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Bob Barr: He's In It to Lose It By: William R. Hawkins
FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, May 15, 2008

Bob Barr, a Georgia Republican congressman from 1995- 2003, formally announced his campaign for president on the Libertarian Party ticket on Monday, May 12. It was widely reported that his candidacy will take votes away from the GOP presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain, similar to the way Ralph Nader’s campaign will hurt the Democratic nominee. But while Barr was a conservative Congressman, he has moved rapidly to the left since breaking with the Republican Party two years ago. He has claimed that a McCain victory would be a “third term” for the Bush administration. On issues of national security and foreign policy, he now sounds more like Nader or Barack Obama. Instead of running to the right of McCain, Barr will be running well to his left – perhaps even further left than the Democratic nominee. Indeed, one of his best-known competitors for the nomination is far-leftist Mike Gravel.

At his announcement, Barr claimed he was “in it to win it,” echoing Hillary Clinton’s losing campaign. But his positions indicate, like Gravel, Barr is “in it to lose it” when it comes to the War on Terror, or any contest against America’s foreign enemies.

In a video posted on the left-wing Huffington Post the day of his announcement, Barr says, “Only a fool would signal to whatever our adversaries are, whoever our adversaries are, exactly how and when we would be drawing down our troops. But I do believe that it is extremely important, and in the best interests of America's defenses and our security, and our relationship with our allies, that we do begin immediately setting in place a plan to draw down, dramatically decrease the military, the economic and the political footprint that we maintain in Iraq.” Barr’s vagueness about who the enemy is in Iraq, be it al-Qaeda or Iranian-backed militias, makes it easier for him to ignore the consequences of his proposed withdrawal of all tools of American influence from the region. Allies and those considering whether to align with the United States, are not going to be favorably impressed by a demonstration of American weakness; nor is crippling political divisions at home a persuasive argument for democracy.

Only five months ago, Barr noted, “Regardless of how one feels about the war in Iraq – and I am among those believing the invasion and continued occupation of this Middle Eastern nation (‘nation building,’ if you will) was and remains ill-advised – the performance of our armed forces in Iraq improved dramatically this past year, especially in the last half of the year.” Barr’s advocacy of a complete U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, regardless of the situation on the ground or the consequences, is the manifestation of ideology, not strategic reasoning. Barr exudes Isolationism, a naïve desire to retreat into an idyllic world far different than the one that actually exists. As America learned the hard way during the 1930s, the rest of the world won’t go away.

Barr opposes any military action against Iran, even though he acknowledges Tehran’s quest for nuclear weapons and support for terrorist groups. In a column last October, he called for “strengthening economic and political pressure on Iran” without offering any specifics. At the same time, he argued “What is important, however, should be to quell the simplistic blustering by the White House and by many presidential candidates designed to prove each will be tougher on Iran than the others. Also helpful would be putting a lid on unnecessary and repetitive insults and threats directed at the Ahmadinejad administration.” In the months since his column, Iran has shown that it has no respect for the diplomatic approach of the U.S. and its European allies. Not only is the Tehran regime moving ahead with its nuclear program, but it has felt secure enough to unleash its Hezbollah proxy army against the Lebanese government, which is supposedly backed by the same Western powers. 

Dennis/Justin Raimondo has written on AntiWar.com – a site he edits in the name of isolationism, “Bob Barr's announcement that he is making a run for the White House on the Libertarian ticket has many advocates of a non-interventionist foreign policy hopeful, even excited – and I include myself among them.” The United States only flirted with isolationism once in its long history of growth to Superpower status, and that was in the 1930s when the movement helped paralyze opposition to growing global threats that finally exploded into World War II.  Raimondo, however, is on record writing, “I believe the wrong side won the war in the Pacific” and labeling Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and Winston Churchill the real “fascists” for opposing Nazi and Communist aggression. If Raimondo is the kind of person who gets excited at a Barr campaign, McCain has nothing to worry about. 

But Barr is not just opposed to foreign wars. He is opposed to defending the United States itself from terrorist attack. He joined with Bruce Fein, a notorious critic of the Bush administration who has called for the impeachment of Vice President Dick Cheney, to form the “American Freedom Agenda.” The most consistent theme running through left-wing opinion since September 11, 2001, has been concern for the well-being of the enemy, who must be protected from American counter measures. The Barr-Fein agenda thus calls for extending habeas corpus to alien enemy combatants and amending the Espionage Act to permit journalists to reveal classified national security information without fear of prosecution. Its ten-point agenda would prohibit:

  • military commissions, allowing civilian trials for terror-collaborators;
  • the use of secret evidence or evidence obtained by “torture” or coercion in any tribunal;
  • the detention of American citizens as unlawful enemy combatants, although the law appears to allow this;
  • the National Security Agency from intercepting phone conversations or emails, thus crippling Homeland Security measures and surveillance of terrorists in our midst;
  • the Executive Branch from invoking the state secrets privilege to anyone claiming to be a victim of “constitutional violations” perpetrated by government officers or agents;
  • the president from detaining terror collaborators abroad, with the assistance of foreign governments; and
  • the listing of individuals or organizations with a presence in the United States as global terrorists or global terrorist organizations based on secret evidence – that is, lawyers would have to reveal classified information to those terrorists.

Barr apparently wants God to protect us from terrorism. Barr opposes the proposal by Sen. Susan Collins, R-ME, and Rep. Jane Harman, D-CA, to create a National Commission on the Prevention of Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism. “Never content to rely on the Good Lord to deliver us from those things that might do us harm,” he argued, “one Congress after another – going back at least to the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 – has considered legislation or held hearings to highlight perceived threats and to then limit individual freedom to battle things that might bump us in the night.” He dismissed “this century's Red scare – terrorism,” although neither threat was illusory. Simple reliance on the Good Lord did not save the victims of 9/11, nor did faith alone end the Holocaust or bring down the Berlin Wall. If there was divine intervention, it was in providing the resources and the will to act against the enemies of civilization. God helps those who help themselves.

Is this only naivete on Barr’s part? In regard to the Collins-Harman bill, Barr understands that “Any person or organization that might have even contemplated the use of ‘violence’ (not itself a defined term in the legislation) ought to be genuinely frightened of this language. Any ‘extremist belief system’ (not further defined) that might facilitate ‘ideologically based violence’ would be a targetable activity for the commission.” Why would anyone not want those contemplating violence to be afraid, and thus hopefully deterred from spilling blood to advance their extremist agendas? The answer is found in the Left’s mythology of bloody revolution in the style of Robespierre, Lenin, Mao, or Castro.

Although the Constitution to which he constantly appeals charges the federal government with preserving our borders, he has no such interests. He opposes the Real ID, which Congress enacted in 2005 to standardize state drivers licenses and non-driver identification cards to reduce the ability for illegal aliens, terrorists or other criminals to obtain and use false documents or establish fictitious identities. As Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-WI, said at the time he introduced his Real ID act, “American citizens have the right to know who is in their country, that people are who they say they are, and that the name on a drivers license is the holder’s real name, not some alias.” Mohammed Atta, leader of the 9/11 terrorists, had obtained a Florida drivers license, which he used as ID to board the jetliner he hijacked. This is why the 9/11 Commission recommended increased security for state drivers licenses. Licenses that meet the Real ID standard will be needed for boarding commercial airline flights and for entering federal buildings and nuclear power plants. But Barr thinks improved licenses will interfere with “the right to travel free of government constraints,” which “has long been considered a fundamental freedom in America.” But such travel is a privilege, not a right; and should be denied to criminals.

There is no authentic conservative tradition of turning against one’s country in a time of war. Patriotism and the desire to see one’s country secure, strong and in charge of its own destiny are core conservative values. Anyone with the shameful inclination to undermine policies that serve the national interest has to move to the Left to find arguments and support. This is what Bob Barr has done in his quest for the Libertarian Party presidential nomination.

William Hawkins is a consultant on international economics and national security issues.

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