The war in Iraq issue has divided libertarians or has exposed divisions which were already there. I believe many libertarians and some conservatives sincerely oppose the war on essentially procedural grounds -- that the word "war" was not explicitly used in Congress's grant of military authority to the President in going into Iraq. Even though there is disagreement among constitutionalists about whether Congress's authorization amounted to a "real" declaration of war or not, this is at least an argument which tries to refer back to the Constitution and I understand it even if I do not necessarily agree with it. I see that as perhaps their strongest legitimate argument against the war in Iraq. It at least appears to be a libertarian or constitutionalist argument. (Yet some of the same people who claim this as their basis for opposing the war in Iraq nevertheless supported the war in Afghanistan, which had no explicit declaration of the word "war" from Congress either. Inconsistent constitutionalism, it seems to me.)
But I also believe many of the "anti-war" libertarians have accepted certain Democrat media talking points as the basis for their opposition, even though they are not true. They have absorbed the hate-Bush propaganda which is so ubiquitous in the media, especially Democrat Party establishment house organs such as NPR, NBC, ABC, CBS, Time magazine, Washington Post, L.A. Times, and the New York Times, just to name a few. Those who rely for their news and interpretations on such sources are apt to be misled, especially on the issue of the war in Iraq. Many Americans have been led to believe, for example, that Bush and Cheney "lied us into war" and that Scooter Libby exposed Valerie Plame as a "covert" CIA agent and that this was in revenge for her husband's claim that Saddam Hussein never sought "yellow cake" uranium in Africa. None of these claims of this scenario are true. The statements of Valerie Plame's husband, Joseph Wilson, have been shown to be without credibility. Libby was not the person who "outed" Valerie Plame (who was not a covert agent anyway). Yet, because most Americans get only "impressions" of news and generally get those impressions from watching television every night, the constant barrage of propaganda has caused many, including even some libertarians, to buy into this chain of false claims disseminated by anti-Bush partisans within the federal bureaucracy and their Democrat allies in the media.
A clash between the U.S. and Saddam Hussein was virtually inevitable and not avoidable in the long run. My position has been that the U.S. had little choice: either deal with Saddam Hussein and his military buildup now (ASAP) or have to fight him years later when confrontation could not be avoided any longer and when his forces would have been far stronger and more destructive in terms of weapons of mass destruction and alliances. That being my view, I'd rather see it done now and with Bush 43 as President rather than put it off when Saddam would have been more dangerous and when the U.S. President might be some doofus Democrat like Kerry or Gore or Hillary Clinton. Whatever mistakes the Bush Administration has made in the war against the jihadists, I am easily persuaded in my mind that a Democrat President would have done far worse. Despite my consistent opposition to President Bush's liberal policies on other issues, it is clear that things would be far worse if Kerry or Gore had been elected, especially with regard to foreign policy, national security, and defense. (Again, as I have said before, it's not that I think Bush is so good, but that the Democrat alternatives were so bad. Unfortunately, too many Americans still do not have a clue about how much damage Bill Clinton did as President to this country's national security and too many people continue to underestimate the extent of duplicity on the part of the current Democrat leadership.)
The U.S. (or anyone else for that matter) had both the legal and moral right to take down Saddam and his regime. In addition, it was in the geopolitical interests of the U.S. to do so. The Iran-Iraq War was long over. He had ceased to be an "ally" long ago. He was harboring anti-American terrorists including Zarqawi and Abu Nidal. (There is even evidence of terrorist training camps inside Iraq going back to the 1990s.) Intelligence from all over the world indicated Saddam's military buildup included weapons of mass destruction and programs for developing WMDs. He had already used WMDs against Iraqis, killing Kurds in great numbers. How would he use them in the future? Might some of them find their way into the hands of terrorists like those who attacked the
U.S. on 09/11/01? Sadam had been properly slapped down by Bush 41 after his unprovoked aggression against neighboring Kuwait, with whom the U.S. had a defense agreement. Saddam continued to violate the terms of the ceasefire after that first Gulf War, Anyone who claims that the U.S. did not have a right to strike Saddam Hussein and curtail his military buildup in retaliation for his military actions and threats ignores what was happening or was just not paying attention.
Contrary to Democrat talking points and anti-Bush partisan political propaganda, the evidence indicated Saddam Hussein did have WMDs, did have programs for developing WMDs, and was seeking to get "yellow cake" uranium (despite Joseph Wilson's claims to the contrary). Some WMDs and evidence of WMDs were later found by the U.S. military in Iraq, but there is evidence that most of the WMDs were transported out of Iraq prior to the arrival of U.S. and allied troops. There was plenty of time to accomplish this as the Bush Administration clearly telegraphed its punches.
Whether the U.S. invasion of Iraq is seen as a rescue of the Iraqi people from the tyranny of Saddam Hussein or as an attempt to replace Saddam with a reliable ally in the broader war against the jihadists, or both, it was certainly not a case of "U.S. imperialism" or unprovoked aggression by the allies against a peaceful government -- as the anti-American Left would have people believe.
"[w]hile all libertarians accept the principle of self-defense, and most accept the role of the U.S. government in defending U.S. territory, libertarian first principles of individual rights and the rule of law tell us little about what constitutes appropriate and effective self-defense after an attack."
And, of course, no one ever claimed that they do, at least no one I know of in the pro-Iraqi liberation faction among libertarians.
Strict libertarianism says it is wrong to initiate force against a peaceful person or regime that has not initiated force against others. It does not say that you cannot use force in retaliation against someone who has initiated force, which Saddam Hussein had done on a massive scale. Specific tactics and strategy of war cannot be deduced from such first principles as self-ownership, private property, rule of law, etc. There is nothing in libertarian principles or the theory of the laissez-faire constitutional republic which dictates such matters. Such specific issues of tactics and strategy are matters of judgment and prudence by military experts. Other than advocating an international gold standard, low or no tariffs, and trying to avoid (if possible) foreign wars as a general policy, there can be a wide latitude of positions among libertarians when it comes to foreign policy and geopolitical strategy.
By making himself a single-issue candidate - especially on an issue on which libertarians are so divided - Ron Paul is sadly distracting from other very important issues and from the bedrock libertarian principles on which we all agree. As Professor Barnett writes in the closing paragraph of his WSJ editorial, those libertarians who supported the liberation of Iraq and who support success in leaving behind a stable ally there
". . . are still rooting for success in Iraq because it would make Americans more safe, while defeat would greatly undermine the fight against those who declared war on the
U.S. They are concerned that Americans may get the misleading impression that all libertarians oppose the Iraq war - as Ron Paul does - and even that libertarianism itself dictates opposition to this war. It would be a shame if this misinterpretation inhibited a wider acceptance of the libertarian principles that would promote the general welfare of the American people."
I agree. Thank you, Professor Barnett!