Liberventionists: The Nationalist Internationalists

Liberventionism is saturated by contradictions: using government to bring about liberty, bombing cities to bring about peace, occupying countries for the sake of liberation, initiating force to combat aggression, and so forth.

One peculiar contradiction is the notion that anti-war libertarians — a redundancy, when the terms are properly understood — are uncaring about our fellow Americans, and yet are simultaneously also apathetic about the plight of foreigners, thus we real libertarians oppose sending the first group to kill and be killed by the second.

The muddled reasoning goes like this: In opposing US wars after 9/11, we libertarians supposedly turn our backs on our fellow countrymen. In opposing the US warfare state, we allegedly disgrace our country. In waiting for a foreign enemy to attack before retaliating, we would let Americans die before tolerating the necessary collateral damage of innocent foreign men, women and children. To sum up, we don’t seem to care as much about American lives as foreign lives, and, in fact, we don’t feel adequately connected to the US state as some sort of extension of ourselves. In other words, we are insufficiently nationalist.

On the other hand, so think many of the liberventionists, we real libertarians also couldn’t care less about the oppression of foreigners. If we oppose Gulf War II, it’s because we prefer Saddam Hussein to a life of liberty for the Iraqi people. If we oppose the Cold War, we are turning our backs to the victims of Communism. If we question World War II, we are Nazi sympathizers who care nothing about those that Hitler oppressed and mass-murdered. To sum up, we are insufficiently internationalist.

From the liberventionist viewpoint, war is a positive good. It is good for America and saves Americans lives — and so to oppose it is to not care about one’s fellow Americans — and it liberates and saves the lives of foreigners, and so to oppose it is to support tyranny abroad.

Sometimes the liberventionists concede that war is a zero-sum game, that to save Americans "we" must kill innocent foreigners — or to save foreigners "we" must sacrifice Americans to the cause — and conclude that real libertarians, who oppose war, are either overly "nationalistic" or "isolationist," and thus deaf to the screams of the oppressed people abroad; or, as the case may be, overly "internationalist": we care more about foreigners than Americans.

In truth, war is almost always a negative-sum game. It is a tragedy for everyone involved, minus the political elite of the winning state. Libertarians who believe in individual liberty as a universal value don’t usually have to turn their back to one group or the other to speak out against war: the US military state is an assault on the rights of millions of Americans and foreigners, alike. To support Gulf War II, indeed, is not to defend the rights of Iraqis nor is it to advocate the defense of the American people, as should be obvious by now. To support the war is to support the death of both Americans and Iraqis in an exercise of insanity, futility and mass suffering.

Before the war began, we libertarians who always opposed the invasion and war were often accused of being Saddam sympathizers, who had no problem with a brutal regime’s treatment of a long-oppressed populace. We were also accused of being blind to the reality that Americans needed to fight and kill Iraqis — even innocent Iraqis — to save ourselves from a conspiratorial Saddam-al-Qaeda cabal determined to deploy weapons of mass destruction against America, sneaking them in or flying them over in unmanned drones.

It turns out that we libertarians were right about the threat posed by Saddam to Americans. There wasn’t any. More than 1,300 Americans have so far died in a war totally unnecessary and counterproductive to protecting Americans at home. Gulf War II has extinguished the lives of nearly half as many Americans as died on 9/11, all to preempt a nonexistent threat.

We were, and are, also right about the "liberation" of the Iraqi people. Freedom is not happening in Iraq. In a country with an outraged and fundamentalist majority, pure democracy would not yield anything close to liberty, or even an improvement over Saddam’s regime. Unless the country is split up into separate regions, the only realistic way that "order" can be achieved any time soon is under the iron fist of a despot, much like Saddam.

Liberventionists have to wonder why the US helped put Saddam in power in the first place. Some more questions: Why did the US back Saddam in a war with Iran, which killed one million Middle Easterners? Why did the US support Saddam during his worst human rights abuses against the Kurds, providing him with chemical weapons after it became clear he was a monster, and shielding him from UN censure in the 1980s? Why did the US give him the green light to attack Kuwait? Why did the US impose sanctions on Iraq that killed a million Iraqis by depriving them of their basic human right to trade and import food and medicine freely? Why did the US initially support the Oil-for-Food Program, and demand that Saddam stop all trade outside its parameters, only to turn around and condemn the program and pretend that the UN alone bears responsibility for the corruption and suffering Iraq has endured in recent years, and that somehow all of this justifies the Iraq war?

Why is the US maintaining an occupation of the Iraqi people that 98% of them do not consider one of liberation? And why does the US continue to feed young American men and women into the meat grinder, killing thousands of civilians, and evacuating cities filled with innocent people?

This war is not good for America, or for Iraq. That’s the plain-as-day truth. Yes, Saddam was a very, very bad man, who did very evil things — especially when he was a US ally — but over the last quarter of a century, US intervention has consistently brought to Iraq nothing but Ba’athist tyranny, war, suffering, mass starvation, bombings, puppet dictatorships, military occupations, censorship, death and destruction on a hardly imaginable scale. The idea that one more year of fighting — one more smart bomb — one more US puppet regime — one more intervention — will somehow bring freedom, peace and security to the country, would be hilarious, if such dangerous misconceptions weren’t responsible for so much human suffering when applied to the real world.

Libertarians are supposed to recognize the limitations of government — any government — to do good. That includes our government as well as the governments abroad that our government put in place.

Libertarians don’t oppose war because we don’t care about the liberty of foreigners or the safety and lives of Americans. We oppose war because we realize that it is bad for virtually everyone involved.

The liberventionists who want to have it both ways — who think that sacrificing American lives will bring freedom to people abroad, and yet killing innocents abroad will save American lives — are a bizarre group of nationalist internationalists. They believe that the US warfare state can be a great blessing, on balance, for both Americans and foreigners. They believe that, when the score-sheets are tallied and the dust has cleared, the large-scale initiations of force, central planning and government spending involved in war will be a good deal for both Americans and for the world. Killing innocent foreigners to protect Americans and sacrificing young Americans to save foreign innocents is their strange and deadly formula for international peace and national security. They claim to be both altruists and patriots, but they are simply both naïve internationalists and blind nationalists. It’s a paradox, as is their general philosophy.

This is why liberventionists are not really libertarians. They believe in and advocate the US nation-state’s ability to centrally plan the world toward liberty. Indeed, these people believe the US government is capable of accomplishments that border on the Messianic. They worship the state, as if it were some sort of omnipotent deity that can, through the omnisciently chosen applications of miraculous violence, bring about what’s best for everyone. If we weren’t actually at war, this might me a cute philosophy, in some ways, but it is not libertarian.

Real love of country and real concern for the plight of foreigners fit much better with a consistent love of peace, than they do with warmongering. A love of peace is the rational, humane, and, indeed, libertarian principle to guide one’s views on human relations, including in foreign policy.

Merry Christmas and Peace on Earth to everyone.

Anthony Gregory [send him mail] is a writer and musician who lives in Berkeley, California. He is a research assistant at the Independent Institute. See his webpage for more articles and personal information.