An Open Letter to Libertarians, the Libertarian Party, and Harry Browne

What is the Problem with the Retaliatory use of Force?

It’s been said that you know more about a man by where he stands on the issues rather than where he sits on any particular one.  With that in mind, I've been voting Libertarian ever since I was able to vote (four elections). I've been a board member for my state party, have participated in a lawsuit by the state against my party (called to the stand by the assistant attorney general to testify, in fact), and work in my community to spread the word of freedom. I am deeply distressed by the LP's (Libertarian Party) position on what is happening with the WTC / Pentagon issue.  These concerns must be dealt with by our party’s leadership in as quick a manner as possible.

Harry Browne, the LP’s two time Presidential candidate, has come out against a military response to the September 11th attack.  The inclusion of Harry’s comments is very relevant because of the close media identification between Harry and the LP.  The possibility for confusion between his personal position and the LP’s cannot be overlooked, and a clarification by the LP must be made.  There are two important factors that both the LP and Harry Browne seem to have overlooked.

1) The LP’s current position is for the U.S. to leave its Middle East commitments.  For arguments sake, OK then, let's leave the Middle East today.  After all, our unwanted involvement in this area was the root cause of the tragedy. The easiest seems to be to give Israel, Egypt, and Pakistan some cash, some guns, say our commitments are now complete and stop further assistance.  If any belligerents need or want us to be a neutral negotiator, I think that’s wonderful. If not, don't help them; it’s not our problem. Let's remove our forward deployed forces in Saudi Arabia, and stop bombing Iraq. When Saddam gets the bomb we can be certain the Iranians aren't too far behind (if they haven’t one bought from the Russians already) to keep him in check.

This all sounds great to a typical doctrinaire Libertarian, but its practicality is limited.  This is NOT an argument for interventionism. But the fact of the matter is, we currently live in a world that was made by interventionist statists.  I wish it wasn’t so, but wishing will not make the facts go away.  Walking away in slavish adherence to party doctrine would cause more problems than it solves. I agree wholeheartedly, we should disengage - but in a way that doesn't screw us even more. I’ve coined a phrase about the deep-seated desire of Americans to do the right thing, without thinking through all the consequences - proactive shortsightedness.  This ALWAYS happens with American foreign policy.  For the latest few examples, think of Saddam and the Taliban.  Slightly earlier, replace with the Shah and Somosa.

Even if we acceded to all their current demands, it wouldn't change a thing - and would be very counterproductive. To believe that all the problems between radical Islamic elements and the United States are boiled down to support of Israel and our troops being forward deployed is to live in a dream world.  The Taliban know all of our women are whores because they don’t wear burka’s – let alone the fact they can wear a bikini!  Their hatred of America is not based on a few easily defined geopolitical objectives.

Islamic culture has been in decline for the last 400 years, as ours has been in ascendance.  Islam invented the numbering system used by the world (the zero is more important than one would first think), to name but one extremely important invention.  Islam has a proud and great history. The problems that Islam has facing a changing world is a problem within Islam, we merely have to deal with the fallout.  Islam is torn between the old school reactionary elements, and an overall diffuse modernizing undercurrent.

Reactionary elements exist in all large-scale movements. These reactionary elements are much more concerned with inter-movement problems than with other, external problems.  Their bombing of the WTC and the Pentagon wasn’t to get into a fight with us, it was to provoke a broader conflict that they could use to their advantage and radicalize everything.  Their survival as a political movement is a secondary objective, given that by inaction they would wither away and die. 

2) Libertarian thought states that theft must be punished to keep theft from becoming a non-owner approved extended loan program. Retribution and indeed vengeance is vital to this concept. If someone is murdered the state has a moral obligation to apprehend the suspected criminal.  But if our suspected murderer runs out of arms length, what does one do? It is the moral obligation of the government to pursue. What if our suspect doesn't want to come out of their place of refuge?  What if they attempt to keep themselves from being apprehended? Quite simply, it is the government’s obligation to go in and get them. What if they have hostages – should the government give up and go home?  Innocent hostages may be killed in the process. But the consequences of allowing murderers to flee from the immediate jurisdiction, or to hold hostages and ensure their complete safety is much more dire.

Just as important is the fact that the Taliban are sheltering (were as of 1 / 1 / 02 – ed.)  the nexus of the Al-Qaeda network, and the personality of Bin Laden, chief propagandist.  When another nation provides shelter of their territory, personnel and materiel support, and protection from external enemies – where is the distinction between government action and individual terrorism? 

Take the First World War.  In this case, an individual “anarchist” terrorist murdered the heir to the Austria-Hungarian throne.  When the Austria-Hungarians demanded satisfaction, the Serbs could point to the fact that “anarchists” were banned in their country, the assassination was a crime that they would punish the assassin for (if he wasn’t dead already), and the assassin certainly didn’t get his instructions from the Serbian government. 

This is a much different case from the First World War.  In marked contrast, the Taliban claim halfheartedly that the terrorists didn’t get their marching orders from the Taliban - but they certainly thought it was a good thing to do.  They would not bring the Al-Qaeda organization, any of the leading personalities, or the terrorists (if they were still alive) to justice, irrespective of their public comments.  The important thing to notice is that the government seems to support the action of murdering innocents in the name of Jihad.  Al-Qaeda is not banned in Afghanistan, but instead they are provided all the services of the government.  Most importantly, officials of the Al-Qaeda organization hold positions in the government, specifically defense minister.  To use the Second World War, when the Nazis politicized the military organizations of the state, did responsibility for the Second World War fall solely on the shoulders of the Nazi party and their military arm, the SS?  Of course not.  The SS, the Wehrmacht, and all the other organs of the state were held responsible as well.

I think I know what the basic problem is. If the LP and Harry feel admitting there is one thing the government can do correctly, it undermines the whole argument that the government is incompetent and a burden. This is disingenuous. The possession of a military force is a basic, accepted position of Libertarianism. If this is not an attack on the United States identical to war, I don't know what would satisfy you. This is not crime. It is War. An attack on our country by a foreign power, or foreign terrorists supported by a foreign power (think the Barbary pirates), can and should be responded to by military might.  It is a basic function of the government, and as such was supported by a great Libertarian, Thomas Jefferson.

The LP's and Harry's belief that we can just go in and arrest (or even, possibly as a last resort, kill) him with a "surgical strike" is a fallacy.  It just won't work.  Only individuals with absolutely no understanding of military affairs could think that such a thing would be possible.  In fact, belief that such a thing would be possible undermines the basic argument that government cannot do anything correctly.  Successful execution of such a thing would be a feat without parallel in recorded history.  Retributive justice in this case, like all wars, will get innocents killed. No one desires the death of innocents.  However if the alternative offered by the LP and Harry is inaction, as a Libertarian, I want out. To say that no one but the perpetrators must be involved is simply naive and foolish.

We live in the world as it is, not as we would like it to be. This is how I reconcile my beliefs in Anarchy, Libertarianism, and the use of military force - in this case. Yes, if we didn't have our sticky little fingers in everybody else's business we wouldn't be here. Yes, we (the West) did start the fight, in a sense (depends on how far back you would like to look). And we have been having a shoving match with radical Islam in general, and Al-Qaeda in particular, for a long time. But now the other side has thrown the first punch of a large-scale shooting war. The way to finish this is not to retreat.

Yes we should cease forward deployment.  Yes we should end foreign aid to both allies and would be friends.  But certainly not NOW! That would encourage them for obvious reasons.  Acceding to demands after the use of force and the threatened use of force is very bad policy.  So is inaction, as well as a limited response. Bill Clinton didn't do our cause any good by responding with a few missiles to very large provocations. This is one of many reasons the situation has escalated to this level. We need to hit them back, right in the jaw, and lay them out.

After we have eliminated the threat by removing our enemies from the face of the earth, we can have a “defense review”, and properly pick up our bags and go home. Anything else will only encourage more terrible bloodshed in the future. This is the only important issue. Paying more attention to polemics and rhetoric rather than the real situation created by interventionist statists is foolish. It causes me to be ashamed of my party and our past presidential candidate's naivety and cowardice.

This cannot be wished away. If only it could.

Read the LP's response. Wishy-washy at the very least. Seems like the LP doesn't want to talk about this much. Try to find other articles on their site about this important topic….

Read Harry Brownes' response. And to be fair, read the next article. I must be clear, his response is pure crap.