We Should Have Listened to the Libertarians About the Middle East

Saddam Hussein gassing Kurdish villages, al-Qaeda attacking the US on 9/11, and ISIS killing just about anybody who isn’t ISIS isn’t a good thing, we can all agree to that, but it seems only the Libertarians have any objections to our solutions to the Middle East. Both the Republicans and Democrats are on the same page, for the most part.

The welcome to fallujahLibertarian objection, which is an objection based on principle – a general hands-off approach they apply to everything – is usually met with, “But we MUST do SOMETHING to help them. We can’t just sit idly by while people get massacred and we can’t allow radical Islam to gain in strength because they will become better able to attack us again. You Libertarians are a bunch of idealistic wackos who are all too happy to let the enemy defeat us while maintaining your smug, this-is-the-peaceful-and-therefor-morally-superior-stance bullcrap.”

I was one of the Republicans saying this. My position was the morally superior position because it was reality, not idealism. It would actually save lives.

Or so I thought.

The problem with this ostensibly pragmatic approach that I am now seeing is that R’s and D’s don’t have a historical perspective on the issues. Our memory only goes back as far as 9/11, or if we go back farther we have this vague notion that “Muslims are taught to hate us and Islam has been attacking the West for a long long time.” But an even bigger problem with that pragmatic approach, as practiced by most of us, is that we don’t even know what happened just a decade ago under the W. Bush administration. We don’t know because we don’t want to find out that maybe our nation was in the wrong and Iraq is worse off now than when it was under Saddam Hussein.

It turns out that the Libertarians were right both in principle and in practice. When dealing with this new threat called ISIS, we don’t have to rely on just principle. We can be pragmatic and look at real results and see real consequences.

If we are willing.

If we are more interested in truth than in defending our nation’s policies or our own political identity or leanings. If we go at it with eyes open we can see that we have created a worse humanitarian crisis than anything going on under Saddam Hussein, including his gassing of Kurdish villages, and we are barely lifting a finger to do anything about it.

If we are willing we will be able to see that ISIS would not exist if it weren’t for our actions. We will be able to see the real narrative that has been unfolding before us for the last 14 years. We will be able to see that the Iraqis don’t feel like they are being helped, in fact, they see us as just another enemy occupying force and get mad enough to want to take up arms against us to get rid of us, all the while we think we are a liberation army.

Let me give you an example.  The city of Fallujah, 50 miles west of Baghdad, was considered a stronghold of al-Qaeda. Our soldiers weren’t told any different. They weren’t told that the local civilian leaders pleaded with all three parties, al-Qaeda, the national government that we had installed, and the American and British leaders, to “leave us alone,” but the Americans refused. They weren’t told that the local leaders in Fallujah went to the United Nations to intervene to save their city and their skin but the UN couldn’t get the parties to budge. The Americans had it in their mind that the only thing anybody over there understands is force. So what happens? We literally destroy a whole city and not only kill off al-Qaeda forces (possibly) but locals who don’t want to be invaded, and women and children who were trapped inside the city because they would not or could not get themselves out during the evacuation. That number was estimated by the Red Cross at 50,000 while the American press said it was an empty ghost town save for the insurgents. In our effort to rid the city of al-Qaeda a Red Cross conservatively estimated 8,000 local civilians were killed (both those who could not get out and the locals who joined the fight to get rid of us), 300,000 people were forced to flee to the desert or risk being bombed, and then after the city was destroyed by bullets, tanks, and bombs, and had no water or electricity, the locals were invited back to piles of rubble and no infrastructure, a humanitarian crisis that we caused and then did nothing about.

“Well that’s just the cost of war Kirby.” Right, that’s why we don’t do war except when we are under attack, as stipulated by international law and Just War Theory, and nobody in Fallujah was attacking the United States. This is why the Libertarians are right both on principle and in practice. This is why we need to stop listening to Democrats and Republicans because neither one are telling us the truth about our “war on terrorism”.

I’m a big fan of democracy because it makes the decision makers accountable to the people. The people are the bosses because they can fire the politicians on election day. Assuming the people know what they are up to so will know to fire them. When I was preaching in Bulgaria I learned that the citizens don’t even know how the members of their Parliament vote on legislation. The politicians can promise them anything they want to hear to get elected and then do exactly the opposite once in office, and the electorate are none the wiser. Bulgaria is called a democracy but it isn’t.

In our country it works a little better. Anyone can look up legislative bills online and see how our Congressmen voted and compare that to their campaign promises and see if they are really representing us in Washington. And fire them if they aren’t.

If anyone is interested enough to go to all that trouble, that is. Voting along party lines is the easy alternative for those of us just trying to get through life without our kids becoming Justin Bieber fans.

Do Republicans and Democrats have an incentive to tell us the truth about the war on terrorism and what we are doing about it?

Let me drop a bomb on you. Politicians have an incentive to get elected.


Yup, and that’s the problem with democracy. Not that the alternatives are any better but we do well to be honest about what we have to work with.

You see, the American voters are out for blood. 9/11 is almost ancient history but then we have ISIS making us mad as hornets and the American people are still out for blood, and protection from a terrorist organization that is more terrorist and more organized than al-Qaeda. Americans simply don’t want to hear about any alternatives to a kill-them-at-any-cost bombing campaign. That’s what we want to hear and that’s what we get, even if it does the opposite of what we want and what we have been doing in the Middle East since 2001 has only made matters worse.

We would have been better off if we had just left Saddam Hussein in power because he was the most effective warrior against terrorism money can buy (and he was free) and he was doing it without making the Muslim world think America is only interested in expanding our colonial empire and destroying Islam and Arab civilization.

When was the last time you heard a Republican or Democrat tell you this bit of truth?

Wait, Kirby, we aren’t trying to destroy Islam, just radical Islam.

Go tell that to the average Joe on the streets of Iraq who just had his wife and daughter killed by an American Apache helicopter. Go tell that to the 300,000 Fallujans who returned to inhabit an uninhabitable city, courtesy of US Marines, and suffer a marked spike in birth defects from the illegal use of depleted uranium weapons. What are they supposed to think? They are just the unfortunate consequence of an unavoidable war to protect them and their countrymen from evil forces at work around them? That line might have sold in Dresden in 1945 (or at least after Hitler was defeated) but it isn’t selling in the Middle East and it never will sell in the Middle East. To them it looks like we are trying to control, oppress, and eventually eradicate Islam all together. Or at least enough to control the world’s oil supply.

Speaking of control over oil, you might be one who believes our actions in the Middle East are not to save us a buck or two per gallon at the gas pump, that we have more noble goals such as eradicating the world of the oppression of terrorist organizations. How are we supposed to sell that to the people of the Middle East when our government has made a habit of supporting and controlling numerous oppressive despots, including the likes of Saddam Hussein and the Shaw of Iran, and the Bush administration suppresses moderate, democratic Islamic groups in Egypt, Jordan, Pakistan, and Southeast Asia? Why would they not think we have embarked upon a worldwide war against Islam itself?

The Libertarians told us to stay out of Iraq and it turns out they were right.

How so?

Documents captured in the raid on the bin Laden compound in 2011 show that the core al-Qaeda membership in 2002 was 170. In 2006, it was estimated that al-Qaeda had several thousand commanders embedded in 40 different countries. Today the number of ISIS fighters (what used to be al-Qaeda in Iraq) roaming the countryside chopping heads off numbers in the tens of thousands.

Do you see a progression here?

Incidentally, at the height of our troop deployment in Iraq in 2007 we had 170,000 troops there, one thousand for each of the original al-Qaeda membership on 9/11, whose membership wasn’t even in Iraq. Can anyone say with a straight face that we were there to fight terrorism?

Ah but if we had stayed out of Iraq entirely it might be worse, right? Like a dirty bomb sneaked into a major US port on a ship, as one local retired Lieutenant-Colonel I know said was sure to happen, telling me our activity in Iraq and Afghanistan prevented it from happening. I found that to be a rather naive assessment considering that most al-Qaeda members were Saudi Arabian and didn’t really need Iraqi or Afghan real estate to manufacture a dirty bomb. The Muslim world has no shortage of places to do that. If anything, our invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan increased the likelihood someone would retaliate against the US with a dirty bomb.

According to Michael Scheuer, the CIA chief in charge of the al-Qaeda desk and the author of Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror, a more reasonable and effective response to 9/11 would have been to have a strike plan prepared ahead of time in the event of a major attack, for which he lobbied his superiors but was ignored. He had the intelligence to have a plan ready which could have been launched within hours with a few crippling surgical cruise missile strikes on 9/11 and 9/12 (and only then) when we still had the Muslim world’s sympathies but the Bush administration waited for a month to attack and by then al-Qaeda had disbursed and gone into hiding. By the time we got to Fallujah in 2004 we weren’t fighting against al-Qaeda, we were fighting against all of the local Iraqis who were fed up with America and its invasion and desecration of life and justice. Their uninvited American guests had overstayed their welcome I guess you could say (how’s that for understated British humour?).

If we had stayed out of Iraq after 9/11 and not engaged in this so-called war on terrorism, and the little side project that went along with it which was regime change and to control the country of Iraq and the world’s second largest oil reserve which was euphemistically called “exporting democracy,” we wouldn’t have a billion Muslims mad at us and afraid of us, and we wouldn’t have tens of thousands of terrorists to deal with. If we had listened to the Libertarians we could have avoided a lot of problems for us and for the Middle East.

Here’s a very insightful and brilliantly portrayed set of interviews by a US Marine involved in the Siege of Fallujah who interviewed people who had just watched American Sniper. It’s a good case in point that most of us don’t really know why we have our military doing what it is doing and how hard it is to think critically about the whole situation.

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