Libertarian Foreign Policy: A Dialogue on Imperialism

Pretty much the same story as that of the first years of the American Revolution including the foreign intervention and under enormously favorable circumstances than the poor Libyans encountered. After all, King Georges was no Kadafi.

Tsk tsk. You’re getting sloppy Dr Delacroix. I suspect you have re-ignited your passion for smoking ganja. Santa Cruz has a wonderful variety from around the world to choose from.

As I have previously noted, the angle we should be looking at (from a national security perspective) is the one of France during the Anglo-American War. They are the ones who intervened on behalf of a rebellious segment of the British Empire, just as we are intervening on behalf of a rebellious segment within the Libyan state.

Nevertheless, you keep repeating this tired mantra so I figure I’ll try to kill it. Right here and right now.

Let’s start with your keen observation that King George was no Ghaddafi. Aside from being totally correct, I think it would also be pertinent to point out that King George was also at the helm of a worldwide empire that was in constant rivalry with not only France for global hegemony, but also with aspirant regional hegemons throughout the world. Now contrast this position with that of Libya at the time of Ghaddafi’s offing.

King George also wielded a lot less power than did Ghaddafi. Indeed, he wielded a lot less power than most monarchs of his time period. As we both know, the British parliament held immense power, and King George was in constant conflict with them. The Rule of Law was alive and well in Britain during King George’s reign. Contrast KG’s position with that of Ghaddafi, a brutal tyrant who exercised a near-supreme will over his subjects.

Let’s review the circumstances of the positions of the two tyrants of Dr. J’s choosing before we continue any further: one of them was at the helm of a global empire and constantly held in check by his own parliament and the Rule of Law. The other was a tyrant of a mid-sized post-colonial state in North Africa who ruled with an iron fist and was spurned by most of the global community.

Can we continue?

France (whose position, remember, during the Anglo-American War is the one that most resembles our own today in regards to the Libyan excursion) was in constant conflict with Great Britain. They were fighting for global supremacy. French support, then, came not from benevolence or fear of mass migration from the U.S. to France, but from a calculated decision to strike deeply at a hated enemy, one that had recently acquired all of France’s colonies in India and North America.

The U.S., in contrast, has become involved in the Libyan civil war because of cries from weak and decadent allies to come to their aid for fear of a mass influx of Muslims into their welfare states.

Not exactly a struggle for global supremacy. I suspect you will warn your readers that China (GDP PPP per capita Intl$7,000) is watching us, of course.

The 13 colonies that fought for independence were independent polities, too. They all had their own ideas and thoughts and interests to look after when coming to an agreement with each other. Libya – one state – has merely one resource that is apple of everybody’s eye. While the American experience was one based on compromise and sectional interests, the Libyan experience is one that will be based off of the redistribution of wealth. Not a good start, if you ask me.

An observation and a question: the transitory government of Libya has recently asked NATO to continue its no-fly zone to at least the end of the year. It has recently welcomed foreign troops from Qatar to help shore up its defense forces. My question to you, Dr. J, is this: did the transitory government of the U.S. ask foreign powers to patrol their streets for them? To continue to keep their navies nearby to help dispense of any lingering British presence?

I find it suspicious that the Libyan rebels have relied so heavily upon foreign support. What is their motive for this? Most rebellions hearken calls for independence and liberty. Why do they beg the West for help? In my mind, a government – even a transitory one – that is incapable of standing on its own two feet without the support of foreign influence and power, is not a government that will long be trusted by the people it purports to govern.

Is the Libyan experience similar to that of the American one? Sure, but only a very superficial level. It would be best to leave Libya to the Libyans – warts and all.

Libertarian Foreign Policy: A Dialogue on Imperialism

Libya will be in worse shape than it is now? In worse shape than it was under Kadafi? (He sure could keep order.)

I have already spoken to much of what you are saying: Suppose your prophecies turn out to be completely right. Would it mean that we should prefer the bloody tyranny of terrorists like Kadafi? Isn’t this simple?

Perhaps, but we don’t know what would have happened to Ghaddafi if the US had stayed clear of this problem (which had nothing to do with national security or defense).

Civil war was inevitable, given the nature of the Libyan state, but introducing a superpower into the struggle has only complicated Libyan matters.

A civil war sometimes helps a people to iron out their differences. I think our involvement there only enhances the creases that need ironing.

What problem (singular)?

Civil war was inevitable? After forty years? You’re kidding, right?

Yo are almost forcing me to write an essay just for you about Arab tyrannies, 1960 – 2011.

What problem? The Libyan state falling apart.

Civil war was inevitable? After forty years? You’re kidding, right?

Um, the rebels and Ghaddafi’s henchmen went after each other in the wake of revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia. Ghaddafi struck back quite effectively, but the violence didn’t end after those first strikes.

Ghaddafi may have eventually won the civil war, but he would either have had to eliminate his rivals completely (which he was certainly capable of doing) or he would have had to come to some sort of agreement with some of the factions he was fighting.

Helping the rebels eliminate Ghaddafi only removed one faction from the fight for Libya’s future. Many, many different factions believe that Libya should move in their direction. Most of the efforts to come to some sort of agreement with each other are going to be wasted on other priorities, though – namely the influencing of Western powers to support their specific cause.

With the West out of the picture – or at least off to the side where neighbors usually reside – the Libyans would have to work together to come to some sort of agreement for their state going forward. This is unlikely to happen now. Instead, what we’ll see is a prolonged conflict that will look a lot more like Iraq rather than Tunisia, as each faction uses the hapless and naive West for their own purposes of attaining power over a massive, oil-rich state that has known nothing but rigid central control for almost a century.

I would love to read an essay on Arab dictatorship over the past half-century. Don’t forget to include the involvement of the West in the process. Name names and spare nobody from your rancorous wit!

Libertarian Foreign Policy: A Dialogue on Imperialism

Brandon: For the most part, I am happy to let your comments stand. Together, we do a reasonably good job of clearing up issues about intervention. I don’t need to “win” the argument. However, however, I think you don’t pay enough attention to easily ascertainable facts: Your write: “I don’t think our involvement will be looked upon with graciousness by the peoples we are inevitably trying to help.” The Libyans don’t look on the NATO intervention, including the US, with graciousness?

Good point, good point. Here is my quick (or not-so-quick) take: the Libyans living in exile in the United States have certainly been gracious. The temporary government in power has certainly been grateful. The Libyans in Europe harbor very different views, though. They see this as an imperialistic adventure. They loathe the fact that NATO helped the rebellion in any way, shape or form.

The Libyans in Libya have even more disparate views on the subject. Some have turned their ire towards the tyrant of Algeria. Some are claiming that NATO intervened because of Libya’s oil, and they point to the Palestinian territories to ask why NATO hasn’t helped them. Some of them have been gracious towards the Arab monarchies that purportedly helped NATO in its bombing campaigns. Some Libyans have expressed thanks to NATO. Some Libyans have fixated on Israel. None of them, from what I have seen, have expressed any sort of graciousness at all to the United States of America.

My sources are the unscientific and spam-prone discussion boards on Al-Jazeera’s Arabic-speaking website and a couple of films that I have watched in some Anthropology classes. In fact, in one of the films there were calls for help from Egypt, Jordan, and Kazakhstan after Ghaddafi began fighting with airplanes, but nobody on the streets was calling for help from the West.

Libertarian Foreign Policy: A Dialogue on Imperialism

Ghaddafi is dead. Hooray.

Now on to the part where we actually have to think about the consequences of our actions. Why don’t we take a look at the region of the Middle East that has actually held elections without being occupied by a foreign power: the Palestinian territories.

Would you like to Google ‘Fatah’ and ‘Hamas’, or shall I?

It’s great that Ghaddafi is dead, and it would be nice if our actions in helping to bring him down were celebrated throughout the Muslim world. I won’t hold my breath though. After bombing the Serbians to help out Muslim Bosniaks the U.S. was thanked with a couple of airplanes being flown into our commercial buildings (it also refroze relations with Russia that still haven’t thawed).

The point I make here is not that all Muslims should be lumped together, but rather than our foreign policy establishment DOES lump all Muslims together. They never take into account all of the intricacies involving the political processes taking place in this part of the world. The effort in Serbia was a calculated response by the Clinton administration to win over the hearts and minds of the whole Muslim world, but what we got instead was soured relations with Russia and a nod of approval from the monarchies of the Gulf states, Turkey, and the autocratic regimes of Jordan and Egypt. One enemy (though certainly not the only one) of the Gulf state monarchies – al-Qaeda – had a different opinion on the matter.

Al-Qaeda looked the other way and saw military troops protecting the monarchies of the Gulf states.

Does anybody here seriously think that helping to dislodge a brutal dictator from power in the Muslim world is going to earn us the approval of the same Muslim world? In fact, what happens if – miraculously – a liberal, secular regime is voted into office in Libya? What do think will be the claims of the rival parties (especially the Islamist ones): that the elections were held fair and square, or that the new liberal regime is a mere puppet of the West?

Bottom line: unless there is a direct threat to the U.S. republic, we shouldn’t be playing that Old World game of Realpolitik. All that leads to is intrigue, speculation, and entangling alliances. Sure, some dictators have died because of our efforts. Then again, some have also benefited. Everybody is a hypocrite of course, but the more we can avoid being so, the better. The idea – nay wish! – that the newly liberated people of the Arab world will somehow elect secular, Western-friendly governments after 50 years of oppression by regimes that were perceived by the Muslim public to be secular and Western-friendly belongs to be filed under the category of ‘fantasy,’ not foreign policy.

The Ghaddafi regime undertook policies that were hostile to the West. His regime sponsored terrorism against innocent people in the West. I am glad he is dead. I am glad that his own people shot him in the streets. But I think one of the major complaints that Libyan elites had for his policies was not that he sponsored these acts, but rather that he sponsored them under the guise of anti-colonialism rather than for Islam.

A couple of thought exercises: what happens if the Libyan electorate chooses to entrust an Islamist political party hostile to the West with running the state? Does the United States accept the outcome, or do we take the same route we did when Hamas was elected in the Gaza Strip?

How would the U.S. be perceived by the Muslim world if our role there was limited to one of trading, and not one of policing?

Has anybody here thought about the possibility of a prolonged civil war in Libya due to regional rivalries that have been suppressed by a strong-arm dictatorship for the last 40 years? After all, the main reasons given for NATO’s operation in Libya was twofold: 1) to keep Libya from disintegrating into a civil war that would send thousands of refugees to Europe’s decadent shores and 2) to win over the hearts and minds of the Muslim world.

Can we be confident that these goals have been accomplished, or are we merely stabbing at shadows in the dark in the name of democracy?

Libertarian Foreign Policy: A Dialogue on Imperialism

[Editor’s Note: I had an extremely enlightening dialogue with Dr Delacroix in October of 2011 over the various merits and pitfalls of American imperialism. The dialogue was so interesting that I thought I’d break it up into installments – but still keep it in the exact order that it appeared – over the next little while. I hope you find it as informative as I have, and don’t hesitate to throw your own two cents into the ring, either]

Well Done Mr Obama!

I don’t argue with success. President Obama initiated and led a successful operation to get rid of another tyrant who also had American blood on his hands. He did it without losing a single American life. Whatever the cost in treasury was small in the broader scheme of things. It was a good investment. I think it’s fine to borrow a little money to deal with a rabid dog, however small the dog. Incidentally, my guess would be that the cost was less than 1/1000 of 1% of GDP. Want to bet?

I wonder what Libertarian pacifists have to say about the whole thing. I am going to ask them. One of the things they will probably argue (just guessing) is that there are many rabid dogs in the world, too many for us to deal with. Yes, I don’t mind borrowing money to deter all of them if need be. Tranquility is priceless.

There are several benefits to the Libyan/NATO victory for this country. (That’s Libyan blood and courage and NATO arms, including our own.)

First, rogues and political murderers everywhere are given a chance to suppose that if you kill Americans, we will get you afterwards, even if it takes twenty years.

Two, Arabs and oppressed people everywhere are figuring that we mean it when we say we like democracy for everyone. We did not always mean it. We do now that communism look like an antique instead of a superpower with the largest army and the most tanks in the world.

Three, this Obama international victory will cost him dearly in the next election. A fraction – I don’t know how large – of the people who voted for him the first time around oppose all American military interventions. For years, they have explicitly preferred a native butcher to an American liberator. Given how tight the election is likely to be, his victory in Libya might be the cause of President Obama’s fall.

If I were he, I would consider resigning this morning, like leaving the ocean after a really good wave.

A State Called Libya

Over at The Week, Dr. Daniel Larison brings up the situation of a state called Libya.  One year ago the West led a bombing campaign that ousted the brutal dictator Moammar Ghaddafi.  A problem or two arose though:

The internal disorder and regional instability that the West’s assault created were foreseen by many critics. And yet, Western governments made no meaningful efforts to prepare for them. No one planned to stabilize Libya once Moammar Gadhafi was overthrown, and the National Transitional Council (NTC) rejected the idea of an outside stabilization force […]

The NTC Larison speaks of is, of course, the entity that the West has blessed with steering the Libyan state’s course to democratic paradise.  Think here of the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia.  It gets worse too: Continue reading