Syria Bombing: Why History Trumps Libertarian Beliefs

By Alan W. Cohen

Presidential adviser Steve Bannon once commented that we Libertarians do not live in the real world. And, from some of the commentary coming out of Cato and other outlets, I can see why he might believe that. More on that later in the week.

Just as we do not believe in the murder of those unfortunate souls that lay beneath those 59 Tomahawk missiles that struck that Syrian airfield Thursday evening, we Libertarians believe in the Constitution first and foremost. Yet, just as murder must be justified in times of war, we must look past our immediate regrets for the President taking unilateral action to send a message to the world.

In 1916, an infamous German chemist convinced himself and the Kaiser that he could end the bloody stalemate at the trenches with a new weapon. The gas attacks that followed were as horrid as they were ineffective, just as the inventor of the machine gun had believed a quarter century before. Yet, while millions of young men died on Flanders Field and all across Europe after blindly going over the wall, it was the gas attacks, not the machine gun that stuck in the world’s collective consciousness. Poison gas was banned by all civilized nations, and it remains so today, just as they have banned torture. Hitler employed poison gas in his Final Solution. It is the weapon of cowards and barbarians, not to be tolerated. Ever.

Thus, when President Trump had a visceral reaction to the pictures of children going through that unspeakable torture, it was understandable. Yet, history is bigger than that. Barrack Obama appeared to morph into Neville Chamberlain in his passive approach to hostile extremism, the Iran Deal being his biggest contribution to receding American power. Just as Chamberlain believed you could make a deal with the Devil, Obama, Susan Rice and John Kerry were convinced they could deal with his minions, and were equally naive. As late as this January, Obama and his acolytes were praising themselves for ridding Syria of chemical weapons.  This is the world that Donald Trump inherited.

Thus, while just as Christians and Jews must go against their religious teachings to wage war, Libertarians must recognize there is an exception to every rule. Evil exists.  It is the job of the President to protect us from that evil. If Trump’s message has a positive impact on protecting our liberty, then we can justify that limited military response. But Rand Paul is right. We must not tread further. Be wary of the war mongers, and remember our past mistakes. Like the Constitution, it is a very delicate balance.

Alan W. Cohen is a retired attorney and author. His most recent book, Private Vows: The Case for Ending State Regulation of Marriage and Divorce is available on Amazon.

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