There are big differences between conservatives and libertarians. Legislation of morality is of course one of those things that conservatives support and libertarians do not. But the main issue that divides the two factions today is due to a perversion of conservativism that calls the philosophy toward war. You cannot be a libertarian and support war. Behold, Robert Higgs:
Although I generally eschew quarrels with fellow libertarians over doctrinal matters—my crucial dispute is with the government, not with other libertarians—I draw the line at the question of war and peace. In my judgment, this issue is fundamental; it well nigh defines a genuine libertarian ideology. Professed libertarians who support an aggressive warfare state are in effect giving up the ship without a fight. They are making the same mistake that has long condemned conservatives to serving as de facto buttresses of Leviathan, no matter how much they might complain about high taxes and excessive regulation.
My claim is that those who give a free hand to the government in its foreign and defense policymaking will ultimately discover that they have handed their rulers the key that opens all doors, including the doors that might otherwise obstruct the government’s invasion of our most cherished rights to life, liberty, and property. The war-making key is, so to speak, any government’s master key because when critical trade-offs must be made, war will override all other concerns, and as an ancient maxim aptly warns us, inter armas silent leges. Anyone who has looked into the U.S. Supreme Court’s history, for example, knows that during wartime the justices have placed themselves on the casualty list by effectively rolling over and playing dead. Without at least a semblance of the rule of law and an independent judiciary, all hopes for the maintenance of a free society are in vain.
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An obvious response by hawkish libertarians appeals to an axiom of classical liberalism: we need the state to protect us from genuine foreign threats; moreover, provision of such protection is the state’s most basic responsibility. Unfortunately, this reply, which rests more on wishful thinking than on a hardheaded understanding of the state, raises more questions than provides answers (and incidentally reveals a fatal flaw in the doctrine of classical liberalism).
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[E]ven if we do need the government’s protection from foreign attack, can the government deliver the goods? Did it prevent the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor? Did it prevent the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001? Of course, state officials constantly tell us that they are protecting us, but talk is cheap and in their case often untrue, especially when it pertains to matters outside our common experience and therefore beyond our power to verify easily.
Consider the government’s highly publicized announcement in 2006 that it had arrested the members of “a homegrown terrorist cell” in Miami, thereby preventing them from blowing up the Sears Tower in Chicago (“Homegrown Terrorists” 2006). Even before the government had completed its high-profile press conference, peals of laughter were ringing out across the land: the seven “terrorists” lacked explosives, training, contacts with any real terrorist group, and, most of all, the wit to blow up a skyscraper. Deputy Director John Pistole of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), describing the alleged plot as “aspirational rather than operational,” had to suppress his giggles. These men deserved perhaps a week in jail for the crime of flakiness, whereas the government agents, including the sting man who planted seeds in the men’s receptive but pathetically puerile minds, might justly have been sentenced to ten years behind bars for abusing their authority. One has to wonder: if real terrorists threaten the American people, why are government agents wasting their highly paid time and other resources in this fashion? Aside from the few pathetic men the government has entrapped in such schemes, the FBI and other ostensible antiterrorist protectors have very little to show for themselves over the past decade, aside from engorging massive amounts of taxpayer money and unreasonably violating the public’s privacy and other rights on a massive scale.
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U.S. government officials always tell us, of course, that they are as pure as driven snow in their dealings with people abroad, that we Americans are invariably minding our own business and dispensing nothing but sweetness and light to everybody on earth regardless of race, color, and creed when crazed foreigners attack us for no reason at all except an insane hatred of our way of life. Even a superficial exposure to the pertinent facts exposes the government’s official line as the sheerest fairy tale. Far from protecting us, the government has now spent more than a century busily making enemies for Americans around the globe. Some protection! If the government were a private security guard, we would have fired him in 1898 and never purchased his trigger-happy services again. Americans desperately need to clarify a basic distinction: protecting the just rights of Americans here in America and exercising a globegirdling hegemony over other people are two different things.
These observations lead to an even more fundamental question: What makes anyone think that government officials are even trying to protect us? A government is not analogous to a hired security guard. Governments do not come into existence as social service organizations or as private firms seeking to please consumers in a competitive market. Instead, they are born in conquest and nourished by plunder. They are, in short, well-armed gangs intent on organized crime. Yes, rulers have sometimes come to recognize the prudence of protecting the herd they are milking and even of improving its “infrastructure” until the day they decide to slaughter the young bulls, but the idea that government officials seek to promote my interests or yours is little more than propaganda—unless, of course, you happen to belong to the class of privileged tax eaters who give significant support to the government and therefore receive in return a share of the loot. For libertarians to have lost sight of the fundamental nature of the state and therefore to expect its kingpins selflessly to protect them from genuine foreign threats, much as a hen protects her chicks, challenges comprehension. Imagine: people who recognize full well that they cannot rely on the government to do something as simple as fixing the potholes nevertheless believe that they can rely on that same government to protect their lives, liberties, and property. One is tempted to conclude that by making this colossal mistake, they have demonstrated that they were never really libertarians in the first place.
In sum, the issue of war and peace does serve as a litmus test for libertarians. Warmongering libertarians are ipso facto not libertarians. Real libertarians do not expect pigs to fly: they do not believe the government’s lies about the multitude of foreign fiends poised to pounce on us; they do not credit the government’s promise to protect us from any real monsters that may exist beyond our borders; they do not even take seriously the government’s declaration that its primary objective is to secure our rights against foreign invasion or other harm originating abroad.
During wartime, governments invariably trample on the people’s just rights, disseminating so much propaganda to the abused citizens that they believe they are trading liberty for security. Yet time and again after the dust has settled, the U.S. government’s wars have yielded the net result that Americans enjoy fewer liberties in the postbellum era than they enjoyed in the antebellum era. This ratchet effect must be expected to accompany every major military undertaking the U.S. government carries out. In every war with a decisive outcome, the people on both sides lose, the government on the losing side loses, and the government on the winning side wins. In light of these realities, what sort of libertarian wants to support the warfare state?
Now you can ask yourself this if you are a conservative who is anti-war? You might be closer to libertarianism than you think…
Now ask yourself of the following: is it reasonable? Is it helping anyone?:
In his book The One Percent Doctrine, journalist Ron Suskind reported on CIA plans, unveiled in September 2001 and known as the “Worldwide Attack Matrix,” for “detailed operations against terrorists in 80 countries.” At about the same time, then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld proclaimed that the nation had embarked on “a large multi-headed effort that probably spans 60 countries.” By the end of the Bush years, the Pentagon would indeed have special operations forces deployed in 60 countries around the world.
It has been the Obama administration, however, that has embraced the concept far more fully and engaged the region even more broadly. Last year, the Washington Post reported that U.S. had deployed special operations forces in 75 countries, from South America to Central Asia. Recently, however, U.S. Special Operations Command spokesman Colonel Tim Nye told me that on any given day, America’s elite troops are working in about 70 countries, and that its country total by year’s end would be around 120. These forces are engaged in a host of missions, from Army Rangers involved in conventional combat in Afghanistan to the team of Navy SEALs who assassinated Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, to trainers from the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines within U.S. Special Operations Command working globally from the Dominican Republic to Yemen.
The United States is now involved in wars in six arc-of-instability nations: Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen. It has military personnel deployed in other arc states, including Algeria, Bahrain, Djibouti, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, and the United Arab Emirates. Of these countries, Afghanistan, Bahrain, Djibouti, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates all host U.S. military bases, while the CIA is reportedly building a secret base somewhere in the region for use in its expanded drone wars in Yemen and Somalia. It is also using already existing facilities in Djibouti, Ethiopia, and the United Arab Emirates for the same purposes, and operating a clandestine base in Somalia where it runs indigenous agents and carries out counterterrorism training for local partners.
In addition to its own military efforts, the Obama administration has also arranged for the sale of weaponry to regimes in arc states across the Middle East, including Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. It has been indoctrinating and schooling indigenous military partners through the State Department’s and Pentagon’s International Military Education and Training program. Last year, it provided training to more than 7,000 students from 130 countries. “The emphasis is on the Middle East and Africa because we know that terrorism will grow, and we know that vulnerable countries are the most targeted,” Kay Judkins, the program’s policy manager, recently told the American Forces Press Service.
According to Pentagon documents released earlier this year, the U.S. has personnel – some in token numbers, some in more sizeable contingents – deployed in 76 other nations sometimes counted in the arc of instability: Angola, Botswana, Burundi, Cameroon, Chad, Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Liberia, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka, Syria, Antigua, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, Uruguay, Venezuela, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Romania, Serbia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.
This is our foreign policy. And it is doing anything but creating stability…
We need peace. We need it today.