There has been a fascinating foreign policy debate in recent days on Rostra between leaders in San Diego County’s conservative movement. The flashpoint was congressional candidate Jacquie Atkinson’s recent critique of diplomacy with Iran, which sparked an acrimonious though substantive exchange on competing visions for a just foreign policy between Frank Dowse and Eric Andersen.
In the discussion, Mr. Andersen took issue with Mr. Dowse’s confrontational approach by asking Dowse to substantiate which freedoms were threatened by Islamists and how he justified America’s response to Islamism based on enduring natural law principles. Although I found Mr. Dowse’s response compelling I would concede it centered on policy, and as a consequence the two men were talking past each other. I will attempt to defend America’s confrontational approach towards global Islamic terrorism on the turf of Mr. Andersen’s own choosing – natural law.
Let me start by attempting to de-escalate the acrimony. Having read and familiarized myself with both Eric’s and Frank’s arguments I feel very confident in saying that both men are well intentioned, both reject the initiation of violence against innocents, and if the world universally embraced either’s point of view it would be a much more peaceful place. Let me also state my own proclivities so my biases are clear – I’m neither a neo-conservative nor a pacifist nor an isolationist. I opposed the Iraq war at the time it was initiated not as a matter of principle but because I took a realist position that containment was working and invasion would be destabilizing. On these very pages I’ve also critiqued Congressman Duncan Hunter for advocating withdrawing from the Middle East. I generally oppose the use of America’s military to be the world’s policeman or to spread democracy, but I agree with the proposition that the world is a safer more prosperous place when the United States military serves as a credible deterrent to global aggressors.
Which of our freedoms are threatened by radical Islamic terrorism and its state sponsors?
The most important ones: life, liberty, and property. These are the rights from which all others flow and which the Islamists have made clear their intent to destroy in anyone that doesn’t conform to their religion and worldview. They kill indiscriminately. They force women into sexual slavery. They deny liberty of conscience and kill those who don’t renounce Christianity. They aim to expand their territory by conquest and seize the property of non-believers. They burn POW’s alive. In short, they live outside the laws of nature.
Now Eric may respond that we are not personally threatened by these injustices, but he is mistaken. Whatever safety Eric perceives he enjoys is mostly attributable to his own anonymity and the limited opportunities of our enemies. If an elk in the center of a herd were capable of reason, he would not personally feel threatened by the pack of wolves in the distance, because it is very improbable that he will personally be the victim of the wolves’ hostility. But the elk would be incorrect if he then leapt to the conclusion that his probable security abrogated the natural hostility between him and the wolf.
What natural law principle justifies our intervention?
Having established the enmity that the Islamist terrorists and their state sponsors harbor toward us, what is the state of the relationship between us and the Islamists according to natural law principles? Here I’ll allow John Locke to respond for me:
THE state of war is a state of enmity and destruction: and therefore declaring by word or action, not a passionate and hasty, but a sedate settled design upon another man’s life, puts him in a state of war with him against whom he has declared such an intention, and so has exposed his life to the other’s power to be taken away by him, or any one that joins with him in his defense, and espouses his quarrel; it being reasonable and just, I should have a right to destroy that which threatens me with destruction: for, by the fundamental law of nature, man being to be preserved as much as possible, when all cannot be preserved, the safety of the innocent is to be preferred: and one may destroy a man who makes war upon him, or has discovered an enmity to his being, for the same reason that he may kill a wolf or a lion; because such men are not under the ties of the common law of reason, have no other rule, but that of force and violence, and so may be treated as beasts of prey, those dangerous and noxious creatures, that will be sure to destroy him whenever he falls into their power. —John Locke, Second Treatise of Civil Government, Ch. III, section 16.
Peace requires bilateral cooperation. War is entered into unilaterally. Whether we wish peace with Islamic terrorists or not we are in state of war with them because they ignore the law of reason and have no other rule but force and violence. They would be sure to destroy, me, Eric, or Frank if we were to fall into their power. By the laws of nature we needn’t wait for that to occur to strike.
What of blowback and progressive humanism?
In Eric’s response to Mr. Dowse he leaves the field of natural law and accuses Mr. Dowse supporting “progressive humanist” polices that have been “responsible for most of the terror we face, most of the debt that burdens our families, and most of the freedom we have lost responding to blowback.” In so doing Mr. Andersen veers from the field of principle and into the field of policy and motives.
I would suggest to Eric that in this case it is he that is playing the role of the progressive humanist. One of the characteristics of progressivism is that it dehumanizes others by denying their own agency. To the progressive, the moral conduct and economic outcomes experienced by some disadvantaged group today is attributed to have resulted directly from some advantaged group’s conduct in the distant past. Usually this narrative is advanced by progressives in service to some domestic policy goal. Mr. Andersen applies it to foreign policy, whereby America is responsible for terrorism rather than the moral bankruptcy of the terrorists themselves.
In response to Eric I would say simply that we live in a fallen world. Evil exists. America did not give Adam and Eve the apple. As the Bishop Charles Chaput said, Evil’s “vanity always requires the destruction of the good and the innocent, because the example of the good and the innocent lives as an ongoing testimony against it.” ISIS and other Islamic terrorist organizations are evil. We are in a state of war with them not because of our own conduct but because they live outside the law of nature and reason. They are John Locke’s proverbial wolf.
A Brief Comment on the Republican Liberty Caucus
In his comments Mr. Dowse had some disparaging things to say about the San Diego Republican Liberty Caucus. Eric Andersen is the Chairman of the SDRLC and I am the Vice Chairman. We agree on many things and disagree on others (obviously). I am not a libertarian. I’m a conservative and a Constitutionalist. The term libertarian is often appropriated by social liberals and pacifists but when Mr. Dowse attempts to attribute those particular qualities to the SDRLC as a group he paints with too broad a brush. In the past two years that I’ve been a member of the SDRLC we’ve never endorsed or recognized any candidates or elected office holders for anything other than conduct consistent with the Republican Party platform. The people that get our support are consistent conservatives like Bill Wells, Brian Jones, and Joel Anderson. I support the SDRLC because in my view it is the most effective group working within the Republican Party to hold the party true to its limited government principles. So long as that remains true the group will continue to have my support.
Jason Jackson is an attorney and serves as Vice Chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus of San Diego. He is a graduate of the United States Naval Academy and a veteran of the War on Terrorism, earning the Navy Commendation Medal, the Navy Achievement Medal, and numerous campaign and unit citations for his service in the conflict. He has a master’s degree in Political Science from San Diego State University, and a law degree from Thomas Jefferson School of Law.