Freedom From Freedom

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Whether war with Iraq will be good or bad for freedom back in the USA—a topic on which the Reason staff is not of one mind—is the focus of Ron Bailey's Reason Daily today.

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  1. Isn’t it funny who those who support “Democracy” in the abstract (like most leftists) denounce those that wish to export it to places like Iraq? Or denounce the president (with his popular support of the electorate) for being a “fascist.”

    Of course as Kuehnelt-Leddihin has pointed out, “democracy” really isn’t a value. This is why we have these slipperly slopes.

    As for me, I’ll take liberty over democracy any day of the week.

  2. I have a hard time understanding the libertarian position regarding foreign intervention. On any other issue libertarians appeal to human dignity and freedom. If Saddam Hussein were in power in Michigan, there would be no question that we should lead an armed intervention against him. Libertarians would have a field day raging against the constitutional protections that he violates.

    Why don’t the citizens of Iraq deserve the same protection of their natural rights? Because the constitution doesn’t apply to people born outside of the United States? That seems like a technicality of the law. Why is the document the important factor here and not the justice it is supposed to embody?

  3. Intervening on behalf of another nation is tricky business. You cannot force ?American? views down others throats. We must allow them to reach a system of government under natural conditions. Unfortunately, many times this is not possible due to prior outside intervention. In any case, we must use the least intrusive means possible to promote change.

    One such method would be to trade freely with that nation. By using trade sanctions against totalitarian states, we inadvertently galvanize a dictator?s position and alienate its citizens. This can be seen in Iraq and the USSR. It?s amazing how much a pair of blue jeans can motivate a group of citizens.

  4. I wonder what will happen when America finally becomes a totalitarian state? Who will intervene on our behalf? My guess is no one.

  5. WTF? Ron’s argument has more holes in it than a sieve. Holds water just about as well too. I’m not going to bother rebutting the whole article line by line. I will however make one or two salient points. In WWII we crawled in bed with the (communist, totalitarian) Soviet Union against fascism. Ron asks, “Would the Iron Curtain have been lifted without??” I ask, could it have ever been erected in the first place? Now we are crawling in bed with (State sponsored and enforced fanatical Islamic) Saudi Arabia against (Petty tyrant) Iraq. In fact the whole history of US foreign policy consists of getting cozy with some scumbag and having to go back and clean up the mess later (Iran, Haiti, Nicaragua, Panama, Philippines the list goes on and on).

    This time it is positively surreal. We are allying ourselves with the supporters (the Saudis) of our actual enemies (Al Qaeda) who pose a real threat, in order to wage war against a despot. A common despot who would like to sell us oil and poses no particular threat to the US weapons of mass destruction or not. In the process we will likely, provoke North Korea, destabilize the region including Pakistan (talk about WoMD!) and supply Osama with recruiting propaganda (although since we actually would be imperialist heathens I’m not sure it’s propaganda). Not to mention, the consequences to the ailing domestic economy (though it should be a shot in the arm for Texas oil). All in the name of making us and the world a more secure place to live.
    Riiiiiiiiiiiight

  6. I believe Mr. Bailey’s argument reeks of the “we had to destroy the village to save it” frame of mind. It reminds me of liberals who say we need national health care in order to secure the right to the pursuit of happiness. And of conservatives who claim we cannot have a civil society if we don’t grant police full leeway to bash some heads whenever they deem necessary. Proactive immorality to secure morality is problematic, to say the least. I’m enough of a realist to say I wouldn’t rule it out entirely, but I gotta be a lot more certain that it’s the only alternative available than I am regarding invading Iraq.

  7. To Anon, re: “I also think it is disgusting for true libertarians (who happen to be anti-war) to march around with leftist mobs who burn American flags, denounce our government as Fascists and support suicide bombers.” I think it would be disgusting (or at least dumb) for anyone to support these positions, libertarian or not. But to march with them for a common cause is not the same thing. There’s an old saying the politics make strange bedfellows, and obviously the issue of starting a war is a rather major issue.

  8. The idea of classifying freedom from brutal repression as an “American” idea that shouldn’t be “imposed” on other peoples seems completely anti-libertarian to me. It is a good thing in the objective sense. I would think that a libertarian would not appeal to cultural relativism.

    Simply saying that intervention is tricky is not much of an argument. It is more than tricky to sit by while millions of lives are spent in torment.

    How much good has come of trading with the Saudis? The people there hate us so much for pouring money into their corrupt monarchy that they destroyed the WTC, if anyone has forgotten. How much good is coming from trading with the EU, in terms of freedom for the people who live there? In Great Britain, you can now be thown in jail for improperly sorting the cucumbers at the supermarket. It will only get worse, as any good libertarian would argue.

    I just think it is odd that the question of individual liberty and human dignity, which is always the ultimate argument, indeed the entire reason for being for libertarians in domestic concerns, is only considered a nicety when it is applied to people outside the U.S.

  9. I agree completely with Ron’s article. If you look at the big picture, because of our engagement with the world, we’ve generally been able to accomplish some pretty amazing things. One of the great accomplishments, which I don’t think would have been possible without the catalyst of World War II, the end of the Cold War, and American guarantees of security, is a united Europe which is at peace with itself. This is no small accomplishment if you look at the history of the continent.

    Now, we must consider whether it makes sense to provide the catalyst for this kind of experiment in the middle east. Iraq seems ripe for democracy. They have natural resources, an reasonably well-educated population, and the memory of living under an awful and brutal regime. I do not believe the people of Iraq want to get rid of Saddam only to replace him with another despotic regime. With the fundamentalist theocracy in Iran crumbling before our eyes, it hardly seems likely they’ll choose to go down that road either.

    The liberal values of democracy and capitalism must be given a foothold in the region, and Iraq is a good place to start. If we want the United States and its allies to be free from the threat of terrorism, you have to remove the conditions under which terrorist ideals are allowed to prosper. A free and prosperous people will be far more reluctant to turn to the fundamentalist message, or to terrorist organizations, than disillusioned people with nothing to lose.

    While I think we certainly need to be careful about how, when, and where we choose to intervene, I think Ron is correct that we do ourselves and the world a favor if we actively promote freedom where it makes sense to do so. The world has become too small a place for isolationism. The two oceans that protected us for so many years offer little protection from these kind of asymmetric threats. We have to remain engaged in the world, and actively defend our ideals. It’s a dangerous an uncertain road we’ve embarked on, for sure, but I don’t believe we can afford to turn back.

  10. James, if I knew we could bring democracy and liberty to the inhabitants of Iraq without killing thousands of them and risking inciting the entire Moslem civilization against us, I would support doing so in a snap. If you think trading with them makes them hate us, wait till we try bombing and invading them!!

  11. We certainly bombed the hell out of the Japanese. I don’t remember them doing anything other than selling us reliable cars and nifty electronics since. We also bombed the hell out of the Iraqis 12 years ago, and the Iragi people, I gather from what I’ve read and know of human nature, seem to be willing for us to come do it again. Anyway, that’s beside the point. There are good arguments against the war. It’s just that I haven’t heard one which is libertarian.

    The libertarian agument seems to me to be for the war. It is odd that the one pro-war argument I have seen at Reason’s website doesn’t even make it. It instead appeals to national interest by saying that it will increase the freedom of Americans, skipping directly over the issue of whether freedom for Iraqis is a good in itself. Either the principals of libertarianism apply to everyone or they apply to no one.

    Libertarians are normally fanatics about idealogical purity. It is odd to me that in regards to the situation in Iraq I have not seen any of the ones at this website mention the role their highest value plays in the argument.

  12. There is certainly a risk of inflaming the arab world, and I suspect we’re going to have to endure some short term pain in that regard. We have to be very careful how we proceed, and make sure we don’t stay longer than we need to.

    There is a risk in this action, but there’s a risk in inaction as well, and I think the long term risk of inaction is much higher. Inaction means a maintinence of the status quo in the arab world; a status quo that shows little signs of waning. It’s this condition which has created many dissilusioned young people who are easily seduced by the message that all their troubles can be blamed on America and Israel, who deserve death.

    Prosperity and hope is the only cure for this condition, and that will only come with liberty. For the foreseeable future, the arab world is unlikely to change on its own, and in the mean time, the radical elements will be actively spreading their message of hate to other parts of the world who are receptive to it. This greatly enhances the danger to our country.

    For those who support a more isolationist foreign policy, I’m curious to understand how you propose to maintain our security and that of our allies, in a world where we’re all increasingly dependent on each other through trade. Consider that it’s becoming easier for fewer people, with fewer resources, to inflict grave damage on a perceived enemy from farther than farther away, and I think it’s easy to see the necessity of being engaged.

  13. James,

    Your argument that we should overthrow the government of Great Britain is a compelling one. While we?re at it, I don?t like the way the Chancellor of Germany looked at me the other day?. We should probably have him removed as well.

    I would suggest instead of opening the lines of communication and trade. Despite your belief, our relationship with the Saudis would be even more confrontational and violent if we cut off our ties to them because of their form of government.

    You also forget that the Japanese were not outwardly bitter towards us over a long period because they wanted access to our markets. They realized that they could achieve mutual prosperity through free trade with the US.

  14. John,

    We have, in fact, removed the leadership of Germany in the recent past. If the freedom of their people is again impinged to the point where they are being interred in concentration camps and gassed, libertarianism in and of itself would again seem to me to argue for war. The same applies to Britain.

    I am not arguing that libertarianism automatically trumps all other considerations. I am saying that the core value of libertarianism – liberty – is ignored by libertarians as they argue against war in Iraq on pragmatic grounds, whereas in any other argument – civil and property rights, free market capitalism, etc. libertarians tend to lump anyone who proposes the slightest infringment on individual liberty toward some other end is lumped in with Stalin as a collectivist.

    Once more. If Hussein were in Michigan, the infringment of the rights of the people he enslaved would figure much more prominently. Why are they put so far on the back burner in the case when we are talking about people who live in another country?

  15. I don’t know what the “true” libertarian position should be, nor do I give a shit. I just can’t take Bailey’s position that we need world freedom in order to ensure domestic freedom. That’s more paranoia than rational, it ain’t libertarian.

    What if we got rid of our import tariffs? What if we got rid of our domestic subsidies? Our drug policy? These are domestic security apparatus (sic) that clearly affect foreign policy that violate the libertarian “ideal”. Perhaps it’s a chicken and egg argument, but perhaps our domestic freedom is not jeopardized by the lack of international freedom, maybe international freedom is threatened by the reduction of domestic freedom.

    The difficulty with Libertarianism is the constant question of how much intervention is enough and how much is too much. It’s the problem that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, but what happens when we apply a billion tons of prevention? An isolationist foreign policy was probably a bad idea, we needed to involve ourselves in the world, we’re a part of it. But perhaps we’re TOO involved now, maybe it’s time we ease up, become less of a presence.
    Whatever the case, Bailey’s proposals clearly require an expansion of government. And that makes them highly suspect since it follows the same pattern that has put us in this predicament. Again, that doesn’t sound libertarian to me.

  16. The problem with Ron Bailey’s line of argument is that it gives the U.S. government entirely too much benefit of the doubt regarding the ostensible pretexts under which it operates.

    While the United States may have claimed to be intervening in the Third World for the sake of fighting Communism, there is an amazing degree of continuity between its Cold War Third World policy and the gunboat diplomacy of the early twentieth century. Not to mention between the Cold War and post-Cold War era. In all three cases, in practice it translated into aiding right-wing landlord/general oligarchies and death squads in terrorizing domestic populations that were unfriendly to United Fruit Company. Whether it was justified in the name of fighting “Innernashunnul Commonism” or terrorism or narcotrafficking is irrelevant.

    The basic architecture of the postwar world–the Bretton Woods system, GATT, the UN Security Council as a great powers club–was designed as the framework of a system of world order with little or no regard to the role of the USSR after the war. It was designed as a mercantilist system on a global scale, operating on behalf of state capitalist TNCs. In other words, what neocons call “democratic capitalism” and what real free marketers like Joe Stromberg consider the diametric opposite of free trade.

    And to speak of “us” extending the same liberties we enjoy to other countries in the world, it seems to me, misses a fundamental distinction. Our fundamental human rights here in America are something in which we are protected FROM the government. Liberties are not granted or promoted by states–states are forced, from outside and below, to grant them. States themselves are power-seeking entities that, through their use of coercion, enable some privileged classes to live off the efforts of others. So to trust the same group of statist parasites AGAINST whom we need to protect ourselves at home to promote the liberty of people outside this country is absurd on its face. “Liberties are not given, they are taken.”

    The state is the state, wherever it operates. The parasitic power-mad pigs we have to guard ourselves against here, are the same people who are allegedly promoting human freedom abroad.

  17. I think those 19 hijackers gave a pretty unassailable pretext for taking action in regards to fighting international terrorism.

    Government is something that needs to be properly restrained, and held accountable to the people from which it derives its authority to govern, but do you really believe that it’s a nefarious entity capable of doing no good at all?

  18. Sebastian:

    There’s a limit to how much the 9-11 dog will hunt. It was used by the Bush admin to justify pretty much their whole grocery list of police-state measures here at home, and to go after (as “pro-terrorist”) the groups they wanted to go after anyway because they weren’t friendly to Wal-Mart and ADM. Just about anything the Bush admin wants to do, it’ll just repeat the magic word “9-11” to sell it–whether there is any real connection to terrorism or not. Iraq is a case in point.

    Foreign policy is the area in which it is hardest to restrain the government and hold it accountable, by far. The reason is that, to quote the old cliche, “politics stops at the water’s edge.” THe folks at Free Republic may complain about big government and the greedy pigs who have their hands in our pockets, but when it’s foreign policy those greedy pigs suddenly become “our country.”

    It is the standard m.o. of presidents to engineer a pretext for war, wave the bloody shirt, commit forces to combat, and then denounce those who don’t “support our troops,” all before there is ever a chance for debate or the “deliberate sense of the community.” The time to look into the “Day of Deceit” issues behind Pearl Harbor, and lynch FDR and his gang for their role in it, was December 1941, not sixty years later. But unfortunately, because of cynical manipulation of patriotic symbols, people consider it “unAmerican” to ask pointed questions when they’re most needed.

    The Pearl Habor pattern has been endlessly repeated: the engineered Tonkin Gulf incident, the mythical “incubator babies” and Iraqi troops massed on the Saudi border in 1990, ad nauseam.

    Since every government in history has used terror as a means of doing business, what fighting terrorism really means is giving Bush & Co. a license to go after the terrorists THAT THEY DON’T LIKE. The terrorists who still take orders from Washington don’t count.

    If government ever does any good, it just bears out the principle that a stopped clock is right twice a day.

  19. It is easier to understand my argument about the libertarian position on the war if you consider the situation as one among individuals as opposed to nations. Whether we call Iraq and the U.S. “nations” or “sovereign,” is meaningless. The reality is that a group of people in Iraq, as deserving of liberty and human dignity as you or I, are being brutalized by a gang of murderous thugs.

    As an individual, it seems impossible to me to argue that I have no duty to help them, or in this case support the action of my government, from a libertarian standpoint. Arguing that the cost is too high is legitimate, and not supporting the action of the government on that grounds is reasonable, but it is not rooted in libertarianism. Avoiding foreign entanglments is part of the libertarian tradition, and it is supported by libertarian anti-government reflexes, I just think that the libertarian philosophy always supports not going to war. In this case, it seems to me to be in the for column.

    My point in all of this is that libertarians who are against the war seem to simply jettison their primary values – liberty and the individual – without even mentioning it. I am more or less baffled by the omission from a group of normally intelligent thoughtful people.

  20. The second to last sentence to the second to last paragraph should start “I just *don’t* think…”

  21. I agree it may not be a purely libertarian point of view, but we live in an imperfect world that forces us to make pragmatic decisions which are often going to come into conflict with our ideals. Idealism is great for giving us direction and principle, but it’s not often very good at solving practical problems. It’s a sad fact of the world we live in that it is sometimes necessary to kill people in military actions to promote the longer term interest of international stability.

    Why Iraq, as Kevin wants to know? Because Iraq is ruled by a man who has repeatedly violated international obligations forced onto him after his defeat in a war he started, not to mention torturing and brutalizing his own people. We’re not initiating force on this man in any way that I can see; we’re finishing a conflict he started 12 years ago.

    While the link between Al-Quida and Hussein may be dubious, his links to other terrorist organizations are not, and I don’t believe he’d hesitate to sell or give weapons to terrorist groups bent on hurting the United States or its allies. As I mentioned before, Iraq also seems ripe for democracy, which starts the process of removing the conditions that cause people to turn to radical islam and terrorism to begin with.

    Why not get rid of them all? I believe we do need a doctrine stipulating when it’s appropriate to remove a leader from power. When another meglomaniac dictator steps up and pursues programs to develop and manufacture chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons, bullies his neighbors, threatens international stability, drops poison gas on women and children, and repeatedly fails to live up to international obligations, I’ll be in favor of removing him too.

  22. Ooops… that should have been “as Fyodor wants to know?” and not Kevin.

  23. Ron,
    You say your are “in favor of helping people who want to free their countries themselves by providing them will training and material.”
    Fine. Go to it. Have a fund-raiser. Start a non profit. Raise an army if you can. JUST DON’T DO IT WITH MY GOVERNMENT!

  24. First, thanks for the intelligent discussion–it gives me more to think about. BTW, I notice that the discussion went a bit off the tracks here–at no point in the column did I say that I was in favor of the US invading Iraq–what I said was I was in favor of helping people who want to free their countries themselves by providing them will training and material. What I am trying to devise is a consistent long range foreign policy that leads to the creation of a free peaceful world in which national security establishments can wither away. If the world knows we will help people free themselves from tyranny, I suspect there would be fewer tyrants in the future. However, for the sake of full disclosure, I’m leaning toward supporting the invasion of Iraq

  25. I think there’s room for discussion on both sides of this issue, but I don’t think the argument that military action will make Islamic facists hate us more makes any sense. They couldn’t hate us anymore if we raped their daughters. What they will do, they will do with whatever means they have. This is why I’m for going in and eliminating the means.

    While I don’t have Intel reports to back me up, I believe Saddam has ties to terrorists and will use militants as untraceable delivery devices for whatever he’s cooking up in the desert. I also think a deposed Saddam helps clear the way for peace in Israel, as Baghdad will no longer be fanning the flames there to win Muslim hearts and minds.

    In my mind the destruction of today’s Iraq will serve as a warning to other regimes that even a rumor of doing business with Al-Qaeda invites disaster. It doesn’t hurt that the few crucial leaders in the Islamic world will probably perceive a message in the attack that for every terrorist hit against the US, we’ll knock out one or two fanatical – not moderate – Islamic countries. Balance their hatred for us with the fear of what we’ll do to them if attacked. Hey, what can I say? I was in NY on Sept 11, and maybe my emotions have gotten the best of me, but blowing up pre-WMD dictatorships that even look at us cross-wise seems satisfying and prudent.

  26. I agree with you, MG, with one exception: Since these terrorists don’t CARE whether they live or die, I don’t expect they’ll think twice about hitting us whether we take out Iraq or not.

  27. I’m with you Steve. But I think knocking out state sponsors who have the means to develop and provide chemical or nuclear weapons will keep terrorist network attacks limited to conventional means, likely meaning fewer losses and damage.

  28. Killing people is not a libertarian value. Neither is the initiation of force. Anyone who claims that we owe it to the Iraqis to invade their country to fix what’s wrong with it bear the burden of explaining why they’re not equally anxious to do the same everywhere else in the world where liberty is being repressed. The reason we don’t do this is that the U.S. only has sovereignty over U.S. territory. There is no world government and we do not rule the world. And what’s more, the world doesn’t want us ruling it. There may be some success stories of imposing democracies, but I’d say there’s at least as many failures. It makes sense to do that when we’re attacked and we have no choice but to counter attack and take out the responsible institutions. But Hussein’s Iraq, folks, has never lifted a finger against the U.S. except for defense. Again, if I could magically grant the people of Iraq a system under which they enjoyed liberty, I would do so in a heartbeat. I would do the same for the people of Myanmar (sp?) too, I’d make all the problems in the Ivory Coast and Zimbabwe go away, etc. etc. Why Iraq, out of all these problem places? Mr. Bailey argues that the fear of terrorism causes us to lose liberty here at home. I say that’s a weak argument to invade a country and kill lots of people. Especially since it’s at least as likely to trigger more terrorism than it prevents. I’m willing to concede that a very good benefit of doing something awful is that we will get rid of Hussein, and whatever we will replace him with will obviously be better for the Iraqis–well, that is if they don’t dissolve into civil war. Looks like nothing any of us say will change our march towards this war, so I hope for all our sakes that Iraq responds to our occupation as Japan did and that Moslem terrorists are more intimidated than energized. We’ll see. And we may not be close to knowing for sure for many years to come….

  29. This whole thing is rediculous. We should be paying the iraqi’s back in a way but its also sad seeing our soldiers go of to war. Its horrible.

    I come from a very tiny town and were about 3-4 hours from anybudy. And already 3 people from here went over to fight for who’s freedom? We amaricans have our freedom already and iraqis dont but if we all come to our senses we all together might accomplish something.

    Its really sad that our american soldiers go to war willingly. Iraqi’s they dont have a choice wether to or not. They have to atleast spend 2 years in the military.

    Well thats all that i have to say!!!

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