More Libertarian Division on (Civil) War


In the past couple of days here we've seen First Couple of libertarianism Milton and Rose Friedman divided on the libertarian approach to war, Robert Higgs quite certain that no one worthy of the name could be anything but staunchly anti-intervention, and Ilya Somin parsing out some of the charactertistics that might divide libertarian-leaning warriors from anti-warriors.

Now Reason contributing editor Brink Lindsey (an old boss and an old friend) presents vividly the foreign policy divide within himself: While he supported the invasion of Iraq–a position of great controversy within the Cato Institute, where he works–he now admits he might have been wrong. It is well worth reading in full, but here is a quick guide through his thinking:

[M]y support for the invasion was based on the assumption of active biological and nuclear weapons programs. That assumption, of course, proved incorrect. I also failed to anticipate the Sunni insurgency that has been at the root of Iraq's post-Saddam problems. And, perhaps most egregiously, I placed my trust in the Bush administration to assess the Iraqi threat accurately and do all within its power to make the occupation of Iraq a success. That trust, however foolishly offered, was badly betrayed.

He still can't say for sure, though, that even knowing what he knows now that he would have opposed the forced overthrow of Saddam. But moving forward, what should happen?

For a long while I kept hoping that political progress in Iraq would lead to progress in subduing the insurgency. It hasn't, and now the country seems to be spiraling into sectarian civil war. I don't see any prospect for things to get better in the foreseeable future, and thus I see no U.S. interest in maintaining our presence there. So I'm in favor of getting out.

He's also reconsidered the practical benefits of some interventions on deck, thinking that an Iran invasion right now wouldn't be worth it, either. He stresses this doesn't represent any huge ideological sea change from "interventionist" to "noninterventionist"; he maintains he tries to suss out the proper thing to do in foreign policy conundrums based on specific circumstances, not ruling abstract theories. He concludes:

What has changed, for me, since the spring of 2003 is the weight I assign to the relevant risks. In particular, I currently consider the threat of Islamist terrorism to be far less grave than I feared it to be in the wake of 9/11….my best reading of the available evidence tells me that both the scale and the sophistication of anti-U.S. terrorist activity are currently rather limited. Consequently, I am less persuaded than before of the need for bold and risky moves against terror-sponsoring states. At the present time, I therefore prefer a more cautious approach in dealing with rogue regimes.

Brink was the libertarian pro-war voice in a Reason debate on the wisdom of U.S. war in Iraq; here is where he stood back in 2002.