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October 18, 2004

The libertarian case for war, part III

In part one and part two of this epic, I showed that the war in Iraq was both ethical and legal. Now I'll explore the toughest nut to crack from a libertarian perspective: whether this war was in our best interests.

It's a tough nut because it sure cost a lot, in both blood and treasure. Libertarians, of course, don't like spending of any kind. Dyed-in-the-wool libertarians, a group in which I include myself, oppose government spending for education, medical care, and some of the hardcore even oppose government-funded roads. So commentor Fiery Red asks how I could possibly justify the cost of the war.

Well, national defense does happen to be one of the very few things libertarians do believe is within the government's proper authority, and most of 'em even concede that the hated power to tax is justified to provide for the common defense. The war in Iraq is justified, in a libertarian perspective, if it advanced the cause of defending the nation. Did it?

We're fortunate to live in an age where the threat of aggression by a soverign state acting in its capacity as a government is fairly low. No Nazis are attempting to consume Europe, and the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere is a distant memory. What threatens the national security of the United States, and indeed the world, is terrorism. Small groups of dedicated people, generally well-funded, who are willing to sacrifice their lives not to conquer, but to destroy.

How do we fight them? Well, we could (and should) go after individual terrorists and capture or kill them. We could (and should) go after those who provide the funding. But these are stopgaps. They fight the symptom of terrorism, not the disease. To go after the disease itself, we need to take a page from the liberal playbook and look at "root causes."

The Middle East is polluted with despotisms. Despotism, as any libertarian or economist will tell you, is a far less efficient form of government than freer varieties, and the result is poverty and social unrest. Despotic rulers, naturally eager to keep their thrones, need to deflect that unrest lest they suffer its consequences. As history has shown, one of the best ways to deflect social unrest is to enlist the unwilling aid of a scapegoat, and as history has also shown, the Jews are well-accustomed to the role. In this, the Middle Eastern despots have a powerful ally in the radical mullahs. The mullahs preach hatred of Jews, Americans, and Western civilization with the support (tacit or overt) of the despots, and get real power in return. The disaffected youth who are suffering under their oppressive regimes are recruited to fight against those who are portrayed as their real enemies.

And then we kill them.

We can keep on killing them, but it sure would be nice to address the real problem, which is the government structure that leads them down this fatal path.

Now's the time in the argument when those who oppose it ask if I intend to invade every single Arab country and impose democracy at the point of a bayonet. No; to do so would be neither desirable nor necessary, nor even necessarily feasible. You don't need an army to encourage the spread of freedom. You just need some good examples.

Look at Eastern Europe. Liberated from communism with scarcely a shot fired, and why? Because the East Germans and the Polish and the Romanians and the Bulgarians and the others saw Western Europe prosper while they suffered. They correctly judged that the key difference was freedom vs. tyranny, and they wouldn't stand for it. And today, those Eastern Europeans, "New Europe", are among our most loyal supporters.

We had an ethical and legal right to topple Saddam's regime and build a democracy in its place. This provided real national security benefits to the United States and our allies: Saddam was funding suicide bombers, harboring terrorists, and skimming billions from the Oil For Food program for use as bribes to influence the more spineless members of the Security Council. But while these benefits are hardly picayune, the potential benefits go far, far beyond these. A democratic Iraq can serve as a beacon. An example, an object lesson, a demonstration that Arab democracy can work, that Arabs don't have to suffer despots.

What the President seeks is nothing less than the transformation of the entire Middle East into a zone of democracy. It's a very ambitious goal, worthy of the nation that landed a man on the moon and defeated Soviet communism.

Can it be done? I don't know. The signs so far are encouraging, but I don't have enough information to predict success. But the thousands of people working in the administration, the State Department, and the Pentagon have a whole heck of a lot more information than I do. They're smart people, and only the most fervent of Bush-haters would deny their good faith. And they think it can be done. In the absence of compelling evidence to the contrary, I'll accept their expert opinions.

And if we succeed, the supply of terrorists will dry up considerably. Unable to recruit from a pool of the oppressed who have been taught to blame America for their oppression, they'll be stuck with only the most fanatical of extreme believers. Fewer terrorists means fewer terrorist operations, and fewer people for us to kill.

In summary, the war in Iraq was not only in our best interests as a bold effort to fight terrorism at its source, it has the potential to be one of America's worthiest accomplishments in a history of worthy accomplishments.

October 18, 2004 in Election '04 | Permalink


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You didn't answer my question.

How does a libertarian justify specifically the cost of "Shock and Awe", not of going to war, but this particular tactic.

It was a huge and amazingly expensive fireworks display. It was not an issue of knocking out strategic targets; it was mainly a display of male endowment, being the big bullies on the block. We had no need to demonstrate this, much of the hatred for Americans that many Iraqis have is due to our throwing our weight around and meddling in other Middle Eastern affairs. They are well aware of our military capabilities.

(Before you toss in well why would they fight back if they're so aware, I'd expect for the same reason Palastinians throw rocks at Israeli tanks. I'm not sure I get it personally, but it's a documented human response for some fanatics.)

Now we're tossing in more cash to rebuild what we destroyed during our yardsticking.

I don't see how a libertarian could justify this expense, which is why I asked.

Posted by: Firey Red | Oct 19, 2004 7:27:18 AM

Whoa. Who said that the Shock and Awe campaign had no strategic value? Who said that it didn't blow up a whole heck of a lot of Saddam's warmaking capability?

And to the extent it was a demonstration, did you see many pitched battles during the war? Lots of huge, massed armies entrenched in defensive positions waiting to kill invaders? Because I didn't. I saw a relatively easy and extremely rapid march to Baghdad, with few casualties. Perhaps that's due in part to those who would resist us being intimidated.

The bottom line is that Shock and Awe was part of the Pentagon's battle plan. I sure as heck don't have the information needed to reliably Monday-morning quarterback them, and I'm pretty sure you don't either. The expense for the campaign was justified just as the expenses for the men, weapons, equipment, and ordnance needed to fight the war were justified.

Posted by: Voice of Reason | Oct 20, 2004 7:48:14 PM

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