Antiwar.com columnist Dan Sanchez spoke to Liberty on the Rocks in downtown Los Angeles Saturday evening at Casey’s Irish Pub. Dan was introduced by long time antiwar activist Andrew Walker. Dan explains how the cycle of violence must end for all people to realize the right to life, liberty and property.
“There is a holy mistaken zeal in politics as well as in religion. By persuading others, we convince ourselves,” or so said the forgotten English writer Junius in the mid-18th Century. When I read his words the other day I was reminded of other situations where ideology and ignorance of history replaced reason.
Operation Unthinkable is one of many such examples, a loonie scheme hatched in early 1945 by Winston Churchill. Exhausted by six years of war, drinking heavily, with a loathing for his Soviet nemesis — though he once told Field Marshal Montgomery he and Stalin could resolve all their problems if only they met weekly over dinner fortified with an ample supply of scotch and vodka.
Churchill wanted to forgive the Nazis and instead have 100,000 of their Wehrmacht troops link up with the British and Americans to attack the victorious Red Army as it sped toward Berlin and therefore “impose the will of the Western Allies on the Soviets.” The plan was clearly insane and unenforceable yet Churchill ordered the British Armed Forces Joint Planning Staff to develop his idea until rational members of his inner circle said No. Continue reading “The Blind Leading the Blind: Everyone’s Middle Eastern Madness.”
It shouldn’t be easy for a group of Antiwar.com writers and supporters to just walk in and dish about foreign policy at the Left Forum, which claims to be the biggest annual convocation of Leftwing activists in the country.
But it was — easy, that is. In fact, some of us probably made it harder for the Leftwing participants at the New York City confab to prove to us that that they weren’t just humanitarian “imperialists” in disguise. Imperialists – that’s a dirty word in these parts, on any side of the aisle.
Which made for an interesting panel discussion on Saturday, moderated by this writer, who was trying to drill down on the question of whether the United States had any moral obligation to intervene in Syria because a) there was (or at least it began as) an organic freedom movement trying to topple a repressive government that had been tacitly supported by America for years, and b) there is a growing human crises that stands to get worse, not just for Syria but for the entire region, which is already fragile from war, refugees and sectarian strife.
This question is particularly salient today because the Obama Administration is expected to “decide” this week whether the U.S will start assisting the rebels with heavy arms (something my co-panelists and many in the audience clearly oppose). And while President Obama has already ruled out “boots on the ground,” there is an ongoing debate about the “less likely” option of helping to impose a no-fly zone and “deploying American air power to ground the regime’s jets, gunships and other aerial assets,” according to an Associated Press report on Sunday.
With help from the Russians and Hezbollah on the ground fighting for Bashar Assad’s Syrian Army forces, the government has in the last week taken back the city of Qusair and is on the march north to recapture Homs and Aleppo, the very source of the rebellion’s strength. The fall of Qusair blocks a strategic supply route for the rebels and the fall of the two other major cities would reopen the government’s access to the coast and a vital corridor of predominantly Shia-Allawite support. In other words, it’s not looking too good for the revolution.
I was joined Saturday to talk about these developments and more by Gareth Porter, John Walsh, Chase Madar, Evan Siegel, and Lorraine Barlett, all of whom who would either consider themselves Left or libertarian, but decidedly anti-war and comfortable working with the Right end of the spectrum on national security issues. All save for Seigel have written for Antiwar.com or The American Conservative magazine.
The audience was decidedly Left, and, judging from the exhibition hall downstairs, way more comfortable with Karl Marx and Leon Trotsky than Randolph Bourne or Ron Paul. But judging from many of the knowing smiles and murmurs of agreement throughout the nearly two-hour discussion – surprise – we had a lot in common, at least on foreign policy.
First off – there seemed to be a hard line against intervention in Syria or anywhere else. “Bombs for peace” didn’t hold well with this crowd. “(Intervention) will only complicate and cause more death than help in Syria,” said Siegel, an adjunct professor at the New York City College of Technology and veteran peace activist. “They have to work it out for themselves,” said Walsh, a microbiology professor who co-founded ComeHomeAmerica.us and over the course of his own activism has shifted from Left, closer to libertarianism. He appeared the most unyielding of them all on the panel, saying any move to assist the rebels would be seen as imperialist in nature.
Porter agreed. “Don’t be suckers,” he said simply. A mantra for our times. More seriously, Porter entered into an exposition in which he explained that the National Security State — the Armed Forces, the National Security Council, Joint Chiefs and Pentagon — were disinterested in a Syrian intervention anyway. “It’s not in the interest of the National Security State,” he insisted, “because they believe the cost of war to the National Security State itself would be greater than the benefit to the National Security State. In other words, it’s about their bottom line.”
In that vein, Madar, who has written extensively on recent U.N. Ambassador nominee Samantha Power, said fierce liberal interventionists like her pick and choose their “crises” and show their bias when they conspicuously leave politically unfeasible or inexpedient conflicts off their list of struggles worthy of outside assistance.
When I interviewed a few of the audience members after the session they seemed to share much of the sentiments. “It’s ridiculous to push on one side and not give them the chance to decide for themselves,” said Linda D’Angelo from Ohio. “We can’t put our fingers in all of the dykes.”
Not everyone was digging the tone and direction of the speakers, who were basically asserting that the excuse of “humanitarianism” was often used to meddle, but that the United States has only really intervened for its own interests, and in Syria, there was no interest at stake. Furthermore, whether there was an “interest or not,” all five speakers advocated a consistent hands-off policy. For at least one bespectacled man in the audience who spoke up, this equated with allowing a “slaughter” to continue.
He waited patiently to be called upon and when he was, unleashed a Gatling gun of invectives on the panel, calling them and Antiwar.com, “apologists for genocide,” “Islamophobes,” and “crypto-Stalinists.”
Interestingly, after a brief skirmish broke out, with members of the panel and the audience defending the speakers from his accusations, the man abruptly walked out. But not before he was quietly jeered by both sides on his way to the door.
But the question of whether the U.S might have some obligation to do something in the face of a humanitarian crisis that stands to affect half of Syria’s 20 million population by the end of the year (already, 1.5 million refugees have left Syria, while 4.5 million are displaced inside), still seems to make some uncomfortable. The conversation often drifted toward the history of U.S war policy, empire and the broader principles of anti-interventionism. There seemed to be some consensus around imposing a total arms embargo in order to let both sides fight it out without interference from the Gulf States, Europe, Russia, Iran, U.S.., etc., but then most conceded that it was likely too far gone for that anyway.
Probably the most heartening thing to come out of the 50-minute exchange in that university classroom was the largely positive (not counting the singular fury that left the room) reaction from the audience. One gentleman admitted he had no idea there was this common ground with “the other side” of the political spectrum before.
There were nodding heads all around. Mission accomplished? Perhaps.
I don’t know how my arcane little post on Frank Gaffney’s World War I theories launched a discussion of Shariah law, bikinis, “executive gays,” and Ted Nugent, but Eric Dondero dropped in, so…
Dondero is raving about, among other things, a county in Maryland providing twice-weekly women-only swim times at public pools. (You can read a reasonable account of what’s happening here, or you can get frothed on over at Pam Geller’s site.) My failure to wet my swim trunks over this issue ultimately led Dondero to demand that I stop calling myself a libertarian.
Now, this strikes me as a little ironic, since the doctrinaire libertarian position on public pools is that there shouldn’t be any. They hardly seem like an essential function of the night-watchman state, after all (and don’t even get those crazy anarcho-capitalists started). Let individuals and organizations build their own pools and swim however they like, whether in the buff or in burqas.
But public pools aren’t really that central an issue to any libertarians I know, even the misguided, pro-war ones. What a luxury it would be to live in a time and place where abolishing the parks and rec department was even arguably a priority! And note that Dondero doesn’t call for privatizing the pools — he just wants to make sure that a state agency that shouldn’t even exist doesn’t in any way accommodate a certain subset of taxpayers.
And Dondero doesn’t stop there:
Or, maybe we should kick these Islamic “immigrants,” out of our country?
If you do not wish to assimilate into American culture of tolerance, open sexuality, and freedom to live as you please without a nanny-state telling you how to live your life, than why in the bloody hell are you here in the first place?
But as the article I linked to explains, it’s not just Islamofascists who like the women-only swim times. In fact, there’s a worldwide market for women-only gyms, and the biggest provider started right here in the USA. But in their hatred of Muslims, these twisted libertoids end up enemies of the open society they’re supposedly defending. Like the puritans they claim to despise, they feel oppressed by the consensual activities of others. That’s why most libertarians disdain Dondero and company.
Full disclosure: I sometimes swim at a local public pool, so when the revolution comes, I will dutifully drown myself by tying a copy of Man, Economy, and State to my ankle and jumping in the deep end. Now rock out to the Nuge in better days.
I missed this Frank Gaffney column from a couple of weeks ago:
I had an unsettling flashback last week listening to two of the Republican presidential candidates talk about foreign policy. Representative Ron Paul of Texas and former Utah Governor Jon Hunstman espoused isolationist stances that called to mind one of the most preposterous public policy debates in decades.
As I recall, the occasion was a Washington, D.C. event sponsored in the early 1990s by a group of libertarians. A colleague and I were invited to rebut the following proposition: “Resolved, the Constitution of the United States should be amended to prohibit the use of military force for any purpose other than defending the nation’s borders.”
Our side of the debate pointed out that, however superficially appealing such an idea might appear, it was ahistorical, irrational and reckless.
After all, if history teaches us anything, it is that wars happen – as Ronald Reagan put it – not when America is too strong, but when we are too weak. In the run-up to World Wars I and II, we followed more or less the libertarians’ prescription, and disaster ensued.
It continues, but I’ll just home in on the best part: World War I happened, or was worse than it would have been otherwise, because America was following a libertarian — i.e., “isolationist” — foreign policy.
Now, in the 16 years before the outbreak of the Great War in Europe, the United States took part in the Spanish-American War, a savage occupation and counterinsurgency in the Philippines, and various smaller interventions in places such as Panama, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, China, and Haiti. What this has to do with the Triple Entente, the Triple Alliance, and the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand is anyone’s guess, but “isolationism” it isn’t.
But Frank Gaffney has been peddling this story for decades. When I was looking for something on his harrowing run-in with libertarians, the World War I thing popped up again. In his opening remarks at a January 1990 Cato Institute debate on foreign policy after the Cold War*, Gaffney said:
I think that it is equally evident that we have tried a policy of disengagement from Europe, a policy known in varying eras as “America-first-ism,” “isolationism,” what have you. And I think our experience is unmistakably clear. It has been a disaster every time it has been tried. The obvious, most glaring cases in point, of course, are World War I and World War II.
Later, in the Q & A portion, an audience member asked:
I have a single, simple question for Mr. Gaffney.
Mr. Gaffney, you suggested that America’s traditional pre-World War I policy of disengagement was an unmitigated disaster in part because it permitted wars on the European continent. In your opinion, at what date before World War I, 1898, 1870, 1848, 1815, whatever, should the United States have entered into formal military commitments to send and station troops in Europe?
To which Gaffney responded:
Well, it’s an interesting rhetorical question. I think that, obviously, at that particular juncture in history, let’s say, prior to 1914, the United States was neither terribly well equipped and certainly not disposed to be a world power. As was evident, starting with 1917, it had the resources to play a major role in restoring what I believe was the proper arrangement — the proper post-war configuration. Unfortunately, I think, in part because it once again withdrew[,] the proper order, the institutions of democracy that flourished briefly in the post-war period did, indeed, fall apart as Chris Layne indicated and gave rise to the seeds of World War II.
Actually, Layne had said that “one could make a very convincing argument that it was precisely the American intervention in World War I that prevented that war from ending in a compromise peace and that gave rise to many of the problems that led subsequently to the rise of Hitler and fascism and thence to World War II, and ultimately to the problems we’re facing now.” Rather different, no? But in Frank Gaffney’s mind, all of this could have been prevented if the United States had dispatched troops to Europe during the Napoleonic Wars. Yes, there are actually people who think like this.
*Sorry, I can’t find a link online. I got this transcript off LexisNexis. Gaffney’s questioner was probably Michael Lind, though the transcriber wrote “Lindt.”
Libertarians in Washington are not happy about how the Republican primary is shaping up. Barring a miracle, there are two candidates with a decent shot at the nomination. Mitt Romney, the godfather of Obamacare, is not libertarians’ first choice. And they think Newt Gingrich, the new frontrunner, is even worse.
I don’t know about the “decent shot” part, but otherwise, so far, so good. Then there’s this:
“There’s a belief that the field represents a pre-Tea Party Republicanism,” said Michael D. Tanner, a senior research fellow at the Libertarian Cato Institute. It’s a crop of left-overs, he explains. Libertarians wanted Paul Ryan or Chris Christie.
Excuse me? As Daniel Larison puts it, “I don’t want to assume that the views expressed in this report are representative of libertarians or even libertarian policy wonks, but the idea that there were any libertarians interested in Paul Ryan and Chris Christie is baffling.”
If that baffles you, keep reading. TPM:
While less than perfect, libertarians are hoping for a Jon Huntsman resurgence to spare them from Newt and Mitt. “I think there is burgeoning interest in Jon Huntsman,” says [the Cato Institute’s David] Boaz, though perhaps “too late to matter.” While not a card-carrying libertarian, says Tanner, he possesses the right combination of a very conservative economic agenda and more moderate positions on foreign policy and social issues.
I’ll assume that’s a dangling modifier in the first sentence and Jon Huntsman is “less than perfect” (though, to be fair, so are libertarians). That’s an understatement, but set it aside for the moment. Go read the article. Notice whose name is conspicuously absent? Hint: he was once the Libertarian Party nominee for president, and he’s 16 points ahead of Jon Huntsman among likely Iowa caucus-goers.
It’s true that Huntsman breaks with the party on some individual foreign policy and social issues, but overall Huntsman is more conservative on social issues than almost anyone else in the field, and his “moderation” on foreign policy includes support for bombing Iran. It’s impressive how far out of their way some of these folks will go to avoid supporting the candidates with whom they agree on virtually everything.
These people live in and around D.C. They have nice, normal liberal and conservative friends whose tolerance for radicalism extends to attending a Cato policy briefing on school vouchers once a year. They have reputations to maintain. Jon Huntsman may be hungry for votes, but he sure ain’t weird.