The Case for Small Government

A Libertarian Perspective on Economic and Social Policy

March 07, 2006

Withdraw From Iraq Now

A recent opinion poll conducted by Washington-Post –ABC-News reports that more than 80% of Americans now believe civil war between Iraqi Shiites and Sunnis is likely or very likely. And 52% believe the U.S. should begin withdrawing troops. Yet only one sixth supports immediate, total withdrawal.

If one believes a continued U.S. presence will increase the likelihood of peace, or democracy, or economic growth, then it is reasonable to oppose immediate withdrawal.

If one believes, however, that civil war or totalitarian Islamic rule is virtually inevitable – whether the U.S. withdraws in one year, or five years, or fifty – then our continued presence is all cost and no benefit. In this case, no matter how awful withdrawal might be, the U.S. should do it now and avoid the costs of occupation. Moreover, a continuing U.S. presence probably increases terrorism against the U.S., since it is above all our presence in the Middle East that Islamic terrorist groups detest.

No one can know with certainty whether U.S. efforts can eventually prove beneficial in Iraq. But few historical examples provide a basis for optimism. The right policy, therefore, is to withdraw now. Not in a year or a month or a day. Now.


At 5:39 AM, Blogger Mike Huben said...

This is an incomplete policy. It only analyzes the consequences in terms of immediate costs to the US. It ignores our responsability to clean up the mess we have made, and the costs that this would impose on the Iraqi people.

A more complete policy would consider how to handle the power vacuum to obtain more humane goals. For example, organizing or funding multinational peacekeepers. Though I don't see how libertarianism would have anything to do with that.

At 5:44 AM, Blogger Jeffrey Alan Miron said...

The position I outlined is that both short term and long term costs to the US are large as long as we continue the occupation.
Indeed, continued occupation makes things worse, not better.

Consider what happened in Viet Nam. We finally dispared of doing any good. We just left. And over the next couple of decades, the situation improved immensely.

At 10:03 AM, Blogger Chris said...

It is likely that our time in Iraq should be a considered "sunk". If that is true, then I think the initial analysis by Mr. Miron is true -- essentially all costs and no benefits.

However, ethically speaking, I think Mr. Huben has a point. Especially considering the issue of leaving the Iraqi people to fend for themselves under a civil war, that we are the essentially the cause of.

At 10:04 AM, Blogger Ivan said...

A civil war isn't binary. If it happens, it can vary be term and severity.

For example: if the US does not stay nuetral in a civil war, it will be over very quickly. If the US pulled out before it started, it could be long and much more bloody.

Further, the efforts towards stability and democracy in Iraq do not occur in an island. The effort is pushing reform throughout the region. That benefit must be included.

Also, you need to look at the long term. I'm not talking about future terrorist attacks, but making it so that Islamist terrorism is not a more serious threat than other terrorists. That will probably only occur when you have governments when can be held accountable by the people in the Mid East. In that sense, the only long-term plan for victory is democratization.

The fasted and surest way to that end is to stay in Iraq.

Finally, I wouldn't look towards history as a guide. Never in history has there ever been a force like the US military that was so incacable of being defeated on the battlefield (by conventional weapons).

This means that the failure of the US in Iraq is political.

At 11:21 AM, Blogger Russell said...

Mike -- consequential libertarians don't assume (as you seem to) that government has magical powers. E.g. it would take a magic wand to handle the power vacuum. Of course the humane goals are laudable worthwhile goals. So is having a pony, but closing your eyes and wishing doesn't make it so.

At 11:27 AM, Blogger Russell said...

ivan: we have alwasy been able to nuke Mecca until it glows. Similarly, we could kill all the terrorists simply by gassing everyone in Iraq. No people, no war.

You get peace when you have a way to resolve or life with conflict without resorting to violence. The US States are at peace with each other, and have been ever since the Constitution was ratified.

How soon do you think the Muslims in Iraq will stop using violence to resolve their conflicts? Do you think the US Military will be able to teach them that? It's a lesson that can be learned, but it cannot be taught.

At 11:56 AM, Blogger John Harvard said...

Russell -- While I agree with you in general, I have to point out that the Civil War (a/k/a the War between the States) was one episode during which the US States most definitely were not at peace with each other.

At 12:10 PM, Blogger adron_bh said...

Mike Huben - He's only talking about the economic cost/benifit ratio.

Jeffrey Alan Miron - Come on, Vietnam did NOT improve. It has as of yet improved. We could have won AND got the situation improved. For instant; Japan, Germany, and others.

...I'd say our biggest problem these days with this supposed "Empire Building" or "Country Building", whatever one would call it. Is in the past (with Japan & Germany to a much lesser degree) we built up their economies by creating them with an export mentality, thus buying all of their junk - but now we don't really have "more junk" we need from anyone else besides China, Japan, and Europe. It's kind of hard to rebuild a country also, when even their best "junk" isn't worth anything to the rest of the world. All Iraq has is oil and with some modifications to our economy we don't even really need that stuff.

Chris - Good point on the time being sunk, and all costs and no benefits.

However I'd strongly dissagree that we have much to do at all with this civil war. Whenever (whether by us or other means) Saddam was disposed of or removed from power this same situation would have ensued. These people hate each other ALMOST as much as they hate us. It's so bad that they can't even bond together properly to get rid of us so that they can just fight it out. They're divided that bad, which in no way can be blamed on us. That goes back far far before the US was even a twinkle in the founding fathers eyes.

At 1:26 PM, Blogger Ivan said...

Russell: even using tactics we find morally agreeable, we can and are winning any military battles in Iraq.

The real story there is one of rebels fighting against the establishment of a respected, responsive authority. That takes time. It will take more time if the US leaves.

As far as cost benefit of our next actions, I still believe success is such a huge payoff that it is worth it to stay. Might I also point out the benefit of continued failure: the flypaper strategy where Al Queda focuses efforts on Iraq, rather than the west. Brutal, but the best explanation to date as to why there has been no major terrorist attack on the US.

At 6:29 PM, Blogger Mike Huben said...

Russell: you can tell me what I think when you're clever enough to remember little things like the civil war. In the meantime, please keep your delusional strawmen to yourself.

Mr. Miron seems to be presenting us with a false dichotomoy of "go" or "stay". I presented a third option, of finding other parties that are willing to take the peacemaking task from us. Parties that the Iraqis can trust not to be run by corporatist crusading christians, such as the UN or an alliance of muslim states.

adron_bh: the economic cost/benefit ratio TO THE US is hardly the only thing that should be considered, and is plainly the major fault in Miron's argument. You might just as well say that somebody who has committed some harm or another should only consider their own selfish interests, and leave the harm they created behind for others as a burden. Shall we come to the conclusion that "consequential libertarians" consider responsability unnecessary?

At 6:54 PM, Blogger Steven Tucker said...

It is certainly a shock after a week of news stories about Iraq in civil war, and the New York Times calling the recent violence just that. So let me get this right: The Media comes out and screams civil war in Iraq and then does a poll that shows that Americans think Iraq is in civil war? This is news? There is shock? Bah.

I'm a good libertarian, but I think pulling out of Iraq is an act of impatience or naivety, not principle.

Excellent Blog by the way. :)

At 8:39 PM, Blogger Troy Specter said...

ivan: It is true that the U.S. has overwhelming military might in Iraq. If Civil War breaks out you can be sure that several other nations will support militias of their religion with finances, equipment, and maybe even manpower. Iran would support Shiites, while Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Kuwait would assist Sunnis. And then there are the Kurds - what will the Kurds in Iran, Turkey, and even Syria do? What will Turkey do? The possibilities are frightening. This means that the U.S. runs the risk of alienating the other countries in the Middle East as well. This possibility must be taken into account.

At 2:14 AM, Blogger Russell said...

Mike: so .... speaking of delusional ... when did New York attack New Jersey? Or Pennsylvania attack Virginia? The states have been at peace even though the country may have split into two and been forced back together by the War of Northern Aggression. My point -- that the people living in Iraq do not have any history of peacefully resolving conflicts -- and that no country is likely to survive until that happens -- and that fighting a war is unlikely to teach that to anybody -- remains.

Ivan: you are assuming that we are making progress at creating a country. Before you can have a country you have to have trust. Do you think there is any trust between Sunni, Kurd, and Shi'a?

At 9:38 AM, Blogger Ivan said...

"Before you can have a country you have to have trust."

I would be perfectly happy if the result of a short civil war was a breakup of Iraq along sectarian lines.

That should have been policy from the beginning.

We should stay if only to make sure that is the outcome of a civil war.

That said, yes I do think you can have trust among different groups. The trick is to have an institution based on limits as the government. Each party trusts that other parties don't have the power to oppress.

Troy: Iran would probably take the same side we do: the Shiites. The Kurds will probably not get involved in a civil war. They would just start treating the de facto border in the north as de jure.

At 10:57 AM, Blogger Robert said...

The American intervention in Iraq was successful in 2003. The action since then, with minimal casualties, has been mopping up and preparing the way for a peaceful government. That is happening. No civil war. No breakup. Ever.

At 12:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

1) Has anyone considered if the Iraqi's want us to "help" them any longer, regardless of whether we have a moral responsibility to do so. It seems as if one should answer the first question before proceeding to the next.

2) I'm siding with Dr. Miron on immediately vacating Iraq. Did anyone else read the article, The Logic of Suicide Terrorism: It's the occupation, not the fundamentalism, that he provided a link to in his original post? It's very convincing, yet no one has commented on it yet.

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