Rise of the Antiwar Libertarians

Rand Paul and Justin Amash have principles that trump party politics. That's exactly why they are the best hope to stop an American war on Syria.


Note: This article originally appeared at The Daily Beast on September 6, 2013. Read it there.

If you're among the majority of war-weary Americans who oppose any sort of military intervention in Syria, thank libertarian Republican lawmakers Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan.

If the House and Senate vote against authorizing war next week, the efforts by these two guys will have been instrumental. Indeed, their outspoken, principled pushback is part of the reason that President Barack Obama—the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize winner—hasn't already pursued some sort of strike "just muscular enough not to get mocked" by the world while not inciting retaliation by Bashar al-Assad's allies, Russia and Iran.

Paul and Amash consistently take on their own party when it comes to limiting executive power, rolling back the surveillance state and other war-on-terror excesses and redefining foreign policy.

Amash is not only conducting an exemplary districtwide listening tour on Syria, he's documenting it via his Twitter feed and the Facebook page he uses to explain all his votes and positions. Paul added an amendment to the Senate resolution on Syria that declares the president in violation of the Constitution if he launches attacks without congressional authorization. Unlike the flip-flops by Republicans who were hawks on Iraq—and in-the-GOP-tank organizations such as the Heritage Foundation—no one assumes these guys will reverse their stances on bombing Arabs the second that the Party of Lincoln regains the White House.

You may not like their positions on abortion or gay marriage (I don't particularly—and I'm a libertarian), but Amash and Paul's intense ideological consistency is precisely why they are effective in limiting fighting overseas. They are never afraid to take on the president—or their own party. Sen. John McCain has denounced them by name as "wacko birds," and they've been called everything from racists toassholes.

Compare their adamantine spine to rollover Republicans such as Eric Cantor and Speaker John Boehner, or any of the 35 House Democrats (with Nancy Pelosi leading the charge like a latter-day Molly Pitcher!) that Think Progress figures will vote yes on military action. Then there's the bipartisan Senate resolution, which was spearheaded by Bob Corker (R-TN) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ), and hews to Obama's bizarre, pathetic insistence that he wants to send an unambiguous message to the Assad regime without actually toppling it. As First Things editor R.R. Reno devastatingly argues, "Launching cruise missiles or airstrikes simply to 'show resolve' or 'send a message' cannot be justified. At the end of the day, these rationales authorize symbolic killing, which is fundamentally immoral."

Such reasoning is plainly lost on Obama, whose high-flying rhetoric on "dumb wars," transparency, and so much else has been systematically unmasked as nothing more than gas since he's occupied the White House. "The president does not have the power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation," Obama told The Boston Globe in 2007, years before his unilateral decision to drop bombs on Libya and back when he was trying to separate himself from the ostensibly pro-war candidate for the Democratic nomination for president, Hillary Clinton. (Naturally, she supports giving Obama carte blanche.)

If you're antiwar, you've got no reason to celebrate a liberal punditocracy that has done a soul-sapping about-face now that a Democrat is in the White House. The Washington Post's Eugene Robinson, who spent the Bush years denouncing self-evidently idiotic interventionist foreign policy, is—reluctantly!—all in: "There is good reason to fear that Syria is the most slippery of slopes—and to believe that the only sure way to avoid sliding into the middle of this brutal, messy war is to stay far away. Despite all this … Obama has to act."

He's not alone, of course, in following the lead of The New Yorker's Dexter Filkins, who asserts that "this time it's different." You don't have to buy historian Thaddeus Russell's argument that liberal progressives have always been warmongers to feel a sense of sadness and nausea when reading endorsements of symbolic killing from The New York Times' and Washington Post's editorial boards.

There is something equally sickening in reading the glee of liberal commentators such as the Post's Harold Meyerson, who reflexively reduces all moral issues to questions of immediate partisan advantage. Meyerson is clearly perplexed by politicians who not only espouse principles but act according to them. "The coming collision of libertarian fantasies with reality will be instructive. Can a congressman vote to defund the government and approve a military action in the same month? Or vote to authorize cruise-missile attacks while insisting the government default on its debts?" writes Meyerson, who seems incapable of recognizing that libertarian Republicans such as Amash and Paul won't find themselves in any such conundrum.

But they can and will vote against war and against increasing a federal budget that has exploded over the past dozen years. Even as Meyerson licks his chops at the dramedy unfolding on his computer screen, he seems anxious that things might not go according to his (and Obama's) wishes: "Right-wing Republicans may decide not to authorize a strike because they want to embarrass the president, but even they must know that there's more at stake than their war on Obama: life and death; the future of a crumbling country and a volatile region; our own security as well as U.S. credibility."

Let us be clear: not even Obama agrees that Syria is a threat to the country. And certainly Rand Paul is correct when he says we "should not fight a war to save face."

Meyerson's grotesque partisanship-über-alles mentality has its equal and opposite reaction on the right. James Ceaser, dubbed "one of American conservatism's leading thinkers" by no less a grand poobah than William Kristol, has written a brief for Syrian intervention that at its core comes down to this: "There is the important matter of the future—a future that may one day have a Republican in the presidency. The precedent of setting too low a threshold for blocking presidential initiative in foreign affairs is unwise." Ceaser goes on to counsel his fellow Republicans that they even "can sign on to the president's discretion to act without signing on to his actions," thereby hedging their responsibility.

In such a compromised moral and political universe, characters such as Rand Paul and Justin Amash are not just rare but necessary. We need more of them. Their willingness to articulate governing principles and then legislate accordingly is the reason they are leading an ideological insurgency in the Republican Party and stoking what outlets from The Atlantic to NPR to the Post are recognizing as a "libertarian moment."

You may not agree with them on issues beyond the war, but that's the issue that is front and center right now. Neither of them is a pacifist or an isolationist. But when it comes to purely elective war—not just in Syria but wherever our mad bomber in chief wants to drop a load next—you can be certain they will be leading the opposition.

Note: This article originally appeared at The Daily Beast on September 6, 2013. Read it there.

NEXT: Jesse Walker on "The United States of Paranoia"

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  1. Compare their adamantine spine to rollover Republicans such as Eric Cantor and Speaker John Boehner, or any of the 35 House Democrats (with Nancy Pelosi leading the charge like a latter-day Molly Pitcher!)

    Adamantine spine! Nice one, Nick.

    1. Forgot the damn italic tag.

    2. Your assuming that Boehner and Cantor don’t have raging war boners. They aren’t rolling over, they’re doing what they want.

      1. Well, it was Nick assuming, actually, that was supposed to be in italics. But I totally agree.

        1. You expect me to read the article and not jump straight to the comments?!?

          1. Of course not.

            The blame lays entirely with me in leaving out the proper tags and I take full responsibility.

  2. Hate to be the thrower of cold water, but we’re most likely still going to attack Syria, because Block Yomomma wants the radical Muslims to take over the country. He just hasn’t figured out yet how he can do it while plausibly blaming the republicans for it.

    1. Quit yammering like a stupid redneck.

      “Obama is a sekret Muslim” is so 2008.

      1. Fuck off Weigel. I hope you catch AIDS and die.

        1. No one except the far-right lunatics at Breitbart and Free Republic believes that Obama is a Muslim plant.

          Give it up.

        2. Obama is called Bush the III!

          Do you think Bush was a sekret Muslim? And yes, I know he gift-wrapped Iraq for radical Islam.

          1. May you one day soon be beaten to death on Capitol Hill by a gang of young hoodlums playing “Knockout King” like your buddy Yglesias nearly was.

          2. PB — It doesn’t matter if he were one, he shows uncommon zeal when it comes to killing them. Think of some clever pro-war Obama cliches to repeat, at least.

          3. How bout this:


          4. Is PB a closet Obama WAR-FAG??

      2. FYI it is possible to support the radical Muslims taking over a country without being one.

  3. 107 year old man dies…shot by SWAT team.

    1. Suspect Monroe Isadore was found by officers allegedly pointing a gun at two people at a home in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, on Saturday, according to Fox News.

      The two victims were led out of the house before police approached the bedroom where the elderly man was holed up. He fired one shot through the door but no one was hurt.

      A Special Weapons And Tactics (SWAT) team was then called in to negotiate with Isadore who was found to be armed with a handgun after a camera was placed into the bedroom.

      When negotiations failed the SWAT pumped gas into the room, which caused Isadore to start firing at the SWAT team.

      He was shot dead by officers after they threw a “distraction device” into the room and breached the door.

      Wait…there were no potential victims left in the house. Why couldn’t the SWAT team just wait it out? If there’s no potential for him to hurt anyone, then the SWAT team just unnecessarily heightened the violence.

      1. That 107-year-old dude could’ve snuck out the back door and gone on a RAMPAGE.

      2. “…then the SWAT team just unnecessarily heightened the violence.”

        You say that like that’s not their job.

  4. I posted this in the other thread but it bears repeating:

    LA Times: Obamacare Opponents are like the segregationists.

    1. In Georgia, for example, Hudgens wants the navigators to pass the same licensing test as insurance agents, whose work is vastly different and who earn a commission on each policy they sell.

      OMG, the irony, it burns.

      1. Liberals suddenly realize how terrible regulation is when it’s on something they like.

        For example, liberals are somehow able to understand that regulation of abortion clinics may result in it being harder for someone to get an abortion, but they are incapable of applying that logic to the rest of the economy.

        1. Well, the difference, in their minds is profit. Insurance salesmen are evil, and make a profit. Navigators are tireless servants of their community who happen to be “subsidized with some federal funding”.

          1. Do they work for free?

            1. Some of them, apparently, others not. From the article:

              The majority of these navigators are local, civic-minded people, many of whom are health professionals, who know how transformative it will be to have a near-universal healthcare system for the episodically employed and uninsured people they come in contact with daily. Although subsidized with some federal funding, the navigators face obstacles similar to the ones that confronted the civil rights activists and voter registration volunteers of half a century ago.

              1. Although subsidized with some federal funding, the navigators face obstacles similar to the ones that confronted the civil rights activists and voter registration volunteers of half a century ago.

                They’re being murdered by the Klan?

              2. They’re fucking bureaucrats. CA is going to spend several hundred million dollars hiring ‘co-ordinators’. So the socialist complaint about insurance agents boils down to not liking how and why they are paid – ie for results, instead of for punching a clock.

                1. @VG Zaytsev:

                  See my response to your emotional outburst on the other thread where you accuse me of being a pedophile and totally misrepresent what I was arguing.

                  What you said was no different than saying that people who think crack (and all drugs) should be legal are in favor of people smoking crack.

                  But hey, I’m used to being beat up on regarding this subject because most people are incapable of thinking rationally about it and instead have a violent conniption.

                  1. Are you talking about the time you came out in favor of child prostitution and claimed that 13 year olds are capable of consenting to sex work with 47 year old western sex tourists?

                    Let’s admit what ‘this subject’ is for the boys and girls at home.

                    1. Irish,

                      Are you capable of making a counter argument that isn’t just attacking a strawman?

                    2. I never argued saying child prostitution was a good thing or that prostitution at all was a good thing.

                      To say I am “in favor” of child prostitution is about as disingenuous as people saying Ron Paul is in “favor of heroin use” because he doesn’t believe in prohibition.

                      My argument was simply that there is no magical point at which you become an adult mentally and that AoC laws are predicated on question begging/no true scottsman type fallacies.

                      To have a law that says that anyone who has sexual relations with someone under the AoC is 100% of the time a rapist and that 100% of the time anyone under the AoC is truly incapable of consent is nothing more than one big No True Scottsman codified into law, and that there is no good libertarian based moral justification for having them or banning prostitution below ‘x’ age.

                    3. So, you’re a pedophile.

                      Got it.

                    4. So you are unable to form an argument and instead resort to ad hom.

                      Got it.

      2. Hudgens actually accepted only the highest bidders for the Georgia exchange in an attempt to sabotage it.

        1. Which is like segregation because

        2. Shrike knows Georgia. Don’t question his credentials.

          Palin’s Buttplug| 9.2.13 @ 5:57PM |#

          If everyone agreed with me I would quit posting.

    2. from the comments: Obamacare is unpopular across the nation, not least because it has been forced upon us. Attempted force, anyway. I’ll pay the IRS tax/fine for not joining up. You err when you push the notion that the problem is people who are racist and reject the ACA because of Obama’s race — this Act is a bad pig and if you don’t know that then you are entirely too ignorant to walk and breath oxygen at the same time.

      To be quite honest, if Obamacare goes down because of those ‘white Southerners’ that you so deplore, then the nation will owe the South a huge debt.

      Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha

    3. I’ve submitted my page-length op-ed titled “Bismarck, Hitler, and Obama: How Obamacare and the Socialization of Health Costs Recapitulates the Second Reich and Presages Fascism.” I will now hold my breath waiting for them to publish it.

      It’s too bad the Kochs decided against buying up the Trib papers–I would’ve thought that they could liquidate the LA Times and turn a nice profit on all those scarce resources being tied up in such an unprofitable (in every sense) enterprise.

  5. Washington Post: Alliance of Tea Party libertarians and anti-war Dems looks like the real thing.…..eal-thing/

    Now where is that Libertarian candidate that will fit this bill? (Must run as Libertarian – not Republican).

    1. We all want Shrike to run!

      Palin’s Buttplug| 9.2.13 @ 5:57PM |#

      If everyone agreed with me I would quit posting.

      1. I mean 94% libertarian purity is pretty high!

      2. Your cleverness ran out a while ago. I am waiting for more cute Obama war justifications.

    1. Yes, because intimidation with threat of violence against the one black guy in town is an example of property rights that should be defended.

      1. Where do you see any threats of violence and intimidation?

      2. @HM:

        In regards to our “debate” on the other thread. Is it usually in your character to accuse someone of making an argument they never made, and then call them a liar?

        1. Your litterbox is in the other thread, could you stick to pooping there?

          1. Tulpa, you’re the ultimate shitcommenter on this site so I don’t want to hear that coming from you.

            Have fun jumping on the “bash on Plopper bandwagon” and attacking strawmen like Irish though.

            It really shows the character of people like Irish and HM though when they can’t do anything but attack strawmen and make ad hominem attacks.

    2. Sold American!

      Reason is likely okay with a crank voluntary trading for land out in the middle of nowhere and being roundly rebuffed. They’re also okay with Louis Farrakhan buying up as much of Detroit as he wants to.

  6. As long as the Obamessiah keeps ground troops out, most of his supporters won’t give a crap. They aren’t going to empower RACIST!!!!11111 like Rand Paul for a couple thousand dead Syrians.

    1. BO could reinstate the draft and include women and children in it and send them all to Syria and his supporters wouldn’t give a crap.

      1. This didn’t make it to 24×7 or HyR. But it’s good. A majority of Americans approve sending Congress to Syria.

        1. Only if they make a stop at Pluto first.

  7. Why couldn’t the SWAT team just wait it out?

    They got an emergency message the Krispy Kreme “hot donut” light was on.

  8. the navigators face obstacles similar to the ones that confronted the civil rights activists and voter registration volunteers of half a century ago.

    You betcha.

  9. Obama War-Fag Lindsey Graham doesn’t like Wacky-Bird anti-war colleagues. Stomps foot, demands Obama attack Syrian children.

  10. The coming collision of libertarian fantasies with reality will be instructive. Can a congressman vote to defund the government and approve a military action in the same month? Or vote to authorize cruise-missile attacks while insisting the government default on its debts?

    For the life of me, I can’t think of any U.S. geopolitical or geostrategic objective that is advanced by installing Al Qaeda in Syria. While Harold Myerson may be a little more outspoken about it, I can’t help but wonder if he hasn’t identified the sociopathic motivation for this entire venture: let’s put our sons and daughters at risk and kill foreign civilians to provide a rationale for not exercising fiscal restraint.
    I really do hope there’s a hell. Because if there is, I have to believe that anyone who would lead such a policy (or cheerlead it) will have a very special place reserved for them.

  11. an exemplary districtwide

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