I’m a great admirer of Randy Barnett’s work. I can think of few libertarians and few legal scholars from whom I’ve learned more. And I agree with Professor Barnett that foreign policy issues are harder to sort out from libertarian first principles than, say, the question of minimum wage laws. But his op-ed on “Libertarians and the Iraq War” in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal raises many more questions than it answers. Among them:
Is libertarianism really a political philosophy that tells you what to think about mandatory recycling and restrictions on the interstate shipment of wine, but has virtually nothing of interest to say about when it might be morally permissible to use daisy cutters and thermobaric bombs?
If even the nightwatchman state is, as Barnett has argued, extraordinarily hard to justify, isn’t it harder still to justify a government with a half-a-trillion dollar defense budget, a government that has described its national security strategy as one designed to “make the world not just safer but better”?
Is “self-defense” such a blob of a concept that one can mold it to cover invading a country that had nothing to do with September 11th, no significant connection with Al Qaeda, and no apparent intention to attack us?
Is “electrifying” really the best adjective for the sensation one feels upon discovering that Rudy Giuliani is either (a) ignorant of the most basic historical facts about Al Qaeda, or (b) couldn’t care less so long as he gets appreciative hoots from the cheap seats?
Is there a hypothetical set of facts that would convince Randy Barnett that the Iraq War has turned out to be a very bad idea indeed for life, liberty, and property at home and abroad? If so, how would that set of facts differ from 3,600 American dead, thousands more horribly maimed, Iraqi civilian casualties at least in the tens of thousands, and two million refugees?
But since this subject has been done to death over the past several years, I’ll provide some links rather than take up more space. Here’s one on not getting into Iraq; here’s one on why we should get out; here’s one on a prior attempt by Barnett to justify interventionist foreign policy on libertarian grounds, and here are three on why Wilsonianism and libertarianism don’t mix.
Just one final question, though. Can we please declare a moratorium on the use of phrases like “rooting for success in Iraq” to distinguish libertarian hawks from doves? If, God forbid, single-payer health care ever comes to the United States, I’ll be “rooting” for the success of our new National Health Service, because I’m not the sort of person who wants to see people suffer and die just so I can enjoy a sense of intellectual vindication. But I hope I’ll be forgiven if I also start looking for a quick exit strategy.