One of the reasons I describe myself as a "small-L libertarian" and am still a member of the GOP (I know, but really, I DON'T think it will change if we abandon it to the fundies) is foreign policy. I don't blog about it much here, but I am pretty Hawkish. I am not out-of-hand opposed to preemptive war (I only wish we had gone after Iran instead of Iraq--just one letter's difference!), and certainly support a defensive one. I am, however, uncomfortable with Wilsonian crusades aimed only at "spreading democracy;" I would like to see a more direct national security interest behind my wars. Now this is not a post about Iraq, but rather whether these principles mesh with my claims of supporting liberty.
Randy Barnett recently published an Op-ed in the WSJ (my favorite NY newspaper!--hat tip to a reader who wishes to retain anonymity) arguing that while many libertarians opposed the war in Iraq a position favoring individual rights is not necessarily incongruent with support (at least at the outset) of the war with Iraq:
Other libertarians, however, supported the war in Iraq because they viewed it as part of a larger war of self-defense against Islamic jihadists who were organizationally independent of any government. They viewed radical Islamic fundamentalism as resulting in part from the corrupt dictatorial regimes that inhabit the Middle East, which have effectively repressed indigenous democratic reformers. Although opposed to nation building generally, these libertarians believed that a strategy of fomenting democratic regimes in the Middle East, as was done in Germany and Japan after World War II, might well be the best way to take the fight to the enemy rather than solely trying to ward off the next attack.
However, in short order Glenn Healy posted on Cato-at-Liberty (the Cato blog) has some respectful though critical words in response to Professor Barnett. Among them:
Is libertarianism really a political philosophy that tells you what to think about mandatory recycling and restrictions on the interstate shipment of wine, but has virtually nothing of interest to say about when it might be morally permissible to use daisy cutters and thermobaric bombs?
And while Healy goes to say that "libertarianism and Wilsonianism don't mix;" I'm not sure that Barnett would disagree. Indeed I agree very much with that sentiment. So how do I reconcile my hawkishness with my limited government rhetoric? Let me try.
I have a deep distrust of government; therefore, I prefer less of it in my life. That's where many of my libertarian policy positions on domestic issues originate. That said, I trust foreign governments even less than my own. My own government, at least in some small way, is marginally answerable to me. The Japanese Parliament, for instance, is not answerable to me at all. I suppose that means that with regards to international relations I am something of a realist. Given half the chance I think any state wouldn't think twice about oppressing me if it meant more security, economic or military power for them.
So I happen to think in order to preserve my right to order my daily affairs as I see fit, I need someone to protect my rights of life, liberty and property. So I am no anarchist; i am fine with a police force and court system that punishes people who infringe the rights of others (or perhaps help balance conflicting rights). I think that also includes a government that protects me from other governments that would infringe those rights. So we are still on track when it comes to defensive wars: someone attacks, they have violated the rights of life, liberty or property of citizens, so it appropriate for a government to respond.
What about preemption? Is it appropriate for us to neutralize a danger with military force before it infringes our rights? That's a tougher question. If I answer yes, how do I distinguish between a government preempting an international threat with one that say imprisons people because they look like they might commit a crime? If I answer no, then I say that I require my government to wait for death of its citizens before it protects the rest? I want to answer yes, so here is my attempt at rationalization (this is well open for discussion, I hope people will participate and even call me out if I am inconsistent!).
First, we do punish people before they commit crimes: we call them attempt crimes. Nonetheless, that is not a satisfying answer even to me. Another option is to take the morally dubious position that a government only owes any protection to its citizens. That takes my premise (a government will care about the rights of at most its own citizens) and normalizes it (a government shouldn't care about the rights of those who are not its citizens). Really it boils down to "Who cares about 'em if they ain't 'MERICAN?" I don't like that much either, and I do not people to think that I am going to that practically sociopathic extreme.
Here's what I am working with now: if the realist paradigm accurately describes the international arena, then each actor in that arena is going to try to acquire more security and power, and unlike economic arrangements those are rather zero-sum. If I am relatively more secure then someone is relatively less secure. And part of securing my rights is ensuring that my government is able to continue doing so, which means it needs to be as secure as possible from international threats and part of that is neutralizing threats before they do damage. Does that work? Really, right now I am just thinking out loud (is there an analogous expression applied to writing?), and I'd appreciate your comments.
UPDATE: Barnett responds to critics here. It must be emphasized that neither he nor I am justifying the Iraq war (I feel the time to do so credibly has slipped away forever), but that he and I are talking about libertarianism and war, using Iraq as a context for showing that libertarians can disagree about war without being intellectually dishonest. However, because none of the points to which Professor Barnett responded came up here, I am only linking it for journalistic purposes.