From the Comments: A libertarian solution to Daesh (ISIS/ISIL) and the civil war in Syria

I have 3 scenarios in mind, and multilateralism is a must for all of them. 1) I’m still a proponent of recognizing the separatist aspirations of Mideast factions and introducing new, smaller states into the international order (haphazard though it may be). This was done after WWI but in the wrong manner. There was an international element to it then (UK, France, etc. working together), but there were also representatives of various Mideast factions at the table and they were ignored (the reasons why are many and I won’t delve into them here). This time, placing those Mideast factions on an equal footing with Western players (and Russia) is a must for things to work out.

2) North America has to perform a delicate balancing act now that Ankara screwed up. NATO has to stand strong against Putin’s public condemnations and tough talk and back Turkey in all public and behind-the-scenes forums. At the same time I would use Turkey’s mistake to initiate a new state in the Kurdish region, one that is not explicitly Kurdish of course but one that encompasses most of the Kurds in Syria and Iraq. Use the UN Security Council to do it; exploit Putin’s anger and get him to renege on his policy of not recognizing separatist aspirations because of the sovereignty argument. Then get him to recognize that a new state in the Kurdish region (that doesn’t change Turkey’s current borders) is more than enough revenge for shooting down a plane.

3) North America should get out of France’s and Russia’s way in Syria for the time being (this should be done in tandem with the diplomacy I advocate above). Let them work together and let off some steam. The two of them, with Assad’s help, might be able to destroy ISIS (neither Russia nor France is as careful as the US when it comes to civilians, and in this scenario their ruthlessness might be a plus for long-term peace; the fact that the US won’t get blamed for the violence is a big plus, too). Assad would then be able to stay in power, but this is a big MAYBE and he will have lost the the Kurdish part of the state (remember Russia helps with Kurdistan becoming a reality because it angers the Turks). With hundreds of thousands of dead people from all over the world and millions of displaced people, Assad’s record of incompetency will most likely force the French and Russians to find a way to push him out of office and usher in a new strong man (only a strong man can govern a state like Syria). While Paris and Moscow search for a strong man, the West should continue its policy of recognizing regions that want out of Damascus’s orbit; keep Russia in the loop on this. By the time Paris and Moscow find a new strong man, what’s left of Syria might actually be able to hold elections and have a government that is constrained by a constitution and the strong man won’t be needed.

3b) ISIS in Iraq: Recognize ISIS’s territorial claims in Iraq (the ones that don’t overlap with Kurdistan’s, of course). That’ll force it to actually govern and will bind it to international law. We’ll see ISIS quickly collapse, and in its place will be a small country that is war-torn but with manageable problems (unlike in a large state like Iraq). This new country would be free to join up with Baghdad again or it could choose to go its own way. There would be at least three states in what is now Iraq, a big step forward in a world that is more interconnected economically and thus less in need of a big bad military to fight massive, bloody wars over territory.

(I’d be happy to argue with others about how libertarian my argument is, too.)

This is from yours truly, in response to a question from Professor Amburgey about libertarian foreign policy. Is this feasible? Absolutely. Is it likely? No, but when has that ever stopped libertarians from using logic and history to debunk statist fantasies?

Libertarians try to build off of the individual when it comes to policy, which means their policies are going to be both internationalist and skeptical of the state’s ability to accomplish an aim. I think my short answer in the threads does this in a mostly competent manner. It’s a multilateral approach which eliminates any ‘central planning’ aspect, and it acknowledges both the process of the rule of law (however haphazard it may be) and the inability of large states to govern populations competently (thus my argument for decentralization – through the legal process).

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10 thoughts on “From the Comments: A libertarian solution to Daesh (ISIS/ISIL) and the civil war in Syria

  1. I’m not comfortable with the first part of 3b. “That’ll force it to actually govern and will bind it to international law. We’ll see ISIS quickly collapse, and in its place will be a small country that is war-torn but with manageable problems (unlike in a large state like Iraq).” How will it be bound to international law? How would you feel about some ‘encouragement’ from outside to facilitate the collapse?

    I think it’s possible that Iraq will end up as 3 entities, Kurd, Sunni, and Shiite. As for Syria… Magic 8-ball says Reply Hazy Try Again

    • Tough questions, Dr A!

      How will it be bound to international law?

      I took the lazy way out and linked to this old piece by yours truly spelling out what would likely happen if the West were to recognize ISIS (not ISIL!) claims to territory. I’m still going to be lazy and excerpt the hell out of it here:

      The words of Mises summarize nicely not only where libertarians and Islamists can agree intellectually, but also points – if ever so subtly – to a new leadership position for a benevolent liberal hegemon like the United States to take up in an increasingly Balkanized world.

      Instead of blindly attacking ISIS with no real plan in place, the West should temper the prudence of President Obama and Senator Paul with the libertarian notion of self-determination by recognizing the existence of the Islamic State and swiftly incorporating it into the existing IGOs – such as the United Nations, the World Bank, and the IMF – that the West has built up and maintained since the end of World War 2.

      This policy would do much more than strike directly at the legitimacy and power of the authoritarian Assad and Maliki regimes by carving up their territories without their permission; it would also place the burden of governance directly upon the Islamists who have proclaimed an Islamic State.

      ISIS has obtained power only because of the vacuum left behind by the Bush administration’s fatally flawed decision to remove regional strongman (and secularist) Saddam Hussein from power. ISIS has therefore had no responsibilities to date – despite its claim to govern territory – save to plunder and murder in the name of religion. Placing the burden of governance directly on the shoulders of ISIS would necessarily alter its foundation of power, and when it becomes apparent that Islamism’s political and economic theories lead directly to despotism and poverty, the benevolent liberal hegemon will be waiting to recognize the independence of regions within the Islamic State that aspire to independence or union with another state.

      This policy would also shift the ability to make and enforce international rules and norms back to Washington and would bring a semblance of order to the Middle East by placing a benevolent liberal hegemon into a position of leadership that is capable of recognizing and engaging with the Arab public’s desire for liberty. A liberal hegemon could achieve much of this peacefully and legally.

      Another aspect of international law that I failed to touch on in that old piece is military in nature. If an Islamic State is incorporated into the IGO’s mentioned above, then any attacks from its territory on neighboring states will be an act of war, and states could then act accordingly (through sanctions, through bombing campaigns, etc.). This, too, would hasten the demise of ISIS.

      How would you feel about some ‘encouragement’ from outside to facilitate the collapse?

      I would be opposed to any “encouragement” of this nature by Washington or its European allies, but I would not sweat it if Moscow or Tehran or Baghdad tried to get in on the act. Their populations would have to bear the burden of any such “encouragement.” (So, I guess on a more abstract level I would oppose any intervention, but in terms of geopolitics there’s no point in trying to save Russia or Iran from making stupid mistakes.)

      Lastly, there is a silver lining in the Turkish-Russian rift that I touched on above. Namely, that Russia will be very open to notions of sovereignty if it means slapping the Turks in the back of the head.

    • Overall, I think that the region might be more peaceful if the various large states (Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey) claiming parts of “Kurdistan” would just let them have their “nation.”

      On the other hand, be careful of generalization: The general ethnic description “Kurd” does not necessarily imply an emergent unitary polity. They’ve been known to have some pretty nasty fights among themselves over what that emergent polity should look like.

      • Thomas, exactly.

        This is why there needs to be a mechanism at the international level that allows for fluidity when it comes to borders, but that still binds potential new states to international contracts based around trade and diplomacy. This would help avoid something like the India-Pakistan-Bangladesh tragedy by allowing for a “West Kurdistan” and a “East Kurdistan” to theoretically exist, if the will for it is there..

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