L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 328, July 17, 2005
"Because the Government is evil and stupid..."
If Words Have Meanings
Exclusive to TLE
It has been said many times, in many contexts, that words must have consistent meanings when used to describe the world around us, or the words will have no meanings at all. When I first began to look at the Libertarian Party's (LP) Iraq Exit Strategy (IES) and their party platform, I used what was, to me, the clear meanings of the words that I thought conflicted between the two documents. Tom Knapp, in his reply, seemed to try to find ways to blur those meanings, IMHO, in order to show that the IES was consistent with the platform.
In The Libertarian Enterprise of July 10, 2005, Tom Knapp and I did a little Point-Counterpoint on the IES and its relationship to the LP Party Platform. My essay was followed by Tom's critique. We had agreed to follow these up this week with responses to each other.
To critique Tom's critique, in order, the reason I brought up the slow pace of the withdrawal was to show what I think was a less-than-firm commitment to a speedy exit from Iraq. Real-world experience should show us that when you drag out a military withdrawal (that's retreat for you non-military types ), there will often be reasons found to reverse that withdrawal. However, it seems that Tom and I are mostly in agreement on this point, so let's move on.
The point about moving some of the troops to other Middle Eastern countries is more important. The LP platform statement concerning foreign interventions starts off with the words, "We would end ..." Not something like "We don't want to begin ..." or "Other than what's already there, we would end ..." To my reading of that platform plank, it says all the troops should come home. Not just some, not just the ones in Iraq; all the troops. Tom points out that the IES doesn't "recommend any such intervention" and that "The interventions in question already exist and are ongoing." (Italics in original) That is irrelevant. The platform says "end" and never mentions "start." Either the word "end" in this context means "bring them all home" or the word has no objective meaning.
Yes, bringing some home is a step in the right direction. I agree with Tom on this point. There would be a 100% reduction (or nearly so) of the troops in Iraq. But there would be an increase in the troops in the other countries that the IES's 30,000 transferred troops would go to. So, while the region would show a reduction, several countries would show an increase. Either way, IMO, this does not constitute adherence to the concept of "end." It doesn't even return us to the antebellum status of the area's troop strength. Tom is starting his counting from the current time; I start mine from before the invasion was contemplated.
My point concerning the so-called War on Terror had nothing to do with Tom's riposte. Rather, my point was that by advocating additional resources for that "War," the IES was violating platform planks that call for an end to government secrecy and repeal of legislation that "violates individual rights under the color of national security." I think we can all agree that the War on Terror has been used to create more secrecy (no-fly list, secret searches, etc.) and violations of individual rights. Since Tom did not address this issue from this perspective, maybe I wasn't clear the first time. Advocating any more resources for use in the War on Terror not only violates the two planks I mentioned last week, but is thoroughly un-libertarian, IMO!
I agree with Tom about the situation in Afghanistan. However, that is an exception in the War on Terror. Most resources in that "fight" are not being spent overseas, but rather domestically. I do not concede that the invasion of Iraq contributed to an increase in the safety of Americans here in the U.S. The War on Terror is being used to justify more and more intrusions into our lives, property and rights. I will agree that using U.S. military forces to counter-attack terrorists that have carried out strikes against us here is justified under our current reality. Suspending our freedoms to "protect" us is not. Unfortunately, Tom and I are looking at two different aspects of the War on Terror, like the blind men examining the elephant. The War on Terror is not just military action overseas; the more pernicious part of that war is on Americans and their freedoms.
To re-rebut Tom's next point, he is starting the clock in the post-invasion period. I start my timeline with Bush's inauguration in 2001, before the troop build-up was to be justified by the events of 9/11/2001. Just because a plan "creates no new such problems" (italics in original) with foreign policy does not square that policy with the plank that advocates ending intervention. Using Tom's timeline, there is an overall decrease in troop strength. Yes, that is progress, and I would not turn it down. But there are still more troops there than there were when Bush began his presidency, and that, to me, is still an increase. If the authors of the IES had put in some sort of clarifying language about this point, or said something about how, while this is a step in the right direction, much more needs to be done ASAP, I might have held my nose and swallowed it. Again, by not defining a starting point for measurement of the intervention, both the authors of the IES and Tom Knapp have blurred what is being measured. A commonly-used technique in statistics is manipulating the starting and ending dates of a data set to get the results desired. Yes, I am arbitrarily picking early 2001. But since Bush is the one that had a jones about invading Iraq (by many accounts), and the troop strength in the Middle East had been more or less stable since the first Gulf War (I don't count Somalia as Middle East), I think that my start date gives a better view of the situation.
The next point was that the IES language about negotiations was so vague as to be meaningless. We agree on this.
We come now to the "direct-aid program." Again, we seem to have a problem with the definition of a word. When the platform says "We support the elimination ..." of aid that comes from tax dollars, I take that to mean what it says. End. Not, continue the status quo since the taxes have already been stolen and will be spent anyway. I don't care how the aid is characterized in the budget, whether it is under "defense" or "foreign aid" or whatever. The fact is that the stolen money (taxes) is being sent to Iraq and spent there. It certainly qualifies as "tax-supported military, economic, technical, and scientific aid to foreign governments or other organizations." We all know that the budget's general fund is the big pot from which the taxes are doled out to the various uses to which the Congress has decided upon. The aid is "tax-supported" and is going overseas. The platform plank wants to "eliminate" this practice. The IES doesn't. Discussing how the bookkeeping entries will be made, or how much we'll allegedly save, is irrelevant to my point. Besides, "there is nothing so permanent as a temporary government program."
I agree with Tom about leaving much of the military equipment (not the high-tech stuff) and consumables. But MREs? Don't the Iraqis have enough reasons to resent us? His idea about turning the money over to NGOs with good track records is also good, even if it doesn't square with the "eliminate" clause.
Finally, Tom lauds the LP for the IES, with which he says that "the LP seems to have finally begun to engage reality." My feeling is that, with the IES as written, unless further clarification is forthcoming, the LP has decided to move away from being a party of principle and become just another political party. That, in my opinion, is sad.