I’m watching Nick Gillespie, editor of Reason magazine, via the online video hook-up to the Cato Institute’s conference which is "debating" the Iraq war as if it were a controversial question among libertarians. His speech is all about how we have to have an "open discussion," and it is pitched in his best solipsistic style: but I have a question. How come we don’t have a debate about matters dear to Reason magazine’s heart, like drug legalization, gay "marriage," open borders, and other "lifestyle" issues?
Mass murder is "debatable." Nick Gillespie’s right to smoke a joint – or whatever – is not.
Next up: Ed Hudgins, of the "Objectivist Center," holds up a DVD claiming that it contains scenes of unspeakable torture by Saddam. This is supposed to be the "proof" that there is "no moral equivalence" between Iraq under Saddam and the U.S.
No mention of Abu Ghraib.
Hudgins implores us not to blame the people who are trying to fight the terrorists for "collateral damage." (And, he claims, those WMD are probably buried in the Bekaa Valley in Syria). He defends the trade embargo against Iraq, the tens of thousands who died because of it – because, you see, it’s all Saddam’s fault. Oh, but it’s "valid" – he concedes — for the Iraqis to "complain" about the "chaos" that followed the invasion. However, we mustn’t fall into the "nationalist excuse" – "what’s more important is "the moral question." Forget facts – Hudgins and his fellow "Objectivists" are much more comfortable with floating abstractions. I got a big kick out of his advocacy of an invasion of the U.S. if we are subjugated by a dictatorship. If, he says, South Korea, Taiwan, and New Zealand invaded us under those circumstances – why, that would be a good thing.
That it would generate mass support for the native dictatorship is not a possibility that the clueless Hudgins even thinks to entertain.
We are then treated to the usual neocon blather about exporting "freedom" and "democracy," with the added fillip on the part of Hudgins that we must "undermine tribalism and nationalism" in Iraq. Good luck, buddy. I propose we send Hudgins over there so he can take up this important task personally.
Ron Bailey, the science editor of Reason, gives his "libertarian" Trotskyist riff – we can’t have libertarianism in one country. It must be spread "at gunpoint," just as we imposed "freedom" on Japan and Germany during WWII. We must also spread "free trade" and open borders – but we can only do this if we conquer the entire world and set up "republics" that are essentially clones of ourselves. And you wondered why Reason magazine has taken the lead on the cloning issue!
This isn’t "libertarianism," of course: it is neo-Jacobinism.
The very articulate and informed Christopher Preble, director of foreign policy studies at Cato, demolishes Bailey’s feeble arguments: Preble, Robert Higgs, and Jacob Hornberger are left to give the libertarian position on all this, and I urge you to go to the Cato website and hear for yourself.
One interesting incident during the question and answer period: a Japanese man stated that, contra Mr. Bailey, Japan had a democratic system, however imperfect, established by the Meiji Constitution in 1889, some 50 years prior to the American occupation – and if the "informed intellectuals" of the Cato Institute don’t know this, how can we expect George W. Bush to know it?
In his final remarks, Kelley disavows being "enthusiastic" about the war, but nevertheless it falls to him, he avers, to explain the "principles" that dictate supporting it. Government does have some role to play: we mustn’t "hate" government, after all. He then segues into a vague exposition on the "positive goal" of having government promote conditions that enable Americans to interact with foreigners. We are in a state of nature in foreign affairs, because there is no world government: so government must play a role in the foreign arena as well. Ah, but this means that "rogue states" – which are not legitimate – must not be dealt with. (I warned you his theory was vague). Military force is "normally the last resort." There are other ways to ensure trade across borders. But no matter what instrument you use we are still making judgements about which policies are appropriate to which governments. He then comes up with a real whopper: The Hayekian law of unintended consequences is not applicable to foreign policy, because there is no reason that the results of inaction are any more unpredictable than taking action.
But couldn’t one make this same argument when it comes to domestic policy: that if we don’t’, say, take "action" to ensure that all people have government-subsidized healthcare, that there will be some horrific "consequence" of "inaction"? Why these universal principles supposedly stop at the water’s edge is a mystery that Kelley did not do a very good job of clearing up.
I have elsewhere made the argument that the Objectivists are living in a world of floating abstractions, and this is confirmed by Kelley’s discussion of what he calls "misplaced concreteness." According to him, we don’t need to know if Saddam Hussein really had "weapons of mass destruction." Or when he had them. We also don’t need to focus on Al Qaeda. Our enemies aren’t those who planned and executed the 9/11 attacks: it is "Islamism." Which means – although he does not say it – a war against a billion-plus Muslims. How is that in American interests? As the Objectivists like to say – "blank out"!
He is also not convinced that they are over here because we are over there. They are responding, but to the extent that that is the case, it doesn’t mean that we should cease and desist. "Maybe we are right to support Israel." Yeah, but maybe not: and does he support U.S. "aid" to Israel that amounts to billions per year while they shoot down Palestinian children in cold blood and demolish Palestinian homes? Israel’s policies are never mentioned – that would be a "misplaced concrete."
Protecting the stream of oil, according to Kelley, is also valid: "we’re trading." But U.S. and other Western oil companies are receiving enormous subsidies from the U.S. government, who are protected by our military. And whom does Kelley believe will be buying this oil – of course the West will buy it. There is no one else to sell it to. The question is: at what price? Are artificially low oil prices a good reason for us to go to war – because we "need" their oil at a price dictated by us? So much for the "free" market!
The complete ignorance of any concretes, "misplaced" or otherwise, exhibited by Kelley and Hudgins was really quite astonishing. For example, Kelley said that "Islamists reflect a movement that is much older than the nation of Israel: the key nexus is the Muslim Brotherhood, formed in 1929, in Egypt." Founded in 1928, the Muslim Brotherhood did not have much influence outside Egypt until the rise of the Israeli state, and the Nasserite alliance with the Soviet Union – opposed by Islamists — which gave it regional impetus. But that’s another one of those nasty "concretes" that the ideologue Kelley would rather not deal with.
Concluding, Kelley enunciates with stunning casualness a "principle" that, if applied consistently, would mean endless war, and not only with the Islamic world: Since they want to shut down Western export of American culture we have a "right" and a "responsibility" to fight Islamism "in any way we can." Gee, since Canada forbids the free importation of Hollywood movies and American magazines, does that mean we ought to be marching on Toronto?
Ted Galen Carpenter followed Kelley, and he wondered what I wonder: why the foreign policy question is so "divisive." He denounces the "libertarian crusading state" position advanced by Bailey: it’s good, he says, that the Objectivists have distanced themselves from that position. He points out the connection between domestic and foreign policy: there are certain inherent requirements of a policy of global interventionism. The first is a large military: we spend more than $400 billion a year. There are also social and political consequences, including inevitable changes in the political structure. Our present state of perpetual war means the empowerment of the executive, since Congress can’t debate each and every military move. Collective security means that we are dragged into every regional war, and he gives Estonia and Taiwan, as examples.
Carpenter compares the threat of nuclear war during the cold war to the terrorist threat today: a "civilization-extinguishing threat" versus what happened on 9/11. Are we better off today – you betcha!
He concludes by asking a vitally important question: how many lives is it worth to us to transform Iraq into a "free," democratic, capitalist state – 1,000? 5,000? 10,000? He says he doesn’t hear the question posed in these terms very often by the pro-war crowd. Gee, I wonder why….
Kelley and Hudgins, speaking for the Objectivists, said almost nothing about this question, and one would think, given the position of the "orthodox" Objectivists around Leonard Peikoff and the Ayn Rand Institute – who glory in the mass slaughter of those they admit are innocent civilians – that they would be at pains to do so. So I’ll take the opportunity to ask them, in a very public forum: What about the bloodthirsty position taken by self-proclaimed "Objectivists" on this question, including Ayn Rand’s so-called "intellectual heir"? If Kelley doesn’t endorse it, then why doesn’t he denounce it?