Anthony Gregory on Libertarians and the Ukraine Crisis

Despite Justin’s attempts to place me in the the same camp as the neocons, Anthony Gregory of the Independent Institute has written a balanced and principled piece on this controversy. Here’s an excerpt:

So what should we think? We should probably take a middle ground between B and C. Putin isn’t just an aggressor; he’s one of the worst on the planet. He killed tens of thousands of Chechens. He oversees one of the most vast prison populations on earth. He is essentially a late-communist holdover of the party variety in everything but name, and his violations of civil liberties, free speech, and the dignity of homosexuals and others are not minor matters for any libertarian who cares about the rights of all people on earth. His invasion of Ukraine was unjustified. His annexation of Crimea cannot be defended and although some critics have exaggerated the evils of this territorial power grabs by comparing them to Stalin’s or Hitler’s expansionism, it is true that Putin’s defenders’ arguments based on ethnic nationalism could indeed be used to justify the most infamous European land grabs that occurred that same decade.

As for the United States, its foreign policy is a lot worse than Putin’s biggest detractors wish to acknowledge. While Putin has killed more people than Obama, he does not appear to have killed more people as Bush—and yes, it is a moral failure and deviation from libertarianism to downplay the Iraq war as anything less than one of the very worst international atrocities of our new century, and one that dramatically taints the moral character of U.S. diplomacy. What the last few U.S. administrations have done will haunt much of the world for decades. And the aggression has hardly ceased. Obama’s drone killings are one of the most infamous human rights violations on the planet, the drug war imposed on Mexico has taken tens of thousands of lives, and America’s own civil liberties record is far worse than some on Team America wish to confront. There are tens of millions of people much worse off throughout the world because of recent U.S. diplomacy and wars, and only a cold utilitarian would even attempt to justify this record.

I understand why some libertarians are inclined to emphasize one point or the other. Those Americans focusing on U.S. criminality are right that we have more influence, albeit marginally so, on the government that lords over us, that if we don’t stand up to the U.S. war machine and its covert ops, no one will, and that criticism of foreign aggression often fuels war propaganda at home. But others are frustrated that just because the U.S. government condemns Russian aggression, they’re supposed to keep quiet. “My country is the world,” as Tom Paine said, and libertarians around the world should condemn aggression anywhere it happens. Pretending the U.S. government is the world’s only major problem is naïve at best. The first group is often right that liberal states are more belligerent in foreign affairs, and the second group is often right that it’s easy for people here to forget about victims of foreign oppression. Such dynamics played themselves out in the Cold War, too, and both sides had a point. It would have been demoralizing to be berated for attacking either U.S. or Soviet aggression in those times.

It is hard to maintain the right level of nuance and principle. I think John Glaser and the Jesse Walker blog entry he links to are good models of principled libertarian commentary.

Read it in full here.

69 thoughts on “Anthony Gregory on Libertarians and the Ukraine Crisis”

  1. I think libertarians need to have a discussion on collectivism regarding ethnic nationalism, freedom of association, self determination of collectivist groups, and nation states. This stuff is just holdovers from the species humans descended from. Other animals band together in packs and fight over territory too, but they lack the ability to argue and support their very basic primal drives. Perhaps in the future land will be set aside for people who think and feel the same and people can easily move to be with like minded individuals (but how would you deal with the Israels and Palestines where they covet the same land). There is a problem where people with affinities for other locations are living in the wrong spot and this causes trouble. Rand Paul's goose is cooked over his support for the concept of freedom of association.

    If pro EU and pro Russian Ukrainians disagree on the direction they wish to go then where does that leave them? There are groups in eastern Ukraine that do not wish to be apart of Russia. How do you deal with that? I think the focus should be on whatever discourages a Syrian style bloodbath. They aren't going to enjoy any kind of state granted rights if they are dead. Ukraine had an elected government. They voted in that moron. Shouldn't they have used the functional electoral process instead of overthrowing the government. Whose land is it anyways?

    1. Not only did they vote in that moron. They obviously STILL believe in democracy despite committing a coup against the last democratically elected president. So they like the game, but throw the board off the table when they lose a pawn.
      This is why i cannot take those people seriously. If you are against a democratically elected president, fair enough. But then be against the system itself. They are happy with the system but throw violent tantrums when they don't like the results. They are the political versions of spoiled brats.
      What's truly hilarious is that the same people who committed a violent coup against a fairly elected president now claim that Crimea has no right to self-determination.

      Do i support the Ukrainian people? No i don't. They are statists who just didn't like it when they didn't get it their way. If you love the state, then shut up and take your medicine.

  2. I appreciate the work John Glaser and Anthony Gregory have put into the antiwar cause in particular and libertarianism in general. However, on this issue, Justin Raimondo seems to be more on target.

    Anthony Gregory: “Those Americans focusing on U.S. criminality are right that we have more influence, albeit marginally so, on the government that lords over us, […] But others are frustrated that just because the U.S. government condemns Russian aggression, they’re supposed to keep quiet.”

    Here’s the problem: One has every right to respond to aggression against them. One also have every right to respond to aggression against others. But that is not what all this is about. It’s really about abdicating to one’s aggressor the right to respond to another aggressor. It is collectivism through the back door. It is the means by which your aggressor tries to maintain the legitimacy of their aggression against you.

    The sad truth is that any objection the U.S. government has with Putin has nothing to do with compassion for the Russian people. Any claim otherwise is pure rhetoric.

    1. Sam, I don't see how anything you write contradicts anything I wrote. I'm an anarchist. Unlike Raimondo, I oppose the US government wholesale—its border enforcement, its drone campaigns, its prisons, and all its military operations from beginning to end. Unlike many in Raimondo's camp, I didn't support the war in Afghanistan. And I agree people have a right to respond to aggression, but governments have no rights, not America's and not Russia's.

      "The sad truth is that any objection the U.S. government has with Putin has nothing to do with compassion for the Russian people."

      OK. It's a good thing nothing I've written in fifteen years could reasonably be seen as a defense of US government action anywhere. If you think I'm being soft on the state here, you're wrong.

      1. I'm an anarchist, too, probably more radical than you, as well as being a radical Transhumanist, which is definitely more radical than you.

        What I am not is some doctrinaire libertarian who can't see reality. The reality is that we live in a world of nation-states who are ALL incorrect and who are all engaged in power politics.

        In the matter of this crisis, while it is easy to declare "everyone is equally guilty" if one ignores the sequence of events and history, the reality is that the US precipitated this crisis on its own hook – Putin has absolutely nothing to do with it. Putin simply reacted to a decades-long process of the US attempting to throttle Russia by placing NATO on its borders.

        As an anarchist and radical Transhumanist, I find it easy to just say "a pox on all their houses". I don't actually care which or how many humans die on a given day or where – as long as a) it's not me, and b) it doesn't stop human technological progress.

        That said, it is still important to be correct on what the events of the day are – and who is responsible for what. In the case of the Ukraine crisis, the US bears total responsibility – not Russia. Therefore, declaring the Russian RESPONSE to US AGGRESSION as "aggression" is not correct.

      2. Anthony, I didn't mean to challenge your libertarian credentials. If that's the way it came off, I apologize. My concern is about the fact that the political establishment has mastered the art of misdirection. Specifically, what goaded me to respond was your statement: "Those Americans focusing on U.S. criminality are right that we have more influence, ALBEIT MARGINALLY SO […]"

        The majority of Crimeans have decided they prefer Russian oppression over EU oppression. 'Our' influence on their decision is not 'marginal,' it is nil—that is, not counting action by the U.S. government (i.e. our oppressors), which has apparently a vested interest in the outcome. To quibble over the libertarian legitimacy of the decision of the Crimeans in choosing one oppressor over another is to unwittingly participate in the political establishment's misdirection.

        This is the point I would like to think Justin was trying to make when he said: "Defending the referendum as legitimate has nothing to do with defending 'Putin’s regime.'"

  3. Granted, I'm on the outside, thus my moniker. But I avoid the msm, read widely, and form my own opinions. From where I sit, I fail to understand the thinking of writers like Gregory who condemn Putin's peaceful takeover of Crimea. Crimea was part of Russia for centuries until Khruschev gave it away one drunken night (so the story goes), the people there certainly wanted to return, and Putin had to defend Russia's major naval base. It was a geopolitical no brainer and to say, as Gregory does, that "Russia's annexation of Crimea cannot be defended" defies logic to me. What would the US do if Russia started encroaching on southern Mexico with an eye to take it over? The answer is obvious.

  4. Will you please explain how Russia has aggresed against Crimea in this situation? Thanks in advance

    1. By taking it over. There's a reason the Tatars boycotted the election.

      I consider the state, any state, aggressive when it expands. Even if it takes back land that once "belonged" to it. I'd oppose to Mexican reconquest of California, just as I oppose the US conquest of California. I'm a libertarian and so high election results don't impress me. 99% of my neighbors think I should be ruled by the US government. They are wrong.

      1. If you're opposed to any state taking back land that once "belonged" to it, then you sound like you are for the status quo – at least in regard to world boundaries as they currently exist. That sounds kind of statist to me. It's the same position of the USG vis-à-vis Crimea (but let's not mention Kosovo). BTW, I read elsewhere that many Tatars did in fact vote, and that most voted to return to Russia. Turnout was considerably higher than any vote taken in the US.

      2. I don't know man. I see your point and I agree; I too am not a fan of the state and all its activities (known and unknown). What outcome would you have been behind in this situation? Crimeans coming out and saying, "we are seceding, but to establish our own independent country. Libertarians welcome!" Do you think our govt., or any govt for that matter, would have recognized its sovereignty? Did our govt recognize Ukraine's sovereignty when it created this whole situation in the first place? Again, i'm not a fan of states, but for people to be able to choose which state they want to be a part of, isn't that a step in the right direction? I really don't like the fact that I'm supporting one state over another, but it seems like Russia is more in the right on this situation that the US is

      3. The rule of law and the non-aggression principle is what should rule us, but that is not going to happen overnight, right? I know you are thinking in the right terms and I try to as well in all situations, but how does this help with today's problems? People like to be spoon-fed their news and how they are supposed to react. People have to be the ones that recognize the evil of state activity and they have to also say, we don't want this. The state won't stop, people have to make it stop.

      4. "Will you please explain how Russia has aggresed against Crimea in this situation?"

        "By taking it over."

        As opposed to Ukraine having been taken over by a non elected government, who now wants to keep Crimea for itself regardless of what Crimeans themselves want?

        The libertarian position is that that which people want most, and is most peaceful, is the most legitimate. If the Crimean people vote to join Russia, and there is no alternative for complete independence (in the sense that such is supported), then who is anyone, including you, to claim that Russia did wrong, when what it did is was the Crimeans wanted?

        To me it seems like "screw what the Crimeans want. Russia is bad. Crimea belongs to Ukraine, so Russia's actions are wrong."
        No, what is wrong is for Ukraine to keep laying claim to Crimea when Crimeans want no part of it.

      5. I see. The rest of the Crimean population, who VOTED to re-integrate into Russia – as opposed to being "taken over" – are to be ignored because they are "wrong" just because the minority Tatars don't like Russia.

        Scratch a libertarian – find a statist.

  5. I think that Anthony missed a big part of Justin's argument: that the US and other Western allies supported the overthrow of the Ukrainian government so that they could tilt their support away from Russia and towards the EU. The West has been pushing for this overthrow since the Orange Revolution, and Russia's actions are in response to Western aggression. It's not moral, but to claim Putin is the aggressor in this situation is not true. Imagine if Putin funded a revolution in Mexico that put in an anti-American government in charge. How might the US react to this?

    1. "Imagine if Putin funded a revolution in Mexico that put in an anti-American government in charge. How might the US react to this?"

      If the US reacted to that by sending troops to Mexico, or trying to annex parts of Mexico, or by flexing power in pretty much any way, I would oppose the US reaction. Wouldn't you? Hell, I think the US should abolish its border with Mexico now.

      1. I agree with you, and maybe that last sentence distracted with my overall point. What I was trying to get at is that this issue has been framed as a popular revolution of the people of Ukraine when that was far from the truth. The US and the rest of the West have been trying to swing Ukraine toward the EU for years, and they are equally at fault with the crisis in Ukraine, if not more.

      2. One of the main problems with libertarians is reflected in Gregory's last sentence: "Hell, I think the US should abolish its border with Mexico now." The naïve open borders crowd, believing as they do in unfettered immigration, seem oblivious to all the social problems that would be exacerbated, especially those of overpopulation and ever depleting resources. The arid American West is running out of water as it is and was never meant to support the population it currently has. I'm with Buchanan on this one. To paraphrase: a country that cannot control its borders is not a country anymore.

        1. It’s because libertarians, or a certain portion of libertarians, relish in abstractions.

      3. How about if Russia funded a revolution in Mexico that seized Arizona, abolished the English language, and began discriminating against Caucasians? Would you say the US should do nothing to regain Arizona?

        Because THAT is what the neo-Nazis in the Ukraine are doing to Crimea. Crimea is part of Russia and always has been. If you think Russia has no "legitimate" (whatever that means) interest in Crimea that they should ignore the sort of things these neo-Nazis are threatening, then you clearly have no clue about the realities there.

  6. “But others are frustrated that just because the U.S. government condemns Russian aggression, they’re supposed to keep quiet.”

    Well, yes. You should keep quiet.

    It’s not wrong to condemn Russian aggression any more than it is wrong to condemn American aggression, granted. But it is one thing to be right, another thing to be both right and prudent.

    Ordinary peons such as ourselves have no possibility to affect what is going on in Ukraine; the “best” we can do is end up supporting neocon warmongering no matter how hard we attempt to add nuance to our position. On the other hand, we do have some slight effect on what happens in this country, with the added advantage it has no possibility to support warmongering. So the prudent thing to do is…

  7. “[Russia has aggressed against Crimea] By taking it over. There’s a reason the Tatars boycotted the election.”

    It might be more accurate to say the Russian government aggressed against the Ukrainian government. Against the average Crimean, who happens to be Russian? Maybe not so much.

    Anyway, we are getting tied up in collective-speak. Which is why the issue is so difficult; collective language by its very nature causes strife.

  8. The trouble with Gregory's brand of libertarianism is that it refuses to acknowledge nationhood. It sees the desire of individuals to live in proximity to others more or less of like mind as something to be argued out of.

    There is another school, represented by Hans-Hermann Hoppe, which reasons differently and imho more realistically– for instance, to oppose unrestricted flows of migration.

    We will not understand the Ukrainian/Crimean imbroglio and the best way of reacting to it until we admit that most people prefer to be birds of a feather, and that the atomistic view of mankind taken by Gregory, it adopted generally, would play into the hands of tyrants who conquer by dividing us.

  9. Can…can…can't we all….all….jus get along?????

    I guess as long as there are two humans on the planet there will always be war…

  10. The major flaw in this piece is the notion that Putin acting to protect ethnic Russians and an important military asset in Crimea is somehow "aggression". Quite frankly, it is not.

    Legally, as Putin has said – correctly, Russia had every right to put up to 30,000 troops into Crimea under its treaty with Ukraine – not to mention the hundreds of years Russia owned Crimea and the naval base there. When, as George Galloway points out, the US-backed coup tore up the Ukraine Constitution, it also tore up the treaty. When the new regime banned the Russian language nation-wide, it was clear the new regime intended to kick Russia out of the Crimea, treat Crimean Russian-speaking citizens as second-class citizens, eliminate Russia's Black Sea naval base and import NATO military forces into a country on Russia's borders.

    Anyone with a brain will see that it is a matter of self-interest that Russia should prevent these moves. The only "aggression" that occurred was the rise of neo-Nazis funded and coordinated by the US who used violence to depose the legally-elected government and then directly threatened Russia in every way possible. Putin sent in forces to protect its military asset and to protect ethnic Russians in the region.

    The Russian response was measured and while there was conflict between Ukrainian forces in the Crimea and Russian forces, there was never any doubt as to the outcome because Ukraine's military is at least fives times smaller and less well-equipped than Russian forces. So the Ukraine forces basically abandoned any resistance.

    So was that "aggression"? Obviously not. Russia did not unilaterally invade Ukraine for the purpose of overthrowing the government – something the US does regularly. That's why we keep hearing in the MSM these speculations that Russia will "invade Ukraine" – it's the only way to make it seem that Russia is the aggressor. But it's not. It merely insured the security of ethnic Russians and its legally-acquired military asset against the probability of further aggression by neo-Nazis and the importation of NATO on its borders. This is clearly a legitimate action – to the degree ANY action by ANY state is "legitimate".

    However, if the neo-Nazis in Ukraine continue to oppress ethnic Russians in the east Ukraine – a threat issued by Tynoshenko – then it may well be that Russia will have to annex another portion of the Ukraine to protect those citizens. Is Glaser prepared in that event to declare his support for neo-Nazi ethnic cleansing of ethnic Russians and declare that Russia has no business intervening? Or declare that both parties are equally guilty?

    Let's see.

    1. Great point, Richard. It is not hard to comprehend the many contradictions in Gregory's and Glaser's libertarian argument. (Although Justin gets it!). These people claim to be against US hegemony, yet the result of their argument would be even greater US/NATO expansion right up to all of Russia's western border. Extreme pacifism and the open borders these guys advocate would inevitably result in the tyranny that they claim to oppose. For a dose of reality antiwar readers should check out Buchanan's great essay in today's edition.

  11. “So the Ukraine forces basically abandoned any resistance.”

    It’s fairly easy to stop defending something that is not really yours in the first place. :-)

    After looking at the arguments I find myself agreeing that the Russians weren’t aggressors after all – except to the tiny extent of occupying Crimea which, but for Khruschev’s whim, would have been part of Russia in the first place – so they really invaded their own country. How aggressive is that? In fact it’s amazing it took them so long to get around to it, behavior that would have been incomprehensible in American government. I suppose the former good (enough) relations between Russia and Ukraine postponed the inevitable for a while.

    No, pretty much this entire brouhaha can be attributed to the clumsy machinations of our own ruling class. Surprise, surprise.

  12. So was that "aggression"? Obviously not. Russia did not unilaterally invade Ukraine for the purpose of overthrowing the government – something the US does regularly. That's why we keep hearing in the MSM these speculations that Russia will "invade Ukraine" – it's the only way to make it seem that Russia is the aggressor

  13. "[Putin] killed tens of thousands of Chechens."

    "[Putin] oversees one of the most vast prison populations on earth."
    –Unlike America's tiny, tiny prison population. (hahaha!)

    "While Putin has killed more people than Obama…"
    –Really??? Is Putin slaughtering people with drone strikes? Is he occupying Afghanistan?

    Give me a break!!! LOL!!!

  14. Having been to Ukraine(Odessa specifically) and getting to know Ukrainians in the Black Sea area, I saw the events differently then what is posted on this blog. The people in that area are very pro-Russian, speak Russian, act Russian, eat Russian, Drink like Russians. The second I saw the crap go down in Kiev I knew right away the Black Sea crowd was going to hate it, and want nothing to do with it. I saw, what I believe to be a succession on behalf of the Crimea peoples natural as rain coming down. Even if Putin didn't want Crimea; the Crimea people would do their best to talk him into it.. But hey, that's just me…

  15. The geopolitical region known as "Crimea" has exchanged ownership of it's residents by one set of rulers with another set. Those individuals within that area that favored such had their rationals. The new rulers may, or may not be, more benevolent to the various individuals within the polity.

    While, some will be more favored by new rulers and others will become more oppressed, there is not going to be great change until people reject being owned by a State. This is going to be a very long road for humanity.

  16. I couldn't care either way. Protest along or not. But do not forget to protest against the decision of our nominalyl "democartically elected leaders". Obama or Merkel or Hollande or some other prancing vote attractor gets up in the morning and doesn't feel too good. So he/she decides to push for "economic sanctions against Putin" to feel better about themselves/belcam liberal guilt/unilaterally improve the world by fiat/appease John McCain/atone for the holocaust/because they aren't into brain today/[insert some other cause].

    BAM! 300'000 people are on the dole, taxes go up, energy becomes dearer. Just like that. Because these seigneurs think l'Etat, c'est MOIÂ and lolrandom decision making is good (meanwhile weapons are delivered to "our bad guys" while few strings attached because the export industry must be supported, right?).

    THAT is aggression. And not against Crimea. It is aggression against one's own country and neighbours. How come no-one is protesting?

  17. The US should never have involved themselves (and has to place to in the future) in that region. Period. Whether or not Russia’s response is aggression or not is immaterially to me. Even though we won’t, we *should* cease all involved completely and walk away. Someone has to be the first, there’s no obligation to straighten things out or fix our errors. Just butt out. There’s my responsibility as a citizen of a nation. What another nation does, short of showing up at my door threatening harm (or my neighbor’s, in which case I’d help a fellow human out) is not my concern. Do I care about the fellow humans in other nations? In the context that they are victims of their nations poor choices, like myself, absolutely. But I have no interest in defending or condemning any nation, but begrudgingly my own – begrudgingly b/c I’d prefer to treat them as an irrelevant obstacle, one to interact with as little as possible in hopes that we can find ways to truly make the state irrelevant.

    Let’s propose that the US had never influenced politics in that region (one can dream), setting up a cause and effect as endless and this debate will likely be. Whatever happened in said region would be even easier to dismiss. My position: do what should have been done, butt out, and let it be so. Is that libertarian? I don’t care one lick. It’s the least aggressive way I can think of responding to the state.

  18. The REAL libertarian stance is very simple:

    No intervention. Period. No exceptions. I don't care what's going on Crimea. That's their problem and something they're going to have to deal with o their own.

  19. There was virtually no legal basis for what the U.S. ended up doing in Libya. There ended up being no net benefit for Libyans or for U.S. interests as defined by Washington. It was a failure and its consequences continue to haunt us.

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