The Iran Threat

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This first appeared in The Libertarian Forum, Volume XII, NO.5, September-October, 1979

The threat in Iran is grave, even potentially cataclysmic. But that threat is only secondarily the danger to the 62, now 49, American embassy employees imprisoned in Teheran. The main danger is a disastrous war, to be launched by a furious and petulant United States against the people of Iran. For the really scary thing about the still continuing Iranian crisis is not the Shiite zealots led by the venerable Ayatollah Khomeini; it is the barbarous emotions welling up in the breasts of the American people.

For it seems that civilization is only skin-deep, after all, in these United States; let the American eagle be tweaked a bit and savage bellows for war and destruction thunder across the land. If the Ayatollah and his colleagues are “fanatics” and “madmen”, what then are the countless American demonstrators who joyfully burn Iranian flags, chant “Nuke the Iranians” or “Camel Jockeys, Go Home” or, in the case of an anti-Iranian rally at Houston, burn an Iranian flag while grotesquely singing “America the Beautiful”? College campuses which once rocked with a fervent anti-war spirit are now calling for the expulsion and deportation of harmless Iranian students. A war fever is raging in the United States, and for once we cannot say that the Establishment is dragging a peaceful public into war; the war pressure is coming upward from the grass roots.

But neither can we say that the Carter Administration is blameless in instigating this affair. We already know that the Administration had been warned by its own experts that admitting the Shah into the U.S. would likely trigger Iranian reprisal against our embassy there; yet, not only did we admit the Shah but we did not even beef up security at the Teheran embassy. Bumbling, or a deliberate whipping up of crisis? Of course, with Carter’s record as stumblebum extraordinaire, even conspiracy-minded analysts will have to give considerable credence to the bumble hypothesis.

We do know, also, that the Administration was reluctant to admit the Shah, but that it was successfully pressured into this fateful step by none other than Henry Kissinger and his mentor David Rockefeller. Once again, Kissinger has worked his foreign policy evil; is there no way of getting rid of this man’s malign influence? What happened to the idea of the people choosing at the polls? Wasn’t Kissinger repudiated in 1976? And—conspiracy analysis again—we shouldn’t forget that we have a David Rockefeller-Trilateral Commission-dominated foreign policy Administration, and also that the Shah is personally a multi-billion dollar client at Rockefeller’s Chase Manhattan Bank.

One libertarian of our acquaintances has a charming solution to the hostage crisis: send the Iranians Kissinger and Rockefeller in return for the hostages. There is in this solution a certain unique and piquant charm.

Is the Shah really dying, or is he really ill at all? Many physicians profess themselves puzzled at unusual features of the Shah’s therapy. One wonders, too, if he couldn’t have surgery or chemotherapy in Mexico; are there no medical facilities there? Certainly, with his $12 billion or so smackers, he has the wherewithal to fly down top specialists on his behalf. Surely, too, the Shah would solve a lot of world problems by corking off pronto from natural causes.

At any rate, whether or to what extent the Shah is ill, he is certainly at this writing very much alive, and kicking, and therefore must be treated as such. His case raises many fascinating and in advanced applied libertarian theory. Thus, forgetting about his alleged illness, what would we do, or more to the point, what shouldwe do, if Hitler suddenly found himself alive and ill at New York Hospital? Should we defend his right to asylum, or send him back to Germany for trial?

Whatever we answer in the Hitler or Eichmann case, we must answer for the Shah also. The Shah, too, murdered 60,000 of his subjects, and tortured countless others at the hands of the dread SAVAK, the secret police, causing Amnesty International to call his bloody reign the worst torture regime in the world. And the Shah is a thief on a mammoth scale. The Shah’s plundering, by the way, is a paradigm example of land theft and of the proper libertarian analysis of this “feudal” act. For the Shah’s father, only fifty years ago, was a bandit who assumed the throne of Iran by conquest, and proceeded to literally steal half the land area of the country and place it into his “private” ownership, mulcting the peasant owners of “rents” to their new feudal overlord. The present Shah simply systematized and expanded his father’s speculations, and converted them from land to dollar wealth. When radical libertarians speak of justice and land reform, they are always confronted with the rebuttal that land thefts are lost in antiquity, and that titles are so fuzzy that no clear-cut justice can be done. But in the case of Iran none of that is true; the robberies were quite recent, in the memory of many now alive, and the record is all too clear.

Furthermore, the surging hatred of the United States in Iran is all too understandable. For a generation, it was the United States government that propped up the Shah on a massive scale, pouring literally billions in military and economic aid into his coffers. For years, the Shah was considered America’s geopolitical ally and satrap in the Middle East. And when, in the early 1950’s, the Iranians revolted and kicked out the hated Shah, the CIA rushed in to reinstall him in 1953—an action that Americans may have forgotten, but that Iranians have bitterly remembered. The Shah and the United States, the Shah, Kissinger and Rockefeller—all these have been closely linked, not only in the perception of Iranian “fanatics”, but also in reality.

Given all this—should we send the Shah back to Iran to be tried for his crimes? Should we have sent Hitler back? The answer in both cases must be no. For while a people may surely try their own rulers or ex-rulers for high crimes, governments should be bound by the concept of asylum. Governments should” not be able to extradite political dissidents to the tender mercies of another regime. This is because governments, being governments, being coercive monopolies of force in a given territorial area, should be held to different standards than would free-market anarchist defense institutions. So long as these territorial monopolies of force exist, they should be held strictly to the boundaries of their own territorial areas. Once let them try to extend their jurisdiction to other areas, and only perpetual wars can ensue—wars such as minarchists are always bellyaching about when contemplating anarchism. For we live right now in an “international anarchy” in the worst sense; there are gangs of coercive states which are not under any one world government (And why, by the way, don’t minarchists pursue the logic of their own beliefs and advocate world government?) Whether we are anarchists or minarchists, we must try to limit these governments at least to their territorial area, to reduce government intervention to a minimum at home and abroad. Part of such a policy is for governments to take no sides in the internal quarrels of other nations, and to allow asylum once a foreign national and political dissident reaches its shores. So, despite their patcut crimes, the U.S. government should deport neither the Shah nor a hypothetical Hitler back to the land of their sins.

But, of course, there is surely no positive injunction upon the U.S. government to devote a great deal of taxpayers’ resources to guarding the life of the Shah or any other imported monster. Did the U.S. taxpayer have to spend millions, and tie up virtually the entire police department of New York City, to guard the butcher Castro for nearly a week? Surely not. And neither does it have to knock itself out defending the Shah; surely, it is bizarre to think that the Shah, Castro, or our putative Hitler should have vastly more tax-resources spring to his defense, than for the defense of any one peaceful and put-upon citizen on the streets of New York, So let the U.S. government take all the guards away from New York Hospital. It is true that the Shah has his private guards at the hospital; but perhaps some of the revolutionary Iranian people could work their just will despite that hazard. Let the Shah take his chances, like everyone else, in the Big Apple. So the Shah is a criminal and the United States, as usual, is hip deep in blame, though we can’t countenance outright betrayal of the right of asylum. What then should the United States do in this predicament? Acknowledge its previous guilt, surely. Support the idea of an international tribunal to try the Shah—why not? Outside of that, try patient and quiet diplomacy, using as best we can respected private persons and groups, such as the constructive role already played by the Irishman Sean MacBride and conservative Congressman George Hansen (R.Idaho), who, in his private search for peaceful solutions with the Iranians, is a marvelously refreshing change from the usual bluster xenophobia, and war hysteria on the Right. And that is all; there must be no use of military force by the United States. Military measures would not only be costly and threaten wider war, they would also injure innocent civilians in Iran as well as Americans. Already, the American freeze of Iranian bank deposits and cutoff of oil imports are petulant and coercive, and they accomplish nothing except financial disarray at home and abroad. They free no hostages and are only expensive and aggressive ways for the U.S. government to save face—a concept we have attributed exclusively to inscrutable Orientals.

But what about force? Defense? Punishment? The right of every American citizen to be protected? And what of the inviolability of the “sovereignty” of the American embassy?

Once again, because we are living in a world of coercive nation-states, with each attaining a monopoly over its territorial area, and because in the modern world any war between states necessarily commits the civilians of each country to the war regardless of their wishes, it is vital for each state to confine its use of violence strictly to its own area. So, in such a world, it is the responsibility of the American government to protect the lives and properties of its subjects— but only those who inhabit the territorial area of the country. We must therefore conclude that American citizens abroad must take their chances—that it is not worth embroiling all other Americans in a war on their behalf should they stray beyond U.S. jurisdiction.

To put the plight of the unfortunate Americans in Teheran in perspective: No one forced these people to stray outside the borders of the U.S. Moreover, they knew darned well, as did the rest of us, that Iran was an explosive trouble spot, and that therefore they were taking a considerable risk in remaining there. The U.S. government was delinquent in not reminding them of this risk, and, in fact, for encouraging them to stay. They took their chances. And, after all, they were, voluntarily, U.S. government and U.S. embassy employees, and therefore they voluntarily took on the coloration of U.S. imperialist policy in Iran. In a sense, then, they all shared in the guilt of U.S. foreign policy, and their seizure by the Iranian students, while unfortunate, does not seem quite so irrational.

There is another important point here, illustrative of a double standard and a jingo blood thirst at work. Every year, indeed every day, many Americans lose their lives and property to domestic criminals within the United States. People are here shot, killed, and kidnapped all the time; no one applauds these deeds, but why are there no blood cries for all-out vengeance when the criminals are here at home? Is it only because the prestige of the U.S. government has been damaged long ago, by numerous actions of the U.S. government itself, but those actions never worried out superpatriots by one whit.

But isn’t the embassy sacred American soil, and therefore wasn’t the attack on our embassy an act of war? But surely the “sovereignty” of an enclave of one house and an acre or two is only a pleasant fiction, not a serious reality. Surely it is not a moral problem for Americans to fight, die, and kill over. The inviolability of a nation’s embassy is an important pragmatic principle of international relations, since if embassies and diplomats are habitually aggressed against, very little international dealings or peaceful negotiations would-ever take place. But this principle is important to every nation-state, not just to the U.S., and they all realize this fact. Once again, this is a matter for quiet international diplomacy, and not for acts of moral outrage and coercive saber-rattling by the United States.

But shouldn’t the kidnappers be punished? Here the pro-war theorists liken such a military thrust as equivalent to a domestic “police action.” But there are vital differences. First, as we have reiterated, on foreign soil there is no American monopoly of force, and therefore “punishment” is no longer a police action, but an act of military intervention and war. Furthermore, punishing the guilty, important though it be, is far less important for a libertarian than another principle: protecting the innocent. The innocent may not be injured or murdered in order to apprehend the guilty. Suppose, for example, that police are chasing a robber or even a murderer fleeing down a crowded street. May the police, in order to catch the fugitive, spray the street with machine-guns and mortar fire, killing many innocent people along with the criminal? Certainly not, and police never do such a thing. But, in the same way, it is morally impermissible for any government, including the American, to launch a military offensive to punish the students, the Ayatollah, or whatever. For countless innocent civilians would be injured or killed by such an action.

But isn’t it immoral to deal with kidnappers? WHY? Is it immoral for parents to pay ransom to kidnappers to buy back their children? What peculiar moral theory could possibly be at work here?

And what of the Iranian students in the U.S.? The cry for their incarceration and deportation, and the steps in that direction already taken, are a monstrous imposition of collective guilt, a concept which properly horrified Americans when the Nazis employed it against the Czech town of Lidice. Just because we don’t like what some Iranian students did at Teheran, gives us no warrant to proceed with a force against other Iranian students in this country.

To conclude: the U.S. should pursue the delicate and threatening Iranian crisis with quiet diplomacy, and eschew all acts of force or saber-rattling threats of force. Another war threatens all of us in the Iranian crisis, and it behooved libertarians to be in the forefront of today’s and tomorrow’s anti-war movement. So far, the first libertarian organ to leap into the fray is Sam Konkin’s New Libertarian Strategy, whose “Stop the Presses” December issue has an excellent revisionist analysis of the Iranian crisis. We have had many differences with Konkin’s anti-L.P. “Movement of the Libertarian Left” tendency, but Konkin deserves great commendation for being the first libertarian periodical or institution to take a strong stand on the Iranian crisis. (Available at $10.00 a year from New Libertarian Enterprises, Box 1748, Long Beach CA 90801). Libertarians must put as much pressure as we can upon the Administration to stop the war, pressure that is desperately needed to offset the war fever, and, if necessary, to build a longer-range anti-war movement. If we needed any further reminders, the Iranian crisis shows us and everyone else, once again, that libertarians are NOT” conservatives”; we are for nonintervention and antiwar.

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