The Libertarian National Committee has released a statement on the war, following its meeting in Atlanta, Ga., October 14, 2001. Its opening paragraph mentions the strikes against Afghanistan, and then continues: "we support action against the perpetrators responsible for the terrorist attacks" on grounds that "horrific crimes cannot go unpunished."Because the "action" in question is left unspecified, it is impossible to argue with the statement as phrased. Everyone favors punishing criminals.
But what about this? "It is proper for the government to take forceful action against terrorists…. Such criminals must be rooted out and destroyed…. Their training camps and weapons must be eliminated. Their supply infrastructure must be shattered."
Again, it is possible, in principle, to support "forceful action" against criminals, and destroy their "training camps," "weapons," and maybe even "infrastructure" without actually supporting the war that is going on right now, which has already killed at least 300 innocent Afghans and four UN workers, destroyed a village and a Red Cross food storage compound, led to a disastrous refugee crisis and increased starvation, and vastly expanded government at home.
Oddly, however, the LP statement refuses to say explicitly whether it really does support the war going on right now—not just any abstract "action" against criminals, but the real war that is in the headlines every day.
Instead of telling us, it opts to use language identical to what the Bush administration uses in justifying the really existing war, in the context of mentioning the existence of the war, while still leaving themselves an out. It is only on an extremely close reading of this strange text that you realize that support for the really existing war is never explicitly stated.
The big problem for a moral response to 9/11 is that the people who are guilty beyond all doubt are also all dead. Faced with this problem but still wanting a war, the Bush administration decided to turn public attention to Osama bin Laden and the Taliban government, neither of which have been proven to have been behind the attacks, or, if the proof exists, it has yet to be shared with us.
The LP statement hedges this question with qualifiers: bin Laden is "believed to be responsible" and the Taliban has "reportedly assisted" bin Laden. Even if you are certain that bin Laden is responsible (and not just happy that the attacks occurred), there are other ways besides war to take action, e.g. letters of marque and reprisal. As for the Taliban’s "assisting" bin Laden, we are so far being told to take a leap of faith and trust the government.
After the bravado opening, which leads the reader to believe that the LP is backing this war without actually saying so, we come to the qualifiers, and it is here that the game is given away.
"Every precaution must be taken to minimize injury or death to innocent civilians and non-combatants — in Afghanistan and in other nations. To do otherwise is not only a violation of America’s ideals, it would also create future enemies for our nation and continue the cycle of violence and revenge."
We already know that innocents are being killed, so evidently whatever "precautions" are being taken are not enough. What’s more, the war is creating future enemies and has already begun a cycle of violence and revenge. On these grounds, then, the LP has to oppose the war.
"We also call on the United States government to publicly reveal the evidence that conclusively links bin Laden and his terrorist network to the September 11 terrorist attacks… the U.S. government has an obligation to conclusively demonstrate that he is guilty of mass murder. Such evidence would not only help swing world opinion firmly behind the United States’ actions, it would make a clear and compelling case that justice is being served by the recent military actions."
If such evidence exists, the public has not seen it. The most that the administration claims right now, in the real world, is that assistants to bin Laden have been financially linked to a few of the hijackers. But we don’t know which hijackers or the nature of the links, because they won’t tell us. On grounds that the evidence is being withheld if it exists, the LP has to oppose the war.
"The Libertarian Party must take a more cautious stance about the military attacks on Afghanistan’s Taliban government…it is a sovereign nation, and a military strike against it is an act of war. According to Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, only the United States Congress has the power to declare war."
The Bush administration has already called for the overthrow of the Taliban, and there has been no declaration of war. On these grounds, then, the LP has to oppose the war.
"If military action against the government of Afghanistan is indeed appropriate, then the U.S. Congress should establish this by debating and passing an official declaration of war. Such an action would make the attack constitutionally legitimate, and protect the vital separation of powers upon which this nation’s government was founded."
Again, there has been no declaration of war. On these grounds, then, the LP has to oppose the war.
"The United States government should also announce clear, measurable, and finite goals for this War on Terrorism. Any military action must not be allowed to turn into an endless, global war against numberless, shadowy targets. America’s best interests will be served by decisive action that targets the guilty, spares the innocent, and ends as quickly as possible."
Bush has already said that this will be an unending war against evil. On these grounds, then, the LP has to oppose the war.
"Finally, the United States has an obligation to consider a new, positive approach to foreign policy for the future."
There has been no talk of a new foreign policy. All talk is going in the other direction: towards a worse foreign policy. On these grounds, then, the LP has to oppose the war.
Based on its own statement in light of the actual facts, the LP has to be against the war. How, then, can we account for the opening salvo, which is clearly designed to give the war a libertarian cover? Either members of the LP don’t read the papers, or they support the war and all their qualifiers are balderdash.
In that case, can we look forward to the following press releases?
“The Congress has voted for raising the minimum wage. The LP adds its voice to those who support higher wages, but cautions that higher wages should not lead to unemployment.”
“The Bush administration has reinstituted the draft. The LP supports the raising of armies in defense of the nation, so long as war is constitutionally declared, but cautions against forcing people to serve against their will.”
“The Supreme Court has legalized wiretaps without warrants. The LP supports the effort to solve crimes through every legal means, but warns against intrusions into people’s privacy.”
“The Justice Department has broken up Microsoft. The LP too champions small business, provided large businesses are not arbitrarily broken up to create them.”
"The government has opened concentration camps to house its enemies. The LP supports actions against society’s most violent elements, even as it cautions that civil liberties should be respected."
At some point, you begin to get the feeling that the LP doesn’t understand much about the nature of government.
Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr. [send him mail], is editor of LewRockwell.com.