Libertarian Isolationism: A Rebuttal

I am floating on air. I had recently added Dr. Jacques Delacroix (Ph.D. Sociology, Stanford) as friend on Facebook, as I had come across his insightful writings in the pages of Liberty, a libertarian publication. I was especially amused by his article on UCSC LUG’s, and was pleasantly surprised to see that he was a mutual friend of a fellow Santa Cruz libertarian.

He is an immigrant from France, and, as you can see through his writings, he bears much resemblance to another Frenchman who once wandered through our curious and inventive Republic.

A rare breed not only because he immigrated here from France (and loves it), Dr. Delacroix is also, quite curiously, a libertarian hawk. That is, he believes that the United States military can and will effectively run an operation that eliminates the threat of terrorist networks aimed at destroying the Republic.

I was fortunate enough to have piqued his interest one day, and the exchange that ensued led him to reply, quite thoughtfully, to my responses. In other words, I am swimming with the big fish now!

Because Dr. Delacroix is much wiser than I, the burden falls on me to convince him of the error of his thought. It has often been said that the older you get, the less likely you are to change your thoughts or your “ways”. I don’t expect to change Dr. Delacroix’s mind (not because he is “old”, either!), but because his mind is still very, very sharp (which is why I am so perplexed at his hawkishness on this issue), I must respond and give the best response that I can.

Below you will find my first argument from the Facebook exchange in italics, followed by Dr. Delacroix’s arguments (which will be indented and in bold), and my replies will follow. I hope y’all learn something from this. I know I have.

Speaking of which, I think I am going to take a shot at convincing you of the hopelessness of global interventionism and nation-building as a tool for preventing jihadism. While jihadism is indeed a problem, I don’t think its a global one. I think that perhaps there are some jihadists who believe in resurrecting the Islamic caliphate of old, but even then that old caliphate never reached the shores of the New World.

Your view of the Caliphate does not begin to cover the motives for jihad. Jihadism does not mean “re-conquest” of what was once Muslim but conquest or domination of the whole world. (See the Hamas Charter on this blog).

Ah, but here I think it is pertinent to point out that jihad cannot simply be reduced to a single monolithic entity. Think of all the diversity within the Muslim world, starting with sects: we have Sunnis, Shias, Sufis, Ahmadiyyas, and Ibadis, for starters, and from there we can proceed to delve in to the various sub-sects within each of these distinct forms of Islam. Now let us switch from religious diversity to ethnic and cultural diversity before finally breaking down even these formidable social clusters into individual human beings capable of performing a vast array of possibilities, some of them good, and some of them bad.

Now lets visualize all of the different historical precedents that each Islamic society is currently shaped by: Indonesian ethnicities and Dutch colonial rule, Chechens and the brutal rule of the Russians, Berber tribes and the French state, Uyghurs and Beijing, Sunni and Shia conflicts in Iraq, Ottoman Turks and Arabs in Mesopotamia, etc., etc. The histories of all of these societies involves jihad at one point or another, and every single one of the jihads was debated (sometimes being rejected, sometimes being accepted) rigorously, and every single one of the jihads was issued for distinctly different reasons.

In short, there is a lot of diversity within the Islamic world, and to suggest that jihad meansexactly the same thing to every single actor within the Muslim world is a bit far-fetched, even by my Santa Cruzian standards. I mean, the two of us cannot even come up with an agreement on what jihad means, so how can we rationally expect billions of individuals to do the same?

The only acceptable outcomes are conversion or living as dhimmis for Christians and Jews. Pagans – that would include Santa Cruz Buddhists, as well as Hindus – can be slaughtered freely or reduced to slavery under Islamic law. In fact, any Muslims man can seize any “pagan” and make him or her a slave. Female slaves are called “concubines.”The Muslims scriptures thus clearly condone rape. The rational Muslims I know will say, “ That was a long time ago. We would not do it now.” In the meantime, the permission to act in this manner remains on the book. It can be invoked at any time and is. I don’t know for sure but I would bet that there is not a single fatwa condemning any of these outrageous acts. Want to bet?

I haven’t made a bet since I lost $100 on the Denver Broncos in 2006. I think that you make a good point in regards to Islamic law, but first I think it is important to suggest that the “rational Muslims” you speak of probably have a good point: namely that a lot of the admittedly crazy shit in the Qur’an is not taken literally by every Muslim in the world. Think of all the weird and humorous stuff that pops up in holy books of the East and West, and of how many people actually take that stuff literally.

Now, I realize that the nature of the Qur’an is a bit more bellicose to other faiths, and that even with moderates preaching tolerance for other religions there are many more hardline clerics preaching a decidedly conservative interpretation of the Qur’an. And I realize that such hate-filled rhetoric has serious repercussions for global peace and prosperity. And I realize that violent Muslim theology has a certain aura about it that lures in young people in on an alarming basis.

I think that this article probably exemplifies your fears and suspicions best. A young man who was employed as a Pakistani politician’s bodyguard murdered him after the politician called for an end to blasphemy laws in the state’s Punjab region. The young man now has a dedicated following on Facebook.

This now brings me back to Islamic law, and the silver lining in this terribly tragic, and altogether familiar case regarding law and Muslim societies. The silver lining is in the recognition and attempt by the politician to repeal such blasphemy laws where they may exist, and I do not think that reformers within Islamic societies are aiming to eliminate blasphemy laws only.

What I don’t think has been mentioned before now in this debate is the role of the state and the role of Islam in these post-colonial societies. Let’s go down the list and see if we can find a connection between the state and Islam in any of the terrorist hotbeds of today:

Pakistan? Check.
Saudi Arabia? Check.
Iran? Check.
Afghanistan? Check.
Iraq? Check.
Yemen? Check.

Now, to the extent that Islamic law – as outlined in the Qur’an – is practiced in the Muslim world, where do you think such legal practices pervade society most? In the United Arab Emirates? In Turkey? In Jordan? Morocco perhaps? Or do you think that the strongest strains of Islamic law are practiced in states with an official state religion?

Regardless of the legal systems that are structured in these predominately Muslim, post-colonial states, I think it is safe to say that there are clashes – politically, economically, and culturally – that are going to define how the Islamic world will look into the foreseeable future – just like everywhere else in the world.

So to me the entire notion that all Muslims want to impose, or even willfully live under, Islamic law is again a bit far-fetched. I think we need to be looking at the institutional factors that come into play here, and ask ourselves if our involvement – which is inevitable in this day and age – in the affairs of the Muslim world should consist of nation-building, weapons-selling, and realpolitiking, or if our involvement should be more focused on opening up trade routes, maintaining clandestine operations to keep our citizens safe from zealots (and by clandestine I doNOT mean overthrowing a democratically-elected leader and installing a dictator), and practicing good governance at home.

I think that for the most part jihadism is a regional problem, and one that the Republic is embroiled in only because of the military assistance (and occupation) that we are providing to the corrupt, ruthless, and negligent Saudi regime (and now the Iraqi and Afghani regimes as well – both of which are equally as corrupt and negligent as the Saudi one).

So, why the terrorist attacks on the French?

I wasn’t aware of any recent terrorist bombings in France. Do you mean the ones that were undertaken during the Algerian war?

On the Spanish?

I’m pretty sure this had to do with the Spanish state’s involvement in the invasion of Iraq.

On Sweden right before Christmas 2010?

All the more reason for leaner and meaner clandestine operations, as I don’t see how any of this could have been prevented by occupying an Islamic state militarily. In fact, the Iraqi-born terrorist may have actually been motivated in part by the actions of Western states in regards to his home country. In addition, the terrorist had spent a large part of his life in the welfare states of Europe, and I think that the region’s multicultural policies helped to mold the young man’s worldview in a way that I will explain a little later on. None of this ought to imply an apology for the fool’s attempts to murder innocent human beings, but I don’t see how using a large military apparatus to police a significant swath of the globe would have prevented this either.

Why the kidnappings and executions of journalists of all nationalities?

This probably has more to do with the fact that the journalists were working in war zones, and not with Islam in particular. If journalists start disappearing in Turkey or Qatar, then I might pin the blame closer to jihad.

Being as how our beef with the jihadists stems from our occupation of Islamic holy lands, i think it is only logical that we bring our troops home and leave the peoples of the Old World to their own affairs. If this were to happen, the jihadists would either turn inward on themselves (which I suspect is the most likely outcome), on Israel, or on the weak and dying welfare states of Europe.

What “Islamic holy lands?” Is Afghanistan holy? Since when? Are Kurdish and Sunni Iraq holy? Why was Algeria attacked for ten years, with about 100,000 deaths: no American troops there? By the way, no American troops in Saudi Arabia for ten years. When American soldiers were withdrawn from the holy soil of Saudi Arabia, terrorists attacks increased. Al Quaida and its buddies did not say, “Alright, we are all squared away now.” Your good reasoning seems to rely on misinformation.

Ah, at first glimpse my reasoning may appear to rely on misinformation, but on second glance this appears not to be the case. The U.S. military did not withdraw from Saudi Arabia until 2003 – well after the World Trade bombing of 1998 and the September 11th terrorist attacks. Therefore, the facts appear to support my position that the American state’s military presence on Islamic holy land played a very significant part in the terrorist attacks on the Republic’s soil.

In regards to Afghanistan and Sunni and Kurdish Iraq, I would try and look at the situation from another angle. It would seem as though the majority of the terrorist acts are aimed at rival factions, rather than at non-Muslim targets. While there is violence directed at religious minorities, I would argue that such violence is fairly natural in these types of situations. Think here of the Serbians attacking Muslim Albanians and Bosnians (and the heaping “thanks” we got for stopping the Serbs from inflicting further damage) after the deterioration of Yugoslavia, or the sporadic attacks on ethnic Han merchants in Buddhist Tibet under the rule of the Communist (and Han-dominated) Party of China, or the inter-ethnic violence that pervades much of Africa’s post-colonial states. I think that these facts actually help to support my position that there is much, much more to jihad (and violence in Muslim lands in general) than simply the legal systems, social norms, and even religious beliefs of the individuals that comprise these societies.

And terrorist attacks increased when the U.S. military left Saudi Arabia because the said military left FOR Iraq, a neighboring Muslim state that Washington had just decided to invade. I think a better lens with which to look at this situation might be to look at WHERE the terrorist attacks have occurred over the past ten years, and see if we can find a positive correlation between the number of terrorist attacks in a region and the presence of a foreign military power. My train of thought leads me to suggest that we would find quite a bit of causation between foreign military presence and terrorist activity.

Al Qaeda is a terrorist network that is probably going to be best dealt with through clandestine operations, and I don’t think that most of the violence currently going on in the Muslim world has much to do with Al Qaeda and has almost everything to do with rival ethnic, religious, clan, state, and economic factions grappling for power in the vacuum that the West has inadvertently triggered through invasion.

As far as Algeria goes, I think that the state only bolsters my claim that there are many factions grappling for power, and I don’t think that Algiers was an innocent bystander in the brutal civil war either. I’m sure that the bloodshed was based on remorseless complexities that delve way beyond the simplified label of jihadism. Again, political, economic, and cultural (especially in regards to the kinship structures of the Berbers) factors probably played a much more significant part in the civil war than you give credit to.

The state of Israel is strong enough to handle its own affairs, and I, unlike many of my peers in Santa Cruz, actually support their actions against the likes of Hamas and Hezbollah (though I do recognize Hamas’ election victories and think that the West is shooting itself in the foot by not recognizing them as such). Besides, I don’t think that all of the various factions within the Middle East are worried that much about a liberal democratic state in the region. I think that everyone over there is much more worried about a nuclear Iran than anything else. There are also many tribal rivalries, sub-state rivalries, ethnic rivalries, and religious rivalries that are likely to spring up in the absence of an imperial presence, all of which are much, much older than the relatively new beef with the Israeli state.

Hamas ‘election was one of the cleanest in the Middle East. Let the Gaza Palestinian assume the burden they put on their own backs by electing Hamas fair and square. The states and factions of the Middle East ought to be worried more about Iran than about Israel. It does not mean that they are. It does not mean that they can divest themselves soon of the mental habit of blaming everything on Israel (That includes Egyptian journalists’ blaming shark attacks on tourists in the Red Sea on Israel! -Would I make this up?)

Yes, but given that most of the post-colonial states in the Muslim world are occupied with inter-ethnic, religious, political, and economic rivalries at the moment, as I have repeatedly pointed out, I do not think for a moment that if the West were to suddenly leave the region that the rivalrous factions would suddenly hold hands, sing ‘Hallelujah’, and proceed to attack Israel in an impressive show of solidarity. The Muslim factions may blame Israel for all of their problems overtly, but I doubt that we would see a unified response from the Muslim world in this regard. And let’s not forget that Israel is not stupid, either. I am sure that they would exploit the rivalries and try to play them off on each other as best they could.

And until Europe ends its Apartheid-like “multicultural” policies on immigrants, and ends the rest of its ridiculous domestic social policies, then Europeans will continue to live in fear of their own shadows.

French society is a very good example of integration of Muslims. It’s at the antipodes of what you could legitimately describe as apartheid. French Muslims are in construction, in retail trade, in government, in teaching, in the police and in the Cabinet. It does not stop anything as far as violent jihadists are concerned.

I think perhaps that French society WAS good at integrating its Muslim citizens at one point in time, but that is certainly not the case today. Based on my limited knowledge, I would say that the success of previous generations of Muslims had more to do with rewarding loyal immigrants from recently-lost colonies with legal and social perks, but that gig ended a long time ago. The immigrant neighborhoods of France seethe with anger, frustration, and neglect.

This is part of a larger trend in Western Europe, and as I stated earlier, I think that the blame lies largely at the feet of the “multicultural” polices of European states. Instead of leaving immigrants alone to live their lives as they see fit, and eventually adopt the customs of their new country, the states of Europe have implemented policies that have been designed to “allow” immigrants to keep a large part of their “former” identity. This is a really nice gesture, of course, but I think that the results of such policies can be seen in the faces and the actions of the first wave of immigrants’ children and grandchildren. If one is always being reminded that he or she is different – but equal – to his or her peers in society, one is likely to feel more alienated and insecure.

One of the best things the American people could do for Europeans is to get out of the region and let them learn how to defend themselves again (it would also save taxpayers here millions of dollars).

Your perception of the costs of “defending” Europe is probably dated. It’s only true in the sense that we maintain somewhat larger armed forces. We would in any case. Yet, your point is well taken, the Europeans are not doing their share and the Canadian armed forces number fewer than …60,000.


How are they ever going to learn how to live again if we don’t let them walk – wobbly knees and all – on their own two feet?

I don’t see how any of this is isolationist. Bringing our troops home would ensure peace from the ravages of Old World affairs, but it would not mean an end of relations with the peoples of the Old World either. Commercial, educational, scientific, religious, and other such relations would continue, and, to top it off, the world would once again have an example of what to emulate when it comes to governing the affairs of their own. And if there was an imminent threat by a terrorist on foreign soil against the Republic, well, that’s what we have satellite technology and laser-guided missiles for.

I don’t know where you get your trust in high-tech defense, I wish to share it

… In any such case, the current occupation of foreign lands has not done much to stem the violent rise of jihadism.

How do you know? ( and how do I know, admittedly? Yet, killing those who have declared they want to kill you and have done so repeatedly seems like a good general policy.)

I don’t see how a leaner and meaner clandestine operation couldn’t do this job much more effectively – both in terms of costs and in terms of results.

…and I would argue that a position of neutrality towards the region would actually do more to eliminate the threat of jihadism than nation-building exercises.

The causal linkage you make about violent jihad and US occupation of Muslim countries is based on defective facts so, your remedy cannot be credible.

Hopefully I’ve helped to clarify the facts a bit.

Your faith in military technology is misplaced, I think. (I could make a U-turn on this one.). As a result, you want to defend American society on the Jersey shore and on the beach in La Jolla. That’s defend against both violent jihadism and North Korean and Iranian adventurism. That’s isolationism

If our clandestine operations have sufficient evidence of a terrorist threat that directly affects the health and well-being of the Republic, and has the means to eliminate the threat through a long-range missile strike, I think that it would be appropriate to do so. Anywhere in the world. How is this isolationist? How would that be defending the Republic on the Jersey shore and La Jolla? Again, if our clandestine operations have sufficient evidence of a terrorist threat that directly affects the health and well-being of the Republic, and has the means to eliminate the threat through a long-range missile strike, I think that it would be appropriate to do so. Anywhere in the world.

You still have not proved to me that a vast military (i.e. government) apparatus is needed to police the world in order to ensure that jihad is squelched. All of the reasons you have thus far given me do not seem to justify the necessity of a military presence in Islamic world – even a nuclear-armed Iran.

You have also not proved (to me, anyway) that the current military occupations of Muslim states by Western ones plays little to no role at all in the current affairs of the world. In short, I need some proof that violence against Western targets is not motivated in large part by the military occupations of Muslim states. Violence against rivalrous domestic factions within these post-colonial states is another matter, and one that should cause the Republic even less of a concern.

The concept of an “Old World” may play a strange role in your reasoning. It seems to be the linchpin of your wholesale rejection that I think of as “isolationism.”I believe it’s a completely artificial construction. The UK and Turkmenistan are both parts of your Old World, I would guess. But what do they have in common? The big gap is between societies where fairly legitimate elections take place frequently, accompanied by alternance in power and where the rule of law prevails much of the time, on the one hand, and gangster states, on the other hand. I could draw you a list of the latter easily. Gangster states often turn aggressive because they are mostly unsuccessful. A successful gangster state such as China is less likely to turn violent.

Cool. I actually see the Old World in a different light. I think that social conceptions like ethnicity, tribal identity, nationality, kinship, history, and even religion play a much more significant part of the day-to-day affairs in the lives of individuals in the Old World than it does in the republics of the New.

One last time, dude. I maintain that the best way for the West to interact with the Muslim world is through increased trade, leaner and meaner clandestine operations, and good governance at home. These key tenants will not end violence in the post-colonial world, but I believe that they will end the violence and the threat of foreign terrorist operations on our soil.

I have not addressed your objections to nation-building. (You raise too many good points.)

Aw shucks…

Just a question: How many democratic polities are there in the Mideast now? Who gets the credit (blame?) for the latest?

I don’t think that I would count Iraq as a democratic polity in the Middle East just yet. After all, it has been less than ten years since the United States invaded the state, and we have yet to see how the Sunni factions will play along with this. I think that it is also worth noting that one of the first things the democratically-elected parliament did was to establish Islam as the official state religion, something which had been banned under Saddam Hussein.

Now my big question for you is how do you think that the U.S. military apparatus can more effectively deal with terrorism than, say clandestine operations or even through increased commercial exchange?

[Editor’s note: this essay first appeared on an old blog of mine in January of 2011]

10 thoughts on “Libertarian Isolationism: A Rebuttal

  1. U.S. military presence and operations in other countries seems more likely to seed anger and resentment than promote harmony and friendship. Drones strikes and other military actions can only create more enemies.

    Let us become a “normal” nation and allow trade with all other countries.

    Create as many friends as we can and they will help identify and thwart immanent threats against us.

  2. Should west remain liberal towards Muslims . I think west should use this liberty and equality toward them to seek the same for all in the land controlled by them. After all the minorities whether Islamic or non-islamic are suffering in the land controlled by them. Islam needs reforms like Christianity and it does not seem on the horizon with the kind of violence and intolerance exhibited by the clergy. While most of the Christian world is growing less religious, Muslims are becoming more religious which only means they are falling under the uneducated, non-liberal Ulemas and Maulvis. Can the west induce the Muslim clergy towards education and reform. After all, there has to be a set of human values approved even by Muslim world. The ‘Organization of the Islamic Conference’ (OIC) should be made to declare those values. If the membership of this club does not come directly to US then proxy like Bahrain, Saudi etc could be used. The US has been slippery with condoning the Saudi actions. How long should this behaviour continue from west because Muslims are not forcing their values on them yet.

Please keep it civil

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