Archive for October, 2011

On Not Dropping Bombs in Places We Don’t Understand

Posted on October 29, 2011 at 7.41 pm

Q.  I’ve just recently stumbled onto your blog, and though I’ve considered myself a libertarian for many years, after reading your positions on foreign policy I must admit I’m not quite there….How do you reconcile the very virtuous and very practical philosophy of limited meddling and lessened militarism with what I cannot help but think is — in many cases — an also virtuous and also practical involvement?  Inefficacy aside (and I wholly wish we were able to do better, more, and faster) can we really, in good conscience, turn tail on southeast Asia? Can we really bail on the good guys in the Middle East?  Pragmatically, can we get out of what have really become our global obligations — without making things worse?  Thank you ahead of time.  I’ve very much enjoyed your take on the state of things, your quality of thought, and exceptional writing. — John, from the internet.

A. This is a fairly common objection I hear to the libertarian philosophy, especially from those coming from a hawkish background on the right or a strongly humanitarian background on the left.  They’ll be with me until I get to foreign policy, and then it’s something along these lines:  “Noninterventionism definitely has some good points on paper, but it won’t work in the real world, where we have diverse national interests to protect and a moral obligation to defend those under attack.”

As you put it very well, American military involvement in the internal affairs of other countries can often look like a noble — even necessary — goal.

I’d argue that a closer look reveals it is neither.  Three points:

1. How do you reconcile the very virtuous and very practical philosophy of limited meddling and lessened militarism with what I cannot help but think is — in many cases — an also virtuous and also practical involvement?  Well, I begin with the acknowledgement that I am not omniscient and the government definitely isn’t either.  Also, neither of us can see into the future.

This may sound like I’m trivializing the question, but it’s actually very important:  We never know all the factors involved in a military intervention, which makes it difficult if not impossible to know if our involvement is virtuous or practical.

Take our history in Afghanistan as an example.  During the rise of the brutal Taliban regime in 1996, the New York Times reported, “the Taliban emerged from the chaos of a war between American proxy warriors and Soviet troops, and is still supported by the arms network of American allies created to challenge Soviet power.”  Of course, less than a decade later the US government once again got involved in Afghanistan to remove the very same Taliban, and we’re still there today.  In the middle of the Cold War, intervening in Afghanistan against the Soviets seemed like the obviously right choice:  It would allow self-determination, halt the march of communism, and keep the Evil Empire in check.  Now?  Maybe not so much.

Unfortunately, lessons like this are easily forgotten.  With each drumbeat marching us into a new war, we quickly forget questions which steadier heads might ask about the motives of those calling for war, the clarity with which we’ve identified the good guys (if there are any), or the likelihood our involvement will even help.  Dropping bombs into messy situations we very clearly do not understand will never be virtuous or practical, no matter how much we wish it might be.

2. “Inefficacy aside…”  Perhaps unfortunately, inefficacy can never be an aside when lives are at stake.  After all, isn’t saving lives what might impart some virtue to interventionism?  Moreover, even in good economic times, the United States do not have unlimited resources to waste on failed interventions.


While I’ve been blog-slacking…

Posted on October 24, 2011 at 1.24 pm

These things have happened:

One of These Things Is Not Like the Others

Posted on October 5, 2011 at 8.44 am

Q. Hello Bonnie. Regarding the likelihood of Ron Paul gaining the GOP nomination, you have said ” it’s almost certain he will not be the nominee” (2/25/10), “the Republican Party would never give him the nomination” (1/8/11) & most recently, “he isn’t too likely to get the nomination” (10/2/11) — why is this? Thanks in advance! — Trevor, from tumblr.

A.Well, have you noticed the sorts of people the GOP has selected to run for president in the past few cycles?  Or have you taken a look at the rest of the Republican field both this time, and in 2008 — or heck, in 2000? McCain, Guiliani, Thompson, Santorum, Brownback, Pawlenty, Romney, Huckabee.

Though we do have Gary Johnson giving a similar message to Ron Paul this time (and being completely ignored as a result), by and large Dr. Paul sticks out like a sore thumb.  The message he’s offering really is different from the current mainstream of the Republican Party.  I mean, there’s a reason why he’s probably the only top tier candidate who would put Dennis Kucinich in his cabinet — let alone hold a civil conversation with him.

On foreign policy (especially in a moral and legal sense), on civil liberties, and on a number of significant social issues, Ron Paul simply does not toe the party line.  On fiscal and monetary policy, he toes it way too much, and I suspect other Republicans resent him for making them look much less conservative by comparison.

That’s not to say, however, that Ron Paul and his ideas aren’t making strong inroads into the GOP.  Though I’d suggest that most of the changes are more in rhetoric than action at this point, and that some of it can be attributed to simple partisanship — i.e. what was ok with Bush is anathema under Obama, his message of a humble foreign policy (if only for fiscal reasons) and the importance of civil liberties (if only in regards to the TSA) and the indivisibility of freedom (if only among young Republicans who’d like to try pot) is slowly getting through.  Depending on the outcome of this election, I am optimistic that it could continue to make progress, albeit probably with a different messenger.  I think there’s still a long way to go, however — too far to go between now and February 2012, by which point most primaries will be decided.

The other major factor is that Ron Paul does not have huge corporate interests backing him.  He’s legitimately a grassroots candidate, funding his campaign on many small donations from individual citizens.  But the reason he doesn’t have backing is also a big reason I don’t think the GOP will nominate him:  He’s a threat.

Have you heard the kind of cuts he’d make to the military-industrial complex, for instance?  Statements like that don’t make the wealthy owners and shareholders of that complex terrifically happy.  I can assure you that they, and other powerful corporate and political interests who would lose in the event of a Ron Paul victory, are not sitting this election out.