If you ever want to really tick off a libertarian, one way to do it would be to cite an article by Cathy Young in the October 2008 issue of Reason magazine where two or three dozen libertarian and libertarian-leaning journalists and political organizers are asked for whom they will be voting for President the following week.
About half of them say Barack Obama (followed by then 2008 Libertarian Party presidential candidate former Congressman Bob Barr, None of the Above, and McCain-Palin, in that order).
I was annoyed by that result back then, when I first read it, and I am more or less a lifelong libertarian. The only mitigating factor, and it is small I think, is that until a few days after he was elected most Americans did not know how bad Obama was.
Indeed he had hidden his plans and his ideology, on some issues – transparency, appointing lobbyists to government positions, letting you keep your doctor – actually lying about them and saying he would do the opposite of the things he has done.
But that was then, and this is now. After seven years of seeing Obama in action, why would anyone, including libertarians, give Obama the benefit of the doubt about anything, including the Iran deal?
The Iran deal, the details of which few of its defenders actually discuss, and which the Obama regime didn’t want to let anyone see until after it was all signed, sealed, and delivered, has three substantive aspects: 1) Giving the Iranian regime and other Iranian entities over $100 billion is assets that have been frozen in foreign financial institutions, 2) ending economic sanctions against Iran, and 3) creating a program for inspecting Iranian nuclear industries to ensure they are not being used for weapons production.
(It also has some troubling procedural elements, namely a President trying to unconstitutionally ratify a treaty with other countries without the participation of Congress, by calling it something other than a treaty.)
Several significant libertarian voices support Obama’s Iran deal, and few have opposed it.
Former Congressman Ron Paul weighed in with praise for Obama‘s Iran deal as “one of the two most important achievements of an otherwise pretty dismal Obama presidency. Along with the ongoing process of normalizing relations with Cuba, this move shows that diplomacy can produce peaceful, positive changes. It also shows that sometimes taking a principled position means facing down overwhelming opposition from all sides and not backing down. The president should be commended for both of these achievements.”
Kind of an embarrassing statement, given that Cuba has been beating and imprisoning dissidents AFTER Obama began liberalizing relations with the communist country.
Some would no doubt read into Dr. Paul’s announcement more evidence of the claim that he is anti-Israel and anti-Semitic, which has dogged him since The New Republic published Jamie Kirchik’s expose of odious articles in newsletters published under Ron Paul’s apparently lax editorial control. I don’t think this is so much proof that Ron Paul was ever anti-Semitic as that he was politically slutty.
In the cold, lonely nights before 2007, when no one cared about Ron Paul and his ideas about ending the Fed and reducing the size of government and empire, he would speak to anyone, including questionable and un-vetted characters. As evidenced by his famous meeting to be interviewed by “Bruno,” the flamboyantly gay Austrian- and fictional-television journalist.
Speaking with kooks and conspiracy theorists back in the day no more makes Ron Paul an anti-Semite than meeting with comedian Sacha Baron Cohen’s alter ego “Bruno” makes him a gay Austrian.
While Ron Paul’s Constitutionalist politics may be akin James Madison, his public relations strategy was more Ashley Madison – he’s on the lookout to hook up and play with one and all. In the old days it was with the fringes of the right, now it’s more likely to be the fringes of the left, like Code Pink and the Ploughshares Fund.
(Perhaps in reaction to his dad’s promiscuity, Senator Rand Paul seems prudish, being careful not to associate with the wrong people, hectoring Libertarian Party and other independent libertarian groups for daring to support spoilers or split the votes that he feels belong to his GOP political allies. This seems to have cost him support and money — the all important, yeasty, early money — from many libertarians, including his dad’s old donors, moving his dad to issue a plea after the first GOP debate that his old followers get behind Rand.)
At the libertarian movement’s flagship magazine, Reason, regular contributor Sheldon Richman, the foremost critic of Israel in the libertarian movement, argues that Obama has been lying to even suggest Iran is seeking a nuclear bomb and that the campaign against the deal is just a ploy by Zionists to hurt Iran and help Israel.
It’s an odd argument.
If Iran didn’t want nuclear weapons, why wouldn’t it have long ago agreed to inspections of its nuclear facilities, if that would have meant the lifting of sanctions and the release of over $100 billion in frozen assets? And when did libertarians start believing that governments – including crazed theocratic governments that shoot dissidents and execute gays – don’t always tend to want more power, including more weapons and more military power, especially nuclear weapons?
One would think that the only reason they would curb their appetite for such power is if it would threaten their existence, say by retaliation, as John Bolton and others think the Iran deal will, since if the United States and the west won’t curb Iranian nuclear capabilities, Israel will. Indeed, another Reason magazine contributor, Chicago Tribune columnist Steven Chapman, argues that libertarians should get behind the Iran Deal because, after all, if it doesn’t work, the U.S. always has the option of a military strike. Contradicting the thesis that the Iran Deal is the only alternative to and prevention for, war.
Indeed, every part of a libertarian supporting Obama’s Iran deal seems screwy.
First, it reeks of the political Manichaeism (coincidentally an ancient Persian religion) of only two choices libertarians always decry: there is either the Iran deal or the evil neo-con’s drive for war and occupation. Only two choices and one must choose the lesser evil. Really, what about no deal at all? Just not signing anything?
Second, back to the three parts of the deal I listed above, why would libertarians favor turning over more than $100 billion in frozen assets to the Iranian state or state-owned or government-sponsored enterprises? Why shouldn’t the funds remain frozen? Or pay out claims to Iranian dissidents and refugees abroad for their damages and lost property?
Third, many people — from Ambassador Bolton to a former Libertarian Party chairman — have noted that the sanctions have been a failure, with most countries not enforcing them, and with Iraq re-branding and selling Iranian oil in the international markets. In an anti-American move Dinesh D’Souza would appreciate, Obama’s Iran deal lifts sanctions on European, Russian, and Chinese businesses investing in or buying from and selling to Iran – but according to Cato’s Richard Rahn, not American ones.
They remain regulated by sanctions. Is this the free trade Dr. Paul and Mr. Richman think libertarian? Richman, in another of his series defending Obama’s Iran deal, claims that the economic sanctions have been so effective they have impoverished innocent Iranian citizens. But the per capita GDP of Iran is $4,800, compared to $2,100 for Syria, $1,800 for Egypt, $1,300 for Pakistan or $670 for Afghanistan – sanctions don’t seem to have been effective in making it poorer than its neighbors.
Iran is generally believed to have a more educated population than many neighboring countries, and in libertarian circles one sometimes hears a riff that Iran — where it is legal to buy and sell organs for transplant (what is Planned Parenthood’s position on the Iran deal?) has a free market economy. But on Cato’s index of economic freedom Iran ranks 142 out of 157 countries ranked, while in the Heritage index Iran ranks 171 out of 178 countries.
Exactly what capitalist acts between consenting adults could sanctions be limiting in one of the world’s most statist economies? Are there any transactions for sanctions to limit other than Iran selling state owned oil to China and Russia for hard currency, uranium, and weapons? And if one were worried about the freedom of innocent Iranian citizens, wouldn’t a more libertarian proposal be K.T. McFarland’s proposal to punch a hole in the internet Iron Curtain Iran imposes to keeps its subjects from reading the world wide web? (Perhaps a better ROI on dollars if the purpose of the NSA budget is to reduce terrorism, not control and collect data on Americans and others.)
Finally, the Iranian theocracy doesn’t have a right to nuclear weapons. It doesn’t matter if the U.S., India, Pakistan, and Israel have them. The Iranian theocrats kill innocent people even without such weapons, and fund terrorism (Hezbollah, Hamas) abroad — those aren’t consistent with the libertarian “non-aggression” principle.
It doesn’t matter if other governments that have these weapons or that would seek to prevent the Iranian government from getting them, aren’t perfect. (Richman actually uses the moral equivalency argument that the U.S., having bombed Nagasaki and Hiroshima, can’t complain that Tehran might use a nuclear weapon, thus repeating the oldest moral fallacy, “Eve did it first!”)
They are all morally heads and shoulders above the Iranian state. And more importantly stopping the violent Iranian regime, whose leaders advocate death to Israel and death to the U.S., from getting nuclear weapons, is good in itself, no matter who does it. As the details leak out about the pretense of weapons inspection in Obama’s deal it seems clearer and clearer that it’s main raison d’etre is so Obama can claim an important foreign policy achievement for his “legacy.”
Libertarians are being misled by some of their leaders and writers that if something is good for Israel it must be bad, and if opposed by a “neoconservative” it must be good. (See for example the coverage of the Iran deal in the paleoconservative and libertarian fellow travelling magazine The American Conservative.) I would propose two thought experiments for libertarians:
First, imagine that Ayn Rand, Ludwig von Mises, Milton Friedman. Robert Nozick, Murray Rothbard, and all the other (Jewish) libertarians (in college I used to quip about the seminal libertarian thinkers, in regard to totalitarian socialism, that our Jews were holding off their Jews) had written their major works 50 or 75 years earlier, and Theodore Herzl had been a radical libertarian and his Zionist immigration to Israel had followed the most pristine libertarian principles in acquiring property titles, with nothing that smells of eminent domain.
Then today Israel, even with a night watchman state and a free market economy — even with the “anarcho-capitalist” competing defense agencies hypothesized by Murray Rothbard — would still be threatened by terrorists and tyrants who don’t want a liberal Westernized society in their midst, and Israelis would still have to act militarily, perhaps seizing buffer zones and striking back against rocket launchers that would be often placed by Israel’s enemies among innocent civilian Palestinians. I don’t think there would be a difference from the situation that exists today.
Second, consider the animus toward Israel and military funding of, or alliance with, Israel. Of course libertarians favor reducing the defense budget, foreign entanglements, occupations, and interventions. But why is Israel singled out for special scrutiny? Sometimes the rhetoric employed suggests that a huge benefit ($3 billion annually) is being given to a small country that is ethnically related to a very small sliver of American voters. How is that different from the much more sizable Defense Department investment in Japan? Would one want to suggest it is an unseemly subsidy to the homeland of Japanese-Americans, who must have a powerful lobby wielding influence out of proportion to their representation among the electorate?
As the 2012 Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson observed throughout his campaign, Israel is an ally, and having an ally that can provide intelligence and perform other functions actually allows you to reduce the size of your own military and your own defense budget. Adam Smith called it the division of labor.
Obama’s Iran deal, like almost every other thing “achieved” by the Obama regime, is bad. It’s worse than doing nothing. It’s worse than the status quo. It isn’t good because Israel or the boogeyman of the neoconservatives don’t like it. This is one of the areas where libertarians should actually listen to Rand Paul (who came out against the deal once its details were known) over Ron Paul, and not make the mistake, again, of giving Barack Obama the benefit of the doubt.