Written by Christopher Preble, Vice President for Defense and Foreign Policy Studies at the Cato Institute. Posted with permission from Cato @ Liberty.
Pressure is building on President Obama to involve the United States more deeply in the brutal civil war in Syria that may have claimed as many as 70,000 lives, and created more than a million refugees. Late last week, the editorial board of the Washington Post called for “aggressive intervention by the United States and its allies to protect the opposition and civilians.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) apparently believes that the Post didn’t go far enough because the editorial explicitly ruled out sending U.S. ground troops. He wants the U.S. military to secure suspected chemical weapons caches there. But where Graham is leading few will follow, aside from his frequent co-conspirator, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). The American people are not anxious to send U.S. troops into the middle of yet another civil war in the region.
Today is the 10 year anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq War. It is a good time reflect on what, if anything, was gained. It is also a time for those of us to learn about what, if anything, can we learn from the mistakes of the war.
I supported the Iraq War when it began. I looked at the evidence leading up to the war and I came to the conclusion, as most Americans did, that the regime of Saddam Hussein was in possession of weapons of mass destruction and that the status quo that was in place after the end of the Gulf War was simply unsustainable. Also, I was also intrigued by the possibility of bringing democracy to the Middle East to combat the appeal and vision of radical Islam. Furthermore, I do believe the Bush Administration sincerely believed that Iraq possessed WMDs. I do not think this was an attempt to steal Iraqi oil or other conspiracy theorist nonsense.
However, I was wrong. I’m enough of a man to look at the evidence that has emerged in 10 years and more importantly the results of the war and acknowledge that I was wrong to support the Iraq War. I do not believe the war has served the interests of the United States. I also believe that the high losses, in both blood and treasure do not justify the results achieved.
Like a broken record, Obama claims to need four more years to fix the economy because he inherited from George W. Bush the worst economy since the Great Depression. He tells us when he took office he found it was worse than he thought, but that rings hollow. After all, if he thought it was the worst since the Great Depression, how much worse could it have been? Regardless, we need to revisit the claim that this is the worst economy since the Great Depression. Is it really? I think Ronald Reagan would argue differently were he with us today.
According to historical data of the Federal Reserve Bank, when Obama took office, the Fed’s prime interest rate was only 3.25%. By contrast, just one month before Reagan took office from President Jimmy Carter, the prime rate hit an all-time high of 21.5%, dropping to “only” 20.5% the day he took office. The inflation rate Obama inherited was zero, whereas Reagan inherited an inflation rate of 13.5%. The economy under Jimmy Carter was so bad that a new term, “Misery Index”, was created (an economic measure derived by adding the inflation rate to the unemployment rate). The price of gold, a bellwether reflecting economic stability, hit an all-time high in the last year of Carter’s presidency, reaching $2328/ounce in 2011-inflation adjusted dollars. We could go on and on, but the point is that Ronald Reagan would have gladly traded the economy he inherited for the one Obama inherited. Granted, the economy Obama inherited was bad, but not the worst, and he asked us for it.
I’m going to say something that is highly controversial amongst libertarians. It may even lead me to be cast out (particularly among one “part” of the movement). If that is the case, then so be it. It is my suggestion to the United States government to deal with the rash of attacks on our diplomatic missions throughout Northern Africa and the Middle East: send in our forces. Find the people who have done these terrible deeds.
Bring them to justice. And then leave.
This flies in the face of generally accepted libertarian foreign policy, at least as construed by many “rank and file” libertarians. We’re not supposed to be in other countries. We’re not supposed to be out there getting ourselves involved. And if American personnel are hurt, we shouldn’t get ourselves involved more.
This, however, is dangerously short-sighted and naive. Yes, we shouldn’t be in foreign countries. On that I completely agree. But we should not, when we are attacked, simply throw our hands up in defeat and pull out. Or do what President Obama did, and “apologize” for one man using his right to free speech. That does not keep us safe, and that does not fix anything.
Giving in to bullies and madmen does not stop them, it emboldens them, as Britain learned so painfully after Munich. There is also no room for it in libertarian philosophy. If someone aggresses against you, if they attack you and destroy or take your property, and worse if they actually kill you and your comrades, they have violated your liberty. That is not something that libertarianism condones.
Earlier this week, Mitt Romney visited Israel, and in a speech praised the Israeli healthcare system for keeping down costs. This sounds like an utterly uncontroversial statement (Republican politician praising Israel), until one realizes that Israel has a single-payer, universal health care system.
Yet, oddly, there was very little mention of this in conservative spots. I checked The Weekly Standard, Hot Air, the Washington Times, even The Blaze, but none of them talked about Romney’s statement. Not even Fox News seemed to have an article about it. Instead, places like the Boston Globe, the Washington Post (in particular, Ezra Klein), Matt Yglesias at Slate, and Steven L. Taylor at Outside the Beltway were the ones who seemed to actually notice what Romney said.
Yesterday, Rep. Ron Paul gave a speech on the House floor in regards to situation in Syria. Syria has descended into bloody civil war with rebel groups trying to oust Syrian dictator Bashir Assad. There have been reports of massacres and atrocities being committed by forces to loyal to the Assad government. In response, there have been increasing calls for intervention by United States and NATO forces, in the mold of the recent Libyan adventure, to remove the Assad government from power.
Rep. Paul spoke out against the proposed intervention and will file legislation to stop President Obama from launching a war against the Assad regime without Congressional authorization. This is legislation I would strongly support because only Congress has the constitutional duty to declare and authorize war. Plus, I believe intervention in Syria would be a huge mistake because it would likely ignite a larger Middle Eastern war involving Israel and Iran. However, the Paul speech unfortunately I believe did harm to supporters of non-interventionism and confirmed many negative stereotypes about them.
The speech included a few troubling passages, such as:
We are already too much involved in supporting the forces within Syria anxious to overthrow the current government. Without outside interference, the strife—now characterized as a civil war—would likely be non-existent.
I was puzzled by the recent news that PresBO has decided to release 30 million barrels of oil from the US Strategic Petroleum Reserve and several days later, my confusion remains despite reading a number of articles addressing this surprising move. It occurs to me that it is just indicative of the current administration’s leadership strategy, which is frankly equal parts reactionary and political, but always misguided.
So here are my thoughts on this current attempt to ease the high prices Americans are facing at the gas pump…
First, this move is too little too late. The fact is oil prices were at their peak around April of 2011 and have been steadily declining over the last few months so that prices were already easing slightly. So why release this oil now? Particularly when we are in the beginning days of hurricane season, and we realize how beneficial it is to have the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR), for example, in the days following Hurricane Katrina, when supply was majorly disrupted. So, instead of maintaining the SPR until a real crisis occurs, the President has opted to release 30 million barrels of the Reserve for seeming little more that earning political brownie points with the American people.
Every culture has its romantic ideal. In Europe, it’s the knight. In the Middle East, it’s the army of Saladin. In the United States, it’s still the cowboy. The heroic lone wolf, standing for what is right amidst a sea of contradictions and solves the problems of the world all on his lonesome. The outward display of that figure, the six-gun dangling from his hip, his fingertips just millimeters from it, is primarily the work of fiction. There have been far more Hollywood showdowns at high noon than the real Old West.
Instead, the ideal itself, the rugged individualist, has taken a tremendous beating over the years. We are being conditioned to shut up and take whatever is dealt to us. Instead of conditioning people to be Marshal Dillon, our young people are being taught to be the damsel in distress.
Recently, the State of Indiana Supreme Court ruled that a man doesn’t have a right to resist law enforcement entering your home without your consent, or a warrant. It spurred up a firestorm of controversy, but it’s hardly the first move in this direction.
For years, there have been states that have what is called a “retreat first” law. These laws require someone to try to leave the site of a potential violent encounter rather than permitting them to defend themselves. This also includes retreating from your own home should someone break in. You, the lawful citizen, must act in a manner that empowers the criminal element. Thank God Georgia isn’t one of those states.
The moves all push towards creating a nation of docile subjects who turn to the state for the answers to their problems. There are arguments now that guns aren’t necessary because the police will protect us. Of course, the Supreme Court case Castle Rock v. Gonzales says otherwise.
What if we wake up one day and learn that the terrorist threat is a predictable consequence of our meddling in affairs of others and has nothing to do with us being free and prosperous?
Last week was the 10-year anniversary of the beginning of the United States’ involvement in the war in Iraq. After 10 years, I still believe that the decision to overthrow Saddam Hussein’s regime was the correct decision, but that the aftermath of the initial invasion was horribly managed, with poor rules of engagement, no clear strategy, and no real definition of “victory.” Even after the successful surge in troop levels helped to prevent an immediate decline into civil war and achieve an unsteady peace, the inability of the Obama Administration to come to a Status of Forces agreement with the Iraqi government not only left the United States with no tangible benefits 10 years later, but also left Iraq in a precarious position that runs the risk of declining into civil war that could have horrible regional consequences.