Wartime Resignation or Endorsement?
can understand a libertarian deciding that the war we are in is
virtually inevitable, and that to argue against any kind of retaliation
in the wake of the terrorist destruction of September 11 is fairly
fruitless right now. I can understand a decision to pick and choose
one's propaganda targets of opportunity as the war heats up, and
choosing to criticize aspects of the war that are likely to resonate
with most Americans rather than indulging in reap-what-you-sow/America-deserved-it
have a hard time, however, with the official
statement of the Libertarian Party's National Committee, passed
at a meeting this last weekend in Atlanta, that endorses the military
action now underway in Afghanistan. The statement did take some
pains to say it favored only a "measured" military response
against Osama bin Laden's network, involving "clear, measurable
and finite goals for this War on Terrorism." It does try to
distinguish between an attack on bin Laden and an attack on the
Taliban regime (although perhaps for the wrong reasons). It does
call for a new, noninterventionist foreign policy.
the statement avoids some hard choices and accepts certain of the
War Party's premises that are unproved or clearly counterfactual.
Perhaps it is unfair to criticize a statement that is so clearly
a result of committee deliberation. But it doesn't strike me as
evidence that this is really a party of principle.
that this statement was composed over the weekend and released Monday,
October 15, during the second week of the U.S. bombing campaign.
It should be clear to almost anybody by now that the bombing campaign
has not been directed specifically against Osama bin Laden and his
henchmen, but against the military infrastructure of the Taliban
regime. Indeed, certain US spokesmen have been rather clear about
this. They acknowledge that bin Laden has not been hit, killed,
and perhaps not even personally targeted yet. Part of the stated
objective of the campaign has been to do damage to government military
targets in hope of "smoking out" some of bin Laden's network,
either through attempted communication or though personnel movements.
the US does not know for sure where bin Laden actually is, despite
several leaks to the effect that special operations forces have
been in and out of Afghanistan fairly often since September 11 (and
perhaps sporadically for years before that). The current bombing
campaign is not directed against Osama bin Laden and his group.
(Well, a few alleged training camps might have been hit.) If it
has any purpose other than creating panic, demonstrating "will"
and satisfying a psychological need to retaliate, it is to try desperately
to cause bin Laden or a few lieutenants to panic and reveal themselves
so the real retaliation can begin.
can understand such an action from the US military, which has certain
weapons and knows how to use them. Perhaps it will even succeed
in smoking bin Laden and some of his associates out. But it is clearly
not, as the LP statement would have it, "forceful action against
terrorists who have already killed thousands of Americans, and who
have threatened to kill more."
US military knows how to do state-against-state military action
and that is what it is doing. (To a man with a hammer everything
looks like a nail.) If it gets an actual bin Laden-linked terrorist
during the current wave of bombing it is as likely to be incidental
to the main targets as the Afghan civilian casualties have been.
anything should be characteristic of libertarian thought and ethics,
it is that responsibility is individual rather than collective.
Treating people as members of groups rather than as individuals
is supposed to be anathema. Punishing one person, or a group of
persons, for the actions of another, is not justice but injustice.
Viewing people primarily as members of groups rather than as individual
persons is unfair, unjustified and socially corrosive.
you want to take that kind of analysis to the limit, those who perpetrated
the terror of September have already been punished (or rewarded,
depending on how you interpret certain somewhat ambiguous verses
of the Koran). Those who actually did the terrible deeds died in
the doing of them. Even the all powerful State cannot reach them
now. It may be frustrating to acknowledge this, but we can't punish
those directly guilty.
doesn't preclude the likelihood, of course, that the actions of
the 19 terrorists who shocked the world September 11, were planned,
aided and abetted by others. Most codes of law can hold those who
aid and abet a crime as bearing some responsibility and deserving
of some punishment, and an individualistic ethic can do so as well.
question is, who exactly did the aiding an abetting? Was there a
mastermind who planned and financed the outrages? Although there
is certainly a good deal of circumstantial evidence pointing to
Osama bin Laden or to people in his network, even now, more than
a month later, the precise identities of those behind the terrorism
are somewhat unclear. The LP National Committee finally gets around
to acknowledging this in its fifth paragraph, after it has already
explicitly endorsed the bombing campaign. There it "call[s]
on the United States government to publicly reveal the evidence
that conclusively links bin Laden and his terrorist network."
The statement acknowledges that most of the evidence released to
date is circumstantial and "the US government has an obligation
to conclusively demonstrate that he is guilty of mass murder."
an interesting inversion of priorities. You would think that if
you were endorsing something as destructive and so certain to cause
collateral damage including the death of at least some innocent
civilians as a bombing campaign, you would demand proof first. But
the LP endorses the bombing a campaign clearly aimed at people other
than the alleged guilty party or parties before demanding the proof.
let us be clear, while the proof of bin Laden's guilt may well be
available, it hasn't yet been made public. The UK government did
put out a
white paper of sorts on the Internet. However, the Independent's
Chris Blackhurst ["Missing:
crucial facts from the official charge sheet against Bin Laden,"
October 7] calls it "a report of conjecture, supposition and
unsubstantiated assertions of fact," and backs it up reasonably
can't analyze a 21-page report line by line in a newspaper article.
But it is true that the UK report dwells almost entirely on previous
bin Laden actions the African embassy bombings, Cole bombing,
public declaration of jihad and doesn't really tie bin Laden
directly and indisputably to the September 11 bombings. The most
important paragraph ends: "There is evidence of a very specific
nature relating to the guilt of bin Laden and his associates that
is too sensitive to release."
perhaps there is. Certainly much of the circumstantial evidence
is suggestive and there aren't a lot of other potential suspects
who seem to have the resources, hatred and resolve required. But
what has been provided so far is much less than would be required
to convict bin Laden in a court of law.
there's enough evidence to justify killing agents of a government
that has harbored bin Laden though it may have been ignorant of
and not directly implicated in the specific acts of September 11
is a question worth pondering.
FOR A STATE
LP statement actually acknowledges some uneasiness, noting that
military action against the government of Afghanistan is somewhat
more difficult to justify than direct action against bin Laden and
the boys. Its reason is a little curious: "But it is a sovereign
nation, and a military strike against it is an act of war."
the LP is a political party which is presumably dedicated to achieving
elective office in a sovereign nation, though there's some evidence
that its real purpose these days is to provide fundraising lists
to candidates and campaign managers past and present. But this solicitude
for the dignity of a "sovereign nation," while it might
be consistent with certain brands of limited-government libertarianism,
is hardly the most essential first principle of a freedom philosophy
of us think the nation-state is a phase and a not especially
healthy one humankind is passing through just now. I fully recognize
that the nation-state rules, and I share the preference that if
the government that rules me wants to go to war with another government
it would be nice if it formally declared war, if only to precipitate
discussion. But some governments are less legitimate than others.
None, in my view, deserves automatic special recognition by virtue
of being a "sovereign nation," whatever that rather amorphous
concept might be.
LP statement does, toward the end, assert that a noninterventionist
foreign policy in the future "would reduce the chance that
terrorists will ever again want to strike a bloody blow at America."
And it expresses concern that unnecessary civilian casualties would
create future enemies for America. It doesn't take fully into consideration,
however, the very strong likelihood that the present campaign
even if conducted without mistakes and with scrupulous regard for
avoiding civilian casualties, which is virtually impossible in the
real world will create enemies for the United States who will
haunt us for years and decades to come.
Bush and his men can insist all they want to that this is a campaign
against terrorism, not Islam, and I happen to think it's true in
the main. But it's too late to convince a substantial number of
Muslims. They may be wrong, they may be misguided, they may be jumping
to unwarranted conclusions, but more Muslims now believe that the
United States bears a special hostility toward Islam than did before
the bombing started. We can deplore it, but it would be foolish
to deny it. The bombing is a powerful symbol that will never be
erased in the minds of many.
have known since early in the day September 11 that Afghanistan
was likely to be bombed sooner or later. But I don't know that bombing
is necessary to take out bin Laden. Indeed, US authorities have
hinted or even stated that removing the Taliban a "sovereign"
government if you will was one of the objectives of the campaign.
(A few even hoped the regime would collapse without bombing.)
acknowledge the virtual inevitability of this bombing campaign
another undeclared war to feed the apparently insatiable hunger
of the state for more power. But I don't have to endorse it or try
to make a case that it is a good thing. Too bad the Libertarian
Party thought otherwise.
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