants eventually caused the demise of both Aurangzeb and the might of the Mughal Empire – so, less mocking about the Davids of this world.


  11. Sanjeev Sabhlok

    Re: “Who determines the timeline of a war? You? On what basis? What is the first principle involved in determining when a legitimate war has crossed over into occupation?”

    The answer is very clear and sharp.

    DEFENSIVE war (as opposed to aggressive war) is designed to punish the aggressor and degrade the capability of the aggressor. It is very unusual for a nation to go to war against a mere organisation, but this could be justified in the extreme example of Al Qaeda.

    In this case the war ended as soon as Tora Bora was cleared of the combatants. Catching Osama was largely a police action but to the extent he needed to be personally killed, that could be termed as part of defensive war.

    After that, all further action – entering Afghanistan on the ground, occupying it, etc. were mere police action. An act of aggression (at least from the perspective of Taliban soldiers on the ground who had never been involved, even remotely, in attacking USA).

    How would you answer the question. Note we are talking about a defensive war. No other war can be justified.


  12. Supratim

    I have been reading up on a fair bit of war history in recent times – some of it is fairly fascinating, in terms of strategic and tactical content, and helps me to put a lot of our discussions into context. Even the evolution of war and warring parties has significance to our discussion.

    I note that your definitions of defensive and aggressive war are based primarily upon a current status-quo understanding of national or state borders. It seems to assume (I may be wrong here) that those borders are now fixed for eternity, and thus your definitions follow.

    Historical precedents, OTOH, tell us that national (or empire) borders have rarely been fixed for periods of more than 150-200 years and there has been an ebb and flow in national borders, unless you are largely an island state. This is true of the US, Europe, China, India and much of Asia. Have not read that much about African nations, but would be surprised if this was not the case in Africa, too.

    To your question – what is the correct timeline? Two measures: Historical precedents and war reparations from the aggressor, though they are linked.

    Historically, the Allied forces occupied Germany, Austria, Hungary, Poland and the Latvian nations post defeat of Germany and its allies in WWII – Eventually, US, UK and France left their occupation after over 10 years. USSR continued its indirect occupation until the fall of Gorbachev and the Berlin Wall. The US forces occupied Japan for over 10 years post the surrender of the Imperial Army.

    This occupation is linked to the concept that the aggressor pays damages, when defeated, to the aggrieved party. In the past, prior to WWII, there were severe financial reparations imposed on the losing aggressor in the forms of both monies and loss of land. However, after the disastrous treaty of Versailles, which was widely held to be the leading cause for WWII, there was a change in this thinking.

    Starting from WWII, reparations were now extracted in the form of trials for war crimes and eradication of the forces that were responsible for the wars – thus the Nuremberg trials, and the War Crimes Trials in Japan. Thus Germany agreeing to history books, which were to fully capture the brutality and inhumanity of the Nazis, especially the SS, and the banning of all Nazi activity. Thus, the de-fanging of Japan, where Japan gave up its rights to have a large army capable of attacking any other nation – this is part of their constitution.

    The whole underlying thesis being – we were attacked brutally, we lost so many people but we won and now we have to ensure that these thugs never attack us again in the future.

    And, that is the essence of the continuing fight against the Taliban. I don’t think the Taliban or the AQ will agree that they are not a nation – based on their literature, they consider themselves to be the true inheritors of the Islamic Caliphate (which was also a casualty of WWI) – that they are a nation of people, without a land or state (sound familiar?). And, keep in mind that they occupied Afghanistan first.

    So, what is a legitimate timeline? As long as it takes to complete the task for which war was initially waged.


  13. Sanjeev Sabhlok


    Let me just say that this is an unsatisfactory response. It only contained one argument: “The whole underlying thesis being – we were attacked brutally, we lost so many people but we won and now we have to ensure that these thugs never attack us again in the future” but this is simply no argument.

    It is merely an assertion. You need to frame the argument from the first principle of liberty, and from GENERAL PRINCIPLES against which we can test individual cases. What is war, when is a war justified, when does war end, etc. Then we can, based on your (or my) definition, test the reality.

    I keep trying to discuss ISSUES but am thwarted by the same assertion made in five different ways.

    At the moment I’m not able to understand where liberty fits into your picture at all. And the role of state. And the power of the state to kill through war, etc. And so on. When you knock up a coherent argument from first principles (about human liberty) then we can discuss.

    Note, I’m NOT talking the history of X, Y or Z war. I’m talking theory.

    Trust you get my point? A classical liberal must always start with liberty and end with liberty. Everything must fit. It is irrelevant what people actually do or did (e.g. Hitler/Japan, etc.). We are building frameworks of analysis, not stating our beliefs.


  14. Supratim


    I am not entirely sure what is the issue – I believe that the first order functions of a nation state is to protect its citizens from attacks by other nation states or its citizens and by extension, stateless people, as well.

    So, General principles –

    1. Protect your citizen from external attack

    2. This may be achieved through robust defence of borders

    3. Pre-emptive attacks may be launched against probable attackers, if the evidence is extremely robust

    4. If attacked, defend yourself to the utmost of your abilities (ie you are free to use a sledgehammer, even if a baseball bat would do), and reduce if not completely eradicate the ability of the enemy to attack you again.

    Trust you get my point now.


  15. Sanjeev Sabhlok

    Good that you are now back to basics. I think you’ve missed the basic points I had raised clearly here:

    Please continue this discussion there.

    Let me state that your points 1 to 3 sound fine, but you haven’t started with the basic point: defence of liberty. Therefore your last point has gone entirely awry.

    Please let’s get back to basics.

    If your argument is followed, then USA must nuke EVERYONE in the world. That’s the only possible implication.

    Let’s start with the BASIC human rights to liberty. EVERYONE’s rights.

    There is NO right, even in war, to kill innocents.

    Let’s get this right.

    It would be best if you discuss further on the other blog post

  16. Supratim

    You are like a teen with chewing gum – stretch, stretch, and then stretch some more.

    Where I have ever said or wrote that war on innocents is Okay, or justified in some larger cause? Where?

    And, how do you get from my position on point no 4 to implying that, based on that, the US would be okay to nuke everyone?

    I will move over to the other blog post, but I could not just let you get away with these random, bland assertions – and, you were picking points with me on making assertions, not arguments!

  17. Sanjeev Sabhlok

    Just so you know: “you are free to use a sledgehammer”. That’s the statement that deserved a prompt rebuttal.

    Please elaborate on the other post. Much appreciated. Let me copy these last few comments there, as well.

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