Posted by on April 12, 2017

The first victim in war, the old saying goes, is the truth.  The corollary is that the first beneficiary is hypocrisy.

After the United States launched 59 cruise missiles against a Syrian airfield in retaliation for a gassing death of civilians attributed to the Syrian military[1], hypocrisy had a field day.

Let’s start with the Hypocrite-in-Chief, Donald Trump.  Within minutes of the attack, the cybersphere was alive with nuggets from the goldmine of hypocrisy that is @realDonaldTrump’s Twitter feed.

Back in 2013, after another gassing gave rise to Obama’s famous “red line,” his unsolicited advice was very clear: “What I am saying is stay out of Syria.”  And: “AGAIN, TO OUR VERY FOOLISH LEADER, DO NOT ATTACK SYRIA – IF YOU DO MANY VERY BAD THINGS WILL HAPPEN & FROM THAT FIGHT THE U.S. GETS NOTHING!”

He also seemed to have a better understanding of the Constitution back in 2013 since he also tweeted out: “What will we get for bombing Syria besides more debt and a possible long-term conflict? Obama needs Congressional approval.”  As president, of course, Trump has claimed that his strike required no authorization.

And there is also the little matter of the raid on Yemen that Trump ordered, which took place a whole 67 days before the Syrian attack.  This was intended to be a surgical commando strike, but when it headed south (ultimately leading to the death of an American soldier), airstrikes were ordered that inflicted heavy civilian casualties.  Including children.  Yet, when explaining his volte face on Syria, Trump descended into the lachrymose:

It crossed a lot of lines for me. When you kill innocent children, innocent babies, babies, little babies, with a chemical gas that is so lethal – people were shocked to hear what gas it was. That crosses many, many lines, beyond a red line, many, many lines.

But it probably isn’t fair to accuse Trump of hypocrisy.  His mind is a random word generator.  Like Mao Zedong Thought or most religious texts, you can find something to support or contradict virtually any position in Trump’s lengthy public record of verbal and written diarrhea.  Let’s turn instead to the liberal media.

After an endless stream of vindictive, both justified and (if necessary) made up, Trump finally found the way to get the media on his side: just blow something up. [2]  Perhaps the most nauseating was CNN’s Fareed  Zakaria.  When asked what had changed after the strike, Zakaria responded with: “I think that Donald Trump actually became president of the United States.  I think that this was actually a big moment.”  As if launching missiles was the presidential equivalent of losing your cherry.

Liberal politicians were no better.  Their general approval of the strike was tinged, however, with some finger wagging.  Sen. Elizabeth Warren said:  “Expanded military intervention in Syria requires action by Congress.”  Of course, Warren, who is still on the faculty of Harvard Law School, had no such constitutional quibbles when President Obama and her good friend Hillary Clinton were bombing Libya into sodomy, regime change and utter chaos.

The #NeverTrumpers on the Right did not miss the party.  Senators McCain and Graham, the Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum of never ending warfare, applauded the attack as a good start, but these two won’t be satisfied until we have boots on the boggy ground of another Middle Eastern quagmire.  The consistently, and shamelessly, wrong neoconservative commentator Bill Kristol was similarly lukewarm: “Punishing Assad for use of chemical weapons is good.  Regime change in Iran is the prize.”

Libertarians were, as usual, the lone holdouts from this orgy of hypocrisy.  Congressmen Massie and Amash questioned the rationale of the attack and roundly denounced the lack of congressional authorization.  Senator Rand Paul thought it was an appropriate response, but also claimed that the action demanded a full-throated debate in Congress.

As for this libertarian, my position has shifted a little since I wrote “What To Do About Syria?”  My answer at the time: “In a word: nothing.”

I still think that this is the right answer in Syria.  But I would like to see the establishment of a norm that, when this type of civil war breaks out, the international community (probably in the form of the otherwise largely useless United Nations) follows a consistent policy of carving out and rigorously, but absolutely neutrally, defending sanctuaries for unarmed civilians.

I think that it is too late for this type of response in Syria, where now any action would be seen as taking sides.  But if this policy were followed early and consistently, then there is a good chance that it would come to be seen as purely neutral protection for uninvolved civilian populations.  Combatants might then learn to leave them alone while they carry on with the pressing business of slaughtering each other.

World War One

We have just passed the 100th year anniversary of the passage of the declaration of war in World War One, back in the quaint days when authorization by Congress was actually thought necessary.

Libertarians have a different view of American history than the mainstream and a different pecking order for presidents.  The bid-ask spread on President Wilson is one of the biggest.  In addition to shepherding the passages of the terrible Sixteenth Amendment (allowing a federal income tax) and Seventeenth Amendment (providing for the direct election of senators), Wilson took America into WWI in a slight deviation from his 1916 re-election campaign slogan of “He Kept Us Out of War.”  Political hypocrisy is not a recent development.

This is a long subject [3], but the basic libertarian view is that the European powers had pretty much fought themselves to an exhausted stalemate in WWI before the US entered and tipped the scales.  Had the US not joined, peace would have eventually been negotiated – in part because soldiers were increasingly refusing to obey suicidal orders – under terms that would have more or less restored the status quo ante.  Instead, US involvement gave the allies a decisive victory; the unintended consequences were devastating.

England and France imposed the punitive Treaty of Versailles on Germany, including massive war reparations.  This led directly to the German hyperinflation and the rise of Nazism, and ultimately World War Two.  It also contributed to the Great Depression by more tightly linking Europe and North America financially.

Communism also received a big boost from the actions of England and France, with the aid of the Americans.  Their efforts to keep Czarist Russia in the fight, which included financial support for the strapped interim government conditional on remaining in the field, paved the way for Lenin’s “Peace! Land! Bread!” popularity and further reduced the army’s strength for fighting off the communist coup.

So, a strong link can be made between Wilson and the twin scourges of the 20th century: Nazism and communism.  Combat under Wilson also made a major contribution to the growth of Leviathan in the United States.  War is always a step function for the spread of government power, which is one of the reasons why libertarians err on the side of avoiding it.

Students at Princeton, where Wilson was president of the university before he became president of the country, have demanded that his statue be taken down because of his support for racism and segregation.  This is probably the least of his sins.

Roger Barris

Weybridge, United Kingdom



“Equality now!  Liberty later.” from this sign seen at an Occupy Wall Street demonstration, proving that true evil exists


[1] Note the careful wording.  I have no strong opinion on what actually happened and who was responsible, although I lean towards culpability for Assad.  However, I can’t see any logic behind the action for Assad.  By the cui bono test, fingers could certainly be pointed in other directions.

[2] Out of the top 100 American newspapers, 47 ran editorials last week about the strike.  39 were in favor, seven waffled and one was opposed.  The American public, conversely, was much more balanced, with virtually an equal number for and against the strike.  See here.

[3] The Cato Institute has a good, short summary of the argument in “Woodrow Wilson’s Great Mistake.”

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Neil Winward

I agree with you on the media reaction to this slow moving train wreck. NYT – perhaps because Hillary would have taken a similar step – was in favour. WSJ -rapidly becoming a shill for Trump – was also in favour.

Meanwhile, the Chinese are rubbing their hands in glee, the last foray into the Middle East having given them a 10 year patch of catching up economically while the US spent $trillion.