Paul Craig Roberts interviews Robert Higgs on War and Liberty

Paul Craig Roberts interviews Robert Higgs, Senior Fellow at the Independent Institute and author of Crisis and Leviathan, a study of how war and crisis lead to the growth of government and the decline in liberty, about the unintended consequences of a possible American invasion of Iraq.

Paul Craig Roberts: Why do you oppose the Bush administration's policy toward Iraq?

Robert Higgs: I oppose it on both moral and practical grounds. A "preemptive" war against Iraq entails a variety of morally indefensible actions, but even Americans who do not admit or cannot see its immorality will ultimately find its consequences intensely unpleasant.

PCR: Isn't it desirable to overthrow a brutal dictator?

RH: The world is rife with brutal regimes. If we hadn't been forewarned, we might have thought the president in his State of the Union speech was describing the tortures used in Turkey or Pakistan or Egypt. Yet the administration has no qualms about joining hands with these (and other) odious regimes. Worse, it is showering them with tens of billions of dollars extracted from American taxpayers. The United States cannot rid the world of all its brutal dictators, and even if it somehow managed to do so, new ones would pop up soon afterward. We ought to decline the fool's errand of perpetually enforcing our political standards on the entire world.

PCR: Isn't it a good idea to get rid of Saddam Hussein in particular?

RH: The world probably would be a better place without Saddam in power, but we have no assurance that a post-Saddam regime will be flush with sweetness and light. In view of Iraq's history, we have good reason to expect a regime more like the autocracies that have long prevailed there. The notion current in certain circles that Iraq is a democratic success waiting to happen is sheer nonsense. With its violent ethnic, religious, and political conflicts, Iraq may be incapable of cohering as anything other than a dictatorship. Nor will conducting some phony-baloney elections alter this situation; it will only put a pleasing ceremonial gloss on the ugly underlying realities.

PCR: What about the claim that the United States created successful democratic regimes as a result of its triumph in World War II?

RH: The analogy between postwar Germany or Japan and present-day Iraq is much too loose to be taken seriously. Among other things, our occupations and the reforms we imposed on Germany and Japan took place in a completely different geopolitical context. If the United States takes over Iraq, it certainly will inflame Muslim zealots all over the world, who will point to our conquest as proof certain of our evil intentions toward Muslims who have the temerity to challenge our hegemony. Nearby regimes in the region may be overthrown by factions angered by their governments' unwillingness to stand up to the Western crusaders. What good will it do to control Iraq if, for example, Saudi Arabia falls under the control of Islamic fanatics?

PCR: From your extensive research into previous U.S. wars, have you drawn any conclusions that shape your thinking about the present situation?

RH: One conclusion stands out: from the Civil War onward, engagement in war has left Americans less free when the war was over than they had been before the war. In countless ways, the warfare state has proved inimical to the preservation of liberty, just as patriots such as James Madison warned us long ago that it would. War brings higher taxes, greater government debt, increased government intrusion in markets, more pervasive government surveillance, manipulation, and control of the public. Going to war is the perfect recipe for expanding the size, scope, and power of the federal government. You have to wonder why so many conservatives, who claim to cherish liberty, enthusiastically embrace the government's schemes for plunging the nation into war. 

PCR: Many claim that whatever war's risks to civil and economic liberties, it still generates definite economic benefits.

RH: That claim represents a prime example of what sound economists call the broken-window fallacy. Despite many current myths about so-called war prosperity, war is always an economic disaster. The resources used for war purposes cannot be used for alternative purposes; there's no free lunch, and the Keynesian arguments that imply one are just bad economics. I have spent years demonstrating that even World War II, which allegedly rescued the economy from the Great Depression, did nothing of the sort. Participation in the war simply substituted one kind of economic deprivation--a worse kind--for another. Genuine prosperity resumed only after the war ended.

PCR: Will a U.S. conquest of Iraq make us safer?

RH: No. It will probably increase the risk of terrorism for Americans both at home and abroad.

Paul Craig Roberts is the author with Lawrence M. Stratton of The Tyranny of Good Intentions : How Prosecutors and Bureaucrats Are Trampling the Constitution in the Name of Justice. Click here for Peter Brimelow's Forbes Magazine interview with Roberts about the recent epidemic of prosecutorial misconduct.

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