The Massacres In Syria Debunk Popular Libertarian Anti-War Rhetoric

syriaIf you follow my Facebook page, “Right Off A Cliff,” you probably know there’s a “love/hate” relationship between me and Libertarians.

Well “love/hate”—without the love.

I think most of them are narrow-minded individuals who lack the ability to see the “big picture” on much of anything and cling to a overly simplistic ideology which often ignores reality, history and facts.  And they think I’m an ignorant jackass who has no clue what I’m talking about.  Usually because I refuse to debate with any of them unless they can provide me the answer to this simple request:

Provide me with a society, either in human history or present day, that’s been successfully built on Libertarian ideologies.

*And no, the United States doesn’t count.  We still had slavery when this nation was founded, women couldn’t vote till the early 20th century and homosexual couples still can’t get married in most states.  Freedom has seemingly always been a “fluid” concept since the founding of this nation.

Though I don’t oppose all Libertarians (I have a few friends who side with the party) the majority I’ve run across have always annoyed the hell out of me on most of the issues for which they stand.

War being one of the biggest.

See, I’m neither pro-war or anti-war.  I believe war is sometimes necessary, but should be used as a means of last resort.  I believe war is horrific.  And I also understand war means good people will die, children will die, innocents will die and controversy will almost certainly dominate many of the headlines.

It’s war, and there’s no such thing as a “clean war.”

Libertarians are almost always fiercely anti-war.  Seemingly with this naive isolationist belief that, “if we leave them alone, they’ll leave us alone.”  How well did that work out for us in the 1940’s as Hitler rose to power?  We mostly stayed out of it until Pearl Harbor, and by then things were well out of hand.

Take the Libyan Civil War of 2011.  Libertarians were up in arms over any U.S. involvement.  My Facebook feed was filled with pictures of dead civilians, many of which were children, with Libertarian friends and Facebook pages claiming they were “killed by U.S. bombs.”

This was apparently their attempt to show what “the United States does to innocent people when we participate in war.”  As if innocents and children don’t die when we don’t get directly involved.

Well, have these Libertarians seen the massacres happening in Syria?  Because I have.

I’ve seen pictures of dead children on the street, slaughtered by pro-government militias.  I’ve seen piles of bodies on street corners, with children missing limbs searching for their parents.  And let’s not forget about the recent developments where Bashar al-Assad has apparently used chemical weapons against his own people.

It would seem these horrific events happen with or without U.S. involvement.

Now don’t take this as my endorsement that we should directly get involved in Syria.  I’m still not sure—nor do I believe the United States should be the world’s police.

My point is only to expose this naive, and narrow-minded, approach Libertarians often use in their anti-war rhetoric as complete garbage.  It’s popular for them to vilify the United States government, and military, as this unabashed killing machine that often sees enemies and civilians as one in the same.

But the philosophy I often use when it comes to war is this (because again, all war is horrific):

If war is inevitable (or already occurring) and diplomacy stands no chance at ending the conflict—a decision needs to be made.  And no matter what the choice, the loss of innocent lives will be a result.

If we were to get involved, would that involvement lessen the overall loss of civilian life by expediting the eventual end result?  Or if we stay out of it, are we okay with even more innocents dying while we do nothing?

Now, no two wars are the same, nor are Libya and Syria countries which I can make any real scientific comparison.  But let’s look at their civil wars for just a moment.

The Libyan civil war lasted 8 months, resulting in 25-29K dead—with a population of about 5.7 million people.

The Syrian civil war is still ongoing (since 2011–2 years and 3 months) resulting in an estimated 97-120k dead—with a population of about 22 million people.

So while it’s popular for Libertarians to act as if any U.S. involvement in war is the American government indiscriminately killing innocent people, what Libertarians often fail to comprehend is the bigger picture.  That while U.S. bombs and missiles might result in the deaths of some civilians, it might also lessen the overall death tolls by shortening the length of the war.

It’s the hypothetical cliché question of, “Are the deaths of 1,000 worth it to save 1,000,000?”

The answer is never easy, and I sure as hell don’t know it.

But what I do know is this — innocent people will die in every war.  And while the United States doesn’t need to be the “world police” (getting involved in every conflict), it’s naive and ignorant for Libertarians to parade pictures of dead or mutilated children around the internet so they can support their anti-war cause, while trying to convince themselves these horrific tragedies only occur when the U.S. gets involved.

Because I hate to break it to them, but there are thousands of dead children in Syria that the United States didn’t have a thing to do with.

The difficult question I ask, that I don’t have an answer for is—could we have possibly saved some?

Allen Clifton

Allen Clifton is a native Texan who now lives in the Austin area. He has a degree in Political Science from Sam Houston State University. Allen is a co-founder of Forward Progressives and creator of the popular Right Off A Cliff column and Facebook page. Be sure to follow Allen on Twitter and Facebook, and subscribe to his channel on YouTube as well.


Facebook comments

  • Chad Kittrell

    Among all the tragedies of America’s decade+ of war, the most pervasive is the fact that now that we NEED to be directly involved in Syria, we can’t afford it. We’ve squandered too many lives, gazillions of dollars and the good will and trust of our allies in Iraq and Afghanistan, while now the people of Syria as well as the rest of the world are wondering, Where’s the US? Didn’t they used to be the good guys?
    P.S. I’m not a Libertarian.

  • Gaius

    I’m not an American Libertarian, but I am curious to see your response to your own rhetoric. What is an example of a society that has been successfully built on progressive ideas without any contradiction? It almost seems to me that you’re setting the burden of proof impossibly high and calling those who cannot perform the impossible idiots. I can find instances where either progressive or American Libertarian ideas have been successful, and others where neither was the right answer.

    No society is successfully built on a single philosophy, hence why concepts like freedom are fluid. Even the USSR and the PRC have evolving political and economic philosophies that, when put into practice, inherently contain contradictions caused by the forcible clash of ideologies.

    Also, you never addressed the position of the American Libertarians. While I disagree that what you present is the actual American Libertarian argument against war, you presented nothing but a subjective, emotions-based judgement. Do we sacrifice lives in the hopes that we improve rather than worsen, or do refuse to gamble with the lives of our own citizenry? It’s an ethical dilemma that has no clear answer, and this is effectively a restatement of the trolley problem. Do nothing to save no one or kill some to save others.

    So you just criticized a whole group of people solely because they disagree with your ethics and believe them to be close-minded. You’re confusing the opinions of internet idiots with an actual philosophy that has a vast array of incredibly intelligent proponents. It isn’t until we actually start discussing those philosophies themselves instead of grandstanding that we can actually do something about the toxic influence these philosophies are having on those internet idiots.

    I’m on your side. Let’s not stoop to a lower level, and we’ll win that much faster.

    • Dissenter13a

      I look at it this way: We no longer have the resources to play the role of the world’s policeman, and tolerating self-determination means that you have to accept what it precipitates. It is not our place to determine what Afghani or Iraqi or Syrian society is to be, any more than it is for them to dictate what ours should be. When we overthrew the pro-Western and democratically elected Mossadegh government in Iran over oil, we sowed the seeds of the present debacle. After some 60 years of doing it wrong, you’d think we’d get the message and start doing it right.

  • Gregory Walker

    I hope you realize that Libertarianism is a set of political philosophies and not just a party. At it’s core, Libertarianism is simply the opposite of Authoritariansim. While there are a few universal beliefs among Libertarian schools of thought, Libertarianism is divided into several groups and has both right and left factions. I’m assuming your beef is with the Libertarian Party and the recent wave of Republicans who (falsely) claim to be Libertarian.
    To answer your question, not only has there not been a country successfully built on Libertarian principles, there has never even been an attempt. Using that question as your basis for being willing to talk about Libertarian ideals is like telling a 1940’s rocket scientist that you’ll consider funding research for sending the first rocket into space as soon as you can point out where someone has already sent a rocket into space.
    One thing that real Libertarians universally agree on is open borders, so in the case of Syria we would be welcoming them into our country with open arms instead of openly arming them.

    • Dissenter13a

      There are only two logical and intellectually consistent philosophies: libertarianism (where the individual decides for the individual) and communism (where “the collective” decides). Both conservatism and liberalism have communist streaks: whereas the conservative wants to dictate what you do in the bedroom, the liberal wants to dictate what you do in the boardroom. Unfortunately, both sides seem to want us to dictate what happens in the rest of the world, mostly because we can.

      The libertarian has no problem with you smoking, snorting, or paying for sex. But if you use pesticides that kill off our bees, we have a real problem with it, because we need those bees to survive.

      The practical libertarian opposes “open borders,” mostly because we don’t have the resources to adequately care for the entire world. We have to be able to say who will or won’t enter our country, or we don’t have a country.

      • Gregory Walker

        Communism is the antonym for capitalism and libertarianism is the antonym for authoritarianism. You are conflating political philosophies with economic philosophies. I understand that can be confusing because most Libertarians endorse capitalism, however capitalism is not a necessary component and there are socialist models within Libertarian thought. (See Mutualism and Geolibertarianism.) Furthermore, if your definitions were correct then your example of bees and pesticides would be communism by your definition, which you cite as being the collective deciding for the individual.
        I’m not sure what you mean by Practical Libertarianism, but I have a sneaking suspicion that it is something along the lines of the so-called Libertarianism that people like Ron Paul spout. This is not Libertarianism; it is social Darwinism with drugs and prostitutes thrown in for appeal.
        As an example of how far from Libertarian thought this “Practical Libertarian” is, let’s go back to open borders: In a Libertarian model there is no minimum wage, and the social safety net would be drastically altered, so there is little reason for foreigners to start immigrating en masse just because they can. One major upside to the combination of open-border and no minimum wage is that it will become incredibly easy for citizens to start small businesses using immigrant labor, but there are actually numerous reasons for, and benefits from, this combination of policies. If you will study the history of Libertarian thought, as well as the theory of open borders, you will see that this has been a Libertarian ideal since Jefferson unsuccessfully argued for open borders, and later, for easing restrictions on immigration.

      • Dissenter13a

        What happened 200 years ago doesn’t translate well, as we are running into the Age of Limits. We only have so much water, and the benefits are not what they were 200 or even 100 years ago.

        How does the libertarian model deal with the problem of pollution? It doesn’t. This is why you have to make the kind of compromises I suggest.

      • Gregory Walker

        The Geolibertarian model does include answers for pollution, as land is considered a shared resource.

      • Matthew Reece

        The libertarian models deal with pollution through private property rights and being able to sue polluters for damaging or destroying property in violation of those rights.

  • Dissenter13a

    The Framers were practical libertarians. Granted, they could afford to be in those days, but “practical” meant a functioning public commons. Roads. Public schools. A postal service. A consistent system of weights and measures. The purist (i.o.w., anarchist) libertarian could only live by himself on a island; even when you introduce Eve or Friday, you have a society, and every society must have rules.

    The Framers weren’t frontiersmen, save for at need; they were barn-builders. This is a paradigmatic application of practical libertarianism. Taking good care of the least among us is another practical example: you never know when you will join their number. Practical libertarianism is therefore a logical corollary of enlightened self-interest.

    Every society must decide who gets what. If the few have too much, a society is unstable, and it must be maintained by force. Conversely, if no one has an incentive to produce, nothing will be produced, and society becomes unstable. You need a balance, and that is what a rational government is all about.

  • Adam

    Like you, Allen, I’m neither pro-war or anti-war. I agree that sometimes armed conflict is necessary, but our potential involvement in Syria is disturbing to me. It’s not just the Syrian regime that is killing and mutilating their own citizens, it’s the rebels too. We’ve supported too many repressive regimes in the name of democracy, and it inevitably comes back to bite us in the end. The closest parallel to Syria today would be Afghanistan after the Soviet invasion in 1979, and we all know how that ended.

  • Pluralist

    There are two issues here. I will focus on the war.

    Like the so-called “insurgency” in Libya, the “rebels” in Syria are Wahabi-based and supported by gulf states like Qatar. In Libya, 15,000 troops from Qatar masqueraded as “rebels,” and their glories were reported by the Qatari-state-supported Al Jazeera. Pogroms after the overthrow and brutal murder of Qadafi targeted the 1/3 of the population that is black-African. Being dark skinned was sufficient for being labeled a Qadafi-mercenary and carried a death sentence.

    The Saudis and the gulf-state monarchies are fooling the American people again, The Assad regime has a broader base, and is less sectarian, tolerating different trends within Islam and Christians. Both sides have committed atrocities. While we have limited information, anyone who attempts to dig a little will find the so-called Syrian National Council is extremely intolerant and brutal.

    We can’t afford another war, and we don’t need to provide the hardware for another Wahabi terror campaign that can easily come home to us.

  • Egemen Bilerel

    Yes, Let’s help Al-Qaeda backed “freedom fighters” throw out their mildly secular leader. Oh btw these “freedom fighters” have so much time on their hands besides fighting Assad that they kill and threaten Christian Syrians, attack non-Islamist Kurds and kill kids that dare speak out against the almighty Allah. Yes let’s take down Assad and replace him with Al-Qaeda because that worked out so well in Afghanistan. Because for some reason liberals love Islamists and have no problems when Christians get oppressed.
    An exmuslim, atheist, Turkish American and Libertarian

  • Curtis

    I’m a libertarian, but I still like you.

  • st m

    We have allowed Genocide throughout history, i thought we were supposed to be changing…..So excuse me as i get sick from hearing fellow Americans say they support Genocide.

    12 million native americans – meh
    6 million jews – when?
    1 million homosexuals – who?
    1.5 Armenians – Hmmm?
    500K – is that all?

    ….but then again RECENTLY, when peaceful protesters were being tear gassed and beaten in the streets along with all the ones over the past few years, i can see these things happen…..Americans would rather sit back and watch it on TV after it has happened, then when it all goes really wrong, SCREAM WHERE IS MY GOVERNMENT!

  • karuckus

    You really ruin your argument when you start off by saying “Oh, boo hoo, poor America tried to stay out of World War II but the Japanese and their Axis allies just weren’t having it!” It really shows your naivety with respect to not only history but to politics.

    America has not been isolationist since, well, probably George Washington’s administration. War is the health of the state (Randolph Bourne) and the engine of our economy. If you buy the reasons for US intervention in Syria and try to propagate them here as justifications then you are little more than a shill – paid or not.

    Open your eyes people. You are being manipulated at every turn. Any engagement America makes is with one thing in mind: profit potential. The United Corporations of America. Don’t let this shill make you think that we can justify our intervention because it was our actions all along that brought us to this point. We live for war! We die for it, too.

  • Josh

    How much are they paying you per hit with this garbage?

    “Freedom has seemingly always been a “fluid” concept since the founding of this nation.”

    Except when it comes to the limits of what you’d like to compel other people to do, right? Please provide me with a society prior to 1871 that didn’t have some form of forced slavery, and therefore was founded on an idea contrary to that.

    If we used your reasoning, the slaves would have never been freed.

    We didn’t free the slaves because we found a replacement system for picking cotton. We freed the slaves because owning other people can’t be justified, just as initiating force as an institutional duty can’t be justified.

  • Josh

    Iran and Syria signed a mutual defense pact in 2005. If you think this has anything to do with anything but getting involved militarily against Iran, you are mistaken.

    UN inspectors finished their investigation and concluded that the chemical attack came from the rebels the pentagon is currently funding, most likely with the administration’s blessing if not their help.

  • jeff

    Wow, I am a regular reader of these columns and have never commented on one, but this article is complete shit. We have no business getting into anyone else’s busniess when we can’t even get our own right here. Who the fuck cares about syria. I don’t and most other people in america don’t either. You may think I am an asshole because I don’t care about people in another country, but honestly who the fuck cares. Once we can deal with our own problems, then lets start getting into other people’s problems. Why is it our business, a country of 300+ people, to go in and decide what is best for someone else. You are starting to sound like a republican. Lets just start wars with every little country that does some stuff we don’t like. So what they used chemical warfare on a few people, they kille thousands before that using conventional methods. Why is it we need to get involved when a few hundred get killed by one method, but its fine that tens of thousands got killed by another.

  • suburbancuurmudgeon

    So….who are the “good guys” in Syria and who are the “bad guys?” Any takers on that one?

  • Matthew Reece

    “Provide me with a society, either in human history or present day, that’s been successfully built on Libertarian ideologies.”
    This is an unreasonable request because it relies upon a false assumption: that something which has not yet been done can never be done. If this were true, then nothing should ever happen and nothing should ever change. This is contradicted by all of human progress, and is therefore false.

  • Matthew Reece

    “Libertarians are almost always fiercely anti-war. Seemingly with this
    naive isolationist belief that, ‘if we leave them alone, they’ll leave
    us alone.’ How well did that work out for us in the 1940′s as Hitler
    rose to power? We mostly stayed out of it until Pearl Harbor, and by
    then things were well out of hand.”

    The U.S. did not leave Germany alone in World War I, which was clearly none of America’s business. (Some will cite the sinking of the RMS Lusitania, but the ship was carrying war munitions for the British, who were also violating the Cruiser Rules.) Allowing World War I to be won by the Central Powers or end in a stalemate would have likely prevented the conditions which allowed Hitler to rise to power.

    The U.S. did not leave Japan alone in 1853, when Commodore Matthew Perry threatened to bombard Uraga Harbor unless the Japanese opened their ports to trade. There is also significant evidence (although not conclusive proof) that American officials had advance knowledge of the Pearl Harbor attack and allowed it to occur in order to bring the U.S. into the war. (Note that Hitler did not declare war against the U.S. until Dec. 11, 1941.)

    • mtkaod

      Quit using facts they make outrage so much harder to maintain with a strait face.

  • Chelsea

    Hey, right wing Libertarian here.

    While it is true that Syrian people would die even without U.S. involvement, it is also true that U.S. interference — in everything, actually — is causing increasing tensions between the Western and non-Western nations.

    For example, Syria is a longtime ally of Russia, who has a naval base in Tartus Port. After the U.S. got involved backing the Syrian rebels, Russia jumped in to support Assad. Guess what that did for relations between these two states? It didn’t do anything but sour already poor relations worsened by the Cold War.

    Before Russia’s military intervention in Syria, it annexed Crimea in 2014 and destabilized democratic Ukraine. The U.S. and EU decided they didn’t like that, so they enforced negative sanctions against Russia — you know, to coerce Russia to stop interfering in Ukraine because the West was looking through their universalism glasses and decided their laws applied to non-Western, sovereign states. These economic sanctions caused Russia to turn to China for support, forming what Gabuev calls a “soft alliance.” Now China has purchased Russian missiles, the possession of which will most likely cause China to more aggressively assert itself in the territorial disputes in the South China Sea. Here’s why this poses a problem: the U.S. has “de facto commitments” everywhere in Southeast Asia, which is why China is claiming territory in the first place. These commitments are in the form of military dispositions, so if any U.S. military assets are hit in crossfire between China and another state, the U.S. gets drawn into a conflict with China. Washington also has its Mutual Defense Treaty with Manila. Given the poor state of U.S.-Russia relations, and Russia’s improved relations with China, we may see a World War III. All because of — you guessed it — Western interference.

    So I’ll ask you the same question: “Are the deaths of 1,000 worth it to save 1,000,000?” Well, are they? Are the deaths of Syrians — deaths that would happen without U.S. involvement — worth the lives of millions in the world? How about the deaths of some in the Ukraine? Are they worth the lives of millions? Are a few conflicts here and there, seemingly shortened by U.S. interference, worth the coming lengthy war and hence the death of many more, all primarily caused by that same U.S. interference?