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Against War in Syria

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Tags War and Foreign Policy

04/12/2018

President Donald Trump has announced that he plans new missile strikes against the Syrian regime in response to an alleged chemical attack on Syrian civilians in a rebel-held suburb of Damascus. 

The US has offered no evidence of the attack, since, as the Financial Times has admitted, confirmation of any such attack could take weeks. Moreover, confirming the attack took place at all is not the same thing as confirming that the Syrian regime was responsible for it. 

The Trump administration, apparently, has little interest in such technicalities. Advocates for immediate military intervention argue that evidence could be lost in the meantime. 

So the absence of evidence is evidence.

But, as Tucker Carlson noted in an important segment at Fox News, even if it can be proven that the Syrian regime is responsible for the attack, it's unclear how a new attack on Syria will "make the US safer." 

The administration and its pro-war backers do not appear to even be making this case, as it is quite apparent that the Syrian regime is no danger to the United States, whatsoever. The regime's tiny air force and virtually-non-existent navy pose no threat to a country with a navy ten times larger than any other navy, and which spends more on military projects than the next eight most militarized regimes combined. As President Dwight Eisenhower understood — as he cut military spending in the face of a resurgent Soviet Union — the US's huge nuclear arsenal renders threats from regimes like Assad's utterly moot. 

But even if none of this were true, the burden is still on the US government to affirmatively demonstrate that Assad's Syria is a threat to the American voters and taxpayers. 

This will not happen, however, because that's not how foreign policy is made in the US. There will be no meaningful debate in Congress, and nothing more than accusations and innuendo will be issued from the administration and other organs of the executive branch. "Trust us, we wouldn't lie" will be the central claim of the American war promoters. Americans will, yet again, be told to sacrifice both treasure and freedoms to satisfy the latest schemes of the American military establishment. 

Given that only a portion of the population will buy any claims that Americans are in danger, we'll hear vague platitudes about humanitarian missions, and how the Syrian regime must be stopped for the sake of decency. We heard the same thing in both Iraq and Libya before regime change was effected there in the name of humanitarianism. In both cases, however, the region was only made less stable, and more prone to radical Islamism. The result has been anything but humanitarian or decent. Nor can advocates for war supply any answer to the question of what will replace Assad's regime. The most likely candidates are radical Islamists. Moreover, so long as the US continues to ignore the humanitarian disaster in Yemen being perpetrated by American ally Saudi Arabia, any claims of "humanitarian" intent are dubious at best.

The real motivation behind the latest drive for war might be found by employing a strategy recently suggested by Lew Rockwell, who notes:

When you hear the words "national security" or "national interest" used by people in Washington, I think it's important to substitute "imperial" for "national." So is it in the national interest of the United States to bomb Syria? No. Is it in the imperial interest of the American Empire to do so? Yes. 

In other words, the US state and many of its allies stand to benefit significantly from war with Syria. As Randolf Bourne pointed out a century ago, "war is the health of the state," and yet another war will help the American regime justify larger budgets, larger deficits, more taxes, and more state power in general. 

For this reason, there has always been a close connection between the ideology of laissez-faire liberalism, and the ideology of peace. In the 19th century, it was free-market liberals like Richard Cobden and his friend Frédéric Bastiat who regarded economic intervention, slavery, and war as all part of one authoritarian package. This mantle was later picked up by the great liberal economist Ludwig von Mises, and then by his student Murray Rothbard. 

Even in the cases where defensive war might have been justified, the costs of war, the liberals understood, have been far more grave than our rulers would have us believe. War is always a disaster for life, for liberty, and for the quality of life for those who survive. The only exception, it seems, are those organs of the state that benefit so handsomely from armed conflict. 

But, on the matter of war, the position of the liberals — those we now know as "libertarians" — have long been firmly on the side of peace whenever possible: 

But wars are not made by common folk, scratching for livings in the heat of the day; they are made by demagogues infesting palaces. It is not necessary for these demagogues to complete the sale of a war before they send the goods home, as a storekeeper must complete the sale of, say, a suit of clothes. They send the goods home first, then convince the customer that he wants them. ... But the main reason why it is easy to sell war to peaceful people is that the demagogues who act as salesmen quickly acquire a monopoly of both public information and public instruction. ... The dead are still dead, the fellows who lost legs still lack them, war widows go on suffering the orneriness of their second husbands, and taxpayers continue to pay, pay, pay. In the schools children are taught that the war was fought for freedom, the home and God. — H.L. Mencken

Modern war is merciless, it does not spare pregnant women or infants; it is indiscriminate killing and destroying. It does not respect the rights of neutrals. Millions are killed, enslaved, or expelled from the dwelling places in which their ancestors lived for centuries. Nobody can foretell what will happen in the next chapter of this endless struggle. This has little to do with the atomic bomb. The root of the evil is not the construction of new, more dreadful weapons. It is the spirit of conquest. It is probable that scientists will discover some methods of defense against the atomic bomb. But this will not alter things, it will merely prolong for a short time the process of the complete destruction of civilization. — Ludwig von Mises

Only one thing can conquer war — the liberal attitude of mind which can see nothing in war but destruction and annihilation, and which can never wish to bring about a war, because it regards war as injurious even to the victors. Where Liberalism prevails, there will never be war. But where there are other opinions concerning the profitability and injuriousness of war, no rules or regulations, however cunningly devised, can make war impossible. — Ludwig von Mises

Modern war is not a war of royal armies. It is a war of the peoples, a total war. It is a war of states which do not leave to their subjects any private sphere; they consider the whole population a part of the armed forces. Whoever does not fight must work for the support and equipment of the army. Army and people are one and the same. The citizens passionately participate in the war. For it is their state, their God, who fights. — Ludwig von Mises

The middle and industrious classes of England can have no interest apart from the preservation of peace. The honours, the fame, the emoluments of war belong not to them; the battle-plain is the harvest-field of the aristocracy, watered by the blood of the people. — Richard Cobden

Public opinion must undergo a change; our ministers must no longer be held responsible for the everyday political quarrels all over Europe; nor, when an opposition journalist wishes to assail a foreign secretary, must he be suffered to taunt him with the neglect of the honor of Great Britain, if he should prudently abstain from involving her in the dissensions that afflict distant communities. — Richard Cobden

England, by calmly directing her undivided energies to the purifying of her own internal institutions, to the emancipation of her commerce … would, by thus serving as it were for the beacon of other nations, aid more effectually the cause of political progression all over the continent than she could possibly do by plunging herself into the strife of European wars. — Richard Cobden

The libertarian's basic attitude toward war must then be: it is legitimate to use violence against criminals in defense of one's rights of person and property; it is completely impermissible to violate the rights of other innocent people. War, then, is only proper when the exercise of violence is rigorously limited to the individual criminals. We may judge for ourselves how many wars or conflicts in history have met this criterion. ... If classical international law limited and checked warfare, and kept it from spreading, modern international law, in an attempt to stamp out "aggression" and to abolish war, only insures, as the great historian Charles Beard put it, a futile policy of "perpetual war for perpetual peace." — Murray Rothbard

The second Wilsonian excuse for perpetual war ... is even more utopian: the idea that it is the moral obligation of America and of all other nations to impose "democracy" and "human rights" throughout the globe. In short, in a world where "democracy" is generally meaningless, and "human rights" of any genuine sort virtually nonexistent, that we are obligated to take up the sword and wage a perpetual war to force utopia on the entire world by guns, tanks, and bombs.  — Murray Rothbard

The Editors of the Mises Institute.

Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.
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