T r u t h W a t c h
Libertarians & War
by Harry Browne
I've been surprised by the number of
libertarians who have supported the war against
The two principal arguments I've heard from
libertarian war-supporters are:
1. Saddam Hussein is a threat to the U.S. We
must remove him from power before he attacks us
or gives weapons of mass destruction to
2. We libertarians should be the first to
support the liberation of the Iraqi people from
a cruel dictator.
With regard to the first argument,
supporting a politician's pre-emptive attack
violates virtually every principle underlying
libertarian thought -- the simple truths that
are taught in Libertarianism 101.
For example . . .
1. Non-aggression: Most libertarians believe
you shouldn't initiate force against someone
who has never used force against you. Force is
to be used only in self-defense -- not used
just because you don't happen to like someone,
or because someone doesn't like you, or because
he might become dangerous in the future, or
because some third party has attacked you and
you want to prove you're not a wimp. The same
principles must apply to our nation -- that it
shouldn't use force against a nation that
hasn't attacked us.
2. Credibility of Politicians: The idea that
Hussein posed a substantial threat to America
is based entirely on claims made by the Bush
administration. When did libertarians start
believing anything politicians say? Politicians
routinely lie about fictitious budget
surpluses, "budget cuts," drug matters, crime
statistics, and almost anything else. Remember
the old joke?:
"How can you tell when a politician is
"His lips move."
The Bush administration has already been
caught in numerous falsehoods concerning Iraq:
* claiming Iraq was consorting with Al-Qaeda
(refuted by the CIA),
* saying Iraq was acquiring aluminum tubes
to make nuclear bombs (refuted by
scientists and UN inspectors),
* producing satellite photos of alleged
chemical-weapons sites (that on-the-spot
investigations proved to have no chemical
* citing mobile chemical-weapons labs (that
turned out to have no chemical weapons),
* giving worthless leads to UN weapons
* claiming that Iraq was seeking enriched
uranium (citing documents that turned out
to be crude forgeries),
* referring to a British dossier as evidence
(a dossier that turned out to have been
plagiarized from a 12-year-old thesis
written by a college student),
. . . and much more.
Even if none of these falsehoods had come to
light, libertarians should always be skeptical
of any claims made by politicians.2. Government
doesn't work: The federal government has
devastated what was once the best health-care
system in history, it is trashing our
children's schools, its Drug War has pulverized
the inner cities, it has left chaos in its wake
in Afghanistan. In fact, you'd be hard put to
think of a single government program that
fulfilled the rosy promises made for it.
So why would you think the promises of Iraqi
freedom and democracy will be fulfilled? This
is the same government that's messed up
everything else. Just because "national
defense" is Constitutionally authorized doesn't
mean the government will handle it effectively.
The Defense Department is nothing more than
the Post Office in fatigues.
And beating up a third-world country after
disarming it isn't something any self-
respecting country should put on its resume.
3. Power will be abused: The President has
been given tens of billions of dollars to spend
on Iraq as he chooses. Do you assume he'll use
it wisely, without a hint of corruption?
The FBI and other law-enforcement agencies
have been given enormous new powers to jail
people without warrant and hold them without
trial or legal counsel. Do you assume they will
employ these powers only against America's
Do you really want to give government one
more excuse to expand its size, its power, and
its intrusions into your life?
4. Government programs never stand still:
Every other government program has turned out
to be far more expensive, far more intrusive,
and extend into far more areas than proposed
originally. Why should this war prove to be an
Do you really think the regime-changers --
after tasting the blood of innocents and the
praise of the media and the citizenry -- will
go back to bickering about farm subsidies and
Or will they look for more "monsters to
destroy" (as John Quincy Adams put it)?
5. Government is politics: Whenever you turn
anything over to the government, it ceases to
be a financial, medical, commercial,
educational, or human-rights matter, and
becomes a _political_ issue -- to be decided by
whoever has the most political influence. And
that will never be you or I.
Why should military matters be any
different? Should we be surprised that
companies like Bechtel and Halliburton have
already received hundreds of millions of
dollars in contracts to rebuild Iraq without
Did you really think this war would be
fought with no regard for political gain or
7. You don't control the government: You can
look at the previous six items and say you
would have handled some things differently. But
who asked you?
And no one ever will. You don't make the
The politicians use your support as
endorsements for them to fulfill _their_
objectives, not yours -- in _their_ way, not
That's true for health care, education,
regulation -- and it's true for military
In Sum . . .
Government is force, and libertarians
They know it will be abused, they know force
won't produce the results promised for it, they
know politicians will lie about the exercise of
force, they know force will eventually be
uncontrollable, they know that power is
inevitably abused, and they know that no
government program achieves its purpose and
then goes quietly into the night.
On every count of libertarian principles, we
should demand that the use of force against
foreign countries be reserved for response to
direct attacks -- not to be used for "regime
change," not for "democracy-building," not for
pre-emptive attacks, not for demonstrations of
The second argument offered by libertarians
is that we should do anything we can to free
other people from a brutal dictator.
I won't even deal with the fact that most of
our knowledge of Hussein's brutality emanates
from the U.S. government -- hardly the place a
libertarian would look for unbiased,
authoritative information about _anything_.
I'll also ignore the point that, while
condemning Hussein's brutal dictatorship, the
U.S. government is aiding dictatorships in
Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Pakistan, and many other
countries. We shouldn't be surprised if we're
told someday that we must go to war against
_those_ dictatorships, to free the people our
tax dollars are helping to enslave today.
Let's deal instead only with the idea that
we have a responsibility to free people in
Is it your responsibility to enter someone's
home and beat up the man you believe is abusing
Is it your responsibility to go into a
dangerous section of your city and protect
people from drug gangs that engage in drive-by
You might say the Drug War breeds those
gangs and shootings, and thus you're working
instead to end the Drug War itself -- rather
than trying to alleviate the symptoms of it.
Why then wouldn't you be working to end the
causes of the profound anti-American sentiment
that has swept the globe and provoked terrorist
acts -- rather than trying to alleviate the
symptoms by supporting the attacking of Iraq?
The answer to the question "Is it your
responsibility?" is simple: that's for _you_ to
Each of us must choose for himself what he
feels responsible for. If you believe you have
a duty to help those fighting for Iraqi freedom
-- perhaps even to go fight yourself -- you
should be free to make that choice, and no one
should get in your way.
But what gives you the right to make that
choice for others?
Why should you have the power or moral
authority to decide which countries _I_ must
free, which countries warrant extracting money
from me by force, which dictatorships warrant
provoking terrorist attacks that put _my_ life
And what libertarian would believe that
George Bush should have that moral authority --
plus the power to compel all of us to obey that
You will face the consequences of your acts
and I will face the consequences of mine. But
George Bush won't face the consequences of his
acts; you and I will. Is that the way it should
be according to libertarian principles?
I think not.
And thus there is nothing George Bush can
say that will make me believe I should put my
faith in him to decide how many innocent Iraqis
it's okay to kill, how many countries it's okay
to attack and invade, how many Americans it's
okay to put at risk, or how many libertarian
principles it's okay to violate.