The Intralibertarian Split On War

Ilya Somin proposes a couple of theories on why people who label themselves libertarian are split on the issue of war.

I continue to be amazed at the argument put forth against the war (as seen in the comments of Ilya's post) based on simplistic moral principles such as "don't initiate force". Any careful examination of the ramifications of such principles demonstrates them to be useless at the nation-state level. They simply do not translate from the level of individuals to the level of states. There are good arguments against war, but "don't initiate force" isn't one of them.

The biographical theory is especially interesting, because contra Ilya, I don't think most libertarians truly appreciate how corrupt other nations' governments can be. They see the US government carry out a Drug War, tax up to 50% of earned income, and kill innocent people on death row. Because it causes suffering within the boundaries of the US, and because the US is the most powerful government in the world, they conclude that it must also be responsible for the suffering outside the boundaries of the US. Unless one has direct experience living under a foreign government, it's difficult to maintain perspective at the relative evils of various governments, to realize that there is a difference in living in a country where you can, without remorse, openly and publicly mock the President from 10 feet away as he sits helpless in front of millions versus living in a country where you can be whisked away and killed for passing a note in the audience during a speech given by the dictator. Someone who has lived in such a place would be less likely to be outraged by a war carried out by the US government.

I think the best argument against war, isn't really against war per se, but against nation building. If liberty depends on institutions, and if good institutions are organically evolved, it seems unlikely that simply removing the regime will result in liberty. I'm skeptical that a top-down intervention will create the robust civil societies necessary for liberalism to thrive, though I'm open to persuasion.

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The ultimate question is

The ultimate question is "why are you a libertarian?" Is libertarianism a means to an end, or is the end itself? Because ultimately, your position on this war is goig to be a reflection of your moral compass.

The way I see it, we can't prove morals --- mine are mine and yours are yours. Libertarianism, to the best of my knowledge, happens to be the best way to get what I want in most situations. So for me, libertarianism is a tactical choice, but it is not an ideological one.

On the flipside, you might feel that libertarianism defines your moral compass outright. While I think it would be reasonable to call us both libertarians, we are very different libertarians.

I think it's pretty obvious that supporting the Iraq War is not in line with pure libertarian ideology, but I'm not an ideological libertarian, I'm a tactical libertarian. Not only does this explain why I can differ so drastically on this issue with other libertarians who I generally agree with, but it explains how I can view the prosecution of the war in a such a diametrically opposed light.

Another more crude way to draw the division would be to say that all the people who consider Heinlein to be a primary influence are hawkish, whereas all the people who consider Rothbard to be a primary influence are dovish. Notable exceptions of course abound (I'm thinking of the Friedman's here), but the contrast between Heinlein and Rothbard is almost perfectly in parallel to the contrast between libertarian hawks and doves.

There are plenty of good

There are plenty of good consequentalist arguments against the war in Iraq.

Like the consequences of removing a secular dictator who is replaced by a democracy which is split into a civil war between two religious factions. This reduces religious extremism how?

Like removing a secular military dictator who kept the theocrats next door in check, with the result that the country run by the Grand Ayatollah Poobah of Hate and Nukes and Funding Terrorism is now the major power in the region. This reduces religious extremism how?

etc.

That our military actions

That our military actions have done any sort of good in the region is at least as hard to credit.

Some seem to have been far more good than bad, for example the protection of the Kurds from Hussein throughout the nineties after the Gulf War. However, the big thing is of course 9/11. Some take from that the lesson that we needed to get out of the Middle East. But I take from it the lesson that the new locality is the world. Proximity isn't the issue it once was. More than before, we need to treat all the countries in the world as if they were our next door neighbors. And in my view Israel had no choice but to respond to the threat from Lebanon. If Israel had no choice but to act, then by the same token neither do we.

Which is not to endorse the particulars of our actions.

After deeper consideration,

After deeper consideration, I no longer buy it. I think it is really hard to credit.

That our military actions have done any sort of good in the region is at least as hard to credit. As such, and given the great and certain costs (if not net loss) of war to domestic life, liberty and wealth, shouldn't the burden of proof be on would-be war-makers?

I’d say that is your


I’d say that is your reading into it. “Don’t initiate force” is pretty simple it means to hit (etc.) somebody first. My view is that sometimes you’ll need to hit first which contradicts the viewpoint here. Amending it to, “Don’t initiate force, unless there is a credible threat” is different, IMO.

According to Wiki, (FWIW) that is the definition:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non-aggression_principle/

It [the NAP] holds that "aggression" — which is defined as the initiation of physical force or the threat of such upon persons or their property — is inherently illegitimate. The principle does not preclude retaliation against aggression.

I am not going to defend the idea of "never initiate force" because I am aware of some of the problems and gray areas that exist. But the definition you used in your first post struck me as inaccurate and the argument you made the against the principle at the individual level was therefore a strawman.

The volatile, imbalanced

The volatile, imbalanced regimes of the Saudis, the Iranian government and Saddam are the products of the West’s incoherent meddling

That is a familiar story. I have heard it for years. I once subscribed to it, because I didn't think much about the matter. After deeper consideration, I no longer buy it. I think it is really hard to credit.

We find it morally repugnant

We find it morally repugnant to burn down an innocent man’s house to flush out a criminal who is hiding in it but think it’s okay for the U.S. military to blow up somebody’s house on accident with a rocket while trying to bring down Saddam.

It depends on the crime and when it is occurring. If the criminal is launching rockets from the back yard of someone's house, I'd support going after the criminal even if that endangered the house.

But if the criminal is a thief, then there's time to extract him quietly and with minimal danger.

It depends on the situation, on the degree of emergency, on the crime being committed, on the possibility of capturing the criminal slowly and carefully versus quickly and less carefully, and so on.

When the criminal is terrorists blowing up innocent people, the degree of emergency goes up.

I think the best argument

I think the best argument against war, isn’t really against war per se, but against nation building. If liberty depends on institutions, and if good institutions are organically evolved, it seems unlikely that simply removing the regime will result in liberty.

This is a decent argument against wars aimed at nation-building (like Iraq or Afghanistan) but not so much against wars aimed at fulfilling more narrow strategic goals.

However, against nation-building, it is only a decent argument. While institutions do grow organically, that same process indicates that they are sensitive to the political conditions they grow in. A nation like Iraq would have developed political institutions that are more complex but still centered around Hussein and his maintenance of power. The forcible removal of totalitarian regimes still allows for wiping out many institutions and altering the environment in which new institutions are developed. Moreover, if a nation is successfully occupied, obvious pitfalls can be more easily avoided: the military can be kept from coming to power and ethnic tensions can be more easily defuses (as the military is disinclined to take sides).

Many (most?) states targeted for nation-building devolve into chaos or dictatorship because internal divisions are strong. The problem with many nation-building enterprises, then, doesn't stem from something fundamentally wrong with nation-building but from a type of institutional outbreeding depression: by combining many ethnic groups and electing compromises between them, the nation-builder runs the risk of creating an incoherent and maladaptive state. Dictatorship often solves this by brute force and keeps the nation from falling apart. If these divisions are given real boundaries after the successful elimination of an illiberal and indecent regime, institutions native to each ethnic group--institutions that probably functioned as the last remnant of civil society--can take root again. This will likely require a significant occupation/peace-keeping force for a long time both to defend the new statelets from hostile neighbors and to help prevent revenge across borders.

I have few doubts that the national project in Iraq, for example, would be more successful if the country were simply divided between its ethnic groups with an Iraq-wide oil revenue sharing agreement imposed by the Coalition (the Sunnis fear missing out on oil revenues from the north and south).

Going to war in Iraq costs

Going to war in Iraq costs money, results in large-scale loss of life, and accomplishes nothing of benefit to anyone. This could have been predicted before the fact and is obvious now. Case closed.

Steve, amen. A-fuckin'-men.

Steve, amen. A-fuckin'-men. While not all libertarians who haven't dealt with violence are doves, I don't know of a single libertarian who's been in a physical confrontation with a non-government thug that didn't walk away from the incident with a strong hawkish streak.

>>The non-aggression

>>The non-aggression principle puts non-aggression (a means) above the end (liberty). Non-aggression, as a principle, works only among those who agree to observe it and to accept an enforceable penalty when they fail to observe it. That’s why it’s barely relevant to domestic affairs and completely irrelevant with respect to international relations.

You're confused. Non-agression is liberty. A person is free to do whatever they want with themselves and their property until they violate somebody else's right to do the same.

Of course it's relevant to domestic affairs. It works great when implemented and is the common sense way to act for most people in most situations. You can't punch some guy walking down the street unless he punches or threatens to punch you or somebody else.

For a libertarian, there is no difference between international and domestic issues. The demands of justice are universal and as civilization has progressed so has understanding of this principle. The vikings recognized theft from a kinsman as wrong but saw nothing the matter with raiding English villages. Now a days we recognize both actions as wrong but the process is not complete. We find it morally repugnant to burn down an innocent man's house to flush out a criminal who is hiding in it but think it's okay for the U.S. military to blow up somebody's house on accident with a rocket while trying to bring down Saddam.

You can't be a consistent libertarian and support modern wars. It's as simple as that.

To fight wars requires first the amassing of large amounts of equipment and manpower paid for with stolen money. If things go poorly the enslavement of citizens via the draft might also come in to play.

Carrying out a normal war requires destroying the lives and property of innocent individuals who are not responsible for the actions of their country's government.

That said, there's nothing inherently wrong with killing tyrants and their soldiers.

I’d like to believe that

I’d like to believe that because it would make foreign policy really easy. But the Saudis aren’t westerners and the Iranian government isn’t westernerns and Saddam wasn’t a westerner, etc.

Constant,
The volatile, imbalanced regimes of the Saudis, the Iranian government and Saddam are the products of the West's incoherent meddling, and the resultant lack of organic, sensible local wrangling. Imagine if some far-off, vastly superior hyper-power had tried to "set up" liberal democracy in Britain by continually staging military operations throughout the time of its wars and diplomacy with Scotland, the English Civil War, the Restoration, and the Glorious Revolution. Instead of the abundant factions (Scots, English, monarchists, parliamentarians, republicans, Anglicans, puritans, Catholics, and bourgeosie) progressively (if at times violently) hashing out a political order, Britain might have ended up in the kind of persistent chaos the Middle East is in now.

If you know the intiation of

If you know the intiation of force is going to happen, then you are not the initiator if you take action to prevent it. IOW, “don’t initiate force” doesn’t mean you can’t respond to a credible threat with force. At least that’s my understanding of it.

I'd say that is your reading into it. "Don't initiate force" is pretty simple it means to hit (etc.) somebody first. My view is that sometimes you'll need to hit first which contradicts the viewpoint here. Amending it to, "Don't initiate force, unless there is a credible threat" is different, IMO. While it is tactically better than the simple view of the use of force it is morally questionable. For example, if you see somebody coming towards you with an aggressive intent, if you simply attack first you are not trying to disarm the situation (if time permits).

Matt-- In the hypothetical

Matt--

In the hypothetical case that the U.S. neatly went in to Iraq, snipped Saddam, and pushed all the right buttons to somehow install a minarchist libertarian leader who enjoyed widespread support by the populace, then I would say such an action would be "morally good."

But empirically, this never occurs. In this case, sure Saddam is out, but the Iraqi populace is no freer, no richer, no happier today than they would be had we let Iraq be. Further, lives have been lost on both sides, and scarce resources spent.

So the answer to...
"Yes, because the world was a better place with that tyrant in power who we have now tragically lost."
...is that the world is not a better place today than it would be had we not opted to invade Iraq. The benefits failed to exceed the costs, as is the case with essentially every undertaking carried out by government.

The non-aggression principle

The non-aggression principle works perfectly well on the nation-state level (as well as the individual, but I won't go into that here), assuming it provides for retaliation. Governments are far too dumb and corrupt to assume that 1) it is being honest about the aims of the aggression and 2) that it knows the first thing about attaining those aims in this complicated world. Most people on this site don't trust knowledge-starved governments to act regarding the intricacies of commercial markets. Why would you trust it with the intricacies of geopolitics? In politics as in markets, the best people to make decisions are the people on the ground. That even applies to whether to have a revolution or not. The non-aggression principle works for nation-states, because the only military-strategic thing we know with any degree of certainty is that we need to fight back when attacked. It is hubristic and delusional to think governments can know anything more than that.

I find it ironic that

I find it ironic that someone with the title "Alcibiades", an Athenian general who led the Spartan army, built its navy, in order to beat Athens in the Pelopponesian War, would argue against the actions taken to fight Islamofascism of both its left (Baathism) and right (Wahabbism) varieties.

No, the threat is one where the west is presented with a "convert or die" ultimatum, a society with a long history of treachery, a quranic imperative to lie, cheat, steal, and kill infidels, and no relationship to the Geneva Conventions or other Laws of War.

ZAP is not a pacifist doctrine by any stretch of the imagination, though there are a lot of pacifists who shuck the ZAP jive, betting their bluff will never be called, and ticked off at the idea that it might be, so they try to change the terms of debate and buy into the barking moonbat left/Baathist/Islamist agitprop.

"nothing of benefit to

"nothing of benefit to anyone"

Yes, because the world was a better place with that tyrant in power who we have now tragically lost. Grow up. Reasonable people can disagree over the wisdom (or lack thereof) of the chosen path on Iraq, but is it really that hard for you to admit that there have been benefits as well as costs?

There are times when you

There are times when you know the initiation of force is going to happen, and surrendering the initiative is a good way of getting beaten up.

If you know the intiation of force is going to happen, then you are not the initiator if you take action to prevent it. IOW, "don't initiate force" doesn't mean you can't respond to a credible threat with force. At least that's my understanding of it.

The non-aggression principle

The non-aggression principle puts non-aggression (a means) above the end (liberty). Non-aggression, as a principle, works only among those who agree to observe it and to accept an enforceable penalty when they fail to observe it. That's why it's barely relevant to domestic affairs and completely irrelevant with respect to international relations. Steve Verdon has it exactly right.

Heck I'd say the "don't

Heck I'd say the "don't initiate force" as bad even at the individual level. I'd say that most people who have such a view haven't been in a physical confrontation. There are times when you know the initiation of force is going to happen, and surrendering the initiative is a good way of getting beaten up. Of course, that doesn't mean walking around ready to hit, kick or shoot people. Trying to do the right thing and avoid the violence is best, but sometimes impossible. In these unfortunate situations surrendering the initiative is dumb...very dumb.

Actually, no, I'm a regular

Actually, no, I'm a regular reader of the VC, especially Ilya Somin's posts, and I read this yesterday and had a rough draft written last night. Correlation/causation, post hoc ergo propter hoc, etc.

So your answer is

So your answer is 'coincidence', which was one of the possibilities I mentioned. No need to falsely accuse me of logical fallacies.

...uh, you're welcome?... or

...uh, you're welcome?... or was it just a coincidence that I pointed out an article at VC and a few hours later there's a Catallarchy entry on it?

"Someone who has lived in

"Someone who has lived in such a place would be less likely to be outraged by a war carried out by the US government."

The Iraqi population is a good test case, no?

...

"War is the health of the state" sums up my reasons for opposition as well as any phrase could. Then there's the pathetic history of past interventions. Oh, I know, if only they were done right, with full support of the people. Yeah, you could say that about many gov't initiatives.

From a libertarian

From a libertarian perspective, morals aside, this war has taken the life, liberty and property from a tremendous number of people without their consent.

From a moral perspective, it's even worse. For people who are "pro-liberty" to presume to make decisions (from a place of relative safety) about what should happen to the liberty of others is hypocritical and disgusting.

Beyond the issues of costs and benefits of the war, I don't think it's very "Libertarian" of Americans to think they have any right to make decisions about the lives of Iraqis.

If, however, you have some

If, however, you have some sort of argument that war (at least at this stage in history) is certainly utility-decreasing, I’d be interested in it.

It seems the wrong question (is war utility-decreasing). Suppose someone starts launching missiles and blowing up your country. Is that war, or is it war only if you fight back? I think it's already war, and so the question for the defenders to ask themselves is not, "is war utility-decreasing", but, "given that the war has started, would it be utility-decreasing for us to defend ourselves."

Let's take the Israeli attack on Lebanon. If you go back a few steps, the Israelis are defending themselves. So the question for them to ask themselves isn't, "is war utility-decreasing", but, "would it be utility-decreasing for us to respond to Hezbollah."

Finally, suppose you judge that you are about to be attacked. You decide to attack preemptively. In the eyes of some it will be aggression, but in the eyes of others it is in fact self-defense, and the question is still not, "is war utility-decreasing", but, "is this pre-emption utility-decreasing, given suchandsuch probability of being attacked in the future."

For the reasons stated above, even if war is invariably utility-decreasing, it does not follow that it would be utility-decreasing for Country A to attack Country B. That would depend on what Country B had done or was preparing to do.

Libertarians can have

Libertarians can have consequentialist reasons for holding the non-aggression principle. I hold to the principle because it works, not because of abstract morality. Sure there are outliers where it doesn't work, just as there are outliers when a government agency freakishly does something better than the private sector. But, by and large things have, do and will work better without government action. For me, holding to the non-aggression principle is a matter of playing the odds intelligently, not maintaining righteousness.

BTW, I don't understand how can a "practical libertarian" can be happy with the Iraq war any more than a "moral" libertarian.

the West [...] has only held

the West [...] has only held the local communities back

I'd like to believe that because it would make foreign policy really easy. But the Saudis aren't westerners and the Iranian government isn't westernerns and Saddam wasn't a westerner, etc.

Like removing a secular

Like removing a secular military dictator

Saddam was not a secular dictator. He did not practice separation of church and state.

"Although Shi'a Arabs are the largest religious group, Sunni Arabs dominated economic and political life during the Hussein regime. Sunni Arabs were at a distinct advantage in all areas of secular life. The Government also severely restricted or banned outright many Shi'a religious practices and for decades conducted a brutal campaign of murder, summary execution, arbitrary arrest, and protracted detention against religious leaders and followers of the majority Shi'a Muslim population and sought to undermine the identity of minority Christian (Assyrian and Chaldean) and Yazidi groups. The regime systematically killed senior Shi'a clerics, desecrated Shi'a mosques and holy sites, interfered with Shi'a religious education, and prevented Shi'a adherents from performing their religious rites."

http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2003/24452.htm

That is not secular.

The Iraqi population is a

The Iraqi population is a good test case, no?

As I understand it, the Kurds are staunchly pro-American, the Shiites are for the most part glad to be rid of Hussein, and the Sunnis are pissed that their domination of Iraq is over.

And the Iraqis who genuinely

And the Iraqis who genuinely share Western values (e.g. the guys at Iraq the Model) realize that the US has given them hope and a chance to make Iraq a free country, something they did not have under Hussein.

From a libertarian

From a libertarian perspective, morals aside, this war has taken the life, liberty and property from a tremendous number of people without their consent.

Probably, but the Iraqi government was already doing that, no? Now maybe things are worse than when the war began, but without knowing that, it's not clear that the sanctity of life, liberty, and property is an argument for or against the status quo (of pre-War Iraq).

From a moral perspective, it’s even worse. For people who are “pro-liberty” to presume to make decisions (from a place of relative safety) about what should happen to the liberty of others is hypocritical and disgusting.

Maybe, but Hussein too was making decisions about what should happen to the liberty of others, true? And if that's a wrong (and a "disgusting" one at that), as you suggest, then are we not justified in trying to stop it?

Beyond the issues of costs and benefits of the war, I don’t think it’s very “Libertarian” of Americans to think they have any right to make decisions about the lives of Iraqis.

One could, at this point, note that a decision to not have helped would have been a decision to favor the current Iraqi status quo. Blah, blah, therefore even the decision not to act is an action (and a decision) and therefore we're all sinners. But I don't buy that argument, so I sidestep it.

Nonetheless, I've shown the non-aggression principle does not clearly favor the pacifist stance you would prefer it did, which vindicates Jonathan's original point about the non-aggression principle being inutile at the nation level.

Incidentally, now that my mind is on the subject, the reason the non-aggression principle does not give us answers on the state level is this: a state is a collective that many libertarians don't think has a right to exist, or doesn't have a right to exist in its current size. When states interact, (at least) two such illegitimate entities are battling, and since we view both as morally impermissible, there's no clear answer as to what such entities may morally do. In our eyes, by and large, every action by both is a violation of the original non-aggression principle on the individual level, since collectives such as the modern state form by large scale violation of the principle. So in the battle between two evils, who do you back? Our rights arguments find no purchase here, since it's a given that rights will be violated---we're rather dealing with meta-wrongs, groping for second-best solutions.

And in such a situation, it seems the cold utilitarian calculus is the best tool available.

If this is correct, it implies that the non-aggression principle would hold true among states of a morally permissible size---which, for many libertarians, myself included, is Nozick's night watchman. That is to say, if Iraq was a night watchman state, then the United States would have acted wrongly in initiating aggresion against it. It was not, and therefore the moral valence of the U.S.'s action is debatable.

Personally, if it pisses off the hippies, I'm usually in favor of it.

I thought we were arguing

I thought we were arguing about the justice of the current war, not removing Sadam from power. Frankly, what's done is done, in that regard, debating it is pointless, and that particular consequence of the US invasion is one I don't object to.

If that was the reason for the war, then the US troops should have Iraq some time ago. Why stay? Are they actually building a democratic Iraq? (that's a rhetorical question, the answer is no) Are they keeping Iraqis safe amid the chaos? (Once again, No) Are they stopping the spread of Radical Islamicism? (Still No)

I just re-read Scott's

I just re-read Scott's comment, and I'm Double posting to add:
Has anyone but a few Trotskyists made the argument that Iraq as a State had some right to Sovereignty under Saddam? Because last I checked, most people on the anti-war side are talking about the rights of the Iraqi People. Who have died in significantly larger numbers since this started.

It does make a convenient straw-man, though.

If, however, you have some

If, however, you have some sort of argument that war (at least at this stage in history) is certainly utility-decreasing, I’d be interested in it.

Each individual war may not be utility-decreasing, but war, on average, tends to be, because governments are not good at doing things, especially difficult things. And war and nation building are very difficult. Markets approach optimization if the makers of decisions are the ones most effected by those decisions. The same seems to prove true for politics. I strongly suspect that the West blindly stumbling around in the Middle East ever since the fall of the Ottoman Empire has created and exacerbated huge and volatile political imbalances and has only held the local communities back from hashing out a reasonable political order that could organically progress toward liberty and democracy.

There is a clear answer.

There is a clear answer. Like you said the crux of the illegitimacy is the size of the state. When a state goes to war, it by definition increases in size and scope, thereby making its illegitamacy, by definition, worse.

Ah, but it might decrease the size and scope of some other government even while it grows larger, which makes the net change in global legitimacy, again, uncertain.

With respect, I do not think my (and only mine; I don't speak for Jonathan) attempted divide between individual and national principles is a false or illusory one, but you may judge as you wish.

But, from a utilitarian standpoint (at this stage in history at least), war is folly.

Could be; I have no strong opinion on the subject myself. Superficially, my guess is that some wars are justified and some are not, and some have been and some haven't. From a utilitarian standpoint.

If, however, you have some sort of argument that war (at least at this stage in history) is certainly utility-decreasing, I'd be interested in it.

Labyrus, Who have died in

Labyrus,

Who have died in significantly larger numbers since this started.

Source? Also, by your earlier metric, it seems like this is only one of three variables that have to be considered.

The rest of what you said is silly.

Scott, Now maybe things are

Scott,

Now maybe things are worse than when the war began, but without knowing that, it’s not clear that the sanctity of life, liberty, and property is an argument for or against the status quo (of pre-War Iraq).

Looking at the pre-war and post-war death rates is enough to know that things are worse.

Maybe, but Hussein too was making decisions about what should happen to the liberty of others, true? And if that’s a wrong (and a “disgusting” one at that), as you suggest, then are we not justified in trying to stop it?

That line of reasoning would justify military action against any government, because all governments are illiberal to some degree. We can "try" to stop illiberality with military action all we want. But we have absolutely no idea whether it's going to work.

a state is a collective that many libertarians don’t think has a right to exist, or doesn’t have a right to exist in its current size. When states interact, (at least) two such illegitimate entities are battling, and since we view both as morally impermissible, there’s no clear answer as to what such entities may morally do...

There is a clear answer. Like you said the crux of the illegitimacy is the size of the state. When a state goes to war, it by definition increases in size and scope, thereby making its illegitamacy, by definition, worse.

And this absolute divide between an "individual level" and a "nation-state level" that you and Jonathan are trying to set up is false. When a state goes to war, it is commandeering and spending the blood and treasure of its individual citizens.

I hate hippies too. But, from a utilitarian standpoint (at this stage in history at least), war is folly.

The trouble with all this

The trouble with all this talk about the NAP is that is only works if it is applied mutually. I have never heard Osama Bin laden, or his ilk, say much about the Non Aggression Principle.

Don’t forget that various Islamist States and organizations have attacked US interests about twenty times since 1979 when the US embassy in Iran was attacked. Aggression doesn’t just mean troops pouring across your border. US response has been very measured, and reluctant.

As to nation building see Steven Schreiber above. It is a quandary because the opposition can easily spoil everything with violence and intimidation. It seems like we are on the right side. Do the Iraqis not want running water and electricity?

Daniel said “The volatile, imbalanced regimes of the Saudis, the Iranian government and Saddam are the products of the West’s incoherent meddling, and the resultant lack of organic, sensible local wrangling. Imagine if some far-off, vastly superior hyper-power had tried to “set up” liberal democracy in Britain by continually staging military operations throughout the time of its wars and diplomacy with Scotland, the English Civil War, the Restoration, and the Glorious Revolution.”

Yes but what if that far off power were paying these countries billions yearly for oil and British pirates were attacking their interests in ships built with oil money and spreading Puritanism by force and killing Catholics (as they did). You would have to try something.

As Constant says “More than before, we need to treat all the countries in the world as if they were our next door neighbors.”

I’d like to believe that

I’d like to believe that because it would make foreign policy really easy. But the Saudis aren’t westerners and the Iranian government isn’t westernerns and Saddam wasn’t a westerner, etc

They all maintain Power based on Western Support. Most of the government officials are educated in the West. I could go on, but I think you get the gist of it.

Some seem to have been far more good than bad, for example the protection of the Kurds from Hussein throughout the nineties after the Gulf War.

The Kurds weren't protected from Hussein throughout the nineties. You may be thinking of Kuwaitis. They were. Kurdish people in Iraq suffered greatly during the period after the first gulf war.

However, the big thing is of course 9/11.
Which Iraq had nothing to do with.

Some take from that the lesson that we needed to get out of the Middle East. But I take from it the lesson that the new locality is the world. Proximity isn’t the issue it once was. More than before, we need to treat all the countries in the world as if they were our next door neighbors.
A strong case for interventionism in the middle East, but not for the current war in Iraq. And frankly, as a Canadian, I hope you don't treat your next door neighbors like that.

And in my view Israel had no choice but to respond to the threat from Lebanon.
Agreed, but they had a choice of how to respond, and that's the key. Blowing up a bunch of houses full of innocent people (who might or might not be sort of near hidden missile lauch sites) isn't going to stop Hezbollah anymore than invading Iraq made the US safe from Terrorism.

If Israel had no choice but to act, then by the same token neither do we.
As I said, acting isn't a choice, but you can choose to act like an empire or you can choose to act like rational, moral human beings. There were plenty of options for dealing with Saddam Hussein's regime (which, let's remember, the US set up) that were never explored. Only Two strategies were ever really attempted.

The first was to Starve the Iraqi people in hopes that they'd eventually toss him (The Oil For Food Program). This had the result of killing a bunch of children and crippling Iraq's Economy.

The second strategy was military intervention, which also hasn't really been successful by any metric except that it eliminated Saddam.

I don't think that your

I don't think that your starting premise can stand scrutiny. In my experience, consequentialist/Hayekian/public choice arguments are equally (often more so) common among antiwar libertarians than the "simplistic" moral claims about the initiation of force. This approach cetainly predominates at Liberty and Power.

On the other hand, the pro-war folks frequently stress moralistic/Wilsonian/highly emotional arguments that call imposing "liberty" and "democracy" regardless of the real-world consequences. I also see little evidence, contra Somin, that libertariaan Jews are more likely to be pro-war. This is certainly not true for Jews as a whole, more than 70 percent of whom oppose the Iraq war. Why should libertarian Jews diverge from the Jewish majority in this regard?

I reply at greater length to Somin here

Dave, Yes but what if [...]

Dave,

Yes but what if [...] British pirates were attacking their interests in ships [...] You would have to try something.

Spain did try something, with its Armada. And I for one am glad they were repelled. Britain is an awfully nice place now. I doubt it still would be if Phillip II of Spain had his way with the place back in 1588.

Jonathan- You are asking the

Jonathan-

You are asking the question backwards. In my mind the burden of proof is on those who want to go to war. All you need to do is convince me (and some others apparently) that this war is going to cause more good than harm. I don’t even care if it is justified as a net benefit to the USA, Iraq or the world as a whole, but I do want a realistic cost – benefit analysis with risk taken into account.

There are good things that come out of all wars, but I don’t see a side that has a positive sum in this one. I am all ears.

There are good things that

There are good things that come out of all wars, but I don’t see a side that has a positive sum in this one. I am all ears.

Perhaps that's why you can't see anything.

Another point, I don't know

Another point, I don't know if it was brought up, is that it's not entirely fair to compare Iraq pre-war to Iraq before things have settled down, unless you really think the current situation is permanent, which I don't.

We don't judge the success of the Allied effort in WWII by whether Europe was as peaceful during WWII as it was before WWII. And we're still in the middle of some sort of low-intensity war in Iraq.

Dave says: The trouble with

Dave says: The trouble with all this talk about the NAP is that is only works if it is applied mutually. I have never heard Osama Bin laden, or his ilk, say much about the Non Aggression Principle.

And I have never heard libertarians say that we shouldn't go after Bin Laden when we think we know where he is, or that we shouldn't search for him, or any other terrorist, if doing so does not require reducing the freedom of innocent people.

But invading Iraq has pretty much nothing to do with Bin Laden. Invading Afghanistan was different, and there was much less libertarian objection. Smashing the Taliban was a smaller, more easily accomplished, and more clearly terrorism-related goal.

"Don't initiate force" may

"Don't initiate force" may be simple, but I fail to see the need for pejoratives like "simplistic." I have some problems with the principle of "maximize net benefit," but I see parsimony as one of its strengths, not a weakness.

At any rate, I don't see that the libertarian split on Iraq is so much tied to the issue of consequences vs. principles that so many people want to tie it to. I happen to oppose the war because, among other things, I like to be consistent. I wouldn't trust my next door neighbor, or my cousin's bowling team, or the management of General Motors with the power that the state has in wartime. They'd probably violate rights and bring about bad consequences. I suppose that I could make a special exception and trust the state more than I trust those others, but that seems like an unwarranted exception to me.

Jonathan, "Any careful

Jonathan,

"Any careful examination of the ramifications of such principles demonstrates them to be useless at the nation-state level."

I suspect libertarian principles are often of little use at the Mafia-Don level or the serial-rapist level.

I fail to see why libertarians should strive to be useful at the nation-state level.

I fail to see why

I fail to see why libertarians should strive to be useful at the nation-state level.

What do you mean by "be useful"? If you mean recommending one course of action over another--assumedly the ones with good consequences over those with bad--I find it hard to believe you truly can't see the purpose of that.

Patri, I am familiar with

Patri, I am familiar with the facts you mention and agree. However, Saddam was part of the larger problem. How are we going to abide by the non aggression principle by trading for oil with these countries by day and secretly these same countries and trans- national groups financed by these countries are ignoring the NAP, undermining our interests, spreading terror, establishing totalitarianism, committing mass murder, and trying to exterminate Israel ? Removing Saddam was an apparently bungled attempt to help deal with this issue. It may have been a mistake. It may have been badly handled. It may be that we are fighting the wave of the future that just can’t be stopped. It may be that we will figure out a way to prevail.

People use their ideology to try to understand and deal with the problem and suggest answers. I am a somewhat conservative/capitalist loving, libertarian, with a pro American outlook and think we can handle the problem like we did the Nazis and Commies. We just need the right amount of American resources, ingenuity and some good people in charge. Some people think we have lost it and should just withdraw, like we did in Viet Nam. Some think we should just mind our own business. Let people find out for themselves that Islamism sucks. That is what we did with Iran and now they are now menacing their neighbors and getting nukes. Others wail that the way things are is all America’s fault and were getting what we disserve. Maybe the European approach will work, just buy their oil sell them manufactured goods take their bribes and don’t make fun of Allah. You’re an idea man. Have you got any suggestions?