The Libertarians tell me that in foreign policy as in physics, Newton was right when he observed that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction; therefore, all of our interventions are folly in defiance of the Law of Unintended Consequences. But the mechanistic view of political economy and human action as analogous to Newtonian physics is perhaps the weakest pillar of sophomoric libertarianism. Honest Libertarians should re-read Ludwig von Mises and not the inferior pretenders who claim His legacy. Human beings are not inert atoms or asteroids; they have complex cultural, religious, and moral patterns. Was Japan’s emergence as a pillar of peace in East Asia an equal and opposite reaction to Hiroshima? Was Mohammar Khadafi’s abandonment of his nuclear program an equal and opposite reaction to our invasion of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq? Was the escalation of the Palestinian attacks against Israel an equal and opposite reaction to the latter’s surrender of land, presumably in exchange for peace?
Of course there will be unintended consequences and reactions. Hitting someone might make him want to hit back. Displacing one tyrant might draw even worse elements into the vacuum. Rebelling against a tyrant could bring repression. Declaring Independence from Great Britain might lead to a long and bloody Revolutionary War. Buying an SUV might enrage an environmentalist who then makes it his life’s mission to take away your private property rights and freedom. But this does not mean that we can hide behind our oceans. We are engaged in the world and have to make the best choices that we can and take action with imperfect knowledge, building into the plan the ability to respond to the unexpected. In 2003, that imperfect knowledge included the concurrence of such right-wing warmongers as John Kerry, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Harry Reid, Al Gore, Ted Kennedy, Nancy Pelosi, John Edwards, Robert Byrd, the bipartisan Robb-Silberman commission, Bill Clinton’s CIA director George Tenet, Keneth Pollack (Persian Gulf expert on the National Security Council for Bill Clinton)… and the list goes on. It meant coping with the undeniable fact that Saddam Hussein stood in open defiance of at least 16 United Nations Security Council resolutions. He could have come clean and avoided the invasion, but chose not to.
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The free market requires defense. It doesn’t just spring up spontaneously and peacefully. Private property, freedom, and enforcement of private contracts, rule of law etc. all require a benevolent force to restrain the bandits, the thieves, the murderers, and those who deem others unworthy of life due to ethnicity, religion, or other characteristics. It requires someone to prevent and punish murder, assault, robbery, theft, fraud, rape, persecution and conspiracy. It requires protection of the rights of minorities, women, and homosexuals. If no one can do that better in Iraq or anywhere else than we can, AND the bandits threaten us and the wider world besides, then sooner or later we will have to justify not getting involved.
One reader put the word ‘terrorists’ in quotes, apparently to imply that they don’t really exist, that they are just figments of us paranoiacs’ imaginations. We should not fear terrorists because Americans die of heart attacks and traffic accidents? We should not declare war on Japan because on the day of December 7, 1941, more Americans died of natural causes than of the attack on Pearl Harbor (and besides, we had no business being there in the first place)?
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