L. Neil Smith's
Number 327, July 10, 2005

"Relegation Nation"

LP Platform Implemented in LP's Exit Strategy
by Thomas L. Knapp

Exclusive to TLE

Within the confines of a small, ideologically oriented group, it's a given that any major proposal—be it internal and organizational or external and political—will produce a backlash. Thus it is no surprise that several critiques of the Libertarian Party's "Exit Strategy for Iraq" have emerged within days of that proposal's public debut.

Most of the critiques so far remain inchoate—spread across threads of correspondence on various Internet discussion groups and such—and the issue of the plan's orthodoxy with respect to the LP's platform deserves a more organized examination. When I broached this matter on the Smith2004-Discuss Yahoo Group, Chris Claypoole promptly stepped up to the plate and offered to produce a summary critique of the plan, written from the premise that the plan does not, in fact, conform with the principles which animate the LP. Ken Holder agreed to publish his critique, and this response to it, in The Libertarian Enterprise.

So, here we are.

In executive summary, my response to critiques of the plan is as follows:

In the particulars of its policy proposals—as opposed to some of the rhetoric in which those proposals are couched—the Libertarian Party's "Exit Strategy for Iraq" conforms in every respect to that party's platform.

Taking Chris Claypoole's critique in the order of its points, let's begin:


The authors propose "immediately to begin the withdrawal of all American troops from Iraq." (Italics added.) They suggest a gradual pull-out, taking a year. They actually think that this will "bring the troops out of harm's way quickly," suggesting "increments of approximately 11,600 per month." Aside from the purely military/logistical problems I have with such a slow, telegraphed, proportional withdrawal, it leaves too long an opportunity for some event to occur that would prolong that withdrawal, perhaps indefinitely. My analogy for this is, do you pull an adhesive bandage off a healed wound quickly or slowly? Which way will hurt for a longer time? (Hint: get it over with as fast as possible.)

This is not, strictly speaking, a platform issue, but it's worth addressing nonetheless. I, too, have criticized the plan for its long withdrawal timeline. My (admittedly limited, but existent) understanding of military problems tells me that such a long withdrawal scenario unnecessarily leaves American units in Iraq a) exposed to attack for longer than necessary, b) weakened and with less access to support to defend itself against such attacks and c) in a position to continue doing the harm which the LP's plan addresses itself to ending. A 90-day displacement by echelon is more consistent with the military realities of the situation.

However, once again, this is not—and shouldn't be—a platform issue. I don't believe that most Libertarians would object to, or claim to find support in the platform for objections to, a direct transition to a desired objective that takes time. After all, all such transitions take time. If the drug war was called off tomorrow, it wouldn't really end until all the drug warriors had returned to their precincts at the ends of their shifts, received the order and locked their guns up in the armory. That fact would hopefully not prove to be a barrier to Libertarians in accepting a proposal to end the drug war.


They go on to advise moving 30,000 of the troops to other Middle Eastern countries where the US already has a presence. This not only conflicts with some of their own background reasoning as to why some of the insurgents are fighting ("the history of the Middle East" should teach the lesson that they enjoy foreign troops, especially non-Muslims, about as much as Americans would accept UN troops running amok in our country), but contradicts item IV.D.2. of the Executive Summary: "We would end the current U.S. government policy of foreign intervention, including military and economic aid, guarantees, and diplomatic meddling. We make no exceptions." Having any U.S. troops stationed in countries other than the U.S. is an intervention. No exceptions.

It is true that having any US troops stationed in countries other than the US constitutes an intervention, and that prescribing such an intervention militates against the LP's platform. However, the plan does not recommend any such intervention. The interventions in question already exist and are ongoing. The US has bases in several Middle East countries. That's just a fact. And it is a useful fact.

Most people who oppose the war on Iraq on principle would, in theory, hold that the number of troops involved is irrelevant—in other words, that having 10,000 troops, instead of 140,000 troops, on the ground in Iraq would still be an intervention; even that having one American soldier on the ground in Iraq would, in principle, be just as much an intervention, and just as unacceptable, as having 140,000 troops there.

That math works both ways, though. If some portion of the troops now in Iraq are re-positioned to existing bases in the Middle East, the interventions that those bases represent to not thereby become any worse. Having 5,000, instead of 500, Marines in Kuwait represents no difference ... in principle. Neither does stationing ten squadrons, instead of five, at the base in the United Arab Emirates. [Note: These numbers are made up—because the numbers don't matter]

Removing all US troops from Iraq, and re-stationing some (or even all) of those troops in places where interventions are already going would reduce the number of US interventions abroad by one, and increase the number of US interventions by zero. In that respect, then, the LP's proposal is not only not a violation of its platform, it is an implementation of the plank in question. It is a move that is 100% in the direction of the platform's goal, with absolutely no compromise—in principle or in policy—involved.


The error is compounded when the authors note that the majority of the troops would return to the U.S. to "free up resources for the War on Terror." I'm not sure how this can be reconciled with item I.14. and I.15. They are, respectively, "We condemn the government's use of secret classification to keep from the public information that it should have." And "The defense of the country requires that we counter threats to domestic security; however, we call for repeal of legislation that violates individual rights under the color of national security." The War on Terror violates both of these principles.

In this instance, Claypoole confuses the possibility of a War on Terror—which is not necessarily in conflict with the principles embodied and specified in the LP's platform—with some of the specific policies which have emerged from this particular administration as measures advertised to fight said war.

While it is true that US foreign policy has created a base of popular support in the Middle East for al Qaeda and other terror groups, and that that foreign policy is should be changed to accord with the LP's platform, the fact remains that al Qaeda and its partners in the Islamist terror network do not base their agenda on US foreign policy. They have an agenda independent of US foreign policy, and that agenda calls for attacks on the US and other non-Islamic countries. Their stated casus belli of the moment—US intervention in the region—is a fundraising and recruiting tool, not a thing which, if reversed, would cause them to stand down entirely.

Section IV.B.1 of the LP's platform states:

Any U.S. military policy should have the objective of providing security for the lives, liberty and property of the American people in the U.S. against the risk of attack by a foreign power. This objective should be achieved as inexpensively as possible and without undermining the liberties it is designed to protect.

To the extent that terror networks threaten the lives, liberty and property of the American people in the US, war against them is entirely justified. Presumably the LP will want to address particular aspects of that war where they conflict with its platform—but a War on Terror as such does not.

The plan specifically references Afghanistan. In my considered opinon, al Qaeda and its associated terror groups have ceased using Afghanistan as a base from which to launch attacks on the US, and their presence there is negligible to non-existent. The authors of the plan seem to disagree, and I am, of course, willing to hear arguments contrary to my own conclusions. If those who have attacked, and continue to offer to attack, the US are still in Afghanistan, then they should be rooted out and destroyed there. If not, then the US should leave—the internal politics of Afghanistan, including but not limited to the conflict between the Taliban and other forces which presume to govern that country, are none of our affair. So far as I can tell, the authors of the plan intended their reference to Afghanistan to address a terrorist threat to the US, not an internal political fight in which the US should intervene.

Following this, Claypoole once again addresses himself to the stationing of US troops leaving Iraq in other countries in the region. I trust that I've already dealt with his objections there, but I'll quote him again and rebut for emphasis:


The detail of IV.D.2. states in the section of Transitional Action: "End the incorporation of foreign nations into the U.S. defense perimeter. Cease the creation and maintenance of U.S. bases and sites for the pre-positioning of military material in other countries. End the practice of stationing American military troops overseas. We make no exceptions to the above." That seems quite clear to me; why the authors of the IES were confused by it is beyond me. So the recommendation for stationing U.S. troops in the "other" Middle Eastern countries violates at least two planks of the platform.

The "Exit Strategy" removes one foreign nation (Iraq) from the US defense perimeter. It adds no new nations to that perimeter. It creates no new bases for the pre-positioning of military material in other countries, nor does it propose any maintenance of said bases that is not already ongoing. It stations no new troops overseas and, indeed, brings substantial numbers of troops back to the US.

In other words, while the plan does not solve all foreign policy problems in a manner consistent with the platform, it solves one such problem, and creates no new such problems.

Once again, I trust that most libertarians would not turn down complete repeal of all laws against the use, possession and sale of marijuana, just because a proposal for said repeal did not include cocaine, heroin and MDMA under its umbrella. A gain is a gain; and a gain without compromise—without giving anything up that one already had in hand -- is always acceptable. If the LP insists on instantaneous implementation of every plank in its platform, in all places, in every respect, and with no transition timeframe—or on no implementation at all -- then they will get the latter. Since the platform presumably exists to address the real world in a realistic way, I have no choice but to interpret it as meaning that any move toward its goals which does not demand some corresponding retreat from those goals, is acceptable.


This is followed by recommendations for "negotiations with nationalist groups not tied to the former regime" while the withdrawal is progressing. Aside from the poor negotiating position this places the American negotiators, how do the authors square this with IV.A.1. which states, "The important principle in foreign policy should be the elimination of intervention by the United States government in the affairs of other nations." Or possibly IV.A.3.: "We recognize the right of all people to resist tyranny and defend themselves and their rights against governments or political and revolutionary groups." Obviously, there can be different interpretations of how this can be applied in different situations, but the authors of the IES don't make any attempt to address these issues.

The substance of my reply to this is that yes, there can be different interpretations. The LP platform also states, at IV.A.1, that

We would negotiate with any foreign government without necessarily conceding moral legitimacy to that government

Presumably this plank is applicable to negotiations with nascent states and governments as well—and if the proposed negotiations are geared toward bringing about a cessation of hostilities between the insurgent/resistance forces in Iraq and the US forces leaving Iraq (and, by extension, a cessation of hostilities between those forces and the US itself), then they don't seem to violate any platform plank, but rather to be an implementation of IV.A.1.


The authors then recommend a "direct-aid program" to rebuild the Iraqi infrastructure. This contradicts IV.C.1.: "We support the elimination of tax-supported military, economic, technical, and scientific aid to foreign governments or other organizations." Adding new direct-aid programs, or even continuing old ones, whether the funding level changes or not, is not a step toward "elimination" of such programs.

In this area, the plan becomes more problematic. However, I believe that it is reconciliable with the platform plank, largely on the same premises as I've previously argued from.

While the plan does not mention or acknowledge it, a "direct-aid program" to rebuild the Iraqi infrastructure already exists. There's no need for a new program, and the LP exit strategy, rightly understood, would both reduce the costs of the existing program and bring it to a more timely end.

The US has already spent several hundred billion dollars in Iraq. The Internal Revenue Service has already stolen, and Congress has already appropriated, the money for future such expenditures. The money is going to Iraq, period. The question is whether it will go to Iraq in larger amounts for that infrastructure rebuilding and the troops to secure that infrastructure rebuilding, or whether it will go to Iraq in smaller amounts for only the rebuilding itself.

The current "supplemental appropriation" for operations in Iraq comes to about $80 billion. That supplemental appropriation is falsely grouped under the "defense" line in the federal budget. For purposes of comparison, the entire FY2006 budget for "foreign aid" is in the neighborhood of $20 billion.

If a US military withdrawal from Iraq per the LP's plan were to take place, much of that supplemental appropriation could be "grabbed back." Fat chance that we'd get it in a tax refund, but at least it wouldn't be used for the purpose of sending the US armed forces around the world to kill people. The "direct aid" component could remain untouched, or even enlarged—with no new program and no new spending.

As a spitball proposal, the US could "get back" $50 billion, use $10 billion to cover the costs associated with withdrawal—and still give Iraq's government as much money as it gives to the entire rest of the world in any given year as "direct aid." For that matter, the amount of "aid" could be increased, at no additional cost to the taxpayer (and even some savings in terms of moving, maintenance and storage costs) by leaving consumables and obsolete or broken equipment due for replacement or repair "in country" as the US forces pull out. The Iraqis would get our old tanks and Humvees—when we were buying new ones any way. We'd just save the cost of transporting those tanks and Humvees back to the US and cutting them up into scrap. The Iraqis could have our unconsumed "Meals Ready to Eat" which have limited shelf lives anyway... and I suspect many American soldiers would be happy to see them going down someone else's maw.

And at the end of it ... well, that would be the end of it. A few billion dollars, which has already been stolen, and which will be spent in Iraq regardless of whether the LP plan is adopted or not, gets us out of the quagmire and ends the program.

Once again, the platform calls for:

the elimination of tax-supported military, economic, technical, and scientific aid to foreign governments or other organizations.

While the exit plan is poorly worded in this area, it seems clear to me that it represents reduction and elimination of US aid—military and non-military—to Iraq. In other words, it seems to me that it implements, rather than contradicts, the platform.

Claypoole takes issue with what appears to be a contradiction in the plan: That the Iraqi government will have "full control over the disbursement of aid funds," but on the other hand that "an independent third-party auditor must be hired to perform an audit every six months until the program has ended" and "safeguards will be put in place to ensure U.S. aid is spent efficiently and effectively." I agree that this is problematic. However, keep in mind that at present, the Iraqi government is effectively a hostage of the US military. Even the beginning stages of the LP plan would immediately reduce US intervention in Iraq's internal affairs, and would culminate in ending such intervention.

Personally, my preference would be that the military equipment and consumables simply be bequeathed to the Iraqi government without condition, primarily as a cost-saving measure (why haul ten million MREs back to the US just as they're expiring?), and that the "direct aid" be disbursed, without condition, without audit and on a one-time basis, to non-governmental aid organizations which have a good track record. Let Iraq have its own branches of Habitat for Humanity and Doctors Without Borders instead of handing the money over to Iraqi politicians.

However, even if the exit plan's proposed process is followed it does not represent any escalation of US intervention in Iraq's internal affairs—it represents a reduction in said intervention, it represents a reduction in expenditures, and it points the way toward a near-future end to such intervention and such expenditures.

There may be other platform considerations which Mr. Claypoole's critique, or my rebuttal, miss. I'd be glad to hear about them. However, based on Mr. Claypoole's critique and on my own reading of the plan, I regard it not only as in keeping with the LP's platform, but as the kind of uncompromising, radical but realistic proposal that the Libertarian Party should be making.

At some point, the LP needs to decide whether it wants to implement its platform, or to continue clicking its heels together and wishing things would just happen automatically, with no need to address the fact that that platform is meant for implementation in the real world. With the "Exit Strategy," the LP seems to have finally begun to engage reality—and I congratulate it for doing so.


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