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Of Schmiberals and Schmibertarians

Natalie got there ahead of me but I also noticed the preposterous attempt by the pseudo-liberals of Crooked Timber to lecture us “Schmibertarians” in the ‘correct’ libertarian stance towards Iraq.

I thought it might be informative to examine the Crooked consensus and some of its logical implications. I would summarise the “Samizdatistas are schmibertarians” argument – and anyone who suspects I’m setting up a straw man here is invited to read the relevant posts and particularly the follow-up comments – as follows:

  1. ‘Proper’ Libertarians oppose major government programs funded by coercive taxation, the Iraq war is such a program.
  2. ‘Proper’ Libertarians are wary of any kind of social-engineering, so the neoconservative plan to remodel Middle Eastern countries as democracies is futile folly.
  3. Thus anyone who supports the war against Saddam is necessarily a sham libertarian who just thinks it’s cool to blow things up.

My first reaction was to the irony of being lectured in ‘correct’ libertarianism by a bunch of egalitarian, social-engineering collectivists who presume to identify as “Liberal”. Indeed it is precisely because this previously unambiguous term has been suborned by those who display a cavalier disregard for the classic liberal values of autonomy, individualism and limited government that many of us reluctantly adopt the libertarian moniker in the first place.

The premise behind the argument is dubious to say the least. It is generally taken to be the case that arguments are accepted or opposed on their own merits and without reference to whether they conform to some theology to which those making the argument are perceived to subscribe. I were to argue against, say, a Creationist, it would seem to me to be a pointless task to identify what a ‘real’ Creationist ought to believe prior to debunking his theory. Indeed, the logical consequence of a position which states that the correct libertarian ought to oppose the Iraq war according to libertarian first principles is that those who oppose the war are implicitly endorsing those specific libertarian principles. So, the next time some wonky twig proposes a massive government intervention or other, one can remind him that, as his opposition to the Iraq war demonstrates, such social engineering ought to be avoided.

It is also curious to note the partial isolationism adopted with regard to Iraq, considering the enthusiasm regularly displayed for action against third world ‘exploitation’. Thus, according to the Crooked Timber moral calculus, it is not ok to interfere in the affairs of another country if its citizens are being tortured or murdered but it is ok to interfere to prevent those (remaining) citizens getting a good job with a dreaded multinational corporation!

44 comments to Of Schmiberals and Schmibertarians

  • Proper libertarians are suspicious when they’re told that a war is to stop Weapons of Mass Destruction and there are none found at the target.

    Proper libertarians are suspicious when they are told that a foreign potentate is an ally of a terrorist group but there is no evidence of it either before or after his overthrow.

    Proper libertarians aren’t pacifists, but they tend to be suspicious of the ability of governments to successfully achive large, complicated goals like “building democracy in Iraq”, especially when every piece of evidence says that they’re failing miserably at the task. Proper libertarians aren’t surprised by this because they know that, for good reasons explained by proper libertarians for two centuries, governments are very bad at achieving complicated goals.

    You don’t need to resort to the question of coercive taxation to achieve “social goals” (if we can fund democracy in Iraq, why not public education?), the innocents killed in the course of the adventure, etc. You can just look at the putative goals stated by the politicians at the start — preventing WMDs from being used on us, attacking an ally of Al Qaeda, building democracy in Iraq.

    Of course, as a proper libertarian, all the other questions should indeed come to your minds, too.

    What is worse, the excuse for all of this is ultimately to improve our security, and yet, faced with a real enemy, we did things on the cheap. If we were going to spend hundreds of billions on anti-terrorism, why didn’t we spend them on getting Bin Laden, which would have done some actual good?

  • Pete_London

    Re. those non-existant WMDs:

    http://www.melaniephillips.com/diary/archives/2004_08.html (scroll down to ‘The Iraq disinformation campaign’)

    Re. Saddam Hussein’s links with terrorist organisations:

    http://www.melaniephillips.com/diary/archives/2004_07.html (scroll down to ‘The axis of alliances’)

  • Proper libertarians are suspicious when they’re told that a war is to stop Weapons of Mass Destruction and there are none found at the target.

    None? I recall reading about sarin and mustard gas IEDs.

    Facts: 1
    Perry: 0

    Proper libertarians are suspicious when they are told that a foreign potentate is an ally of a terrorist group but there is no evidence of it either before or after his overthrow.

    Except evidence has been found.

    Facts: 2
    Perry: 0

  • Real libertarians are just as reluctant as other rational people to be variously beheaded, infected, burned, smashed to atoms, shot, taken hostage, or otherwise abused. The prevention, deterrence, and (yes indeed) avenging of this behavior is certainly one of the legitimate functions of even the most minimal states.

    BTW, the either/or pursuit of al Qaeda vs. Saddam is an informal fallacy known as a false dilemma. Clearly we are doing both. Do you doubt either our capacity or willingness to do so? The other arguments proffered above are similarly tainted (tu quoque, slippery slope, etc.).

  • enda johnson

    1)a few sarin shell a cause for invading a country do not make. pretty much any country in the world can make sarin. even religiously driven japanese civilians can get it together.

    2)supposed links to terrorists a cause for invading a country do not make. pretty much any country in the world can be accused of same. now links to al qaeda would be a different story – the taliban actively supported al qaeda and paid the price. iraq never did, but paid the price anyway.

  • Look, in case the point of this post is misunderstood, let me clarify. As it happens I was in favour of deposing Saddam but I don’t intend to retread the particular argument for this. Libertarians of whatever stripe can agree or disagree – despite efforts to divine some correct libertarian party line on this there is none. Rather, I seek to point up the absurdity of pseudo-liberal anti-libertarians upbraiding those whom they suppose to be libertarians for being insufficiently ‘libertarian’ in their attitude to Iraq and a couple of oddities which flow from the “libertarians should be anti-war” position.

  • It might interest readers to know that a similar debate is going on at Blogcritics. Of course, a few of them are adding a rather interesting twist; that we libertarians are just fascists under another guise. (And neo-Confederates-loving ones at that.)

    One has to wonder why the left (and some of the right) seem to try to define what libertarians believe in, even though much of the time it differs from reality. Is this because for many on the left and the right the concept of libertarianism is beyond their entire field of intellectual comprehension?

    Travis well said. There are some, regretably even a few libertarians, who will not be satisfied on the “wmd/terrorists in Iraq issue” until a major city in the West is a gaping hole in the ground.

  • I’m endlessly amused that my opponents are forced to grasp at such straws as a couple of ancient gas shells left over from the Iran/Iraq war which wouldn’t have even made it intact out of the gun barrel, and some incredibly tenuous “links” to Al Qaeda as their demonstration that the war was justified.

    It isn’t “Facts 2, Perry 0” because we all know what the actual claims were and they haven’t been met. Lets review.

    It was stated repeatedly that Saddam Hussein had vast stocks of chemical and biological weapons and not only could use them but could order them deployed within minutes against coalition troops. Where are those stockpiles? The answer is, they never existed. Even members of the Bush administration now state that Iraq had no WMDs. No one reasonable thinks Iraq had real WMDs any more.

    The claims about Al Qaeda/Baath links are not only incredibly weak but getting weaker. We now have access to vast amounts of Iraqi security forces documentation and have still failed to find any hard evidence. Worse, the existing claims that have been made have been repeatedly contradicted by the evidence. For example, we have claims of a 9/11 hijacker meeting with Iraqi intelligence in Prague less than a day after he was clearly visible in a surveilance camera film in the U.S., and we have no evidence of his ever having left the country, or even a reasonable scenario including, say, a claimed flight he might have taken.

    In addition to demonstrating that the war was justified, the pro-war faction also still needs to demonstrate that the war is being won. Not that it could be won, but that it is being won and will be won. I see precious little evidence of that. Casualty rates are going up, not down. Civilian casualty rates are rising. The coalition controls fewer cities than it did six months ago. Power and water supplies are at least as unstable as they were some time ago. Commerce in country has become difficult, unless you count kidnapping as commerce. Oil pipelines are the subject of constant sabotage. The puppet government the U.S. installed engages in such “pro democratic” moves as press censorship and detention without charge or trial. Meanwhile, islamist militias and terrorist cells appear to be strengthening by the day. So, where is the progress being made here? It isn’t enough to say “we would like there to be progress” — to justify the war, it has to actually work!

    There is another claim made. Why must it have been either Iraq or Afghanistan, we are asked? Why not do both? Because we don’t have infinite resources or an infinite army. Any real libertarian understands economic theory. You can’t just dream resources into existence. That’s why markets are better than governments, you see — because they allocate finite resources efficiently. If we had infinite resources, no amount of goverment stupidity would be a problem.

    The thing that real libertarians understand is that government is an incredibly poor instrument to try to achieve one’s ends. It will not do what you ideally wish it to do — it will do what public choice economics pushes it to do. You cannot assume your hoped for ends — you have to take into account what a real government will actually do.

    Why do libertarians think government is bad at health care, at education, at pensions, at telephone service? Why do those arguments apply any less to the project of “bringing democracy to Iraq”? Just because you feel something is important doesn’t mean the government can actually achieve it. Even if you think it is really really really important, that doesn’t mean it is going to be achieved. If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.

    Given how bad government is at achieving things, one has to pick one’s uses for government very carefully. Bringing a known terrorist organization, Al Qaeda, to its knees would seem to be a reasonable and well defined target. Can we say the same about the adventure in Iraq?

  • olifant

    It is very entertaining seeing the paleo-libertarians twist themselves into rhetorical contortions to justify their opposition to the end of a brutal tyranny. The view seems to be “if we have to be subjected to outrageous extra security at airports, that is too high a price to pay to end 25 years of institutional savagery in some far of place”. To hear some, I guess Bush and Ashcroft must have started rounding up tens of thousands of libertarian dissidents and holding them in some network of gulags run by the Disney Corporation.

    The well argued minarchist/classical liberal position is that only defense and (some) law and order is the legitimate role of the state, so strawman arguments about democracy (which is hardly close to the hearts of the owners of THIS blog) or the government running other things are not relevent. Of course some might not like the idea of the state ever running the military, and we have the splendid examples of Somalia and Lebannon to inspire us regarding what happens when the national army is not even first amingst equals…

    I have seen it argued here before by “the staff” that at its root, the paleos’ indifference to the existance of decades of murderous tyranny is as much because it relates to “brown people in faraway places” (to paraphrase)… I am starting to think that may be true.

  • Pete_London

    Let’s get right back to basics then. This country was not taken to war over the presumed existence of WMD, Blair’s speeches always made it clear that the casus belli was Saddam’s refusal to obey the UN resolutions requiring him to account for his WMD or prove he had dismantled them.

    The entire world agreed he was a threat. The entire UN Security Council signed 1441, requiring Iraq to give them up or account for them. You are entitled to finger Bush and Blair over the non-appearance of WMD in Iraq but you must also finger Chiraq, Shroder, Putin, Assad etc. They each stated Iraq had them.

    Perry, you are attempting to rewrite history. However facts are facts and the truth is the truth.

  • veryretired

    Metzger makes several intellectual errors, which is not surprizing when a new left set of half formed concepts is used to critique the positions of classical liberal/libertarian advocates.

    To put it bluntly, Metzger is a vegan telling Julia Childs how to braise a lamb shank. Credibility = zero.

    Trotting out a bunch of worn out DNC talking points is not an argument. The Iraq invasion is a battle in the ongoing conflict, not an end in itself. Afghanistan is a battle. The various diplomatic efforts to close down Libya’s nuclear program, the uncovering of the Pakistani nuclear underground, the re-evaluation of military bases in Europe and Asia, enlisting the aid of other countries to track, control, and disrupt terrorist networks and finance are all parts of a larger fabric.

    The inability of critics like Metzger and others on the left to look at a map and see the strategic importance of the Iraqi position has long since gone from misunderstanding to deliberate obfuscation. It is a form of pretense, an attempt very much like the leftist refrain about “oh, you supported a dictator in Babaloolaland, therefore you are evil”, all the while ignoring the movements of Soviet influence and support in the very same area.

    What they are trying to do is argue everything without any context. Then, naturally, nothing makes any sense. Reduce every action to an absurdly simplistic level, then laugh that it is absurd.

    But there is another, more serious error. The repeated refrain from the left is that, since we all know the West, and its military, are imperialist transgressors against the rest of the world, therefore, any military action by the US and its allies is inherently wrong, and must be resisted.

    Metzger’s variation on this is: since we all know governmental actions of any kind are wrong, and the use of the military is a government action, then it is inherently wrong and must be resisted.

    The right of self defense is abrogated if one denies the recipient of an attack any recourse except arresting the specific agents of the attack. This is why the law enforcement model is incorrect. This is why the removal of the Taliban was justified.

    And, in a multi-faceted conflict, it is why removing a pillar of the Islamic-fascistic coalition is correct. In order to knock down a complex structure, you blow out the support beams first, then let gravity take its toll.

    Furthermore, the one thing this government does very well is to wage war. That may be unpalatable for some, but providing for the common defense is a primary responsibility of the state as defined in the constitution that frames its purpose for existing. For leftists posing as ultra-correct libertarianists to condemn the state for doing what it is mandated to do, and doing it very well, is intellectually dishonest.

    Finally, the idea that there is no chance that Iraq, or Afghanistan, or some other not democratic society could ever become one is disingenuous. The results of Western thought and action are visible all over the globe. If a culture like that of Nazi Germany, or feudal militaristic Japan, or autocratic India, or colonialist Brazil, or segregationist South Africa—and the list goes on and on—if these can become reasonably democratic societies, then there is no particular reason to believe that Iraq is exempt from the most powerful cultural movement in modern history.

    The demand that all state action be opposed because it is state action is a recipe for paralysis. In a world where there are many who would still like to put chains on any person with whom they disagree, and a bullet in the head of any who resist, I personally want the state that represents my interests to be as aggressive as possible in seeking out those who would do me harm.

    I’ll be happy to discuss the many shortcomings of the modern state and its continual transgressions against the rights guaranteed me by my status as a human being, and the Constitution under which it is supposed to operate. But my criticism does not include the demand that the state stand by, impotent, while my fellow citizens are murdered, just because to take action might require tax money.

    The samurai used to routinely commit suicide for principle, based on a belief that this world was but an illusion, and they would be reincarnated at a higher level as a reward for their observance of duty. If Metzger, and his fellows, wish to slit their bellies in protest of this terrible state of affairs, or let someone saw off their heads, go ahead.

    I have no interest in being the victim of a principle that says I have to wait until someone’s coming up my driveway with an AK47 before I can defend myself. The best defense is a good offense. The Islamo-fascists have sown the wind, let them reap the whirlwind.

  • Saddam did have links to terrorism however, as it is well known he gave “bounties” to the off-spring of suicide bombers in Israel.

  • Duncan

    I hardly think Metzger is of the far left. For christ sakes just because one feels the Iraq situation is a mistake doesn’t make them a leftist “vegan.” I think there are many valid points made both for and against, and I’ll have to admit that Perry makes the strongest points for the against camp, which is perhaps why every time he posts all of you fly into a frenzy. I think that his pointing out the fact that most people here feel the goverment can’t even deliver the mail correctly, so wtf would they trust them to wage an efficient war, is totally valid and no one seems to want to offer up an explanation. Disagree with his position, but stop questioning him as a libertarian. His views fit in just as well with the broad definition of libertarian as any of you. You get plenty of leftist types who post actual crap here. Not only does Perry post, at the very least, thought worthy material, but I certainly don’t think he’s some sort of left wing, anti war hippy. He doesn’t support the current Iraq situation, and he backs it up with what appears to me, sound libertarian reasoning.

  • For the record, I’m not a leftist. I’m not a right winger either — I’m a libertarian. I’m also not a pacifist — I have no trouble with the use of force under the proper circumstances.

    Unfortunately, it appears to be difficult to conduct a reasonable and comprehensive debate on the Iraq war in the comment areas available here on Samizdata.

    Perhaps one or more of the owners of the blog would care to contact me to discuss a more formal means of furthering the discussion. I’m amenable to debating on line, in person, or both.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    First off, let’s keep things civil around here. Having met Perry recently in NY I can assure folk he ain’t no leftwinger.

    However, I have to take issue with his remark that the link between Saddam’s regime and al-Quada was very weak. Hmmm. That seems a bit of a categorical assertion to me. My take on the matter is that from what I have read, there were links, but not necessarily a lot of active collaboration. The truth is that the evidence keeps shifting around. But the amount of detail rather kills the idea that a “secular” ruler like Saddam would have no reason to help out terror groups at any point.

    Anyone read the book by Stephen Hayes about the purported links? Is it any good?

  • veryretired

    Let’s see:

    Guy walks into a room containing an assorted group of people who like to discuss issues from a general viewpoint of “maximising personal liberty”. He tells the group that they can only think about things in a certain way, and if they don’t agree, they’re only posing as people who support individual liberty, but are really statists in disguise.

    There is some spirited response, which, as in all previous occasions when this person has spoken, he ignores, and instead complains that the responders are being mean to him. Since the debate is not going his way, he demands a change of venue.

    Meanwhile, it is the responders who are being ishy, and the original person who demanded that only his ideas were acceptable is just “presenting his point of view”.


    If you walk in a room and start quacking, don’t be surprized when the other occupants think you’re a duck.

  • ThePresentOccupier

    Furthermore, the one thing this government does very well is to wage war.

    I’m niggling, I know – sorry… This government is very good at sending the military into conflict zones with inadequate kit, supplies, logistics. They’re fantastic on jingoistic rhetoric, but as far as the holistic warfighting goes, they suck.

  • Duncan


    So you don’t think that YOU are claiming people have to think a certain way, that being pro Iraq war in this case, in order to be considered proponents of individual liberty? How are you different than what you accuse Perry of?

    You’re amazing… and you sure can type alot.

    I think Perry is a libertarian and he is making points which various other libertarians agree and disagree with. Sure he makes the same points over and over, but so certainly do you… though he seems alot less angry about it.

  • Enda, Perry,

    We can have a reasonable debate as to how many shells constitute a threat. I think that the six or so we’ve found put the former Baathist regime quite clearly on the wrong side of a boolean distinction.

    Likewise, we can debate about how much support of terrorist organizations makes a foreign state a threat. Again, I apply a boolean criterion to the Baathists, and find them on the wrong side.

    However, neither of these are the debates that Perry set out to have.

    Perry said that “no weapons” were found and “no evidence” of ties to AQ were found.

    He didn’t argue “insufficient”, “less than a bushel”, or anything else. He argued “none”. Twice.

    Perry is proven wrong. QED.

  • toolkien

    1) Ideally I’m an anarchist and state war has no place in such a world, but… it’s too idealistic.

    2) Considering the practical non-existence of anarchanism, I then, am a minarchist. As a minarchist, I’d wage war when there is a direct threat to my life and property.


    The existence of a Saddam in the world, as long as my life and property is left alone, concerns me none. I’ve contracted only with the people of the United States of America to render mutual aid from forceful interference of life and property. I have no such contract with Iraq/Iraqis.

    There are plenty of other countries (namely Saudi Arabia) with greater ties to terrorism than Iraq. There are other countries who are/were greater threats to the US/Britain than Iraq. There are countries using torture and death over their citizens that have not felt the edge of our blade (some we’ve actually supported).

    So none of those arguments completely hold water as valid reasons for attacking Iraq. The major difference is that Iraq attacked another country to gain access to its resources. His was a war for economic gain. Then again what war hasn’t been? Our interest has always been access to oil and keeping it out of Saddam’s hands. This concern was not the concern of France, Germany or Russia, and was actually the exact opposite, hence why such grand notions as the UN are useless; there will always be divisions between men – universal alliances are a fantasy.

    But then why be concerned over oil? If one believes in markets and their resilliency, then surely an alternative could be found if middle eastern oil were not available. But it has much more to do with the notion that the markets we live in today are not free and allowed to rebound from such shocks. The blow to the regulated and centralized economy would be too great, and the cost in terms of government revenue would too great for the government to tolerate. The economy is not the supple reaction to supply and demand, people making due with resources available. The US government has essentially sovietized our economy, and is its largest investor. It cannot tolerate any threats to it, not out of common interest, but out of self interest. Essentially, a loss of middle eastern oil is of grave concern to us all because we are all connected at the pocket books due to government interferences in the market. As some go, we all go. The government, as insurer of last resort, makes us all shareholders/policy holders; if left to our own devices the majority would find the next best alternative and bring it to market, but since we are not, we are coerced into collective preservation of the existing economic order. An order that is surely not free-market by any definition.

    So ideally I would be against action it Iraq, either as an anarchist or as a free-market minarchist. But I do favor it since I’ve been presented little option. The collectivists control, and I have, to my chagrin, to follow the tangents it has created. The collectivists appear to have won out, at least at this juncture. I’d much rather they secure resources necessary to fund their ‘good works’ than to fall on me to pay for it (any more than they already do).

    Convoluted? Maybe. But above all I’m an individualist. I demand to enjoy the outputs of my mental and physical labor. When that is not under attack, I am disinterested. As it stands, the biggest threat to my life, liberty, and property was not Saddam, it was my own government. If it secures resources for our economy so I don’t have to offer up even more, fine, but call it that and be square about it. To couch it in other terms is certainly disingenuous, and tends to obscure the fact that they are collectivists out to secure their own well-being, from me firstly, and from those who would control resources extra-territorially.

  • Simon Lawrence

    Not only is the idea of criticising someone because they don’t fit what you perceive to be an exact definition, but actually only means ‘believer in freedom’, absurd; but more importantly anyone who feels that the goverment should be in the business of justice (protect property), and doesn’t care for the collectivism of national boundaries can’t have an ideological objection to the Iraq war.

    If you would have a serial killer arrested in Britain then why not Iraq?

  • Forgive my tendancy towards waggishness, but isn’t the proper libertarian response to being lectured about Libertarian Propriety to be to wag one’s buttocks in their general direction?

    I mean, completely aside to any actual merit to the observation? I do not mock; I share my personal reflex!

  • This thread reminds me why I am not a libertarian. As an Objectivist, I have no problem at all with the government of the only even approximately free nation on the face of the earth protecting its citizens from totalitarian violence. As to whether the protection is being carried out efficiently, that is a technical question. As to Saddam’s refusal to cooperate with the US to allay our fears about his weapons and intentions, I’d say he made the wrong choice and we are a heck of a lot better off now than we were in March 2003. Same for bin Laden. We do not have to prove Saddam was a threat. He had to prove he wasn’t, given his record. He didn’t.

  • Helveticus

    Robert Speirs: “As an Objectivist, I have no problem at all with the government of the only even approximately free nation on the face of the earth protecting its citizens from totalitarian violence.”

    Yes, an army of patriots who keep their guns at home has been Switzerland’s protection many times.

  • limberwulf

    I can see merit in many of the arguments against the war in Iraq, especially the following:
    1) Iraq was not an immediate threat. I agree, it was not, at least not one to us. There may have been a roundabout way for them to threaten us, i.e. terrorist support, but they were not the only ones. And yes, there are far more dangerous foes on the horizon.

    2) Spreading democracy is not necessarily our job. I agree, while democracy is an improvement on despotism, it is not the end-all ideal of governments. Democracy is only a portion of a properly devised and operated government. Further, democratic states seem to do best when that democracy is desired form within. The Iraqi people stopped trusting us when we failed to support them in their revolt in ’92, perhaps we could have waited for them to be ready to give it another go.

    3) Lies were told by the government. True, be they intentional or not, some things were said were not true. I beleive many things were intentionally exagerated or worse. This is nothing new, of course, we are speaking of politicians after all.

    4) The war is expensive, and the nation-building is even more so. Absolutely, and I dont like the taxes involved in building another nation’s infrastructure. I cant say Im too upset about the taxes spent in the war itself tho, its the taxes spent on non-military/police that piss me off.

    5) The government is incompetent. Again, nothing new, but certainly true. Our government has grown so large that its inefficiencies are greatly magnified, and much waste, incomptetence, and error goes unchecked. This is due to the size of our government and the lack of accountability it has, not with the concept of governemtn itself, but it is still true in this case.

    There are also many arguments that I do not see as valid, such as:
    1) WMD’s were not a valid reason. Our intelligence was in the right to assume the existence of WMD’s because they had existed before, and no evidence to the contrary was shown. Not only this, but Sadaam had shown himself incompetent with the possesion of such weapons. Criminals should not be allowed weapons, because they have already shown a willingness to break the law. They should definately not have them if they have used weapons in their crime before.

    2) There were no reasons great enough to go to war against Iraq. Yes there were, namely violations of the conditions of the cease-fire granted to him.

    3) If Sadaam was not a threat to us, why bother? Because criminals need to be stopped whether they committed the crime against you personally or not. I support punishing theives, even when they did not steal form me directly. That applies whether they are dictators trying to wage a war against another country for resources, or whether they are hungry bums on the street stealing food.

    4) There were other countries that were worse, why not attack them? Because they were not on parole like Iraq. We did not have justification to attack Sadaam soley on WMD’s, threat level, or any of that without the fact that he was in violation of cease-fire. If it were argues that those other reasons alone justified the war, then certainly many other countries would be in line before Iraq.

    5) There were not enough terrorist connections. Maybe not directly, but strategically there were enough for the regime change in Iraq to be a blow to the terrorist network, both directly and indirectly through messages sent to surrounding countries, and the potential for democracy spreading. Look at the elections proceedings in Afghanistan. Its a beautiful thing, and a step in the right direction. It is not ideal, and it wont be ideal anywhere untill humans become perfect, but lets take what we can get.

    I have been back and forth on the war quite a bit, and I must admit there are aspects I despise. There are enough screw-ups here and abroad to ensure that I will not vote for Bush again. However, I refuse to leap from the frying pan without looking. I will be voting for a Libertarian candidate to send a message, not voting for an even worse candidate because I am not happy with the current leadership.

    I do hope that these discussions can continue in a civil manner, I rather enjoy the input of the people here, and it would never do for emotional outbursts to quell the richness of rational discussion that abounds here. Debating always risks falling into a chasm of emotional arguments and hurt feelings, but more often than not, the contributors of this site maintain an even keel, that is what allows such a collection of brilliance to stay together.

  • limberwulf

    I apologize for the blogopotomus, that one got away from me.

  • snide

    Yes indeed Helveticus! Robert Speirs’ remark made me chuckle and Switzerland also popped into my mind. It reminds me of a joke about catholics:

    A protestant dies and wakes up in heaven. He is delighted to see where he has ended up of course and an angel starts showing him around. In one area of heaven, he sees a long high wall with a sign saying QUIET PLEASE. The man turns to the angel and whispers “What is behind that wall?”

    The angel replies softly “Oh, that is where the Roman Catholics are, we let them keep thinking they are the only ones up here.”

    The Americans do not like to think they are not the best at EVERYTHING. Shhhhhhh, quiet please 🙂

  • Harry

    Snide: Were you raised by bigots, or have you come by this nasty characteristic honestly?

    Perry Metzger: To refresh your memory, the primary public justification for the war was Saddam’s refusal to allow international verification of disarmament. The presence or absence of actual NBC weapons is a marginal issue at best. That said, it’s fair also to say there was a widespread expectation that such weapons would be found, though. The list of folks who proclaimed before the war that Saddam was in possession of NBC weapons is long and entirely bipartisan.

    But don’t let the facts stand in the way. Your dislike of Bush obviously trumps all other considerations, including the safety of your fellow citizens and the fate of 25-odd million Iraqis who struggled to live under Saddam’s thumb.

    Re: the Crooked Timber folks, the focus of the original post — why gratify them with any attention at all?

  • Guy Herbert

    veryretired: Guy walks into a room containing an assorted group of people who like to discuss issues from a general viewpoint of “maximising personal liberty”. […] Can we clarify that you meant “A guy”? It’s not an approach to argument that I generally take.

  • “I seek to point up the absurdity of pseudo-liberal anti-libertarians upbraiding those whom they suppose to be libertarians for being insufficiently ‘libertarian’…”

    Isn’t a libertarian party or grouping or collective of any sort a contradiction in terms anyway, like an al-Qaeda poker night? The problem I can see with any libertarian organisations is the extreme difficulty of trying to coordinate strong-willed and fiercely autonomous individuals.

  • Not so, Vogon.

    Properly understood, libertarianism is the most cooperative philosophy around. It has to be because any coordination can only be by mutual consent, not force-backed law.

    And if you dare argue with me I’ll demolish your planet.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Limberwulf exactly echoes my own thinking about the war at the present time and previously. I share a lot of misgivings from folk like Perry Metzger and others, not least, my fear that an attempt to rebuild the ME along democratic lines, while a noble venture, is also likely to prove an expensive failure. I also acknowledge that some of the evidence used to justify the war appears in retrospect to have been wrong, if not actually made up.

    But, and it is a very real but, various issues continue to bother me about the non-interventionist stance. Assuming the US and its allies had adhered to such a stance, including removal of the economic sanctions and no-fly zones:

    Iraq would have rearmed, and on a big scale;
    Saddam would have crushed the Shiites, and the kurds
    Israel would almost certainly have come under threat.
    Ditto Kuwait; Saudi Arabia.
    Terror groups hostile to the west would have a sure source of funding and support (see previous posts in this thread)
    The price of oil, assuming Saddam was able to threaten his neighbours, would be soaring up to present levels and probably even higher;

    And those are the consequences for others. It does not even include the moral issue of letting a monster like Saddam remain in power.

    There is also another, final point I would make about this whole issue of how libertarians “ought” to think about the war. The situation that presented itself after 9/11 was not a choice between some sort of nice libertarian set of outcomes and what we have now, but a whole range of scenarios, none of them very nice or very easy to work out. It seems to me that the decision to topple Saddam was the right one, given available information at the time and the context of what had happened over the past 20 years. But I accept that might be wrong. What I cannot, and will not accept from the Crooked Timber crowd is lectures on how libertarians could and should have thought about these issues. Coming from a bunch of third-rate socialists, the cheek of CT is quite astonishing.

  • veryretired

    Guy Herbert,

    You are correct—the analogy I was making was not pointed at you in any way.

  • Who is Crooked Timber, and why would anyone care what they think?

  • Paul Z

    Isn’t it ironic that the same people who call Libertarians who supported the war in Iraq “not real Libertarians” marches hand-in-hand with some the vilest, most dispicable collectivists there is?

    “You are judged by the people you surround yourself with”, my mom used to say. How true….

  • Not wishing to clog up this comments thread still further, I shall simply link to my blog-post on the subject. (I’m addressing the issue of whether Libertarianism is compatible with war, not the pros and cons of the Iraq War.)


  • Shawn

    “For the record, I’m not a leftist. I’m not a right winger either — I’m a libertarian.”

    The argument that libertarianism in neither right wing nor left wing is nothing more than a nice sounding slogan. In reality is it utterly meaningless. Like “Third Way” socialism, its an attempt to repackage a set of ideas in a way that makes them palatable, but its just spin.

    Libertarians support economic ideas that are on the right of the political spectrum. Libertarians support a view of individual freedom which is also right wing. Libertarians support a view of capitalism that is right wing. Libertariansim, like conservatism, is a distinct form of the right wing poltical movement.

    Also, unlike Conservatism, Liberalism. Christianity, or Objectivism, libertarianism is not a total philosophy of life, but a set of political/economic principles. A libertarian may be a Liberal, or an Objectivist, or a Conservative, or subscribe to any other life philosphy.

    Attempts to uphold some kind of “Proper” or politically correct libertariansim are absurd. Libertarianism has manifested in many different forms over the last hundred years and so any claim that libertarians, in order to be true to their principles, must have opposed the Iraqi phase of the war are nonsense.

  • limberwulf

    While I agree with most of your statement Shawn, the following is not necessarily so:

    Libertarians support a view of individual freedom which is also right wing.

    The average conservative that I know (I know many, for I used to be one) tend to shift over to authoritarianism when it comes to social issues. Libertarianism is indeed a political philosophy, not a life philosophy, but there is often political support for candidates who support government policies upholding their morality. In other words, the right-wing has allowed the size and scope of government to be acceptable, as long as it fits their agenda. This may be true more for the religious right than for the whole conservative movement, but much of the non-religious yet traditional conservative side still favors government law supporting a moral stance.

    Many former left-wing people have converted to libertarianism because libertarianism leaves choice open to the individual on social and moral issues providing the individual’s choices do not restrict the choices of others. I believe that more conservatives have made the move than liberals, but that does not exclude the fact that libertarianism can attract anyone who does not like “big brother”. I personally have many of the traditional conservative moral views. I further recognize that the government has no business mandating such principles. This allows me to agree in many cases with the liberal friends that I have. Libertarianism’s opposite is authoritarianism, a stance unfortunately found in both right and left wing thinking.

  • lao tzu

    Anyone who supports a ‘democratic’ government using coercively collected taxation to wage war on another government does not fit my definition of a libertarian.

    no US state – no 911
    no US/UK states – no Saddam

    no state – no problem

  • limberwulf

    lao tzu,
    no US state – no 911

    Not sure about this one. It may be true, but is not proveable. The idea depends exclusively on the concept that the US was attacked soley because of interventionalist policies. Much of anti-US feeling I have encountered, and several studies of the issue, tend to show that anti-US people that are not in contact with US cititzens form their opinions on what they see out of hollywood and the news, not on negative effects of our foreign policies. Again, the idea is theoretically possible, but not proveable.

    no US/UK states – no Saddam

    again, maybe, but not necessarily. Sadaam was not put in power by the US/UK state. He may have been supported and partially armed, but much of his armament came from Russia and other nations. He may have been less powerful, and his own people may have been able to overthrow him, but who knows?

  • Cobden Bright

    Did anyone have the moral right to attack Saddam Hussein and his government? Clearly the libertarian position is a “Yes” – he was a mass murderer, invaded another country for conquest, and broke international law with regard to weapons inspections.

    Does the US or UK government have the right to tax its citizens for the purposes of defending those citizens? The libertarian position is debatable here – some libertarian people think tax is legitimate for collective defence, others think it isn’t. Neither side is irrational per se IMO. Clearly anarcho-capitalists must object to the basis on which the war was coercively funded; minarchists can support it being funded by tax, provided they agree that Saddam posed a sufficient potential threat or was in violation of law. In addition, anarcho-capitalists can take a pragmatic approach and say that, although they object to tax per se, given that it exists, there is still the question of what it ought to be spent on. Government spending for defence is less objectionable than for wealth transfers, or indoctrination of children, or jailing drug users.

    Was Saddam a threat to the West? Again, it is debatable. In the post 9/11 world, clearly the *potential* threat posed by him was higher. Whether it was high enough to justify invading Iraq rather than taking another course of action (such as assassinating him, or invading Iran, or not invading anyone), is an empirical question. Libertarians can rationally disagree on this issue.

    Was Saddam in violation of law? Clearly he was, no libertarian can rationally argue otherwise. However, that violation was only sufficient to justify his removal; it does not justify “nation-building” in Iraq. The latter requires a strategic threat to the West in order to justify it. Again, this is unproven one way or the other.

    Finally, the acid test – is there any chance of the Iraq occupation achieving its goals? Again, this is a debatable question. Japan and Nazi Germany were successfully reconstructed, to the long-term benefit of the west. We are safer as a result. However, the Middle East is a different matter. Iraq is not an advanced industrialised society like pre-war Germany or Japan. Germany and Japan were fairly homogenous and did not have rival fanatical religious zealots present en masse in their populations. Finally, many Iraqis do not accept US occupation, whereas most Japanese and Germans realised it was both inevitable and, for the most part, morally justified due to their country’s prior aggression. Again, I see no clear position here that all libertarians are obliged to hold.

    So I can’t see any reason why anyone from minarchists upwards to small-government conservatives should object to the Iraq war on principle. Even anarcho-capitalists may be able to support it on a “lesser of two evils” basis. Objection will be founded on practical issues, namely the pros and cons of invasion and subsequent occupation. This is a matter of assessing facts and probabilities as they are observed, rather than some kind of “official” libertarian position.

  • limberwulf,

    Much of anti-US feeling I have encountered, and several studies of the issue, tend to show that anti-US people that are not in contact with US cititzens form their opinions on what they see out of hollywood and the news, not on negative effects of our foreign policies

    The primary goals of al-Quaeda are an end to the corrupt US backed Saudi monarchy, the removal of US troops from the Islamic holy lands and the withdrawal of the US backed Israelis from Palestinian lands.
    Do you really think a suicide bomber would be inspired to blow himself up because he did not like the latest Tom Cruise movie?
    As for Saddam, while he was not put into power by the US/UK we certainly supported him financially and militarily for many years. The state of Iraq was founded by the UK forcing the Kurds and southern shias to be governed centrally from Baghdad.
    While it is certainly impossible to categorically prove ‘what if’ scenarios such as ‘no US state – no 911’, ‘no US/UK state – no Saddam’ I continue to believe that they are fairly safe bets.

  • Lao Tzu,

    The primary goal of Al Qaeda is to bring about a war between Muslims and non-Muslims, which they believe they will win. That’s not just my opinion; it’s theirs. They put it on all their press releases and everything.

  • limberwulf

    lao tzu,
    Do you really think a suicide bomber would be inspired to blow himself up because he did not like the latest Tom Cruise movie?
    I have seen religious zealots resort to violence over less, and Im not restricting that to Islamic zealots. It is certainly possible for you to be correct of course. However, my understanding is that the desire of Al-Qaeda was to oppose the US and all that it stood for. The primary target being a financial center was not accidental. Attacks were directed to military and financial centers, not political centers. If their goal was to oppose foreign policy they could have done us all a favor and took out the capitol building. What was attacked in the US was not icons of policy and overseas meddling, but icons of wealth and power. That does not equal a statement against interventionist policies in my mind at all.

    As for Sadaam, I concede that we supported him quite erroneously, but his treatment of his people was his own doing, and his support came from many places, not just the US/UK.

    I do agree with the final analysis tho:
    no state, no problem.
    Thats not an unsafe bet by any means. I think there is a very limited need for a state, but limited must be the operative word.