Libertarian Foreign Policy debate

Specifically, Jacob Levy goes into why he will join the dark side (for this election) and specifically not vote for the Libertarian candidate, Michael Badnarik- and in so doing has started a small debate on what constitutes an appropriate libertarian foreign policy post-9/11.

To recap for our audience:

Jacob's first post says that Badnarik fundamentally misunderstands "9/11, Al Qaeda, and the reality of radical militant Islamism," and calls it "silly Panglossianism."

Likening what appears to be the consensus opinion of the deontologically[1] anti-war libertarians (henceforth DAWLs) to Dr. Pangloss' irrational optimism spurred Dr. Roderick Long to respond, among others including the Badnarik blog.

Dr. Long's first response rejects Jacob's characterization of Badnarik (and by extension the DAWLs) and makes an explicit analogy to economics, in that as interventionist economics inevitably yields bad outcomes, it is likewise true that interventionist military policies will inevitably yield bad outcomes.

Jacob responds by granting part of Dr. Long's point, but rejects the analogy, saying that it suffers from the following fallacy:

Politics is not economics, and international politics is really not economics, and terrorism is really, really not economics.

Further, and more pointedly, Jacob reiterates that "[...] it is a fallacy-- one akin to if not quite identical with Panglossianism-- to hold to the invisible hand explanation that terrorism is caused by the moral faults of the victims' governments, that there's some causal mechanism that links the moral wrongness of one state's actions to the decision by other states or non-state actors to take violent action."

Dr. Long's second response see's Jacob's reiteration and raises him, saying that Jacob's still missing the point, but in any case instead of positing an invisible hand, the reality is more of a visible fist causing justifiable individual anger and retribution against the US.[2]

...and to all of this, the Badnarik blog responded rather weakly with the equivalent of "I know you are, but what am I?", by way of an poster.[3]

I'll offer my thoughts on this later today, but for now, talk amongst yourselves...

fn1. Being the uncharitable prig that I am, I'm tempted to say reflexively, but
I'm giving my philosophical opponents the benefit of the doubt, assuming that they've come to their positions through consideration and philosophy. I say 'deontologically' in that the people who hold the position that Jacob criticize reject all forms of state war as a matter of first principles. Which is fine, but I disagree.

fn2. Dr. Long is a formidable thinker on matters philosophical and libertarian, but I believe his argument here suffers from some errors that I hope to get to in a response later today.

fn3. If this is the best they can do against a rather pointed and fundamental criticism of their candidate from a lifelong libertarian, then they might as well fold up the tents and go home. That's a "not ready for prime-time" non-response.

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So about this war...The

So about this war...The motivations of the government were definitely not right, and their reasons for going to war are incredibly unclear and in the end, probably had something to do with oil and/or Saddam's plans to assassinate the elder George. However the eventual outcome of the war was beneficial as it gave the Iraqi people freedom. The problem with isolationist policies is that they are based around an us against them view, which often obscures what is right and wrong. Would it be right to allow Saddam to go on killing thousands of defenseless people year after year? Why shouldn't the United States offer aid to those in need? Being the most powerful and affluent country in the world carries responsibility. It is naive to say that The Unites States would be better recieved by the world if it just stayed to itself and continued to acquire more and more wealth while the rest of the world lived in poverty and turmoil. This would be selfish. Going back a few years to when Milosevic was commiting genocide I think that everyone agrees that it was right for the United States to intervene in this case, and in doing so the United States had the backing/urging of the world to enter. What was the difference with Iraq? Namely the administration tried to make it seem like the war was necessary to protect the US, and it clearly was not. Also the support of the World was absent this time. Why? Because as was later discovered, two of the biggest players, France and Russia had immense oil contracts with Saddamm's government and had been profiting from having Saddam in power. It's no wonder that they didn't want to go to war.
Of course, the United States does have to pay a high price for such actions in the form of human lives as well as tax dollars. And there are clearly no economic benefits and social benefits are few. The United States must be able to act in true selflessness, which is impossible for many Americans with "me first" attitudes to understand. The United States should not be the "world police" but should always be ready to fight against the senseless murders of the defenseless.
Finally, if the United States were to in fact treat world policy based on economic policies then as in economic policy there must be intervention. Without government intervention capitalism would not function. The government needs to be present to keep firms from colluding and taking advantage of consumers. The consumer does not have any power over the large firms and without government help would be economically suppressed. Applying this to world policy, in the case where a government is hurting its people it would also be necessary to intervene. The type of economic intervention that Badnarik refers to that is never beneficial are the settings of price celings and government tariffs, which as far as I can see has no basis in world policy.

From Dr. Long's response: >

From Dr. Long's response:

> "The specific attacks the U.S. suffered on 9/11 were primarily a response to its interventionist foreign policy, and the further interventions with which the U.S. has responded are making future terrorist attacks more rather than less likely."

Dissecting this thought just a bit...

Regarding the first portion of the quote, it would be interesting to hear the broad definition of "interventionist". Do the interventionist attempts of protecting Muslims in Kosovo, Kuwait, and Somalia provoke the same sort of response? In other words, does any intervention by US troops involving Muslims qualify as a prerequisite to terror, regardless of whether these troops are defending or attacking Muslims? And this doesn't even get into economic "intervention" in the form of billions of US tax dollars... er, I mean... foreign aid to Muslim countries.

Per the second part, I somewhat cringe when Afghanistan is lumped (either explicitly or implied) in the "further interventions" bucket and equated with Iraq. Although not specifically stated, I'm assuming it not distinctly separated here. With Afghanistan, there was no guessing work. The Taliban, with its Al Qaeda clients, was a sanctuary for twenty-some terrorist camps with the sole intent of unleashing its terror on the West. Unlike Saddam, where his intent, willingness, and overall capability of striking at the US were fuzzy at best, there was little doubt what the Afghan camps' raison d'etre was.

To me, Long made the perfect

To me, Long made the perfect analogy:

Suppose I go out into any street in the world -- Peoria or Fallujah -- and start randomly punching people on the street. I feel fairly confident in predicting that the percentage of people who hit, kick, or shoot me will be far higher among those I hit than among those I didn't hit.

Here's the problem with his application of the analogy. Arabian Terrorism has gone out in the street and punched us. The only thing that will keep them and others from doing it again is by making sure that he has a 100% chance of not just getting hit or kicked back, but being shot to death.

I support non-aggression -- but only if aggression is met with an overwhelming response.

There are two main problems

There are two main problems with the "the war is wrong because we provoked them" argument, exemplified by Mr. Long.

First, the premise is false. It is not the case that Islamofascist terrorists target western civilization for mass murder because of "our" interventionist foreign policies. Steven Den Beste has done the best job of laying down their real motivations here:

But even if the premise were true (ie: they are merely retaliating to a provocation), the conclusion (the war is wrong) does not follow. Fact is, we're in a real-life shooting war whether we like it or not. Tucking tail and heading home will not placate our enemies. For good or ill, we must choose to fight or to die.

If the war were a private

If the war were a private enterprise I could perhaps support it. (But then it would be smarter to target the bin Ladens in Saudi Arabia) But since it is an extension of government oppression, and is used as an excuse to crush civil liberties in the US, I cannot.

Why is it not possible to

Why is it not possible to separate the destruction of a tyrant & the ending of a 12 year long war (The Iraq War) from the excuse to crush civil liberties in the US?

And, not to be a NROnik about it, but civil liberties haven't exactly been crushed in the US since 9/11, either. The extraconstitutional detainments have been bad, but they haven't spread to others in the country (otherwise Michael Moore would have been 'disappeared' by now, wouldn't one think?), and in general most of the odious parts of the PATRIOT ACT have, thankfully, not been implemented (though they've been used as threats).

In any case, the reality of the situation is that while war is used as an excuse for curtailing civil liberties, the two rarely have anything to do with each other. THe first gulf war was fought without any change in US civil liberties, while censorship, control over free speech, harassment by federal agents, etc, rose to a peak in the 1930s when the US was confronted by no threats. Thus, it is possible to say "yes" to fighting barbarians while saying "no" to civil liberty curtailment.

Mr. Doss, With respect to

Mr. Doss,
With respect to your posting of, "?and to all of this, the Badnarik blog responded rather weakly with the equivalent of ?I know you are, but what am I??, by way of an poster.[3]" - we did respond from our own blog with the message below. It was also e-mailed to each of the bloggers involved in the initial debate.

While I cannot prove the causality implied in Badnarik's controversial statement, it is still easy to defend though the use of common sense. The key issue, IMO, is whether Badnarik supports the war, or not. He has always been been quite clear on the issue. Some will support Badnarik and some will oppose him because of this stance. That is the nature of politics.

To make sure your readers get a copy of our response, I'll e-mail this to you and post it on in your comments section. A copy of our initial response is below:


Stephen Gordon
Badnarik for President


Comment from: Stephen Gordon ?
Rebuttal of Panglossianism Charges

Posted at:

In reference to blog postings at:


Even as a spokesperson for Badnarik, I find that I cannot absolutely support his criticized statement of:

"It was because of American troops in Saudi Arabia, lethal sanctions on Iraq, and other serious violations of International Law that 3,000 innocent Americans paid the ultimate price on September 11, 2001."

I do find Badnarik?s statement quite defensible, nonetheless. Please remember that a politician is little more than a salesman of ideas, and the average consumer (the American voter) has never read Voltaire.

Perhaps the best approach is not to force the above-referenced sentence to an intensive philosophical or empirical review (as already exhausts the Internet in less than one day), but to look at reasonable and practical analogies which my generally apolitical neighbors might understand. Frequently my blue collar neighbor understands realpolitik better than we philosopher kings do ? as he still has scars from Viet Nam and his children (and probably not ours) may be drafted to finish off this current fiasco.

Imagine that I heavily arm my extended family members and place them in my next door neighbor?s house (the Sod family) for 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Additionally, I instruct them keep their weapons pointed at the house across the street (the Whosane family). Whenever the people across the street attempt to leave to purchase food or medicine (someone please bring up the U.N oil-to-survive extortion racket), I have my family members pop off a few rounds at them.

After a while, the folks across the street would become understandably irate. After time, Junior suffers from scurvy for a bit and Grandma dies from not receiving her insulin shot. Surprisingly, they might justify, in their minds - that it is rational to take out my side of the block.

If the people in the house across the street are still docile, their cousins (the Laden family) next door, just may not be. Who could blame the Ladens if they decide to rent a couple of Piper Cubs (the best weapons they have available) and crash them into my house, as well as the one occupied by my extended family? From their perspective, it is self-defense ? or defense of their cousins, anyway. Even if they fight over their mutual property line and Grandpa?s will - between them, blood is always thicker than water.

Yes, I know. The analogy above has minor holes in it. Having met Dr. Long a couple of times before (if I recall correctly ? once at Auburn proper and once at von Mises), I expect he would not even give me a passing grade on this. However, this presentation is not designed to be absolute, but is intended to present the argument from the perspective of my hypothetical neighbor ? the voter ? to whom Badnarik must sell his message.

To state that Badnarik did not support his statement as well as the philosopher kings demand may be accurate. To equate his statement to Panglossianism is inaccurate, however. To compare his message to that of Bush or Kerry and their spinmeisters is clearly a no-brainer.

Dr. Levy used, ?...the thought that there's any particular relationship between the rightness or wrongness of our policies and how other people decide to act on us.? as the final supportive argument for his thesis. I suggest that this statement is less defensible than the one presented by Mr. Badnarik. Sometimes it may be best to simply let common sense decide.

Of course there is a relationship between the morals of our foreign policy and how the people suppressed by it may think of us, and for them to act on their perspectives of these thoughts. We fought our own Revolutionary War based upon this same concept.

To be quite clear, I am not supporting terrorism ? or any form of the initiation of force ? by us or by them.

That Levy has decided to support Kerry over a minor but perhaps accurate semantic nuance is ridiculous ? when the alternative is the expansion of the American Empire at the expense of how many thousands of more lives? Kerry has already voted upon (and suggested for the future) a foreign policy that is the same as King George?s, merely substituting the camouflaged American helmet for a powder blue U.N. one. Same soldier, same paycheck, same bullets fired ? but a different colored hat. BFD!

Stephen P. Gordon
07/07/04 @ 05:52

Stephen, The use of the


The use of the trackback feature might be helpful. Since you linked Brian's post on our blog, a link appears on the front page of the blog back to the Badnarik blog post which you linked to. Thus, our readers will have a link to the Badnarik blog every time you link to one of our posts.

There is more to this than

There is more to this than just the very important fact that the Washington regime with its interventions has annoyed many people abroad, some of whom have chosen to attack us. And that is the law of unintended consequences. Many other things go wrong with interventions, especially military ones, besides antagonizing folks. Weapons sold to temporary allies outlast the alliances and end up being used for all sorts of mischief. Mercenary armies formed for a temporary purpose tend to be unstable and unpredictable after they have served their original purposes and are dumped. Assassins hired to kill the bad guys of the moment are still assassins after they have done their original contract killings.

In the late fifties when the communists were the most frightening thing on the planet to Americans, there was a very strong Communist Party in Iraq. There was also a rival party - the Ba'ath. The nature of political debate in the culture was for each party to have a few bodyguards and assassins who popped each other off every so often. A very competant teenage Ba'ath assassin named Saddam came to the attention of the CIA who felt he was doing such a great job that they should sponsor him throughout his career. And so they did until he broke away from his sponsors with the Kuwait invasion in '90. I suppose that if the debate at hand were taking place forty years ago, interventionists would be using the same arguments one hears now to support the idea of nurturing this assassin as a means to the end of fighting the great evil of communism. So how many assassins is our government hiring at this moment and what will they be doing thirty years from now?

Mussadeq of Iran was not appreciated in Washington for his leftist leanings and he was replaced with the Shah. A few decades of festering resentment manifested itself with the revolution and the rise of Khomeini. In a little-known effort to make nice with him the CIA handed him some very complete lists of Iranian communists who Khomeini had executed. This guaranteed their demise but did not ingratiate Khomeini. To deal with his threat Saddam was unleashed on Iran.

One intervention after another, each to deal with the unexpected consequences of the previous one and eventually leading to the fiasco we see in Iraq today.

Okay, many people who are against the Iraq war support the Afghan war so let's talk about interventions in that country. Let's observe first that the justifications given by the Soviets for invading Afghanistan Christmas of '79 were about the same as those given by Americans for our own recent adventure there. They too felt threatened by Islamic fundamentalists whose activities were spilling over into the Asian Soviet Republics. (Think back to how worked up the Reaganites were in the early eighties about the Sandinistas in Nicaragua and the FMLN in El Salvador. Imagine how they and Americans in general would have reacted had Marxist revolutionaries seriously threatened Mexico and furthermore were monkeying around violently in Texas). At that time the "muj" were viewed with great affection in the West. Pacifists renounced their pacifism. This was a just war. Libertarians renounced their non-interventionism and Reason sent its correspondents to do combat porn on Afghanistan, the Soviets, and the "freedom fighters." This was clearly a situation worthy of intervention. Those unaware of the level of covert involvement complained - "How dare we let the Soviets get away with this?"

One of the covert operations was the recruitment and financing of volunteers from throughout the Arab world. A very competent recruiter and financier was a fellow named Osama. A good guy to fight the bad guy. Who could complain? To disagree was a tough argument for this libertarian pacifist to make. What could I say beyond the fact that I was against this project on general principle? The best prediction I could make was that someday the Stinger missiles donated to the "muj" might be used against western aircraft. I ask every libertarian who supported the mujahed project twenty years ago how they would have reacted had anyone suggested that their man Osama would eventually have a falling out with the US over the '91 Gulf War and go on to to what he did on 9/11? What with the various mujahed and tribal warlords being hired and fired today, the weird international mercenaries being used, what can we imagine possibly happening - done not by the people we antagonize but by the people we are using to kill the people we have antagonized?

Dare I get into a discussion of Timothy McVeigh coming of age as a front line machinegunner in Desert Storm? How 'bout the Green Berets back from Afghanistan who shot their wives and then themselves? And the Beltway sniper? Any bets on how many domestic casualties we will suffer in the next two years from combat veterans whose minds and souls are being damaged at this moment in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Brothers and sisters in the struggle for liberty: our position on non-intervention is sound. Be proud of it! Stand by it! Even if you can't marshall all the arguments have faith that when the facts of any war abroad are eventually gathered you will be vindicated. If you ever receive information that convinces you that a particular war deserves your support - know that based on past precedent, you have been lied to. Lie down till you feel better. Go to a holy person for excorcism. But do not support any war that will ever be waged by the Washington regime. Support all soldiers who refuse to go.

Meanwhile I will vote for any and all Libertarian candidates appearing on my ballot except for those I find out are war-supporting infiltrators.

Badnarik got it right, at

Badnarik got it right, at least in theme. Is it possible to rationally conclude that if the U.S. government had pursued a non-interventionist policies (i.e. no Isreal, no Saudi Arabia, no Egypt, no Saddam, no Iran, no Yemen, no nothing, i.e. no possible rational to identify the U.S. as an oppressor of arabs) that arab terrorists would be targeting us now? What would their motivation be? They would be busy killing someone else, wouldn't they? Does anyone seriously think that they chose us as a target just because they hate the shape of North America or something? The directives of a religion have always been interpreted based on circumstance, haven't they?

Now, "kill the infidels" means "kill the Americans." If the U.S. government hadn't gotten out of hand, the arab wackos would, at worst, be trying to kill more geographically proximate infidels, like say Russians and non-muslim Turks. That sounds good to me, all things considered.

The bottom line is this: Intervention has failed just about as badly as any policy could have. Let's bring our boys home, give it a few years, and see if the situation improves. If not, then we can go on another killing spree.

We don't need to "kill the

We don't need to "kill the infidels" -just merely to rape/sodomize their adolescent male children. See for more details.