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Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Hornberger addressing pro-war faction in Libertarian party

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Brian B.
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[Talk] Hornberger addressing pro-war faction in Libertarian party
One of our subscribers in LVOF, Dan Skinner, posted this to the group.
I think it extremely relevant given our recent discussions.
Brian Bustamante
The Critical Dilemma Facing Pro-War Libertarians
by Jacob G. Hornberger
The 9/11 attacks exposed a major fault line in the libertarian
movement. On one side of the divide were those libertarians who
contended that the 9/11 attacks were a direct consequence of U.S.
foreign policy — specifically the bad things that the federal
government had done to people overseas, especially in the Middle East.
Therefore, those libertarians argued, the only real long-term solution
to terrorism against the United States lay in reining in the federal
government's actions overseas, by such actions as bringing home U.S.
troops stationed overseas, dismantling the military-industrial complex,
abolishing the CIA, discontinuing foreign aid, ending U.S. invasions
and occupations, and prohibiting federal meddling in the affairs of
other nations.
On the other side of the divide were those libertarians who immediately
after the 9/11 attacks aligned themselves with conservatives. Viewing
the attacks as an act of war, they favored giving the president full
authority to wage the "global war on terror." This was no time to
analyze or discuss U.S. foreign policy, these libertarians said. This
was the time to hike military spending, take off the gloves, and
unleash the CIA and the U.S. military to fight an enemy — terrorism —
that arguably was more dangerous than the communist threat that America
faced during the Cold War.
Today, pro-war libertarians are faced with what is possibly the
greatest moral and philosophical dilemma of their lives.
No one can deny that we now live in a country in which the president,
on his own initiative, has the omnipotent power to send the nation into
war against any country on earth, especially given that the war on
terror extends all over the globe. The president, the CIA, and the
military have the power to take any suspected terrorist — foreigner or
American — into custody and torture, abuse, and execute him without due
process of law and trial by jury. The president and the NSA have the
power to wiretap telephones and monitor emails without a judicially
issued warrant. The president, the CIA, and the military have the power
to send missiles into cars and drop bombs into buildings anywhere in
the world, including right here in the United States, in their attempt
to win the war on terror. Indeed, the president wields the power to
ignore any constitutional or legislative restraints on his power as a
"wartime" commander in chief.
The critical importance of civil liberties has traditionally been a
blind spot for conservatives. Focusing their attention almost
exclusively on economic liberties — such as the minimum-wage law,
economic regulations, and excessive taxation — they have traditionally
denigrated the importance of civil liberties. Their long, brutal war on
drugs, for example, has always been accompanied by their mocking of
constitutional safeguards pertaining to search and seizure, protection
from self-incrimination, and right to counsel. For conservatives, the
protections of the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Eight Amendments are
nothing more than "constitutional technicalities."
Thus, when the president and the Pentagon established their detention
facility in Cuba for the precise purpose of avoiding the constraints of
the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, conservatives applauded. The
last thing the government needed, conservatives felt, was a bunch of
fierce criminal-defense attorneys fighting to defend "the terrorists."
The post–9/11 conservative mindset was that the only good terrorist was
a tortured or dead terrorist. Never mind that the president, the CIA,
and the Pentagon, rather than a federal jury before an independent
federal judge, now wielded the omnipotent power to decide who was a
terrorist and, therefore, subject to being arbitrarily tortured,
abused, and killed. And never mind that countless innocent people were
being caught up in the sweep.
The reason that conservatives have long bashed such liberal groups as
the ACLU, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International is not simply
because as liberals they hold socialist economic views or because such
groups were viewed by conservatives as subversive organizations. (After
all, conservatives also hold socialist economic views.) Conservative
antipathy toward such groups has also been based on the latter's ardent
support of civil liberties. It's not a coincidence that, ever since
9/11, it has mostly been liberal groups, not conservative ones, that
have been fighting against the torture and murder of prisoners and
detainees at Bagram, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and the secret overseas
prison camps operated by the CIA. Conservatives have long been known
for using libertarian rhetoric in economics, while, at the same time,
embracing statism in practice (just as liberals have been famous for
their civilliberties rhetoric while embracing statism in economic
rights and gun rights). Everyone is familiar with the standard
conservative mantra of "free enterprise, private property, and limited
government" that conservative organizations have on their stationery,
websites, and promotional brochures. But we're also familiar with their
support of public (i.e., government) schooling, Social Security,
Medicare, Medicaid, income taxation, the drug war, regulations, and
many other governmental programs that violate the principles of "free
enterprise, private property, and limited government."
The fact is that long ago conservatives threw in the towel with respect
to achieving a society based on truly free-market, limited-government
principles. For decades, they have committed their lives to big
government and to figuring out how to take control of big government.
Thus, today their "free-market" proposals and policy prescriptions are
limited to reform — Social Security reform, health-care reform,
drug-war reform, and so forth. Reform, reform, reform. That is what
passes for "freedom" in the conservative movement. While that
contradiction within conservatism has never bothered conservatives, it
has never escaped the attention of libertarians, especially those
libertarians who were conservatives before they became libertarians.
Libertarians have long understood that conservatives have been holding
contradictory philosophies within themselves — the philosophy of
libertarianism, as reflected in their rhetoric, and the philosophy of
statism, as reflected in their support of socialist and interventionist
Over the years, conservatives have often mocked libertarians over the
fact that the general public hasn't embraced the libertarian
philosophy, What conservatives could not deny, however, was that at
least libertarians hewed to a consistent philosophy — one that did not
cause the libertarian to war against himself through a commitment to
contradictory principles. Genuinely believing in a free society — a
society based on free markets, private property, and limited government
— libertarians have always favored the repeal, not the reform, of such
socialist and interventionist programs as public (i.e., government)
schooling, Medicare, Medicaid, income taxation, the drug war, and
economic regulations.
Equally important, despite the fact that the libertarian philosophy has
still not captured the support of the American people, libertarians
have never abandoned their commitment to the free-market,
limited-government paradigm for the sake of "credibility" or
"respectability" or to achieve political power, as conservatives have.
For libertarians, what has always mattered most are principle and integrity.
Yet libertarians who hold conservative views on foreign policy are now
faced with what may well be the greatest moral and philosophical
dilemma of their lives. By hewing to a conservative foreign policy and
a libertarian domestic policy, they themselves are now holding
contradictory philosophies. Even worse, these two contradictory ideas
cannot coexist in the long run because a conservative foreign policy is
a growing cancer that is destroying freedom at home. How can any of the
powers now wielded by the president, the CIA, and the military be
reconciled with the principles of a free society, especially from a
libertarian standpoint? If a government has the power to arbitrarily
take anyone into custody and torture and kill him, how can the
citizenry in that society truly be considered free? Even if there is
freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, the
freedom to vote, and even the freedom to own guns, all such freedoms
are meaningless if the government has the power to arrest, torture, and
execute anyone it wants.
Recall the movie Braveheart, which depicted the period in English
history when the English king and his minions possessed and exercised
the right to rape a newlywed bride on her wedding night. Can anyone
imagine the woman's husband exclaiming, as his wife was carted away,
"At least we can peacefully protest the king's actions without being
thrown into jail"? (In fact, even the right of habeas corpus would be
ineffective in such a case because the judge at the habeas corpus
hearing would hold that under the law the government has the "right" to
rape the bride and, therefore, he would deny habeas corpus relief.
Thus, the core problem would remain — that government officials would
possess the power to rape.)
Or imagine a suspected terrorist being stretched on the rack or
subjected to waterboarding, screaming, "I have the right to criticize
the government" under principles of freedom of speech (or even "I have
the right to call my lawyer!"). His torturers would respond, "Well of
course you do. But we have 'rights' too — including the right to
arrest, torture, abuse, and kill you without judicial interference."
Thus, again, the problem lies in the fact that government possesses the
power to arbitrarily arrest and torture people.
That's what 9/11 accomplished. It exposed the horrible reality of what
an imperial, interventionist foreign policy has brought to our nation
and the American people. We not only live in a nation whose government
has troops in more than 100 foreign countries, that is occupying
Afghanistan and Iraq, that is threatening new wars against Iran and
North Korea, and that claims the authority to drop bombs on any country
on earth. We also live in a country in which omnipotent power over the
citizenry by the president, the CIA, and the military is part and
parcel of that foreign policy.
After all, despite the manifest evidence of kidnapping, torture, and
murder of prisoners and detainees at the hands of CIA agents, how many
CIA agents have been brought to account by either the Justice
Department or the Congress? (None.) How many have been arrested and
charged for such crimes? (None.) How many have been indicted? (None.)
The only potential criminal prosecution of CIA agents is coming from
foreign countries, such as Italy and Germany, where prosecutors are
seeking criminal indictments against CIA agents for kidnapping and
conspiring to torture in those countries. When it comes to the CIA,
unfortunately all too many people get scared, turn away, and remain
silent. That's what omnipotent government tends to do to people. How
can a nation whose government has an untold number of secret agents,
operating with secret budgets, following secret orders, and wielding
the authority to kidnap, torture, and murder with impunity even
remotely be reconciled with the principles of a free society,
especially from a libertarian standpoint?
Some may think that there really isn't any cause for concern because
most of the suspected terrorists that U.S. officials are incarcerating,
torturing, and killing are foreigners, not Americans. After all,
they've arrested, incarcerated, and denied right to counsel, due
process, and jury trials to only two Americans — Yaser Hamdi and Jose
Padilla. What's the big deal? For one thing, freedom is not defined by
the extent to which a wrongful power is being exercised by government
but rather by whether the wrongful power is possessed and able to be
exercised. Second, U.S. officials reserve the power to subject all
Americans to the same treatment to which all other suspected terrorists
have been subjected. Third, to think that the exercise of such power
will be limited to "only" one or two Americans reflects naiveté in the
extreme. The fact is that the feds could have easily treated Hamdi and
Padilla to the same abuse and torture accorded to suspects at
Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, Bagram, or the CIA's secret torture facilities.
Or they could have transported them to Syria, Egypt, Jordan, or any
other friendly brutal regime for torture, as they did to an innocent
Canadian citizen falsely accused of being a terrorist. It was only
political considerations that inhibited U.S. officials from subjecting
American terror suspects to the full panoply of mistreatment to which
they have subjected foreign terror suspects.
But let there be one or two more major terrorist attacks in the United
States, and all bets are off: Americans will inevitably witness the
full power of Leviathan unleashed. And if that day comes, all too many
Americans will realize that the time for protest was long before it
became too dangerous to protest. Some libertarians may be harking back
to what may seem to them to have been the halcyon days of pre–9/11,
when it seemed possible to favor a conservative foreign policy
(euphemistically described as a "strong national defense") while
favoring libertarianism (i.e., limited government) in domestic policy.
That wasn't reality — that was just fanciful thinking in a make-believe
world. It was like saying, "I favor lightning but I'm firmly against thunder."
The 9/11 attacks simply exposed what has been going on for many decades
and continues to occur at an ever-increasing pace — the movement of our
nation away from its founding principles of a republic and in the
direction of empire, militarism, and intervention. Equally important,
the reality is that such federal programs as the "war on terror," the
invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq, and the impending
attack on Iran, along with the omnipotent powers that the president,
the CIA, the NSA, and the Pentagon now wield against the American
people, are inherent, integral, inescapable parts of that foreign
policy. If one embraces the policy, he embraces the consequences of the policy.
Let's also not forget another essential part of an imperial,
militarist, interventionist foreign policy: out-of-control federal
spending, which in turn brings rising inflation and taxation. How can
those things be reconciled with libertarian economic principles?
Finally, as U.S. officials often remind us, the war on terror is
perpetual, especially because an interventionist foreign policy
guarantees an infinite supply of terrorists. That means that
libertarians who favor such a foreign policy are, at the same time,
surrendering any hope of ever achieving libertarianism. The only way to
achieve the free society in our lifetime is through a consistent
commitment to libertarianism, not only in domestic affairs but also in
foreign affairs.
Thus, libertarians who embrace the conservative view on foreign policy
have one of the most important decisions of their lives confronting
them. By hewing to two contradictory philosophies, circumstances have
now placed them in a moral and philosophical quandary. Will they
continue hewing to a conservative foreign policy, thereby giving up all
hope of a free society at home? Or will they choose to maintain their
commitment to libertarianism here in America, which means rejecting a
conservative foreign policy? Or will they simply act as if no choice at
all now confronts them?
The stakes are obviously enormous. As Ludwig von Mises put it,
No one can find a safe way out for himself if society is sweeping
towards destruction. Therefore everyone, in his own interests, must
thrust himself vigorously into the intellectual battle. None can stand
aside with unconcern; the interests of everyone hang on the result.
Jacob Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom
Foundation. This article was originally published in February 2007.

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