TCS Daily

The Liberty of Others

By Carroll Andrew - March 18, 2004 12:00 AM

They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty or security.

-- Benjamin Franklin

I imagine that you have heard the quote before. On my side of the Atlantic, though we may argue about what constitutes "essential" liberty, we do agree upon the importance of the principle articulated in Franklin's maxim. The principle is applicable now, as the cliché goes, more than ever -- but not in the usual context. Since the events of September 11, 2001, critics of the war on terror's domestic policies have frequently invoked Franklin's warning as part of their objections to the USA PATRIOT Act or to expanding the powers of the Department of Homeland Security. The events of March 11, 2004 make it imperative that we examine the war on terror's international policies through the lens of Franklin's warning.

The citizens of Spain -- a country that had openly and materially supported bringing liberty to Iraq -- had their security threatened. The people of Madrid were brutally attacked. Just three days prior to national elections, 201 people were killed by a series of railway bombs. Though officials are loathe to publicly admit it, the attacks influenced the outcome of the elections. In the wake of the massacre, the citizens of Spain voted to oust the leadership that had supported the liberation of Iraq. Within hours of being declared the victor, Prime Minister-elect Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero announced plans to pull Spain's troops out of Iraq. Zapatero's Spain will not play a leading role in building democracy from the ashes of tyranny.

The willingness of Spain to abandon the Iraqi people after the Madrid bombings demonstrates the existence of an option for trading liberty for security not anticipated by Franklin. Franklin assumed the existence a dangerous human inclination to sacrifice one's own liberty in pursuit of security. Over the past several decades, however, a different source of liberty that can be traded away has been discovered. The liberty of others has been identified as a tradable commodity.

Would those who voted to oust the government of Jose Maria Aznar undo the liberation of Iraq if it would undo the March 11 bombing? Is the defeat of Aznar's government a publicly offered quid pro quo where Spain agrees to not actively participate in the international war on terror if the Islamists will not again send their death squads to Spain? If other parts of the free world are willing to follow the Spanish example, then the election day following March 11 may be remembered as the day when the free citizenry of the world declared Benjamin Franklin's famous warning to be obsolete. March 11 may be remembered as the day when it became acceptable to trade tangible liberty for a promise of security.

If we still accept the wisdom of Franklin's warning, and we still accept that trading away your own freedom for security is bad, then trading away someone else's freedom for your own security is worse. Not only do you give away liberty that is not yours to give, but you begin the process of giving away your own

Place yourself in the following situation. A foreign despot seeks to dictate the course of your country's foreign affairs. He raises a conventional, uniformed army. His army invades your territory. Now, with troops in place, the despot issues a decree -- any overt act threatening his interests or the interests of his allies will result in the execution of a randomly selected group of your fellow citizens.

You have three basic response options. You can accede to the demands of the invader -- trade your liberty for a promise of security. You can repel the occupying army by force and push them outside of your borders. The despot still exists, but he cannot hurt you. Finally, you can seek out the despot's base of operations and destroy his ability to project violence.

In spite of the fact that classical military terms like "invasion" and "occupation" have not been used to describe terrorist infiltration of open societies, the only difference between the situation in Spain and the situation described above is the fact that the death squads stationed in Spain do not wear uniforms. Accordingly, all three possible responses to organized violence should be available to the people of Spain.

Alas, the option of destroying the terrorists' ability to wage war is too unsophisticated for the internationalists of Old Europe. By cutting and running from Iraq, the Zapatero government rejects the strategy of destroying of terror networks at their source and joins Old Europe in the search for a solution based upon multilateral agreements and international law. Despite what may be good intentions, Zapatero's withdrawal does not advance the rule of law. No just law requires individuals or nations to stand idly by while hundreds of thousands of people are tortured and murdered. On the contrary, abandoning Iraq and decrying its liberation as a mistake makes mockery of the rule of law.

Spain's March 11-based disengagement from Iraq most closely resembles the option of acceding to the demands of a foreign despot. It is more a bilateral deal with the terror masters than it is a principled stand to defend multilateralism and the rule of law. Here are the terms of the deal: Spain agrees to withdraw material support for operations against state sponsors of terror. Since the state sponsors of terrorism are also brutal dictatorships, Spain also turns its back on extending liberty to places of the world where its presence is lacking. In return for these self-imposed restraints, the Spanish government expects the terror masters to refrain from using their death squads against the people of Spain.

This is the type of deal that Benjamin Franklin warned against -- a trade of liberty for security. The acceptance of the inevitability of terrorism and the refusal to take the battle to the terrorists may well succeed in buying a little short-term security for the people of Spain; they may be spared further attacks while the terror masters seek to establish control of the foreign policy of other nations. Ultimately, in the long term, such arrangements never benefit anyone except terrorists and their leaders. At some point, the despots who give orders to the death squads will make further demands of Spain. And if Spain refuses to comply, the death squads will again be unleashed. There is no promise of security for Spain; there is only a promise of future opportunities to surrender more and more liberty.

Carroll Andrew Morse recently wrote for TCS about "The Bias Towards Brutality and Totalitarianism."


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