In January 2014, no doubt anticipating the upcoming presidential primaries, Senator and now presidential candidate Rand Paul published a statement on his website which boasted his co-sponsorship of the then recently introduced “No Taxpayer Funding For Abortion Act.” Paul and other advocates of the bill have and continue to explicitly single out institutions, specifically Planned Parenthood, that both provide abortion services and accept government subsidies for patients in need of financial assistance. And the bill would do exactly what the title would have you believe, restrict government subsidies for health care which includes abortion services.
In his statement, however, Paul uses absolute moralistic phrases like, “I am 100% pro-life. I believe life begins at conception and that abortion takes the life of an innocent human being,” and “[i]t is unconscionable that government would facilitate the taking of innocent life.” By attempting a marriage of modern libertarian attitudes towards government spending and traditionally conservative moral values, Paul gives “fiscal-conservatism” a whole new meaning. This kind of “fiscal-conservatism” recognizes that sometimes there is a conflict between “morality” and “individual rights.” According to Paulian “fiscal-conservatism,” tax-payers are not obligated to participate (through their “tax dollars”) in things that “take the life of innocent human being[s],” or, “facilitate the taking of innocent life.”
So do the moral arguments slip in through the back door in “neo-fiscal-conservatism”, or is it the other way around? Certainly it’s impossible that “conservative morality” can or has ever guided the objects on which the government spends money.
If you’re prone to picking and choosing which kinds of things the U.S. spends money on based on moral considerations please keep reading because you should be more interested in U.S. international spending, including for foreign aid and defense. If not, I suggest you put down your copy of Machiavelli’s Prince and lock yourself in a closet until you’re too old and frail to bother others.
Take for instance that time when the U.S. “government [knowingly]…facilitat[ed] the taking of innocent life.”
The Insane Case of Hissène Habré
Unless you’re one of a few foreign affairs wonks, interested in African politics, or give a shit about international human rights abuses, you probably haven’t heard the name Hissène Habré. The former, infamous dictator of Chad, Habré is in international news again after 25 years of exile in Senegal, where he fled after being overthrown by the current Chadian President, Idriss Déby.
If you’re one of the many people who both tout “fiscal-conservatism” and couldn’t care less about international human rights abuses you’re probably asking yourself “what the fuck is a Chad and why should I give a shit?” You might be surprised to find out (or very pleased with yourself if you’re a Reagan-o-phile) that, in at least the “fiscal-conservatism” and “human rights”part of that sentence, you are much more like Ronald Reagan and the foreign policy team with which he surrounded himself over the course of his presidency–including at the top of the list his Secretary of State George Schultz, who also served as an adviser to George W. Bush, was known as a foreign policy mentor to Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, and Condi Rice and as the “father” of the “Bush Doctrine” of preventive war, and you guessed it, Mr. Hissène Habré, “our man in Africa“–than you might have thought before reading this entry.
The First of Two Evils
Throughout the 1980’s the Reagan administration committed to the Habré regime millions of tax-payers’ dollars per year in military aid and direct training of his secret police force, the Documentation and Security Directorate (DDS). Mr. Habré was a key figure in an effort, according to Reagan, to undermine an emerging strongman in a region of “strategic importance” to the “U.S.”, the “mad dog of the Middle East, [Muammar al-Qaddafi, who] ha[d] a goal of a world revolution” (Ronald Reagan, 1986). Of course, Libya became “strategically important,” only in 1959 after the discovery of significant oil reserves and subsequent transformation from one of the world’s poorest to most wealthy states.
But it wasn’t until 1969 when Qadaffi, then a 27 year old army officer, lead a coup d’état against King Idris and his pro-Western regime and quickly thereafter nationalized Libyan oil reserves and later dubbed Libya “Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya,” that it became a “security” interest to the U.S. A decade after Qadaffi took power the U.S. placed Libya on “state sponsor of terrorism” list in 1979 for its “support of anti-Western” militant groups. Interestingly enough, Libya’s terrorist activities didn’t become well documented until the 80’s, well after Libya was placed on the list and after the U.S. began intervening through Habré. Then and only then were terrorist attacks and anti-Western groups traced directly to Qadaffi’s Libya.
Now that we can see the U.S.’s “interest” in Libya we might still be justified in asking “what does Libya have to do with Chad”? Chad and Libya share a north/south border respectively. The border was subject to post-colonial disputes after Chad secured independence from France and Libya from Italy. The majority of Chadians along the northern border–the Aozou strip–identified as Libyans and the strip was known for its rich, natural resources, most notably uranium. Thus as well as having a material interest, Qadaffi believed he had a legitimate claim over the strip “defending Libyan-Muslims in Chad” in the same way we see Russia justifying its invasion of Crimea, Ukraine, pointing to the majority “Russian speaking population.”
Fueling the border disputes, in 1963 Chad’s first President, the Southern-Christian Ngarta Tombalbaye, placed in power during the French exit in 1960, banned all political parties except for his own Chadian Progressive Party (CPP). This was seen as a direct affront against the predominantly Muslim north and prompted violent resistance from armed groups, the most prominent of which was the Chadian National Liberation Front, or FROLINAT. On the verge of a full-on revolt in 1973, the French sent troops to the Aozou strip and squashed FROLINAT and other rebel groups. Despite the French victory, FROLINAT continued operating as an underground resistance group, relied on guerrilla warfare and terrorist attacks, and received weapons and money throughout the 70’s and 80’s from the oil-rich (rich from doing business with U.S. companies) Qadaffi.
Frequent skirmishes between the Qadaffi backed Muslim separatist groups and Chadian/French forces continued throughout the 70’s and 80’s as did dramatic on-again/off-again diplomatic relations with Qadaffi. After Qadaffi officially “annexed” the Aozou Strip in 1977 and after a couple of successful coups in ’75 and ’79 resulting in Goukouni Oueddei, a Muslim northerner, taking control of Chad, Qadaffi began direct military intervention. He sent Libyan troops to support Oueddei’s military campaign against the Army of the North, which was led by “our man in Africa,” Hissène Habré.
The Worst of Both Evils
The Senegalese courtroom where Hissène Habré appeared on July 20th, 2015, seemed to boil over with screams both from supporters and victims’ families. Habré is charged with upwards of 100 counts of crimes against humanity, war crimes, and torture. Over the course of his near decade long reign, Habré oversaw the torture and killing of upwards of 40,000 Chadians from 1982 until he was toppled in 1990 by the current president. And it all started when Ronald Reagan, his CIA director William Casey, and his 1st Secretary of State Alex Haig decided to carry out a covert war against Qadaffi, one of the first of many U.S. sponsored atrocities while conducting a “war on terror.”
By providing covert CIA paramilitary support to Habré’s militia, the U.S. was instrumental in Habré’s military successes leading up to his power grab on June 7, 1982 and the subsequent founding of Chad’s “Third Republic.” Working through the CIA’s station in Khartoum, the CIA sent supplies through other regional allies, until the money and weapons made it to Habré’s rebel camp near the Chad-Sudan border. The violence began almost immediately after he seized power, executing rival POWs, hunting and murdering political opponents, and imprisoning otherwise law-abiding Chadian citizens. While this attracted almost immediate attention from Amnesty International and other human rights groups worldwide, it was just the beginning of a long, well-funded relationship between Habré and the U.S.
When, If Ever, Can “Moral” and “Fiscal” Priorities Converge?
Forget what Paulian “fiscal-conservatism” might say about “morality” and the treatment of “enemy combatants,” or, in this case Habré’s “enemies.” Even if “enemy combatants” don’t deserve “fiscal-conservative” morality, what about someone like Sarah Ndona whose 2 month old baby didn’t survive after they were taken by the DDS and thrown in one of Habré’s most notorious prisons, La Piscine–an old concrete swimming pool converted prison. Or Guinette Ngarbaye, who, at 4 months pregnant, was asked to turn herself in to the DDS “because someone mentioned her name,” was forced to give birth with the aid of other inmates in La Piscine, and “slept on the concrete floor…[with] insects all over, crawling on the baby and on me.” Mind you, these are just two well-documented examples of the U.S. government “facilitating the [abuse] of innocent life.” Again, it is estimated that the Habré regime tortured and murdered 40,000 Chadians over the span of 8 years. This number does not include the 8,500 killed during the conflict, or “enemy combatants.”
Although it’s difficult to calculate how much the U.S. spent in Chad from 1982-1990 given the hidden expenses of salaried-man-power, direct weapons supplementation, and the covert nature of CIA operations, Foreign Policy Magazine reported that, in response to President Habré’s first military crisis in 1983, the Reagan administration approved 25 million dollars in “overt emergency aid,” as well as “30 Redeye man-portable surface-to-air missiles,” “American trainers sent to work with Habré’s troops,” “two AWACS surveillance planes,” “a contingent of F-15’s,” “a tanker aircraft,” and “600 U.S. support personnel.” And this was already yet only a year into an 8 year relationship between the Reagan administration and the dictator.
I don’t mean to be picking specifically on Rand Paul; most, if not all, of the GOP presidential candidates will participate in similar moralizing “fiscal-conservatism.” But Rand’s brand lends itself to this illustration in particular because his of his initial position of “anti-interventionism.” As The American Conservative has pointed out “the Republican foreign-policy has been Rand Paul versus everyone else…In the early stages of his own presidential campaign, however, Rand Paul has edged closer to the Republican foreign-policy consensus.” This means that Paulian “fiscal-conservatism” has actually self-denied its own campaign the opportunity to base spending cuts in international relations upon moral grounds, something that might prevent the U.S. “government [from] facilitat[ing] the taking of innocent life,” something of which his libertarian followers should be wary.