On Conspiracy Theories, "Neoconservatives" and the War for Iraq

 by Sam Wells

The exaggerated role of some "neoconservatives"  (who have boastfully exaggerated their own influence) in the conduct of U.S. foreign policy has been a central theme of certain populist and hard left conspiracy theories about the Bush Administration.  The "neoconservatives" have been described over and over as "carrying the water for Israel's Likud Party" in conspiring to drag the U.S. into military involvement in the Middle East in general and in Iraq in particular.  Some populist-left-wing conspiracy theories would even have us believe that the entire impetus for the Bush Administration's decision to send troops to Iraq to topple the corrupt Saddam Hussein regime was totally engineered by "neocon" plotters.  Yet, the more I look at it, the more I am convinced that it is much more complex than that simplistic scenario.  While it is true that some neoconservatives have been writing about just this sort of agenda for more than a decade, the assumption that U.S. military intervention in the Middle East would necessarily benefit Israel is questionable -- especially if the whole efforft backfires by Iraq becoming a shi-ite ally or client state of Iran and Red China.

When I read the articles and books of the "neoconservatives" (Podhoretz, Kristol,  et al), I discern an almost naive crusading optimism about both the possibilites for and salutary results of something they call "democracy" all over the world in general and in the Middle East in particular, despite the cultural and religious differences involved.  This naive idealism about the spread of democracy in the Middle East -- and its consequences necessarily being supposedly in America's long-term national self interest -- is something apparently shared by President Bush after having read Natan Sharansky's book, The Case for Democracy:  The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror.  (It was apparently this book rather than anything written by our domestic neoconservatives that moved Bush to such an optimistic scenario.)  Sharansky.an outspoken dissident and prisoner in the Soviet gulag,  was also an official of the State of Israel.

Now, of course, as libertarians, we champion freedom and capitalism rather than democracy if by "democracy" is meant majority rule across the board; however, as is often the case in political discussions, when Sharansky and others use the term "democracy" they seem to mean more than majoritarian tyranny.  He apparently means some combination of freedom and some kind of "representative" government.  Certainly the relative elements of freedom and capitalism imposed on or developed by Japan after its defeat in World War II have benefited greatly both the Japanese people and the rest of the world -- and made Americans safer from attack than before.  But can such traditions as private property rights, the rule of law, constitutonalism, due process, etc. be successfully grafted onto a culture very different from that in which those values and institutions developed in 18th Century England, Holland, and the United States?  Can Douglas MacArthur's feat be duplicated in Iraq?  That remains to be seen, of course.  Any rational American can at least hope that it can succeed to some extent or another.

So, is it conspiracy or unintended consequences?  Or a combination of both?  But wait -- it's even more complex than even that.  The choice to invade and liberate Iraq is part of a wider geopolitical strategy to put pressure on other regimes which have been involved, directly or indirectly, in supporting or sanctioning terrorist activity -- such as the Saudi soft policy concerning the extremist terrorist Wahhabist cult.  While it is not true that Saddam had anything directly to do with the attacks of 9/11/01 -- a connection which the Bush Administration never claimed -- there was definitely evidence of links between Iraq and Al Qaeda, as documented by Stephen F. Hayes (The Connection:  How al Qaeda's Collaboration with Saddam Hussein Has Endangered America) and others. But even without such connection, there were still more hidden geopolitical strategic reasons for American liberation of Iraq as part of this wider game plan of pressuring our "friends" in Saudi Arabia to do more in helping in the war against terrorism..

Given the immense complexities in the Middle East, it is clear to me that neither the neocons nor anyone else could know with any degree of certainty what would be the result of U.S. military intervention in Iraq. No one can know for sure whether Operation Iraqi Freedom, costing over $100 billion, will result in a more peaceful situation for either the Middle East in general or Israel in particular -- or even ultimately be in the interests of Americans.  It was a gamble.  We probably won't know whether the gamble paid off or not, in terms of a more peaceful and less terrorized world, for several more years, perhaps decades down the line.  There is complex geopolitical strategy at work behind this operation as well as the more simplistic "neoconservative" zeal for spreading democracy into places heretofore thought by many "White folk" to be too primitive or culturally immature to support such institutions and values.  But, just as Japan has turned out to be a resounding success story, so may be the case in the Middle East.

This complexity and uncertainty causes me to cast serious doubt on the left-wing / populist conspiracy theory that suggests that neoconservative crypto-zionists or Likud partisans  manipulated U.S. foreign policy to get us into Iraq to somehow help out Israel strategically. If that was the original intention of some, it certainly has not panned out so far to be much of a boon to Israel, as far as I can see. It is far too easy for the anti-American Left and the pro-American populists to blame the Jews for everything that goes wrong in the world. That kind of thinking lacks credibility.  Plus, it should be kept in mind that a true conspiracy exists as a secret operation, but those who have advocated liberation in the Middle East for over a decade have not made their views any kind of secret but have published them for any and all to see.  Some "conspiracy"!

But as far as whether Bush or anyone else had a legitimate and moral justification for using force to drag Saddam Hussein off the back of the Iraqi people, there is no question in my mind that he did have such justification.  Saddam had initiated coercion against others all over the place -- including his own fellow Iraqis as well as the people of Kuwait.  According to libertarian principles going back to John Locke and America's founding fathers, he had thus lost -- totally forfeited -- his right to be left alone long ago.  Contrary to what some libertarians seem to believe, it is not necessary for Saddam to have initiated forfce against the U.S. itself to make it a legitimate target for forceful overthrow -- any more than you have to be attacked if a mugger attacks your girlfriend (or a complete stranger for that matter), you still have a right to step in and use your own violent force to defend her from that attack even though the mugger never attacked you personally. If a big bully is beating up on a little kid on the school grounds, there is nothing in libertarian philosophy that says no one -- either a teacher or another big kid --  should intervene forcefully by dragging the bully off of his victim.  Once coercion is initiated on anyone, the initiator forfeits (loses) his right to be left alone by the coercion of others.  This is basic libertarian rights theory going all the way back to Locke's Second Treatise.  (The only libertarian thinker I know of who disagreed with this was Robert LeFevre, who explicitly denied the idea that rights are ever forfeited no matter what acts a criminal may commit.)

Moreover, Saddam was in violation of the terms of the peace/cease fire following the first Gulf War. He was obviously playing a shell game with the international inspectors concerning development of weapons of mass destruction.  There is no question that anyone had a moral and legal justification to taking out Saddam's regime.  If the U.S. Government chose to do so for its own perceived strategic reasons, so be it!

And those who claim that Bush "lied" about the existence of WMDs in Iraq conveniently forget that the previous Clinton Administration, as well as the British and other European governments, shared in the same belief that Saddam possessed WMDs or was working on them.  We had good reason to believe he at least had bio-chem weapons because the U.S. had sold some of those materials to Saddam back when he was at war with our enemy the Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran -- with the stipulation that he only use them in that war and not against his own people or his peaceful neighbors, both terms of which he violated.  So, whether the belief that Saddam had WMDs was based on faulty intelligence or global incompetence among intelligence agencies or even if anti-Bush Democrat partisans within the CIA were trying to set Bush up, the fact remains that there were reasons to believe Saddam had WMDs -- wherever they may be today.  Whether they were buried in the sand or moved (with the help of the Russian military) elsewhere is not known by the West.  But even if there were never any WMDs at all -- which is nonsense -- the Bush Administration still had moral and legal justification for its action there.

What about the "international community" you ask?  Well, if by "international community" is meant the corrupt United Nations, then it should not be forgot that Saddam Hussein was in violation of several UN resolutions as well as the terms of the cease fire.

So, any way you want to look at it -- basic classical liberal or libertarian principles or international law -- the Bush Administration has as much right as anyone to overthrow Saddam and his regime.  (For the Objectivists among us, it then only becomes a question of whether it is self-sacrificial or not, and that is something that is not always easy to judge.  Whether it will be considered worth it or not in the long run -- or one of the biggest miscalculations in modern times -- is yet to be determined.  But, again, given the complexities of the Middle East, no one now knows for sure what the outcome will be.)

The only other possible objection to Bush's sending of troops to liberate Iraq from Saddam Hussein is one of a constitutionalist nature -- that some have claimed that Bush should not have committed troops to what amounts to a war without an explicit and formal declaration of war  -- using the word "war" -- by Congress.  Yet, others disagree, citing the War Powers Act and amendments thereto as sufficient warrant from Congress.  Certainly, at the time Bush committed troops, the vast majority of both houses of Congress supported him in that action.

It seems to me that since Libertarians are divided on the issue of the war in Iraq, that it is better that we should agree to disagree on that for now instead of pretending to the public that there is a party unity that does not exist on that issue.  Passing a resolution or issuing a press release that makes it appear that the entire membership of the LP of California believes one way or the other seems to me less than honest.

Copyright July 10, 2005 Sam Wells

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