In my three articles The Critical Dilemma Facing Pro-War Libertarians, The Pentagon’s Power to Arrest, Torture, and Execute Americans, and It Can’t Happen Here,’ I showed how the U.S. government’s foreign policy of empire, militarism, and intervention has inexorably led to the revolutionary power that the U.S. military now wields over the American people — the omnipotent power to arrest, torture, and even execute any American designated an illegal enemy combatant in the war on terrorism.
Since that is the ultimate power that any tyrannical regime can wield over its citizens, the war on terrorism has transformed American society in a way most Americans still don’t even realize and perhaps don’t want to realize. The fact that such power has not been exercised widely is irrelevant insofar is liberty is concerned. Since the power to arrest, torture, and execute Americans as illegal enemy combatants is now a standby power of the U.S. military, it hangs over the heads of the American people like the sword of Damocles.
In those three articles, I pointed out that this power is rooted in U.S. foreign policy and is, in fact, an inexorable and inherent part of it. The U.S. government’s foreign policy of empire, militarism, and intervention has engendered foreign anger and hatred, which have produced terrorism, which has resulted in a war on terrorism in which there are enemy combatants who are dealt with in a military fashion.
I pointed out that it is impossible to reconcile this military power with the principles of a free society, even if it is only a standby power or even if it is being exercised against only a few Americans at any particular time. As Winston Churchill put it,
The power of the Executive to cast a man into prison without formulating any charge known to the law, and particularly to deny him the judgment of his peers, is in the highest degree odious and is the foundation of all totalitarian government whether Nazi or Communist.
libertarians who continue to support this foreign policy of empire,
militarism, and interventionism are faced with an inescapable moral
and philosophical dilemma, perhaps the biggest of their lives: whether
to continue advancing libertarianism or to continue supporting a pro-empire,
interventionist foreign policy, knowing that such a policy means an
unfree society. After all, everyone would acknowledge the irrationality
of declaring, I am fighting for a free society and supporting
a government policy that destroys freedom.
To avoid confronting this critical issue head on, it might be tempting for some people to embrace one of the rationales popular among some conservatives, especially religious ones, for remaining wedded to a conservative foreign policy — that America is faced with the threat of Islamo-fascism — that is, a threat from Muslims who are motivated by their religious beliefs to wage holy war against the United States and the rest of the Western world — a threat that, according to these conservatives, stretches back centuries into history.
Let’s examine this Islamo-fascism rationale for a conservative foreign policy and determine whether it is worth abandoning liberty for, whether it misdiagnoses the root causes of anger and hatred toward the United States, and whether it actually is just an excuse to continue the big-government policy in foreign affairs long favored by conservatives.
Throughout the many years of the Cold War, conservatives maintained that it was necessary to have an enormous military and military-industrial complex to protect us from the Soviet communists who were threatening to conquer the United States and the Western world. Throughout those years, one glaring fact stands out: At no time did conservatives ever claim that Islamo-fascism was a threat that required a massive military machine. The threat was always communism, especially Soviet communism.
In fact, after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, the U.S. government partnered with Osama bin Laden and other Muslim extremists in an attempt to end the Soviet occupation. Did conservatives scream about the dangers of Islamo-fascism, which they now claim stretches back centuries? Did they protest that Islamo-fascists were committed to conquering the United States? Did they demonstrate against the furnishing of U.S. weaponry, including Stinger missiles, to the Islamo-fascists?
Nope, not a peep. All we heard about was the communist threat that required a strong national defense, which was always a euphemism for big government in foreign affairs.
When the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Empire disintegrated, the U.S. military, the military-industrial complex, and American conservatives were caught flat-footed. What would they do now? For some 50 years, they had used communism to justify their enormous worldwide military empire.
Throughout the 1990s, The Future of Freedom Foundation was publishing innumerable articles and one major book — The Failure of America’s Foreign Wars — in which we exhorted Americans to dismantle the Cold War military machine and all the spending and taxes needed to finance them. We repeatedly pointed out that it had been the threat of communism that conservatives had used to justify the warfare state and that the demise of the Soviet Union now provided an opportunity to dismantle the extensive U.S. empire of overseas bases, to eliminate the military-industrial complex, and to downsize the U.S. military to a minimal, defensive level.
Equally important, during the 1990s we repeatedly pointed out that if Americans failed to dismantle their Cold War military machine, they would reap the whirlwind in the form of terrorist blowback, including an attack on American soil. We also warned, in the tradition of America’s Founding Fathers, that a military empire would ultimately pose the greatest threat to the freedom and well-being of the American people.
Our warnings fell on deaf ears, not only among conservatives but also among some libertarians who had come out of the conservative movement and who had never given up their conservative big-government views on foreign policy. To them, the libertarian foreign-policy position expounded by FFF (and other libertarian organizations) was too esoteric and too impractical. They didn’t see a need for it, especially now that America was the sole remaining military empire.
After the demise of the Soviet Empire, U.S. officials went on desperate searches for new missions to justify continuing their Cold War military machine. The Pentagon suggested two primary missions: to help wage the war on drugs (the Pentagon had invaded Panama in 1989 to arrest Panamanian ruler and former CIA operative Antonio Noriega on a drug charge) and to help U.S. businesses compete in international markets. There was no mention of the Islamo-fascist threat facing America.
Then, Saddam Hussein, with whom U.S. officials had partnered during the 1980s, came to the rescue with his invasion of Kuwait, providing Pentagon officials a new mission that would extend throughout the 1990s — to deal with the massive WMD threat that Saddam supposedly posed to the United States, especially with the WMDs that the United States had furnished him in the 1980s.
Throughout the 1990s, were conservatives screaming about the Islamo-fascist threat facing America? Nope. While there were some conservatives still preaching that the disintegration of the Soviet Union was a communist plot designed to lull the West into a false sense of security, the new threat for conservatives (and, for that matter, quite a few liberals, including President Bill Clinton) had become Saddam, Saddam, Saddam, whom they depicted as a new Hitler who was threatening the United States with weapons of mass destruction. In fact, while neo-conservatives are today taking most of the heat for President George W. Bush’s Iraq debacle, we shouldn’t forget that it was conservatives who were calling on the U.S. government to do something about Saddam throughout the 1990s.
Wouldn’t you think that if Islamo-fascism were a big threat, conservatives would have been screaming about it, not only when the U.S. government was supporting Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, but also throughout the more than 10 years when Saddam Hussein was the U.S. government’s official enemy?
The 9/11 attacks exposed the major fault line between libertarians who had expounded the libertarian philosophy of nonintervention and limited government in foreign affairs and those libertarians who had remained wedded to the interventionist, unlimited-government foreign-policy paradigm that they had brought with them from the conservative movement.
There were those of us who steadfastly maintained that the terrorist attacks of 9/11 were rooted in the anger and hatred that U.S. policies in the Middle East had engendered. We pointed out that those who had carried out terrorist attacks, including those who had attacked the World Trade Center in 1993, had repeatedly cited U.S. foreign policy as the source of their grievances. Immediately after the 9/11 attacks (i.e., in the October 2001 issue of Freedom Daily), we again called for a total reevaluation of U.S. foreign policy, emphasizing what we had been emphasizing during the 1990s — that U.S. foreign policy produces the anger and hatred that engenders terrorism.
Conservatives — and pro-war libertarians — would have nothing of it. For them, history started with 9/11. In their mind, all that mattered was that the terrorists had attacked the United States and now, the United States needed to declare war on terrorism by fighting the terrorists all over the world. That meant taking off the gloves, which eliminated what U.S. officials considered old and quaint restrictions of the Geneva Convention and the U.S. Constitution.
Were conservatives and pro-war libertarians screaming about the Islamo-fascist threat after the 9/11 attacks? Sort of, but not exactly. Their primary focus was on the terrorists — that is, those people in the Middle East who supposedly hated America for its freedom and values. That’s why they called it a war on terrorism rather than a war on Islamo-fascism. In fact, when President Bush briefly used the latter term a few years after 9/11, the adverse reaction from mainstream America caused him to drop it like a hot potato. Unfortunately, the same did not hold true for some of his supporters.
The U.S. government provides millions of dollars in U.S.-taxpayer-funded foreign aid to many Islamic countries, such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Jordan, Iraq, and Kuwait. Wouldn’t that ordinarily be considered a fairly bizarre thing to do if the citizens of those countries were bent on conquering the United States? But how many conservatives are demonstrating against U.S. foreign aid to such Islamo-fascist enemies? Answer: None.
Switzerland, whose citizenry have much the same religious values as Americans, is not the subject of Islamo-fascist attacks, and the Swiss government has not seen the need to declare war on Islamo-fascism. Of course, the Swiss government, unlike the U.S. government, minds its own business in foreign affairs.
Neither Saddam nor any other Iraqi ever attacked the United States. Wouldn’t you think that in the nation that the United States has attacked as part of a war on Islamo-fascists there would have been at least one citizen who had attacked the United States during the last, say, 50 years?
Conservatives claim that those Iraqis who are resisting the U.S. invasion and occupation of their country with violent acts are Islamo-fascists. Their insurgency is proof positive, conservatives say, of the dire threat of Islamo-fascism.
That claim is as ludicrous as claiming that resistance to a U.S. occupation of Venezuela would mean that Venezuelan insurgents were Hispano-fascists, Hispano-communists, and Hispano-socialists whose anger and hatred stretch back to the Spanish-American War of 1898.The fact is that no one likes an occupier, except possibly the occupier. The fact that Iraqis resist the U.S. occupation of their country no more makes them Islamo-fascists than a foreign occupation of the United States would make American insurgents Christo-fascists.
But let’s assume that the conservatives and pro-war libertarians are right — that there really is a giant Islamo-fascist threat facing the United States that stretches back centuries but somehow didn’t manifest itself until the giant communist threat and giant Saddam threat had disappeared.
A major question still arises, one that conservatives and pro-war libertarians do not like talking about: What is the effect of U.S. foreign policy on the efforts of the Islamo-fascists? What was the effect, for example, of the brutal sanctions that contributed to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi children and of UN Ambassador Madeleine Albright’s infamous statement that the deaths of those children were worth it? What has been the effect of the invasion and occupation of Iraq, which has killed and maimed hundreds of thousands more? What was the effect of the torture and sex abuse of both Iraqi men and women at Abu Ghraib?
It is impossible to reach but one conclusion: U.S. foreign policy has swelled the ranks of those whose hatred was grounded only in religious values. It stands to reason that when you kill, torture, maim, or humiliate a person, he (if he survives) and his friends, relatives, and countrymen are likely to become very angry and hateful toward you for reasons that have nothing to do with religion. Even U.S. intelligence agencies are now saying that with respect to the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, which have killed and maimed hundreds of thousands of people. That is also why many of the torture-and-sex-abuse videos and photographs taken at Abu Ghraib remain buried in a top-secret, totally secured Pentagon vault.
So, what should be done with respect to some perceived Islamo-fascist threat? Close all overseas U.S. bases, bring all U.S. troops home and discharge them into the private sector, and terminate all foreign aid. Limit the U.S. government to defending the United States from an invasion by Islamo-fascists (and by everyone else), which of course is a non-existent possibility given that the Islamo-fascists (and everyone else) lack the ships, planes, manpower, supplies, and weaponry to cross the ocean and invade or conquer the United States.
What we pointed out after the fall of the Berlin Wall applies just as much today: We have a unique opportunity — the opportunity to dismantle the U.S. foreign policy of empire, militarism, and interventionism — an opportunity we should seize not only because this policy makes matters worse for Americans but, more important, because it necessarily entails the loss of our freedom.
Pro-war libertarians — that is, those who remained wedded to conservatism in foreign affairs left the conservative movement precisely because individual liberty was among their highest values. They thought that they could maintain their commitment to both a conservative foreign policy and a libertarian domestic policy, but the 9/11 attacks and their aftermath burst that notion. Now conscious of the fact that the war on terror, illegal enemy combatants, and the Pentagon’s omnipotent power to arbitrarily arrest, torture, and even execute Americans and foreigners are inexorable and inherent parts of U.S. foreign policy, surely every libertarian recognizes that no society can be considered free under those conditions.
That’s why pro-war libertarians are now faced with their enormous dilemma — whether to maintain their allegiance to a conservative foreign policy, thereby effectively giving up their long-held commitment to a free society, or instead to continue their long-held commitment to a free society by embracing libertarianism in both domestic and foreign affairs.
The time to choose is now, while Americans still have the opportunity to restore a free society to our land and when Americans are most in need of libertarian principles to extract themselves from the morass in which their government has plunged them.
March 17, 2007
Jacob Hornberger [send him mail] is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He will be among the 22 speakers at FFF’s upcoming conference on June 1—4 in Reston, Virginia: u201CRestoring the Constitution: Foreign Policy and Civil Liberties.u201D