Part 7:  12 December 2004 - June 2005

Part 1 (13 December 2001 - 16 May 2003); Part 2 (18 May 2003 - 30 June 2003); Part 3 (1 July 2003 - 2 December 2003); Part 4 (3 December 2003 - 29 January 2004); Part 5 (3 February 2004 - 17 April 2004); Part 6 (16 May 2004 - August 2004); Part 7 (12 December 2004 - June 2005)

 By Chris Matthew Sciabarra

Over the years, Chris Matthew Sciabarra participated in several Internet discussion forums, including several Objectivist lists (including The Atlantis Discussion List [ATL], Atlantis II, Mudita Forum, Objectivist Outcasts,  Philosophy of Objectivism List [OWL], Secular Individualism List, SOLO HQ, SOLO Yahoo Forum [SOLO], Starship Forum, among others), and lists devoted to Nathaniel Branden, F. A. Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, Karl Marx, psychology, Randian feminism, ifeminism, and so forth.  Below are a few posts from the various lists.

Table of Contents

Libertarians and Defense (March 2005)

Debating Iraq (12-22 December 2004)


(Atlantis II, posted throughout March 2005)

(Sun, 06 Mar 2005 13:59:27 -0500; under thread:  Re: Libertarians and Defense)

I'm not going to get drawn into another debate on this topic, which has been beaten to a bloody pulp. But this requires a response---even though I am, quite frankly, sick and tired, utterly fed up, with debating this issue.

R wrote: "True. But neither I nor Chris S. nor Tibor Machan nor many (most?) other libertarians have suggested appeasement."

And T responded: "Sure you have. You've all advocated giving the terrorist what they want: the US out of the Middle East. That's appeasement."

And W added: "RM, Chris S, et al, are more libertarian than Objectivist and that is why they don't get it. They need to go deeper, yet, they refuse to. It's a waste of time to debate them. On SOLOHQ their positions have been refuted."

A few comments:

1. You want the label "Objectivist," W: You can have it! I used to define my position as "Objectivist." I no longer do. I got tired of getting involved in quasi-religious debates about what it means to be a "True Objectivist." Everything that exists is something in particular. But I no longer recognize "Objectivism" for what I ~thought~ it was. Suffice it to say, I'm waiting for the pro-war contingent of "Objectivists" to "go deeper" and ~truly~ grasp Ayn Rand's critique of US foreign policy and of US political economy. If you'd like to label my position, other than calling it "wrong," I'll settle for "Randian" or "post-Randian" or better still, call me a "dialectical libertarian"---so that nobody will know what the hell you're talking about. But at least it's me.

2. My position has surely ~not~ be refuted on SOLO HQ or anywhere else for that matter. My position is not "antiwar" or "prowar" per se; it remains a full-bodied critique of the ~Iraq~ war and of US foreign policy, as well as a full-bodied critique of the internal ideological, religious, and politico-economic problems of the Muslim Middle East. These are problems that existed prior to US intervention, but that have been, in my view, ~exacerbated~ by US intervention, on balance. [Ironically, an Op-Ed at the Ayn Rand Institute site ("Bush's Betrayal of America") is closer to my position than that presented by some of the "Objectivists" that W might have in mind. See my post, "Changing Politics, Changing Culture."  

As for the Iraq war, we will not be able to assess the consequences of it for ~years~ to come, so debating the changing fortunes of the US operation on a day-to-day basis is, in my view, a ~waste of time~. The overwhelming majority of people who dug in their heels on this question have remained wedded to their positions and that's not likely to change.

3. If advocating military action against Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda and its supporters makes me an advocate of "appeasement," T, so be it. If viewing this as a grand cultural battle against the tide of religious irrationality at home ~and~ abroad makes me an advocate of "appeasement," so be it.

(Tue, 08 Mar 2005 05:21:00 -0500; posted to SOLO-HQ here)

I have a lot to say this morning. 

Given J's observations above, I thought it would benefit SOLO readers if I reproduce a couple of pages worth of commentary and quotes from a fine book by Robert Mayhew, entitled Ayn Rand and Song of Russia:  Communism and Anti-Communism in 1940s Hollywood.  In the book, Mayhew examines especially Rand's contentions with regard to World War II and US involvement.  Aside from amplifying points already made, my ulterior motive for posting this is to remind readers that one's opposition to US involvement in a war is not a sure sign of "anti-Americanism."  

In politics, especially for those of us who seek to transcend left and right, we will sometimes be put into categories that we share with the America-hating left or the religious-loving right.  But it doesn't mean that we are therefore "America-haters" or "whim worshippers."  Take the Iraq war as an example.  It is simply not the case that those of us who opposed the US invasion of Iraq were "Saddamites" all.  Are there those in the "antiwar" movement who had turned "a deaf ear" to the plight of Saddam Hussein's victims?  Are there those in the "antiwar" movement who are market-hating, reason-hating opponents of Western values? Yes to both questions.  

And there are those on the "pro-war" side of the divide whom I would not characterize as closet neo-Wilsonians or ex-Trotskyites---but to deny the presence of neoconservative ideologues among pro-war advocates is simply wrong.

Back in the days preceding World War II---the "Good War" of the "Greatest Generation"---there were plenty of America-lovers who opposed US entry for a variety of reasons.  Were some of the opponents of US entry Nazi sympathizers?  No doubt.  But to have painted all the opponents of US entry into WW2 as "Hitlerites" would have been wrong.

As I have already pointed out, Isabel Paterson was one of those who opposed US entry into WW2.  Paterson knew that there were a variety of pacifists and also Nazi sympathizers who opposed US entry into the war, but that didn't stop her from voicing her own objections.  And Paterson, like Rand, also knew that many Communists were pushing for America's entry into the European theater to aid the Soviet Union but that didn't stop either of them from recognizing the poison that was Nazi Germany.

I know L has no patience for those of us who like to dabble in nuance, those of the "yes, but..." crowd, who will always qualify an answer.  Read Rand's words below, and see the "yes, but..." approach in all its glory.  This is an Ayn Rand who was still questioning the wisdom of US WW2 policy for years after the end of that war.   From Robert Mayhew's book, Ayn Rand and Song of Russia:

Song of Russia made a small contribution toward (and is an excellent example of) the destructive alternative reality that was created in America, Europe, and around the world---a consequence of the idea that it was proper to lie about the nature of the Soviet Union since it helped defeat Nazi Germany.

Hand-in-hand with the alternative reality, supported by it, and equally destructive, was the idea that we should do anything to keep the Soviet Union as our ally against Hitler.  Aside from the impropriety and impracticality of lying to do so, was this in fact a good idea?  This is a complicated issue that cannot be sufficiently discussed here; instead, I'll simply present Ayn Rand's position, which unfortunately she did not share with the HUAC in 1947.  But first, the relevant exchange with Congressman Wood [before the House Un-American Activities Committee]:

Rand:  But if you want me to answer, I can answer, but it will take me a long time to say what I think, as to whether we should or should not have had Russia on our side in the war.  I can, but how much time will you give me?

Wood:  Well, do you say that it would have prolonged the war, so far as we were concerned, if they had been knocked out of it at that time?

Rand:  I can't answer that yes or no, unless you give me time for a long speech on it.

Wood:  Well, there is a pretty strong probability that we wouldn't have won it all, isn't there?

Rand:  I don't know, because on the other hand I think we could have used the lend-lease supplies that we sent there to much better advantage ourselves.

Wood:  Well, at that time---

Rand:  I don't know.  It is a question.

Wood:  We were furnishing Russia with all the lend-lease equipment that our industry would stand, weren't we?

Rand:  That is right.

Wood:  And continued to do it?

Rand:  I am not sure it was at all wise.  Now, if you want to discuss my military views---I am not an authority, but I will try.

Congressman Wood did not take her up on her offer.  But in the mid-1970s, Ayn Rand was asked about Lillian Hellman's Scoundrel Time and the resurgence of interest in the Hollywood blacklist.  As part of her answer, she gave a brief account of what she thought the American policy toward the Soviet Union should have been:

How many people died in this country, and in Russia or in Russian-occupied countries, because of Miss Hellman's ideas, God only knows.  Nobody could compute the evil of what those Communists in the 1930s did.  To begin with, they pushed this country into World War II.  What would have been a better policy?  Let Hitler march into Russia, as he had started to.  Let the two dictatorships fight each other, then the West---England, France, and the United States---should finish off the winner.  Then maybe, today, the world would be safe. (Except, of course, the ultimate safety of the world depends on philosophy, and nobody has the right ideas.)  People like Lillian Hellman were pushing the policy of this country to the left and in support of only one country---not the United States, but Soviet Russia.

It made no difference whether one supported our alliance with the Soviet Union because one admired the Soviets, as Hellman did, or on pragmatic grounds.  This policy, Rand believed, was wrong and destructive; it required that one accept or pretend to accept the alternative Soviet "reality."  The result was that Stalin and the Soviets were the big winners in World War II, whereas the people of Russia and Eastern Europe were the big losers.  This would not have been possible were it not for those who presented and pushed the Soviet Union---a la Song of Russia and Lillian Hellman---as a noble ally and savior.

But wherever one stands on the issue of the Soviet Union as an ally, Rand argued in 1947, lying to the American people is not justified:

We are discussing the fact that our country was an ally of Russia, and the question is:  what should we tell the American people about it---the truth or a lie?  If we had good reason, if that is what you believe, all right, then why not tell the truth?  Say it is a dictatorship, but we want to be associated with it.  Say it is worthwhile being associated with the devil, as Churchill said, in order to defeat another evil which is Hitler.  There might be some good argument made for that.  But why pretend Russia was not what it was?

This is a point that both the Left and the Right still do not get, namely, that neither the government nor anyone else should attempt to whitewash evil.  In the years since World War II, the Left has been willing to ignore the evils of leftist regimes around the world (in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, until the end, and in China and Cuba today, to give a few examples)---to pretend that they are what they are not---while supposedly being concerned about the suffering of humanity in places like South Africa, El Salvador, and the Philippines.  Similarly, the Right has been willing to ignore reality and whitewash dubious or evil regimes---to pretend that they are what they are not---in the name of combating Communism.  (A relevant example is President Reagan's support of the anti-Soviet Islamic "freedom fighters" in Afghanistan.)

Let's not forget that Rand found herself in a similar situation with regard to the Vietnam War---arguments for which continue to have a familiar ring.  Rand opposed US entry into Vietnam---but she believed that once the US was in that war, it faced a "Catch-22" situation.  "We have sacrificed thousands of American lives, and billions of dollars, to protect a primitive people who never had freedom, do not seek it, and, apparently, do not want it."  She knew that "the proclaimed purpose of the [Vietnam] war was not to protect freedom or individual rights, it was not to establish capitalism or any particular social system---it was to uphold the South Vietnamese right to 'national self-determination,' i.e., the right to vote themselves into any sort of system (including communism, as American propagandists kept proclaiming)."  Rand knew that principled statesmen did not exist, but that if such did exist in America, the enunciation of a "radically different foreign policy," coupled necessarily with a radically different domestic one, could have made possible immediate withdrawal:  "On such a policy, we could withdraw from Vietnam at once and the withdrawal would not be misunderstood by anyone, and the world would have a chance to achieve peace."

And let's not forget Rand's own lamentation about a century of warfare:

There still are people in this country who lost loved ones in World War I. There are more people who carry the unhealed wounds of World War II, of Korea, of Vietnam. There are the disabled, the crippled, the mangled of those wars' battlefields. No one has ever told them why they had to fight nor what their sacrifices accomplished; it was certainly not "to make the world safe for democracy"---look at that world now. The American people have borne it all, trusting their leaders, hoping that someone knew the purpose of that ghastly devastation. The United States gained nothing from those wars, except the growing burden of paying reparations to the whole world---the kind of burden that used to be imposed on a defeated nation.

I've argued over many of the above points for years now---and I am not looking to re-open debate.  What I have done here, however, is to present a more three-dimensional picture---courtesy of Robert Mayhew and Ayn Rand---of Rand's own opposition to US policy from World War II to Vietnam.  As an aside, however, let me say that many of us here, myself included, advocated a "commensurate counter-attack" (in the words of Isabel Paterson) against the forces of Islamic terrorism responsible for the barbarism of 9/11, and a wider cultural war against the forces of irrationality both at home and abroad.  Our opposition to the US entry into the Iraq theater, however, is on a par with Paterson's and Rand's own opposition to the US entry into the European theater of WW2; if we are "Saddamites," I see no way of avoiding the characterization of Paterson and Rand as "Hitlerites."  Or "Ho Chi Minh-ites" for that matter.

To bring this back to the subject at hand, Murray Rothbard:   Rothbard, like Rand, opposed US entry into virtually all 20th century wars.  Most assuredly, his approach differed from that of Rand, but I don't think one can make a sweeping generalization about his attitudes as "anti-American."  He was as concerned as Rand was about the counter-productive foreign policies which emboldened the enemies of freedom both at home and abroad; he was as concerned as Rand was about the intimate connection between foreign and domestic policy (as Rand put it:  "Foreign policy is merely a consequence of domestic policy").  His political attitudes emerged from the same loosely-defined "Old Right" intellectual tradition from which Rand herself learned much (a tradition that included thinkers such as Isabel Paterson, Rand's political "mentor" and John T. Flynn---whose work Rand and her Objectivist associates cited approvingly).

Finally, on a personal note, I can agree wholeheartedly with MH, who remembers the encouragement and intellectual nourishment that Rothbard gave to so many of us who were budding intellectual "freedom fighters"---regardless of how much we came to accept or reject his perspective, in total, or in part.

(Wed, 09 Mar 2005 20:46:50 -0500)

T, you wrote: "But you don't advocate military action against all of the supporters of Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda, Chris, because you opposed military action against Saddam Hussein, one of their biggest supporters, and you don't support military action against Iran, Syria, and the other States that support Al Qaeda. Exactly who are these mythical 'supporters' of Al Qaeda against whom you advocate military action?"

I advocated military action against Afghanistan because Al Qaeda was practically the military arm of the Taliban. I was not persuaded that Hussein had formal operational ties with Al Qaeda, and I'm still not persuaded that there were such ties. We went through that debate months ago, and I'm not going to revisit it again. It is also not my understanding that Shi'ite-dominated Iran and Ba'athist-dominated Syria have those kinds of formal ties either. Perhaps with ~other~ terrorist organizations, specifically those involved more deeply in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, but not with ~Al Qaeda~ formally.

As poisonous as fundamentalist Islam is, and as poisonous as the phenomenon of "Al Qaeda-ism" is---and it ~is~ poisonous---I do not believe that Islam itself is a monolith, and I believe it is possible to exploit the internal divisions in the same way that it was possible to exploit the differences within Cold War Communism (e.g., Sino-Soviet conflict, etc.). In any event, the US government can use a variety of tools at its disposal to disrupt and marginalize terrorist networks, both financial and military, contain potential threats and nuclear proliferation, and strike out against known terrorist camps---all short of the outright invasion and occupation of the entire Middle East, which your approach would seem to dictate. In the long run, I am not a believer in "nation-building" and I don't believe the US government should be involved in ~anything~ other than the protection of the life, liberty, and property of American citizens.

But, T.. with all due respect... I just don't see the utility of playing-out this debate again. I think we both ~should~ know where the other guy stands at this point.

(Fri, 11 Mar 2005 10:09:05 -0500)

T, I plastered tons of links on Atlantis II ~months~ ago that clearly and concisely answered your charges of a Hussein-Al Qaeda link. It's not that I "refused to consider the evidence"---it's that the evidence was not at all persuasive for the kind of link you claim existed. These issues are nicely handled by Jonathan Rick in his thesis-work-in-progress, "An Analysis of the Antebellum Evidence for Saddam Hussein's Collaboration with Terrorists and His Deterrability":  The important thing about Rick's work is that it is not "Monday morning quarterbacking." It is based on the evidence that was available ~at the time~... prior to the US invasion.

As for the Iranian and Syrian brokering of terror: There have been deep documented, shifting divisions between the governments of those countries and Bin Laden's Al Qaeda. Nothing approaching a formal alliance, as was found between Al Qaeda and the Taliban. As for Hezbollah, yes, you're right, those countries have a close relationship with it, but ~~Hezbollah did not attack the United States on 9/11~~. This is the same Hezbollah, btw, that the US is now courting in Lebanon

Yesterday's "terrorists" become today's "allies"; today's "allies" become tomorrow's "terrorists." And so on and so on and so on. That's what happens when philosophical pragmatism guides political decisions.

I must confess that I'm in a particularly interesting "bind" with regard to the "antiwar" and "prowar" sides of this debate. As much as I criticize the neoconservatives, I do believe that they have their finger on one important factor: There needs to be a radical transformation in the Middle East, not only with regard to political institutions, but, more importantly, with regard to Arab-Islamic culture. I've written about this for a long time; most recently on:

Islam and Democracy


Islam and Pluralism (with lots of subsidiary links therein)

So, one of the questions is: How best to affect that kind of transformation? I'm inclined to believe that the answer varies contextually from one country to the next. The point, however, is that it is simply not in the US government's power to create a Brave New Democratic World. Nor should that be the guiding principle of US foreign policy.

Finally, I do not have a "methodology of denial." What I do have, however, is an eye on the long-term consequences of US foreign and military policy decisions ~in this particular, ever-changing context~. I evaluate every action the US takes with the same two questions Rand asked about ethics: Of value to whom and for what?

There have been plenty of times in US history where some "things are progressing nicely"---and then, the situation deteriorates because policy-makers didn't have the foresight to think beyond a six-month period at a time, or beyond the next election. In any event, I find it difficult to evaluate the current situation without an eye toward those very long-term consequences that I mention above. That's why I opposed the Iraq war, btw: not because I had any desire to morally legitimate the despotic Hussein regime, but because I didn't want the US government to sacrifice the lives of American soldiers on the battlefield---over 1500 dead and over 35,000 medical evacuations so far---to negotiate among the violent tribal divisions in that country.

Right now, I can only hope for the best as Iraq moves toward some kind of representative model, even though such a model, in that context, might very well lead to a more theocratic-friendly majoritarian Shi'ite government with closer geopolitical ties to the mullahs of Iran, who are not exactly on my list of cultural heroes. Other than that, you won't get a military map from me. I don't have access to all the intelligence necessary to make genuinely informed military or diplomatic decisions. From what I ~see~, I think the Bush administration has done a relatively effective job of targeting many financial networks that were feeding into Al Qaeda coffers---from Yemeni clerics and mosques in Brooklyn to organizations overseas. What is needed, too, is a vast reconstruction of the intelligence community, with an emphasis on placing human intelligence in lethal situations among Al Qaeda and associated terrorist organizations that are an immediate threat to American lives, liberty, and property.

Long-term, I advocate a vastly different US foreign policy, as you might have guessed. But I also know that this is a pipe dream, because domestic and foreign policy are reciprocally interconnected, and it is only with a transformation in the whole of US political economy that fundamentally different policies will be pursued. So, in the meantime, I can only pray that subtle shifts will take place over time to improve the current situation. I certainly don't want to see another attack on the city in which I live. I lost too many people that I knew on 9/11.

It is very easy to get sucked into this give-and-take. I'm guilty of doing it... again. And I do appreciate your willingness to engage on this issue. Americans ~are~ in a "Fight for Liberty"---but I think we have different views of the kinds of threats that Americans face at home and abroad. And I don't see how you and I will ever really agree on this issue, fundamentally. But, who knows? Maybe someday, we'll surprise each other. :)

(Fri, 11 Mar 2005 15:49:44 -0500)

Rick's paper was based on material available only ~before~ the invasion---the material that policymakers relied on in order to make decisions with regard to the question: To invade or not to invade? Jon Rick purposely did ~not~ look at the post-war "evidence" because that "evidence" wasn't available at the time policymakers were pushing this country into a war with Iraq.

The post-war "evidence" that you point to, however, is still not convincing, and it didn't convince the 9/11 commission either. And if the Bush administration was so successful in correcting "the intelligence services' credibility rating system" in the post-9/11 period, where in Christ's name are the alleged Weapons of Mass Destruction that were supposedly in Iraq---one of the prime reasons they took this country to war? I accepted the evidence of a Al Qaeda-Taliban link because it was clear and unequivocal; I would not endorse invading a country and occupying it on the kind of "evidence" that was assembled by the Bush administration to invade and occupy Iraq.

As for the evidence that ~you~ accept: It seems to come from the same authors over and over again; it's evidence mustered to prove a case that they already seem to accept. And, I'm sorry, T: There is NO evidence that Hezbollah attacked the US on 9/11. But even if, for sake of argument, I have "no way of knowing that"---I would not therefore endorse an invasion of all countries currently in bed with Hezbollah because of it. On that "principle," I have no way of knowing that China, India, and Russia weren't involved either: So let's invade them too!

You also keep pointing to post-WW II Germany and Japan any time we discuss Iraq, and the cases are simply not comparable, historically or contextually. I have written ~thousands~ of words on this topic and I'm not about to start beating that dead horse again. And the Communist bloc was liberated not by invasion and occupation, but by the collapse of a corrupt, bankrupt system.

You write: "You should ask yourself who the beneficiaries are of denying that the US ought to democratize Middle Eastern dictatorships that breed terrorists."

Terrorism against the U.S. has not been bred out of the blue, simply because democracies don't exist in the Middle East; lots of nondemocratic societies exist around the world---but not all of them are targeting American citizens. Yes, the problems in the Middle East are partially an outgrowth of undemocratic, antiliberal fanatical ideology quite apart from the US role in the Middle East. But that ideology has been directed ~against~ the US because of contradictory ~policies~ that the US has pursued in the Middle East. I know you don't accept that... so we are at an impasse.

You write: "You, along with most critics of the War on Terror, claim to know enough to know that current US policy is wrong, but not enough to know what US policy would be right." No, actually what I claim to know is this: Quite apart from advocating necessary military actions to neutralize imminent threats to this country's security, I don't have the audacity to try to centrally plan a New Democratic Order for tribalist societies that have few of the cultural prerequisites for the establishment of liberal democracy. I am all for doing whatever is necessary to encourage the growth of liberal-democratic institutions in nonliberal societies (and sometimes that means ~not getting involved in those societies~), but that is primarily a function of cultural and economic exchange, not warfare.

A little humility might go a long way in this context.

(Sat, 12 Mar 2005 11:44:54 -0500; under thread: "Impasse-able")


And that's what it is, I'm sorry to say. We all keep coming back to this car wreck of a discussion... because, well, it just seems to be what happens when you're on the cyber-highway. You slow up, and you look. Sometimes, you get out, thinking you could help. But no matter how many car wrecks you see---it's all the same. Flairs-a-burnin'. Ambulances. People hurt.

I'm just going to keep riding down the highway at this point, but I'm ~certain~ I'll be back. The new JARS is due out in a few days, and I have massive work to do in prep for advertising, web updates, and such---Atlantis II will be targeted for marketing by Monday, I'm sure---not to mention about 15 articles that I have to write, most of them on deadline. UGH!!!

But even if I had the time to respond, I really do think we're at an impasse---and will continue to talk over each other's heads on this question I do have to give "props" to TS, however. There are few people in this world that I know who will surround themselves with critics, and who will keep coming back for more. Some people have accused ~me~ of being a masochist when I do a comparable thing in such forums as SOLOHQ, which is kind of like an Inverted Atlantis II. Far more pro-Iraq war advocates there, and the critics are in a minority.

It's not that I don't think this endless debate is interesting, T; it's just that I feel we keep saying the ~same~ things over and over again, maybe in slightly different form along the way. But when you get to the bottom line, there you are, and here I am... no matter what I say about "evidence" or "cultural prerequisites" or "history" or the Russian case, or WMDs "transferred" to Lebanon, or Iran, or Timbuktu, it will be met by 1001 objections... and we'll still be in the same place. (But I can't resist: check this page, which I like to refer to, for loads of links offering what I believe is actual ~evidence~ of an Al Qaeda-Taliban link)

Okay, okay, I'LL STOP. I promise. I just feel like a TS addict. I need to go into recovery. I'll come back for my dose of this at some point. Because Jeffo is right when he writes...



(Tue, 15 Mar 2005 09:14:40 -0500; under thread: "Impasse-able")

In response to my mention of lots of work to do, and my comment that Roger B. has lots of work to do too, Jeffo writes: "Right. Next you two will claim to need time for friends, mowing the lawn, attending your wife or loved ones' birthdays, and even going to work. Give me a friggin' break. Your participation here is no laughing matter -- certainly not something you can brush aside with such inconsequentials. You both have an egoistic requirement to set aside your own lives and serve our needs here, so let's hop to it. :-( Jeffo"


Well, Jeffo... I'll pause briefly for my S Fix. Trying hard to go into recovery, but with this "Dare-Double Dare" thing at work... I will respond to a few of the points below.

1. T asks: "Are you saying that there's nothing that could change your mind?" Not at all; I actually have changed my mind about a lot of things over the years (capital punishment comes to mind, among other issues). D says I need to go study some declassified documents to learn about military strategy---so I suppose I have work to do. :) Truth is, though, my comments earlier about a lack of access to military intelligence was just my way of saying that I couldn't draw you a map of military "targets"---something that, it seemed, you were asking me to do---though I am perfectly willing to concede that there are, indeed, "targets" requiring attention. It's just a question of who, what, where, when, and how---and of assessing the value ("to whom and for what") of any given military, political, or diplomatic action.

2. T asks: "Very good. Now, what is it about those sources and that evidence that you find convincing, but is lacking when it comes to the sources and evidence for the Saddam-Osama Pact?" I suppose what it comes down to is this: I don't find much, if any, evidence that brings into question the Al Qaeda-Taliban relationship. I'd say that there is a preponderance of evidence here... no, more: an overwhelming number of complementary sources that confirm the evidence of an Al Qaeda-Taliban relationship. Virtually all of the evidence from sources A, B, and C, in other words, reciprocally reinforces the evidence from sources D, E, and F. And so on.

So, it's not that I ~don't~ believe the sources and evidence for a Saddam-Osama Pact; it's that there are many ~countervailing~ sources that bring that evidence into question. It's not as clear-cut to me that there was any kind of formal relationship at work here. And clearly, I'm not alone; I know you have a problem with the 9/11 Commission, but that commission, and many other sources, have questioned any kind of "formal" or "collaborative" or "operational" link between the two. Yes, there were some Ba'athist-Al Qaeda meetings, but I don't believe that they rose to the level of a "pact." I suspect that, over the years, there have also been "meetings" between Al Qaeda officials and officials of the governments of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia (the latter being the ~country~ from which Bin Laden and his cronies emerged)---but those countries are US "allies," and the Bush administration is not calling for their invasion and occupation.

BTW, while I'm on the subject, I forwarded to Jon Rick, your comments on Atlantis II. Jon responds here. PLEASE DO NOT SHOOT THE MESSENGER. :) If you'd like to respond to Jon, I'll be happy to forward your comments to him. Here's what Jon has to say (in the T: J: dialogue format):


J: T, Chris forwarded me an excerpt of your reply.

T: Sorry, but I find it unconvincing, precisely because it does not include the additional evidence that has come to light since Saddam's overthrow.

J: Of course it doesn't! That's why I include the word "antebellum" in my title. The whole point of my thesis is to address what we knew before the war. Regarding the evidence as a result of the war, how about this nugget: On July 2, 2003, U.S. forces arrested Ani in Iraq. Ani denied meeting Atta. See

"Iraq Notebook," Seattle Times, July 9, 2003;

Vernon Loeb and John Mintz, "Iraqi Who Might Have Met with 9/11 Hijacker Is Captured," Washington Post, July 9, 2003. < >;

"Iraqi, Possibly Tied To 9/11, Is Captured," New York Times, July 9, 2003;

Dana Priest and Glenn Kessler, "Iraq, 9/11 Still Linked by Cheney," Washington Post, September 29, 2003;

Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball, "Case Decidedly Not Closed," Newsweek Web, November 19, 2003.

T: For instance, the documents captured from the Iraqi embassy in Prague include a diary entry confirming Mohammed Atta's meeting with Al Ani shortly before 9/11. Intelligence history and journalist Joseph Epstein has written about this, but it is not included in Rick's paper.

J: You got this from Ed Epstein, right? Not the most reliable source, this conspiracy theorist. Nonetheless, provide me a URL or a citation, and I'll look into it.

T: (Nor is anything from Bodansky's books about Osama Bin Laden and the Iraq war, nor Roland Jacquard's book about Osama Bin Laden. The names of those authors don't even appear in his paper.)

J: Again, cite something specific (with page numbers preferably) and I'll investigate.

T: However, the most fundamental problem with Rick's paper is his method, which is to simply quote a rebutting authority against every single piece of evidence presented supporting the Saddam-Osama Pact - "X says A, but Y says B." For him to automatically take the denials and rejections of the evidence to trump the assertions is for him to prejudge his case and automatically take the deniers and rejecters to be of higher credibility than the asserters - but there is no sound epistemological basis for that a priori assumption.

J: This sounds nice in the abstract, but, again, point to something specific.

T: [Re] the DoD's "non-denial denial" about the evidence in the Feith memo that was revealed by Stephen Hayes. The DoD merely said that the information in it was not new, and that the DoD had not confirmed that raw intel data. So what? That doesn't mean that the intel data was inaccurate or false.

J: Hayes alleges that Atta had also visited Prague in December 1994 and October 1999. But, as I explain in the footnote, as of the eve of the war, the mainstream press-the sole source of information for the American public and this section of my thesis-corroborated neither the '94 nor '99 meeting. Further, while you're right about the DoD memo (see for a summary of the arguments for and against), Newsweek demolishes it; see Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball, "Case Decidedly Not Closed," Newsweek Web, November 19, 2003.

T: Those rebuttal experts can be generally impugned on another ground as well: most of them come either from the Clinton-era NSC (like Benjamin), the FBI, the CIA, or the State Department. Those are precisely the bureaucracies that HAD evidence indicating that an attack by Al Qaeda was in the works before 9/11, but failed to assign the sources of that evidence high enough credibility to put the US national security services on the alert before 9/11 so as to give us a chance of thwarting the attacks. The credibility rating system they use failed miserably, as was proven by how the 9/11 attacks were completely unexpected by those bureaucracies. Yet that is the exact same rating system they use to give low credibility ratings to the evidence for the Saddam-Osama Pact. (George Friedman makes this point well in his book, "America's Secret War.") The Bush administration correctly realized that the intelligence services' credibility rating system was broken, and that all intelligence about threats to the US including those from Iraq needed to be re-evaluated. The Clinton-Era holdovers in the CIA, FBI, NSC, and State Departments stuck to the credibility rating system they had staked their careers on. That re-evaluation of the evidence indicated that Iraq was more of a threat than had been previously thought, thus making it a high-priority target for accelerated regime change.

J: You'll need to be clearer and more succinct; I don't know what you're saying. Nonetheless, I suspect that my 55th-57th footnotes are relevant. Jonathan Rick


Finally, T, I have a question for you. Many list members believe that you have sold out your principles for pragmatism. I'd like to quote something from Ayn Rand and ask how you'd defend against the charge that you've sacrificed principle in all this. Let's say the US brings "democracy" to the Middle East---or, at least, "procedural democracy" (which is not equivalent to a "free society")---and this task, in the end, requires invasions and occupations that slaughter 100,000+ foreign nationals, not to mention the deaths of thousands of American troops, and the maiming of tens of thousands more who return home, missing limbs and/or a few marbles too. Let's say this task requires massive deficits at home, and maybe, just maybe, a return to military conscription. The point is: How far are you willing to go in defending the ultimate "goal"---of bringing "democracy" to the Middle East?

Here's Rand: "The end does not justify the means. No one's rights can be secured by the violation of the rights of others ("The Cashing-In"). ... There is no dichotomy, no necessary conflict between ends and means. The end does ~not~ justify the means---neither in ethics nor in esthetics. And neither do the means justify the end ... the end and the means ... must be worthy of each other ("The Goal of My Writing")."

(Thu, 17 Mar 2005 09:45:51 -0500; under thread Re: Impasse-able)

T, I've forwarded your comments to Jon, and will forward any reply to the list.

On the notion of an alleged Saddam-Osama Pact, you write: "Saying that the contrary sources 'bring that evidence into question; is not the same as those sources actually refuting that evidence. From what I've seen, all the deniers and rejecters of the evidence for the Saddam-Osama Pact merely engage in ad hominem attacks on the sources of that evidence and criticize the evidence for it for being incomplete. They do not actually bring up evidence that actually refutes the Saddam-Osama Pact." I do not believe that they are engaged in ad hominem attacks; just a cursory look at the links provided shows that very reasonable doubts have been cast on the truth-content of this "evidence."

But what is remarkable to me is the following: If the Saddam-Osama Pact has been offered as ~one~ reasonable rationale for going to war, isn't it best to have the positive statement examined from every vantage point so as to assess its truth-content? You're asking people to ~die~ partially for the ~truth~ of that statement; subjecting it to criticism and discussion is imperative.

Secondly, why is it that the Bush administration itself has not picked up the mantle of the Hayes thesis and run with it? Not even the Bushies feel confident in the idea of a formal "Saddam-Osama Pact." So, no, my method is not skepticism per se; it's calling for a fundamental rule of logic: The onus of proof is on the person who asserts the positive. Like in any jury trial, we go in with the assumption of non-guilt; the proof of guilt is something that must be demonstrated. And, I'd say, in the case of war, it better be demonstrated beyond a reasonable doubt (like, say, the relationship between Al Qaeda and the Taliban). I'm not suggesting that it must be demonstrated beyond ~all~ doubt. I'm not suggesting that people need to be "sitting ducks" for an imminent nuclear attack while the jury is out deliberating. I'm just saying that the reasons (WMDs, Saddam-Osama Pact) provided for the Iraq war were not demonstrated beyond a reasonable doubt. And I say that as one who actually ~accepted~ the notion, prior to the invasion, that Saddam Hussein ~may~ have been in possession of some weapons---but that any threats posed by the Hussein regime could have been contained. And, no, I'm not going to re-play ~that~ debate.

Note what I am ~not~ saying: I am ~not~ saying that Saddam Hussein had any moral legitimacy as a leader or that the destruction of his regime was immoral. What I am saying is that the reasons provided for the war were questionable prior to the US invasion, and they have still not been proven beyond a reasonable doubt. The WMDs are not there and I agree with the 9/11 Commission that any alleged "Saddam-Osama Pact," did not rise to the level of a formal, collaborative, operational relationship.

As to the issue of Rand and Soviet Russia: Rand may have made that comment somewhere (perhaps in a Q&A, though I do not find it in any of her published comments or in any of her journals, letters, etc.), but her overall view of the threat posed by the Soviet Union is fairly well documented. You can reject, repudiate, or otherwise criticize those views, but they were her views.

(Thu, 17 Mar 2005 22:30:07 -0500; under thread Re: Impasse-able)

I think that going to war is serious business, T, as I'm sure you would agree. When I say that the ~reasons for war~ must "be demonstrated beyond a reasonable doubt," I don't think it is a bad analogy. Not when one is advocating a military action to either retaliate against the initiation of force or to preempt an imminent attack. In the case of retaliation, it's important to get down to the bottom of who initiated force so that the retaliatory actions are directed at the ~actual criminals~ (be they part of a gang or a foreign government). In the case of preemption, it is vital to the credibility of the military action to demonstrate that threat conclusively.

The standards that you criticize with regard to Hussein apply to ~his~ crimes against the Iraqi people, ~not~ to the alleged reasons for which the US went to war. The US went to war ~not~ to liberate the Iraqi people, but because Iraq, we were told, posed a distinct, "grave" and "gathering" threat to US security. We were being told of nuclear weapons, chemical weapons, and biological weapons; we were being told of terror networks and Al Qaeda alliances. "Regime change" was only a means to an end, and the end was disarming a ~grave threat~ --- a threat that, in the end, was overblown, in my view.

"Probable cause" is just not enough; it wasn't enough when the US went to war on December 8, 1941, or when the US blockaded Cuba in 1962. In the first instance, the evidence pointed quite plainly to a Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor; in the second instance, the evidence overwhelmingly demonstrated offensive nuclear weapons installations 90 miles from US shores. A high standard must be met if you are advocating the commitment of thousands of troops to fight and die on foreign soil.

Finally, I'm aware of Rand's view on the permissibility of overthrowing dictatorships, but, ironically, she ~never~ advocated overthrowing Nazi Germany, or Soviet Russia, in her lifetime. She opposed US entry into the European theater of WW II, as my links documented, and at the height of the Cold War, she opposed the wars in Korea and Vietnam. Disagree with her, if you will, but she was not one to endorse "wars of liberation" or wars "to make the world safe for democracy."

Note that in my last post, however, I, myself, did ~not~ question the ~permissibility~ or ~morality~ of destroying the brutal Hussein regime. However, to the extent that the US government is charged with the obligation of defending the lives, liberties, and property of its own citizens (and I'll leave it to you anarchists to debate that proposition), its sole criterion of military action must be: Does said action serve that end? My argument, from the beginning, has been that such military action in Iraq was not necessary to that end---and that, in the long-run, it would involve the US in an enterprise that would actually ~undermine~ that end.

(Sat, 19 Mar 2005 11:57:39 -0500; under thread Re: Impasse-able)

T, I believe I did respond to your issues; I just think you've created a very loose criterion for military action, and I think the "evidentiary threshold" ~should~ be high when advocating such action.

I have to confess I'm not quite sure what "preventive war" is; it sounds like an oxymoron to me. Yes, I know what it suggests: launching a war that will prevent a larger conflict at a later date. But I think that the moment the Bush administration started talking about "grave and gathering" threats---skating on the thin ice of "imminent threat"---we were going into "preemptive" territory. In principle, I have no problem with advocating the launching of a preemptive attack when a threat is imminent or even pretty close to imminent (which is close enough in the nuclear age).

But, at first, very little of Bush's reasoning for war had to do with liberating or democratizing Iraq; that has now become ~the~ central reason, it appears, at considerable cost: 1500+ US dead, 30,000+ US medical evacuations, and God-knows-how-many Iraqi dead---estimates range between 18,000 and 100,000, which brings a little irony to T's statement that "If the US did nothing, many Iraqis (at least) were likely to be killed..." I suppose some will decide the long-term value of this war by weighing the number of bodies on each side of the scales of justice.

As for this democratic nation-building Crusade, I'm with neocon Charles Krauthammer on this point (thanks to Atrios for the link: ). On the face of it, I am happy that Iraqis are exercising the franchise today, but "one man, one vote" is not the be-all and end-all of political principles (especially when the majority of voters may very well vote themselves into theocratic slavery). Here's what Charlie the K had to say back in 1993, when he stated that "Democracy is not a suicide pact":

"Are we not violating the very tenets of democracy that are supposed to be the moral core of American foreign policy? No. Because democracy does not mean one man, one vote, one time. In the German elections of 1932 and 1933, the Nazis won more votes than any other party. We know what they did with the power thus won. Totalitarians are perfectly capable of achieving power through democracy, then destroying it. Moreover, democracy does not just mean elections. It also means constitutionalism -- the limitation of state power -- in political life, and tolerance and pluralism in civic life. ... "

In any event, since this is the anniversary of the invasion, it's interesting to re-read Bush's 2003 State of the Union:  

Finally, just a quick note from Jon Rick:

>>re (1) postwar evidence (2) from the U.S. government, according to <>, both a Justice Department review <> and the Senate Intelligence Committee <> found that "the [Atta-Ani] meeting likely never took place."<<

(Sat, 19 Mar 2005 13:42:09 -0500; under thread: Re: Cancer Analogy)

D writes: "The decision to go to war is a decision to engage in politics by other means. ... There are many kinds of terrorists in many locations with many varying levels of capabilities. In health care there are many kinds of tumors in many locations with varying rates of spread and varying capacities to endanger life. Cancer specialists seek the best solution given the existing situation. ... WoMD in the hands of terrorists are a like a whole range of various kinds of tumors in various locations. Fear of doctors is understandable. Fear of the political/military arena is understandable. There is no simple statement or set of statements that will tell you the best course of action in every case in advance. ... What is the set of principles involved? Like medical intervention we do the best we can and learn from what was done in the past. It is an evolving science. Freezing it in stone at any given level of understanding does no one any good."

For the record, I find it very hard to disagree with D on his "Cancer Analogy." In the short-run, he's right: We need to "seek the best solution given the existing situation." In the long-run, however, there is no substitute for a cancer cure, or for a way of preventing cancer altogether.

Until that day, "vigilance" is the best policy---as long as we understand that some cancer "treatments" are worse than the disease, since they kill both the tumor ... and the patient.

(Mon, 21 Mar 2005 18:13:54 -0500; under the thread: Re: Impasse-able)

T, clearly what I've suggested does not entail military paralysis. Based on the high standards that I articulated, I advocated a military response in Afghanistan, given the extensive evidence for the incestuous ties between Al Qaeda and the Taliban, and the extensive evidence for Al Qaeda's attack on 9/11. I have also argued that if the information is clear (as in the Cuban Missile Crisis), it is appropriate to take preemptive military actions.

On the Iraq war and the Crusade for Democracy: I did ~not~ claim that democratization was ~absent~ as a reason for overthrowing Saddam Hussein. That may have been a "necessary" argument, but it was not a ~sufficient~ reason to mount an invasion; it was the emphasis on threatening WMDs and the links to terrorism that was the central thrust of the Bush drive toward war. I do not believe that Bush would have ever gotten electoral support for the invasion if it were based solely on a desire for regime change and Iraqi democratization. These were always defended by administration officials as a means to the end of American security.

As for Iraqi casualties... I cited a very wide range of numbers. Either way, ~thousands~ of Iraqis have died in this conflict, especially now that insurgents are trying to foment a civil war.

To your claim that "a stable free-market democracy in Iraq will probably have a vastly lower death toll," all I can say is: From your lips to Allah's ears. And I don't mean that sarcastically.

That's all folks, for now. I'm sure we'll have more to say in time.

(Tue, 22 Mar 2005 09:19:29 -0500; under the thread:  Re: Impasse-able)

I thought we were arguing about the decision to ~go to war~. Sometimes it appears that people are arguing over the decision to go into a particular ~battle~. I have never presumed that I know as much as the "experts" or the generals on the ground, who face the shifting contexts of battle to direct what should be done in those kinds of situations.

During all this time, when I've spoken about evidence that is "beyond a reasonable doubt," I've spoken about the overall decision to go to ~war~. In any number of circumstances, people on the ground will take actions based on reasonable suspicion, a preponderance of the evidence at hand, and so forth. But I was talking about the ~case for war~. That's a very different proposition, involving the whole of a country's resources and energy, leading to great, irreversible sacrifices.

Surely D is right that there are a "multitude of variables leading to war [which] form a chaotic non-linear evolving process." But I don't see why this necessitates an abdication of the responsibility for making an airtight case for going to war. I can appreciate an emphasis on the necessity for specialists to decide what to do in specific circumstances, e.g., how to neutralize an apparent military threat. But even in a situation of "technocratic" rule by "experts"---not all experts agree. And they certainly did ~not~ agree about Iraq.

Moreover, we all know about ~government~ experts. And we also know that there are many "experts" who are funded by organizations with "interests." The Founders certainly understood this. One might assume too, on a list such as this, that there is a general libertarian suspicion of government action. Why is it that so many, who are so suspicious of a government that presumes to know enough to regulate every aspect of your domestic life, seem to give that same government a free pass the moment our attention turns global?

I don't think any of us is disputing the non-initiation principle, the need for the retaliatory use of force, or the need for preemption in certain circumstances. What we've been disputing is the ~evidence~ for acting or not acting in the case of Iraq.

There are reasons that the Founders instituted a constitutional, federal system of separation of powers and checks-and-balances: To frustrate the aggrandizement of power, and the kinds of imperial decision-making that had dominated Old Europe. The history of the US has largely been an evolution away from the Founders' system. That doesn't mean that we need to chuck whatever is left of the deliberative process by which we assess evidence in any decision to go to war.

In presenting that decision to the world, there are, as C points out, "public" reasons that may be quite different from those reasons accepted privately by the decision-makers. How many Pentagon Papers do we need to read to know that government officials present a "public" picture very different from the "private" world they inhabit? All the more reason to be ~very~ concerned and ~very~ skeptical about the "why" of it all. George Friedman may very well be correct about the underlying reasons for the war in Iraq---and we can legitimately debate the appropriateness of those reasons. I, personally, appreciate the importance of containment, but I believe that containment was possible ~without~ the invasion and occupation of Iraq, and the many problems that has now generated.

But here is the point: We can't assume that the administration could have done this or that ~better~, necessarily. We can't assume that "experts" will simply make the right decisions; for one, they are not all-knowing, and, two, they are not in control of a fully efficacious political process, that is, a political process that will bring about the desired effects with few or no unintended consequences. Speaking of "chaotic," and "nonlinear" ...

Virtually all political decision-making in a complex mixed-politico-economic system is ad hoc; it creates a dynamic that "undermine[s] its own credibility"; ~most~ political decision-making ~stumbles~ "through a series of untenable and incoherent justifications for its actions until the political foundations of its ... plans have been undermined." The stumbling is partially a result of the relationship not only between "public" persona and "private" reasoning, but between "public" institutions and "private" interest groups, each of which vies for a part of the decision-making process. This is among the reasons why, in the domestic realm, every government intervention seems to create the political need for further intervention. The principle is no different in the realm of foreign affairs. The principle does not cease its applicability at the nation's borders.

In the end, it is appropriate to question the "real" reasons for going to war, as Friedman does, and this clearly does ~not~ turn those of us who question them into "Bush-bashing conspiratorialists." That's why we need to address ~all~ the evidence that is available, including evidence external to that presented by government "experts," in assessing the case for ~war~.

I do not believe that the evidence supported the case for war in Iraq. We can debate that proposition for the next 20 years, and if we're to judge by Atlantis II, clearly we are well on our way!

All that matters now is the reality that currently exists---and how to manage it. Just be aware of the fact that the same stumbling, chaotic, nonlinear political dynamic exists and will continue to exist, and any assessment of how to "manage" the current situation must take into account the "stumbling" that is endemic to the process.

(Tue, 22 Mar 2005 10:01:56 -0500; under the thread:  Re: Impasse-able)

D wrote: "As Saddam demonstrated it is easy to employ the tactic of making sure sure the Western world cannot make an airtight case for anything. Introducing uncertainty is a tactic of war as old as war itself. Our allies enabled Saddam in his efforts to interject uncertainly for the very purpose of keeping the critics of war inflamed. Saddam's tactic worked very well on the left and the libertarian elements of American society. It bought him time and allowed him to bypass sanctions. As soon as the sanctions were entirely lifted the paper trail shows he intended to go on a WoMD building spree. Airtight case - unlikely in most situations."

D, "airtight" doesn't mean "omniscient"; it is embedded in a specific context of knowledge. And what Hussein "intended," and what actually was, are two entirely different things. Basing war-making on the possible future "intentions" of despots (presuming such "intentions" could be guessed) would require the United States to invade every country ruled by a despot---just to make sure.

(Tue, 22 Mar 2005 10:39:01 -0500; under the thread: Re: Impasse-able)

D writes: "'Require' to invade is contextually incorrect. Threat assessment is a regular part of military strategy. Putting the unsupported idea of attacking every country ruled by a despot on the table has nothing to do with anything but a scare tactic thrown up by opponents of intervention."

It may have "nothing to do with anything"---but it is an implication of what you say.

And once again: "threat assessment" and "military strategy" are embedded in a ~political~ context of decision-making, as I described it this morning, one which is as "nonlinear" and "chaotic" as the military situation you've described. We do not live by Rule of "Experts." And you assume incorrectly that the expert's "assessment/strategy" is launched and implemented in some kind of vacuum.

I don't think we can correct for naivety concerning "military" policy by being equally naive about political realities---and how they shape military policy, decisively.

(Tue, 22 Mar 2005 18:16:08 -0500; under the thread:  Re: Impasse-able)

Brief replies for T:

1. I agree that there was evidence of ties between AQ and the Taliban. Understand too: having been around for the first strike against the WTC in 1993, I did/do not take lightly to US unresponsiveness in this sphere. We've been wearing bull's eyes here in NYC for ~years~. The strikes you mentioned against AQ in 1998 were too little. But our politicians were more interested in prosecuting a President who got his #%$* sucked in the Oval Office than in responding to AQ.

2. I'm not demanding that the US lay bare all of its surveillance techniques and strategies; but clearly there is a trade-off---for the sake of public credibility---and I'm not about to accept everything the government "experts" tell me without proof.

3. For the record, here is exactly what I said about Iraq and democracy (Atlantis II, 3/19/05):

"But, at first, very little of Bush's reasoning for war had to do with liberating or democratizing Iraq; that has now become ~the~ central reason, it appears, at considerable cost..."

To say "very little" is not equivalent to saying "none." And, quite honestly, I addressed the issue of Iraq and democratization from the very ~first~ posts on the subject way back in the winter of 2003 on the OWL list, and in my first substantive article on the subject in the early spring of 2003 here... so clearly, I never said that the argument for democratization was "absent" from the Bush administration's reasoning. It was not, however, the ~central~ reason put forth for invading Iraq.

4. You're right about the undemocratic character of U.N. member-states, but I just don't know about Iraqi casualties---and neither do you.

5. For Michael Carriger: Robert Mayhew's book, AYN RAND AND 'SONG OF RUSSIA': COMMUNISM AND ANTI-COMMUNISM IN THE 1940s HOLLYWOOD, is a worthwhile read. I mention it in various posts here: here. Here's an link.


(Atlantis II, Posted between Sun, 12 Dec 2004 and Wed, 22 Dec 2004, under various threads below; the following includes excerpts from various posts in response to my Liberty and Power Group Blog series, "Peter Schwartz and the Abandonment of Rand's Radical Legacy.")

(Sun, 12 Dec 2004 22:18:37 -0500; under thread: Re: [atlantis_II] Digest Number 1008)

D writes [in response to the Schwartz series): "Chris must start over from scratch and include real world context, not just the context he is comfortable writing about - and fits his world view."

D ... and I honestly and truly mean this with all due respect: Would you please explain to me what in the world ~~you~~ would do about Weapons of Mass Destruction? I'm truly interested. If WMDs are the only criterion by which to judge ~all~ things in today's world, the only criterion by which to shape U.S. domestic policy and U.S. foreign policy, what is to be done? Is the U.S. to invade every country---or better still, DROP WMDs on every country---that threatens to develop WMDs? I don't mean this as some kind of rhetorical flash. I'm truly interested to know what it is you have in mind. I've never quite been clear on your strategy.

I'm also somewhat baffled about this issue of me being blind to "real-world context." My ideological perspective is deeply informed by Rand to be sure, but that's only because I believe that Rand was particularly connected to ~real-world context~ in her analysis. Or was she also buried in her own ideological prison? This is a woman who ~knew~ what communism was all about, a woman who wore its "scars" as Barbara Branden once wrote, a woman who fled communism and who spent most of her adult life opposing its poisonous impact. And when Rand wrote her essays in the 1960s, the issue of WMDs in the hands of Communists was among the most important issues facing humanity. The Russians had even explicitly talked about "burying" the West. Was she also blind to "real world context" when she opposed the senseless slaughter of American troops in the Korean War and the Vietnam War? I'm just ... baffled.

(Mon, 13 Dec 2004 08:39:40 -0500; under thread:  Rand on Vietnam and Russia)

As you can all see from my previous message, I receive the Digest version of Atlantis II, so I'm a bit behind. I see now that D does offer a "solution," or at least a scenario---which is not very comforting. He's most likely correct that another attack on the US would elevate Big Brother to heights never before seen, but, unless I'm reading his messages incorrectly, it ~seems~ as if he is suggesting that we might as well embrace Big Brother as a means to stopping such an attack. In other words, abandon our libertarian predilections ~now~, since they are hopelessly simplistic, and destroy our liberty ~now~ in the hopes of postponing the inevitable: dirty bombs that will penetrate US urban centers.

So, what does this mean exactly? Does it mean that the US also needs to reduce to rubble every potentially threatening regime in the Middle East? That's just one "solution" I'm not prepared to endorse. I don't see full-scale destruction of whole populations and any foreign countries harboring potential terrorists as a means of ending the threat of full-scale destruction, especially if, as D suggests, there is no "long term" solution to the inevitable Armageddon anyway. This scenario sounds like a line out of THE FOUNTAINHEAD: "Offer poison as food and poison as antidote."

Now, as for R's comments/questions. He asks: "1. Was Rand totally opposed to our fighting in Vietnam, or was it just because we were offering bad rationales for being there? If we could have defeated the North Vietnamese and preserved South Vietnam's independence as a (hopefully) free nation and thwarted the spread of communism, would that not have been in our national interest and thus something Rand would have approved of? 1a. For that matter, since Rand ~did~ urge us to take off the gloves and fight the Vietnam War to win it, doesn't ~that~ mean that she did not regard our being there as necessarily senseless and Americans dying there as being senselessly slaughtered? Recall Kerry and the dilemma he faced of how to justify asking soldiers to die for the 'wrong war'? Was she inconsistent on this?"

Rand had her inconsistencies, no doubt. But rather than give you a whole Sciabarra dissertation, I'll just give you Rand's words:

From "Brothers, You Asked For It!": "How much of America's history would have been different if the disasters of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations had been averted? For one thing, the men who died in Vietnam would have been alive today."

From "The Lessons of Vietnam": "It was a shameful war---not for the reasons which leftists and sundry friends of North Vietnam are proclaiming, but for the exactly opposite reasons: shameful, because it was a war which the U.S. had no ~selfish~ reason to fight, because it served no national interest, because we had nothing to gain from it, because the lives and the heroism of thousands of American soldiers (and the billions of American wealth) were sacrificed in pure compliance with the ethics of altruism, i.e., selflessly and senselessly. ... The Vietnam war is one of the most disastrous foreign-policy failures in U.S. history."

From "The Wreckage of the Consensus": "If you want to see the ultimate, suicidal extreme of altruism, on an international scale, observe the war in Vietnam---a war in which American soldiers are dying for no purpose whatever. ~This~ is the ugliest evil of the Vietnam war, that ~it does not serve any national interest of the United States~---that it is a pure instance of blind, senseless, altruistic, self-sacrificial slaughter."

From "Brief Comments": "We are told that the war in Vietnam must be fought to protect human beings from communist tyranny. That war has taken thousands of American lives and billions of dollars."

But ... (from "The Lessons of Vietnam") "South Vietnam does ~not~ represent the political right nor the political anything. .... In compliance with modern politics, the war was allegedly intended to save South Vietnam from communism, but the proclaimed purpose of the war was not to protect freedom or individual rights, it was not to establish capitalism or any particular social system´┐Żit was to uphold the South Vietnamese right to 'national self-determination,' i.e., the right to vote themselves into any sort of system (including communism, as American propagandists kept proclaiming)."

Here's the part that R thinks might be problematic.

From "The Wreckage of the Consensus": "A proper solution would be to elect statesmen---if such appeared---with a radically different foreign policy, a policy explicitly and proudly dedicated to the defense of America's rights and national self-interests, repudiating foreign aid and all forms of international self-immolation. On such a policy, we could withdraw from Vietnam at once---and the withdrawal would not be misunderstood by anyone, and the world would have a chance to achieve peace. But such statesmen do not exist at present. In today's conditions, the only alternative is to fight that war and win it as fast as possible and thus gain time to develop new statesmen with a new foreign policy, before the old one pushes us into another 'cold war,' just as the 'cold war' in Korea pushed us into Vietnam."

Note: IF politicians emerged who could enunciate a moral foreign policy, the US could have withdrawn immediately from the Vietnam war.

Note too: Rand knew that this was not to be. And she did advocate the end of military conscription, which would have cut the ground from under the Vietnam policy, since "[w]ithout the power to draft, the makers of our foreign policy would not be able to embark on adventures of that kind." Indeed (from "The Roots of War"), "not many men would volunteer for such ventures as Korea or Vietnam. Without drafted armies, the foreign policies of statist or mixed economies would not be possible."

And finally, from "Moral Inflation": "There still are people in this country who lost loved ones in World War I. There are more people who carry the unhealed wounds of World War II, of Korea, of Vietnam. There are the disabled, the crippled, the mangled of those wars' battlefields. No one has ever told them why they had to fight nor what their sacrifices accomplished; it was certainly not 'to make the world safe for democracy'---look at that world now. The American people have borne it all, trusting their leaders, hoping that someone knew the purpose of that ghastly devastation. The United States gained nothing from those wars, except the growing burden of paying reparations to the whole world."

So, it sounds to me that she thought the US should never have gone to Vietnam, but that once there, it should "win it" to withdraw ASAP, unless it were possible to enunciate a radically different foreign policy that would have allowed immediate withdrawal regardless. I suppose one could argue that she would have had the same attitude toward the Iraq war right now... but I'm not willing to bet on it, either way, since we'll never know.

It's true, of course, that there is no military conscription right now. But if the US insists on bringing "democracy" at the point of a gun to every despotic hell-hole in the Middle East, it's going to need a conscripted army to do so.

Turning to R's second set of questions: "2. Considering how vehemently Rand hated the Soviet Union, would she necessarily have been opposed to our having attacked them and taken out their newly developing nuclear capabilities in the late 40s? Indeed, wouldn't she have counseled doing just that, were she asked? I'm curious, because she said so much about the morality of invading "slave pens." I'd think that this would be the paradigm case of striking while the iron is hot -- to her, anyway. What sayest thou, Chris?"

I know of no published writings (either in essays, anthologies, letters, or journals) where Rand advocated such a thing. She pretty much thought that the Soviet Union was constituted by a group of incompetent bullies and parasites, whose economic system doomed it in the long-run. The closest she came to advocating "taking out" Russia was to oppose US entry into World War II's European theater so that the Nazis and the Soviets could destroy one another. She was disgusted that the US had entered that war on the side of the Soviets, that it had sent billions of dollars in Lend Lease, and that it had not even considered an alternate strategy. She would have agreed completely with Isabel Paterson, who was her political mentor, and who wrote of the Nazi-Soviet war: "Whichever destroys the other, leaves a destroyer the less for the world." Now, we can argue whether Rand was right or wrong---but I think it's fairly clear what Rand believed.

(Mon, 13 Dec 2004 21:02:06 -0500; under thread: Quick follow-up)

B, you may be right that Rand suggested a "just" war at some point, though I understand that Yaron Brook in his talk on "The Morality of War" throws "just-war theory" right out the window. So it would be interesting to actually hear Rand's comments. But Lord... if they were as coherent as her comments on homosexuality... it's not very promising.

T, you're right: Rand did support Israel, but only because she regarded the suicide bombers among Palestinians to be "savages." Her support of Israel also came with a condemnation of that country's "socialism," "mysticism," and "tribalism." Interestingly, Nathaniel Branden, fully aware of the Rand "paradox" on Israel, addresses these issues in a new interview (published in THE FREE RADICAL -- extended version here):


Israel has always been a very good ally to the U.S. Their intelligence service is probably the best in the world. They are the only bastion of something approaching freedom in that part of the world. If we were going to support any country I could see why Israel would be a good candidate. However, I suspect there has been overdependence on the U.S.--which has been harmful to Israel. It seems likely that we have slowed down the evolution away from socialism and toward free market capitalism. Because, you know, they are a socialist state in many ways. Moreover, our financial contribution made it easier for them to continue in that role. So the point is that there are reasons to support helping Israel and there are reasons to support hands-off. Strictly speaking, I don't see how one could defend our special help to Israel on an Objectivist/libertarian foundation. If you ask whether I think an Objectivist/libertarian philosophy would be opposed to helping Israel, I would say, "Yes, I think so."


Points well taken on the draft, T; I think Rand was simply saying that the Vietnam policy could not have been supported long-term without conscription. And given the antiwar campus politics in the 60s and 70s, I think she was right. Few of those kids would have volunteered to die in a Vietnamese jungle. And I've no doubt that some all-volunteer military adventures have occurred; I think Rand's position was simply that adventur-ism would be generally curtailed with a volunteer force.

D, thanks for your elaboration. I think that one of the central issues here is that we have very different views of what a "realistic military model" is. I do doubt, however, that it would be possible to cut social spending in favor of military spending---certainly not in the current political climate. The situation is such that the US will be condemned to a generation of growing deficits and mounting debt. I hardly think that my opposition to the Iraq war qualifies me as ignorant of "realistic military models."

What was so realistic about committing 150,000 troops to the invasion and occupation of a country that had no grand arsenal of chemical or biological weapons, and no nuclear weapons, and very little hope of genuine political unity or "democracy" among Kurds, Sunnis, and Shi'ites? Even guys like Ken Pollack, who wrote one of the most persuasive books in favor of invasion, now repudiates his earlier position. I simply didn't believe that Iraq was an imminent, or even a "grave and gathering threat" to U.S. security; I believed that Hussein's regime could have been contained and deterred, and I indicted the neocon agenda of wanting to "build democracy" on a tribalist cultural foundation. And I have no desire of revisiting all these arguments again. It's all moot. The US is there---and will be there for the foreseeable future. And yet, I favored military action in Afghanistan (even if I've been none too pleased at how the US has rewarded Warlordism, while Afghanistan has become a Narcostate). I don't believe that an invasion of Iran is an appropriate strategy---especially since there is a sizable portion of the Iranian population that is young and democratically minded, and a long-term threat to the rule of mullahs. An invasion is liable to play right into the hands of the mullahs, who would use it as a pretext for consolidating their power. See, for example, these links: here  and here... and my various posts on "The Problem of Iran."

I've got no problem with surgical strikes and disruptions of financial networks that might "peel away the support structure" of Islamic terrorism, but I do think there are U.S. actions which help to bolster that terrorism. 

(Tue, 14 Dec 2004 21:44:47 -0500; under the thread: Re: Quick follow-up)

A few points in response:

1. Point well taken on Palestinian "suicide bombers," T; but Rand was still reacting to what she regarded as Palestinian terrorism aimed at innocent civilians. Whether they were aiming to die as martyrs or not doesn't change the nature of her reaction. I don't have an answer as to why Rand granted an exemption for Israel (or Taiwan), but not for the South Vietnamese in their battles with the Viet Cong, and she never wrote about it to any great extent. Perhaps she thought that the alliance with Israel gave the U.S. a strategic presence in the Middle East, with its plentiful supply of oil, that was more important to long-term "national interest" than any comparable U.S. intervention in Southeast Asia. This is certainly plausible because she made a number of pro-Israeli statements during the so-called "Energy Crisis," arguing that Israel needed and deserved U.S. help "by reason of actual U.S. national interests in the Mediterranean..."

2. Points well taken by other voicers on the nature of "volunteers" in the Vietnam war.

3. As for Iraq: ~Plans~ for building nuclear weapons and the ~presence~ of nuclear weapons are two entirely different things. As one of its arguments for an invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration claimed that Iraq had weapons. Not that it had ~plans~ for weapons. And I'm still not buying that there was any "formal" or "operational" or "collaborative" relationship between fundamentalist jihadists like Al Qaeda and the secularist Hussein regime. There were contacts for sure, but there have been contacts between Al Qaeda and Pakistanis, and Al Qaeda and Saudis, and the U.S. did not mount any invasion of either Pakistan or Saudi Arabia, both of which it considers "allies."

There have been documented contacts between Al Qaeda and Yemeni clerics in Brooklyn; that doesn't mean I'd advocate the invasion and occupation of Coney Island.

4. With regard to D's comment: "Iraq is a perfect application of pre-emption - an absolute requirement when dealing with small groups attempting to obtain WoMD. Until this is ingrained - you have no understanding of what is required for a Western Nations to survive. If you don't understand the strategy or the technology you cannot have a realistic military model - it is impossible." I take pre-emption seriously; I think it is right to preempt an attack when one has reliable intelligence that it is imminent. The WMD threat in Iraq was not imminent. It wasn't even "grave and gathering."

(Wed, 15 Dec 2004 11:36:14 -0500; under thread: Re: Quick follow-up)

I see my Coney Island observation created a few smiles. heh

Alas, W isn't smiling. He writes: "With regards to WOMD and legitimate threats: Is Chris Sciabarra omniscient? If he was in power would he take the risk of not acting? Suppose you're correct, what then? What if taking out Saddam's Iraq has *indirectly* had positive future implications for liberty? Is that not at least a possibility? Those who opposed the invasion of Iraq have never entertained this as even a possibility. They've God-like certainty that they're right."

A few points in response:

Yes, it's possible that taking out Saddam might have positive future implications for liberty, but since I couldn't predict those with any degree of certainty---outside of the obvious advantage of getting rid of a murderous despot (but not knowing what else might take his place in the long-run)---I was not prepared to support an invasion and occupation ~~~on that basis alone~~~. Ironically, I agree with Peter Schwartz when he argues that the central criterion for military action is that---there must exist a serious threat to our freedom"---"our" meaning the freedom of American citizens. I didn't see it---not with Iraq. With Al Qaeda, yes. But not with Iraq.

By contrast, I could have easily predicted many of the negative implications---which is why I opposed the invasion and occupation of Iraq. What will the advocates of U.S. intervention say if, somewhere down the line, a democratically elected Iraqi theocracy emerges with close ties to Iran---an Iran that has already been emboldened in its geopolitical position because of U.S. actions in Iraq?:  See here

What if an all-out civil war leads to more deaths in toto than what the Hussein regime is alleged to have committed? What if? What if? What if? Before the invasion, there was evidence suggesting that the WMD threat was overblown; this evidence was discounted by the Bush administration. There were inspectors on the ground, Hussein's army was one-third the size of its 1991 incarnation, and there were U.S. troops heavily populating the Middle East from Afghanistan to the Persian Gulf. And let's not forget a vigilant, nuclear-armed Israel to the West of Iraq---a country that had already shown a willingness to take out Iraq's nuclear capabilities.

Too many of the pro-Iraq war people discount the effectiveness of countervailing powers as deterrents to aggression. Check out this pre-Iraq war interview with Khidir Hamza, "the highest-ranking Iraqi scientist ever to defect and live to tell about it" (published in the Fall 2001 issue of THE MIDDLE EAST QUARTERLY, and conducted by Daniel Pipes):


MEQ: Why did Saddam not use weapons of mass destruction during the Kuwait war?

Hamza: He was afraid of what the United States would do. He was also scared of the possibility of an Israeli retaliation. In brief, deterrence worked. Note that what he used against Israel was very low-tech-warheads sometimes filled not even with explosives but with concrete. It was just a warning, just a show.

MEQ: Any lessons here for the future?

Hamza: Certainly, there are. We are dealing here with a ruler who is hugely self-centered, who cares only about himself and what happens to him. Therefore, if you threaten him personally and directly, you can intimidate him. Notice how he hides from dangers.

MEQ: He is personally fearful?

Hamza: He is haunted by fears. He has his cooks prepare three meals a day for him in all his residences, as if he is living in every one of them. He has dozens of identical sets of personal items that are placed in his palaces and hideaways so that everywhere he goes, he is at home, without carrying things around with him. This is done so that no one---no one!---is quite sure where he is staying at any moment. This pattern reflects his fear. During the Gulf war bombing, he went even further and turned up unexpectedly at people's homes. This is someone who's exceedingly scared for his life and his well-being.


Pipes points out to Hamza that "on the one hand, you warn of the imminent danger of Iraqi nuclear weapons. On the other, you compare the Iraqis to Inspector Clouseau (of Pink Panther fame); you quote a colleague to the effect that the Israeli prime minister need only inspect the atomic energy agency in order to sleep soundly at night; and you tell of carelessness and corruption, huge amounts of money being paid for failed projects, bogus documents, and fake materials."

As I said on a previous occasion: None of this is surprising. Given the repressive nature of the Hussein regime, and his war against free inquiry, the only surprise is that Hussein retained anything in his possession with which to threaten his enemies. In the end, he was found hiding in a mud hole. And that was no surprise either. I should note that pre-Iraq war, I had taken it for granted---like everybody else---that Hussein ~had~ some kinds of WMD, but that he could be fully contained. With no convincing evidence that there was any formal collaboration between his regime and Al Qaeda, I did not believe then, and I do not believe now, that it was worth the risk to invade and occupy a country steeped in tribal warfare, with few, if any, cultural foundations for the emergence of a free society. (In fact, this whole neocon agenda of trying to export "democracy" to these tribalist hell-holes is a vestige of Wilsonian and Trotskyite thinking that I repudiate completely.)

(Fri, 17 Dec 2004 11:07:48 -0500; under thread:  Follow-up)

... It does occur to me, however, that this discussion of Iraq is the same discussion that we've been having for the last two years. So I really and honestly do not know what else to contribute to this discussion. Just a couple of points in reply:

1. It remains to be seen what the elections will bring forth in Iraq; the Shi'ites have not had majoritarian power---so, as I said, it remains to be seen. They might be far less theocratic than their brethren in Iran, or they may have ties to the Iranian mullahs. Either way, I'm not very hopeful.

2. As for evidence that the WMD threat was overblown: We've seen through countless hearings that the administration was told by a number of sources that various stories, such as the ones on nuclear enrichment, could not be substantiated, even though people like Cheney were running all over the country telling us that Iraq had nuclear weapons. Clearly, the administration picked the evidence that supported its contentions---and left countervailing evidence on the cutting room floor.

3. In response to the contention that inspectors were on the ground in Iraq, T states: "Only because there were 400,000 US troops in Kuwait." Yes, well. That was the reality. The threat of the use of force can be a persuasive tool. And Israel still had/has WMDs---and the capacity and willingness to act in its own defense to take out nuclear installations.

4. Just exactly how many votes would it have taken at the U.N. to dismantle sanctions if the U.S. opposed removing them?

5. Even if it could be proven that containment was eroding (it was not), and we know that Saddam was plundering the oil-for-bribes program: Why invade and occupy Iraq at the time and in the manner that the U.S. did? What was the rush?

6. There were no formal collaborative operational ties between Al Qaeda and Hussein's Ba'athist regime. There were contacts. But no formal collaborative operational ties. Hussein may have funded other terrorist groups, but not Al Qaeda---the organization that attacked the U.S. Remember too that the US had already demonstrated its "will" by militarily targeting Afghanistan. Perhaps if it had concentrated on decimating Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, we would not still be seeing and hearing Osama Bin Laden on Al Jazeera. Saudi Arabia had every reason in the world to crack down on Al Qaeda, however, since that organization was targeting the monarchy---even if that organization was, as I've suggested (in Randian parlance), the "distilled essence" of the very ideology the Saudis have been pushing for generations. And Libya was negotiating with the US long before the Iraq war to get itself more favorable treatment. All I know is: For all this talk about the "War on Terror" being an unconventional war, it seems to me that the pro-war advocates want to keep fighting an utterly conventional war against a more globally minded nonstate entity like Al Qaeda.

7. I was not aware of the fact that the Monroe Doctrine was a libertarian treatise. Even if we declare this strategy in Iraq "Jacksonian"---it would not matter to me. (The neocon intellectual heritage is rooted in Wilsonian and Trotskyite ideologies.) Moreover, tribalism is not a precondition for freedom. And, anticipating other objections: This is not post-war Germany. This is not post-war Japan. Iraq remains a make-shift by-product of the British colonial policies in Mesopotamia.

8. Finally, T states about my suggestion that we might have to invade and occupy Coney Island: "No need, we already occupy Coney Island." Was that you on the Boardwalk? :)

(Sun, 19 Dec 2004 21:37:44 -0500; under thread:  Catch Me If You---Can I Leave the Iraq Debate? Yes!)

... T, I think we are so far apart on this subject that no amount of beating this poor dead pony will make much of a difference. I just can't endorse "uncertainty" as a criterion for invading ~potential~ aggressors. "Would have been" and "could have been" just don't cut it for me: Either it is or it isn't.

And yes, I read Pollack---on your recommendation, if I recall (or perhaps TS's, I'm not sure) back in early 2003, but did not find his argument fully convincing, or perhaps I'd have supported the Iraq invasion. I also have read Hayes, but did not find his argument convincing. And there are plenty of people who have argued that the US did not do everything it could have done to get Bin Laden in Afghanistan. I still believe this is an unconventional war, and the US should be focusing on development of unconventional special forces to fight a distinctive phase of it.

As for Israel: I'd prefer their method of surgically striking out at an installation than invading and occupying a country for the foreseeable future at considerable cost to life, liberty, and property. Be that as it may: I'm thinking it's important to move on here. We've been discussing this issue for 2+ years, and though some people have changed their minds on some things, very few people have ~fundamentally~ changed their positions.

I will, however, have something to say about the points that ES raised (and for which RB gave us some very good reading). I'll post the link to an upcoming essay at Liberty & Power Group Blog in the next day or so.

(Mon, 20 Dec 2004 10:35:38 -0500; under thread:  Re: Catch Me If You---Can I Leave the Iraq Debate? Yes!)

In response to my comment that I thought it was time to move on from discussion of the Iraq war, DM writes: "Now is not the time to move on. It has been pointed out that there is no libertarian military model of how to deal with terrorists having WoMD. In fact there is virtually no libertarian military model at all - just economic/political analysis devoid of military concretes. I have seen real movement on the thinking of a few list members. This strikes at the very heart of the viability of libertarian thought. Do libertarian thinkers avoid topics they have no answer for? Why are there volumes and volumes of libertarian writings yet nothing on the topic of strategy driven by military technology. Is it a fatal flaw within libertarian thought? D - [still waiting for the libertarian plan] "

D, I'm not avoiding any topics here. But I wasn't speaking of the military strategy issue. I was speaking of the Iraq war. We've beaten that issue to a bloody pulp. What else can be said about it that will change anybody's opinion here? As for libertarianism and military strategy: This whole thing reminds me of what Rand once said about capitalism. "Since controls necessitate and breed further controls, it was the statist element of the mixtures that wrecked [the mixed economies]; it was the free, capitalist element that took the blame."

Freedom and libertarianism are not to blame for the state of the world. And it is not freedom that lacks viability, not when statism, in all its guises---from the theocratic to the socialist to the neofascist---is slowly marching all of us back to the stone age. Libertarian policies did not get the U.S. into this mess. Alas, it is my view that "pure" libertarian policies won't get the U.S. out of this mess---because the economic/political realities have so profoundly impacted on the very possibility of implementing a wholesale libertarian resolution. For me, that would mean short-term engagement and relocation of the U.S. military to the places that require attention, the use of surgical strikes to deal with ~actual~ WMD and other threats, the targeting of terrorist financial networks, and the adoption of broader policies that aim to marginalize the theocratic-fanatics, rather than policies that act like oxygen to the flame of terrorism.

Long term, it would mean the ultimate withdrawal of the U.S. from its role as the world's policeman, and a focus on protecting American life, liberty, and property in the U.S. It would mean the augmenting of cultural and economic exchange, through free(r) trade, which carries with it the very Western values that might undermine despotic regimes worldwide. In a technologically sophisticated age, that permeation of Western values is likely to take less time than in the past. But in a war that is ultimately philosophical, it is the ~idea~ that is the most potent weapon.

Unfortunately, however, I think ES. is right: In the current context, we've turned a corner. Indeed, as she has written, "a decisive turning point occurred with the wrong turn being taken and now it's too late to get back to a situation from which a good choice could be made." That's why I've been arguing that it's all about costs and benefits among a lot of lousy choices, given the current context. My essays have not been simply an indictment of that context; they've been my way of arguing that a libertarian solution will ~never~ be implemented ex nihilo. Until or unless the political-economic system is changed fundamentally, all arguments about a "libertarian solution" are pretty much dead-ends, I'm sorry to say. Statist strategies have "crowded out" and virtually destroyed the possibility for genuinely "libertarian" action in global politics.

So, you deal with the cards you've been dealt. I had this discussion at L&P when David Theroux suggested "Letters of Marquee" as a more effective means of battling Al Qaeda: here, here, and hereNote: I have no philosophical problem with Letters of Marquee; the issue for me was that it simply wasn't going to happen. Not within the current context. It wasn't viable politically. But disarming the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan was viable as a political and military option, and, given a host of lousy choices, it was the one I supported. If some of this sounds "contradictory," it's only because the whole global situation is punctured by internal contradictions. Sometimes it is necessary to "milk those contradictions," as the Marxists would say, that is: to deal with the given conditions and to work within them. My Marxist mentor once said that "Libertarians are like people who go into a Chinese restaurant and order pizza." It's not that pizza isn't delicious; it's just that you're not likely to find it on the menu in a Chinese restaurant. Sometimes, you have to choose from among the choices that are offered, before you go about the task of building another restaurant to suit your specific tastes.

In the end, the libertarian has to remain a Political John the Baptist: Railing against the ~worst~ sins in the hopes of stalling the march toward hell. In this way, libertarians can keep alive what Albert Jay Nock once called "The Remnant." What the libertarian can do in this context is to continue to keep liberty as the highest political value, and to weigh the impact of action or inaction on the short-term and long-term costs and benefits. In my own version of the John the Baptist role, I've been adamantly opposed to neoconservatism, to its pursuit of "liberal democracy" through a nation-building strategy that, I believe, is doomed to fail in the Middle East (and that's another topic that we've beaten to a bloody pulp here). And I've been adamantly opposed to the strategy of wholesale invasions and occupations of nation-states, when the problem is a transnational criminal terrorist network. And I've been opposed to the "strategy" of nuking the entire Middle East as a means of saving us from nuclear proliferation.

But if you want a full-scale pro-active genuinely libertarian solution, it's going to require changing the whole context---from top to bottom. If this makes libertarianism "utopian" and not "viable," then, I can only draw strength from Hayek's maxim: "The main lesson which the true liberal must learn from the success of the socialists is that it was their courage to be Utopian which gained them the support of the intellectuals and thereby an influence on public opinion which is daily making possible what only recently seemed utterly remote." Alas, Hayek's nemesis, Keynes, once said: "In the long run, we are all dead." Acting now to meet the ~actual~ threats to American life, liberty, and property will help us to avoid that fate in the short run.

(Tue, 21 Dec 2004 14:35:37 -0500; under thread: Re: Catch Me If You---Can I Leave the Iraq Debate? Yes!)

I am ~honored~ that Roland Pericles made reference to the Chinese restaurant in his post and that JG realized that I was talking about Bertell Ollman, my Marxist mentor. Of course, the reply to Ollman about libertarians going into a Chinese restaurant and ordering pizza was pretty simple: At least in a libertarian society, there ~are~ restaurants and menus to choose from. :)

ES., you're welcome: None of us has the luxury of starting from scratch or choosing among alternatives that don't currently exist. That doesn't mean, however, that we have to choose the means that some here have suggested as appropriate to the problems before us. Your analogy is excellent: "The reality at this time might be analogized to a person who didn't get treatment in time to operate with relative chance of success on a growing cancer and who now has a headed-for-terminal stage of the disease. What needs doing now is, first, to recognize the awful state of affairs in its full awfulness and then try as much as possible to reverse the disease from where it's gotten to."

Agreed, 100%.

But I'm also in agreement with you that Iraq was a mistake. And here is where I differ with D, T, and other pro-Iraq war advocates. I do feel as if we're talking [past] each other, D. I just don't think we're ever going to agree on this. In the end, however, if there are limited "libertarian" solutions to the current slew of problems, there are even fewer "solutions" being offered by the neoconservatives, who exert a disproportionate influence on the Bush administration. We're just going to have to agree to disagree.

(Wed, 22 Dec 2004 07:50:10 -0500; under thread: The Debate has now past :)_

Or is that passed? LOL (bowing before MH and the Wrath of Roland...) And they call me an editor!

Brief, and I mean BRIEF reply:

1. T, just because I don't believe it is the US role to fight for the establishment of "democracies" the world over, and just because I don't believe that Hussein was an imminent threat to the security of the US, does not mean that I was oblivious to the crimes of Hussein or that I morally sanctioned his "legitimacy." Do not assume that I presumed Hussein innocent. My whole discussion of "containment" and "deterrence" presumed that there was ~something~ to contain and deter.

2. I don't want to re-open the whole Pollack, Hayes, etc. debate, as I've covered this in a number of discussions connected to posts at Liberty and Power Group Blog going all the way back to October and November of 2003. But I should note, just in passing, that the DOD itself brought into question the Hayes thesis, as have others (see here  and here and here and here and many other archived links ...). Though I appreciate your passion for these topics, T, I just don't see the point in revisiting them over and over again. (No doubt you'll have replies to each of the links above. :)  But I just think it really is time to move on here...)

Since others have covered everything from the '93 WTC bombing to nuclear weapons, I'm going to do exactly what I've said: I'm moving on.

As I promised earlier last week, I would discuss, in an L&P entry, the "Invisible Casualties" of war (which is tangentially related to some of the issues that ES and RB discussed recently).

If I don't have the opportunity to say anything else prior to the holidays, let me wish everybody here a happy holiday season and a successful, productive, peaceful, safe, and healthy new year.

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