LIBERTARIANS DEBATE FOREIGN POLICY
So far, Justin Logan has a response to Sager on his blog; Max Borders responds to Justin Logan on his blog; and Justin replies. Meanwhile, Radley Balko of the Cato Institute puts a very long reply to Sager at TCS-- I'm amazed they gave him so much space!-- point by point, while sometimes missing the point. Sager responds on his blog.
So there's plenty to chew on.
I'll start with the synopsis of libertarian arguments on war and peace midway through Justin Logan's post.
Most libertarians believe, as Robert Nozick did, that: "Individuals have rights, and there are things no person or group may do to them (without violating their rights.)" I believe this, too. For me, this group of rights includes the right to one's own life. This right is possessed by all people, even Iraqis.
To save Iraqi lives seems a very odd reason to oppose the Iraq war considering the character of Saddam's regime:
The numbers [killed by Saddam] are fuzzy simply because they are so vast. The Shiite estimate of 6 million is considerably higher than previously published victim totals, but even the Arab press acknowledges that the death toll at the hands of Saddam's executioners numbers in the millions.
But Justin goes on:
This claim [the right to life] is not absolute, and can be overridden by other claims, such as the claims to protect a people from impending attack or to prevent a prior attacker from attacking again.
So we're not talking Gandhian pacifism here. Too bad; that's a much more intelligible and appealing position...
In my world, though, it does not mean that Iraqis' right to their lives can be overcome by Ryan Sager's (or President Bush's) ideology about how things need to be run in the Middle East.
But, it seems, Justin is willing to let Iraqis' right to life be "overcome" (in far greater numbers!) by Saddam's ideology about how things need to be run in the Middle East. Which is odd.
The U.S. government, for all the arguments that have been made to the contrary, is not responsible for those who were murdered by Saddam Hussein.
Well, responsibility is hard to trace. But we did help bring Saddam to power. We backed him in the war against Iran. The reason he didn't have WMDs when we showed up in 2003 is that we had effectively contained him through sanctions, but those sanctions also (from what I've read) caused the deaths of half a million children. (The link is to Madeleine Albright's disgusting statement that this was "worth it.") I would submit that a bit of angst is called for about whether we maybe were a little bit responsible for those deaths. Justin continues:
There are mediated consequences and unmediated consequences, and they are not of the same moral importance. When the U.S. government drops a bomb on an innocent Iraqi, his death is an unmediated consequence of the act. When Saddam Hussein murdered an Iraqi, the Iraqi's death was, at most, a mediated consequence of the U.S.'s failure to depose Saddam Hussein. Putting the same moral weight on the two is absurd.
Absurd? Let's have a bit of humility here: I suspect there's a "human life is human life" position available here that deserves not to be so easily dismissed. Anyway, I like Justin's "mediated"/"unmediated" distinction. It's a good response to the Lancet study finding that the Iraq war has caused 100,000 deaths, which is regularly spun into the claim that "coalition forces have killed 100,000 Iraqis." No, they haven't: most of those 100,000 are "mediated" deaths, including many killed by terrorists and insurgents. The number killed by coalition forces is certainly much lower, and the number of innocent civilians killed, of course, much lower still.
But for the sake of argument, let's call all the Iraq war deaths "unmediated" and all Saddam's murders "mediated." Justin is essentially asking us to let millions die in order to avoid getting the blood of 100,000 on our hands. I am reminded of Komarovsky's remark to Dr. Zhivago at the end of Pasternak's classic: "Is your delicacy so exorbitant that you would sacrifice to it a mother and her child?" Or in this case, hundreds of thousands of them. It strikes me as a "sanctimonious" position, in Max Borders' words. Chillingly sanctimonious. Elsewhere I've called this "the Pontius Pilate solution."
Much of Justin's post consists of banging on about how Cato was right all along. Stuff like this:
Well, it seems that in the wake of the sweeping warmaking principles put forth by the Bush administration, one might want to look back and see how things worked out.
Justin apparently presumes that "how things worked out" is, disastrously. Well, I disagree. Having read a lot of news sources including Iraqi bloggers over the past year and a half, with a bit of help from the fine film "Voices of Iraq," I have no doubt that life has gotten better for Iraqis as a result of the war, and not much doubt that it will improve dramatically in the future. And they know it. That's debatable, sure, but what's odd is that Justin Logan just takes his side for granted. It leaves me wondering, why is this so obvious to him? What are his evaluative criteria? My evaluative criteria are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The freedom to speak one's mind, to "live in truth," as Vaclav Havel put it, is of particular importance for me. I say, with Patrick Henry, or with the Fadhil brothers, to use a contemporary example, give me liberty or give me death! And in particular, the liberty to say what I believe, to speak my mind, to worship as I see fit. Iraqis lacked that for 35 years, now they have it. Of course, 1200 American soldiers have died. They are volunteers. They chose to risk their lives to fight for freedom. We regret their loss, of course. But they did not die in vain: on the contrary. They have brought freedom to millions. They are heroes, and we honor them. That's part of what soldiering is all about. And, of course, there is the chaos in the Sunni triangle and all that. Is security more important than freedom? For a libertarian?
Justin Logan and Radley Balko both get on Sager's case for seeming to ignore or not to have read some of Cato's output. They don't realize they are illustrating Sager's point about being written off, about the national debate passing them by. If people like Ryan Sager haven't read their stuff, this is a sign that their stuff isn't being read. Patrick Basham's repeatedly-mentioned paper "Can Iraq Be Democratic?" is an example. It's serious scholarship, sure, marred by the title. The question is too transparently rhetorical, if only because it comes from the Cato Institute. And it hints at the paper's irrelevance. "How America Can Improve the Chances for Iraqi Democracy" would be the title of a more relevant work, given that we're already there. The other thing is that the article is not libertarian. Claims like this one--
The building blocks of a modern democratic political culture are not institutional in nature. The building blocks are not elections, parties, and legislatures. Rather, the building blocks of democracy are supportive cultural values--the long-term survival of democratic institutions requires a particular political culture.
are in a traditionalist, conservative tradition. And this claim--
Paradoxically, a more democratic Iraq may also be a repressive one.
shows scant faith in the libertarian credo that people want freedom.
As I see it, libertarians had two major contributions they could have made to the Iraq debate.
1. Legitimate government is based on consent of the governed. While this comes in various forms and degrees, in the case of Saddam's government, there was no consent, and Saddam's rule was based on murder and fear. That international law recognizes such a regime as legitimate is a travesty and a disgrace. Any free state has a right (though not a duty) to attack such a state and to remove the regime if it can.
2. Totalitarianism is bad. If you put it that simply, of course, the point sounds banal. But this should be libertarians' forte, and it's a point that deserves repetition. 1984 is a libertarian classic, yet, faced with a real live Big Brother, libertarians wanted to leave him in power.
If Cato had concentrated all its firepower on these two big points, it would be a highly influential voice in the foreign policy debate today. Nor would making these points have obligated them to support the Iraq war; they could have remained neutral, raising doubts about the right of the US government to spend taxpayers' money on the cause of liberation, however noble. But of course, this emphasis would have had the effect of supporting the war, even if Cato didn't make that its institutional position. So instead they chose to climb awkwardly on the anti-war bandwagon, along with UN-loving lefties, and they began to lip sync to the arguments of their new friends. The end result: if you care about liberty for Americans only, you won't find a better friend than the Cato Institute; but if you love liberty, full stop, George Bush is your man.