Hawks of Many Stripes
My friend Will Wilkinson demonstrates a semi-admirable but basically misguided patience in demolishing Max Borders' pseudo-argument in favor of the "libertarian hawk" line on the Iraq War. Any effort to get dragged into grand discussions of political theory or international relations -- contractarian legitimations of preemptive war, the status of the UN as a source of normative authority, etc. -- are mere red herrings in this context. The key questions are factual and the reality is that there was no Iraqi threat to American security. That's all one needs to say as far as that goes.
What remains is the "democratic domino theory" but the notion that anything even remotely resembling libertarianism could underwrite an effort to conscript huge quantities of resources from the American public and deploy them in an attempt to wholly remake the social and political order in a foreign country is too absurd to merit a rebuttal. This is an argument properly directed at egalitarian liberals, and we have reason to be asked to produce some specific arguments about why the dim prospects for succeeding at this were ex ante knowable (such arguments can, I think, be fairly easily produced) and/or why, given the opportunity costs, nation-building in Iraq was not a wise place to deploy the resources in question (this argument, I think, can be produced very easily). As long as the conversation is supposed to be proceeding on the shared basis of libertarianism, however, one hardly needs to say anything. It's coercion, it's planning, it's every non-libertarian thing under the sun.
In retrospect, the most ideologically plausible argument for the war was Jonah Goldberg's conservative case that every so often the United States ought to attack some unpleasant country and destroy its military just to show that we can. No one operating within the broad liberal tradition would endorse that sort of indiscriminate use of force, but from a purely nationalist point of view it makes a kind of sense. Of course, rather than demonstrate American omnipotence and intimidate our rivals around the world the war has, in fact, exposed the limits of our strength and emboldened them, so that's not going to fly either.
For the record, I supported a policy of coercive diplomacy that I thought would lead to war. I did this because I had been led to believe that Iraq was engaged in prohibited weapons development that would lead to Saddam's acquisition of a nuclear bomb in the near future. It turned out that, contrary to my expectations, he did let the inspectors in and once they got in it became clear that he was not, in fact, near to building such a bomb and that the inspectors would push this timeframe even further back. Since the war I've come to learn that if I'd been paying more attention at the time (or if the media had done a better job of highlighting the stuff I should have been paying attention to) much of this information would have been clear to me even before the IAEA folks were on the ground in Iraq. Either way, they were on the ground, and I withdrew my support for the war soon before Bush decided that -- for no good reason at all -- he was going to launch it anyway.
September 10, 2004 | Permalink
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» Libertarian Hawks from The Fly Bottle
Max Borders over at TCS attempts to deploy contractarian reasoning in the service of that unlikely composite creature, the libertarian hawk. Max argues the lib-hawk is no impossible monster, like the gryphon. More like the liger, although, sadly, more ... [Read More]
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