One of my recent posts criticizing libertarians has made the rounds of some libertarian bloggers. The initial responses were less insightful—but earlier today I got some thoughtful responses […]
First, I find false piety grating. If you think we should immediately withdraw from Afghanistan because you think the cost of the war is to high or that war in Afghanistan is not a legitimate exercise of government power, say it. But don’t tell me you care about the people of Afghanistan unless you actually care enough to, at a minimum, read up on some of the internal tensions in Afghanistan.
I’m confused about why you consider it impossible to hold both views. I do, in fact, and am not ignorant of the “internal tensions in Afghanistan.” I’m certainly no world-class expert, but I know enough, I’d say, to be able to legitimately have concerns. I think it’s safe to say we share the same goal — peace and lack of American occupation in Afghanistan — but we differ on how and when that might best be achieved.
Second, I worry that the whole “Ron Paul is against the war” thing is misleading a lot of people who consider peace an important end in itself. Ron Paul is against U.S. involvement in Afghanistan. But if the U.S. isn’t involved in a War, Ron Paul is also against doing anything to try to stop that war.
It seems to me that getting lost in this discussion is the good which would come out of a noninterventionist foreign policy. Yeah, you might not get the “humanitarian” interventions you want, but you also wouldn’t get needless invasions; drone attacks; bombings of weddings, children, and all other good things; assassination of U.S. citizens without trial; Gitmo; Bagram…need I go on?
Moreover, your statement about Ron Paul is inaccurate because it conflates “taking action to stop a conflict” with “the U.S. government intervening (probably militarily) to stop a conflict.” These are very different things, and while I certainly can’t speak for Ron Paul, I’d suggest that he does support taking action to stop a war — he just doesn’t want the U.S. government or American tax dollars to do it if it is not a war against us.
It’s also important to recall that while it is in many ways the easiest solution to suggest (and certainly the one which requires the least effort from us personally), the U.S. government intervening militarily to stop a conflict may not be the best way to actually stop it. Again, as I mentioned in my first reply, only a quarter of the military interventions in the last 200 years have been successful. This is not a good track record. Our recent wars have an even higher rate of failure. I would suggest that, given these facts, it is much more compassionate to oppose intervention than to support it.
The next hangup I’m going to have with both Mr. Bagger and Ms. Libertarian is that they will want to talk about individual action and motivation. For example, they both listed some impressive and generous actions they have taken that could constitute peacemaking if we construe it broadly enough. This is all great stuff. But when we talk politics, we need to look beyond individual actions and beliefs and look at trends, systemic pressures, and so on. […]
Indeed, this is why you’ll recall that I made a (mostly gentle) mockery of your citing of your personal interaction with libertarians on the internet as the basis for your claims. I decided to fight fire with fire, but we never should have gotten the fire of our personal experiences out in the first place.
Thus far, about four libertarians have demanded that I provide evidence that libertarians are less generous than others or are otherwise bad people. I’m not going to do it. I’m not even going to do the Google search to see if anybody else has done the study because that’s a red herring. How generous are libertarians? Not generous enough that their personal giving can take the place of a cogent foreign policy. When you espouse a foreign policy that says that we should not use tax money to stop war, relieve famine, or stop disease, or otherwise engage in humanitarian efforts, you have taken what I will generously call a controversial stance. Your personal generosity, while laudable, does not make this stance less problematic.
Your refusal to engage on this matter is interesting — your original argument was that libertarians do not care about the people their noninterventionism affects, only the money it will save. Now, even in the face of the statistical evidence I provided which shows that we’re much more likely to give money to help people than those with more aggressive foreign policies, you’ve changed your requirement of us from being consistently pro-peace to simply agreeing with what you think. How many moving targets need we hit?
Nonetheless, I feel obliged to note that relieving famine, stopping disease, and engaging in other humanitarian efforts should properly be considered foreign aid as opposed to foreign policy in general. That’s the sort of stuff which is done by USAID, which has an annual budget of about $37 billion (that’s the figure from 2010). Do I and most libertarians want to get rid of this agency? Yes, because this humanitarian work can be done more efficiently and effectively without government involvement. (This is what I wrote my thesis on in undergrad [so, fair warning XD], and from what I found, there was quite a bit of academic agreement from sources as diverse as the Mises Institute and Brookings that private charities do more good with their money for a variety of reasons — see a short summary of those reasons here.)
However, in the grand scheme of $1 trillion per year spending on military occupations, bombs, etc., this is not high on my personal list of things to cut. Yeah, it should happen so we can help people more effectively and save a little money, but not until after we cut the more egregious stuff and we’ve allowed time for private charities to move in and pick up the slack.
Ms. Libertarian raises an important argument: >Involving governments in humanitarian efforts politicizes and complicates things, often making the situation worse and creating mistrust among the actors involved. We can’t neatly compartmentalize public and private humanitarian efforts, particularly when many of the privite efforts receive direct or indirect public support.
This is, frankly, wrong. There’s a well-established literature on the damaging effects of government funding to the effectiveness of private charities, and many charities have explicitly stated that they do not take money or help from the government so their motives are not maligned or mistrusted by the people they’re helping. My sources for this are mostly books which can’t be read online for free, but if you send me your email in my ask, I can send you the info soon.
You take the informed (albeit extreme) stance that any government support for NGOs will do more harm than good. This could be a stance motivated solely by a genuine concern about those the NGOs seek to serve. But … I don’t think that’s a libertarian stance. The pure libertarian stance suggests no government involvement would be appropriate, even when those who could be helped want the help and we’re confident that the help will outweigh any incidental harm.
This is inaccurate too. There is no single, definitive libertarian stance. There are many, many kinds of libertarians, and they have different takes on this issue. Randians, for instance, sometimes oppose even private charity, wanting everyone to heroically pull themselves up by their own bootstraps without a bit of help. This is obviously not me.
To the extent that we can universalize a libertarian response, that response is one of preoccupation with defending human rights to life and liberty through voluntary action — and one of humility. We cannot be confident that the help will outweigh any incidental harm. It’s just not possible. The outcome of war can never be so simplistically predicted. Indeed, as I’ve stated both above and in my first reply, military intervention does not have a good track record — 25% success. Knowing that, it seems to me to be morally irresponsible to suggest that we could assume with certainty the outcome of the attack and act on that assumption.
As for the those who could be helped wanting the help, my answer here too is a call for humility. This was demonstrated amply in the Libyan intervention: A few bombs in and it turns out we might have been helping al Qaeda! As Americans it’s very easy to assume we understand every situation correctly and have neatly identified the good and bad guys. After all, we have Google News! But this un-nuanced attitude is beyond unwise.
Meanwhile, even if we did identify the good guys correctly and we really weren’t in it for the natural resources this time (We swear, you guys! Who knew Libya had the largest untapped oil reserves in Africa??? AMIRITE?), as I just explained, a military intervention is unlikely to actually help them. We should indeed help people suffering in war, but we should do it in a way that actually stands a more than 25% chance of succeeding. Those who are being hurt may not know the best way to save themselves.
We should also help people in a way which does not add more violence to the situation. As I said in the title, it is a poor pacifist indeed who suggests that libertarians are not pacifist because they don’t want military intervention enough — and that’s exactly what you seem to be doing here. If you don’t personally consider yourself a pacifist, substitute the first instance of that word with “humanitarian” or whatever you like most.
So let’s put this one to the test. The Iraq war is over—but we have a lot of contractors there rebuilding. Are you willing to keep spending money to finish rebuilding the country in cooperation and consultation with the Iraqi government, the people of Iraq, and anybody else you want to include? If you think we’re doing something the wrong way, we can change it and do it differently. The important question is whether you’re willing to spend the public money to do it right. If not, surely you can understand why I would question your commitment to global peace and stability?
Well, first of all, the Iraq War is not over. I know, I know, you think it is. I think you’re wrong, and I think so based on the fact that “a huge contingent from the State Department along with thousands of armed private contractors. The possibility for violence between Americans and Iraqis is very real.” That those contractors aren’t in official uniform doesn’t make them any less American soldiers for all intents and purposes.
But to address your question, which is basically whether or not I think we’re responsible to clean up the mess we’ve made: I do — to some extent, and I understand that will take money (which ideally ought to come out of bank accounts labeled “Bush,” “Cheney,” “Rumsfeld,” and “Obama” — and probably a few more, but I digress). I do not think that it is our responsibility to remain as long-term peace keepers. Rebuild the water lines we bombed, yes. Be there in 20 years still paying contractors to patrol the streets? No. As occupiers past or present (this is perhaps not the place to debate which), our government is uniquely disadvantaged to rebuild Iraq successfully.
More to the point, however, we invaded Iraq 9 years ago. Our commitment there should end as soon as possible, and there’s a sense in which our government make things right in Iraq, because we can’t bring a million people back to life. We can’t change the past; my bigger concern now is looking forward — that we do not repeat this mistake. It’s unaffordable and outside the proper role of government, yes, but it’s also illegal, immoral, and inhumane.