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Mark O'Brien

Krauthammer makes much of the difference between 'pathetic' neo-Nazis, and the real threats like Jihadists. But what is to stop some government in the future deciding that another group of people constituted a threat as serious as the Jihadists. The Weimar constitution gave, in Article 48, emergency powers to the President of the Republic to rule Germany without consulting the Reichstag. When Adolf Hitler came to power, the abstract nature of these extraordinary powers in the hands of one man became real, and it was one mechanism inside the existing political framework that he was a part of that allowed him to become a dictator and plunge Germany into terror, and eventually bring Europe and the world to the brink of destruction.

We should never say that Britain will never become a Nazi dictatorship. We should never assume that we in Britain are too sensible, too moderate and too independent as individuals to put our faith in one dictator. But if we did, and the British Adolf Hitler had extaordinary powers at his fingertips to punish certain groups because of their political or religious beliefs, isn't it possible that he would use them for ignoble purposes?

Of course, we should restrict the civil liberties of those who commit terrorist atrocities, and even those who are known to be actively planning them. And at the same time we should preserve and promote the civil liberties of the innocent, law-abiding millions who are placed under threat by terrorist thugs. Let nobody be in any doubt: I am not soft on terrorists. If this were easy and straightforward to deal with, I'd lock up every radical cleric and half-brained Jihadist I can find.

But any policy-maker must find the right balance: protecting the civil liberties of the law-abiding masses, punishing those actively plotting terrorist attacks, and ensuring that British governments do not become powerful enough to punish citizens for their beliefs.

For me, that means ID cards and anything which damages the freedoms of the masses are still out. It means the judiciary should have the power to prosecute terrorists, and not politicians and bureaucrats in the Home Office. It may mean a more independent judiciary, with a more rigid separation of powers between the different branches of government. And it means we have to have a security service which carries out more effective techniques to hunt down those planning terrorist attacks.

The right balance between the three points above is what it would take for me to accept any legislation designed with the noble purpose of protecting us from terror.

Selsdon Man

I wonder how many generations of "Krauthammers" there have been. I'd love to see him hand over his passport at Berlin airport!

Krauthammer is one of leading and most authoritarian neo-conservatives. Situational libertarianism? - don't make me laugh! Krauthammer has not got a libertarian bone in his body.

We are in this mess because the neo-cons and their allies in the Bush administration lied about the WMD threat - the Rovegate/Niger scandal is a typical example.

The Islamist terrorist threat is due to Blair taking us into an illegal war based upon these lies and distortions in the dodgy dossier.

Why should we give up our civil liberties now? We did not need to when the IRA was bombing.

Blair is merely following the authoritarian example of neo-con policies of the Bush administration such as grotesquely named PATRIOT Act.

Remember that Rove and his cronies hate Michael Howard because he criticised Blair.

Michael McGowan

Perhaps people should read what Krauthammer actually says rather than taking refuge in mud-slinging.

Mark O'Brien

I did and I was worried by the power this kind of approach would give to evermore powerful Cabinet ministers.

Seldon Man

I have been reading Krauthammer's articles on for the last few years. He is a big government, imperialist authoritarian. The Reaganites have no time for him or other neo-cons like Bill Kristol.

Selsdon Man

I have just re-read the Krauthammer and it does not get any better. Situational liberarianism is Orwellian double-speak - just like the PATRIOT Act.


For better or worse, "situational libertarianism" is what democratic governments do in wartime (and many other) situations. To give but a few of many examples, the Liberal governments in the UK and the US interned enemy aliens in 1914 and 1941, and Lincoln suspended habeas corpus during the Civil War. I'm not taking sides on whether the practice is good, but merely pointing out that this is what democratic (and non-democratic) governments, right wing and left wing, do. Krauthammer is merely recognizing, and articulating a philosophical basis for justifying, what in practice goes on all the time.

Mark O'Brien

That's a fair point Bruce, but by any legal standards, we are not at war right now. We have declared a war on terror, but that is largely nothing more than a rhetorical fantasy, as it is not a war that has any set aim, nor a war that can be recognised as having the hallmarks of a war like the First or Second World Wars. I'm not denying that the terrorist threat is a serious one, because it certainly is. And I know that nowadays the usually thick black borderline between war and peace is very blurred. But by any legal and political standards, we are presently in peacetime here in the United Kingdom. And if governments can adopt this kind of authoritarian attitude during what is legally peacetime, there could be an almighty disaster of our own making ahead of us.

James Hellyer

I think there's a fundamental difference between Emergency Powers legislation that's passed in wartime, and allowing any government any time to have de facto power to imprison its citizens as it sees fit.

The former is a response to a claer and present danger, and is linked to a specific and non-open ended crisis, the latter simply invites abuse.


The first Iraq War ended in 1991 with an armistice, not a peace treaty. As we all know, Iraq promptly violated the terms of that armistice, voiding its terms. Thus, legally, the Coalition (and the UK) is and has been in a state of war with Iraq since then. Add to this the government actions regarding the War on Terror and the current conflicts in Afganistan and Iraq. Add in also the attacks on Britain by the terrorsts, attacks that are regarded by most people, and announced by the terrorists as, an act of war. This all tends to refute the claim that "by any legal and political standards, we are presently at peacetime".

Mark O'Brien

The first Gulf War ended because the primary purpose of that war was fulfilled: getting Iraq out of Kuwait. I accept that terrorists are carrying out what they consider acts of war, but as terrorist groups are not nation states, doesn't that legally mean that they can't declare war? I'm either being pedantic or I'm wrong, but not both. The problem with my argument is that I'm devaluing the significance of terrorist activity. Terrorists do pose a threat and they are a bigger present - if not potential - problem than any individual nation. But I am not convinced that either we can win the war or keep the peace in this country if we fail to strike that balance I have spoken of above: protecting the liberties of the masses, punishing the terrorists, and preventing the emergence of an over-powerful State which is capable of punishing people for their beliefs.

Dave J

"The first Gulf War ended because the primary purpose of that war was fulfilled: getting Iraq out of Kuwait."

No, it did not. It never legally ended, and will not do so until there is a peace treaty between Iraq and the other belligerents. As was stated before, a ceasefire was reached, but between 1991 and 2002, Iraq violated and therefore voided it hundreds of times. Forget about WMD's: each and every time Iraqi antiaircraft radar locked onto a US or British plane patrolling one of the no-fly zones constituted an overt act of war.

" terrorist groups are not nation states, doesn't that legally mean that they can't declare war?"

Terrorist groups are most analagous to pirates, recognized since Roman times as stateless actors at war with the entire world.

James Hellyer

I don't think the first Gulf War was not a war. No declaration of war was issues by any of the participating nations. Indeed, I believe neither Britain or the US has declared war on another nation since WWII. That's why euphemisms like "police action" have often been used instead.

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