|Hi Bill and Eric,|
Bill, you mentioned a "crucial distinction" that I made, but didn't say what it was. Was it the idea that one kind of complaint against the government takes away some (or all) of the responsibility from the terrorists, and another complaint leaves the terrorist fully responsible for their choices?
I don't claim to have all the answers here. I'll try to comment on your posts.
First, I think it's obvious that we can't simply say that you should ignore real threats because those threats are unjustified. Some of the things I fault the US foreign policy for is ignoring threats, letting them build up, backing down whenever things get a little ugly, and sending mixed messages like we'll only defend ourselves when we can justify it by helping someone else. Similarly, I'd also recommend to Eric not to insult the mindless jocks, or the mugger victim to be careful, or the new boyfriend to watch his back. I think we should always act on our best knowledge.
But one key point is that if we don't act well, it cannot in any way absolve the perpetrators of the crimes of moral responsibility. The fact that we didn't take out bin Laden earlier might have been a mistake, but it in no way subtracts from his guilt. Just as a woman walking in a dark alley in a mini-skirt may not be acting wisely, but absolutely none of that subtracts from the crime of a rapist. I also think the moral responsibility needs to be clearly and unequivocally placed on the rapist before anyone mentions that she should have avoided those actions. It must be absolutely clear that her actions did not in any way justify his crime. It didn't cause the crime. It didn't "explain" the crime. It was a "causal factor" just as her mere existence could have been a causal factor in the deluded mind of the rapist.
After making that absolutely clear, I think it's reasonable to tell her it wasn't wise. Even if the blame is fully on him for the crime, does that make her any less of a victim? She should work harder to avoid becoming a victim. Being a little more careful could have let her avoid it entirely. She's responsible for her actions, and he's responsible for his.
How does that apply to the US foreign policy?
First, I think we have to be clear that Sept 11 was the fault of the terrorists, not us. There was no justification for that attack, except in their own deluded minds. But libertarians are not fully on board with that. I recognize Tibor's point that not all libertarians are the same, but there is a significant and vocal group of them that do blame the US. These people were ecstatic over Sept 11 for two reasons. First, it was a blow against their greatest perceived enemy, the United States. And second, it was a validation of their beliefs. For years before it happened, libertarians (and Objectivists) recognized that our disaster of a foreign policy, based on pragmatism, self-sacrifice, and range-of-the-moment thinking, would eventually lead to negative consequences. And in an effort to keep the focus on the evils of the US foreign policy, they were willing to excuse the terrorists of any fault, treating them as liberty loving individuals desperate to be free of American tyranny. It was seen as a valid and justified, if a little desperate, reaction to the injustices they had to live with for so long. There's more than just a little projection here. These anti-American "intellectuals" dreamed of the little people rising up against Leviathan and striking a blow to let the world know they wouldn't take it anymore. So these libertarians were the first on the scene to blame the US, and try to portray this as a desperate response to our own corrupt policies. Now maybe the rest of the world would recognize that the US is the greatest evil, as they had been saying long before this.
Of course, it's hard to maintain that portrayal in the face of facts. Like the fact that it was innocent people who were slaughtered. Like the fact that the perpetrators had no interest in freedom, and grounded their attacks in religious superiority. That it was a vision of a female American soldier, wearing shorts and riding in a jeep in "their land" that caused their hatred to spill out into such horrific violence. And it was hard to maintain that portrayal in the face of Americans who won't accept the blame for the murderous actions of others. So instead, we hear a lot about how our actions "explain" their reactions, but doesn't justify it. In other words, we caused them to do it, but it was still morally wrong for them. They were just reacting. It's a simple case of blowback.
One serious problem with this theory is that the "cause" of the attacks is said to be "interventionism". It's always left as vague, as it rightly should be in this theory of terrorism. It doesn't matter what kind of intervention happened, the mere fact of intervening is the problem. Libertarians like to imagine that the terrorists are responding to legitimate grievances, but it doesn't matter. Once you accept that the problem is "provoking them", and that you are to blame, it doesn't matter the nature of the provocation. It could be supporting the Shah of Iran, or coming to the defense of Kuwait, or selling arms to Israel, or trading with Israel, or recognizing Israel as a legitimate country, or opening Taco Bells in the region, or printing cartoons in Danish newspapers, or writing a book critical of Islam, or a novel called "The Satanic Verses", or whatever else. Anything could provoke them and "cause" such a "reaction". This is the theory that interventionism causes the violence.
This theory of "interventionism" is the theory that anything we do that affects them in any way can be considered grounds for a violent response. Any affect can be considered "meddling". The culture wars that have been going on across the world, where people are offended at young people wearing Levis and drinking Coke and want to outlaw American influence, could be considered meddling. It's really up to them. If they don't like what we do, we're interfering with the way they want to run their lives (or the lives of their neighbors). And the only way to avoid it is isolationism, not just in miliary, but in trade and culture. Since anything we do might "cause" them to attack us, the only safe response is to run and hide.
This is why isolationists promote this theory of "interventionism", without ever having to be more concrete. It doesn't matter what we do, or why we do it. It might cause "blowback". So we should hide in our borders, and hope that'll set everything right. But let's connect the dots here. The irrational terrorist attacks are allegedly "explained" by our actions (even if they refuse to say they are justified). We have to treat them as wild animals. Anything could set them off. So if we want to avoid any problems, we have to become isolationists and pacifists. Only through inaction can we hope to avoid attacks. Since only our choices matter,and our choices lead to their "reactions", we have to not give them any reason at all to attack us.
Take a more rational perspective. We can recognize that some of our actions have left us more vulnerable. We can recognize that some actions have even encouraged them, either by promising little or no response, or by being unjust, or by making ourselves the more obvious targets. We can see that we could act more effectively to stop these threats early, or to discourage them by making retaliation all but certain. In this view, we can examine our policies and work to improve them. We don't have to pretend that everything the US does has been right. We can make amends where possible, and move forward. But we would use objective standards of weighing our actions, not the subjective standards of religious brutes. We would act in our own interest despite their tendency towards violence, instead of cowering in fear that we might make more terrorists.
And if we recognize that the terrorist acts are their fault, and not ours, we can act more rationally. We don't have to surrender and hide, merely accepting the situation as a given. We can work to change their ideas, or strengthen the position of those who have better ideas. We can hunt down and kill those people who would attack us. We can avoid giving them the opportunity to attack. A more objective understanding will help in a lot of ways. But if we settle for the simple idea that it's all our fault, no matter what the situation is, we're stuck with the isolationist policy of inaction and praying they'll be merciful. And what happens if they go a step further, claiming that our mere existence, or the way we run our lives, is too much for them to take? How hard is it to imagine religious zealots deciding it isn't enough for themselves to act on their beliefs, but others have to as well? Isolationism is just appeasement, and will have the same results.