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
PCR: Isn`t it desirable to overthrow a brutal
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
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
RH: No. It will probably increase the risk of
terrorism for Americans both at home and abroad.
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
Magazine interview with Roberts about the recent
epidemic of prosecutorial misconduct.