Blogs > Liberty and Power > Volokh/Liberty and Power: The Great Foreign Policy Debate

Jul 1, 2004 4:36 pm

Volokh/Liberty and Power: The Great Foreign Policy Debate

Randy Barnett has kindly interceded to put us on the Volokh Conspiracy blog roll. This will be of great help to us. Randy has also reopened our foreign policy debate of several months ago. Aeon Skoble has already commented.

Randy argues that"the time may be ripe for a full fledged debate on the relationship between libertarianism and foreign policy. It appears that there is an assumption on the part of many libertarian intellectuals that libertarian principles entail a very specific version of 'noninterventionism' in foreign policy."

While I can only make a few prelimary comments right now, I completely agree that a debate is long overdue.

At the outset, let me correct a possible misperception. I do not consider myself to be a noninterventionist in foreign policy. A better word to describe my views (to mangle an insight from Doug Rasmussen) would be"defenseist." For this reason, I fully supported the Afghan War as a necessary response to a direct attack on the United States on 9-11.....though I recognized that it would probably not go as planned. As Randy notes, however, I have consistently opposed the Iraq war both as manifested in the initial invasion and the current occupation. Here were my main reasons (but there are many others):

First, I opposed it becaue I did not believe it would be a defense-based war. Not even those who waged this war claimed that Saddam directly attacked us, nor that he was planning to attack, nor that he was involved in 9-11. I am not against preemptive war per se as long as as an imminent threat can be demonstrated (such as massing of troops on a border, etc) but there is no evidence that Saddam was planning that either. The claim that he possessed WMD, even if it was true, did not qualify as a sufficient reason in my view. Certainly, it has not seemed sufficient reason for George W. Bush to attack Pakistan, North Korea, or India. Having said this, I always thought that libertarian defenders of the war were far too ready to take the the administration's claims on WMD, not to mention other issues, at face value.

Second, I opposed the war for Hayekian/consequentialist reasons. Certainly, a key insight of libertarianism is that when the end goal of intervention becomes more too does the likelihood of unintended consequences. As I feared, contrary to the claims of the war's architects, it has spread our forces thin (thus leading to the current"stop/loss" quasi draft) and has served to make us more vulnerable to a true threat to our national defense.

Randy's somewhat tongue in cheek comments yesterday about a satirical article in The Onion indicates (he can correct me) that we agree that most voters are badly uniformed about public policy. They are likely to be even more ignorant of when the U.S. attempts the Herculean job of policing and nation-building throughout the world. Voter ignorance, of course, opens the door to rent seeking and other abuses of power by informed and organized minorities. This is no less true of our occupation of Iraq!

Third, I opposed the war because I believe that those who carried it out were *primarily* motivated by non-defense goals such as creating a"Democratic model for the Middle East." Such an enterprise is not only an improper use of the American military but a chimera. As I have said many times, the goal of creating a unified, democratic, nation state in a Bosnia-writ large like Iraq is an exercise in futility.

I could go on....put perhaps some other L and P bloggers would also like to weigh in.

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Irfan Khawaja - 8/4/2006

The claim that Iraq didn't attack us is both false and misleading.

As for direct attacks, Iraq attempted an assassination of ex-president Bush in 1993, it consistently fired on the US and UK aircraft patrolling the no-fly zones throughout the 1990s, and it attempted to bomb Radio Free Europe in Prague (a US institution) in 1998.

Attacks aside, there is also the matter of the EMPTA discovered at Al Shifa Pharmaceutical factory in Khartoum in 1998--which by reliable accounts is a VX nerve gas precursor of Iraqi manufacture. It was discovered in Khartoum during a time when Iraq was subject to UN Resolution 687 and wasn't supposed to have *the capacity* to produce such a thing, much less the capacity to produce and ship it to a factory in which Osama bin Laden had a significant financial interest.

Again, attacks aside, Iraq's harboring Abdul Rahman Yasin of WTC 1993 fame made it a state sponsor of anti-US terrorism, even if the sponsorship came in the form of ex post facto sanctuary rather than ex ante material support.

Finally, Iraq's failure to comply with UN Resolution 687 (1991) and its successors through UN Res 1441 (2002) is technically speaking an attack on the signatories to those documents. To be in material breach of a post war treaty is casus belli. The whole point of a post war treaty is that it puts the war to an end *on certain conditions*. If the conditions aren't met, the war hasn't ended--or more precisely, the war has resumed after ending in a merely nominal way. Iraq did not even make a half-hearted *attempt* to comply with its treaty obligations after the 1991 war. That amounts to an attack by itself.

Irfan Khawaja - 8/4/2006

I didn't intend what I wrote to be a defense of (the war + the occupation + reconstruction). My own view is that we should have applied just as much military force as was necessary to force Iraq's compliance with UN Res 1441, whether that left Saddam in place (at one extreme) or required an occupation (at the other). I don't know precisely how much force that goal would have required; my point is that's what the goal should have been.

But it's a separate factual issue how many times Iraq has aggressed against us. It's one thing to admit the facts and say, "Look, I admit the aggression; the problem is, it's too steep a price to launch a full-scale invasion just to deal with that." So long as someone says that in the context of feasible ideas of *how* to deal with it, I'm relieved.

But that is not quite what the current debate is about. The current debate is not about the costs, benefits, expected probabilities of dealing with Iraq without war; the debate is now framed so that EITHER Saddam had personal involvement in the 9/11 plot, OR he was merely a regional power with regional ambitions, hence no significant threat to us. Since most libertarians believe that the "either" is false, they're pushed to the "or"--and then insist on torturing the facts (or denying them) until it coheres with that option.

Well, the "either" is probably false, but the "or" is *definitely* false. The truth is somewhere between those options: Saddam had a sporadic relationship of convenience with Al Qaeda, a revenge-based interest in terrorism against the US, a history of non-compliance on disarmament, dual use WMD capacities, a history of WMD use, and an unaccounted-for arsenal of WMD. Sorry, but that ain't a mere "regional threat." It may not be the USSR, and it may not be Al Qaeda, but it's not something that invites complacency, either. If war is a step too far, the question is: what is the step short of war that actually solves the problem? In two years of debating this, I haven't heard a plausible libertarian answer to that question.

Irfan Khawaja - 8/4/2006

Containment worked with the Soviets (to the extent it did) because we had the intelligence to know how to make it work. We knew their overall military strategy, we knew their tactics, and we even knew the precise targets of their ICBMs. And anyway, they had a predictably Clausewitzian strategy and predictable leaders who followed it. None of that is true of Iraq. We had no idea what they had, and no idea what they were doing, or why. Containment doesn't work under those conditions.

And it clearly wasn't working. That's why Richard Clarke fatuously asserts in his book that Saddam was "contained" in 1993 (after the Clinton missile strikes that year) but has no way of accounting for (a) Iraq's attempted second invasion of Kuwait in 1994, (b) our failure to enforce the UNSCOM disarmament regime in 1998, (c) Iraq's attempt to bomb Radio Free Prague in 1998, or (d) its apparent weapons proliferation to Sudan in 1998--much less (e) its attempted weapons proliferation to North Korea in 2003! Let's not even get into the oil-for-food scandal.

A separate but related point: containment does nothing against covert operations that are sufficiently well-concealed. The lesson of the ongoing anthrax investigation is that if the anthrax murders were the work of a foreign intelligence agency, they are obviously not going to be deterred by our failure to figure out who they are. And even if the anthrax murders were purely homegrown, our failure to solve them is like a neon sign to potential operatives that says: "If you do it right, they'll never figure out who hit them." I don't even mean that as a criticism of the FBI. It's just a fact of life. When it comes to WMD proliferation, you have to go after the sources.

On Khidr Hamza, I've been meaning to write a cautionary article for HNN on what I think of his claims, but I haven't gotten to it yet. That article will be principally a criticism of the right (most of what I've written recently criticizes the left). Long story, will tell it some other time.

Irfan Khawaja - 8/4/2006


The fact that Iraq didn't follow through with its 1994 seeming-re-invasion doesn't mean containment was working. No one actually knows why they decided to deploy troops in an aggressive fashion, and no one knows why they decided not to go through with a second invasion. All we know is that they weren't deterred to make aggressive moves in the first place. That doesn't help the case for containment.

Iraq didn't launch WMD against the Coalition invasion because CW and BW don't work against a moving target. Recall, by the way, that the threatened US penalty for Iraq's using WMD and its blowing up the Kuwaiti oil fields were the same. That didn't stop Saddam from blowing up the oil fields. So S. wasn't contained there, either. (Incidentally, the Kurds assert that Saddam used CW in the 1991 uprising--pretty brazen, if true.)

Actually, what I was going to say about Khidr Hamza is pretty simple. I wouldn't dispute the veracity of the quotation of his that you cited earlier (what he says there seems reasonable; not everything he says is necessarily suspect), but generally, I think he is unreliable, and unreliable in a way that conservatives should have been first to see. In his book "Saddam's Bombmaker", Hamza asserted that he knew that Iraq had WMD because they had used WMD against US soldiers in 1991. And he knew this because WMD was the cause of Gulf War Syndrome.

Uh...well, let's remember that it was precisely a conservative journalist (Michael Fumento) who asserted that GWS did not exist, much less that it was caused by something as exotic as Iraqi WMD. You don't even need to decide between Fumento and Hamza to see that there's a logical problem here. If Fumento was right, then Hamza was fabricating. If Hamza was right, Fumento was out to lunch (but then so was the National Academy of Sciences, whose findings Fumento was reporting). Either way, one needs to resolve the logical and evidential tension. You can't just overlook stuff like this and march on.

Put it this way. If Hamza was fabricating, he was giving credence to TWO colossal myths, first that Iraq definitely had WMD, second that GWS was definitely real. If Hamza was right, then everything that our top scientists claimed about GWS was totally wrong--and the Gulf War veterans have been totally screwed by the government. These are hardly small issues. It annoys me that we're pursuing the idiocies of Fahrenheit 9/11, but that we've let stuff like this go. (Can you believe that Hamza was employed by the CPA despite potentially fabricating claims about WMD and GWS? THAT is the real scandal, not the BS that Moore is peddling.)

I noticed this early on about Hamza (I read his book in late fall 2003, when I was still against the war), and waited around for someone to point out the contradiction. I regret that I didn't do it myself.

Irfan Khawaja - 8/4/2006

To put my 2 cents into the conversation between Aeon and Chris:

Isn't it obvious why proliferation was a reason for invading Iraq but not for invading Pakistan? Both Iraq and Pakistan are responsible for proliferation, but in Pakistan, we already have a government in place that is as friendly to us as any Pak government is ever going to be (invasion or no). In other words, Pakistan's Musharaf is already the equivalent of what Iyad Allawi is in Iraq. So invading Pakistan would be pointless. There's nothing we could get via an invasion of Pakistan that we can't get by our current posture toward Musharaf's gov't. We already "invaded" Pakistan through the back door.

This is why Pakistanis bitch and moan so much about the "US occupation" of Pakistan. There is a sense in which they're right. We have partial leverage over the Pak military, which more or less controls the country. In an indirect way, we are already occupying Pakistan. An invasion would give us less control over the place, not more.

Consider that the US invasion of Afghanistan could not have taken place without Pakistani cooperation: the Paks gave us base and overflight rights, and the FBI and CIA are currently sprawled all over the country. During the same time period (2001-2002), Iraqi anti-aircraft batteries were firing on US/UK planes in the no-fly zones and the UN inspectors had been thrown out of Iraq because they were considered US spies.

Bottom line: if you want to control Iraqi proliferation, best bet is military force; if you want to control Paki proliferation, best bet is what we're doing right now.

Irfan Khawaja - 8/4/2006

I'll reply it to here, then. I kept a journal of what I thought and why about Iraq. As I recall, the debate about Iraq began in the spring of 2002 (at least that's when I began to pay attention to it). I was against it then. It seemed like a distraction and I didn't "get" why anyone would bring it up. I was basically "against" the war until January 2003. My view changed at the end of January and it's been the same since then. I thought we should just stick with Afghanistan and not go any further until we were "done" there.

In the fall of 2002, I began to pay close attention to the debate over disarmament--the debate that led to the passage of UN Res 1441. And I read intensively about Iraq. I began to wonder about the efficacy of inspections at that point, but I had to see them in action to figure out what I really thought. My view throughout the fall was: if we can do the job with inspections, then forget war.

By January several things became clear to me: 1) the inspectors were not being as tough as the inspection regime allowed them to be, 2) even if they were as tough as they were allowed to be, inspections were going to a long-shot at getting the job done, 3) the inspectors repeatedly said that they couldn't guarantee certainty (to put it mildly), 4) Iraq was definitely NOT cooperating in substance and had no incentive to do so--except insofar as it feared US military intervention.

An intermediate position between plain old inspections and all-out war might have been "coercive inspections," but I think if you really think this through, it equals all-out war.

So by January, my position became: unless something spectacular happens with inspections, war is the right course of action.

Between January and March 2003, UNMOVIC found a short list of Iraqi violations (including a small stock of WMD--mustard gas). What I found disturbing is that no one cared. The neocons were content to make fun of UNMOVIC and get down to the business of liberating Iraq. The anti-warriors were content to make fun of the whole idea that Iraq needed to be brought into compliance with Res 1441. Eventually, the disarmament rationale for the war was lost to the neglect of one side and the derision of the other. When they fought the war, they didn't even bother to secure the WMD sites.

My current position is that the war was justified to enforce Res 1441--and consequently, UNMOVIC should be re-installed in Iraq pursuant to that resolution, to work in cooperation with the ISG. I don't think the US has the right to shut UNMOVIC out if it invoked Res 1441 to justify the war. But this is just one more way in which this war has been stupidly fought.

Irfan Khawaja - 8/4/2006

Your question raises several disparate issues.

First, as to enforcing resolutions against Israel, I happen to think they should be enforced. I think the Israeli settlement of the West Bank is illegitimate, and that Israel should be pressured first to stop settlements, and second to take measures that roll back the occupation (as they're doing in Gaza).

But the reasons why the UN Resolutions re Israel should be enforced and those re Iraq should be enforced are different--and in neither case would I say that the UN's legal authority per se is what makes the resolutions worthy of enforcement.

Re Israel: I read UN Res 242 and 338 as condemning settlements, but their legitimacy flows from moral principles I accept re the rights of the Palestinians, not from the authority of the UN per se. In other words, I accept the Resolutions not because the UN passed them, but because I accept the principles behind them, and would have accepted them (and regarded them as binding) whether or not they passed the UN GA. The Resolutions just happen to be very neat summaries, and in precise language, of the principles that govern the case.

Re Iraq: There is a long string of UN Res governing Iraqi disarmament from 678 to 1441. But again, my claim is not that they bind Iraq merely because the UN passed them. My claim is that they bind Iraq because *Iraq accepted them*. Iraq signed 678 as part of the post-war agreement of 1991. We should enforce it not because the UN passed it per se, but because *we* signed it, (and not merely because we signed it: it's in our interest to enforce it, because it's NOT to our interest to allow rogue states like Iraq to remain armed).

Finally, while I think the UN has many problems, I don't agree with the broad-brush criticism you've offered. As one very simple counter-example to the idea that the UN is a mere "debating society", consider the work done by the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission on disarmament (UNMOVIC).

I have criticized them for not being able fully to disarm Iraq. But disarmament would have gotten *nowhere* if UNSCOM and UNMOVIC had not been doing their work since 1991. UNSCOM and UNMOVIC went a long way toward detecting and destroying Iraq's WMD capacities, and their intelligence on that score happened to be more precise & accurate than the combined intelligence of all the world's espionage agencies.

This becomes clear if you read the March 2003 "Cluster Document" they produced just as the war was starting. If you get through that document (it's 176 pages long), you see just how skewed the entire debate on WMD has been on almost all sides. The UN's reports are almost the only objective account of Iraq's WMD capacities. We owe them a debt for producing them. Or rather, we owe them gratitude--we've paid the debt.

Irfan Khawaja - 8/4/2006

This would take a book-length discussion to resolve, so I'll just mention a few basic points of disagreement.

First, I don't accept the evaluation of the U.S. as merely on par with a criminal gang. It certainly doesn't live up to my conception of a just regime--it's not sufficiently limited in its powers, not sufficiently consent-respecting, and prone to rights-violations. But it IS a limited government; DOES respect consent in important ways; and DOES protect rights in a systematic way. The latter three things differentiate it from criminal gangs and most other states.

If someone still insisted that the discrepancy between between ideal legitimacy and actual practice makes the US a criminal gang, I'd say that in the world we live in, survival requires us to place our bets with the best of the most effective criminal gangs (i.e., effective at keeping us safe), and given the others out there, the US belongs to the relevant proper subset morally-OK-militarily-strong states. It's sad that we have to do this, but dying at the hands of a worse gang would be sadder. (My argument would be weakened if I believed that the current threat we face had been created by the unintended consequences of past US policies, but I don't find that plausible.)

Re Iraq: I actually was against the 1991 war (in 1991) because I feared that it would drag us into another war later. I still think (now) that my reasons for being against the 1991 war were right. But my being correct about 1991 is irrelevant to what I think ought to be done now. I partly agree that Saddam posed a threat to us in 2002-2003 because we attacked Iraq in 1991. I wish we hadn't attacked it then, but since we can't undo the past, we have to deal with its effects--and the effect, as of 2002-3, was the threat I described earlier.

NB: I wouldn't go so far as to say, a priori, that our not attacking Iraq in 1991 would have obviated ANY threat we might EVER face from them. It's possible we might have faced some (now hard-to-conceive) threat anyway--in which case, we'd have to find some way of dealing with it.

Generally, I'm an isolationist (or "non-interventionist") about foreign policy. But once a threat does arise, whatever its etiology, I'd say it has to be dealt with as a threat--and that sometimes means a defense-in-depth that requires intervention a la Iraq 2003. Let me add that once we're done with Iraq, we'd better figure out what to do about Iran and N Korea.

Roderick T. Long - 7/6/2004

Certainly some criminal gangs are preferable to others. (I'd rather live under Mafia rule than under al-Qaeda rule, for example; the Mafia doesn't care how people think or live so long as it gets its cut.) My point was not that the U.S. government was as bad as other criminal gangs. (I do think it's more dangerous to the world than most other criminal gangs right now, but that's because of its greater power, not its greater evil.) Rather, my point was that legalistic arguments about who violated what treaty, while they may have strategic/pragmatic value in various contexts, are of no moral relevance, since treaties between criminal gangs have no moral authority.

I agree that "since we can't undo the past, we have to deal with its effects” -- but I don't think that makes the causes irrelevant, because the causes in question are not just initiating causes but sustaining causes (and causes that our military actions exacerbate).

Chris Matthew Sciabarra - 7/6/2004

I appreciate your post here, Irfan, especially the part about being against the 1991 war. I do think, however, that the US played a role in empowering the Hussein regime, playing it against Iran in the Iran-Iraq war, and even providing it with the wherewithal for some of its weapons development.

I think the points made by Dick Cheney, circa 1992, were as relevant in 2003 as they were a decade earlier:

I also believe that the 2000 campaign comments against "nation-building" made by our current President, George W. Bush, are equally relevant to the Iraq problem. ~That~ George W. Bush, campaigning against the Clintonistas and Al Gore, said: "I don't think our troops ought to be used for what's called nation-building. . . . I mean, we're going to have a kind of nation-building corps from America? Absolutely not."

All this aside, I do agree with you that "once a threat does arise, whatever its etiology ... it has to be dealt with as a threat--and that sometimes means a defense-in-depth that requires intervention." I still disagree that Iraq required the kind of intervention in which the US engaged, but I have no problem applying this maxim to Afghanistan (where, again, the US played a role in empowering mujahideen in their struggles against the Soviets; this did not stop me from advocating the removal of the Taliban & its Al Qaeda military wing).

I don't think we can analyze Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, or any of the other problems that have emerged in the Middle East by downplaying US intervention in the region over these many decades. I'll grant completely that the problems are not ~all~ the result of past US interventions, but I do think that we abstract from those regional interventions at our analytical peril.

(For other readers, I should note that I have discussed some of these issues through the lens of a Rand-influenced framework here:
and here:
... and, of course, across my many other posts on this blog.)

mark safranski - 7/5/2004

Chris Matthew Sciabarra wrote;
"That the US was able to contain the Soviet Union and Red China without invasion or occupation is certainly a sobering historical lesson."

Classic containment policy worked partly because the USSR and Red China, pre-Deng reforms, were also primarily quasi-autarkic, self-isolating regimes. Saddam's personal Baathist dictatorship did not behave in that manner and worked very effectively to eat away at international enforcement of the UN sanctions regime.

David T. Beito - 7/5/2004

Well....we disagree on that outset on your assertion that the outcome in Iraq "depends on how they (the administration) play it." As a convinced Hayekian, I don't think that the administration has the power or foresight to determine the outcome....much like it wouldn't have the foresight or power to prevent the negative outcomes from domestic social welfare programs or wage and price controls. Actually, successfully managing the welfare/regulatory state is a piece of cake compared to managing Iraq.

We also disgree on Kosovo. It was dramatic failure at least if the goal was to prevent ethnic cleansing and otherwise preserve the rule of law. Thousands have Serbs have been forced to flee (and are being forced to flee) since 1998 and many of their churches have been burned.

How straightforward was Rwanda? First, it is worth noting that had the U.S. decided to intervene at the time, it could not have gotten there in time to prevent the genocide. Moreover, *had* it sent troops, they would probably still be there and the underlying hatreds would have been more likely to have been frozen in place. Today, by contrast, Rwanda is a peaceful country where ethnic reconciliation is rapidly underway.

One could argue that this happened because conditions on the ground remained an exclusively Rwandan affair. In Kosovo, by contrast, the NATO occupation has done little to counteract old ethnic hatreds.

David T. Beito - 7/5/2004

I never quite understood this argument. Let's assume that UN resolutions against Iraq were not being enforced.

The question then arises: What does this mean that the U.S. has an special moral or legal obligation to enforce them even if the UN doesn't want the U.S. to do it!? UN resolutions are violated all the time (including several against Israel) and few believe that the U.S. should step up to the plate and enforce those those. Certainly, I have yet to hear a conservative make an argument that we should enforce the resolutions against Israel.

My own view is that the UN is a rather useless debating society which gives special legitimacy to sundry dicators and does not merit any special moral claim on our blood and treasure. If the UN won't enforce its own resolutions, so what?

Roderick T. Long - 7/4/2004

From a strict libertarian perspective, the war between Hussein's Iraq and the U.S. was a conflict between two criminal organisations. Of the two, Iraq was the more dangerous to its own people, while the U.S. was (and is), thanks to its resources and world position, the more dangerous to the world as a whole -- though both, of course, were dangerous to some extent in both ways.

Hence I have a hard time relating to arguments of the form "when Iraq shot at U.S. aircraft invading Iraqi airspace it was really aggression rather than defense because of the treaty, etc." No treaty signed by either criminal gang has any moral validity whatsoever; such treaties may be worth invoking for strategic/pragmatic considerations, but nothing loftier.

To the extent, if any, that Hussein was a threat to people in the U.S., he was so only because of previous U.S. action in the first place. If I handcuff you to me against your will, and then drag you into a bar and pick a fight with some bruiser in the corner, even if the bruiser is a genuine bad guy who needs to be taken out, I have no business dragging you into harm's way -- which is precisely what the U.S. government has done to its citizens (not to mention taxing them for then privilege!), re Hussein, re bin Laden, etc., etc. Under those circumstances, even a purely strategic/pragmatic policy of encouraging the U.S. gang to continue this sort of thing strikes me as indefensible.

Chris Matthew Sciabarra - 7/3/2004

... for some strange reason, my reply to Irfan went before his post. NOT the result of clairvoyance, I assure you. hehe

Chris Matthew Sciabarra - 7/3/2004

Thanks for all this, Irfan. Very, very provocative.

I'm very curious: You say that in the late fall 2003, you were "still against the war." What is it that turned you in favor of the war?

One of the reasons we're having this discussion is precisely the topic of David's thread: The Great Foreign Policy Debate. I find it interesting that none of us here is "typical" in his views on the war. You and Aeon are not the "typical" pro-Iraq war advocates; I don't think I'm a "typical" anti-Iraq war advocate. And from what I see, we all seem to be in agreement (I think?) about the necessity for the U.S. to take action in Afghanistan.

So I'm curious as to your own evolution... if you have time.


Chris Matthew Sciabarra - 7/3/2004

Your logic, Aeon, is impeccable. And I agree with it, for the most part. One need not do ~everything~ logically, in order to do ~anything~ logically. It is indeed possible that there are good arguments for punishing X, even if Y goes free.

But logical application of such principles is not the guiding force of US foreign policy. My comments speak less to "logic," I confess, only because US foreign policy speaks less to logic. In fact, US foreign policy has hardly spoken of any consistent logical or moral principles for decades.

The US has cozied up to murderous regimes for years in the Middle East, and some of its closest "allies" have turned out to be less-than-friendly. Indeed, it cozied up to Saddam Hussein's regime itself---by giving him the wherewithal for the production of various kinds of weapons, and by sanctioning his attacks upon Iran. It cozies up to Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, the former an exporter of WMDs and the latter, an exporter of IMDs---ideas of mass destruction, along with tons of money to terrorist organizations (see my post on the latter here: ). For years, the US supported the Shah of Iran---and has a fundamentalist theocracy as its reward; for years, the US supported Afghani "freedom fighters"---and had Taliban and Al Qaeda warriors as its reward.

Clearly, other things are at work in how the US makes decisions in its dealings with various regimes in the Middle East; in many respects, the whole current situation is an unfolding drama of how inner contradictions have come back to bite the US in the butt.

It is the reality of these contradictions that fueled much of the opposition to the Iraq war among those of us on this side of the aisle who see pernicious unintended consequences at work throughout the history of US foreign policy. These are consequences that are unavoidable, especially since US policy-makers are the children of pragmatism, rather than the practitioners of principle.

That's not an argument against the invasion of Iraq per se; it is simply an argument that asks us to pause ~anytime~ the US takes such dramatic actions to deal with conditions that are, at least partially, a product of its own making.

I should note again that I was in favor of the invasion of Afghanistan because I believed the benefits of taking out a regime that was in bed with Al Qaeda far outweighed the costs of invasion (both human & monetary and in terms of the aftermath). I still knew that there would be unintended consequences with which to deal---and these are now manifest: the re-emergence of warlordism, and the dramatic spike in opium production, which is financially fueling other terrorist networks.

But the situation in Afghanistan was, relatively speaking, far less complex than the situation in Iraq, a country that was a makeshift by-product of British colonialism, bubbling over with ethnic, religious, and tribal conflicts. As I have said: Stepping into that minefield with a full-scale invasion and occupation could realistically set off forces that might make the Hussein regime a picnic by comparison. Given the US history of setting into motion such consequences, I was deeply troubled by a military action that was pregnant with the possibilities for long-term negative implications.

I should add that this administration in particular went to war partially with the goal of "remaking" the region as its guiding principle. The President himself subscribes to a pietist ideology that makes government the vanguard for cultural change. Worse still, his neoconservative policy-makers endorse principles that speak to their Wilsonian and Trotskyite roots. (I discuss these ideological dynamics and their policy implications in a forthcoming piece in THE FREE RADICAL.)

In other words, this administration follows its own "logic," and that "logic," just like the "logic" of US foreign policy, has nothing to do with the kind of logic championed by my fellow bloggers here.

Aeon J. Skoble - 7/2/2004

"weapons proliferation is clearly ~not~ a monopoly of Iraq; Pakistan has been involved in proliferation as well, but the US hasn't invaded that country."

I confess I don't follow this sort of reasoning. If both A and B deserve to be treated in fashion T, then if A is treated T and B isn't, that just means that B was treated inappropriately, not that A was. If that's too algebraic, consider 2 death row inmates: stiulate arguendo that they both deserve their impending execution, but Smith is pals with the governor and gets a last minute reprieve, and Jones fries. Jones still got what he deserved (ex hypothesi, I'm not trying to start a death-penatly thread), and wasn't treated unfairly. It's true that Smith _didn't_ get what was coming to him, and perhaps that's not right, but it doesn't change the fact that Jones received the proper treatment. So here, the argument seems to be that weapons proliferation (or genocidal tendencies, or expansionism, or whatever) can't be a good justification for military force against Iraq, because we didn't attack Rwanda or North Korea. I don't see how that follows.

Chris Matthew Sciabarra - 7/2/2004

But the proof is in the pudding, as they say: Iraq did ~not~ launch any weapons of mass destruction in either the Gulf War or the more recent US invasion. It ~didn't~ invade Kuwait in 1994. And weapons proliferation is clearly ~not~ a monopoly of Iraq; Pakistan has been involved in proliferation as well, but the US hasn't invaded that country.

As for the UN oil-for-food scandal: I'd be the first to tell you that they should vacate the UN and use the building for much-needed Manhattan office space; we can also do for a few more parking spots, which would be liberated if the diplomats packed their bags and drove their cars out of here.

Clearly, in this day and age, the US needs to ~increase~ its intelligence efforts, including its ~human~ intelligence efforts (something I've addressed before on L&P).

Finally, I am not at all disputing your view that the US needs to target the sources of weapons and the sources of terrorism, and the sources of weapons that may be dealt on the international terrorist market. I'm simply saying that none of these concerns merited an ~invasion~ and ~occupation~ of Iraq, in my view. I think the potential long-term headaches from that invasion far outweighed the short-term gain of toppling the regime.

Anyway, looking forward to your comments on Hamza; I, myself, have drawn, with caution, from both left and right. So anything you have to say I'd find of interest.

Chris Matthew Sciabarra - 7/1/2004

I appreciate your answer, Irfan; for me, however, from the very beginning---in discussions on many, many lists, and in articles in various print publications and online blogs---the issue was always about "the costs, benefits, expected probabilities of dealing with Iraq without war," etc. I was never complacent about Hussein's moral crimes, but I argued, from the beginning, that the issue did involve serious computation of costs and benefits, given the realities of the region and of US domestic & foreign policy.

As for this question: "What is the step short of war that actually solves the problem?" Containment. It worked with the Soviets who were a far greater threat than the Iraqis.

There's an interesting interview here ( ) with Khidir Hamza, "the highest-ranking Iraqi scientist ever to defect and live to tell about it." It's an interview that speaks to the utter cowardice of Hussein. In THE MIDDLE EAST QUARTERLY (Fall 2001), he tells Daniel Pipes the following:

MEQ: Why did Saddam not use weapons of mass destruction during the Kuwait war?
Hamza: He was afraid of what the United States would do. He was also scared of the possibility of an Israeli retaliation. In brief, deterrence worked. Note that what he used against Israel was very low-tech—warheads sometimes filled not even with explosives but with concrete. It was just a warning, just a show.
MEQ: Any lessons here for the future?
Hamza: Certainly, there are. We are dealing here with a ruler who is hugely self-centered, who cares only about himself and what happens to him. Therefore, if you threaten him personally and directly, you can intimidate him. Notice how he hides from dangers.
MEQ: He is personally fearful?
Hamza: He is haunted by fears. He has his cooks prepare three meals a day for him in all his residences, as if he is living in every one of them. He has dozens of identical sets of personal items that are placed in his palaces and hideaways so that everywhere he goes, he is at home, without carrying things around with him. This is done so that no one—no one!—is quite sure where he is staying at any moment. This pattern reflects his fear. During the Gulf war bombing, he went even further and turned up unexpectedly at people's homes. This is someone who's exceedingly scared for his life and his well-being.

Pipes points out to Hamza that "on the one hand, you warn of the imminent danger of Iraqi nuclear weapons. On the other, you compare the Iraqis to Inspector Clouseau (of Pink Panther fame); you quote a colleague to the effect that the Israeli prime minister need only inspect the atomic energy agency in order to sleep soundly at night; and you tell of carelessness and corruption, huge amounts of money being paid for failed projects, bogus documents, and fake materials."

None of this is surprising, of course. Given the repressive nature of the Hussein regime, and his war against free inquiry, the only surprise is that Hussein retained anything in his possession with which to threaten his enemies. (He did get a head-start on WMDs only because the US gave him the wherewithal to produce some of these when it was courting his favor in the Iran-Iraq war).

Either way, I think the case for containment and the deterrence of assured destruction could have kept Hussein at bay--even if he actually possessed all the WMD stockpiles that were being talked about.

Chris Matthew Sciabarra - 7/1/2004

I'll be honest, gents: I have never argued against the morality of toppling the murderous Saddam Hussein. His despicable regime was illegitimate to the core. Period.

But I do believe that there are other ways of toppling tyrants, or, at least, containing them, and that the "law of unintended consequences" to which David B. alludes is one of those iron-clad certainties that can't be legislated away. As I've said on other occasions: When Hussein was building a nuclear reactor, the Israelis simply took it out. They didn't send in scientists to help the Iraqis explore alternative sources of energy. They didn't send in legislators to teach them how to build a constitutional republic.

Even if I were to grant that Hussein was some kind of "grave and gathering" threat to the security of the United States---as the Bush administration characterized it (a threat that I believe was exaggerated both in terms of the alleged WMDs and the alleged ties to Al Qaeda)---it still does not follow that invading and occupying a country, especially one steeped in ethnic, religious, and tribal strife, is the best way to contain that threat. That the US was able to contain the Soviet Union and Red China without invasion or occupation is certainly a sobering historical lesson.

Each time a government commits its young men and women to the battlefield, each time it commits billions of taxpayer dollars to military action (and "reconstruction") abroad, it sets into motion a series of events that can culminate in a far worse situation than the one it is trying to address. Even moral actions must be judged in terms of their long-run consequences (just as ~in~actions must be judged accordingly).

Given the political and cultural dynamics of the Middle East, the structural dynamics of US domestic and foreign policy, and the ideological engines driving both, I firmly opposed the war in Iraq, while not opposing the war in Afghanistan. That the latter also has had negative unintended consequences (from the re-emergence of war-lordism to the renaissance in the opium industry) does not outweigh the immediate positive consequence of eliminating the Taliban and its military arm, Al Qaeda.

Stepping into the minefield of Iraq---with Sunni, Shi'ite, Kurd, Turkomen, etc. conflict embedded in its tribal culture---was not, in my view, a prudent course of action. The fact is, however, that the US presence is now a reality; it remains to be seen just how this reality unfolds.

One final thought, which I've expressed elsewhere: No matter what any of us says about what is a "right" or "moral" or "just war," we "libertarians" or "Objectivists" or other fellow classical liberal travelers are not the ones shaping current policy. Current US policy in particular is being shaped at the highest levels of government by people adhering to a ghastly mixture of neoconservative and even pietist- religious ideologies. They are the ones driving policy and it is ~their~ goals that are being implemented. It is always a concern, therefore, that those of us who support this administration on ~any~ military adventures ---and I count myself among its initial supporters in Afghanistan---might become, unwittingly, what Lenin once called the "useful idiots" of those who are actually wielding power. In the end, what you'll get is not ~a~ "moral" or "just" war, but... just war... and all its horrific unintended consequences.

Aeon J. Skoble - 7/1/2004

Yeah, what he said.
Thanks, Irfan, for injecting some actual facts that I was too harried to dig up.
Let's also remember Osirak.

Aeon J. Skoble - 7/1/2004

I know the official rhetoric is about democracy, but I think we all understand that it's liberal constitutionalism they need, not majoritarianism. As to whether that will happen in Iraq, as opposed to civil war etc., it depends on how they (the administration) play it. It wouldn't surprise me at all if they screw it up though.
As to the slippery slope you suggest, I don't think the Sudanese regime has been quite so murderous as Saddam, but in any case, it's the middle-east which seems to be producing the anti-western terrorism. Anyway, to answer your question, no, I don't advocate going everywhere and solving all the world's problems. But Iraq was in violation of disarmament protocols for the last 12 years, and a proven aggressor, in additoon to being nearly genocidal, so the fact that I don't favor invading Zimbabwe doesn't entail that I shouldn't favor invading Iraq. As to who pays for it, we're paying for our vast military apparatus whether they actually do anything or not -they might as well do something (semi-facetious, no flames please).
"We tried that kind of humanitarian intervention under Clinton and the result was not very successful." Well, we _didn't_ intervene in Rwanda, where we could easily have prevented genocide. I'm not sure the Balkan interventions were unsuccesful. I accept the law of unintended consequences, but sometimes it's a pretty straightforward situation, as in Rwanda. Is humanitarian intervention _always_ wrong, or just sometimes?

David T. Beito - 7/1/2004

Well.....the backers of the war use the term democracy....and there the ones who call the tune. Even so, I do not expect a liberalized Iraq. I expect civil war and ethnic strife (similar to Lebannon)....which would be a terrible model for the Middle East.

The logic about argument comparing Saddam's murders to a weapon of mass destruction would lead us to send our overly spread thin forces sent to Sudan, Zimbabwee, and dozens of other places. Would you advocate this? If not, on what logic would you make exceptions? If so, how are we going to pay for this?

We tried that kind of humanitarian intervention under Clinton and the result was not very successful. Most notably, we have witnessed ethnic cleansing of most remaining Serbs in Kosovo and the burning of the churches (Bush has done nothing about this). Which all goes to show the inexorability of the law of unintended consquences and the fickleness of politicians.

Aeon J. Skoble - 7/1/2004

Couple things-
1,you write: "Having said this, I always thought that libertarian defenders of the war were far too ready to take the the administration's claims on WMD, not to mention other issues, at face value."

But the Baathist regime itself _was_ a weapon of mass destruction. Tens of thousands dead, some conventionally, others by gas. But ok, none of those were Americans, let's leave that aside.

2,you write: "I opposed the war because I believe that those who carried it out were *primarily* motivated by non-defense goals such as creating a "Democratic model for the Middle East."" But you also write that you are a "defenseist." Isn't it the case that greater liberalization (NOT democratization) of the Middle-East would have positive consequences regarding Islamist-based terrorism?