Wednesday, October 20, 2004

The Libertarian Case for Bush

I wrote this as a reply to Stuart Benjamin's Limited Government and Bush vs. Kerry. I am one of the limited-government libertarians disenchanted with Bush's big-government record that he describes. However, I think Bush is the better candidate, for two reasons - one simple and the other not so.

The simple reason: we are at war, a vastly bigger one than Iraq or Afghanistan. It is not much of an exaggeration to call it World War 3. The theater of operations actually spans most of North Africa, the Middle East, Central and Southeast Asia (and at a lower level of intensity, most of Europe). The enemy camp is a broad movement of people who believe in fundamentalist-Islam-as-politics (call if Islamism, Salafism, Wahhabism or whatever else you will). In most of those places the war is covert, political and/or fought mainly by local allies, nonetheless all of these places are under attack by the enemy camp and in all of those places we and our allies are fighting back, tooth and nail. In the US, there are some conservatives/libertarians - even ones who realize the scope of the conflict - who seem to think that we can simply withdraw from it all and set up a line of defense at our own borders. That would be a terrible decision since it will abandon our allies to probable defeat, and leave the population of those areas, a billion people, under an insane religious dictatorship which the majority of them abhor (imagine the Taliban times fifty, and much better armed). That is not a morally tenable course of action. Moreover, it will not work in the long run, since after the enemy consolidates, perhaps a decade or two later, they will attack us here at home, from a position vastly stronger than now. The war must be won decisively and quickly. Any other course is unacceptable, and any other considerations take second place.

The not-so-simple reason: if one is in favor of limited government, why limited government only here? Surely toppling a dictatorship anywhere is a worthwhile goal? Yes, it takes some serious government muscle to do that - call it fighting fire with fire - but unfortunately it works. We have a dozen or more historical examples of democracies that only exist today because of our big government flexing its big bad military muscle abroad. I am not entirely comfortable with that, and it is something that should be done very carefully lest we lose our way in the process. However, I personally cannot think of any other way to secure the inalienable rights of people around the world (and heck, even give them a limited government - certainly a lot more limited than a dictatorship). A genocidal hell-hole of a country like Rwanda - or Iraq - requires someone who can respond with an aircraft carrier or five and a few good men, and like it or not, that is us. It's the only decent thing to do. A utilitarian might even say that this is a good trade-off, since their government gets much smaller, while ours gets slightly bigger. Gunboat diplomacy? Hell yes. Just ask the Japanese.

So there you have it: this is how a small-government libertarian becomes a committed hawk as well. One, for survival, and two, because everyone deserves to be free. Paradox? Not really.

Where do the two candidates fit in? If elected, I believe Bush will pursue an aggressive policy of politico-economic-military pressure on our enemies anywhere (the governments of Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Bangladesh, and Islamists operating with tacit support from the governments of Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Algeria and Malaysia, to name a few), and similar support for allies under attack anywhere (such as Israel, the new Iraq and Afghanistan, Jordan, Pakistan, the "other Stans", Saudi Arabia, Thailand, Indonesia, and the Phillipines), much the same as now . Kerry will avoid foreign involvement, possibly withdraw prematurely from Iraq, and concentrate on domestic defense, international law-enforcement cooperation and limited counter-attacks in response to any specific attack. Kerry will fight to keep the status quo, which in this case means losing slowly. Bush will fight to win, by taking the fight to the enemy and by reforming failed or oppressive states, the only way to get lasting results. The people in our military understand the stakes, which is why about 80% of them support Bush. I'll go with their call.

Stepping back from the election: I can understand how it is comfortable for libertarians and "classic conservatives" to want to look inward and concentrate on domestic issues and just ignore the rest of the world. I used to think that way. While that may have been fine in the eighteenth century, and it may be fine at some point in a more peaceful future, it is an extremely dangerous and parochial attitude at this point in history. To paraphrase Martin Luther King, "tyranny anywhere threatens freedom everywhere" - especially when the tyrant has nukes, petro-dollars and hordes of religious fanatics.