The Cato Institute
and the Objectivist Center
on Friday offered a full-scale inter-libertarian debate on war. Topics included
"Principles Guiding Military Intervention," "Has the Invasion
and Occupation of Iraq Advanced America's Interests in the Middle East?,"
and "Reflections on the Iraq War."
Luncheon speaker was Nick Gillespie, editor of Reason
magazine, on "Why Libertarians Should Debate the War." When he called
for a show of hands of how many had supported the invasion, about 35% raised
their hands. Gillespie said that was about the percentage of division among
libertarians nationwide. He said the core beliefs of libertarianism and true
liberalism were tested by the war. He added that the fall of Communism had virtually
ended the alliance of libertarians with conservatives.
Jacob Hornberger of the Future of Freedom
Foundation and Robert Higgs of the Independent
Institute put forth the hardline libertarian views. Hornberger said the
attacks on America were because of Washington's blind support for every Israeli
government and because of what was done to Iraq after the first Gulf war. He
said a Lexis-Nexis search about former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's
statement on 60 Minutes
to the effect that, yes, it was worth the death of half a million Iraqi children
to blockade Iraq, revealed not a single comment in the major media decrying
the policy. Hornberger said many surveys of Arab public opinion show there is
strong admiration for American values and our freedom, but Washington's policies
engender fear and hatred, the war in Iraq was all about installing a friendly
regime and establishing American air bases, and that is why there is no trust
in American motives.
Robert Higgs argued the war brought America less liberty and security, American
presidents are the "new Caesars" going to war as they please, Congress
committed a "grotesque abandonment" of its duties, and the Constitution's
4th, 5th, and 6th Amendments have been "shredded."
They concern the writ of habeas corpus, rights to a speedy trial, due process,
and search and seizure restrictions on government.
The pro-war positions were put out by Brink Lindsey of Cato, Ronald Bailey
of Reason, Deroy Murdock of National Review Online, and Ed Hudgins
and David Kelley, both of the Objectivist Center, a think tank founded in the
tradition of Ayn Rand. Murdock restated the solid Bush line. Hudgins said the
deaths of a million Iraqis from starvation and disease were Saddam's fault,
and Kelly argued that Islamists object to American popular culture, our cell
phones, and TV. He said the government has a responsibility to fight international
terrorism in any way it can. However, he also warned of Hayek's law of unintended
Bailey went all the way in presenting libertarian arguments for interventions.
He argued that military interventions under Reagan had been successful, that
all unfree societies threaten free nations, and that America should actively
support and train insurgents fighting for freedom all over the world. He said
America can teach others about free markets and free governments. He argued
that Americans should not die for the freedom of others; instead, we should
help them to fight for their own freedoms. He said "aggressive expansion
of liberty worldwide" would help protect America and our own freedoms.
However, he admitted there are no guarantees that new regimes will necessarily
be free. He also said America should welcome foreign students instead of making
it harder for them to come here, and vigorously promote free trade, both of
which strongly help America's interests in the outside world.
Chris Preble of Cato responded, arguing that libertarians should have more
skepticism about government efficacy overseas. He said, "Yes, we can be
free while others are slaves," and libertarian distrust in big government
should not stop at the waters' edge.
Muslim issues were put forth by Shibley Telhami of the Brookings
Institution, Cato scholar Patrick Basham, and Kamal Nawash of the Free
Muslim Coalition Against Terrorism. Telhami explained that the rise of Islamic
nationalism had more to do with anti-corruption voting than with religion, as
happened in Turkey, where moderate Islamists won power. He said Egypt's former
president Abdel Nasser and Jacques Chirac of France, neither Islamists, are
the most admired world leaders in consistent polling in Muslim nations. He said
polls also show most Muslims think oil and Israel were the reasons for the Iraq
war, as well as America wanting to weaken the strongest nation in the Arab world.
He called for debate in America about the policy wisdom of establishing permanent
air bases in Iraq, which the administration is building.
Basham explained how nepotism is considered a moral duty in tribal societies
and is not looked upon as corruption in nations with a 16th century
political culture. He said political freedom is an "alien concept,"
and economic development is the most vital key for Muslim political development
Nawash explained how American Muslims who return to their homelands are appalled
at the difficulty and corruption involved in trying to set up a small business
(a main subject of Hernando de Soto's writings on the reason for misery in almost
the whole Third World – except for East Asia). He also said that for peace and
development, nations must separate church and state – and he included Israel
as a Mideast religious state.
Cato's Ted Carpenter wrapped up the conference, arguing that foreign policy
should not be so divisive for libertarians. He said Washington's "promiscuous
interventions" overseas, nine times since the end of the cold war, are
deplorable, and that making war demands "compelling reasons," not
just "good reasons." He said terrorism is a modest risk for America
compared to the nuclear annihilation risk of the Cold War, and, consequently,
it should not cause us to panic and give up our Constitutional freedoms, which
we did not lose even during the Cold War.
The conference can be watched in its entirety on the Cato