What's the Libertarian Answer to ISIS?

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.)