Inter Press Network

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Anti-Libertarian Ethics

by Michael S. Rozeff

The free-market libertarian ethic rests, as Murray Rothbard put it, "on the primordial fact of self-ownership by every man, and on the fact that each man may only live and prosper as he exercises his natural freedom of choice..." When violations of this ethic occur, how do the violators justify them? In what ways do their rationalizations conflict with "self-ownership by every man"? If we are to counter these claims, answers to these questions become important.

I identify and discuss four recurring themes in anti-libertarian or anti-self-ownership ethics. They are (1) denial that those aggressed upon are men or human beings, (2) denial that men have 100% self-ownership, (3) an argument that those aggressed upon have consented to the aggression, and (4) an argument that self-defense justifies the aggression.

Men are subhuman

The Nazis claimed that many groups of men were subhuman (Untermenschen), and that this gave them the right to exterminate or enslave them. American slavery by law treated the slaves as "not to be ranked among sentient beings, but among things, as an article of property," placing slaves at the level of brute animals. Recently in the Congo, killers identified as "Ugandan and Rwandan-backed rebels" have been intent on exterminating the Bambuti pygmies as "subhuman" or as "beggars and thieves."

In all of these cases and others like them, A asserts that B is not a human being. It follows that the right to self-ownership does not apply to B, and A may do what he will with B. I am interested here in those cases where "B" is a group of people, not an individual on his or her deathbed, or being kept alive by a third party, or a person with a living will, etc. These cases and their complications lie beyond the scope of this article

Applied to masses of mankind, the claim that a group of people contains no human beings is prima facie false and utterly preposterous. Any group of people from size two on up shows ample evidence of the human natures of its members self-evidently by the independent and diverse nature of the lives of the people in the group. If they have superiorities or infirmities or differences from the norm, if they have beliefs or views that differ from the norm, if they have practices that delight or offend, if they look or act in delightful or crude ways, all the more do those differences indicate that they are human, for such variety of life and condition is precisely what results from people having their own lives.

No one can justify claims that whole groups of people are subhuman on any reasonable grounds. There are no exceptions. Name any group you wish. None are subhuman: Intellectuals, illiterates, the strong, the weak, Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Indians, the aged and infirm, the psychotic and delusional, gypsies, tramps and bums, alcoholics, those with disabilities of any kind, the sick, the poor and helpless, the tall, the short, the fat, the skinny, the light-skinned, the dark-skinned, those who take drugs, terrorists, prostitutes, homosexuals, Communists, Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, Armenians, Sudanese, Palestinians and Israelis, the rich, the poor, etc. One can list an enormous number of sets of people by various characteristics, groups that at one time or another have been or will be targeted, thought of, or acted upon as being subhuman. People may be many things, honest or criminals, saints or louts, lovable or jerks, but they are not subhumans.

An important moral implication of the libertarian ethic is that no group of people of any description can rightfully be thought of as subhuman. Libertarians should first and foremost always stand in defense of such an attack on targeted groups. A common sense understanding of human nature and human society also suggests that aggressions against groups are illegitimate aggressions, that is, not based squarely on self-defense or the rectification of a violation of the non-aggression axiom. This is because it is extremely difficult to see how whole groups can be held culpable for aggressions when there are usually particular instigating parties directly responsible.

The de facto treatment of a group of people as subhuman is equally outrageous. This is why mass bombing and killing of civilians under any circumstances is unjust by the libertarian ethic. In opposition to the "subhuman" argument, it is accurate to say that the aggressors are acting in an inhuman way, one that is totally inconsistent with the fulfillment of man’s nature.

Because the subhuman argument is so indefensible as a justification for killing and/or ruling others, even though it has proven persuasive enough to engage masses of people in killing and maiming one another or persuasive enough to function as a smokescreen, those who want to exercise power over others and justify it have come up with alternative nicer-sounding arguments.

Men are inferior human beings

To have 100% self-ownership is to run one’s own life without outside interference. That means to have complete control over all of one’s choices and decisions. When A interferes with B coercively, another anti-libertarian rationale is that A is making B better off because B has an inferior grasp of what is good for him. This means that A regards B as an inferior human being. Since 100% self-ownership applies to men (human beings), A rationalizes aggression by the idea that B is less than fully a human being or has less than full self-ownership rights.

This is analogous to a parent raising a child, or to the idea that "I know what’s good for you." The phrase "nanny state" is perfectly apt in this case. This boils down to A saying that he is not wronging B when he rules B or that he is not infringing on B’s life even when it’s patently clear that A is.

However, large numbers of people do not support countless laws that they are forced to live with. They are aware that most laws do nothing but make them worse off in hundreds of often invisible ways. Is a childless taxpayer made a better person by being forced to contribute to the education of other people’s children at a public school? Am I bettered by contributing to the building of an atomic arsenal or a moon rocket? Is anyone except accountants benefitted by the incredibly byzantine regulations of 401(k) and other such plans? Is any part of an automobile manufactured in the U.S. subject to free market forces, or is the tiniest detail determined by agencies like the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration which determines in the minutest detail standards for windshield defrosters and how they are tested? Is it even possible to assess whether NASA’s programs make us better off when the GAO tells us of NASA’s "inability to collect, maintain, and report the full cost of its programs and projects." The number of such questions is indefinitely large.

Unfortunately, large numbers of citizens have gotten used to, accept, and support the idea that the State can order the most intimate details of their lives for them, which is to say that they accept the assumption that they are incompetent at running their own lives. Others have confused ideas. They view themselves as not inferior and yet accept regulation of their lives because they see so many other people as inferior that the State’s actions are justified "for their own good." Still others accept some restrictions as a price to pay to get some law passed that they favor.

Although I have not checked, I’d hypothesize that every State on earth justifies its coercive actions by some language or idea that the State is acting to make B better off. For example, the South Dakota Constitution says that "We, the people of South Dakota, ..., in order to form a more perfect and independent government, establish justice, insure tranquillity, ..." The central statement is that a "more perfect" government will be created by adopting the Constitution, which is to say that betterment will occur as a consequence and that the existing condition of self-government or territorial government is to be improved by the State government. Since the State of South Dakota is the ruler, the implicit assumption is that the inhabitants of this territorial area will be better off if the State interferes with them and rules them. A look at the proposed EU Constitution reveals a wealth of such sentiments.

In all events, this justification for State aggression on individuals is totally absurd and just as groundless as saying that B is subhuman. One reason is similar to that given earlier. It cannot possibly be supposed that the large numbers of individuals being affected by these laws possess a mass inferiority that makes them both incapable of pursuing what they deem to be in their best interests and incapable of fending for themselves through means and organizations of their own. For that is the improbable assumption upon which is based the idea that the State must impose its own decisions upon the inhabitants under its jurisdiction. Any random sample of people beyond a quite small size, 20 or so, will quickly come to represent the entire population in terms of any characteristic that one might think of as possibly making someone inferior. When the size rises to the millions that are routinely covered by laws, it is ridiculous even to suggest that they can be inferior en masse since they are what mankind is! Only a small clique of power-laden officials who can, for reasons that need not detain us now, get elected and re-elected no matter what idiocy they spout or perpetrate, can believe themselves as possessed of a superior wisdom to legislate for hundreds of millions.

But wherein is the inferiority supposed to reside in a large population? Apparently, the population, despite its enormous inventiveness and productivity that place it far above any prior group in history, is unable to handle such basic tasks as feeding itself, educating itself, providing for old age, and providing for medical care. It cannot look out for its own safety and requires detailed regulation of every item in sight. It cannot take care of its children unless the State certifies its babysitters. It cannot buy, carry or handle a firearm without being subject to minute meddling. It cannot handle hundreds of hazardous substances without being told precisely how to do it. It cannot hire or fire an employee without a room full of instruction. We are apparently dealing with a mass inferiority without parallel in history that requires the largest interference in American history. For some reason, the necessity for this has grown greatly just over the past 50 years. We have to thank Providence for providing us with a group of extraordinarily wise public servants who know precisely what is good for us in every exigency of life and are coming to our aid.

I have also elsewhere argued that the State can’t know what is good for its subjects as well as they themselves know. This occurs for several reasons. The subjects possess far more of the dispersed and specialized knowledge that is critical to their own decisions about their own lives. This knowledge changes constantly and State officials are in no position to keep up with it. The incentives of State officials to act on behalf of their subjects are vastly inferior to those that the subjects have.

Finally, individuals are in the best position to realize what they do not know and to devise ways to remedy their deficiencies.

Really, instead of the idea that their subjects are inferior judges of their own lives, the truth is the opposite: The State is a meddlesome inferior judge of its subjects’ lives.

Consent of the ruled

Consent of the ruled is a third anti-libertarian means of justifying that B is not being wronged by some apparent infringement on B’s life. In today’s world of constitutional democracies, many rulers assert that they have B’s permission or consent to rule B. This is a bald-faced lie in every government from the most dictatorial down to the most democratic. How do we know? Ordinarily, it will be found that no right to secession is allowed or countenanced by States. But how can there exist consent without such a right? If a person does not consent to rule by a State, the way to say "No, I do not consent" is to withdraw from the State. If this is forbidden, then one cannot say "no," in this manner at least. More generally, the right to secede is clearly part and parcel of a right to live one’s own life. For a State to deny a right to secede is to argue that the human being has permanently alienated a portion of his right to life.

There are those anti-libertarians who argue that by not moving out of the country, a person has consented to its laws, even if secession is disallowed. "Leave, if you don’t like it." Do Americans willingly trade self-ownership for comfort or other values? Do they consent to repression by not moving elsewhere? Do they consent by not throwing the tea into Boston harbor?

Anti-libertarians say, yes, this is what the majority of the people want. There is an implicit contract in which liberty is given up in exchange for other things.

This view is wrong for a basic reason. It ignores the costs of leaving one’s country. If allowed, secession is the lowest cost method to withdraw from the State and not leave one’s country. If that method is forbidden by the State or made so costly via war that it is not feasible, then another alternative is to pull up roots. However, this is a very costly method. People love their country – their area, their people, their culture, their place. To move is a wrenching experience, requiring a new language, new customs, a new job, etc. Why should one have to move anyway? This heavy cost deters most people from leaving. If these heavy costs exceed the losses suffered under the State, they remain.

There are a number of other arguments that I do not go into against the notion that the ruled consent to their being ruled. Lysander Spooner provides many.


A fourth justification for A scrapping B’s right to self-ownership is an assertion by A that B is a threat to A’s life. In other words, B’s life and actions are said to be so counter to A’s that they are harming A, or may imminently harm A. This boils down to A saying that he is acting in self-defense against B. For example, the U.S. government accused the Iraqi government of threatening the U.S. and looks upon North Korea and Iran as threatening countries.

In all too many instances in which States justify attacks as self-defense, the justifications turn out to be phony or trumped up cases. Particularly troublesome are the cases in which a State intentionally invites an attack, or creates a provocative action, or backs the opponent into a corner by some ultimatum or massing of forces or other ruse. These pretenses at self-defense provide a cover for offensive actions. Just as troublesome are those cases in which a big powerful State engineers a revolution or virtual takeover of a smaller weak State. These justifications are usually flimsy pretenses for using power for the sake of territorial rule (empire), or for imperialistic gains of an economic nature.

There are existing legal rules, not necessarily libertarian in nature, dealing with self-defense both at the individual and international levels. The rules that govern States are much looser than those that govern individuals. Given the fact that States do far more damage than individuals and routinely massively destroy the people and property of other States, it seems clear that much stricter rules should govern States as long as they are the predominant political form we have to live under. I do not mean rules imposed by yet another authority like a world government since that goes in the wrong direction. I mean rules that private groups invoke and devise that have a moral impact on world opinion and act to constrain States indirectly. Watchdog groups, investigative reporters, the blogging network, courts and trials held in absentia, and many other similar actions are libertarian methods of pointing the finger at improper State actions.

I mention one more case because of its importance in American history and the history of other countries. Suppose that State A rules its citizens B, and State C claims that it has a right to attack State A in order to free the subjects B. This is what the U.S. has claimed in Iraq, and what Hitler repeatedly claimed as his armies marched into the Rhineland, the Sudetenland, Czechoslovakia, and Poland. Russia in the 18th century regarded itself as the protector of Orthodox Christians in the Ottoman Empire. We could call this the Bloody Good Samaritan case, although the Bush Administration calls it freeing the Iraqis from tyrannical rule. This rationale is an offshoot of the self-defense idea, in that State C takes it on itself to defend B’s rights against State A. Hence, it also can be called the policeman-of-the-world or liberator-of-the-world idea.

Obviously, this rationale is subject to great mischief. State C can’t easily pinpoint the rulers of State A and ends up killing many of the citizens B that it supposedly is liberating. This is similar to how the FBI liberated David Koresh’s followers. More importantly, the right of self-defense derived from the non-aggression axiom lies in the hands of those being aggressed upon, that is, citizens B. Choosing the time, place, manner and extent of their own liberation is part of their right to their lives. One proper means (among others) to achieve liberation of oppressed groups is individual and group help to the suppressed on a voluntary basis that is acceptable to the oppressed.

To summarize, I pointed out four anti-libertarian justifications that violators of self-ownership use to cover their actions. They are that the violated party is subhuman, inferior, consenting, or a threat so that self-defense is justified. All of these arguments can be understood and interpreted in terms of the basic libertarian axiom, which suggests its far reach. I also presented a number of counter-arguments to these faulty rationales.

In a sense, the fact that we encounter rationales for anti-libertarian acts is a good thing. It might suggest that human beings implicitly accept a base-line view that each person has a right to his own life, even though it is apparent that we do not live up to that view. When people do not live up to that ideal, perhaps they feel a need to explain why intrusions on rights are justified or perhaps they feel that others wish to hear such a view. This too suggests that the libertarian self-ownership axiom is something widely understood and/or felt by many people, including many non-libertarians.

July 26, 2005

*Michael S. Rozeff [send him mail] is the Louis M. Jacobs Professor of Finance at University at Buffalo.


An Enemy of the People

by Yumi Kim

Henrik Ibsen (1828–1906) is a Norwegian playwright who challenged in his plays hypocrisy of people whose noble façade masked their deceitful nature. In An Enemy of the People, published in 1882, Ibsen launched a scathing attack on the press, the authority and the system of majority rules. James McFarlane, in an introduction to the Oxford edition of the script, states that as early as 1872 Ibsen had talked enthusiastically about his hatred toward any identifiable grouping that went in for majority practices which invited majority decisions. When Ghosts was published in 1881, Ibsen faced hostile reception by the public and according to McFarlane, the event confirmed his view that "the press was no better than a parasite on a grotesque and deformed body politic, for ever talking about freedom, but terrified of the realities of it." These views are clearly expressed in An Enemy of the People.

The story takes place in a small Norwegian town, which relies on its Baths (natural hot springs) as the main source of villagers’ income. The protagonist is Dr. Stockmann, the doctor at the Baths which attract tourists. He is suspicious that the Baths are polluted. He runs tests yet does not make any announcement until he receives the result. Dr. Stockmann’s brother, the Mayor (a.k.a. Chief of Police, Chairman of the Board of the Baths, etc), notices that Dr. Stockmann is up to something and warns him that any announcement must be made through the authority in a well-ordered community.

The result confirms Dr. Stockmann’s suspicion. Hovstad, the editor of the local newspaper The People’s Herald, hears this and offers his full support. Aslaksen, the printer of the newspaper (a.k.a. the chairman of the Ratepayers Association and a member of the Temperance Society), offers his support as a representative of the middle class. Dr. Stockmann is impressed and proudly tells his wife, "Do you know what I’ve got backing me? The compact majority."

The Mayor learns the test result and tells Dr. Stockmann that he is not convinced. When Dr. Stockmann asserts that his report is correct and that the Mayor is the one responsible for developing the Baths on a polluted ground, the Mayor contends that it is all for the good of the town and wants the report withheld. Dr. Stockmann however believes that if a new fact emerges which is in the interest of the people, it should be revealed. The Mayor dismisses this and says that Dr. Stockmann should publish a statement refuting the report and "make a public declaration of his confidence in the Board, in its efficiency and its integrity, and in its readiness to take all necessary steps to remedy such defects as may arise." In addition, he tells Dr. Stockmann that as a subordinate member of the staff of the Baths, he has no right to express any private opinion which conflicts with that of his superiors.

The Mayor then sets about manipulating the villagers. He tells Hovstad and Aslaksen that the report is not convincing and that to clean up the Baths, it would require a lot of time and money. Hovstad and Aslaksen are easily persuaded and they refuse to publish the report in the People’s Herald. Undaunted, Dr. Stockmann decides to give a lecture instead in a public meeting.

Before the lecture is delivered, Aslaksen says that a chairman should be elected and he himself is chosen as a chairman. The Mayor then says that no one wants to see "irresponsible and exaggerated accounts of the sanitary conditions at the Baths" and proposes that Dr. Stockmann should not be allowed to present his report. Dr. Stockmann nevertheless speaks out. He does not talk about the Baths but he is frustrated with the fact that people are unable to see beyond what is put in front of them: "The worst enemy of truth and freedom in our society is the compact majority."

Hovstad then stands up and shouts that the majority is always right. Billing, another character, supports Hovstad by saying that the majority always stands for the truth. Dr. Stockmann contradicts by saying, "The majority is never right…that’s one of these lies in society that no free and intelligent man can help rebelling against…the minority is always right." Furthermore Dr. Stockmann says that there are only a few individuals with new ideas who stand in the very forefront of our advance. When Hovstad accuses him of being a revolutionary, Dr. Stockmann replies: "I’m plotting revolution against this lie that the majority has a monopoly of the truth." He goes on to condemn those who are "infected by the mass mind."

All the arguing leads to Dr. Stockmann being declared an enemy of the people. Aslaksen, who believes in majority rules, suggests that a formal vote should be taken to clarify Dr. Stockmann’s status as an enemy of the people. So as "not to hurt anyone’s feelings" the vote is taken by secret ballot despite all the insults aimed at Dr. Stockmann only a few moments ago.

The story ends as Dr. Stockmann and his family are ostracised. Their landlord, Horster, also loses his job for renting out his house to the enemy of the people. When his boss questions him about the property, Horster replies, "I think I can do what I like with my own property." The Stockmanns decide to stay in the town and hold their heads high. Dr. Stockmann tells his family, "The strongest man in the world is the man who stands alone."

In Individualism and Economic Order, Hayek expresses the sentiment demonstrated by Dr. Stockmann. Hayek writes that true individualism believes in democracy yet not in the omnicompetence of majority decisions. Indeed, authorities often attempt to legitimise their actions by gaining the majority’s approval, which often derives from people’s blind faith in the authorities. People like Hovstad and Aslaksen are easily swayed as they never stop and think for themselves. The Mayor can manipulate them in the name of the common good. He fiercely guards his reputation and never admits errors on his part for fear of his authority being undermined.

Ibsen wrote the play more than a hundred years ago yet it seems that not much has changed. Unless there are more Dr. Stockmanns around, An Enemy of the People will continue to be an accurate portrayal of towns and countries that we live in.

July 26, 2005

*Yumi Kim studied law at BPP Law School. She lives in London.


U.S. Faces Pressure to Pull Troops from Iraq

Report Drafted By:Erich Marquardt 15 July 2005

As Washington continues its struggle to defeat the insurgency in Iraq, support for the intervention from the American population is diminishing, placing pressure on the Bush administration to begin to withdraw troops from the conflict. The intervention in Iraq suffers from similar failures that led to America's troop withdrawal from Vietnam in 1973. In both instances, the prolonged failure to quell an indigenous insurgency resulted in an unacceptable loss to the American public of troops and resources. As the intervention in Vietnam dragged on without nearing victory, calls for the withdrawal of U.S. troops became so deafening that it finally resulted in a pullout of U.S. forces, resulting in a permanent loss of American influence in the country.

In Iraq, the American population's support for the intervention has dropped, and calls for withdrawal are growing in Congress. Unless Washington is able to turn the tables on Iraq's insurgent force -- a highly unlikely scenario -- it will be forced to limit its involvement in the conflict.

The Path of the Insurgency

Shortly after the U.S. overthrew the government of Saddam Hussein, the insurgency in Iraq was in its early stages. After guerrillas executed their first attacks on U.S. troops, American officials were quick to shrug off publicly signs of a budding insurgent campaign. On July 1, 2003, some three months after the U.S. invasion began, L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator of Iraq at the time, blamed the attacks on the "few remaining individuals who have refused to fit into the new Iraq [and] are becoming more and more desperate."

In the months following that declaration, the insurgency grew more heated and U.S. troops suffered an increase in casualties. Now, about two years after the start of the insurgency, it has grown in size, depth and power. On a daily basis, the insurgency claims U.S. and coalition troops, Iraqi troops and Iraqi civilians, all victims of frequent bomb attacks, drive-by shootings and executions. Classified intelligence recently supplied to the New York Times by the Iraqi Interior Ministry revealed that between August 2004 and May 2005, insurgents killed 800 civilians a month, an astonishing number; the source did not reveal the civilian death toll before August 2004. While only some 1,750 U.S. troops have been killed as a result of the two-year long U.S. operation, the number of casualties is more than the American people expected and continues upward at a steady pace.

In late 2003, General John Abizaid, the commander of U.S. Central Command, assured, "I want to emphasize to the people that there is no military threat in Iraq that can drive us out. We have the best-equipped, best-trained army in the world positioned in the most difficult areas we have to deal with ... They are confident, they are capable, they know what they are doing."

While Abizaid was correct, his statement was always irrelevant to the success of U.S. operations in Iraq. The insurgency is well aware that it cannot defeat the U.S. militarily; this was never its objective. The objective of this insurgency, which is the objective of most guerrilla insurgencies facing an occupational power, is to create conditions of instability for a long enough period of time so that the United States withdraws.

The same strategy succeeded for insurgents in Vietnam, when a combination of attacks from South Vietnamese guerrillas and the North Vietnamese Army affected U.S. public opinion enough for the American people to pressure Washington to withdraw troops. The Soviet Union's intervention in Afghanistan in the 1980s resulted in a similar victory by an insurgent force, with Afghani guerrillas pushing the Russians out after a protracted guerrilla conflict. And, in Chechnya, guerrillas are still waging this type of campaign against Russian troops.

Dr. Max Manwaring, a research professor of military strategy at the U.S. Army War College, explained to PINR in January 2005 that it is unlikely the U.S. will defeat the insurgency in Iraq. Manwaring highlighted the consistent failure of occupying powers to defeat an indigenous insurgency by showing that his studies of post World War II insurgencies demonstrate that "the more intense and voluminous the military actions of the intervening Western power, the more likely the incumbent government was to lose to the insurgents," and that "the more the intervening power escalated the numbers of its forces in response to a deteriorating situation, the worse [the situation] got."

Now, more than two years after the U.S. invaded Iraq, the U.S. population is beginning to show signs of wear. The steady level of casualties of U.S. troops, the failure to show any significant success in defeating the insurgency, along with the heavy economic burden caused by the entire operation, has led more lawmakers to pressure the Bush administration to begin a troop withdrawal. The administration's difficulties in executing its domestic policies have also hampered its efforts in gaining continued support for its foreign policy.

U.S. Losing its Resolve

In late 2003, Abizaid correctly stated, "The goal of the enemy is not to defeat us militarily. The goal of the enemy is to break the will of the United States of America, to make us leave." In early July 2003, Democratic Senator Carl Levin, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said that U.S. forces will occupy Iraq for "a number of years" and therefore the American people "need the patience to stay the course." Yet, as PINR argued on July 9, 2003, "despite such pledges, Iraqi militants are well aware that when dealing with democracies, especially ones with prosperous societies such as the United States and United Kingdom, it is best to create high casualties in order to weaken the resolve of the home populations." [See: "Coalition Forces Find Themselves in a Predicament"]

That resolve has been weakened. According to a Gallup poll taken in mid-2003, 76 percent of Americans considered the Iraq intervention "worth it." Now, in June 2005, that same Gallup poll shows that only 42 percent of Americans consider the conflict "worth it." The same poll showed that 59 percent of Americans favor a partial or total withdrawal of American troops from Iraq. And a CBS/New York Times poll released on June 16 shows that 51 percent of Americans think Washington should have stayed out of Iraq to begin with. Of course, the American public is still far from demanding a complete withdrawal; indeed, a Wall Street Journal poll released on July 14 showed that 57 percent of Americans believe it is important to maintain some troops and economic support in Iraq until the country can govern itself. Yet, it is clear that overall support for the intervention has gone down considerably.

Four lawmakers -- two Republicans and two Democrats -- have introduced a resolution that calls for a U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq beginning in October 2006. On June 16, 41 Democrats from the House of Representatives formed an "Out of Iraq" caucus. In the words of Republican Representative Walter Jones Jr., a conservative who regularly supports the policies of the Bush administration, "After 1,700 deaths, over 12,000 wounded and $200 billion spent, we believe it is time to have this debate and this discussion. We need to take a fresh look at where we are and where we're going." Thomas Donnelly, a defense analyst with the American Enterprise Institute -- a neoconservative-oriented organization that was a major proponent of the intervention in Iraq -- recently told reporters, "When you have sort of rank-and-file Republicans like Walter Jones questioning the White House on this, I think it's a reflection of the changing political calculus, which is not good for the president and not good for the war."

These actions and statements reflect the early stages of debate on the intervention that will intensify if the operation does not appear to be moving toward some tangible end. The Bush administration is concerned with this trend, explaining why on June 28 the president made a special address to the American people in an attempt to harden their commitment. [See: "Intelligence Brief: Iraq"]

Yet what the administration says in public can be very different from what they plan in private. According to a recently leaked classified British document, which has been heavily quoted in the international media, it appears that the Bush administration is considering plans to withdraw U.S. troops in 2006.

The document, written by British Defense Secretary John Reid to British Prime Minister Tony Blair, reveals that, "There is a strong U.S. military desire for significant force reductions." It further explains, "Emerging U.S. plans assume 14 out of 18 provinces could be handed over to Iraqi control by early 2006, allowing a reduction in [Allied troops] from 176,000 down to 66,000. There is, however, a debate between the Pentagon/Centcom, who favor a relatively bold reduction in force numbers, and the multinational force in Iraq, whose approach is more cautious."

Much of this stems from the makeup of the U.S. military. The U.S. military, which is composed of an all-volunteer force, is not suited to handle large-scale missions for extended periods of time. In order to handle this mission, Washington has relied heavily on the Army's Reserves and National Guard units, and this has had an effect on the U.S. military's ability to recruit new soldiers since all new recruits know that they will likely serve a tour of duty in Iraq -- a commitment many potential recruits are unwilling to make. The National Guard, for instance, missed its recruiting goals for 2003 and 2004, and has now missed its recruiting goal for at least the ninth straight month in June; the Guard makes up more than one-third of U.S. forces in Iraq. Both the Reserves and the Active Duty force are also behind their recruiting goals for 2005. These series of issues make Washington's present troop commitment to Iraq unsustainable over the long-term. [See: "Current U.S. Troop Levels in Iraq Are Unsustainable"]

Additionally, with U.S. deployments concentrated in Iraq, the military is overextended, decreasing the chances that Washington will begin a new operation elsewhere in the world; this creates a situation where states that pursue strategies at odds with U.S. interests are less concerned with the prospect of a U.S. military response.

Implications of a U.S. Withdrawal

A U.S. withdrawal from Iraq could affect U.S. interests negatively. It would serve as an example of Washington's repeated difficulty in winning guerrilla conflicts. From its withdrawal from Vietnam to its withdrawal from Somalia, the United States has had consistent problems in handling and defeating insurgents in their home countries. A withdrawal from Iraq could embolden future insurgencies.

A U.S. withdrawal could also lead to a civil war in Iraq among the country's Sunni Kurds, Sunni Arabs and Shi'a Arabs. Such a disturbance could spill over into the rest of the region and threaten the world's energy supplies, a development that would damage the economies of all oil-dependent countries.

In the case of such a withdrawal, Washington will likely argue that Iraqi troops, trained by the U.S.-led coalition, are in a position to replace U.S. troops in combating the insurgency. Of course, it is difficult to believe that coalition-trained Iraqi troops will be able to succeed where U.S. troops failed and at the same time produce a result that runs parallel to U.S. interests. For this reason, it cannot be expected that Iraqi troops will be able to prevent a civil war from occurring or that they will have any significant effect on weakening the insurgency. [See: "Washington Must Create Viable Iraqi Security Forces"]

Nevertheless, under this scenario, leftover troops from the U.S.-led coalition would probably station themselves in a number of military bases around the country. The purpose of this redeployment would be to provide logistics and military support to Iraq's security services. This plan is possible because, unlike its intervention in Vietnam, the United States does not face an organized state military as an opponent. Instead, it only must repel attacks from guerrilla forces, which is no small feat in itself. The presence would also serve as a warning to Iraq's neighboring states not to interfere in Iraqi affairs. Furthermore, it would allow Washington to use Iraq as a staging point for other operations in the Middle East, which was one of the reasons behind the intervention to begin with. [See: "Postwar Objectives in Iraq"]

On the other hand, it may be more disadvantageous for the U.S. to remain in Iraq. The intervention has revealed the extent of the U.S, military's power, demonstrating that Washington does not have the military forces necessary to engage in protracted insurgent warfare. The conflict has damaged Washington's troop recruiting goals, forced it to pull troops from countries such as South Korea to redeploy them in Iraq, and has kept its forces on undesirably long tours of duty. These losses are partially responsible for today's current trend toward multipolarity, since regional powers, such as China, India, Russia and Brazil, along with smaller powers such as North Korea and Iran, deduce that Washington is too engaged in Iraq to be in any real position to block their geopolitical moves. By cutting its losses in Iraq, the United States can begin to recover some of its strength and its ability to better influence regional powers. [See: "The Coming World Realignment"]


The Bush administration finds itself in a difficult position since both courses of action -- enduring the insurgency or withdrawing from it -- have clear negative consequences. Yet, if operations in Iraq continue along their current progression, Washington will be forced to pull its troops out. The United States does not have the troop strength or the political will to conduct its current scope of operations for years to come. Only two years into the intervention, calls from the American people and from lawmakers to withdraw U.S. troops are growing in force. More importantly, unlike Vietnam, the United States has not resorted to conscription, a decision that has resulted in the overextension of the military. It took the United States four years of fighting until it began to extricate its forces from the conflict in Vietnam; in Iraq, expect that time frame to be shorter.


Intelligence Brief: U.S.-China Relations

Drafted By: Dr. Michael A. Weinstein

On July 19, the Pentagon released its annual report to the U.S. Congress on "The Military Power of the People's Republic of China," which it was required to do according to the provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2000.

The report, which covers "the tenets and probable development of Chinese grand strategy, security strategy, and military strategy," was supposed to have been completed in March, but had been delayed because of conflicts within the Bush administration between the Defense Department and State Department over its tone and judgments.

Under the direction of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the State Department has sought to move Washington's foreign policy away from the unilateralism favored by neo-conservatives to a traditional balance-of-power diplomacy that includes greater engagement with Beijing on issues of trade, North Korea's nuclear weapons program and security in East Asia. In contrast, under Donald Rumsfeld the Defense Department has remained wedded to the view the Beijing is Washington's "strategic rival."

The document that emerged from the conflict is a compromise between contending positions that both "welcomes the rise of a peaceful and prosperous China" and warns that China's People's Liberation Army (P.L.A.) could, in the long term, "pose a credible threat to other modern militaries" operating in East Asia.

As a compromise, the report, which works from and basically accepts Beijing's December 2004 Defense White Paper, does not so much constitute an objective analysis of Beijing's intentions as it serves as a register of the unresolved conflict within the Bush administration over its China policy. It is arguable that in this case the compromise position, with its ambivalence, is realistic in terms of U.S. interests -- as China's economic and military power grows, Beijing will increasingly become both an indispensable partner of Washington and a serious rival to U.S. power in East Asia. The tension created by convergent and divergent interests in Washington's relations with Beijing would likely preclude a coherent U.S. policy toward China, even if State and Defense shared the same perspective. Chinese power is both a blessing and a curse for Washington.

Not only is the report a political compromise, but it is also a political document that sends a public message about Washington's intentions to powers involved in East Asia, including China, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, the European Union and Russia. It is as an indicator of evolving U.S. policy toward China that the report gains significance for geostrategic analysis.

Framing China's Future

Although the report echoes Beijing's public claim that the grand strategy of the Chinese regime is to turn the country into a comprehensive great power with an advanced economy and a state-of-the-art military, and that it intends to accomplish its plan by making military modernization a component of overall economic development, Washington breaks with Beijing on the latter's ultimate intentions. [See: "China's Geostrategy: Playing a Waiting Game"]

According to Beijing, its program of creating a technologically advanced military is geared solely to defense and -- except in the case of Taiwan declaring independence, which would likely trigger an armed response -- does not pose a threat to the integrity of any state in East Asia. In contrast, the Pentagon report places China at a "strategic crossroads," where it can "choose a pathway of peaceful integration and benign competition," or can "choose, or find itself upon, a pathway along which China would emerge to exert dominant influence in an expanding sphere," or could "emerge less confident and focused inward on challenges to national unity and the Chinese Communist Party's clam to legitimacy."

For Washington, the first scenario is the most desirable one and would include a gradual liberalization of China's economy and democratization of its political system. That best-case outcome is, however, the least likely to materialize among the alternative futures, leaving the report to concentrate on the other two.

Washington's greatest fear is that continued growth of China's economy and military resources could "tempt" Beijing "to attempt to dictate the terms of foreign security and economic interactions with its trading partners and neighbors." Were China to go in that direction, the U.S. might be forced to choose between confrontation or acquiescence in the diminution of its power in East Asia.

The third scenario -- implosion, which could be triggered by an economic downturn or civil unrest -- is only slightly less threatening to Washington than greater Chinese assertiveness because of the adverse economic effects it would have throughout East Asia and its consequences for domestic stability in China that might include a nationalist backlash. [See: "Domestic Threats to China's Rise"]

Although Washington has limited, if any, control over China's future, the report reveals an effort by the Bush administration to contain Chinese military power. Most importantly, the report warns Brussels that lifting the European Union's arms embargo on China would impact adversely on the "safety of U.S. personnel" and would "accelerate a shift in the regional balance of power affecting the security of many countries." The report also notes that the balance of power between Beijing and Taipei is shifting decisively in favor of the former, and urges Taipei to conclude arms deals with Washington to strengthen Taiwan's defenses. [See: "Lifting the European Union's Arms Embargo: Geopolitical Wins and Losses"]

The Bottom Line

The report is clear that, until the end of the present decade, Beijing will not be able to defeat militarily even "a moderate-size adversary" and will not be able to project its sea power beyond coastal defense. Greater threats to Washington's power in East Asia are more likely to emerge in the medium and long terms.

Look for Washington to try to slow Beijing's progress toward military modernization by putting pressure on potential arms suppliers and to use other East Asian powers especially Japan -- to balance Beijing.

Washington can do no more than try to buy time and hope for a change in China's political system that would eventuate in a regime more favorable to U.S. interests. The most probable outcome down the road is that Washington will be forced eventually to choose between confrontation and retreat.