TCS Daily

Who Is Being 'Unserious' on the Terror War?

By Radley Balko - November 29, 2004 12:00 AM

What's disappointing about Ryan Sager's "Rethinking Libertarian Minimalism" column isn't that he expresses his disagreement with libertarians who opposed the war with Iraq.

Debate is healthy -- particularly on such an important issue.

What's disappointing is that he never actually debates the people he disagrees with. Instead, he sweeps them aside with dismissive labels like "unserious," "isolationist," and "unrealistic." It isn't an analysis, it's a lecture. It isn't a discussion, it's tongue-clucking.

Before I address it point by point, I should also point out here that I'm a policy analyst for the Cato Institute, Sager's chief target (and former employer). But I study vice and nanny culture issues, not foreign policy. I agree with most -- though not all -- of what Cato's foreign and defense policy team has had to say since September 11. I'm responding to Sager mostly because I think much of his criticism is unfair. The following response is my own, and should not be represented as any sort of official response from Cato or its foreign policy team.

That said, let's begin.

Sager writes:

...instead of reassessing their minimalist instincts when it comes to intervention abroad, many in the institutional centers of the libertarian movement -- principally at the Cato Institute and, to a lesser extent, at Reason magazine -- have remained mired in a pre-9/11 mindset.

"Pre-9/11 mindset" has become a catch-all way for supporters of the Iraq war to dismiss critics without ever really engaging in debate.

But let's put that aside for a moment. If you look at much of what Cato's foreign policy team wrote prior to 9/11, you could make the case that had U.S. policymakers paid more attention to actual "libertarian minimalist," "pre-9/11" thinking, we wouldn't be in the mess we are today.

Back in 1999, for example, Cato's director of defense policy studies at the time, Ivan Eland, wrote "Does U.S. Intervention Overseas Breed Terrorism?" In it, Eland laid out a litany of terrorist strikes against U.S. interests that were inspired by unnecessary U.S. interventions in foreign conflicts that posed little threat to our national security. Eland warned -- and bin Laden later confirmed -- that more recent U.S. interventions, in Kosovo, Somalia, and even Gulf War I, could soon provoke a catastrophic attack on the U.S. homeland.

Eland was even more prescient in his 1998 paper "Protecting the Homeland: The Best Defense is to Give No Offense." There, he wrote:

A study completed for the U.S. Department of Defense notes that historical data show a strong correlation between U.S. involvement in international situations and terrorist attacks against the United States. Attacks by terrorist groups could now be catastrophic for the American homeland. Terrorists can obtain the technology for weapons of mass terror and will have fewer qualms about using them to cause massive casualties. The assistant secretary of defense for reserve affairs maintains that such catastrophic attacks are almost certain to occur. It will be extremely difficult to deter, prevent, detect, or mitigate them.

As a result, even the weakest terrorist group can cause massive destruction in the homeland of a superpower. Although the Cold War ended nearly a decade ago, U.S. foreign policy has remained on autopilot. The United States continues to intervene militarily in conflicts all over the globe that are irrelevant to American vital interests. To satisfy what should be the first priority of any security policy--protecting the homeland and its people--the United States should adopt a policy of military restraint. That policy entails intervening only as a last resort when truly vital interests are at stake. To paraphrase Anthony Zinni, the commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, the United States should avoid making enemies but should not be kind to those that arise.

And more Eland, from his 1999 paper "Tilting at Windmills:"

Once regarded as pinpricks by great powers, attacks by terrorist groups can now be catastrophic for the American homeland. Such weapons can cause tens of thousands or even millions of casualties. The DSB concluded that terrorists can now more rapidly obtain the technology for weapons of mass terror and have fewer qualms about using them to cause enormous casualties...

..the threat of a terrorist attacking the U.S. homeland with a weapon of mass destruction is now the greatest single threat to U.S. security.

That was written in 1999, well before the GOP had given chemical or biological terrorism a lick of real consideration.

In 2000, Eric R. Talyor warned that the U.S. homeland was woefully underprepared for a bio, nuclear, or chemical terrorist attack -- an issue no on in the GOP paid a lick of attention to until after 9/11.

And we can go back further. In the lead-up to the first Gulf War, Cato's Vice President for Foreign Policy Ted Galen Carpenter and adjunct scholar Christopher Layne wrote:

Arab grievances over Western colonialism are an open wound, and Islamic fundamentalism is superimposed upon Arab nationalism, creating an explosive political mixture. A longterm U.S. presence in the Middle East will simply fan the flames of Pan Arabism and weaken the American and Western position. It will make the United States a lightning rod for all the rage and frustration of that troubled region.

That was in 1990.

Bin Laden has made clear several times over that it is the U.S. presence in Saudi Arabia, the first Gulf War, the sanctions and no-fly zones imposed on Iraq, and our history of intervention in places like Somalia are what motivated him to plan, fund, and carry out the attacks of September 11. If that's true, Cato's "pre-9/11 thinking" was about as far as one could get from "unrealistic." On the contrary. It was tragically realistic.

The common response to the intervention-motivates-terrorism argument from Iraq war supporters is twofold.

First, it states that we shouldn't believe bin Laden when he articulates his reasons for attacking us, nor should we care. He is, after all, a mass murderer, a psychopath, and a war criminal. Instead, the pro-war lot prefers to believe that Islamic radicals "hate us for our freedom."

Maybe. There's no question that Islamic fundamentalism is incompatible with liberal society.

But when it suits their interests, hawks do take bin Laden at his word. Specifically, they take him at his word when he says Muslims took heart when the U.S. showed weakness in withdrawing from Lebanon and Somalia, as Sager points out, with sarcasm:

But at least terrorists have never taken Western withdrawal as a sign of weakness and an invitation to further attacks -- oh, wait.

Unfortunately, the "they hate us for our freedom" reasoning fails the Occam's Razor test. It's difficult to believe that a loathing of strip clubs, rock music, cable TV, and all-you-can-eat buffets would motivate 19 young Arab men would move to the U.S. from thousands of miles away, live and work here for several years, learn to fly airplanes, and then immolate themselves in a mass suicide attack.

It's a little easier to understand, however, how seeing U.S. troops marching in Muslim holy cities, seeing the names of U.S. companies on Israeli tanks and missiles in Gaza and the West Bank, or seeing U.S. bombs hit Iraqi villages could provide motivation for such acts.

The common hawk response to this point is that it sounds like capitulation, and reeks of blaming America (or Israel) for September 11.

Not at all. There's absolutely no justification or mitigating factors for what happened three years ago, nor is there any justification for Palestinian terrorists targeting pizza parlors and bar mitzvahs in Israel -- and Cato's foreign and defense policy scholars have said so, explicitly.

I'll concede that many in the anti-war camp haven't been as explicit (including many who call themselves libertarians). They're wrong. Cato's experts have made it quite clear that those who perpetuate attacks against the U.S. should be held accountable with retaliation that is swift, severe, and thorough, and that foreign governments who stand in the way of such retaliation should also be held accountable.

But unless we're prepared to annihilate the entire Arab world, it would be foolish not to at last have a look at the factors that may have motivated 9/11, and, if possible, to ameliorate those factors where we can. There are more than a billion Muslims in the world. No matter our intentions, waging war against an Islamic country will be (and has been) undoubtedly portrayed and seen in the Muslim world as a war of civilizations. War is hell. And no matter how well-intentioned its motivation, no matter how carefully it is executed to avoid civilian casualties, and no matter how well we treat the soldiers, citizens, and possessions of country we invade (and I think the U.S. has performed admirably in all of these respects), there will inevitably be Abu Ghraibs, or videos of aberrant U.S. troops shooting wounded Iraqis.

And it is those images that will stick in the minds of the "Muslim street," not those of U.S. troops building wells, or handing out candy bars.

It isn't anti-American to note that our past interventions may be fueling the people who want to kill us today, and that we should keep that in mind when conducting foreign policy now, and in the future.

Here's (an admittedly imperfect) analogy. A wasp flies into a little girl's bedroom and stings her. Her father finds a hole in her screen window, looks outside the house, and spots the nest where the wasp came from. It's hanging from the gutter outside her bedroom window. What's the prudent thing to do? He should of course eradicate all of the wasps in the nest, those that pose an immediate threat. And he should bat the nest down, so it doesn't attract new wasps.

But he also might look around his daughter's room to make sure she's not doing anything that's attracting wasps. Perhaps he spots a bottle of perfume that his daughter leaves near the window. That of course doesn't mean she deserved to be stung, or that she should stop wearing perfume. It means that if there's an easy and obvious way to stop attracting wasps -- perhaps by moving the perfume away from the window -- she should consider doing it. And we can all probably agree that it would be imprudent, wasteful, and downright foolish for him to go charging into the woods in search of more wasps' nests to destroy. Even if there's a decent chance more wasps might come back someday.

Getting back to Sager:

The most common response to any call for libertarians to rethink their stances on foreign policy is that there's no reason that libertarians should all have to agree on one approach. True enough, if libertarianism is a debating club. But that sort of thinking is a bit facile if libertarians hope to have any impact on politics and public policy.

I'm not really sure what Sager's point is, here. Should libertarians who study foreign policy full-time, such as Cato's Ted Galen Carpenter, Charles Pena, and Christopher Preble forgo their principles, then, and join forces with hawkish libertarians, simply so they can "have an impact?"

If they're merely agreeing with the status quo, what good would having an impact be?

Perhaps Sager's point is broader -- that is, because Cato doesn't agree with the Bush administration on Iraq, Cato isn't taken seriously on other policy matters. If that's his point, it's demonstrably false. The Bush administration adopted Dan Griswold's temporary worker immigration plan nearly verbatim. And the White House has borrowed heavily from both the staff and the ideas of Cato's Social Security Choice program.

And what does he mean by "taken seriously?" If he means, "consulted by the White House," he's right. But that's because the White House knows Cato's people support almost none of what they're doing right now. But Cato's foreign policy people are regularly published in national media. Charles Pena, in fact, is a contracted terrorism analyst for MSNBC.

Even if Sager were right, I'm not sure what the solution should be. Should Cato just nix having a foreign policy team altogether so that it can be "taken seriously" on other matters? Or should it fire its current team and only hire thinkers who agree with the current administration, so as not to cause offense and hamper the ability to be taken seriously on domestic issues?

This year, a Rasmussen survey estimated that libertarians make up roughly 10% of the electorate -- and that's just self-identified libertarians. People who share libertarian beliefs in small government and social tolerance likely make up another 10%-20% of the electorate.

In a 50-50 political landscape -- or even a 51-48 landscape -- that's real power. When libertarians are so united on domestic issues (taxes, Social Security, spending, drug laws, gay marriage, etc.), is it not worth it to begin a serious debate about what libertarians believe about foreign policy and what ideas we can offer in the War on Terror?

But Sager just stated he doesn't want a libertarian debate on foreign policy. He wants us to "all agree on one approach." His approach. His point on social policy is also hard to follow. Yes, libertarians generally agree that we should curb spending, reform Social Security, end drug prohibition, and let gay couples visit one another in the hospital. The problem is that neither of the major parties agrees with us on all of these issues.

For some libertarians, civil liberties take precedence. For others, it's tax policy. Were I king, the first thing I'd do is repeal drug prohibition. Not because I'm all that supportive of consuming illicit drugs, but because of the collateral damage the drug war has loosed on the Bill of Rights, our criminal justice system, the inner cities, and liberty in general. That means that at this time, I'd probably be more inclined to support Democrats, though only marginally. I would guess that other domestic issues are more important to Sager, issues that would make him more inclined to support Republicans. If individual libertarians vote for the party that best represents their interests on their most favored domestic issue, we'll split our vote there, too. In the name of "having an impact," is Sager going to demand uniformity on domestic policy, too? If so, who gets to decide which issues will motivate our vote? Is it Sager?

Foreign policy, with the focus right now on the war in Iraq, is the primary issue that dilutes the libertarian voting bloc. Since similar issues are likely to define the next few federal elections -- at the very least -- libertarians are going to have to reach a rough consensus of some kind. Otherwise, their votes will perpetually be split between the two parties, lessening their leverage with regard to each.

See above. If Sager's "libertarian voting bloc" were to come to fruition, it would require about half of the philosophy's adherents to abandon the issues most important to them.

Libertarianism can, of course, continue to exist in such a state. But it would enjoy less sway within its traditional home, the Republican Party, while at the same time never making a full move to the Democratic Party.

I'm not sure either party now shares enough principles with libertarianism to warrant default "lesser of two evils" support from its adherents. The Republican Party has only been the "traditional home" of libertarianism because it was easy for Republicans to pay lip service to limited government principles while they were in the minority, and powerless to actually do anything about it. We now see that Republicans are fine with big government, so long as big government is promoting conservativism.

That of course leads to the question: what should libertarians do to gain influence on domestic policy?

I think we should do much of what Cato, Reason, and dozens of liberty-minded think tanks are already doing across the country. Engage policymakers from both parties on the issues where we have common ground. Ally with Republicans and conservatives on Social Security reform, simplifying the tax code, and reforming health care. Ally with Democrats to reform minimum sentencing laws, for example, or to free states to allow medicinal marijuana. Sager seems to think that libertarians' best hope for impact will come at the ballot box. I disagree. I think a letter to the editor, op-ed, or intelligent dialogue with a policymaker can do far more than a vote.

That's why, for those of us who believe in a muscular foreign policy -- or at least a more-than-minimal one -- it is worth engaging our libertarian friends, to at least see how far apart we are.

What will not work is the current attitude in some libertarian circles that the focus can be kept on domestic issues -- where we agree with each other and have more experience -- while the national debate passes by us.

I'm still not clear what Sager means by "while the national debate passes by us." Dovish libertarians are regularly published and quoted in national newspapers and interviewed by national media. Of course the White House isn't going to listen to us on foreign policy. They've already made up their mind - they disagree with us. Sager's advice seems to be, "change your mind so they'll take you seriously." But where does that get you? I cover vice and nanny culture issues for Cato. Should I abandon my opposition to the drug war so Republicans will listen to me on obesity issues?

The first response of libertarians accused of not being "serious" about foreign policy is to suspect they are really being called wimps for not supporting the war in Iraq.

The question of Iraq is inextricable from this debate, but it is not central. People of good will and good judgment disagreed about the Iraq invasion before it happened, and we all have our various assessments of how it has turned out so far.

The question now, however, is how are libertarians dealing with the Iraq issue as it stands today? There is a strong temptation for them to say, "Hey, it's not our problem." But that's obviously not very helpful.

Nonetheless, that would be a fairly accurate description of the output of the Cato Institute foreign-policy staff since the war started.

No, it wouldn't. Sager goes on to list a serious of Cato publications calling for the U.S. to withdraw from Iraq, as soon as possible. Certainly, that's a controversial position. But it isn't an "unserious" one, and if Sager's going to dismiss it, he ought to do so with argument, not derision. Sager then cherry-picks a few publications he feels support his point (none of which ring of "hey, it's not our problem," in any case). Here's Sager's list, with sneering commentary:

On Dec. 13, 2003 -- after the March 2003 invasion -- Cato published a policy analysis titled, "Iraq: The Wrong War." ("We told you so!")

There is of course the old argument that those who don't learn from history or condemned to repeat it. There's certainly nothing wrong with reflection, or looking back on the intelligence failures that preceded the war with an eye toward making sure they don't happen again. Particularly as the Bush administration turns its attention to Iran, Syria, and North Korea.

On Jan. 5, 2004, Cato published, "Can Iraq Be Democratic?" (Cato's answer: "No.")

As my colleague Justin Logan notes on his blog, it's likely that Sager merely read the executive summary of the paper he's referring to, and not the paper itself. Because that paper is actually a thoughtful, meticulously footnoted look at historical efforts to instill democracies where none before existed. And its author, Patrick Basham, lays out a roadmap for Iraqis that, if followed, he believes will make Iraq an exception to the trend. It's a hopeful paper, not a cynical one.

Further, if Basham's correct, and instilling democracy in Iraq is likely to fail, isn't that an important thing to know? Iraq hasn't had the kinds of sustaining institutions necessary to sustain a liberal democracy for hundreds of years. Why is it "unserious" to note that the likelihood of success may not make the effort worth the time, expense and lives -- not to mention the further resentment our presence there is likely to stir up in the Muslim world at large? Further, in a region where public opinion polls give Osama bin Laden stratospheric approval ratings, it's far from clear that a democratic Middle East is in the best interests of U.S. security, anyway.

Pointing these things out may not be optimistic, but they're most certainly serious and realistic.

This June, Cato published the book, "Exiting Iraq." The book calls for a withdrawal date from Iraq of -- wait for it -- Jan. 31, 2005. (That's a little over two months from now.)

Blogger Jim Henley notes this article in the Boston Globe, and excerpts:

"I have seen a metamorphosis," said Robert Pfaltzgraff, president of the Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis in Cambridge and a vocal supporter of Bush's Iraq policy, referring to debate both inside and outside the halls of government. "We should not be there with a large force. We should be there with a force that begins to quickly diminish."

...a report completed over the summer calling for a complete pullout next year has struck a chord.

"The end of the foreign occupation will seriously undermine the terrorists' claims that their acts of violence against Iraqis are somehow serving the interests of Iraq," according to "Exiting Iraq," published by the conservative-leaning Cato Institute. Moreover, "The occupation is counterproductive in the fight against radical Islamic terrorists and actually increases support for Osama bin Laden in Muslim communities not previously disposed to support his radical interpretation of Islam."

Even leading war supporters such as Max Boot, an influential neoconservative thinker derided by critics as one of those who believe the United States must stick it out for an undetermined amount of time, contends that the US presence is beginning to threaten long-term goals.

"This is turning out to be a lot harder than anyone expected -- and harder than it needed to be," Boot said last week.

"I'm not one of those calling for a quick pullout," he added. "I agree there is some downside to the US troops' presence; it definitely fuels some nationalist resentment. All things considered, I think we're doing better in Afghanistan partially because we have fewer troops there."

To borrow some snark from Henley - that sounds...serious.

Sager goes on:

Since the start of the war, Cato has also called for the United States to withdraw all troops from the Gulf region -- even suggesting that we reverse the long-standing policy of deploying a carrier battle group in the Persian Gulf. (Talk about a surrender. But at least terrorists have never taken Western withdrawal as a sign of weakness and an invitation to further attacks -- oh, wait.)

Again, Sager offers no substantive argument as to why withdrawing troops from the gulf region isn't a position to be taken seriously. He simply dismisses it as capitulation. Back in 2002, Cato's Ivan Eland called for the complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from Saudi Arabia, citing the needless provocation our presence in the Muslim holy land stirred up in the region. So too did Doug Bandow. Barbara Conry called for their removal back in 1996. That too was dismissed at the time as an "unserious" position that smelled of retreat and capitulation. Guess what? Last year we withdrew our troops from Saudi Arabia.

The Bush administration has also announced plans to reduce our troop presence in Germany, South Korea, and the Balkans - all policies Cato has been advocating for years, well ahead of the more hawkish think tanks around town.

Now, libertarians are free to get all touchy when people think of them as less-than-serious when it comes to defense issues, but there's a reason their opinions are written off almost completely in this area, and have been for some time, by anyone even in proximity to power. And anyone who thinks that libertarian opinions on these matters are not written off in the rest of the Republican Party -- well, they're either out of touch, or they're not paying attention.

So, "serious," in this context, means forward-looking (not fixated on recrimination), based in a plausible reality (with at least some eye to political considerations) and with some appreciation of the nature of the terrorist threat (eschewing the appearance of retreat).

By and large, libertarians, under this definition at least, have been anything but serious when it comes to foreign policy lately.

That Republicans don't take libertarian ideas on foreign policy seriously could very well be a problem with the Republicans, not with libertarian foreign policy. Again, should libertarians just eschew their principles and their record of having been correct in order to win favor with the party in power?

Let's look at that track record.

Back in the early 1980s, Cato published two papers warning that the American alliance with Saddam Hussein in the Iran-Iraq war could one day prove to backfire. I'd say that was rather forward-thinking.

As for the current war, when Sager originally posted a challenge to dovish libertarians on his blog, I did some quick web searches. I found a few of warnings from Cato scholars on what might we might expect to happen in post-war Iraq. I then found predictions and assurances from the Iraq war's chief architects and proponents about the same thing. I'll let you decide which series of predictions were more "serious," "realistic," or "forward-thinking."

First, from Cato's people:

"In the words of one Iraqi: 'We thank the Americans for getting rid of Saddam's regime, but now Iraq must be run by Iraqis.' To prevent that gratitude from turning to resentment and hostility, we must have the wisdom to leave as quickly as possible. If we don't, the United States runs the risk of reliving its experience in Lebanon in the 1980s. Or worse, our own version of the Soviet experience in Afghanistan -- Arabs and Muslims from the region could flock to Iraq to expel the American infidel."

--Charles V. Pena, May 8, 2003.

"Promoters of nation-building in Iraq, including many who scorned similar efforts by a Democratic administration a few years ago, point to nation-building successes in Germany and Japan following World War II. Along these same lines, Bush declared that '[r]ebuilding Iraq will require a sustained commitment' and that the United States would 'remain in Iraq as long as necessary, and not a day more.' But there are still more than 70,000 U.S. troops in Germany and 50,000 in Japan, and this lingering troop presence has given rise to a virulent anti-Americanism. If these 'success' stories reflect the model for post-war Iraq, we should expect U.S. troops to remain in this troubled region for many years."

--Christopher Preble, March 4, 2003

"In the absence of strong allies and regional bases, the successful prosecution of another war in Iraq may be more costly in time, lives and resources than the Gulf War."

--William Niskanen, December 31, 2001

"Another war in Iraq may serve bin Laden's objective of unifying radical Muslims around the world in a jihad against the United States, increasing the number of anti-U.S. terrorists. In contrast, the Sept. 11 attacks and the successful prosecution of the war in Afghanistan have divided the Muslim political elite."


"American popular support may not be sufficient to prosecute a sustained war against Saddam."


"Yet no matter how emotionally satisfying removing a thug like Saddam may seem, Americans would be wise to consider whether that step is worth the price. The inevitable U.S. military victory would not be the end of America's troubles in Iraq. Indeed, it would mark the start of a new round of headaches. Ousting Saddam would make Washington responsible for Iraq's political future and entangle the United States in an endless nation-building mission beset by intractable problems."

--Ted Galen Carpenter, January 14, 2002

"If Iraq's forces don't quickly crumble, the U.S. might find itself involved in urban conflict that will be costly in human and political terms."

--Doug Bandow, August 12, 2002

"The Gulf War Cost $80 billion (in 2002 dollars). Because the United States would probably be faced with a long occupation of Iraq to stabilize the country after the invasion, the cost is likely to be higher this time around. And unlike the Gulf War, no financial support from other nations can be expected to defray the costs."

--Ivan Eland, August 19, 2002

"The MacArthur Regency worked in Japan because the U.S. occupiers entered a country sick to death of war, with a tradition of deference to authority...

...That process is particularly unlikely to be repeated in Iraq, a fissiparous amalgam of Sunnis, separatist Shiites and Kurds. Keeping the country together will require a strong hand and threatens to make U.S. servicemen walking targets for discontented radicals."

--Gene Healy, January 1, 2003

"My best guess is that war and its aftermath would be more costly and difficult than the optimists admit. The fact that presidential adviser Larry Lindsey publicly estimates it would cost $100 billion to $200 billion implies the administration expects a second Iraq war to be two or three times more difficult than the first one."

--Alan Reynolds, November 21, 2002.

Now, from the planners and supporters of the war:

"The United States is committed to helping Iraq recover from the conflict, but Iraq will not require sustained aid."

--OMB Director Mitch Daniels, quote in the Washington Post on April 21, 2003.

"Well, the Office of Management and Budget, has come up come up with a number that's something under $50 billion for the cost. How much of that would be the U.S. burden, and how much would be other countries, is an open question."

--Donald Rumsfeld, January 19, 2003.

"Costs of any [Iraq] intervention would be very small."

--White House economic advisor Glen Hubbard, October 4, 2002.

"Iraq has tremendous resources that belong to the Iraqi people. And so there are a variety of means that Iraq has to be able to shoulder much of the burden for their own reconstruction."

--Ari Fleischer, February 18, 2003.

"We're dealing with a country that can really finance its own reconstruction, and relatively soon."

--Paul Wolfowitz, March 27, 2003.

"A year from now, I'll be very surprised if there is not some grand square in Baghdad that is named after President Bush."

--Richard Perle, September 22, 2003.

"I expect we will get a lot of mitigation [from other countries re: the cost of rebuilding Iraq], but it will be easier after the fact than before the fact."

--Paul Wolfowitz, March 27, 2003.

"Some of the higher-end predictions that we have been hearing recently, such as the notion that it will take several hundred thousand U.S. troops to provide stability in post-Saddam Iraq, are wildly off the mark."


"I am reasonably certain that they will greet us as liberators, and that will help us to keep requirements down."


"Well, I don't think it's likely to unfold that way. . . . The read we get on the people of Iraq is there is no question but what they want to the get rid of Saddam Hussein, and they will welcome as liberators the United States when we come to do that."

--Dick Cheney, when asked if the American public is ready for a long, bloody battle, March 16, 2003 (Incidentally, in a mid-May 2004 poll commissioned by the U.S.-led CPA, just 2% of Iraqis viewed U.S. troops as "liberators").

"I don't think it would be that tough a fight."


"There are other differences that suggest that peacekeeping requirements in Iraq might be much lower than historical experience in the Balkans suggests."

--Wolfowitz, February 27, 2003

"Bring 'em on. We've got the force necessary to deal with the security situation."

--President Bush, when asked if the insurgency and resulting U.S. casualties might cause him to ask for more help from U.S. allies, July 2, 2003.

Sager's probably right. Republicans don't take libertarians seriously when it comes to foreign policy. But you know what? Maybe they ought to.

Sager's next point:

"Libertarians don't have anything constructive to offer in the War on Terror."

The strangest thing about this argument is that libertarians are the ones making it. Basically, some say, any war -- on terror, in Afghanistan, in Iraq -- costs money and curtails civil liberties. The job of libertarians, then, is simply to whine about spending and assist the ACLU in opposing the governmental bad guys at home.

Now, don't get me wrong, libertarians do have an important roll to play in opposing the infringements on civil liberties that the Bush administration seems to think are allowed for in the Constitution somewhere (they're not, trust me, I've read it).

But libertarians, limiting themselves to the sidelines like this, are really doing themselves -- and not to sound too grand, but the country -- a disservice.

Sager's referring to Reason's Julian Sanchez, who wrote a response to Sager on his blog. But Sager didn't quite frame Julian's response correctly. The argument isn't that "the job of libertarians is to whine" about federal spending or civil liberties, it's that if you're a libertarian who is paid to study civil liberties issues or fiscal issues, your job isn't to recommend sensible foreign policy or, or offer up ideas for intelligence reform or homeland defense - your job is to defend civil liberties, or curb reckless federal spending. Libertarianism in generally is a political philosophy that puts a premium on freedom. Therefore, libertarian thinkers don't spend a large percentage of their time thinking up news ways to expand the state, be it at home or abroad.

That doesn't mean libertarians have been silent on how to defend against terrorism. If all Sager could find from Cato relating to the war on terrorism was what he listed, he obviously didn't look very hard. There's simply too much evidence to the contrary to say Cato has "limited itself to the sidelines" in the war on terror.

Here's what I found:

· Cato's Aaron Lukas wrote a paper about sensible ways to defend our ports.

· Veronique de Rugy and Charles Pena outlined a plan for defense against bioterrorism attacks.

· Pena also offered a plan for fighting terror that ran as the cover story for the July/August issue of Cato Policy Report, a publication that Sager is certainly aware of, given that he once helped write and edit it.

· Eric R. Taylor criticized the creation of DHS, and offered his own vision for intelligence reform.

· Dan Griswold and Brink Lindsey have both noted the parallels between economic development, democracy, and civilized behavior, and have urged the U.S. to pursue free trade policies with isolated Muslim society (though I don't write on trade or foreign policy for Cato, I've made similar cases here and here).

· Patricia Adams offered a plan for the sensible arbitration of Iraq's international debt.

· Ted Galen Carpenter urged the Bush administration to take a hard line against Pakistan for allowing factions of its military and intelligence to harbor al-Qaeda operatives (you may remember al-Qaeda - they're the ones who actually attacked us on 9/11).

· Doug Bandow warned that the Bush administration (and just about every administration before it) was getting too cozy with Saudi Arabia, a country that supplied 16 of the 19 September 11 highjackers, and that continues to give money to terrorist organizations but that, nonetheless, the Bush administration still considers "an ally" in the war on terror.

· Leon Hadar also advocated a tougher line against Pakistan.

All of these are available on Cato's website, most either under the hot topics of "Iraq," or "Terrorism," conveniently linked from the homepage.

I'm not sure why Sager didn't find them.

But let's get back to his article:

Libertarianism, in and of itself, does not in any way limit its adherents to a minimalist approach to foreign policy -- i.e. using the least amount of force possible to respond only to the most imminent of threats.

While aggressively pursuing empire or invading any country that looks at America funny would certainly not be in accordance with libertarian or classical liberal thinking, there is otherwise quite a bit of flexibility to be had.

Agreed. But then why does Sager begin his article with the mocking "debate club" line, essentially calling for libertarian uniformity on foreign policy?

Here, Sager seems to acknowledge that libertarianism begins with a presumption against military intervention. But for most of the article up until now has urged libertarians to do away with that presumption, and unite behind his vision, which he believes not only to be correct, but correct to the point of being the only realistic position.

Pro-war and anti-war libertarians don't have to get together on Iraq in retrospect. It's not going to happen, and there's not much to be gained by rearguing the last two years. But they should think about how they could congeal going forward.

Then why has Sager spend so much space in his article critiquing Cato's position on Iraq?

If anti-war libertarians are as serious about fighting the War on Terror as those who favored the war, they're going to have to come up with a lot better than the John Kerry-esque line that we need to turn our attention back to finding Osama bin Laden and fighting al Qaeda.

Why? The only international terrorist group that has proven its capacity to hit the United States is al-Qaeda. Why shouldn't that be the foreign-policy focus of the war on terror? And why does opposition to the Iraq war automatically put the burden on war opponents to prove they're "serious" about the fight against terrorism? What if they're right, and military intervention is a major cause of terrorism?

Bin Laden is one man whose capture would be nice -- very, very nice -- but likely of little strategic import. And, well, we have been fighting al Qaeda aggressively; we could always kill more of them, but that's more of a truism than a policy proposal.

Catching bin Laden would certainly have some strategic value, given that his sporadically released videos seem to at least roughly coincide with terrorist attacks against western interests. Yes, someone would step in to replace him, but there's no denying the effect he has on the morale of Islamic fundamentalists, and the anti-American ire he inspire in Muslims as a whole.

There's also the matter of September 11. Remember what President Bush said as he stood atop the rubble of the World Trade Center? He said "...the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon."

The man chiefly responsible for knocking those buildings down hasn't heard from us, at least not clearly enough, three years later: He's still intimidating us via video. Capturing him would be more than "very, very nice." If government's chief responsibility is to defend its citizens from outside threats, the fact that the man who perpetrated the biggest attack on U.S. soil in a half-century is still on the loose -- and still likely planning more attacks -- represents a fundamental failure on the part of our government. The president telling reporters that he's "not concerned" about bin Laden anymore only exacerbates that failure.

As for al-Qaeda, I'm surprised at the casualness with which Sager dismisses them. "We could always kill more of them?" The anti-war criticism of our fight against al-Qaeda with respect to the war with Iraq is that we diverted precious military and intelligence resources away from where the organization's leaders were (Afghanistan and remote Pakistan) to where they weren't (Iraq). Given that al-Qaeda has attacked us or our interests on several occasions in several countries all over the world, and that there isn't a documented case of Iraq having attacked us once, that's not only a legitimate criticism, it's a devastating one.

Let's look at Sager's proposals for what he feels libertarians can contribute to the war on terror:

Libertarians could dedicate some of their intellectual firepower to supporting intelligence reform, for instance, and the strengthening of our human assets in the Middle East and the Arab world generally.

As noted, Cato has already published material on intelligence reform.

Libertarians could delve into questions of nation-building -- all the better to help us disentangle ourselves from where we're entangled more quickly. What are the prerequisites of a free society? How can they be fostered? How can we turn over power to the people we've liberated? For instance, Cato has put out a few policy papers on how Iraq can set up a monetary system and deal with its debt; that's a start.

In addition to monetary policy, the Exiting Iraq book Sager mocks actually lays out a path for not only withdrawing, but turning over power to Iraqis, though obviously in a manner more expeditious than Sager finds reasonable. Cato has also published on establishing a system of private property in Iraq, encouraging the establishment of open trade, and instituting a system of democracy in Iraq that at least gives representative government a fighting chance. Again, these are all listed on the "Iraq" page on Cato's website.

Libertarians could also turn their attentions to the question of how we can help the Arab world liberalize on its own. Charles Paul Freund at Reason has written extensively on the power of Western culture to bring openness and modernity to Arabs hungry for change. Libertarians were knee-deep during the Cold War in efforts to sneak Western, democratic and free-market ideas into Eastern Europe -- something for which the peoples of those countries are deeply grateful today. Why now, with the West facing the threat of Islamofascism and millions of Arabs and others suffering under it, are libertarians suddenly so afraid to look outward?

This is an awfully sweeping statement. I'd like to know exactly what Cold War efforts Sager is praising, and what efforts he sees lacking from libertarians today. If he's asking libertarians to risk their lives to covertly promote the ideas of liberty in Saudi Arabia, Iran, or Somalia, I suppose that might be a colorable criticism, but only if Sager or some of his fellow hawks are out there doing exactly that. His critique seems to be "we hawks are advocating remapping the entire Middle East, if you oppose that, you should be planning something equally ambitious." Or, put another way, libertarians who oppose massive invasion and nation-building schemes are somehow obligated to go to extraordinary means to prove they're serious about not wanting to see another September 11.

I think that's insulting. The libertarian position is that ambitious foreign policy causes terrorism. So opposing it is every bit as serious as Sager's defending it is.

Sager's jump from "not risking their lives to spread free market ideas" within the borders of Muslimdom to "afraid to look outward" is quite a leap. Exactly how else -- other than not sneaking copies of Free to Choose into Tehran, are libertarians not "looking outward?" Every anti-war libertarian I know opposed the sanctions against Iraq (as well as those against Libya, Syria, and just about everyone else), on the grounds that trade sanctions only further isolate already isolated societies, don't work, and cause undo harm to the wrong people. Most conservatives I know support sanctions against unsavory regimes. I don't know any libertarians who have been encouraging or even complacent about the Muslim society's self-imposed isolation. On the contrary, most every libertarian I know believes we should be doing everything we can to open up trade and the free flow of information with and between Islamic countries. I'm sure Ed Crane would love to host a conference on free markets, individual liberty and private property at the Riyadh Hilton or the Mashhad Ritz-Carlton, as he did in 1990 in the Soviet Union, and has on several occasions in China. But I'd guess the holdup there would be the Saudi and Iranian governments, not libertarian "inward-lookingness" when it comes to Islam.

I would argue that not supporting the imposition of democracy onto Muslimdom at the force of a gun is not only consistent with "looking outward," it's also prudent, cognizant of history, and in the best interests of the United States.

Sager can disagree, of course. But let's actually have that debate. It seems Sager would rather skip the debate, and dismiss those who disagree with him out of hand.

Libertarians could be spearheading an effort like that during the Cold War to translate and transmit classics of liberal thought, bringing them to democratic-minded people trapped in repressive societies. They could be working to help these people get access to the Internet and to American radio and television broadcasts. They could be pushing for funding of pro-democracy movements. And they could be spearheading a push for an American free-trade initiative to bring economic opportunity to developing Arab nations.

These are all excellent ideas, though not all necessarily consistent with the missions of Cato or Reason. If libertarians want to donate to funds that translate classical liberal texts into Arabic, hook the Muslim world up to wi-fi, or privately fund pro-democracy forces in Iran or Saudi Arabia, I say have at it. What I'm not sure about is why Sager believes that Reason and/or Cato are to blame for the absence of such initiatives (and I'm not even sure such programs don't exist). Neither organization is standing in the way of them happening. Why isn't Sager out there doing these things? Does his obligation to the cause of freedom in the face of Islamofascism end with his rhetorical support for the war in Iraq?

In fact, I know that Cato's Tom Palmer has actually been to Iraq in the last year, and is pursuing at least one endeavor very similar to what Sager's suggesting. But that they haven't already happened is hardly a criticism of Cato, Reason, or any other libertarians who opposed the war. Why isn't Sager criticizing AEI or Heritage for not undertaking similar projects? Is supporting a war with Iraq in itself enough to validate their "seriousness?"

If Sager's point was to suggest some good ideas libertarians should consider undertaking in order to introduce liberalism to isolated Muslim societies, then I'd say "kudos." But that isn't what he did. Instead, he stuck those good ideas onto the end of an article attacking (but not debating) Cato for opposing preemptive military intervention.

Sager's attack on Cato overlooks a rather large body of Cato work on the very issues Sager says Cato has neglected, and labels "unserious" the work of an institution whose historical foreign policy positions have generally been proven correct by ensuing events.

And yet it's still Sager who calls Cato "unrealistic."


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