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Open Letter to Andrew Sullivan, 2001/10/09:08:26

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Below is a note I sent to Andrew Sullivan, whose recent writings I have found to be disconcertingly war-mongering.
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I agree that the anti-capitalist, anti-globalist left is making a fool of itself. However, I believe that you are unjustly conflating (perhaps unintentionally) those who are skeptical of the utility of this war and who demand a re-assessment of American foreign policy with the retrogressive forces of the left. You must be aware of the classical liberal tradition of non-intervention, now most consistently espoused by certain libertarians, who are nothing if not pro-capitalist and pro-globalization.

According to the non-interventionist view, we must avoid unnecessary foreign entanglements, and we must act abroad only when it is on the whole very clearly in the national interest. I have no doubt that seeking out bin Laden and his associates, and even certain targeted attacks, is in the national interest. However, I am very skeptical that a protracted "war" against terrorism is in our interests, and I fear that such a "war" will produce yet more dangerous entanglements and will be deleterious to freedom.

It is correct that the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks are ultimately responsible for what they have done, and it is correct to assign them the blame. However, an exploration for the attackers' reasons and motives is not inconsistent with the recognition of their free agency and moral culpability. It is entirely pertinent to ask whether they chose to attack the U.S. (as opposed to other countries) because of certain U.S. policies. If it turns out that our policies, when combined with beliefs common in some parts of the world, provide grounds for aggression (according to the people who hold those beliefs), then it would be dangerous and neglectful to refuse to re-examine those policies.

Think of an analogy. If a young women goes to a frat party drunk and wearing next to nothing and gets raped, then the rapist, of course, is ultimately to blame. However, she would be seriously irresponsible if she refused to consider the role of her provocation. She surely wasn't "asking for it," but neither was she doing enough to avoid foreseeable consequences. There are multiple layers of different kinds and degrees of responsibility here, and it does no good to reduce the complexity to the point where one party is entirely on the hook and the other entirely off.

Now, if it turns out that we are loathed simply because we are rich, free and good, then our policies make little difference. But I suspect the "resentiment" explanation is at most an evasive and dangerous form of self-congratulation. Yes, let the left self-immolate, and capitalize on their fecklessness if you must. But please don't turn a blind eye to the follies of our foreign policy and the dangers of war to liberty. And please don't confuse those of us with open eyes and a love for the progressive forces of capitalism with the anti-liberty forces of darkness.


- Will Wilkinson
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