Hayek Doesn’t Stop at the Water’s Edge

In the miasma (here and here) of people explaining why they got the war wrong here is Jim Henley explaining why he got it right.

I wasn’t born yesterday. I had heard of the Middle East before
September 12, 2001. I knew that many of the loudest advocates for war with Iraq
were so-called national-greatness conservatives who spent the 1990s arguing that
war was good for the soul. I remembered Elliott Abrams and John Poindexter and
Michael Ledeen as the knaves and fools of Iran-Contra, and drew the appropriate
conclusions about the Bush Administration wanting to employ them: it was an
administration of knaves and fools…

Libertarianism. As a libertarian, I was primed to react
skeptically to official pronouncements. “Hayek doesn’t stop at the water’s
edge!” I coined that one. Not bad, huh? I could tell the difference between
the government and the country. People who couldn’t make this
distinction could not rationally cope with the idea that American foreign policy
was the largest driver of anti-American terrorism because it sounded to them too
much like “The American people deserve to be victims of terrorism.” I
could see the self-interest of the officials pushing for war – how war would
benefit their political party, their department within the government, enhance
their own status at the expense of rivals. Libertarianism made it clear how
absurd the idealistic case was. Supposedly, wise, firm and just American
guidance would usher Iraq into a new era of liberalism and comity. But none of
that was going to work unless real American officials embedded in American
political institutions were unusually selfless and astute, with a lofty and
omniscient devotion to Iraqi welfare. And, you know, they weren’t going to be

What all of us had in common is probably a simple recognition: War is a big
deal. It isn’t normal. It’s not something to take up casually. Any war you can
describe as “a war of choice” is a crime. War feeds on and feeds the negative
passions. It is to be shunned where possible and regretted when not. Various
hawks occasionally protested that “of course” they didn’t enjoy war,
but they were almost always lying. Anyone who saw invading foreign lands and
ruling other countries by force as extraordinary was forearmed against the lies
and delusions of the time.

More here.

The reasons why I opposed the war are given here.

Hat tip to Brad DeLong for the link.


I like this argument for its conciseness.

it's not a categorical decision, it's a marginal one
So we should have gone to war with Iraq X amount but not X+Y? What you're saying does not make any sense.

lies from militant anti-war types
Their statements have been shown to be much more likely to be correct on the subject than their opposites.

It's a marginal decision because there is a point where the benefits outweigh the costs. The problem is that we crossed that point *but we didn't have to*.

And I separate the well-meaning anti-war crowd from the militant, agenda-driven anti-war crowd that spreads lies. They are doing the same thing that happened in the Vietnam war, bringing the war home, to the living room. Without rear support, the war effort is hampered. People who fought *on the side of the Vietcong* will tell you that they were losing militarily but still winning the war because of sentiments expressed in the US on the media and in the streets.

I think Henley's arguments, or for that matter Alex's in the post of his he links to, are far too general and indiscriminating. American intervention in Yugoslavia (another "war of choice") was, all things considered, a good idea and should have happened sooner. Iraq of course turned out to be different, but if the proffered explanation can't distinguish between these two cases, be suspicious of it!

Did you (Alex) oppose or favor the action in Yugoslavia? We have yet to hear on this. At the time I opposed it, but in retrospect that was a mistake.

You hardly needed Hayek to reject the argument for this war. Much better authors have made cogent arguments about these sorts of wars; Twain, Russell, Chomsky, Orwell, etc.

If libertarians need to hear it from one of their own, fine. But the real problem is the masses who will not read or accept any of those.

"Due to our police actions in the region, we've ensured that oil and other goods can be safely sold to any buyer."

That's just absurd. It's far more accurate to state that we've ensured that the nation which supplied most of the personnel and essentially all of the ideological and financial support for 9/11 not only got off scot-free, but is getting wealthier and wealthier due to our police actions in the region.

In a related event, last weekend in Vegas I hit 15 with the dealer showing a 4. I got a 6. See how smart I am.

Yeah, I'm surprised more people don't get Iraq II as Red Dawn "inverted."

Without the WMDs, and the direct threat to ourselves, we were invading to replace a government that the natives created with one we like better. Is that so different than Cubans thinking Americans would really, if they had the chance, be happier under socialism?

It goes back to whether you really believe in self-determination.

The intervention in Yugoslavia (Serbia, really) was not only late, but it was made in the face of overwhelming evidence of NOW massacres and with broad support.

@Jacon Oost: The invasion of Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11, and 9/11 was not even close to "fighting for your survival." It seems that you have drunk deep of the cool-aid.

As for my opinion, I saw 9/11 as the result of years of stupid foreign policy. When I traveled in the middle east and Pakistan, I was constantly confronted with the dichotomy of "land of freedom" and "supporter of dictators", and I am even more ashamed of the turn of events we have seen with Bush. Bad bad bad and it will take a decade to rebuild things -- even with good (Obama) leadership.

Ditto on Chomsky, et al. Add George Carlin to that list...

Joshua Holmes: Henley never supported the war. I don't know where you got that from.

Also, if "but what about Kosovo?" is the best argument against "Hayek stops at the water's edge," then the argument against liberventionism is even better than I thought it was, and I already thought it was pretty good.

"but what can't be denied is that if they weren't they were working on them. That is factual. There is also the position that the WMDs were secreted out of the country, for which there is actual evidence."

It's especially hard to have a discussion with people, like you, who will parrot bald-faced lies like those.

It can be denied. Many people, including many people who were right when you were wrong, have in fact denied "it". It's not factual. Likewise, there is no real actual evidence that WMDs were secreted outside the country.



Remember what Keynes said, "When the facts change, I change my opinion." We must do the same. As I said, nobody, either "pro-war" or "anti-war" can use facts to prove their case. They must weigh up the pros and cons from the available facts and come to their own conclusions, and not be guided by ideology or politicians.

As I said, I personally believe invading Iraq was the right thing to do, but my own opinion doesn't decide, the aggregate opinion of the people decides.

Jacob, that's fallacious reasoning. By extension you could claim that any action comes from national consensus, or that no one is responsible for decisions because each indivudual's contribution approaches zero.

Here we go, another comment section debate, where I find myself mostly responding to straw man arguments.

"If Iraq wasn't linked to 9/11 and you didn't think they had WMDs, what right did we have to invade."

"Rights" are a political concept. But the reason for invading was linked to Iraq's being a threat or gathering threat to US safety. That the Bush administration chose to emphasize the hypothetical threat of existing WMDs doesn't mean it's the only criteria for justification. In traditional military terms, Afghanistan was far less of a threat than Iraq, yet Afghanistan pulled off 9/11. To make the case that Iraq didn't desire WMDs and planned to put their WMD programs into operation after the heat was off, requires ignoring lots of empirical testimony, evidence, and documentation. That the Iraq War blew up into a much worse situation than it needed to have been due to mismanagement is irrelevant to the first question of whether to invade or not.

"Jacob, that's fallacious reasoning. By extension you could claim that any action comes from national consensus, or that no one is responsible for decisions because each indivudual's contribution approaches zero."

I'm not saying that aggregate opinions categorically affect government policy, but there is a marginal effect on government policy. In the case of a thing like war, which requires a serious commitment to have a hope of working, public opinion matters a lot in a free country. A change in public opinion, or a fear of change in public opinion (which is what I believe the Bush administration had) can alter the incentives of the political leaders and hence make them less efficient--which in war means making big mistakes.

"Jacob: you really are a pompous sophomoric ass. Your opinions = "debate", opposing ones are "arguments." Please. All I did was counter your fallacies, misrepresentations and ignorance with facts and vigor. That's how it's done on the internet - get used to it if you want to play in this sandpit."

My opinion aren't debate, debate is a form for exchanging opinions. Debates typically turn to arguments, that's all I was saying. For example, I posted two web sites that had some factual information. Nobody has responded to that, nor do I expect anybody to. Instead I've just been subjected to ad hominem attacks and some straw man arguments.

"Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed, the best part of a trillion dollars squandered, and our actual enemies enriched and emboldened. What benefit we get in return? Well, Bush got to see his daddy's tormentor hang, which I suspect was his prime motivation all along. That's about it. But you still think it was "the right thing to do.""

See, this is what I mean. Mostly opinion rather than fact. How can one make an educated opinion without all of the facts? Your count of the number of dead, for example, is far out of whack with most non-agenda-driven polls, which are around 150,000. Always look carefully at statistics. Also, you say the only benefit was the execution of Saddam Hussein. Now really, you must admit that's not the only benefit. It has removed the threat of an Iraqi WMD program or state-sponsored terrorism. Before the war went South due to mismanagement (which as I said is not intrinsic to the idea of invading Iraq) it gave us leverage in negotiating with other state sponsors of terrorism such as Libya. It has led to more captures and killings of important Al Qaeda and other terrorists than I can count. It has diverted resources away from domestic terror attacks and made Al Qaeda and other groups focus their efforts on Iraq.

Let me point out *again* that I believe the costs have begun to outweigh the benefits in Iraq, thanks to mistakes made by political and military leaders. I also think that the costs of leaving outweigh the benefits of leaving, and that the benefits of staying and finishing will make the benefits greater than the cost provided it is done more smoothly than the last four years or so have been.

In 2003 when the "hawks" were cheering on the invasion I was worried. I didn't hear any talk or worry of what was going to happen after the invasion, either from family, from pundits, from politicians, or from the military. So let's not have any character assassination that paints me as some national greatness hawk who believes America is always right or doesn't care about the ugliness of war or some such thing.

"It really makes me sick when right- and/or left-wingers try to intellectualize their appetite for and acceptance of mass death and destruction by claiming that it was "the right thing to do.""

When you are in favor of going to war in a particular situation, it's a foregone conclusion that you are in favor of lots of people dying--the total number being unknown, of course. You could make the argument that by being "pro-war" you are "pro-death." But not so fast. If you are a pacifist, you must also accept the idea of lots of people dying, because by definition you won't fight if invaded or provoked, allowing the enemy to kill indiscriminately. Obviously the choice can't be categorical, unless you have no problem with lots of people dying or consider pacifism or hawkishness to trump all other concerns. The choice has to be marginal.

Two final points and then I'm done:
1) Anybody who thinks the Iraq War is Red Dawn inverted needs to point out the scene in Red Dawn where the teenagers blow up civilians in shopping malls and behead people on camera. Or does that scene not exist, because there is a categorical difference between a guerilla army and a group that kills indiscriminately to achieve its aim?
2) I believe the Iraq War is a textbook definition of why free trade is necessary between countries to prevent war. We should never have embargoed them. I'm not saying free trade would end all war, but it would encourage economic liberalization in less free countries, and two economically free countries engaged in free trade have about as much incentive to go to war as I have to put a porcupine down the front of my pants.

"War is a big deal. It isn’t normal. It’s not something to take up casually. Any war you can describe as “a war of choice† is a crime. War feeds on and feeds the negative passions." - bright spark Henley

"For war consisteth not in battle only, or the act of fighting, but in a tract of time, wherein the will to contend by battle is sufficiently known: and therefore the notion of time is to be considered in the nature of war, as it is in the nature of weather. For as the nature of foul weather lieth not in a shower or two of rain, but in an inclination thereto of many days together: so the nature of war consisteth not in actual fighting, but in the known disposition thereto during all the time there is no assurance to the contrary. All other time is peace." -

brighter spark Hobbes

thank you for this information.sis jarMy local telecom is a monopoly, and it is out-of-control as far as wiretapping, eavesdropping, hacking, controling e-mail programs, phishing, spoof websites, etc.
No company should be immune from law suits and especially companies that control our communications.To give telecoms immunity will make "big brother"free nokia 6600 games"In this paper, we compare the incidence and extent of formal coauthorship observed in economics against that observed in biology and discuss the causes and consequences of formal coauthorship in both disciplines. We then investigate the economic value (to authors) of informal comments offered by colleagues. This investigation leads us naturally into a discussion of the degree to which formal collaboration through coauthorship serves as a substitute for informal collaboration through collegial commentary. Data on manuscript submissions to the Journal of PolzticalEconomy permit us to shed additional empirical light on this subject. Finally, we demonstrate that while the incidence and extent of formal intellectual collaboration through coauthorship are greater in biology than in economics, the incidence and extent of informal intellectual collaboration are greater in economics than in biology. This leads us to search for evidence (which we find) of quids pro quo offered by authors to suppliers of free nokia n70 games

Comments for this post are closed