Response to Ryan Sager

Thursday, November 18th, 2004

I’ll throw my lot in with Julian Sanchez in slamming ex-Catoite and fellow libertarian Ryan Sager, who writes:

The main problem with libertarians right now, frankly, is their inability to have anything serious to say regarding foreign policy. Pacifism combined with isolationism, as preached more or less by many at Cato and Reason is neither the popular nor the correct answer to the threat of global terrorism…

…the West has to win this conflict, but it also has to realize that it can lose, too.

Part of winning, I firmly believe, is fighting the encroachments of government upon our civil liberties and upon the economic strength we need to prevail.

Until mainstream libertarians get this, and find something substantive to say about it — as opposed to bitching endlessly about Iraq and sounding more and more like Michael Moore — they will, quite deservedly, lose more and more influence in national politics.

I am, to be direct, looking at you, Cato and Reason.

As I mentioned, Ryan worked at Cato. He also calls himself a libertarian. So he surely knows that all of Cato’s foreign policy people and most everyone I know of at Reason supported the war in Afghanistan. All at both institutions also fervently support free trade, liberal immigration, and the intermingling of cultures, trade, and commerce. All also support the erradication of al-Qaeda, even if it means crossing international borders, and holding accountable those governments who object.

Further, to my knowledge, while Cato’s foreign policy team is united against the war with Iraq, Reason’s staff is fairly split.

Ryan knows all of this. He also knows that “isolationist” is a label conservatives slap on libertarians who aren’t as bloodthirsty as they are. They like the image it conjures — that we’re inward-looking nativists who want to build walls around the border. It has no basis in reality, especially given that libertarians tend to take a more cosmopolitan view on issues like trade and immigration than conservatives do.

So not only does Sager’s “pacifism and isolationism” charge not stick, it’s really just an old cliche he knows isn’t true. He ignored the abundant evidence that contradicts it, and in so doing grounded his characterization almost entirely in his malice for those of us who happen to disagree with him on one issue and one issue only — the war with Iraq.

Sager’s a smart, well-read guy, so he also knows that ambitious, aggressive, idealist foreign policy has always, always, always led to massive government growth at home. U.S. history teems with exmaples. Sager ought to know that opposition to grand remapping schemes overseas goes hand in hand with opposition to trespasses on civil liberties and economic freedom here at home. Does anyone really think the same administration that believes it can reverse hundreds of years of human history to build a liberal society from scratch in Muslimdom will voluntarily restrain itself when it comes to domestic policy?

But let’s get back to Sager’s chief complaint, that Cato folks have nothing “serious” to say when it comes to foreign policy.

I went browsing throught the Cato website archives, and pulled up a few old predictions from Cato scholars as to what might happen in post-war Iraq. I then found similar predictions from Bush administration officials.

I’ll let you judge for yourselves which predictions came closer to foreseeing what’s actually going on right now.

First, from Catoites:

“In the words of one Iraqi: ‘We thank the Americans for getting rid of Saddam’s regime, but now Iraq must be run by Iraqis.’ To prevent that gratitude from turning to resentment and hostility, we must have the wisdom to leave as quickly as possible. If we don’t, the United States runs the risk of reliving its experience in Lebanon in the 1980s. Or worse, our own version of the Soviet experience in Afghanistan — Arabs and Muslims from the region could flock to Iraq to expel the American infidel.”

–Charles V. Pena, May 8, 2003.

“Promoters of nation-building in Iraq, including many who scorned similar efforts by a Democratic administration a few years ago, point to nation-building successes in Germany and Japan following World War II. Along these same lines, Bush declared that ‘[r]ebuilding Iraq will require a sustained commitment’ and that the United States would ‘remain in Iraq as long as necessary, and not a day more.’ But there are still more than 70,000 U.S. troops in Germany and 50,000 in Japan, and this lingering troop presence has given rise to a virulent anti-Americanism. If these ‘success’ stories reflect the model for post-war Iraq, we should expect U.S. troops to remain in this troubled region for many years.”

–Christopher Preble, March 4, 2003

“In the absence of strong allies and regional bases, the successful prosecution of another war in Iraq may be more costly in time, lives and resources than the Gulf War.”

–William Niskanen, December 31, 2001

“Another war in Iraq may serve bin Laden’s objective of unifying radical Muslims around the world in a jihad against the United States, increasing the number of anti-U.S. terrorists. In contrast, the Sept. 11 attacks and the successful prosecution of the war in Afghanistan have divided the Muslim political elite.”


“American popular support may not be sufficient to prosecute a sustained war against Saddam.”


“Yet no matter how emotionally satisfying removing a thug like Saddam may seem, Americans would be wise to consider whether that step is worth the price. The inevitable U.S. military victory would not be the end of America’s troubles in Iraq. Indeed, it would mark the start of a new round of headaches. Ousting Saddam would make Washington responsible for Iraq’s political future and entangle the United States in an endless nation-building mission beset by intractable problems.”

–Ted Galen Carpenter, January 14, 2002

“If Iraq’s forces don’t quickly crumble, the U.S. might find itself involved in urban conflict that will be costly in human and political terms.”

–Doug Bandow, August 12, 2002

“The Gulf War Cost $80 billion (in 2002 dollars). Because the United States would probably be faced with a long occupation of Iraq to stabilize the country after the invasion, the cost is likely to be higher this time around. And unlike the Gulf War, no financial support from other nations can be expected to defray the costs.”

–Ivan Eland, August 19, 2002

“The MacArthur Regency worked in Japan because the U.S. occupiers entered a country sick to death of war, with a tradition of deference to authority…

…That process is particularly unlikely to be repeated in Iraq, a fissiparous amalgam of Sunnis, separatist Shiites and Kurds. Keeping the country together will require a strong hand and threatens to make U.S. servicemen walking targets for discontented radicals.”

–Gene Healy, January 1, 2003

“My best guess is that war and its aftermath would be more costly and difficult than the optimists admit. The fact that presidential adviser Larry Lindsey publicly estimates it would cost $100 billion to $200 billion implies the administration expects a second Iraq war to be two or three times more difficult than the first one.”

–Alan Reynolds, November 21, 2002.

Keep those in mind when reading the following, from the war’s chief architects:

“The United States is committed to helping Iraq recover from the conflict, but Iraq will not require sustained aid.”

–OMB Director Mitch Daniels, quote in the Washington Post on April 21, 2003.

“Well, the Office of Management and Budget, has come up come up with a number that’s something under $50 billion for the cost. How much of that would be the U.S. burden, and how much would be other countries, is an open question.”

–Donald Rumsfeld, January 19, 2003.

“Costs of any [Iraq] intervention would be very small.”

–White House economic advisor Glen Hubbard, October 4, 2002.

“Iraq has tremendous resources that belong to the Iraqi people. And so there are a variety of means that Iraq has to be able to shoulder much of the burden for their own reconstruction.”

–Ari Fleischer, February 18, 2003.

“We’re dealing with a country that can really finance its own reconstruction, and relatively soon.”

–Paul Wolfowitz, March 27, 2003.

“A year from now, I’ll be very surprised if there is not some grand square in Baghdad that is named after President Bush.”

–Richard Perle, September 22, 2003.

“I expect we will get a lot of mitigation [from other countries re: the cost of rebuilding Iraq], but it will be easier after the fact than before the fact.”

–Paul Wolfowitz, March 27, 2003.

“Some of the higher-end predictions that we have been hearing recently, such as the notion that it will take several hundred thousand U.S. troops to provide stability in post-Saddam Iraq, are wildly off the mark.”


“I am reasonably certain that they will greet us as liberators, and that will help us to keep requirements down.”


“Well, I don’t think it’s likely to unfold that way. . . . The read we get on the people of Iraq is there is no question but what they want to the get rid of Saddam Hussein, and they will welcome as liberators the United States when we come to do that.”

–Dick Cheney, when asked if the American public is ready for a long, bloody battle, March 16, 2003 (Incidentally, in a mid-May 2004 poll commissioned by the U.S.-led CPA, just 2% of Iraqis viewed U.S. troops as “liberators”).

“I don’t think it would be that tough a fight.”


“There are other differences that suggest that peacekeeping requirements in Iraq might be much lower than historical experience in the Balkans suggests.”

–Wolfowitz, February 27, 2003

“Bring ’em on. We’ve got the force necessary to deal with the security situation.”

–President Bush, when asked if the insurgency and resulting U.S. casualties might cause him to ask for more help from U.S. allies, July 2, 2003.

Which series of quotes are more “serious?” Which are more grounded in reality?

These are rhetorical questions.

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One Response to “Response to Ryan Sager”

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