Many have decried that the so-called “liberal left” has abandoned its anti-war stance and thrown its support behind President Obama’s intent to impose sanctions on Iran. As the reason for the sanctions is Iran’s supposed pursuit of nuclear weapons, the left actually remains more philosophically consistent than the right. Liberals have always attacked the natural right of self defense, usually as it manifests itself in the individual right to keep and bear arms. They have also traditionally supported large-scale warfare, as long as the war was started by a member of their party. Remember that U.S. involvement in WWI, WWII, the Korean War, and Viet Nam was initiated in each case by a liberal Democratic president with the support of a Democratic majority in Congress. There is nothing out-of-character about liberals supporting President Obama’s war agenda with Iran.
What is harder to understand is how conservatives can defend the 2nd Amendment and still support these sanctions, given the stated reason for their imposition. As a sovereign nation, Iran could make all of the same arguments regarding their right to develop nuclear weapons as conservatives make regarding the individual right to keep and bear arms. Iran lives in a world in which many of its neighbors possess nuclear weapons. In the event of a nuclear attack against Iran, there is nothing the “international community” can do until it is too late, just as there is nothing the police can do for an individual at the moment he is attacked by an aggressor. Like any potential mugging victim, Iran is much safer armed with a deterrent than at the mercy of those who wish her harm.
Liberals often argue for gun controls or bans based upon what an armed civilian might do with a weapon. Conservatives correctly argue there is not justice in using government force against people because of “what they might do.” Until an individual actually commits some form of aggression, conservatives argue it is no one’s right to infringe upon another’s right to keep and bear arms. This certainly applies equally to nations in relation to one another. How can conservatives deny this right to Iran?
Liberals make the argument that the world is safer without handguns and so oppose them indiscriminately for everyone except government employees. Conservatives correctly argue an armed citizenry is much safer against criminals than an unarmed one. They remind us that every known statistic shows neighborhoods under stricter gun controls have a higher incidence of violent crime, because the criminals still have guns and know law abiding citizens are helpless. Conservatives understand this implicitly in terms of individuals, but it completely eludes them when applied to the relationships between nations. They also fail to recognize that history supports this argument: the only nuclear attack in human history was perpetrated by a nuclear-armed nation against one that did not possess nuclear weapons.
Conservatives make the argument that to deny Iran the right to develop nuclear weapons is not the same as disarming them. They would still be “allowed” to retain a conventional military force. How ironic this argument is coming from conservatives, who become red in the face when liberals argue that they are not violating the 2nd amendment by limiting the types of firearms that civilians can carry or by banning “assault weapons (is there another kind?).” Conservatives recognize that the word “allow” has no place in the same conversation when discussing a right, including the right to keep and bear arms.
Denying one individual or group the right to keep weapons relatively equal to those possessed by his peers nullifies his ability to effectively defend himself. Conservatives routinely make this argument, saying law abiding citizens need weapons of comparable fire power to the average gang-banger. Otherwise, the poorly armed citizen is still at a disadvantage against the well-armed criminal.
Their reasoning is sound. Why does it not apply to Iran? To deny Iran’s right to possess weaponry equal to that of any other sovereign nation – especially those that habitually threaten her – is to deny Iranians their right to provide for their own defense.
Conservatives respond that Iran is a “rogue nation” and therefore cannot be trusted with nuclear weapons. This is nothing more than cultural bias which is flatly refuted by reality. During the past 200 years, Iran has never invaded another country or initiated military force against anyone. Beyond the 1979 hostage crisis, they have burned a few U.S. flags and said some very nasty things about the U.S. and Israel. Otherwise, they have been content to screw up their own country and leave the rest of the world alone.
In contrast, the United States has invaded doezens of nations in just the past 50 years and has committed direct acts of war against Iran, including overthrowing their democratically-elected government and installing an American puppet in its place. When Iran responded by deposing the Shah and taking U.S. hostages, the U.S. waged a decade-long proxy war against Iran through another of its puppets, Saddam Hussein.
This is not to condone Iran’s seizure of civilian hostages in 1979. Violence against civilians is never justified. But given that the hostages were returned relatively unharmed just over a year after their capture, the U.S. government’s conduct at Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, and secret prisons throughout the world seems to overshadow Iran’s “rogueness” in this area rather considerably. Using the “rogue nation” standard, there is a long list of nations that should be sanctioned ahead of Iran, starting with our own.
Conservatives recognize the right of self defense is the foundation of freedom and equality. They understand that if all men are created equal, there is no justification for one person to deny to another the right to defend themselves, nor to deny another person the right to determine for themselves what weapons are necessary to that end. In order to defend themselves against aggression by other nations, individuals delegate that aspect of self defense to their government’s military force. Based on the same principles as our own Constitution, this is as much their right as the individual right to keep and bear arms. As in the case of individuals, no nation has a right to decide for another what weapons it will keep for that purpose.
The people of Iran as a sovereign nation have all of the same rights that the people of the United States. It is not for the United States to decide what weapons Iran possesses any more than it is Iran’s place to decide what weapons the United States possesses. One would have to employ the most convoluted logic imaginable to arrive at any other conclusion.
The United States was born defending the right to keep and bear arms, a fact glossed over when American history is taught in public schools. Despite the “intolerable” taxes, quartering of troops, monetary manipulation, and a host of other offenses by their government, the American colonists did not fire upon their own troops until those troops attempted to disarm them. The colonists recognized that if they were disarmed they were no longer free. Why would Iran think any differently?
The United States government claims to be promoting freedom in the Middle East. These sanctions demonstrate it has forgotten about what freedom really is. In order for Iraq, Iran, or any other Middle Eastern nation to be free, they must be recognized as equals by the other nations of the world, with all of the same rights that equals are entitled to. The most important right is the right of self preservation, often called the “first law of nature.” Until we recognize Iran in this way, we will be in a perpetual state of war with her, with nothing to gain and so much to lose. It is time to stop playing emperor with Iran and start practicing what we preach. Liberals have always been confused about the relationship between self defense and freedom, but conservatives should know better than to deny Iran’s right to keep and bear arms.
Tom Mullen is the author of A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.