September 29, 2014
Peace could hardly seem further away. After years of fighting, it’s yet another call to war. Today, we’re told that ISIS militants present a clear and present danger to the American people. Is this true? Is there any alternative to endless war? Let’s investigate what’s happening in Iraq and Syria, the history behind it, and what Libertarians can do.
News reports about the brutal tactics by the ISIS organization (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) have been disturbing indeed, as they’ve seized control of wide swaths of both countries to establish a transnational religious dictatorship. Last week, President Obama made the decision to launch airstrikes, and politicians of the Two Big Old parties lined up on TV to support it.
Almost as if on cue, a flurry of media stories appeared about ISIS recruitment within the US, even here in Minnesota. Yes, Minnesota has a significant Somali community. Many of them keep in contact with relatives back home. Some of those relatives may know others in that part of the world who’ve received appeals from ISIS, and videos have undoubtedly been shared. Does it mean “ISIS actively recruiting in Minnesota”? Perhaps it does. Or perhaps not.
The public would be wise to be cautious, and not simply accept political statements and news reports at face value, especially when they attempt to justify a new war. The public should demand evidence, not allegations. After all, we’ve been manipulated before. Here are three recent examples:
– Anti-War Committee raids. Searching for domestic terrorists, FBI agents decided to target peace activists, of all people. In 2010, the homes of several Minneapolis leaders of the Anti-War Committee were raided and their personal belongings seized. The media touted the FBI’s allegation of “terror links” after they had traveled on missions of goodwill and political activism to poor areas of Palestine and Colombia. No charges were ever filed. Although these may be politically-incorrect destinations in the eyes of the federal government, if these folks are “terrorists”, then so is Mother Teresa.
– Saddam’s nuclear weapons. Many will recall the “weapons of mass destruction” threat posed by Saddam Hussein in 2002, promoted by the second Bush Administration. While technically true, it was also an example of how to lie with facts. Saddam hadn’t attempted to buy fissionable uranium since the 1980s, but this was misrepresented as something that was underway and requiring immediate military action. It helped to stoke fear and support for the upcoming war.
– The Kuwaiti baby incubators. Leading up to the first Bush Administration’s Operation Desert Storm of 1991, the media reported that invading Iraqi troops in Kuwait were snatching babies from incubators, carrying the incubators back to Iraq and leaving the babies on the floor to die. This story helped to whip Americans into a war frenzy as US troops were sent to Saudi Arabia and then mobilized to take back Kuwait. Years later, this story was revealed to be a complete fabrication.
What’s happening now
Even as ISIS spread across Iraq, and as terrible as their actions have been to the local people, it’s important to point out that ISIS had not attacked America, nor threatened to do so. But when President Obama expanded airstrikes across Iraq and Syria, the beheadings of journalists soon followed. If ISIS wasn’t targeting America before, they sure have a reason to now.
Were any airstrikes justified? When ISIS militants seized the Mosul Dam (whose destruction could’ve threatened thousands of people downstream) and were advancing upon Erbil (a northern Iraqi city which has been largely untouched by war and a safehaven for refugees), perhaps a reasonable case could be made for the initial airstrikes. But that’s only because ISIS is now armed with heavy weaponry left behind by the fleeing Iraqi Army. ISIS now has US-made humvees, automatic weapons, artillery, and advanced Abrams tanks. How ironic is it that US taxpayers spent so much to supply the Iraqi Army, only to have those weapons fall into the hands of ISIS, and now even more must be spent to destroy them. What a mess.
How it came to this
To understand why President Obama’s attacks are a mistake, one needs to consider our history in the region.
The US had armed Iraq in the hopes that the democratically-elected government would become a dependable ally in the region. This followed the destruction of Iraq’s military in 2003 during the US invasion. Nearly 4500 US troops died and 32,000 were injured, and over 100,000 Iraqi civilians were killed in order to topple dictator Saddam Hussein and secure control of the country from militants. It was a supreme sacrifice by many … which now appears to have been in vain.
When Saddam invaded Kuwait in 1990, the first President Bush deployed US troops to Saudi Arabia, concerned that Saddam could threaten that country’s vast oil supplies. It is this action which angered Osama Bin Laden, who resented non-Islamic US troops based on Saudi soil. Had US troops not been sent to Saudi Arabia, it’s likely the 9/11 attacks would never have happened.
Previously, Saddam had been an ally of the US. He had received military support from President Reagan in the 1980s, because Saddam provided a counterbalance to anti-Americanism in neighboring Iran. Iran had experienced its own intervention by the US which had gone badly, after the US-installed dictator Shah Pahlavi was toppled by the Ayatollah Khomeini.
This 3-minute video clip discusses the US interventions in Iran and Iraq starting in 1953, which set into motion the chain of events which continues today. It’s a must-see for those who want to understand how the mess began.
In short, US foreign policy in the region has been a complete catastrophe. But we shouldn’t be too surprised. It’s just like Vietnam.
Lessons taught but never learned
When French colonial forces left southeast Asia in the 1950s, the US stepped in to supply South Vietnam with military advisors to fight against Communist forces in the region. But ineptitude and corruption by the South Vietnamese Army prompted more direct US intervention. Eventually, President Lyndon Johnson dramatically escalated the war, sending tens of thousands of US troops into South Vietnam and launching airstrikes against North Vietnam in response to the Gulf of Tonkin incident.
The Gulf of Tonkin incident was almost certainly another example of manipulation of public opinion. Initial reports by US Navy sailors indicated confusion as to whether any incident had occurred. Reports declassified in 2005 now reveal that US warships fired first toward the North Vietnamese boats. Lyndon Johnson knew this, but he wanted WAR. He cited this “attack” to rally Congressional and public approval to begin pouring US troops into the country. Later, while telling the American people that he was de-escalating the war, President Richard Nixon secretly expanded bombing into neighboring Cambodia and Laos.
In the end, over 58,000 US soldiers died and 300,000 were wounded, and over 500,000 Vietnamese, Cambodian, Laotian, and Hmong civilians were killed in the Vietnam War. Total casualties are estimated at 1 to 4 million human beings.
But the politicians never learned the lessons of Vietnam. Why should they have? Voters continued to return Democratic and Republican politicians to office, so there were no consequences.
The military-industrial complex
US military spending is now nearly as large as every other nation on earth combined … so more wars seem inevitable. The armaments industry doesn’t do too well without more “customers”. Congress also benefits from the military spending, as was recently seen when the Army said “No” to more tanks but Congress approved them anyway.
In his farewell address, President Eisenhower warned us of the military-industrial complex. Few today have actually seen that speech, given in 1961. It’s been a long time since a president was this frank with the American people. Please take 3 minutes to watch it for yourself:
Peace is a key Libertarian issue
Libertarians understand that killing is wrong … even when conducted by the government. Libertarians also realize this trueism:
“War is the health of the State.”
— Randolph Bourne, 1918
Libertarians have been steadfast and vocal proponents for international peace. The LPMN endorsed an effort by MN ASAP to build a statewide coalition to reduce military spending, and LPMN activists also assisted with public protests organized by the Anti-War Committee during last year’s attempt at airstrikes on Syria; the total public outcry was enough to stop that war before it happened. The National LP has also taken a stand against a new war. So did 2012 Libertarian Presidential candidate Gary Johnson in his television ad The War Stops Here.
What are the Libertarian solutions?
Peace has worked better than war. In the decades since the US stayed out of Iran after 1979, the Iranian people came to sympathize with us after the 9/11 attacks. Rallies happened across the world, including in Iran, in support for America. Vietnam provides another example. Of course after the US withdrew, the Communists took control. But the Vietnamese eventually figured things out for themselves. Today, Vietnam is one of Asia’s rising economies and even American companies are welcome. It seems many foreigners still look fondly toward America … that is, when our government isn’t bombing them or propping up their dictators.
Here are six things which can be done:
– Stop voting for proponents of war. Over 60 years, both Democrats and Republicans have been strong supporters of war. In 2012, 98.3% of Americans chose a presidential candidate from one of the Two Big Old parties. That amounts to a ringing endorsement of their interventionist foreign policies. Here’s a map of countries bombed by President Obama. In the recent Congressional roll call vote, most Democrats and Republicans supported more bombing in Iraq and Syria. Stop voting for them!
– Support Libertarian candidates. Libertarian Heather Johnson for US Senate is Minnesota’s ONLY Senate candidate to speak out against the new war. Her stance is in sharp contrast to both Democratic US Senators Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar and Republican candidate Mike McFadden. Please support her!
– Close US military bases overseas. The US maintains over 700 military bases around the world, which makes it all too easy to intervene in local conflicts. But, as the discussion above should show, military intervention in other countries hasn’t solved their problems, it has made them much worse. Libertarians would cut the US government’s massive military spending by at least 60%, and the remaining funding would still be large enough to provide for genuine national defense, as it would still be larger than the combined militaries of China and Russia.
– Apprehend terrorists by non-military means. In the event of future terrorist attacks against Americans, there is no need for airstrikes or large-scale military operations. Acts of terrorism tend to be perpetrated by small groups of individuals, not nations. The Constitution provides a tool for handling this situation, known as the power of marque and reprisal. It would allow the hiring of private bounty hunters to find and apprehend those accused of aggression and bring them to justice.
– Help individuals defend themselves. Must we turn a blind eye to what’s happening in Iraq at the hands of ISIS militants? Not necessarily. Humanitarians have created international charities like the Red Cross to solicit donations to help people displaced by natural disasters, and distribute food, blankets, and emergency shelter to those in need. Why could such a system not also be used to promote individual defense? Humanitarians could create a new organization dedicated to helping peaceful people around the world who are threatened by heavily armed aggressors. They could call upon American citizens and others to voluntarily donate personal firearms and ammunition, not to warlords or “rebel groups”, but to help individual homeowners. No matter one’s nationality, self-defense is a basic human right. ISIS militants would’ve had a much more difficult time seizing neighborhoods and engaging in their brutality if, for every person’s front door they burst into, they encountered a man or woman capable of defending themselves and their families against aggression.
– Promote free trade. Nearly all who’ve been recruited by ISIS and other terrorist organizations are unemployed and live in poor areas with little opportunity. A major driver behind violence and terrorism is poverty. War just creates even more poverty. Instead, free trade would create opportunities for foreigners to produce goods and services, and exchange them with those produced by Americans, creating more wealth for all. When people have productive careers and can provide for their families, calls to join some violent group will likely fall on deaf ears. Thus, Libertarians would return to a formula that’s worked well in the past and could once again:
“Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations; entangling alliances with none.”
— President Thomas Jefferson, 1801
The last 60 years of US interventionism have failed, and airstrikes against people in Iraq and Syria are just more of the same. A drastic reversal is needed. War is not the answer. As Americans, we can and should do much better for the world.
LPMN Vice Chair
Concerned about the expansion of government control and the erosion of individual liberty? Please consider joining and becoming active with the Libertarian Party of Minnesota. Libertarians support liberty on all issues, all the time! Libertarianism is a philosophical and political movement to promote personal freedom, strong civil liberties, a genuinely free marketplace, and peace.