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What’s the Libertarian Answer to ISIS?

See no evil, hear no evil?

by
Walter Hudson

Bio

August 11, 2014 - 12:21 am

That was the question posed over the weekend by Jack Tomczak, one-half of “Up and At ‘Em with Jack and Ben,” the local morning conservative talk radio program in the Twin Cities. Posting to Facebook, Tomczak cited a report from Catholic Online detailing horrific atrocities perpetrated by ISIS against Christian men, women, and children. “What’s the libertarian answer to this?” he asked.

The thread which followed reflects the tension present in the persistent foreign policy debate within the Republican Party. The one thing which most respondents seem to agree on is that facts are hard to come by, and the fluid situation in Iraq makes it difficult for laypeople to provide an informed policy prescription.

We can articulate a couple of principles, however. The first deals with our response to the atrocities themselves. As a Christian and a father, my sense of justice is rightly inflamed by pictures and accounts of children murdered by Islamic totalitarian thugs in Iraq. It would take a cold heart indeed to feel anything less than contempt and condemnation for the animals ravaging Iraqi citizens. That said, the federal government of the United States does not exist to satisfy my sense of international justice. It exists to, among other things, protect the citizens of the United States.

Opposing U.S. military intervention in Iraq does not mean one fails to care about the atrocities being committed there. It merely recognizes the appropriate limit of the federal government’s authority. Have a private mercenary army you plan to unleash on ISIS? I’ll gladly donate. But there exists no compelling state interest in spilling American blood and spending American treasure to protect non-citizens in a country halfway around the world.

But what if American citizens are at risk? Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain appeared on Sunday news programs to herald the threat they say ISIS presents to the United States. From The Blaze:

“If you read what they’re saying, we are the enemy, they want to destroy us,” [McCain] said [on CNN’s “State of the Union.”]. “They are getting stronger all the time. Their goal, as they have stated time after time, is the destruction of the United States of America.”

At about the same time on “Fox News Sunday,” Sen. Lindsey Graham offered a similar prediction.

“They’re coming here,” he said. “This is not just about Baghdad, not just about Syria. It’s about our homeland. If we get attacked because [Obama] has no strategy to protect us, then he will have committed a blunder for the ages.”

Libertarianism and non-interventionism should not translate to sticking our heads in the sand regarding objective threats to the lives and liberty of American citizens. The expressed intention to destroy the United States, to fly a black flag over the White House, coupled with a demonstrable capacity to act upon that intention, stands as a de facto declaration of war. And when war is declared upon you, you have to take it seriously.

If we re-engage in Iraq, it should be with the specific goal of utterly destroying a clearly identified enemy, in this case ISIS. We shouldn’t look to win hearts and minds. We shouldn’t look to nation-build. We shouldn’t use restraint and yield to any possibility of civilian causalities. We should act decisively to end ISIS, to wipe it off the face of the Earth.

How’s that for a libertarian answer? It may not be what you’re used to hearing from professing libertarians or non-interventionists. But it’s nonetheless consistent with the principle of individual rights. Aggressors prove morally responsible for the death and destruction which results from necessary retaliatory force. Whether it’s Iraqis defending themselves, or the United States defending its citizens, the objective should be the elimination of ISIS by any means necessary.

(Today’s Fightin Words podcast is on this topic available here. 15:58 minutes long; 15.4 MB file size. Right click here to download this show to your hard drive. Subscribe through iTunes or RSS feed.)

Walter Hudson advocates for individual rights, serving on the boards of the Republican Liberty Caucus of Minnesota, Minnesota Majority and the Minority Liberty Alliance. He maintains a blog and daily podcast entitled Fightin Words. He also contributes to True North, a hub of conservative Minnesotan commentary, and regularly appears on the Twin Cities News Talk Weekend Roundtable on KTCN AM 1130. Follow his work via Twitter and Facebook.
All Comments   (26)
All Comments   (26)
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All WW 2 Nazi analogies do not work because according to the following article, if we did not butt our head into WW 1, a stalemate would have lead to a negotiated peace, thus there would not have been a punitive Treaty of Versailles, where Germany was harshly treated and driven in to the ground. And if the we did not get involved to change the balance of WW 1 (causing much more innocent blood to be shed), the Germans would never have allowed Hitler and the Nazi Party to come to power.
Our intervention in direct violation of the principles of President Washington has caused multiple problems throughout the years.
http://www.ronpaulinstitute.org/archives/featured-articles/2013/november/19/veterans-day-and-foreign-interventionism.aspx?tag=War
1 week ago
1 week ago Link To Comment
"If we re-engage in Iraq, it should be with the specific goal of utterly destroying a clearly identified enemy, in this case ISIS. We shouldn’t look to win hearts and minds. We shouldn’t look to nation-build. We shouldn’t use restraint and yield to any possibility of civilian causalities. We should act decisively to end ISIS, to wipe it off the face of the Earth."

This is my view on all military engagements. If you are going to commit American soldiers to war, then fight a damned war. The Colin Powell "You break it, you bought it" theory needs to be abandoned as utter foolishness with regards to use of the US military.
5 weeks ago
5 weeks ago Link To Comment
Thanks for the article. For info on actual people using voluntary Libertarian tools on similar and other issues worldwide, please see the non-partisan Libertarian International Organization @ http://www.Libertarian-International.org ...

Libertarians and fans in the two countries were in the process of moving the regimes peacefully via people power, just as they brought down the Communists. Libertarians are in every country, and this is the transnational 'foreign' policy called OPERATION DEMOCRACY and incorporating projects as Sister Cities.

Sadly, the US Government and others interfered by, among other things, creating and funding ISIS. Our understanding is that US officials in Iraq blocked attempts led by local Libertarians to create a federal secular constitution. They disarmed regional centrist militias and local governments.

Most Libertarians and fans have left those countries for their own safety. At this point an Article 33 UN intervention ( regional powers) to attempt to restore democracy is likely the only course possible. ISIS has effectively declared war on the US and Spain and are unlikely to vanish left alone, so the US and NATO may have grounds to intervene and end ISIS as a rogue state or piracy. In the long term it would help, however, if governments let received policies of citizen diplomacy, Sister Cities, etc. that Libertarians help energize do their work.

Libertarians might ask in return how many self-created official messes as ISIS they're expected to address ? In the mean time, Libertarians are helping many other countries evolve as peaceful democracies.
5 weeks ago
5 weeks ago Link To Comment
"But there exists no compelling state interest in spilling American blood and spending American treasure to protect non-citizens in a country halfway around the world."

And this is how libertarians allow the sworn enemies of the United States to consolidate as many of the world's resources as they wish, unmolested by the U.S., so that they can prepare as they wish, and choose the time, location, and manner of their attack. Brilliant.

Mr Hudson, has it ever occurred to you that if a group publicly states that they wish to kill us and destroy our cities, that they constitute a threat to us?

5 weeks ago
5 weeks ago Link To Comment
Let me answer by analogy. If you're walking down a corridor in a mental institution or a prison, and a patient or prisoner declares they intend to kill you, do you have a right to shoot them dead? Expressed intent is not enough to constitute a threat. There must also be a capacity to carry it out. If the same person shouted at you on the street and started charging you, it's a different story.

To the extent ISIS is consolidating resources toward the purpose of striking us, we morally may and should respond. My statement, the one you quoted, speaks to a scenario were that's not the case.
5 weeks ago
5 weeks ago Link To Comment
I am not satisfied with the Libertarian anwer to ISIS. Let me try a partial hypothetical. Let us assume that Nazi Germany did not attack Russia, rather consilidated its rule in Western Europe and Poland. All the time, it made NO threats whatsoever towards the USA, indeed, made offers of trade, friendship, cooperative military exercises and student exchange. Indeed, the "Dr. Mengle Instutute of Medical Studies" wanted to share its research results.

BUT, Nazi Germany being ..., well, the Nazis there were just a bit genocidal and so they went about with ardent dedication to eliminate the intented 11 million European Jews. In fact that was the estimate of the Nazis. The actual war frustrated such a peace time goal. Throw in some millions of Slaves (and I believe some 5 million Russians were murdered in concentrration camps) and, well, I presume that the keen mind of a Libertarian would admit that genocide is being realized. Yes?

My question to Libertarians: Based on the premise that Nazi Germany constituted absolutely NO danger in any way to American well-being, indeed, constituted a possiblity for mutually beneficial economic trade and common medical research; based on this counterfactual FACT, would not a Libertarian refuse to intervene militaritly and, following the wisdom of Ron Paul, enter into trade and cultural treaties? So, my dilemma is: Massive genocide takes place which in no way endangers America in any way whatsoever vs non-necessary military interventionism with all the collateral damage, an intervention per hypothesis absolutely unnecessary according to the principles enunciated in the article re the ISIS.

So, my fellow Libertarians, how would you resolve my dilemma? Peace or war?
5 weeks ago
5 weeks ago Link To Comment
Case in point: USSR in the 1920s and 1930s. Declared war on all "capitalist" nations and actively built capacity to wage war, fomented unrest through proxies (Comintern controlled local Communist Party organizations), actively pursued genocidal policies that resulted in the deaths of millions of Ukrainians and others long before Hitler even got the idea. What then?
4 weeks ago
4 weeks ago Link To Comment
Before answering directly, let's emphasize just how hypothetical this scenario is. Nazy Germany presented a threat to free people worldwide, including the citizens of the United States. They both expressed, and demonstrated the capacity to fulfill, a desire to take over the world. Does ISIS have the capacity of Nazi Germany? Not really. So this is an apples and oranges comparison out of the box.

That said, let's address the spirit of your criticism. Should America go to war with a nation that is responsible for genocide but not a direct threat to the United States? No, it should not. Consider what you're actually asking for. You're saying that your countrymen should be called upon to sacrifice their lives, not for their own sake or the sake of their country, but for the sake of others. From where would we derive the moral authority to place that upon our armed forces? They exist to preserve our rights and protect our lives. That's their jurisdiction. That's the role they signed up for. If they wanted to protect Iraqis, they could have moved to Iraq and joined the Iraqi army. Indeed, if genocide in another part of the world presents a moral claim upon American lives and American treasure, the progressives are right about everything. They're the ones who say someone else's need presents a moral claim on your life and property. Is that true or false? If it's true, then let's go to war against terrorism and genocide wherever its found in the world - and embrace Obamacare, entitlements, wealth redistribution, etc. If it's false, then let's maintain our armed forces for their constitutional and rightful purpose, the protection of American citizens.
5 weeks ago
5 weeks ago Link To Comment
"Nazy Germany presented a threat to free people worldwide, including the citizens of the United States. They both expressed, and demonstrated the capacity to fulfill, a desire to take over the world. Does ISIS have the capacity of Nazi Germany? "

At what Point did Nazi Germany become enough of a threat for you to agree that it was time to intervene?
-Was the "Night of Sharp Knives" enough of a reason?"
-The attack on Poland? Austria? Hungary? France? Russia? How many nations do they need to attack before it's okay to intervene?
-What about when they gassed 100,000 Jew? 500,000 Jews? Would a Million be the cut off point?

Now, same question, at what point does ISIS become enough of a threat for your principles to agree it's time to intervene? When they take over Syria? When they take over Iraq? What about when they take over Lebanon? What about if/when they attack Israel? Saudi Arabia or Kuwait? Or is it simply a numbers game, like with the Jews? How many people do they have to behead before it's time to intervene?

Next question, wouldn't it have been quicker and easier, and saved a lot of lives if someone had stopped the Nazis BEFORE they invaded France? Before they invaded Poland? Before they slaughtered 100,000 Jews?

Last question, wouldn't it be easier to stop ISIS now, while they are still weak, while they are still building their army, still consolidating their grip on Northern Syria and Northern Iraq? Wouldn't it save lives, in Syria, Iraq and beyond to stop them now rather than at some distant point in the future? Wouldn't it save more American lives to attack while ISIS is relatively weak and disorganized?
5 weeks ago
5 weeks ago Link To Comment
"What about when they gassed 100,000 Jew? 500,000 Jews? Would a Million be the cut off point?"
Why did we ally ourselves with the Soviet Union? They (Stalin) made Hitler look like an Eagle Scout. Of course it was well known that our Commie President and his cousin/wife (FDR and Eleanor) were Communist sympathizers and they loved their Uncle Joe (Stalin)
1 week ago
1 week ago Link To Comment
I thank you for your thoughtful and courteous reply. Most of your answer breaks W.F. Buckley's widsom, namely: "You cannot argue with a hypothetical!" I could as well have said that we sit with the "Good Witch of the West" and observe the "Wicked Witch of the East" kill or, better, gas to death millions upon millions of whatever that flying monkey like people were called. Any reference to the "real" danger of Nazism is irrelevant to my argument. The question is simple: Are you, EITHER personally OR as a citizen of a country, willing to sit by and observe (say, using CNN tv-reporting of ongoing events) the elimination of 11 million Jews, 5 million Russians and 1.9 million non-Jewish Poles and etc., etc., etc., AD infinitum (not IN infinitum). This type of analogy could well have been fact if CNN had been there in Rwanda for that million person massacre. You could have watch 24 hours a day the slaughter, one in no way endangering the security (though, in my opinion, the purity) of yourself or of America. No doubt you would have been morally and emotional bothered, but you would have opposed on libertarian principles any American military attempt to stop the murdering. Am I right here with my more realistic hyptothetical? If so, I conclude with Prof. Jaffe (expert on Lincoln who got 100s of thousands of Americans killed in a war certainly not necessary for Northen self-defense) who once noted that Libertarianism is "nihilisitic". If, as I do now, add "egotistic" (sounds Ayn Randian to me), then I find the good prof. to be right, i.e. Libertariansm constitutes an egotistic nihilism! (indeed, I would contend that egotiscm and nihillism are two sides of the same coin.) I do not offer the judgment as a personal affront, rather as an attempted objective evaluation of your -ism. --> But, a more personal formulationof my question haunts me too:

I understand your doctrine to be: If person(s) X is or are not endangered by the murderous elimination of person(s) Y by person(s) Z, X is in no way obligated to defend Y against Z. --Do correct me if I have unfairly formulated in general form what determines your principle of extending or non-extending aid. -- But assuming I have been fair, I forumlate another counterfactual possibolity.

You are walking with 10 burly friends, all Karate Black Belts, and you see 5 nefarious men beating two defenseless old women slowly to death. One of the attackers turns towards you and your muscle bound Bruce Lees and communicates with full conviction that the attack upon the women is ONLY upon the women and that YOUR group is is NOT endangered. IN NO WAY WHATSOEVER!!!! Are you personally obliged to aid the victims (or would that be naught but a purely arbitrary libertarian choice entailing no obligation)? Would you be offending your libetarian principles if you would talk up enough your friends into a group mood such that group pressure dynamically impels all, even those reluctant, to intervene (my comparison for democracy)? The failure of anyone to join in the intervention would leave the dissenter as an group outcast (= punishment). --It would seem to me that most probably your libertarianism would be offended by individual or group intervention, given the circumstances described. Have I erred?

Thank you again for the reply. It is always a pleasure to have reasoned opposition, alas, all too often missing in the comments.
5 weeks ago
5 weeks ago Link To Comment
I'm late to this discussion but...You make some interesting points but I think you misinterpret libertarian philosophy. You take the concept of non-aggression pact to extend to libertarianism REQUIRES non-intervention. It doesn't, it simply specifies under what conditions involvement is an individual choice and which conditions the government acts on behalf of the country. Let me try to clarify by addressing your arguments.

First on genocide... It is terrible but let's look at the cost of US intervention in genocide that does not represent a threat to US interests:
1). You force soldiers who volunteered to defend the US to fight a war on behalf of another country. This is unethical and immoral.
2). There will be US casualties and death. Genocide is often against asymmetric (terrorist, guerrilla forces) and will require ground forces for successful intervention. This will increase the amount casualties.
3). The cost to those who survive is great. Asymmetric warfare is up close and personal. The effects of PTSD destroy families and lives of survivors.

And libertarianism provides an easy answer. Those that wish for intervention can fight or support the effort by funding equipment - firearms, armor, vehicles etc. Libertarianism requires those who support an action to commit their own resources to an action rather than require others to fulfill one's own moral obligations. There are few exceptions to this including legitimate national defense.

On the Nazi/WWII issue this depends entirely on how we define the "red line" for a threat. Libertarianss differ on when to commit. Personally I see the value of maintaining alliances and that means coming to their defense. There are several ways US action in WWII can be justified under libertarian ideology, but defense of allies is a good one.

To your example of someone standing by while another human being is beaten: Libertarianism is about preserving choice except in a few rare cases. In other words libertarianism does not require someone to stand back and watch someone else get hurt because it is not in the observer's interest; it simply says that if you believe in intervention, you should be willing to commit yourself to that action. I would not hesitate to defend another human, and that is my choice. The point of libertarianism is that the decision is mine alone to make. No one can force me to intervene but I will happily do it.

I hope that clears things up.
1 week ago
1 week ago Link To Comment
The Soviet Union ended up proving to be a much greater threat and Stalin killed more Jews (and others) than Hitler ever dreamed of, yet we allied ourselves with the Soviet Union.
If we never got involved in WW 1, WW 2 probably never would have happened.
http://www.ronpaulinstitute.org/archives/featured-articles/2013/november/19/veterans-day-and-foreign-interventionism.aspx?tag=War
1 week ago
1 week ago Link To Comment
Well, neither. If they did not threaten us directly, then war would not be a necessity. However, that does not mean your opposite scenario, where we turn a blind eye and become pals, is the only other outcome. I'd say we would cut ties and vocally critisize the regime, and perhaps seek to arm its enemies. In fact that WAS the solution the U.S. pursued initially in both WW1 and WW2. Unfortunately, intolerant and evil regimes like Nazi Germnay don't respond well to critisim, which often makes war inevitable (the Nazis declared war on the U.S., largely out of Hitler's hatred of the constant moralzing by Roosevelt).
5 weeks ago
5 weeks ago Link To Comment
A libertarian could have joined the army of a country actually at war.
5 weeks ago
5 weeks ago Link To Comment
"If we re-engage in Iraq, it should be with the specific goal of utterly destroying a clearly identified enemy, in this case ISIS. We shouldn’t look to win hearts and minds. We shouldn’t look to nation-build. We shouldn’t use restraint and yield to any possibility of civilian causalities. We should act decisively to end ISIS, to wipe it off the face of the Earth.

How’s that for a libertarian answer?"

It's massively shortsighted, ignorant of history, it denies the universality of human nature, and long and short violates the principle of prudence. It is better than what I presume the Ron Paulists want, and that's as much good as I can say about it.

ISIS should be utterly and ruthlessly destroyed. True.

We have an abject obligation to avoid civilian casualties when possible, even demanding our troops take greater risk then strictly necessary--based on what else we could theoretically do--to avoid that incremental risk. I don't think most of our troops actually want to kill them all and let God sort them out, and we should glad they feel that way--it means we have not raised monsters.
5 weeks ago
5 weeks ago Link To Comment
If you believe they must be destroyed, the nations in the area better wake up and spend their treasure and shed their blood to get the job done.
America is over $17,500,000,000,000.00 (Trillion) in debt; we never should have been the NWO global military and police force in violation of the principles of our Founding Fathers.
1 week ago
1 week ago Link To Comment
(cont)

We must attempt faithfully to win hearts and minds, simply out of fidelity to what is in our hearts and minds; or we are deciding our strategy is--as you seem to imply--that in a generation or less, we'll just have to go in again and wipe them out again, civilians and all. There's nothing libertarian in having serial democide as a strategy, there's also nothing wise in it.

If we had stayed in Iraq, we wouldn't be here. We'd have been nation building--a far, far, far better strategy. Iran would be frustrated, Russia confounded, Al Qaeda's ethos denied success--which instead, Obama gave them.

In a generation's time, the simple fact that classical liberalism (to the limited extent we now practice it) succeeded in Iraq by our example would undo the whole of the Jihadist's worldview. That's because classical liberalism is the governing philosophy best suited to human nature...


...not Dead European Male nature, human nature.
5 weeks ago
5 weeks ago Link To Comment
(cont)

It's a universal constant.

Our worldview works for all humanity, theirs doesn't work for anyone, not even them.

Your post almost sounds like you don't really believe that.
5 weeks ago
5 weeks ago Link To Comment
I'm afraid, Mr. Hudson, all your stated plan would do is postpone the catastrophe.

If you go in, destroy the threat, in this case ISIS, then leave without bothering to, as you call it, nation build, another bad actor is just going to step forward and cause the same problem all over again. We've seen that show already in Iraq and Afghanistan.

There's also the question of, once you've destroyed ISIS in Iraq, and I don't really doubt America's ability to do so and do so quickly, what is your plan if/when ISIS simply retreats into Syria? Are we going to invade Syria too now? And if you're not willing to invade Syria, as well as Iraq, how are you going to make sure that ISIS stays contained in Syria? How are you going to stop them from just re-invading Iraq once the American troops leave again? And how is containing them inside Syria going to stop them from attacking the United States or her allies in Europe and Israel?

I believe that the United States has been following a bad plan when it comes to nation building for the last 50 years or more. We seem to keep following the Vietnam war plan when we should be following the Marshall Plan, developed by then Secretary of State George Marshall.

We subdue the enemy, stabilize the country, appoint an American Governor-General if necessary, and slowly, over years, return power to the regular government. We build American Military bases and we stay put. We bring security and stability to that nation and her neighbors. We give the citizens of that nation time to learn how to live, and yes, how to vote, in a democracy. We don't leave in five or ten or even twenty years. We leave in fifty or sixty or seventy years once the nation has had a nice stable government for decades, when their economy is booming and when terrorism is nothing more than a bad memory to us and to the people of Iraq.

This is what brought security and stability to western Europe and to most of Asia after the end of World War two. This is the plan that led to the thriving, democratic governments, and booming economies, in Germany, France, Spain, England, Italy and Japan. Why not use the same plan in Iraq? if we had done it the first time, if he we had left troops there, none of this would be happening now.

We keep making the same mistakes over and over again.

If you don't like the idea of using American military troops to bring security and stability to other nations, answer me this, who else is going to do it? And, if you don't think anyone should do it, no one is doing it right now, look at where the world is headed with out someone leading the way and then decide if that's what you really want.

(show less)
5 weeks ago
5 weeks ago Link To Comment
I contest your premise that "we've already seen [a destroyed threat] in Iraq and Afghanistan. Indeed, we failed to clearly define the enemy after 9/11. The enemy was not "terrorism," which is what we declared war on. The enemy was (and largely remains) Islamic totalitarianism and its manifestations - the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and state sponsors like Syria and Iran. Had we clearly defined our enemy as such, we could have prosecuted a real war against that enemy, relentlessly pursuing its utter destruction or unconditional surrender. Had we accomplished that, we would not be facing ISIS now.

That's effectively how we dealt with the ideologies of Nazism, fascism, and imperialism in WWII. We utterly destroyed or forced the unconditional surrender of their state manifestations. "The same problem" did not reemerge in Germany, Italy, and Japan.
5 weeks ago
5 weeks ago Link To Comment
By your response here, it sounds like you would have supported STAYING in Iraq and finishing the "War against terror" not just in Iraq but throughout the middle east. Is that accurate?

Considering the above article, it would surprise me greatly if it was true.
5 weeks ago
5 weeks ago Link To Comment
"The enemy was not "terrorism," which is what we declared war on. "

You see no significance in the fact of whom we were fighting? It wasn't all terrorists, it was a very specific subset.

Specific how?

Islamists.

Jihadis.
5 weeks ago
5 weeks ago Link To Comment
"This is what brought security and stability to western Europe and to most of Asia after the end of World War two."

And the left is convinced--or say they are--that concept is imperialism and evidence of failure, and the Ron Paulists the same.

The fact Pax Americana once existed refutes them entire.
5 weeks ago
5 weeks ago Link To Comment
I keep thinking “Imperial Cities” would be a useful supporting piece. The reach of, say, Singapore was much broader than its actual borders. Insisting on actual “Americal Soil” and 10km of cruddy shoreline somewhere, and then brute-force making a harbor and funneling all of the aid through that box….

This approach has worked historically. I -think- that it would be difficult for Democrats to sell the land out any time soon so long as it’s actual American Soil.
5 weeks ago
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5 weeks ago
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