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Libertarians and the Iran Deal

29 Sep
Why libertarians can’t have nice things.


It seems like President Obama will get his Iran deal, with Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski, the Senate’s longest serving closeted lesbian, announcing that she will provide the tipping point in support of it.  Senator Ted Cruz is still holding a rally against it September 9th on Capitol Hill, with Glenn Beck, Donald Trump, and the Tea Party Patriots group cheering on the deal’s opponents.

Earlier this week I argued that advocates of a non-interventionist foreign policy (particularly libertarians) shouldn’t support Obama’s Iran Deal – and chided them for making the error of giving Obama the benefit of the doubt, something many had done during the 2008 election.

My argument was that the deal was mainly a boon to the Iranian government and government-to-government transfers among statist, centrally planned economies – and hence in no way libertarian because:

1) It allows the Iranian state to access $150 billion in frozen assets (for comparison, 50 times the annual U.S. military aid to Israel) rather than have them remain frozen or pay them out as damages to Iranian dissidents and refugees abroad;

 2) It lifts sanctions on European, Chinese, and Russian (but not American, the fine print reads) businesses that invest in or sell to and buy from Iranian entities;

3) It produces a pretense of weapons inspections of Iranian nuclear plants, in which Iran may inspect itself, and has many days notice to schedule such inspections, at which no Americans are to be allowed.

The response from my fellow libertarians has been underwhelming, though revealing.

My favorite response was from my internet pen pal Angela Keaton, a fundraiser and activist for  Antiwar.com.  Ms. Keaton wrote: “ You know it is only because I am on [a] fast from everything that I didn’t write some comedy about y[ou]r Iran piece in Breitbart.  In fact, I am not supposed to read anything this month so that unfortunately will be the only thing I read this month that doesn’t involve prayer, fasting, and meditation.”  Ms. Keaton and I may not agree on everything about what a libertarian foreign policy would be (we rarely discuss it), though we do discuss how we agree that anti-Semites should not be welcome in the libertarian movement.

Unfortunately, another “libertarian” correspondent, Juan Garofalo disagreed:  “tell us bruce, how much money does a neocunt like you get from the jew mafia?”

But the bulk of libertarians had responses in between these two, and those responses seemed to me to betray a lot of confused thinking, reading comprehension failures, inability to grasp distinctions, smugness, projection, and appeals to various logical fallacies, particularly false assertions of moral equivalency.

The issue (and my article) was taken up at the libertarian run Independent Political Report, where a number of local Libertarian Party activists weighed in.

 George Phillies, a retired physics professor, who a few years ago ran to be an officer in the Libertarian Party nationally, begins the moral equivalency, asserting that the Iranian regime needs nuclear weapons as other states do to prevent itself from being invaded: “The Iranians like several other countries do have a use for nuclear weapons, namely it makes it unlikely they will be invaded. The late dictator of Libya gave up this possible use to his ultimate misfortune. The South Africans thought it was useful. India, Pakistan and Israel are in similar boats.”  One wonders if Dr. Phillies would generalize this argument – that anything a State needs and has a “use for,” from tax monies, to conscripts, to seized assets – justify its having them?  It’s a whole new world for libertarianism!


Joshua Katz, a mathematics graduate student and local elected Libertarian in Connecticut, who seems to think he might be viable as a presidential candidate, is also unhappy with me, and insists in the yahoogroup for “LeftLibertarians” (where Mr. Garafalo contributes),  that he is not asserting a moral equivalence between the U.S. and Iranian regimes, even as he does it: “Government property is, in reality, owned in common by the citizens who are forced to pay for it – nothing about that is ideal, and it creates plenty of confusion as to property rights.  It in no way empowers a different government to come inspect that property.  Every complaint about governments not having rights applies equally to the inspecting nation as to the inspected.  Moral equivalence has nothing to do with it.  How you treat someone, outside of specific defense against a specific aggression, has nothing to do with your moral judgment of that person.  How governments interact has the same rule.  

Quick – name 5 countries invaded recently by Iran.  Then do the same for the US.  Name the countries Iran has dropped nuclear bombs on, then the countries the US has dropped nuclear bombs on, and explain why the US gets to be “in the club” and Iran doesn’t.  


Don’t bother, I’ll write your response for you:
This is gibberish.  Iran is bad.  The US is good.  Rah, rah.  Obama is a tyrant. 

I find Mr. Katz’s writing turgid and his thinking hard to follow – good thing he’s studying math I guess, and not English literature.  He goes on at length with what I think he thinks is conclusive and intelligent commentary, but one part is most telling.  When I observe that Iran theocracy executes gays, maintains an internet Iron Curtain to prevent Iranians from reading the world wide web, calls for death to Israel and the U.S., is keeping Americans hostage, and shot into a crowd of protesters as recently as 2009, killing Neda Soltan, Katz responds that Iran should have nuclear weapons because the U.S. is no better, what with detaining suspected terrorists at Guantanamo:  “…it’s not a matter of moral equivalence, because my point there is that the moral equivalence claims are pointless and stupid – of course we treat different actors equally, even if we judge them morally to be different (I’ll go to Guantanamo and ask about human rights records), if the moral difference is not salient to the case in point, which it isn’t.  If we restrict our attention to nuclear weapons, who comes off looking better?”  It’s difficult to read his prose and make out his meaning, but he does recur again and again to citing (supposed) sins of the American government to justify the Iranian government having nuclear weapons.

At both Breitbart and IPR other libertarians begin to babble about “rights” that governments have, to own weapons, or not be inspected, or to have access to assets, because … the United Nations says they have rights or because previous American Presidents signed treaties that created those rights.  Another advance in libertarian theory, which previously argued that rights had something to do with human nature and how individual freedom promoted a peaceful and prosperous society.

I’m waiting this week for some libertarians to endorse the election of Hillary Clinton on the grounds that her private server was private property and her selling uranium to Putin and god knows what else to whom else were voluntary capitalist acts between consenting adults.


If these people end up being influential in the Libertarian Party then it too will at most be the lessor evil among the electoral choices.