Thursday, February 20, 2003

Domestic Libertarian, International Statist???

I’m a pretty staunch Libertarian on the home front, but I’m a solid backer of the Bush administration’s policy on Iraq. Aha! Domestic Libertarian, but an International “Statist”!!! Inconsistent…? Well, obviously I don’t think so. Some fundamentalist Libertarians would take issue with my view. “Classical” Libertarian thinkers warn us that during a war, government power inevitably grows and threatens civil liberties. How do I reconcile myself to minimalist government within the US while supporting a pro-active role for the US internationally?

In short, I think that the current world environment, post 9/11 is definitely a case in which “the best defense is a good offense”. Why? Because, to react in a defensive posture under the threat of externally supported terrorism on the home front, is to surrender the freedoms that we have taken for granted in this country since its inception. If we change our way of life and give up these hard-earned freedoms, the terrorists have won at least a partial victory. That must not be allowed to happen.

If we allow the terrorists to make us live in fear, the first casualty in the war on terror will be our liberties. Many Americans will not only not mind the government swallowing up our privacy and other rights for the “war on terrorism”, they will demand it. Well, I’m not willing to give up liberties. I don’t want to see cops carrying M16s on every corner in Manhattan. I do not want to be forced to carry a National Picture ID.

If to protect individual liberties at home, we must wage war abroad, so be it. I say this without excuses, without apologies. However, I will try to offer a reasoned argument.

Grab a world atlas. Turn to the page featuring a political map of North America. Notice the heavy lines on the map that define the United States of America. Those lines represent something more than mere territory. They are the boundaries of a living, breathing experiment, refining and re-refining the relationship between the government and the governed. We with US citizenship are incredibly lucky. Either through accident of birth or the guts to leave our homeland, we are fortunate to live in the country that has the strongest conception and practical application of individual liberty on the face of the planet.

Now, I am not anti-immigration. Nor am I xenophobic… I’m half Hispanic after all. I welcome all people who come to the U.S. with a desire for freedom and opportunity and the drive and determination to work. I do not want the line on that map to be the wall of a fortress. Canada and the US have a border that runs almost 3,000 miles. And, at least until this current unpleasantness, it was arguably the most porous international border on Earth. Why? Because Canada and the US share the same fundamental concepts of liberty and justice and have institutions, traditions and infrastructure to support them. We have our differences, but we live in the same conceptual space and the laxity of our common border is a reflection of that.

Though not a xenophobe, I am a cultural supremacist when it comes to the ideas and framework set out in the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution. When enemies of those ideals, foreign or domestic, threaten our liberties within those lines on the map, the gloves must come off. We must seek out those who threaten our liberty, apply force and make it untenable for them to do so. Homeland Security should not only about protecting life and limb. In fact, I would submit that it is not primarily about physical safety, but rather the right of the American people to feel safe and free in their own country.

We must do everything that we can to avoid a siege mentality. If anything will make us lose the best aspects of the American character, this is it. In fact, we should invite like minded nations and their people into this “sphere of liberty. The bigger this sphere is, the better it is for all Americans and for the world as a whole. To grow this common space, the US should actively promote the promulgation of it its ideas and ideals through example and peaceful discourse. However, when we are under foreign threat, as I believe we are now, the preamble to the Constitution makes it clear, the federal government must “… provide of the common defense…”.

No, there is not an invading armada about to land on American shores. But, we are threatened nonetheless. In the 21st century, there does not have to be a fleet of ships filled with enemy soldiers on the East Coast for there to be a demonstrable threat. September 11th proved that. No, there’s not a snowball’s chance in hell that those murderous evil men will be able to take over an U.S. airliner and use it as a bomb. The brave passengers of flight 93 made this tactic obsolete less than 2 hours after it was first employed.

This is why the time, effort and tremendous amounts of tax money put into airline security are ridiculous. Think of the inconvenience and indignity that we suffer each time we board an airliner. Oh no, you can’t take that nail clipper on the plane! Little boy, your GI Joe has a 1/8th scale model of an M1 Garand -- that’s a simulated firearm – never mind that it’s a rifle that’s only three inches long. People are scared little boy, this is no time for reason and logic! This makes us feel secure in the homeland, boy!

This incident with the 1/8th scale model really happened. This is a relatively benign example of the absurdities that we will face if we do not deal with this threat soon. Our enemy WILL think of something else. Americans will again die on American soil. We will then contort ourselves and our system to try to “feel” secure in our own country. And it will be impossible to effectively provide “homeland security” without losing touch with who we are.

We must therefore seek these people out and destroy them.

I do not support the move to war without thought or some Libertarian reservations. Governments, including our own, have a track record of doing nasty things to civil liberties in time of war. In the current crisis, it is our duty as free Americans to monitor, speak out against, and resist this tendency of government to turn on its own people. There are those in government that would love to use the current crisis to expand the control of government over our lives. John Poindexter’s Office of Total Information Awareness (the name of this agency is too Orwellian to be believed…) is a heinous example of this tendency.

This is OUR government -- a government that holds power with the consent of the governed -- that would be you and me -- and that we have the responsibility to ensure that the United States does not become an international bully. We cannot allow the defense of our liberties to become a pretext for adventurism or imperialism. The protesters that were on the streets of London, Paris, Rome… not to mention New York and San Francisco believe that the US is already an international bully.

They are wrong.

The behavior of the United States in the second half of the twentieth century proves them wrong. Never in the history of the world has a nation had so much power and been more loath to use it. Think of the world immediately after World War II, before the Soviets had the bomb. Think of the Marshall Plan. Think again of that border with Canada and of the unexploited oil in the Canadian Arctic and put together a reasoned argument to convince me that the US is an imperialist, oil-hungry behemoth that takes what it wants.

We must hold our government to our own standards of liberty and respect for individual rights and national self determination whenever possible in the development and execution of foreign policy. We must learn from our mistakes and excesses from the Cold War era. We did not go overboard too often, but now that we do not have a superpower adversary with thousands of nuclear weapons, we can afford to err more on the side of prudence. Too often we subscribed to the idea that the enemy of my enemy is our friend. We made alliances with petty tyrants and intervened in the internal affairs of leftist leaning countries (think Chile and Kissinger) and did other things that did not really have a reasonable role in containing the Soviet Union. We did those things out fear.

It’s very easy for me with perfect hindsight to question the actions of the State and Defense Departments during the Cold War. However we are a country that learns from its mistakes. We must admit that these unsavory alliances can only unnecessarily weaken our influence with friends, allies and foes alike. Perhaps more importantly, not being consistent to our values whenever possible in foreign relations, weakens our application of those values at home. It takes away from us the best of who we are.

That does not mean that all of our standards apply, however. Terrorists, the states that support them and other foreign combatants are not accused criminals entitled to due process. They are not innocent until proven guilty. Not all international players are reasonable, unlike what France, Germany and the bureaucrats at the United Nations would have us believe. Some are downright nasty. Some players are not even recognized as players. They are pirates that are aided and abetted by nation states.

Iraq is one of those states. Iraq has defied the United Nations and the United States for almost 12 years. There is no doubt that Iraq has biological and chemical weapons. There is a reasonable possibility that they are close to having a nuclear weapon. There is no doubt that Saddam Huessin and his band of kleptocratic thugs have denied the Iraqi people all of the rights we as American citizens take for granted.

What drives our enemy? This is an essay in and of itself. It has been covered in depth by established bloggers. If you haven’t done so already, check out Steven Den Beste, Bill Whittle, and Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish. Call it “Islamofacism”, “Fundamentalist Islam”, or whatever. This is a war of opposing cultures. They hate us. They do not want to coexist with us. They want us – well not really us, but our way of life – gone.

After 9/11, I did not buy any bumper stickers, or fly flags off of my car. Overt displays of patriotism tend to make me nervous and distrustful. Displaying the symbols of freedom is an inexpensive substitute for putting something on the line to defend freedom. The time for bumper stickers and flags is over. The time for action is here. Let’s get on with it. But, let’s never forget who we are. We must go into this war with confidence, humility and resolve. We must never forget what we are fighting for, not just for America, but for all people who believe in the right of the individual to live his life by his own lights... the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.


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