On Attacking ISIS

Libertarians are rightly skeptical of military interventions. A simple reason is that military interventions tend to do more harm than good. This simple reason was enough to justify opposition to the war in Iraq. Saddam Hussein was horrible, but the prospects of instability and civil war were always high.

And, indeed, intervention in Iraq did more harm than good. At least one hundred thousand Iraqis are dead, and the government that replaced Saddam is unstable and fractious, unable to maintain basic territorial integrity in certain areas. And now ISIS runs much of Iraq.

So when people suggest military intervention against ISIS, we have good reason to be skeptical. But I think we have less reason than usual.

The reason is that if we intervened against ISIS, we could probably destroy most of their organization, given that they are an essentially territorial movement. Further, and more importantly, while there will be blowback in the form of guerilla warfare, new terrorists, casualties, etc., it is hard to see how anyone worse would replace ISIS. If we “roll the dice” again with an intervention, even though the odds of coming out morally ahead are generally low, the odds of coming out morally ahead of having ISIS run parts of Iraq and Syria are probably pretty high.

Conquering ISIS with a multinational army seems more likely to do more good than harm than any other proposed intervention in my lifetime. I don’t support intervention. But I have a much harder time getting upset by the prospect.

  • TheBrett

    I just wanted the US to use air power to keep ISIS contained in its area while the remaining Yazidi and other refugees got to a safer area within either Kurdistan or the rest of Iraq. That type of policy is self-containing – any type of escalation at the point is a big step that requires deliberation.

    More generally, I think if we managed to “bottle up” ISIS in a particular area, it will destroy itself.

    • bilejones

      You are just one more murderous piece of shite.

  • JamesKann

    How about countries in the Middle East go after ISIS? Why must it be the United States?

  • stevenjohnson2

    Militant Shia militias or sectarian Shia governments may well carry out not ethnic cleansing or even extermination of whole Sunni populations, not just the Islamic State activists. It is very likely this is precisely the fear that has forced reluctant support for IS. I think you can reasonably argue that massive indiscriminate Shia assaults on the whole population might be even worse in numerical terms. Horrifying as the well-publicized atrocities of the IS are, many are on a small scale, almost symbolic even. It seems monstrous to burn a captured pilot alive but is it truly not monstrous to go bombing the people of another country?

    Further, refusal to consider other options short of military violence seem to me to be required. In this case, terminating the friendly relations with the main supporter of IS, particularly Saudi Arabia and Qatar, but also Turkey and possibly Israel, It is possible to maintain correct diplomatic relations with these countries while cutting off military and intelligence ties, and minimize economic ties with countries that finance and/or cooperate militarily with IS. Proposing violence before attempting this seems to me morally perverse.

    • Theresa Klein

      If you believe this, then don’t you have to admit that it was a mistake to withdraw US forces from Iraq? US forces were keeping the Shia and Sunni from killing eachother. Once we left, the Shia Maliki government apparently treated the Sunni with sufficient brutality to drive them into the arms of ISIS. So now what? Leave the Shia alone to be massacred by ISIS, or destroy ISIS and let the Shia go back to killing the Sunni?
      It seems like a situation like this calls for some sort of peacekeeping force – except nobody thinks ISIS would respect such a force.

      • stevenjohnson2

        The US government encouraged the dominance of sectarian parties and targeted any secular parties, most notably of course the Baath party, just as it encouraged sectarian opposition to Assad’s government. Sunni were overrepresented in Baath in both Iraq and Syria but Baath wasn’t a Sunni party. It was a cliche that the 60% Shia and 20% Kurds were a winning combo.

        The Alawi are overrepresented in the Syrian military (and consequently over decades in the ostensibly civilian government as well,) but neither are Alawi. It is worth noting that the preferential recruitment of minorities for the military was begun in the colonial days. It’s the same thing that led to Muslim Idi Amin Dada heading the army in predominantly Christian Uganda.

        And although Maliki eventually fell out with the US, it was US support more than anything else that put him into place. The US has always favored extremely repressive religious parties in other countries, as the supremely important case of Saudi Arabia demonstrates. Saudi money is one of the primary factors in the ever increasing spread of extremist Islam. The US strongly supported Zia in Pakistan, who Islamized that country. And the US has no problem with Erdogan doing the same, even as he supports IS as a way to fight the PKK’s branch in Syria.

        A good deal of IS’ military weaponry was supplied by the US, after all, supposedly to the democratic opposition. But there was no democratic opposition, just sectarian opposition and the so-called moderates surrendered or sold their weapons to IS.

        The US has supported the Egyptian dictatorship against its enemies, which have included the Muslim Brotherhood, which is not hard-core jihadi (or Salafi or Wahhabi or takfiri or however you want to put it.) But make no mistake that the Egyptian dictatorship, under Mubarak or al-Sisi, is still rather repressive religiously and no example of secularism.

        • Theresa Klein

          I don’t believe that the US government encouraged sectarian parties. The problem was that religious and tribal affiliations were the only kind of civil society left after years of oppression by Saddam’s government. When that government fell, people naturally turned to those groups. There weren’t any viable alternatives about who to work with. We all saw how Ayatollah Al-Sistani famously became a peace broker. That wasn’t because the US picked him, but because he was one of the few leaders with any legitimate authority.

          The idea that Iraq was going to sprout secular liberal democrats in the immediate aftermath of the war is silly. We didn’t encourage sectarianism, it was there to begin with and those were the cards we were dealt.

          • stevenjohnson2

            Facts don’t change just because you believe libertarians are free to make up their own. Indiscriminately ousting, then barring from political life all the Baathists in a way the US didn’t throw out Nazis was intended to weaken Sunnis more than Shia. Letting Shia sectarian militia operate out of the Iraqi government ministries was encouraging sectarian war. Walling off sectarian neighborhoods was encouraging permanent sectarianism. Declaring Islam to be the state religion encouraged sectarianism. Making sure secular institutions like trade unions were repressed was encouraging sectarianism. Refusing any effort at land reform left the waqf infrastructure intact, encouraging sectarianism.

            It was a cliche that “the” Shia and “the” Kurds together could outvote “the” Sunni (which somehow excluded Kurds!) and it was openly advocated as policy. The “El Salvador option” was also openly bruited, and it relied upon sectarian militias. But it is common knowledge that the US has supported Islamic sectarians in Afghanistan and Libya. I can’t believe there’s any honorable way to pretend that an occupation government in Iraq had both no desire and no power to break with a time honored policy.

          • Theresa Klein

            “Facts” are not interpetations that you overlay upon them with your political preconceptions.

      • Tedd

        I agree, it’s impossible to justify the U.S. abandoning Iraq by pulling out without jumping through a lot of hoops. But it’s equally true that Bush’s decision to end the provisional government and move to “democracy” so quickly was a huge mistake. Iraq needed to operate under externally imposed order for quite a few years, so that civil institutions could fully develop and become accepted, and old tensions had a chance to die down. The rush to elected government was one of the biggest mistakes.

        Sensible people pointed out before the liberation that a long occupation would be necessary, and that it would take at least a decade — probably more like two decades. I suspect Bush felt constrained by the election cycle in the U.S. to try to complete the project by 2008, and that’s really at the root of the problem.

        • Theresa Klein

          Well, there was also that slight problem with the Sadrists.

          • Tedd

            Exactly.

  • martinbrock

    It was hard to see how anyone worse could replace Saddam. Conquering Baathist Iraq with a multinational army seemed more likely to do more good than harm than any other proposed intervention in your lifetime. You’ve only forgotten.

    • Kevin Vallier

      Is just war theory anti-Christian?

      • martinbrock

        If the theory is vague enough to justify practically any war, yes, it is.

        • Kevin Vallier

          But it’s not that vague. In fact, on just war theory it is very hard to justify a war. So I guess by following just war theory I’m not anti-Christian.

          • matt

            Kevin,
            Have you ever looked into Objectivist ethics on war? I flirted with Objectivism a few years ago and it sent me running in the other direction. Just war theory has interested me ever since those debates with Objectivists. I’m surprised most libertarians, including those hostile to Objectivism, comment so little on this.

          • Sean II

            Isn’t the Objectivist theory just this: “A less statist country always has the right to invade a more statist one, but should exercise that right only if it’s in their interest so to do”?

          • matt

            That’s a big part of it and I’m fine with that in a sense. One of the things that drives me nuts is when libertarians go ‘Iraq was a sovereign country” as if it had some legitimacy. But another big part of it is that we have the right to kill as many civilians as possible in enemy countries, that just by living there and not doing everything possible to overthrow their governments they are guilty. This is the moral logic that has led a number of prominent Objectivists to say that nuking Iran and other Islamic countries(not bombing their nuclear sites which can be argued for) but actually dropping a bunch of nukes would be fine.

          • Sean II

            “…another big part of it is that we have the right to kill as many civilians as possible in enemy countries, that just by living there and not doing everything possible to overthrow their governments they are guilty.”

            That’s mad, of course, but only because it allows death as the punishment for every crime.

            Equally mad is the notion that people don’t have ANY responsibility for the crimes of their society.

            It’s not a pretty thought, but I’m sure the median Hiroshima victim was someone who, eight years before, had gleefully supported the troops in Nanking.

          • matt

            I agree with you. I think there are degrees of innocence but of course it’s problematic to kill folks for supporting evil ideas (not that’s what we did in Hiroshima but even there I’m just saying the fact that they were civilians still should trouble us greatly). But the deeper objection is that (a) some of these people were brainwashed and (b) we can’t differentiate the purely innocent from the not so innocent innocent. So minimize civilian casualties as much as possible.
            I also don’t think I have to tell libertarians about the dangers of blowback when huge numbers of civilians die, though this is sometimes overplayed (we killed a lot of Germans last time I recall and they liked us just fine soon after).

          • Sean II

            1) “…but even there I’m just saying the fact that they were civilians still should trouble us greatly”

            In recent years I’ve come not to believe that. I think Orwell was really onto something when he observed that no one had ever given him a satisfactory reason why killing civilians should be morally worse than killing young men who lost a lottery, and thereby ended up with a Lee-Enfield in their hand.

            I also recall an excellent passage in one of the Great War books – might have been All Quiet, might have been Goodbye to All That – where a bunch of war-fevered civilians are babbling on about how the generals should do this, or do that to secure victory, etc, while a dazed soldier, home from the front, listens in disgust.

            So be careful before you adopt a rule that says killing the soldier is significantly worse than killing those mouthy old chickenhawk bastards. In a very real sense, it’s citizens like that who cause wars, allow them to happen, etc.

            2) “…though this [blowback] is sometimes overplayed (we killed a lot of Germans last time I recall and they liked us just fine soon after).”

            Good point. Probably this suggests something to do with culture. The U.S. did alright with it’s occupation of Japan and Germany. Maybe the people in those places were just somehow compatible with our type of civilization. Meanwhile, no one except Israel has ever done well running anything in the Middle East – not occupiers, and not natives. Maybe the people in those places (or some critical portion of the people) just aren’t.

            I’d go further and say the blowback hypothesis is dead on delivery. The Middle East has been crazy-town since forever. What’s the story there? Is it all just a vicious cycle that started with anti-Achaemenid blowback?

            Meanwhile, places like Germany and Japan got UNCRAZY precisely because they were invaded and occupied by ugly American infidels. Places like Korea got half-uncrazy, half-extra-crispy-crazy.

            So I guess the blowback hypothesis is one of those highly rigorous concepts which says: “Western intervention/occupation will produce paradoxic results in the form of anti-Western hatred, except when it doesn’t.”

          • matt

            That’s an interesting point. What I would say is the soldiers who lost that lottery are going to kill you if you don’t kill them. Not so with the civilians with pernicious political commitments, in general anyway.
            I take your point about chicken hawk citizens, although it’s a little challenging here in that a lot of people have been brainwashed from a young age. Their commitments were not the product of a free choice but of systematic manipulation and propaganda. Establishing “guilt” in this context seems pretty difficult.
            On the whole though, I think we agree in rejecting a lot of the hardened orthodoxies that figure so prominently in libertarian discourse on foreign policy.

          • martinbrock

            I don’t see you justifying a war on ISIS in terms of a particular theory of war that could not justify the war on Saddam. What theory is sufficiently precise to make this distinction clearly?

      • Libertymike

        Its anti-Christian to the extent that Jesus did not so theorize.

        • Kevin Vallier

          Not so. Jesus wasn’t a theorist, but He creates a Church that contains theorists, who can elaborate His views into a consistent whole.

          • Libertymike

            Kevin, Jesus did not endorse the proposition that it is okay to initiate aggression provided that it is in behalf of a legitimate Caesar who has exhausted all other avenues and Caesar himself says “we have to or else doomsday will ensue.”

            He just didn’t, Augustine and Aquinas notwithstanding.

          • Jonathan Mailer

            “He creates a Church that contains theorists…” Oh dear. I’d love to see New Testament chapter and verse on that one, Confabulating Kevin.

    • Theresa Klein

      Burning people to death is an inevitable fact about air power.
      It’s not an inevitable fact about executing prisoners.

      Once a prisoner is in your control, you have a choice about whether and how to kill him. A pilot only has one weapon: dropping bombs.

      Even if you think dropping bombs on people is cowardly and unethical amnd should be against the laws of war, that still doesn’t mean that deliberately executing prisoners by burning them to death is a proportionate response.

      The people being targeted by bombs aren’t prisoners, and you don’t have a choice of weapons.

      • martinbrock

        Burning a man to death is an inevitable fact about pouring gasoline on a man in a cage and tossing in a match. If I’m supposed to think your air power holier, I fail the test.

        Once people are under your bomber, you have a choice about whether to drop the bombs. I’m not seeing the compelling difference here. If anything, the bomber is far more destructive and more indiscriminately destructive. You seem to think these points in favor of the bomber.

        I don’t think that burning a bomber to death is a proportionate response. Sending another bomber to burn far more people less discriminately is a proportionate response. Turning the other cheek is the least proportionate response I can imagine. Burning the bomber is somewhere between turning the other cheek and retaliating with another bomber.

        A bomber has no choice of weapons? He can’t choose not to climb into the plane? His commanders can’t choose not to order him to fly over particular targets and drop particular bombs? What could you possibly mean here?

        • Theresa Klein

          I mean, he doesn’t have the option of challenging his opponent to a duel , which seems to be the only kind of combat some people feel is acceptable.

          • martinbrock

            When a bomb is falling toward my house, I have the option of challenging the bomber to a duel? I just don’t see what duels have to do with anything. Neither the bomber nor the people who burned him limit themselves to duels.

            I don’t know what kind of combat is acceptable in any universal sense. I know that burning this pilot to death was acceptable to the people who burned him to death, and I know that burning other people to death by bombing them was acceptable to the bomber. None of it is acceptable to me, but we aren’t discussing what’s acceptable to me.

          • CbyN

            How do you define defensive? If an adult is brutally beating a child in your presence, do you in a non-aggression stance decide to stand next to him and explain that he is violating the child’s inalienable right to his person or do you beat the shit out of him as is necessary (or possible–i.e. you may lose) to stop harming the child?

          • martinbrock

            I could defend the child, but I don’t know how this scenario is relevant to a bomber dying by his chosen sword on the other side of the world from me.

          • CbyN

            I’m not drawing direct parallels, I’m trying to find the limits to your stated principle, which has now vanished from your previous comment, that you only believe in aggression only if it is for defensive purposes.

            While it certainly doesn’t follow that defense of others in any circumstance is justifiable, you’ve indicated that you would come to the defense of another in at least one, one that is particularly and obviously intuitive for most people.

          • martinbrock

            Defending my own children is defending myself, because they are my property, i.e. I am properly their guardian. I may also be properly the guardian of an otherwise defenseless child, but this assumption hardly implies any intervention we’re discussing, so I’m not sure how it’s relevant.

          • Theresa Klein

            When a bomb is falling toward my house, I have the option of challenging the bomber to a duel?
            You have the option of shooting his plane down with an anti-aircraft missile which will most certainly cause him to burn to death. You just don’t have the right to capture him, lock him in a cage, and then burn him to death. Because at the moment of killing him, first of all, he’s a prisoner and is no threat to you anymore, and secondly, you definitely do have the option of using some more humane method of killing him.
            By contrast, while the pilot is actually in the sky flying around, you’re a threat to him, and the weapons he has available are dropping bombs. Because that’s what bombers are for.,

          • martinbrock

            You have the option of shooting his plane down with an anti-aircraft missile …

            I have anti-aircraft missiles? That’s news to me.

            You just don’t have the right to capture him, lock him in a cage, and then burn him to death.

            Who says I do? I suppose he doesn’t have a right to drop bombs on me either. Are you saying he does?

            Because at the moment of killing him, first of all, he’s a prisoner …

            At the moment he bombs my house, I’m just sitting in my house. If you want to say that ISIS is no better than this pilot, you can, but you don’t seem to be saying it. You rather seem to say that ISIS is far worse than the bomber, that the bomber’s burnings are justified while the ISIS burning is not. I’m not saying that either is justified, but we aren’t discussing my standards here.

            By contrast, while the pilot is actually in the sky flying around, you’re a threat to him, …

            How am I a threat to him? I don’t like being bombed, so I might try to defend myself? That makes me a threat to him? This logic seems arbitrary and capricious to me. The bomber definitely has the option of using more humane methods. He could even choose not to kill me at all.

            Because that’s what bombers are for.

            And ISIS cages are for burning bombers. So? I’m still not seeing the distinction.

          • Theresa Klein

            You’re just refusing to recognize anything I argued. this isn’t about which side is justified in fighting. This is about the rules of warfare, starting from the assumption that we don’t know which side is right.
            The rules should be symmetric. Killing a prisoner in a cage with fire is NOT symmetric to dropping a bomb on an enemy target in combat. For reasons I already outlined. The options available to the person doing the killing, and the status of the person being killed are not analagous.

          • martinbrock

            Rules of warfare? I agree that killing an enemy in a cage with fire is not symmetric to dropping a bomb on enemies. Dropping the bomb seems far worse. If the “rules of warfare” suppose the opposite, I’m not surprised. People exalting “hellfire missiles” are making these rules, after all. When the angels are shooting hellfire at 13 year old boys, we’re discussing war.

          • Theresa Klein

            Dropping the bomb seems far worse.

            Really? Why?

          • martinbrock

            Because dropping the bomb is more destructive and more indiscriminately destructive. Aiming a shotgun blast at a crowd also seems more destructive than aiming a single bullet at my own head. I have more control over what the bullet kills, and I have the slightest idea of what it’s killing.

          • Theresa Klein

            So the morality of an action should be entirely defined by it’s consequences, not by whether or not the person performing the action had less harmful options to choose from?

            So, say, shooting six people who are trying to kill you is morally worse than torturing a puppy for fun?

          • martinbrock

            So this bomber had no less harmful actions to choose from?

            Who was trying to kill the bomber as he climbed into his plane?

            You offer me a choice between whatever lethal aid you’d send to “Assad’s forces”, including Hezbollah fighters on the border of the Golan Heights, and torturing a puppy for fun … I’ll shop around for a better offer, thanks.

          • Theresa Klein

            The people offering you the option to torture a puppy for fun are in ISIS.

  • matt

    ” A simple reason is that military interventions tend to do more harm than good.” I’m not sure this is true. WW2, Korea, the US intervention in Grenada and British intervention in the Falklands, the First Gulf War, the Balklands… most if not all of these could be said to be successes. Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq 2 on the other hand… Of course a lot of people will argue the later three were the result of bad American policy.

    • Sean II

      A lot of libertarians go through this phase where, having discovered that you don’t always have to “support the troops”, they get a little stupid with the instrument, hammering every nail and non-nail in sight. I certainly did once.

      If you wanna see people who loved that phase so much they never left, visit LvMI or C4SS.

      The truth is of course more subtle. Probably it was a good thing for the U.S. to break the stalemate in WWI. Certainly it was better, granted that, to come in on the Allied side. Same goes for WWII, especially because it ended us in a position to keep all of Europe from falling under Stalin.

      You mention Korea, an oft overlooked example. One might even say forgotten. But look at the lives of South Koreans today. They have their own insipid pop stars now, which is exciting. They legalized divorced the other day, so kudos on that.

      Now I guess there really are some idiot libertarians who’ll swear that North Korea is only crazy and horrible because…BLOWBACK.

      But anyone who says that deserves fire in a cage.

      • jdkolassa

        I’m not sure about WWI, since that lead to WWII. But I do think that WWII was sort of *sui generis* in terms of modern war and politics, and so saying we had to get into that war doesn’t mean we have to get into others. Vietnam was an utter clusteryouknowwhat, and so are the mudslinging operations in the Middle East…not sure about Korea.

        I think, like Hayek had a presumption against regulation, we should have a presumption against intervention. Doesn’t necessarily mean they’re always bad, though. Just 90% of the time.

        • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

          I hear this WWI led to WWII argument all the time, and it bugs the hell out of me. If I save a 5-year old Ted Bundy from drowning in a pool, this act “led to” a large number of horrible rape/murders. Should I not then have pulled the child out of the pool? We can only act on the basis of what we know and can reasonably predict. I don’t think that Wilson could have known that his intervention into WWI would lead to the rise of Hitler, so condemning the decision is pure hindsight. Hitler and his henchman, and to some extent the German people, bear most of the moral responsibility for WWII, not Wilson or those who supported our involvement.

          • JoshInca

            The intervention that directly caused WWII was the one that didn’t happen, but should have when the NAZIs remilitarized the Rhineland in 1936.

          • Sean II

            Great point. Plus it seems there was also a fine opportunity in the Sudeten Crisis.

            One of the top German strategists (I think it was Manstein), in one of those lengthy post war dissection interviews (I think this was told to B.H. Liddell Hart), said something like: “You had us dead to rights in ’38. We were caught in an awkward place in our re-armament process. If England and France attacked, we would have been finished for sure.”

            Which raises a good point: just because Republicans use and abuse the Munich analogy every time they want anything, doesn’t mean that nothing is ever analogous to the situation in Europe between 1936 and 1939, when Hitler could and should have been stopped.

            Also worth remembering is that the Kristallnacht and the Sudeten Crisis were linked events. The pogrom happened only AFTER it was clear that the world had no plans to intervene.

        • Sean II

          That Hayekian presumption against regulation is backed up by tons of evidence that regulation is nearly always bad, or at least sub-optimal. And further by the fact that there’s nearly always a good alternative to regulation available.

          Neither holds true in the case of military intervention. The alternative is usually: “let the people of X die or be horribly enslaved”. Not the same nice ring as “let consumers develop their own protection agencies”. And If anything long run humanitarian outcomes for US wars seem to run around 50/50. That’s just if we count cases as the unit of analysis.

          If we count people, intervention is a massive life-saver (for reasons Mark states below). There are 50 million South Koreans, and mostly they live well. Hell, they even have lesbians on TV now. Without a very stubborn US military intervention, today there’d probably be just 35 million living in a lesbian-free nightmare.

          • martinbrock

            Vietnam is not a lesbian-free nightmare, so I don’t know why your counter-factual is any more persuasive than others.

            Vietnam is not South Korea either, and no one suggests that it is, least of all someone like me writing this post on a Samsung Chromebook 2, but you don’t actually know what the world would look like without a century of U.S. imperialism.

      • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

        Right. We should acknowledge that wars and interventions often, even generally, have unintended and bad consequences. But, I know of no iron law of nature that dictates that these consequences always outweigh the intended (morally permissible) goal of the war or intervention. Isn’t it possible that a war or intervention might have unintended beneficial outcomes?

        • martinbrock

          It’s possible that a butterfly flapping its wings leads to a hurricane on the other side of the world, but knowing that the hurricane follows is not possible.

  • matt

    An interesting perspective on foreign policy and libertarianism from two guys with very different views http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2011/07/caplan-somin_li.html

  • If Graeme Wood’s analysis in the Atlantic is correct, wouldn’t multilateral military action be seen as a fulfillment of prophecy, strengthening the resolve of current devotees of ISIS and attracting previously infra-marginal believers? Since believers do seem to be going to ISIS’s territory – unlike Al-Qaeda adherents that dispersed through the enemy populations to seek revenge – wouldn’t it be better to allow persecuted people in their territories to leave and establish lives elsewhere, and allow the believers to gather and wait for a war that never comes?

    • Tedd

      From where I sit now that seems like the most important question. A person’s view on military intervention (as a subject) is probably connected to a wide range of other beliefs and therefore not likely to change very quickly. But ISIS is happening in real time, so it’s worth accepting intervention as a possibility and debating its merits in this particular case. For what it’s worth, I found Wood’s article pretty convincing that traditional military intervention would be a mistake, in this case.

  • Theresa Klein

    IMO, the correct policy to deal with ISIS is to side with the Assad regime.

    Don’t dismiss this out of hand. For one thing, at this point, the fall of the Assad regime would not be a desirable outcome. There is no reason to think that the few weak “moderates” out there would be able to establish a government that wouldn’t immediately fall to ISIS. If Assad went, that would mean, with near certainty, that ISIS would control Damascus.

    Secondly, the Assad regime ARE the “moderates” at this point. They are, at least, secular rationalists. Which is a lot better than some of the so-called moderates we’ve supported against him.

    We could and should cut a deal with Assad wherein Assad makes some token concessions to future democratic reforms (so that we can save face), and in exchange, we facilitate (let’s say) the supply of Russian arms to his regime, which he, in turn, uses to brutally crush ISIS in a way that only an Assad knows how.

    This might even help us mend a few fences with Putin.

    And, to add to the beauty of it, if ISIS gets crushed by the Syrian government, that totally dashes their idiotic prophecies about fighting the armies of “Rome”.

    • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

      I like it!

    • Theresa Klein

      I’ll add, this could all be part of some sort of multi-party negotiation where we bring in the Syrian opposition and broker a peace deal between them and Assad too. So we get all of ISIS’s enemies unified.

    • martinbrock

      “Assad”, “Moderates”, “Putin”, “the Russians”. You know these sequences of letters about millions of people across hundreds of thousands of square miles. You don’t even know Assad the man himself, only this sequence of letters and its association with a few thousand other words gleaned from incredibly reductionistic and laughably implausible media accounts. I know you know no more, because you can’t possibly no more, but you imagine yourself engineering the fates of these millions of people with this central plan to rule the world. You should run for office.

      • Theresa Klein

        If you know something you think I don’t, maybe you should enlighten me.

        • martinbrock

          I know the same string sequences that you know, and I know that’s all I know.

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            You present a great example of taking a valid insight and applying it incorrectly. Your logic would prevent an innocent nation (or private protective agency, for that matter) from defending against a direct attack intended at mass annihilation because the decision-makers couldn’t know for sure that its self-defense wouldn’t make things worse.

          • martinbrock

            I don’t say anything about your hypothetical, innocent nation defending itself against a direct attack intended at mass annihilation. Constructing such a hypothesis is child’s play, and the hypothetical scenario bears little resemblance to supporting the Assad regime against ISIS, so I have no idea why you think I’ve applied the insight incorrectly.

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            You said the “Hayekian knowledge problem…is as applicable to foreign policy as it is to economics,” but it’s not. For one thing, there is no pricing mechanism advantage at work in the former. And, unless you are a strict pacifist, you must acknowledge that there are some circumstances that justify war. So, contra to your claim, a general reference to the Hayekian knowledge problem is NOT an argument against Theresa’s proposal. You need a specific reason to reject her idea, which you have not provided.

          • martinbrock

            Hayek on “The Use of Knowledge in Society”

            “The peculiar character of the problem of a rational economic order is determined precisely by the fact that the knowledge of the circumstances of which we must make use never exists in concentrated or integrated form but solely as the dispersed bits of incomplete and frequently contradictory knowledge which all the separate individuals possess. The economic problem of society is thus not merely a problem of how to allocate ‘given’ resources—if ‘given’ is taken to mean given to a single mind which deliberately solves the problem set by these ‘data.’ It is rather a problem of how to secure the best use of resources known to any of the members of society, for ends whose relative importance only these individuals know. Or, to put it briefly, it is a problem of the utilization of knowledge which is not given to anyone in its totality.”

            http://www.econlib.org/library/Essays/hykKnw1.html

            He says nothing about prices. The problem is that central planners are not omniscient. Price formation in markets provides distributed information to many decision makers, and without markets generating this information, economic organization is inefficient, but that’s Mises’ idea, not Hayek’s, and Mises does not argue that prices enable central, economic planners.

            Without market prices, decentralized decision makers are blinder than they would otherwise be. Global engineering of the sort that you and Theresa imagine doesn’t even have prices.

            I don’t need a specific reason to reject her idea. She needs specific reasons to accept it, and all of her reasoning is extremely vague.

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            At this point I don’t know whether you are being incredibly stubborn or just dense. If Hayek’s knowledge problem–the point you raised–was an argument against an anti-ISIS intervention, it would ALSO be an argument against ALL military actions, wars and interventions alike. Unless you are a strict pacifist, you must acknowledge that it cannot be a decisive reason not to intervene, since we should act in at least some cases. Thus, your citation to Hayek here is completely beside the point.

          • martinbrock

            The knowledge problem is an argument against the particular argument for an ISIS intervention presented above. Only you suggest that it’s an argument against all defensive action of any kind, because you’re constructing a fallacy of the excluded middle.

            You assert that I have some burden of proving that a vague, unsubstantiated argument for war is unjustified, that I need reasons to reject the argument, with its paucity of details, rather than the detailed knowledge supporting intervention that Hayek suggests is so difficult to obtain.

            By your reckoning, Hayek posits that any economic action whatsoever is pointless, but that’s clearly not his point.

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            No, it’s not the fallacy of the excluded middle until you point to some concrete factor that applies to anti-ISIS type interventions and classic wars of self-defense. After Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, we didn’t have to declare war. We could have said, “well the knowledge problems are too great,” let’s settle for a humiliating peace.” But we correctly disregarded this problem and fought back. You may believe on other grounds that an anti-ISIS campaign is unwise, but Hayek lends you no support.

          • martinbrock

            Yes, it’s the fallacy of the excluded middle when you insist on rebutting an argument against “ALL military actions, wars and interventions alike” that I have never asserted. I haven’t addressed Pearl Harbor at all, and I don’t need to address the holiest of holy wars to argue that Theresa’s argument for intervention in Syria is better than the IDF’s.

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            You should be more aware of what you have actually said before wasting my time with long arguments. You said, “This Hayekian knowledge problem is why I’m a libertarian, and it’s as applicable to foreign policy as it is to economics, if not more so.” In the context of our discussion regarding Theresa’s ISIS proposal, this plainly implies the claim that Hayek presents an argument against anti-ISIS type interventions. I have pointed out that if so, it also serves as an argument against ALL interventions, a point you continuously ignore. We have reached the point of diminishing marginal return, so I am done.

          • martinbrock

            What I say initially about Hayek’s Knowledge Problem implies nothing about “ALL military actions, wars and interventions alike” any more than it implies anything about ALL economic actions or ALL actions of any sort. Your assertion that it does is fallacious.

          • Theresa Klein

            Well, maybe you should think of it this way:
            We already “did something” (and continue to do something) in terms of assisting the Syrian opposition, and that something turned out to be a disaster, so by doing something to help the Syrian regime, we’re actually undoing the damage we did by destabilizing the Syrian government in the first place.

      • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

        Doing nothing is also a policy, a policy based on the same epistemological limitations as taking positive action, and a policy that will also, no doubt, have implications for “the fates of these millions of people.” If you claim that doing nothing is ALWAYS better then doing something, I think you owe us an argument.

        • martinbrock

          I’m content to do nothing about practically every occurrence in the Universe, because doing otherwise only succumbs to an illusion that I can control events beyond my control.

          I don’t owe you an argument for doing something rather than nothing in a particular instance. You owe me this argument. I don’t owe you an argument for always doing nothing either. Always doing nothing is hardly the only alternative to staying out of a war with ISIS. I’m doing other things right now.

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            I suggest you re-read Theresa’s comment for the argument for doing something in this particular case.

          • martinbrock

            I read it. My reply is above.

        • martinbrock

          There is no reason to think that the few weak “moderates” out there would be able to establish a government that wouldn’t immediately fall to ISIS.

          But that’s just what other central planners engineering U.S. foreign policy do think, and they pretend to have many reasons for their thinking, just as you do.

          If Assad went, that would mean, with near certainty, that ISIS would control Damascus.

          Yet the IDF attacked Assad’s forces only a few weeks ago, so even these far more local planners seem to think that they have reasons conflicting with Theresa’s reasoning. If your reasoning were so ironclad, you’d think that the people you propose to defend might share it.

          We could and should cut a deal with Assad wherein Assad makes some token concessions to future democratic reforms (so that we can save face), …

          Someone in the U.S. state department could certainly cut some sort of deal in which Assad promises to do things in the future that he may never do. I’ll grant this point. Central planners are masterful at this sort of thing.

          … and in exchange, we facilitate (let’s say) the supply of Russian arms to his regime, which he, in turn, uses to brutally crush ISIS in a way that only an Assad knows how.

          Newly minted U.S. dollars still have enough umph to buy Russian arms at a sufficiently high price and transport them to forces still nominally loyal to Assad. “Brutally crush ISIS [as only Assad knows how]” can only mean killing countless thousands of people, many of whom are not remotely sympathetic to ISIS, many of whom would be the very same “moderate” elements that the U.S. has been supporting, many others of whom would simply be innocent men, women and children. Wouldn’t the “moderate elements” feel terribly betrayed? Wouldn’t families of the innocent seek vengeance? I know I would.

          Even if “crushing ISIS” this way destroys the particular organization now called “ISIS”, a new dragon for you to slay could easily rise from its remains, just as ISIS rose from the unlikely coalition of former Baathists (as secular as Assad’s forces) and the remains Al Qaeda in Iraq following the U.S. sponsored Awakening movement in northern Iraq.

          This might even help us mend a few fences with Putin.

          Or it might not. Who is “us” by the way? I thought we were on opposites sides of this debate.

          … that totally dashes their idiotic prophecies about fighting the armies of “Rome”.

          Does it really? Did being crushed by the Anbar Awakening totally dash these idiotic prophecies? You could have said so in 2008, if you liked this story then, but you wouldn’t know it from looking at Anbar now.

          So there’s a more detailed rebuttal to Theresa’s argument, but if you think that I’m pretending to have enough knowledge of the conflict to posit my own master plan, you don’t understand my position at all. Everything I say here is hardly more precise or more informed than Theresa’s story.

  • j_m_h

    I think a possibly more interesting question might be what to do about those who want to go to the area controlled by ISIS and fight for them. What would the property libertarian approach be here?

    I’ve heard the claims that individuals would always be able to go fight for the causes they thought just and the government should be limited to purely defensive (which may or may not include action on external territory). I find it interesting that this is largely what Putin is saying is occurring in Ukraine.

    • Tedd

      I’m thinking that we should pay for their tickets, but with the understanding that they can’t return. Perhaps even an international agreement to declare them hostis humani generis, or something similar.

      • j_m_h

        I had a similar thought as that — but I would not pay for the travel — they seem capible of doing so themselves. Should be one-way and I agree the act would indicate no returning (easily at least) to the host country.
        Clearly, that’s a completely different appeach to what we do now.

    • martinbrock

      I can hardly imagine a more tragically delusional choice than moving to the backwoods of Iraq and Syria (more desert than wooded) to fight for a utopian Islamic state, so I don’t know why anyone needs to do anything about it. What is anyone to do? What sort of punishment would a proper libertarian inflict that these people aren’t already inflicting on themselves?

      • j_m_h

        I think that’s largely correct. I suppose one might make the humorous argument that they must be masocists so preventing them from enjoying the pain and suffering by putting them in jail is a worse punishment from their perspective 😉

  • Pingback: Bleeding Brain Libertarians | Reformed Libertarian()

  • Pingback: Bleeding Brain Libertarians | Freedom's Floodgates()

  • Ian

    This article is a terrible example of what being a bleeding heart libertarian is about. It contradicts the non-aggression principle, the backbone of libertarianism that violence is never initiated but only used in self defense. How does bombing/attacking ISIS meet that criteria? Why can’t Turkey or Saudi Arabia or any other NATO country with modern weapons take on ISIS? Why is this the responsibility of the US which is half way around the world? This article belongs anywhere but on this website. I’m absolutely dumbfounded.

    • Libertymike

      Be careful, you might be branded as a “cowboy libertarian” by some around here.

  • Pingback: Bleeding Brain Libertarians | The Authentic Male()

  • Poaster

    I was looking for a libertarian blog but somehow wandered into Neo Con warmonger central…

  • FredJ11

    smh Seems increasingly fashionable for anyone with any political opinion to call themselves Libertarian

  • Pingback: cosmetic dentistry in clearwater fl()

  • Pingback: Daftar Agen Bola Terpercaya()