The Continuing Failure of the Antiwar Left

I just got out of an antiwar event hosted by Iraq Veterans Against the War. (The speaker, Michael Hoffman, can be seen here in focus in the image on the right.) Hoffman had some very good things to say, and while our views appear to differ greatly, I agreed with most of what he said and would recommend him to other audiences.

As with many of the antiwar events I've been around, segments of the audience did not make me optimistic. The events are dominated by leftists who, while antiwar - a position I agree with - blame it on things I consider irrelevant; corporations, of course, are the main culprit.

One explanation for the failure of the antiwar movement to yield positive results against the numerically inferior people actually responsible for the war came to me while I sat in audience. It occurs to me now as I write this post that Ayn Rand had similar thoughts about communism.

American resistance to communism was very powerful in one sense, as we seem to have matched basically one-to-one or surpassed communist armaments, military assistance, insurgency training, etc. But compared with what the United States could have offered against world communism, what was actually given was miniscule. America could have had reason on its side, could have had humanitarianism on its side, and sure as hell could have had truth on its side. But these were features of the young America. By the time communism became a serious foreign policy problem, America had abandoned much of what made it great in the first place. Socialism was fast becoming a reality here. Militarism was a reality. The USA couldn't really attack communism at its root because they weren't removed enough from it themselves. It's been a few years since I read Capitalism, so I'm not sure if that was in there, but if not then the ideas were at least in the background.

Perhaps because we largely (if quietly) gave up the powerful moral high ground the US resorted to second-best solutions: Soviet-style foreign policy in the service of different goals. The CIA's support for a young Saddam Hussein is well-documented, and Jimmy Carter's support for the Afghan resistance is known to many (though apparently none on the Nobel Peace Prize committee). As we've seen in the last few years, these policies often had long-term negative consequences.

This parallels the antiwar movement pretty well, the more I think about it. Most of the people I see at protests and speeches are very devoted to state action. The arguments against the war that I think are the most internally coherent are the ones drawn from the broader radical libertarian critiques of all state action. The bulk of the antiwar movement is incapable of using these arguments because they agree on many fundamental premises with the architects of the war. They have to say it was the evil corporations who drove us to war (apparently during lunch breaks, as the rest of their days are spent plotting every other real or potential evil in the world) or detailing weird conspiracy theories involving the key players but ignoring everything else. They can't say how much they agree with PNAC. They can't say it's the nature of government to end up rearranging peoples' lives wholesale, or at least trying to. The only thing they can say is that we should start rearranging some other group's life wholesale, usually the group within our own borders.

The battle is mostly over before it starts for the antiwar left. They concede all the important points and then bicker over the details, which is convincing to very few. For all their energy and organizational talent, it's a shame they insist on forcing it through the wrong channels.

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As a Manhattan college

As a Manhattan college student, I have to agree with Randall. I have heard that likeminded individuals, when put in a room together, become bolder and less compromising with the other side. I have seen that pattern in action, the far left here definitely fits into that category. By protesting, blocking traffick, et cetera ... they further isolate themselves from the mainstream. If anything, the far left has won the election for Bush because a lot of individuals would rather side with the misguided party rather than with the radical one. As far as corporations go, they make the mistake of thinking that government, not individuals should control our lives. Then, when the government uses its control to reach goals that they do not agree with, they complain and decry democracy.

Suppose that x=-100 is

Suppose that x=-100 is fanatical pluralism, x=100 is fanatical rationalism, y=-100 is fanatical marketism, y=100 is fanatical welfarism.

I'd rank myself about (0, -70), and identify as a classical liberal rather than libertarian. That clarifies things, doesn't it? In my personal and narrow minded opinion, folks who score -80 and -90 are more like libertarians and anarcho-capitalists.

As for welfarism and marketism, I'd think that most libertarians believe negative economic freedoms are more important than positive economic freedoms by an order of magnitude.

Many would not admit positive economic freedoms to exist at all. So many might want to exclude anyone scoring over 50 welfarist. I'd exclude anyone who scored on the extremes of pluralism/rationalism as well.

I'd think there are libertarians who identify as market pluralists. Perhaps not here on Catallarchy, but in the more general libertarian population, it might even be the dominant theme. They fear/loath central government more than local government. A caricature would be the militia movement. A more positive image would be voluntarist-communitarians... I think there are folks who identify as municipal libertarians?

What failure? The Iraq war

What failure?
The Iraq war cannot be properly understood without understanding the role of corporate interests, which, far from being "irrelevant" to the issue, are positively at the center of it. "Evil corporations" didn't plot the war "on their lunch breaks...

Brian, Thanks for the link


Thanks for the link to the Levy article. Quite enlightening, and it does shed some light on the differences that I've noticed here. Of particular merit, I thought, was the claim that both pluralists and rationalists argue in defense of freedom, and that _both_ notions of freedom are important. I think that it was an intuitive grasp of that idea that led me into conversation with libertarians in the first place. I am pretty clearly a welfare rationalist, so I guess that I'm one of the remaining traditional American liberals (traditional liberal sounds odd, no?). I'm also going to direct people to the Levy article every time I get accused of illiberalism. :smile:

The article also give me a much better grasp on the two driving ideas I see at Catallarchy. It's the pluralist half that drives the distrust of central government and the marketist half that drives the antipathy toward the welfare state. It also allows me to get clearer on my reservations about polycentric law; my deep worry is that it will be difficult ever to making exit a real option for everyone, which might well leave some people stuck in societies that restrict their autonomy. The reverse problem is likewise a problem; ensuring that everyone has space for exercising their autonomy may require giving the state more power than is good.

So my question now would be this: based on Levy's two axes, how would you define libertarianism. Are libertarians just those who fall into the market pluralist camp? I gather that you think not, since you define welfare pluralists as a type of libertarian. I presume, as well, that objectivists would probably also mostly self-identify as libertarians. Does that mean that it is only the welfare rationalists who don't fall into the libertarian camp?

To put the question more formally, is marketism a necessary condition for counting as a libertarian? Is pluralism a necessary condition? If neither is necessary, then isn't the distinction still rather broad? I worry that it still captures too much. Michael Walzer, for instance, might well count as a welfare pluralist, but I doubt that he'd be happy being described as a libertarian.

Maybe it's just the word "libertarian" that is essentially meaningless. Should I start all of my comments now with, "Hi, I'm Joe, and I'm a Welfare Rationalist"?

Joe- I realize that I may be


I realize that I may be using a term idiosycratically leading to a bit of confusion. When I refer to "leftists" I mean illiberal members of the left in general and the hardcore/unreconstructed socialists of whatever bent (environmental, gender/race chauvinists, old school proletarian revolution types, etc) in particular. Not everyone of the left is a leftist, and when I speak of "the leftist antiwar movement" I mean the fools from ANSWER, the Moore types, WWP, etc; the various illiberal left groups that use the war as an excuse to press their (unrelated) agenda. In the case of those folk, Randall is right on; none of them reject war per se, and none of them reject the pillar of the warfare state, which is that the state has the unchallengable prerogative to reorder people's lives as it sees fit.

This is in contrast to the broadly anti-war left, which includes a great deal of left-liberals, left-libertarians, etc., who are broadly liberal in the classical sense but carve out more space for the state than, say, market liberals of a pluralist bent. There the movement is not as knee-jerk illiberal as the leftists, but still suffers in some places from apologia effects (ala MY and KD), who argue against the war but their positions betray a somewhat incoherent tension between current position and professed belief.

As an aside, a total change of topic, and speaking of divisions in liberalism, I'll plug once again one of my favorite articles- Jacob Levy's Liberalism's Divide: After Socialism and Before", and his brilliant formulation of the split into two axes:

(1) Market vs. Welfare liberalism
(2) Pluralist vs. Rationalist liberalism

Market Pluralists would be what you'd think most libertarians to be- Welfare Rationalists being what American liberals used to be (and imagine themselves to still be, though most aren't). Welfare pluralists would be "libertarian" but definitely different than you'd expect; Market rationalists encompasses both objectivists and feminist libertarians, so its both the left and the right...

In any case, that's how I view liberalism and I'm mostly a Market Pluralist, though I have considerable rationalist sympathies (and bounce between the two on that side). I think this might get to part of your objection with Jonathan about what constitutes libertarianism. I'm not much for the word (though I realize the connotation still has value in conversation) and prefer to think of the world through Jacob's 2 axis liberal view. Jonathan's point is that there are far more liberals than self-identified "hardcore" libertarians, and its the liberals that are split between two mostly illiberal parties; you would definitely fall within Jacob's definition of liberal without feeling much kinship with hardcore libertarians, without making the definition so broad as to be useless.

Joe- No problem. Our


No problem. Our archives are a bit byzantine at the moment, so its not too surprising that its hard to navigate/find them. Still a work in progress.

Part of my throwaway paragraph was predicated on the assumption that the views of the Catallarchy author collective on war are generally known, hence the airy and general tone. UNfortunately we don't have category archives available so its hard to search in that way; each author knows their own best, so I figured I'd leave it to someone else if they wanted to post links.

A more detailed response later, I need to sleep. :)

Jonathan and

Jonathan and Brian,

Certainly I did not deliberately mischaracterize Brian's views on war, nor am I bashing him because I can't be bothered to check the archives (see above admission). No offense was intended.

In my own defense, I did ask in my initial post about thoughtful libertarian critiques of war, and mentioned that links to past work would be just fine, too. What I got in response was a throwaway paragraph about war costing too much, wasting resources, and killing people. What conclusion ought I have drawn?

Again, though, sorry if I came across as an ass.

Brian, First, let me begin


First, let me begin with my embarrassing confession. I can’t, for the life of me, figure out how to get directly to your archives. I know that they exist, since I get links to things in those archives, and I’m sure that the answer is one of those "well, duh” things. (Why won’t my TV work? Did you plug it in?) If you’ll kindly direct me to the archives, I’ll read through them.

As far as my article being online, it is, but not directly. STP doesn’t directly link to their articles. The journal is available through several different services, but they all require subscriptions. Both Wilson and EBSCO have it full text, so if you’ve access to either, you can get it that way. If not, send me an e-mail and I’ll forward you a PDF. It’s also up on my Blackboard page at UNCP, but that requires a password to keep us from getting sued. I can send you that in an e-mail if you’d prefer.

The legal argument for resuming hostilities against Iraq is one that I do take up, though. The quick version of the argument is that Resolution 687 doesn’t provide automatic triggers for reinitiating hostilities. Rather, the language of the resolution specifies that the Security Council “Decides to remain seized of the matter and to take such further steps as may be required for the implementation of the present resolution and to secure peace and security in the area.” (para 34). More importantly, though, nothing in either of the resolutions in question grants authority to a single member of the Security Council to act unilaterally. Resolution 687 is, in effect, a contract between Iraq and the Security Council not between Iraq and the U.S. Only the Security Council is entitled to void the contract for a material breach; if the Council rejects that option, individual members have no real recourse. It’s parallel to the status of individual shareholders who lose a vote; they aren’t entitled to act on their own in the name of the corporation that has rejected their position.

As far as the Constitution trumping treaties, I entirely agree, and if the U.N. Charter tried to do something that violated the Constitution, then there would be no problem. But the Charter just adds to the Constitution. The U.S. is hardly required to go to war at the behest of the U.N. Indeed, committing U.S. troops to war still requires congressional approval. After the Charter, though, congressional approval is a necessary but not sufficient condition for legally waging war. Both are necessary, but they are only jointly sufficient.
The sovereignty argument is probably even lengthier than this one. I’m currently writing on humanitarian intervention, and would happily send you a copy of my draft. In short, I agree with you that intervention is a very limited form of neocolonialism, one that is, I hope, stripped of its racist implications and grounded instead on empirical evidence about state power. I argue, in short, that when a state loses its capacity to project its will onto large segments of the population, then it is a failed state and no longer in possession of sovereignty. There are a lot of detailed studies about the actual process of state collapse, some of which purport to be able to predict (with some success) the actual collapse of states.

You are right that someone who opposes all colonialism in all its forms ought to be against (many instances) of humanitarian intervention. Many on the left, though, acknowledge that some form of neocolonialism is necessary in the face of failed states. Most try to frame the discussion in other terms, but this is less out of intellectual dishonesty than it is a desire to distinguish their position from the more blatantly racist justifications of colonialism.

Incidentally, I did, I think, mention in my earlier post that I thought Kosovo was probably still illegal for the U.S. I want to draw a distinction between legal wars and morally justified wars. There is a special problem for the U.S. in fighting illegal wars because, I argue, American soldiers (officers specifically) may well have a moral obligation to obey the law. That problem doesn’t necessarily obtain everywhere, though. The Supremacy Clause automatically gives treaties the status of national law, but many nations don’t have such a clause. Rather, it takes a special act of the legislature to turn treaties into national laws. Soldiers in nations having that feature may still be permitted to fight in a just war even if it violates international law. Ditto for any nation whose soldiers don’t promise to obey the law.

Randall, There are all sorts


There are all sorts of principled reasons to oppose the war in Iraq. For law-and-order types, there is the fact that the war is illegal. For cosmopolitan types, there is the fact that the war failed to gain any sort of real international support. For just war theory types, there is the fact that the war fails to meet any sort of just war criteria.

Sure there are some leftist types of are knee-jerk anti-war without thinking through their reasons for being anti-war and without thinking about whether some particular war may be consistent with the rest of their views. It's easy to make fun of these types. But you paint with too broad brush strokes when you assume that, because leftists support some types of state action, they must therefore support all types of state action. Indeed, I think that Rush and Hannity and their ilk have pretty well cornered the market on smearing the thoughtful and moderate left with the radical left.

It would be more interesting, I think, to engage with some of the more thoughtful anti-war arguments coming from the left. Several writers here have voiced their anti-war stance, but I haven't yet read detailed arguments for those views yet. (Keep in mind that I'm kind of new here; links to old stuff would be fine, too). This is an area in which I've some interest (and unlike some of the economic policy issues, some actual competence).

Joe, One of of three ain't


One of of three ain't bad. The war was legal, and it had considerable international support (just not France & Germany, and the usual suspects (Arab tyrannies, China & Russia).

Re: Legality- It is both a natural extension of the war declared in 1991 (which never ended; like the Korean war, hostilities ended not with a peace treaty but on a cease fire agreement, and in Iraq's case one that was reneged upon by Saddam almost immediately after US forces started drawing down) and congruent with the UN resolution that authorized force to enforce the 16 prior security council resolutions versus Iraq. THe US congress authorized force, so its constitutionally legal, which covers all the bases (pre-1945 international law, post-1945 int'l law, and US constitutional law).

Re: International support- Australia, Japan, South Korea, the Phillipines, all of Eastern Europe minus Serbia, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Britain, Denmark, South America minus Venezuela, Central America, the Caribbean minus Cuba, etc etc etc. That's usually enough for a run of the mill international initiative to be considered posessing "broad international support" (at least as much as, say, Kyoto); I've heard a lot of objections to this with such caveats as willingness-to-pay and boots-on-the-ground which are both telling and irrelevant.

Jus ad bellum depends greatly on the moral tradition that forms the basis of your judgement (Catholic just war theory, for example, is different from other conceptions of 'just war', IIRC, though perhaps Just War *is* an explicitly Catholic formulation adopted by seculars), so I can't say. I imagine that the objection might work in this regard.

Randall doesn't paint the participants with a broad brush, he (properly) shows the leftist antiwar movement for what it is- a movement that concedes all the important points (the unobjectionality of state power, the prerogative of the state to *forcibly* reorder your life against your will) and then bickers on the meaningless details ("no, we must forcibly reorder the lives of *Americans*, not those of Foreigners!")

What is worse than that, I'd counter, are precisely the "thoughtful & moderate" left such as, say, Matthew Yglesias & Kevin Drum. There, even waging war on foreigners is OK in theory, just not this one in particular- such as "Bombing Serbian civilians from 50,000 feet is OK without a UN resolution or compelling US security interest, and telling extravagant lies about whats going on inside the country-to-be-bombed is OK", but the Iraq war is Oh-So-Wrong. That's more obscenely and nakedly partisan than the knee-jerkers. Worse than that are the Deans and Kerrys of the world that actively want to wage war on foreigners for any ad hoc reason, but only those that can't fight back (i.e. Dean's clamor for intervention in Liberia, Kerry's obsession with kicking around Haitians, requiring another 40,000 active duty troops). There's not even a patina of liberalism coating calls for what I dub "chickenshit interventionism", that's just arrogant colonialism with a high minded name and a high aversion to casualties.

As for the rest of us, pretty much every Catallarchy writer save for Rainbough and me are anti-Iraq-war to one degree or another, and all of us are broadly speaking anti-war. The reason to be anti-war is because it is the ultimate negative-sum game; people die, and human & physical capital is depleted and destroyed. Trade & voluntary relations, civilized intercourse between peoples & nations, is so far superior to fighting that to be anti-war in general should be a no-brainer. The only problem is when you come up against the 'lifeboat' situations, where competing values have to be weighed and one or the other must prevail.

Joe, I think you have


I think you have grossly mischaracterized Brian's views on war. He's taken a lot of heat in the past precisely because his views on war don't toe the traditional line, and are much more nuanced than those sometimes seen in libertarian circles. This paragraph was especially bad:

As for your closing paragraph detailing your arguments against war, I suppose that I was really looking for something different. I know the reasons for thinking that it would be better not to wage war at all. No offense, but the reasons that you give are really pretty obvious. I had thought that, since we live in the real world where there actually are nation-states and where some of those nation-states are run by really awful people (no smart-ass comments here about how all of them are; no reasonable person thinks that GWB is really morally equivalent to Saddam Hussein or Kim Jong-il), then it just might be the case that some of you had spent some time thinking about how the U.S. ought to respond to nations that do truly awful things. Do you have anything other than “Wars are economically inefficient” and “boy, do I hate liberals” to offer here?

I doubt Brian thinks much of "economic efficiency", and if anything, he's the one Catallarchist that is squarely in the "real world" where second-best solutions are the first step toward any end goals we have. You simply have not read enough of his stuff to know wrong your characterization really is.

I can't believe we are all

I can't believe we are all still arguing over the legality, justice, or prudence of the invasion that happened 2 years ago.
Well, actually I can believe it. I do it too. But shouldn't we be moving on to talk about something useful, like
"Where do we go from here?"

"Bring the boys back home, though the heavens may fall" is certainly a coherent position for a pacifist or radical libertarian. Is that what the Iraq Veterans Against the War (to pick on them, since they were in the OP) are for?

Do they have some other course of action? Or are they just saying that war is a Bad Thing?

Jeremy: "But increasingly


"But increasingly I’m starting to see that opposing the growth and power of the state necessarily means opposing the growth and power of its corporate clients / sponsors,"

No. The way to do what you desire is to cut the link between corporations and the government by removing the governmental power the corporations (and individuals, lobbyist groups, etc...) desire. I don't want to retard the growth of corporations, because lots of those corporations pay the salaries of people I like, and make neat gadgets for me. And besides, what sort of methods do you think such left-wing people will choose to oppose corporations? Ones I'm sure you and I won't like. I AM willing to curb their power, which means reducing the power of the government.

Corporate 'power' is ALWAYS manifested through the government. They don't come to my home and steal my money, they tell the mayor to do it. What profit would there be in bribing politicians who couldn't actually regulate your industry?

"Thanks for your campaign donation, Enron. But you see, the constitution restricts me from passing laws that favor your company. Hey, where are you going?"

Even if we somehow completely prevented corporations from interacting with the government, politicians would still commit their sins to increase their own power, just as they did long before corporate lobbying came into existence.

Joe- I know the Supremacy


I know the Supremacy Clause and I know the UN Charter outlaws war, thus it is a national law in the US too.

Of course, the Constitution trumps all Federal law, and the Constitution clearly grants Congress the power to say yea or nay to warmaking. It did, and so the UN charter is trumped. In a conflict between the constitution and a law of congress, the constitution wins (that's the point of the constitution). Now I'm not a constitutional lawyer so I don't know the details, but that seems to be both reasonable and the opinion of other legal folk out there regarding UN related issues.

Also, I suppose it depends on how you read Resolution 1441, but "serious consequences" is generally accepted diplo-speak for "war." Despite some hedging, Blix admitted that Iraq's compliance with the resolution was at best incomplete (the resolution called for full and unconditional compliance), meaning that the crisis was triggered persuant to Para 4 in the "Decideds", and Para 13 moots the requirement for a "second resolution", especially in light of:

Recalling that in its Authorizes Member States ... to use all necessary means"), etc etc etc. Going back that far, it is no stretch to say that in the course of enforcing 660, 611, and 670 (ensuring the peace) that the 1991 Gulf War alliance would have been within their rights to march to Baghdad and take out Saddam, since he was a proven violator of the peace and security of the region. Nobody batted an eye when coalition forces stormed into Iraq, bypassing Kuwait, in the famous Left Hook, and operated deep inside southern Iraq attacking Iraqi positions and personnel. If it were such that the scope was narrowly to restore the territorial integrity of Kuwait, then you cannot say that Gulf War I was any sort of Jus ad Bello or compliant with Internationl Law since the very first thrust of the war was into Iraqi territory and not to liberate Kuwait. Indeed, a month of bombing sites all over Iraq and not simply in Kuwait proper would constitute a series of war crimes if 660, 661, and 670 did not authorize full war against Iraq as a consequence of its invasion of Kuwait. You don't seem to advocate that position, hence I don't see the defensible claim that Gulf War I was legal while GWII is not, since GWII is a logical and legal extension of the first as shown above, and thus in complete compliance with the UN Charter.

And while you say that nobody felt/feels the 1990-91 resolutions to still be in effect, I will point out, perhaps naively, that I didn't notice any expiration date on them, nor any contravening security council resolutions saying the others were no longer applicable.

Is your article online? I'm not near a university library to see if the journal is in.

As an aside, I am not an anarchist. But I really don't care whether international polities or mass groups of folk favor X or Y policy. So I suppose dickering over what constitutes "international support" is moot, though in a discussion about state sovereignties and the proper legal relationships between states, I can't see how a discussion of whether the vox populi was yea or nay is relevant.

Regarding Kosovo, it was shown as completely as in the aftermath of the 2nd Iraq War that the intelligence used as the pretext for war was at worst a lie and at best severely flawed. Unlike in Bosnia (where the UN watched and did nothing), there was no ethnic cleansing or mass killings going on in Kosovo by Serbian troops prior to the NATO initiation of hostilities; what went on later under the cover of war & bombardment was a direct result of the NATO initiation of hostility. Being that the pretext for the war was a lie, and that there were no conceivable security council resolutions authorizing war against Serbia (unlike the explicit & multiple ones issued vs. Iraq in 1990-91), I can't see how it is legal in the UN Charter sense, though I'd like to hear how it was considered just in light of the lies told to initiate the war.

Surely sovereignty did not break down in either Kosovo, Rwanda, or Liberia- Serbia was in control of the territory at all times, Rwanda's genocide was directed by the government, and Liberia's political violence was part and parcel with a civil war/rebellion. Liberia is in a gray area, to be sure, but Rwanda and Kosovo/Serbia surely don't apply. The proposed intervention in Liberia was not to stop slaughter of innocents (as neither have any of the Haitian occupations) but to impose an order based on a western conception of what ought to be going on. Western conceptions of an orderly society are nice, but when you send in troops to push around the natives and reorder their society according to foreign designs, that's colonialism, pure and simple. I'm not a priori opposed to colonialism, mind you, but it is surely inconsistent of the far left to rail against de jure colonialism in the 3rd world while demanding it de facto. And I'm sure that Dean did not have in mind robust rules of engagement that would allow his intervention force to respond with appropriate violence to the people they're pacifying; I say this judged solely on the limp noodle ROE given to 'peacekeepers' around the world. The massacre at Srebrenica is a rather damning indictment of peacekeeper missions in combat zones, or at least of putting troops on the ground without the intent to destroy anyone or thing that threatens their safety or mission integrity. Would Dean or Kerry be in favor of a force with the same ROE as the Iraqi Occupation? Of course not. Should US troops be sent into any combat zone without that same or similar ROE? No, they shouldn’t. Hence my appellation. If you want to strut about the world stage, and essentially push around those who are cowed by people brandishing weapons, but are subsequently unwilling to stand up to someone who isn’t, that’s the definition of chickenshit.

Certainly I made no comments on general ‘liberal’ responses to Just War theory; I merely stated that, as you elaborated, there are a number of different conceptions of Just War theory that I’ve heard of, though you are right that I’ve not read much about them. My derisive comments towards Yglesian/Drumist barely concealed partisan reasoning about war reflects what I think are dishonest & inconsistent arguments about war. Bosnia and Iraq are two of a similar kind, except one had UN resolutions backing it and the other did not. Both had leaders who’d invaded other countries (well, yes and no, if you consider Yugoslavia to still have existed during the Croatia/Bosnia wars, in which case only Saddam had) and were tyrannizing their citizens. One had been working on WMDs, the other had not. One paid terrorists to kill civilians, the other did not. One was a continuation/intensification of a decade long war, the other was not. In both cases the US administration misled the public (perhaps deliberately, perhaps not) about why they wanted to go to war. I find it highly inconsistent that somehow the war against the state that had engaged in more territorial aggression, documented genocide & WMD use, AND had UN security council resolution support (however debatable) was wrong and illegal, while the war against Serbia, which had done none of these things aside from enabling genocide in a prior conflict, was just and a good idea. Pardon me for noting that a Republican launched the former while a Democrat did the latter, and that Matt & Kevin (Democrats) side with the Democrat and not the Republican. Maybe its just a coincidence, but it sure seems from a neutral standpoint that they should flip their positions (or at least you should, given your stated commitments), or at least have opposed both.

(What’s worse is that Kevin is an avowed ‘liberal interventionist’ and has said, repeatedly, that he has no theoretical problem with launching war for nation-building or democracy promotion or to stop whatever he doesn’t like going on within. I have little doubt that if President Gore did everything that Bush did to the letter, Kevin would be the Apologist in Chief for the noble undertaking.)

But I agree, surely MY and KD are not the be all and end all of leftist/left-liberal thought on war. Nor are the often cartoonish rants of the Crooked Timberites. There are plenty of consistent left voices that were against both Kosovo/Serbia and Iraq. Plenty of consistent right voices, too, that were for both wars. Its splitting the difference (especially in the direction of yay Serbia / nay Iraq) that I find at least initially suspect.

The closing paragraph of mine was offhand. I’m disappointed that while chastising me for not reading others, you’ve not attempted to read the Catallarchy archive where I’ve posted somewhat extensively on the subject, specifically in this case page 2 of that post. Granted its about Iraq, but it really is not as though I’ve put no thought into questions of war and proper state-level responses. As you can gather, I’m not in favor of interventionism and put the bar very, very high. The US is simply not the world’s policeman, and while it is certainly noble to wish that innocents not be slaughtered, we live in a constrained 2nd best world where trade offs must be made, and I’m fairly sure the long run costs of a policy of neocolonialism (which is the frank description of what you advocate) outweigh the benefits (which there would be, no doubt).

I encourage you to read Jonathan’s author archive, for he has posted the most of all of us on what we should do with regards to odious regimes, and certainly he cannot be accused of having nothing to say on the subject.

Finally, being that I consider myself to be a liberal (though, of course, in the classical, nonsocialist sense) I certainly don’t think “boy, do I hate liberals” nor have I thought/said such a thing. I do hate totalitarian socialists, though, but luckily those are few and far between in the US.

Brian, I’m not going to


I’m not going to address the legal part here because I’ve already written on it in far more detail than I can do in a blog commentary. The quick version, though, is that the Supremacy Clause gives treaties the status of national law, and the U.N. Charter is a treaty. Since the Iraq War violated the U.N. Charter, it is illegal. As for the 1991 Resolution still being in effect, well, frankly outside of a handful of administration lawyers in the U.S., almost no serious international law scholars buy the argument. If you want the long version, feel free to check out my article, “_Jus ad bellum_ and an Officer’s Moral Obligations: Invincible Ignorance, the Constitution and Iraq” in _Social Theory and Practice_ 30:4 (Oct 2004): 457-484.

Regarding the popular support, in nearly every nation that you mention, the government officially supported the invasion, but popular sentiment was decidedly against it. I would think that distinction would garner at least a passing mention from a libertarian anarchist.

I’m not sure just how familiar you are with contemporary just war theory, but based on your comment, I suspect the answer is ‘not very’. I don’t intend this as an insult; no one can be well-read on every subject. As a matter of fact, though, there is a wealth of work on just war theory, very little of it still based on the traditional Augustine/Aquinas understanding. Indeed, most contemporary work grows out of Michael Walzer’s _Just and Unjust Wars_, which is a sort of Lockean response to Hobbesian realism.

Again, not meaning to slight you or make assumptions about your reading habits, your remarks about liberal responses to just war theory come across as pretty intemperate and, frankly, as rather uninformed about actual arguments. There is nothing inherently inconsistent about the position that many on the left take with respect to war. Our arguments are based, usually, on state sovereignty. Now I don’t expect you to buy many of those arguments since you presumably reject the very notion of state sovereignty; you’d about have to if you reject state legitimacy in the first place. But it’s perfectly possible to argue coherently that some wars are just (i.e., those wars that are responses to violations of state sovereignty) while some wars are not (i.e., aggressive wars). U.S. involvement in WWII (both theaters), Gulf War I and Afghanistan are examples of the former. U.S. involvement in Vietnam, the Indian Wars, and Gulf War II are examples of the latter.

Those same notions of sovereignty also can be used to justify intervention to prevent atrocities in places where sovereignty breaks down. You know, the sorts of ‘chickenshit interventions’ that come to the aid of helpless innocents who are being slaughtered. That’s what justifies intervention in Kosovo, Bosnia, and Somalia and what should have triggered intervention earlier in Rwanda, Liberia and the Sudan.

Incidentally, regarding Kosovo, you conflate two important aspects of just war theory, jus ad bellum or justice of war and jus in bello or justice in war. Just wars can be fought unjustly (see U.S. firebombing in Germany in WWII) and unjust wars can be fought justly (Gulf War II, largely, though the occupation is a different story). Intervention in Kosovo was justified (though perhaps not for the U.S.; pesky Supremacy clause again) on jus ad bellum grounds. The prosecution of the war was unjust. Dropping bombs from 50,000 feet was wrong, though putting boots on the ground would have been okay.

I don’t know who you’re reading for your views on reasoned leftist views about war, but clearly you’re not engaging with anything serious. (Actually, I think that Drum and Yglesias are far more nuanced than you’re giving credit to, but I’ll just grant this point.) I would suggest that maybe you take a look at Keith Burgess-Jackson’s blog on the ethics of war ( He has a nice reading list running down the left side of the page.

Before you run around accusing us of inconsistency, it might be reasonable to read the actual arguments first. Disagree with the arguments? Fine, explain why and we can debate them. But our disagreements are really based on the premises we (respectively) accept, not the fact that all liberals are running around making up random claims without any sort of internal consistency.

As for your closing paragraph detailing your arguments against war, I suppose that I was really looking for something different. I know the reasons for thinking that it would be better not to wage war at all. No offense, but the reasons that you give are really pretty obvious. I had thought that, since we live in the real world where there actually are nation-states and where some of those nation-states are run by really awful people (no smart-ass comments here about how all of them are; no reasonable person thinks that GWB is really morally equivalent to Saddam Hussein or Kim Jong-il), then it just might be the case that some of you had spent some time thinking about how the U.S. ought to respond to nations that do truly awful things. Do you have anything other than “Wars are economically inefficient” and “boy, do I hate liberals” to offer here?

touche' Brian Moore.

touche' Brian Moore.

The current state of

The current state of cronyism in the defense and gov't contracting world seems to blur the lines between political body and corporate body so much as to make opposing both necessary. We can certainly be more precise about our complaints against current policies than the left can because we acknowledge some basic, consistent principles. But increasingly I'm starting to see that opposing the growth and power of the state necessarily means opposing the growth and power of its corporate clients / sponsors, who are after all the biggest stakeholders in the centralization of authority and finance.

I basically agree. There

I basically agree. There are GOOD anti-war arguments. The problem is, those who espouse the bad ones seem to be the ones who get heard.

This leads to people (and people in power) dismissing anti-war sentiment because of the craziness which is seen to accompany it. Perhaps it just seems more extreme from the left, but if I utter the least bit of suspicion with the idea that America is a murderous rogue nation bent on world domination I'm accused of being a Nazi. Certainly there are some on the pro-war side who are similarly "with us or against us," but I haven't encountered any yet.

It seems that the only choices are:

1. The Iraq was not only a bad idea, but an immoral one. Anyone who is pro-war also agrees automatically thinks the death of civilians is good and is a horrible person.

2. The Iraq was not only a good idea, but the only possible choice. Anyone who thinks it was anything else is a terrorist.


"They can’t say how much they agree with PNAC. "

Bingo. I don't have to tell you not to bring that up at the meeting. :) They'd crucify you.

I've seen Mike Hoffman speak

I've seen Mike Hoffman speak twice. Once was a talk organized by Northeastern's International Socialist Organization chapter (in the name of their carbon copy student group, NuCAWR), and one was a Ford Hall Forum [video] with Paul Reichoff of Operation Truth. I highly suggest the Forum video, which is basically Hoffman and Reichoff arguing populist vs. media strategies.

Hoffman and his ilk are incredibly tedious. This makes them pretty effective among a lot of liberal college students, but all it really amounts to is a kind of exclusive club because they have no media savvy. The Northeastern ISO are all on a fucking listserv, and don't even have a static website. It is obvious that the antiwar schtik is just another part of their broader activism for global revolution, universal justice, etc, etc. These are the same people who are trying to harness Shahid Alam's exposure by making Palestine part of the antiwar cause.

I'm glad Northeastern students don't buy into it. I think we have quite a few "South Park conservatives", but overt political conversation is still pretty taboo. If you want their attention, I would suggest looking to people like this, or this.

Corporations respond to

Corporations respond to incentives and lobby to keep them coming. There is cronyism, but that's like saying there is collaboration between football players and cheerleaders; it's obvious. Most mutual benefits that defense policymakers and defense corporations gain from their relationships are transparent, IMO.

It's usually not good to ignore your opponent's arguments... but most leftists hate capitalism and the current regime so much that they don't realize the dichotomy between them: so how can we take them seriously?

Randall has a point. Some leftists shouldn't hate the current regime as much as they think they do. They have much in common. Both like to run peoples' lives. But think deeply for a moment.What do far-leftists hate most about Republicans and their platform? I think I have an idea. What they hate is the message. The message sold by the current regime sounds an awful lot like limited government and free-markets. And when you hear leftists, what are they decrying: capitalism et al. Might they be confusing a mixed society wth true capitalism? Most are. But some do not. And they know their enemies. Just because they hate Bush, for whatever reason, doesn't mean that they aren't a liability and a threat to libertarians.

Randall, The details are all


The details are all that matter to them. No-one's ever going to sell radical libertarianism to the masses, even if that's what the anti-war crowd was trying to do.

Correct regarding most of

Correct regarding most of the antiwar hard left. Their compressed belief and primary message is "capitalism = war".

This bugs me, but less so than the continuing failure of antiwar libertarians to make any noise whatsoever. (I am part of the problem.)

I'd like to, but can we

I'd like to, but can we discount as irrelevant, the influence of corporations on this war? Do we know they are not a factor? I don't, but maybe someone could chip in. Cronyism certainly comes to mind.:???: