Libertarian Isolationism: A Debate Continued

Haha! The bumper sticker is the symbol of the downfall of the West. At Cabrillo College I have seen a few stickers around that are decorated with a sickle and hammer with a phrase next to it saying “sharing is caring”. Only in the People’s Green Socialist Republic of Santa Cruz…

Also, I feel like a ‘thank you’ is in order. I am currently taking a class in Political Thought at De Anza, and it appears to be a waste of time. Despite the name of the class, it is not really about thinking at all, so I am grateful to have a teacher like Dr. Delacroix who is willing to take time out of his life and challenge me to stretch the limits of my reasoning and my worldview.

[update 1/11/11: I have to rebuke my statement that the class is not making me think. I have a bad habit of condemning my classes after the first week, and I have yet to break this deplorable vice. It is obvious judging by the content of the first lecture this week that I will learn a lot in this class.]

On to the debate at hand! Dr. Delacroix’s arguments are indented and in italics, and my responses follow.

On the subject of Muslims in France, you just ought to defer to me, I think. I read French newspaper six days a week; I watch French television every day; I am in touch with intelligent French people in France and in North Africa; I go to France fairly often, and I know the language.

The working-class periphery of Paris is seething with resentment, as you say. This is exactly what you would expect in a society where 10% general unemployment has, for thirty years, been the norm, (20% for younger people), and a 1.5% growth rate in the economy is a cause for celebration. Expressions of this resentment are numerous, fairly violent and also ecumenic in who participates. They have never taken an Islamist form. So, France is in the line fire of violent Islamists in spite of its Muslim situation being the reverse of apartheid. In fact, it could be because of this. (The main firing is many kidnappings of French citizens, specifically.)

The Islamist targeting of French citizens and territory may be because of its ability to integrate Muslims so well, but I doubt it. I think that the current terror threat to France has more to do with its occupation of Afghanistan than it does to the successful integration of Muslim citizens. After all, is the terrorist threat to France not relatively new (at least since the end of the Algerian War)? Surely, if the Islamists were so jealous of French success at integration, there would have been earlier threats to France’s existence, no? The past ten years have seen an upsurge in threats not from traditional terrorist groups like Corsican and Basque separatists, but from specifically Islamist organizations, right? You don’t see a correlation between France’s occupation of Afghanistan (and by implication its war against Al Qaeda) and the newfound threats of terror coming from Islamist-tinged terror networks? Alas, coincidences do happen…

You are minimizing a great deal the bellicosity of Muslim Scriptures as if they were just a couple of zits on a beautiful face. The Koran and the Hadiths contain numerous warlike, inciting statements (and not only such, it’s true) against infidels, including permission to put them to death and to enslave them. Want to bet? I defy you to show me anything of the kind in the Gospels or any other part of the New Testament. It’s easy to find calls to jihad in latter and mostly forgotten Christian writings. The Crusades did happen, after all. And that’s part of my point: I understand Islamist aggression because those who have it on their mind are much like my ancestors (and yours) a thousand years ago. It’s a familiar ugly face, not difficult to recognize.

Ah! Here there may have been a misinterpretation of my position due to my terribly convoluted writing. I don’t doubt that Muslim scriptures are warlike or bellicose. Rather, my argument is that most Muslims don’t take such baneful statements and/or passages as seriously as we’d like to think. If you mistook my last blog post as a defense of Muslim religion, the fault is my own for not enunciating my position more clearly. That is, I argue that most Muslims do not (or wish to not) take the Quran all that seriously – unless they are forced to do so by law.

Connection between the role of the state and the role of Islam in a list of Muslim countries: I get your point. The answer is “no direct link” except in Saudi Arabia and formerly in Taliban Afghanistan. The sad truth is that today, the world, including us, seems to have a choice between murderous violent jihadists and modernizing fascist regimes in Muslim countries. That’s a subject worth discussing. Libertarians don’t. Myself, I chose the fascists because they are not as willing to die to kill us. Also fascist systems sometimes become more representative.

Iran claims to have no direct link to Islamic doctrine? I always thought that it was an Islamic Republic, albeit a self-proclaimed one…

And also, I am fairly certain that Saddam Hussein and the Ba’athist Party would fit under your definition of a modernizing fascist regime (if we are to take Hayek’s observation that fascism is merely the next logical step for socialist systems to evolve into seriously). Is it or is it not true that Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship was ardently anti-Islamist, and that a major factor in the Ba’athist war against the newly-minted Islamic Republic of Iran had to do with the fact that the Ba’athists detested Islamist ideology much more so than anything else, even Israel and the United States (indeed, is it also not true that the fascistic Ba’aths sought help from both states for military and intelligence purposes?).

The Ba’athist observation aside, I agree with you here – wholeheartedly. Modernizing fascistic regimes are much better for peace and stability in the post-colonial world. (Quick side note: if we again take Hayek’s analysis of socialism into account, we can kind of trace the evolution of post-colonial states from their socialist/fake-nationalist-inspired revolutions, through the failures of their attempts at central economic planning, to their current attempts at economic “self-sufficiency” and fascistic domestic programs, no? Why not let them keep evolving and see where it takes them?). I have even heard libertarians make the argument that Saddam Hussein would have been a much better option to work with in the Middle East than an Iraq loosely controlled by an Islamist-friendly (and Iranian-friendly) Shia majority and continually bordering on collapse.

I am apt to argue that most of the Muslim world agrees with us as well. So, given that both you and I can see that the Islamic world is much better off with modernizing fascistic regimes, and (more importantly) given that most of the Islamic world probably can see that they are better off with modernizing fascistic regimes (indeed, I think that this sub-point deserves further scrutiny a little later on in my argument), I am forced to conclude that unpopular ideologies like Islamism gain hold over the power structures in these post-colonial states because of three main factors: 1) foreign intervention by major states, and 2) discontent with the fascistic regimes and 3) the perception, rightly or wrongly so, that such fascistic regimes are proxies for the major states.

Despite the negative perceptions harbored by a majority of Muslims in the world towards their fascistic governments in regards to how they deal with the West, we must continue to work with these governments. The only puzzle that we have to solve, though, is how to go about working with the fascistic regimes. Do we continue to give them military assistance, money for domestic programs (to be doled out they see fit), and intelligence and police training? Or do we instead abolish all forms of foreign aid to these states and begin to structure trade deals that will contribute in a long-term and healthy way to the betterment of their societies (and ours)?

In general, I think you are in denial on two broad fronts. Either denial is enough to make your militarily isolationist position untenable, in my humble opinion:
You contend that we provoked violent jihadist attacks because of our military presence in the holy lands of Islam. Ignoring the fact that none of those places, save perhaps Saudi Arabia, are holy, have ever been holy except by Al Qaida pronouncement, you would have to defend the following propositions:

Okay, again, the misunderstanding of my position here is my fault, as my writing is largely incoherent and usually bereft of any clear insight. I did not argue that the United States provoked the two attacks on our soil, only that our military (re: government) occupation of Saudi Arabia – Islamic holy lands – was a major factor in the decision of Al Qaeda to murder 3,000 innocent people through terrorist means. I do not happen to think that disregarding the motives of the Republic’s enemies is a smart move, either. If Al Qaeda said it murdered our people because of our government’s occupation of Islamic holy land, I am inclined to believe the Network on the grounds that such an organization is not involved in a political process, and therefore has no need to lie about its motives for popularity’s sake.

When violent jihadists murder Argentinean Jews in Buenos Aires, it’s because Americans have a military presence in Muslim holy lands;

When violent jihadists murder Iraqi Christians in Iraq, Egyptian Christians in Egypt, and Pakistani Christians in Pakistan, it’s because of American military presence in Muslim holy lands.

When violent jihadists murder other Muslims in Algeria, Iraq, Pakistan, it’s because of American military presence in Muslim holy lands.

Your argument about “minorities” is special pleading and it does not stand the barest scrutiny: Kurds are much more numerous than Sunnis in Iraq; the victims of violent Islamists in Algeria were specifically not ethnic minorities. The slaughtered “minorities” of Pakistan have one thing I common: The are not Sunni Muslims. Could be a coincidence. Do you really think so?

Straw Man alert! Straw Man alert! *smart ass (or dumb, depending on your point of view) smirk* If you are referring to the 1994 terrorist bombing in Buenos Aires, then you would be confusing Islamist-inspired terror networks with state-sponsored terror, as Iran has been publicly accused of sponsoring the terrorism.

My argument about the violence and bloodshed in the post-colonial, Muslim world was obviously not very clear here, either. I thought I had argued that the ongoing violence has more to do with the various factions – politically, ethnically, religiously, and tribally – grappling for power than it does with Islamist movements themselves. That is, Islamist movements in these various regions of the Islamic world are only one faction in a diverse and entangled web of political intrigue and guise, and they are not the only ones who commit acts of violence.

Politically: Again, to say that the fascistic states have played no part in the violence is a bit far-fetched. We have agreed that fascistic states are better than Islamist ones, but this is not to say that fascistic states are much more humane than Islamist states, either. The governments of these post-colonial states are notorious for violating individual rights, and a large number of these governments have gotten lots and lots of money from Washington (via the taxpayer, of course). So the role of the fascistic state has to come into play in the puzzle, as I argued in my previous blog post.

Ethnically: The clearing of Sunni Arabs from Kurdish lands and the rivalry between Pashtuns and the other ethnic groups in Afghanistan are both good examples (in my opinion) of the lack of Islamist influence on violent or menacing movements that are currently in play in the Islamic world. These actions (and others like it) should be proof enough that the bloodshed in the region is not just based on jihadist sentiments.

Religiously: First off, I recognize that most of the moderate clerics in the Islamic world are probably not going to endorse rival religions, but that is just how competition works, I guess, and I don’t see how failing to endorse a rival religion for the accumulation of souls can be condemned. Now, advocating violence against other religious groups is, of course, deplorable, but I think that the position of the hardline clerics is overplayed here. This example is just one of many that hardly, if ever, gets mentioned in the Western press.

Tribally: Oh dear God! Magnify the ethnic tensions in the post-colonial world by one hundred and we have a good idea of the tribal intricacies at play here. Again, as I have argued in my previous post, none of these ancient and oft-times bloody rivalries possesses a significant amount of Islamist influence, and attempting to twist the tribally-inspired violence in a direction that implies Islamist influence is a bit disingenuous, no?

None of this suggests that the presence of the American military is to blame for the violence in each of these specific cases. You have misinterpreted my argument severely (again, this is probably due to my convoluted writing) if you think I place the blame of violence in the Middle East squarely on the shoulders of the U.S. government.

Firstly, the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in both 1998 and 2001 were linked (however uncomfortably) to the occupation of Islamic holy lands in Saudi Arabia. In my previous post I tried to explain (I obviously did a terrible job) that violent encounters with Islamic societies (and any other society, for that matter) are specific, and require case-by-case studies in each of the encounters. The first two terrorist attacks on the Republic’s soil were caused, in part, by our government’s presence in Saudi Arabia. That our government has left Saudi Arabia does not diminish the fact – especially to our enemies – that our military is now in Iraq and Afghanistan waging what most Muslims consider to be aggressive wars of occupation. This perception of the Republic by a lot of Muslims (even moderate ones) as an aggressive occupier is what has contributed to the suspicion and rancor of Islamic societies towards the United States, not Islamist ideology per se. Again, Islamism is only one factor – and a small one at that! – in the changing discourse of the Islamic world. Do you think that the presence of Western military forces enhances the arguments of the Islamists, or helps to rebuke them?

Secondly, none of this argument is “blaming” American military presence in the Middle East on the other, unrelated cases of Muslim violence that you have cited. Rather, my argument explicitly, if convolutedly, stated that the nature of violence in these post-colonial societies is much more complex than simply jihadists bent on conquering the world one car bomb at a time, and that a foreign military presence does much more harm than good.

Second front: You seem to say that war is futile as a solution to the problem of aggression by others, in general and in particular. If you are not saying or implying this, I stand corrected and then, nothing of what follows applies to what you wrote.

In general, historically war does not solve anything except: British despotism, Barbary Pirates’ exactions, slavery, Fascism, Nazism. and Communism (the later, to a large extent, was solved through the mere the mere threat of war). Yes, I stole most of this from a bumper-sticker.

Even if you were right that fighting violent jihadism militarily were ineffective, I would insist that we do. It’s a matter of dignity and it’s a condition of future safety. You can be sure other evil-doers and potential evil-doers are watching to see what happens when you kill Americans. I want them to think it’s risky, at least.

War, historically, has also been the harbinger of despotism, lawlessness, slavery, Fascism, all sorts of nationalistic-tinged murdering sprees, and communism as well. Free trade, on the other hand, has historically led to peaceful coexistence, mutual understanding, and higher standards of living for all involved.

In the particular: You cast a disdainful look at Iraqi democracy, a pure product of President Bush’s war of choice, and a child of the US and allies’s military invasion. I think you need to do this lest nation-building appears not to be a silly endeavor. Here is what I see:

Iraq has a properly elected government. It results from Iraqi citizens voting in larger percentages than Americans usually do. Sometimes, they do this under threat of death. This democratic government is sure enough of itself to affirm that its protector and genitor, the US armed forces must leave. That is, it’s exactly like any other self-assured sovereign entity. There has been no coup, no attempted coup and the rule of law prevails there better than in most less-developed countries. (Obviously, terrorist actions against that government have nothing to do with my claim that it is applying the rule of law.) With all this, Iraq is not Switzerland. As far as corruption is concerned, it’s more like New Orleans or Illinois. In terms of representativity, it’s probably significantly better than either. All in all, it compares favorably with this Republic in 1785.

Oh dude! I don’t know what strain of marijuana you are smoking (Santa Cruz has so many to choose from!), but I want some of it. It has not even been eight years since the invasion of Iraq, and already you are proclaiming it a liberal democracy? A bastion of light in a dark and voter-free world? I’ll hold off on the rest of this argument until you let me smoke some of your stash, and then maybe I will be able to possess some mystical insights into the golden sunrise that a democratic Iraq is inevitably going to ride through over the next few decades…In the mean time, I’d ask you to explore the evolution of other Arab states in the region like Kuwait and the UAE. They are progressing, slowly but surely, towards a more liberal state of being. Their elections are few and far between, and they’re contested, tainted by corruption, and don’t carry much political power – yet.

In ten years time, however, I think that we will see the trajectory of Iraq turn towards dictatorship again, while in the states that have managed to keep outside influence limited to trade we will see the evolution of stronger, sounder, democratic institutions.

This success in nation-building should not surprise you because it conforms to what always happens when the US wins a war. It happened with Italy, with Germany, with Japan, and by the way, with France to an extent. It half happened with South Korea where we did not really win. It did not happen with Vietnam where we lost. Your sage doubts about whether or not the “Sunni factions” will continue to support democracy in Iraq does not cost you much. And the Republican Party might split into two or three factions, and the rational wing of the Democratic Party might join en masse the Republican Party. And, as the French say so colorfully, “If my aunt had balls, we would call her ‘Uncle’.” You can always hypothesize new catastrophes. It’s a Santa Cruz specialty: If the world does not come to and end in 2012, it will probably come in 2014. (And, here I am, smirking; I could not resist; I am ashamed!)

Haha! I hope that there are no catastrophes ahead for the Iraqi state, I really do. I hope that they can hold peaceful, Western-style elections every two years, properly run the judicial system installed by the American government to smooth out political, legal and economic operations, and engage in rational discourse with their theocratic neighbors on foreign policy issues of the day.

In regards to the success stories of the U.S. government’s attempts at nation-building, I will merely point out that Cuba, the Philippines, and the Indian reservations in the interior of this country can all attest to the failures of nation-building, too. This is not to say that I think that the United States is evil or wicked, but only that the attempts to nation-build after successful wars by Washington have had results that do not fit into the overall picture you have painted of foreign intervention and state-building. And the topic of an official declaration of war by the Congress and how it affects the operations of a war has yet to be broached.

Your faith in the efficacy of clandestine operations, like your faith in high-tech weapons, leaves me non-plussed. Is it possible that we could do everything we need to do without boots on the ground and that our governments (plural) have decided perversely to ignore alternative means?

Ah, good point. I think that we are simply doing too much militarily and not enough economically in the Muslim world. If our goal is to engage in nation-building, in police work, and in realpolitiking, then it is surely impossible to achieve such ends with clandestine shield operations and missile strikes.

I think that your analysis of Islamist power is still a bit overplayed, though. They are bad people, no doubt about it. But they are just another faction competing for the hearts and minds of their people. Blowing those people up has certainly not won many hearts and minds, as the U.S. government should be well aware of, and the tide of social change has been rolling against Islamist ideology for quite some time now. One of the main issues that keeps the Islamists in the political picture, though, is that of foreign military occupations of Muslim states. Without the occupations, the Islamists would not have much to stump on (“enact blaspheme laws NOW!”) in the political arena. The violent factions would still exist, no doubt, but they would be marginalized and be much easier targets for our clandestine and high-tech operations.

However, with this being said, I don’t think I can stress enough the argument that foreign military occupation is what is driving the Islamist-inspired violence against the West. If we were to remove our militaries from the region, and abolish all foreign aid, then I think the threat of Islamist-tinged terrorism would dwindle significantly. Given that Islamic terrorism was never a problem to the United States until after we became involved in the region’s political affairs in the 1940’s and 50’s, and given that most Muslims have not concerned themselves with the affairs of the West (here I am referring to the calls for the end of free speech in Europe) until a few decades ago, I am inclined to support the idea that the military occupation of Islamic lands is what has contributed to the violence against the West since the end of World War 2.

And given all of the social complexities that the Muslim world contains (cultural, religious, tribal, and ethnic), I don’t think that the violence and bloodshed directed toward other members of their societies can be blamed fully on the Islamists. I think that there is too much information that points to a variety of factors at play.

Contrary to your musings in your introduction, you could change my mind or, at least, create a line crack in my conviction, but it would have to be done with logical assertions based on good facts. I think you have not done so. Too many of your facts are putative and too many of your reasonings are tortuous and too gratuitous (though not necessarily illogical). Show me good, direct stuff enough and I will eventually turn around. I will do it publicly. As I said as an opening statement, my position lacks consistency. It’s uncomfortable. The cohabitation of facts and ideology often is.

In the final analysis, whether we persuade each other may not matter much. Others are reading this exchange. Some may be induced to think about those issues, or to think differently. You and I are doing the fine stitching of democracy.

Indeed. Thanks again.

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

Please keep it civil

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