Once more, with feeling!

Randy Barnett, all-around badass and twin brother of Richard Belzer, today re-ignited the debate that has split libertarians since 9/11. The debate was hot when the blogosphere was the new cool thing the cool kids were doing as the Iraq War was just revving up. But it waned in the last couple of years as the War quickly ended and nation-building began. The attention drawn by Ron Paul's candidacy to this strange beast called "libertarianism" seems to have resumed the debate. Round two, if you will.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Barnett speaks for libertarians who don't share Ron Paul's opinion on the Iraq War. Some snippets:

This raised the question: Does being a libertarian commit one to a particular stance toward the Iraq war? The simple answer is "no."

When it comes to foreign policy, libertarians' severe skepticism of government planning in the domestic arena carries over to the government's ability to accomplish anything positive through foreign aid, whether economic or military--a skepticism they share with most Americans. All libertarians, I suspect, oppose military conscription on principle, considering it involuntary servitude. To a libertarian, any effort at "nation building" seems to be just another form of central planning which, however well-motivated, is fraught with unintended consequences and the danger of blowback. And, like most everyone, libertarians oppose any war of aggression. In all these regards, Mr. Paul is a mainstream libertarian.

But like all libertarians, even Mr. Paul believes in the fundamental, individual right of self-defense, which is why libertarians like him overwhelmingly support the right to keep and bear arms. And most also believe that when the territory of the U.S. is attacked militarily, the government--which claims a monopoly on providing for national defense and extracts billions of tax dollars for this purpose--is justified in using the military in self-defense. For this reason, many libertarians (though not all) who now oppose the war in Iraq supported U.S. military actions against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, which had aided and harbored the al Qaeda network that organized the 9/11 attack.

[...]

Many libertarians, and perhaps most libertarian intellectuals, opposed the war in Iraq even before its inception. They believed Saddam's regime neither directly threatened the U.S. nor harbored or supported the terrorist network responsible for Sept. 11. They also feared the risk of harmful, unintended consequences. Some may also have believed that since the U.S. was not attacked by the government of Iraq, any such war was aggressive rather than defensive in nature.

Other libertarians, however, supported the war in Iraq because they viewed it as part of a larger war of self-defense against Islamic jihadists who were organizationally independent of any government. They viewed radical Islamic fundamentalism as resulting in part from the corrupt dictatorial regimes that inhabit the Middle East, which have effectively repressed indigenous democratic reformers. Although opposed to nation building generally, these libertarians believed that a strategy of fomenting democratic regimes in the Middle East, as was done in Germany and Japan after World War II, might well be the best way to take the fight to the enemy rather than solely trying to ward off the next attack.

Moreover, the pro-war libertarians believed there was "legal" cause to take military action against Saddam's regime--from its manifold violations of the ceasefire to firing on American planes legally patrolling the "no fly" zone and its persistent refusals to cooperate with weapons inspections. Saddam's regime was left in power after its unprovoked invasion of Kuwait on these and other conditions that it repeatedly had violated, thereby legally justifying its removal by force if necessary. Better to be rid of Saddam and establish an ally in the war against Islamic jihadists in the heart of the Middle East, the argument goes, and then withdraw American troops.

While I don't agree with everything Barnett says, I agree with him that it's not a matter of general principle that the Iraq War be opposed. Rather, it's a matter of specifics and weighing of potential outcomes. I'm much closer to his point of view than that of many anti-war libertarians, who at times and at extremes, seem to engage in sloganeering, conspiracy theorizing, and agency hyper-detection.

*10 points to the first person to give three reasons why the Buffy episode with the same title was significant.

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Buffy

Because it was when the show jumped the shark.
Actually, untrue; that happened when Dawn was introduced.

10 points

Do I win them?

Can a libertarian hold that

Can a libertarian hold that the state is entitled to finance war with property taken from dissenters?

 

If not, it's hard to see how this war can be justified.

+1 !

That is my favorite weapon against pro-war 'libertarians' :-)

They never expect this one... here they are ready to battle about the moral dilemna of war, the implications of foreign policy and you just remove the carpet under their feet.

Once wars are fully voluntarily paid, we may start discussing about weither or not they are acceptable.

Don't see how it can work

I don't see how it can work against libertarians who accept government in the first place. If spending tax money against the will of dissenters is wrong, then all spending of tax money is wrong, because it all has dissenters. That's my view and apparently your view but it's not the view of everyone who calls himself a libertarian.

Not all libertarians are anarcho-capitalists. Many libertarians - maybe most - believe that government is necessary and inevitable and believe that the thing to do is not to eliminate government but to make it do what it's supposed to do and not do what it's not supposed to do. Those libertarians mostly, I think, believe in the legitimate purpose of the government, which is to defend the citizens against unlawful aggression.

But once you support this role for the government, then it becomes an open question what, exactly, the government should do to defend the people. Waging war is one possibility.

An anarchistic libertarian could moreover decide that the government has always and will always tax as much as it can tax without inciting a rebellion (either a democratic rebellion in which a party is voted out, or a violent rebellion). Therefore the money that the government has taken in taxes will not be either increased or decreased by a change in the government's activities (with an an exception that I will cover below). Since the evil that the government commits is to seize the money in the first place, then it is a matter of moral indifference what the government does with the money once it has already seized it. Taxation is like armed robbery. Once the armed robbers have left with the money, the person robbed has already been victimized, and is not further victimized if the robber spends the money (unless the robber spends the money specifically to victimize his victim further, by, for example, using the money to hire an arsonist to attack the victim's home).

In fact, as a practical matter, if we are aware that the robber wants to burn down our house, we may hope and pray that before the robber has the opportunity to do so he will squander as much of the stolen money on idle pleasures so that he has insufficient funds left over to burn down our home. We might want him to spend the money on something notoriously expensive, such as foreign travel. Foreign adventures. Visiting a foreign country. Maybe make it a company outing, so that a lot of company employees go to that foreign country at once - invade it. The more the robber throws money down this hole, the less he will have available to hire someone to burn down our house.

And any libertarian will probably tell you that what the government does inside the borders of the US with the tax money it takes is, in large part, to harm the economy and infringe our freedoms.

I said above that I would talk about an exception to the disconnect between what the government does with the money and how much money it collects. The exception that comes to mind is that if the people like what the government is doing, then they may be willing to put up with a tax hike without rebelling. So if the government engages in a foreign war which is popular, then this may make it somewhat easier for the government to collect more taxes. However, the Iraq war is not very popular.

Many libertarians who accept

Many libertarians who accept some taxes do so because they feel that public law enforcement and justice "make sense", they view it as rational in a way that few people would disagree with this use of public funding. However, wars are far from being as popular as "chasing murderers" enforcing the law etc, they can hardly claim that everyone in good-faith really accepts the "service".

Anyway, if the discussion is on the ethical ground, and the person accept taxes, then I might as well talk about this, otherwise he can prove anything from his false hypothesis... Imagine I am trying to prove to someone that 2+2 = 4, I use the fact that 1 = 1 but you say: "Well not everyone feel like 1 = 1, some feel 1 = 2...". If this is so, the guy can always go in the 1 = 2 zone to prove his 2+2=5 theorem, and there's nothing I can do about it, unless I do prove 1 != 2.

Hussein was a murderer

However, wars are far from being as popular as "chasing murderers" enforcing the law etc, they can hardly claim that everyone in good-faith really accepts the "service".

Technically, Hussein was a murderer. So, overthrowing him, capturing him, trying him, and executing him falls into this category. If it takes a war, it takes a war. In particular, natural law libertarians are interested in a law which knows no borders and knows no sovereign immunity, being universal and universally applicable to all, high and low, here and there.

But setting that completely aside, the invasion of Afghanistan was a war, and at the same time was a direct fulfillment of an obligation to pursue specific criminals who had committed specific crimes against specific Americans (about 3000 of them). A war was necessary because cooperation from the local sovereign was not forthcoming. There is, then, no clean division with war on one side and law enforcement on the other. War may be a tool necessary to achieve law enforcement goals.

The invasion of Iraq was of course not an enforcement of a natural law already broken but was preemptive. And so it can be criticized on that ground. But if you are going to criticize it on the ground that it is war and war falls outside the pale, then you must by the same token attack the invasion of Afghanistan. You must define a barrier of sorts beyond which law enforcement may not tread - this barrier being the sovereignty of foreign governments. That will be hard to argue for, because natural law libertarians are unlikely to be much impressed by any appeals you might make to the right of the likes of the Taliban to block American efforts to bring criminals to justice. The Taliban is the particular group of thugs that emerged victorious from local conflicts, and this fact endows them with no special rights at all.

 

Indeed it was perfectly fine

Indeed it was perfectly fine to try Saddam as a murderer (but that fundig problem) but it'snot fine to bomb other people in order to do so.

If I see someone being agressed in a subway car I can defend him, however I can't

a) steal the old lady's purse next to me
b) use the money to buy a bomb
c) blow up the subway car with innocent passengers to get the agressor

The usual anti-war libertarian argument is that you can't do (c) but you save a lot of time by arguing about (a).

If this war was solely about getting Saddam (which is fine) it would have been far less bloody and far less costly.

I thought the Iraq War was postemptive

Actually there were numerous grounds that are compatible with more libertarian theory upon which Iraq could have been invaded [by any individual or group of individuals].    For one thing the prior war with Iraq had not ceased and Hussien was violating the terms of the ceasefire.  Of course that war was not preemptive.   As far as I can tell the only objection a libertarian can have of restarting the war with Iraq is on the grounds of involuntary taxation.   This is hardly a compelling issue from the perspective of most people.   Certainly not one that Hussein has legal standing with or any other Iraqi citizen since we don't tax them to run our military. 

Furthermore, why even argue the issue of Iraq when what you really want to say is that the very existence of the US government violates the libertarian notion of just law?  It's not only that the Iraq War is unjust or illegal from but the very existence of the federal government.   Hell even the local dogcatcher is just as offensive on these grounds.  The tax burden of all that far exceeds the cost of the Iraq war and therefore should presumably be a much greater injustice in the minds of some libertarians. 

Postemptive

Actually there were numerous grounds that are compatible with more libertarian theory upon which Iraq could have been invaded

Recall the Bush doctrine:

The Bush Doctrine argues for a policy of pre-emptive war in cases where
the U.S. or its allies are threatened by terrorists or by rogue states that are engaged in the production of weapons of mass destruction.

While there were some "postemptive" reasons to invade, it seemed to me at the time, and it still seems to me, that the main reason we invaded was preemptive: to prevent Hussein from creating and/or using or supplying terrorists with weapons of mass destruction. In short, I thought, and think, that the invasion of Iraq was the main fruit of the Bush doctrine.

Hussein had been violating the terms of the ceasefire for quite some time and yet neither Clinton nor Bush before 9/11 had invaded Iraq. So Hussein's violations of the terms of ceasefire had not been considered sufficient reason to invade. What changed was 9/11, which gave rise to the Bush Doctrine. Consider the date of the Bush Doctrine:

The Bush Doctrine is a phrase used to describe a policy outlined in a National Security Council text entitled the National Security Strategy of the United States published on September 20, 2002[1]

The invasion of Iraq took place in March 2003, about one half year after the publication of the Bush Doctrine. The timing supports the view that the Iraq War is a fruit of the Bush Doctrine. There is more evidence that can be presented (e.g., Bush's speeches), but I will leave it at that.

Furthermore, why even argue the issue of Iraq when what you really want to say is that the very existence of the US government violates the libertarian notion of just law?

Here you're more or less echoing one of the points I've been making to Arthur. The argument that he wants to use against the Iraq war is, if you take it seriously, a blanket argument against the very existence of the US government.

 

Sure, you're right about most libertarians....

Many libertarians - maybe most - believe that government is necessary
and inevitable and believe that the thing to do is not to eliminate
government but to make it do what it's supposed to do and not do what
it's not supposed to do.

...but it's trivially easy to turn their own libertarian arguments against them every day.

Keep shooting them in the back with the same ammunition they use so enthusiastically against liberals and conservatives - their discomfort is endlessly entertaining. If they turn to engage you then any argument they use against you gets employed against them by the barbarian hordes they just turned their back on.

 

There's no sweeter sound than the lamentations of their women. (Though, granted, they rarely have women.)

There's no sweeter sound

There's no sweeter sound than the lamentations of their women. (Though, granted, they rarely have women.)

It is a well known and documented fact that only ancaps get the chicks. Arguing for socialized law enforcement in a date is doomed, but the girl will always fall for a model of competing private security agencies.

I only know what works for me....

I only know what works for me, in this regard.

Changing the argument

Indeed it was perfectly fine to try Saddam as a murderer (but that fundig problem) but it's not fine to bomb other people in order to do so.

Sure, but your original argument centered around the injustice of using tax money to do things that some taxpayers disagree with. Now you're presenting an argument centered around the injustice (not merely unpopularity among taxpayers) of bombing people. By not sticking to your original argument you lend support to my view that it's not that strong an argument. Sure, absolutely I agree that there are many strong arguments against the Iraq war, and that it involves bombing people is one of them. I was speaking to a particular argument, arguing that it's not really all that strong.

If I see someone being agressed in a subway car I can defend him, however I can't

a) steal the old lady's purse next to me

But now you're speaking up against tax-funded law enforcement, with the old lady playing the role of the taxpayer and the purse playing the role of the tax. As I mentioned earlier, while some libertarians are purists in this regard (i.e., don't believe in state police, believe in privately, i.e. voluntarily funded protection), many libertarians are not, so they would not buy the argument that tax-funded law enforcement is bad.


The usual anti-war libertarian argument is that you can't do (c) but you save a lot of time by arguing about (a).

But in the end you found it necessary to supplement (a) by bringing up (c), in writing, "it's not fine to bomb other people in order to do so".

 

 

No no, let me recap - It's

No no, let me recap

- It's wrong to tax, including to wage war
- Yeah but some people don't really feel that way
- Sure, but they justify it by saying it's just about right and that people in good faith overwhemingly agree with it. It's not true for war.
- Oh yeah, capturating Saddam was law enforcement
- Well sure but it's not what the war was only about, at all... it would have been quite different. So part of the war remain that are clearly not overwhemingly accepted.