Posts Tagged ‘Noninterventionism’

Going “abroad in search of monsters to destroy” is making more monsters

Posted on August 11, 2014 at 10.26 am

America is constantly abroad, constantly seeking monsters to destroy—monsters which, like the hydra of mythology or Marvel, only seem to multiply as we launch war after endless war.

As much as we may want to say, “America is coming to help,” it’s never that clear-cut, and innocent civilians too often pay the price.

As ISIS commits atrocity after atrocity, it is easy to wonder if this tragedy might have been prevented had the 2003 invasion of Iraq never occurred—if we’d listen to the wisdom of Founding Fathers like Adams…and Washington, and Franklin, and Jefferson, and Madison, and more.

Adams’ explanation of the dangers of foreign intervention is now writ large in the violence in Iraq and the suppression of civil liberties in the name of fighting terrorism here at home:

[America] well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself, beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom.

The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force. The frontlet upon her brows would no longer beam with the ineffable splendor of freedom and independence; but in its stead would soon be substituted an imperial diadem, flashing in false and tarnished lustre the murky radiance of dominion and power.

She might become the dictatress of the world: she would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit.

For more than a decade, bipartisan U.S. foreign policy has been marked by fighting for causes that are not our own—and mired “beyond the power of extrication” in the inevitable mess which ensues.

The basic posture of our government toward our citizens has changed from liberty to force, as anyone with knowledge of the National Security Agency alone well knows.

And rather than standing as a beacon of hope and liberty for the world, American foreign policy has too often become one of failed and bloody micromanagement, a bull in the china shop that is the Middle East.

I don’t know how to “fix” Iraq. But I do know that what we’re doing—what we’ve been doing for more than decade now—isn’t working.

Maybe we could start over with the advice of John Quincy Adams, and once again make our motto “Freedom, Independence, Peace.”

Read the whole thing here.

War is just one more big government program

Posted on July 7, 2014 at 2.16 pm

My latest at Rare makes a fiscal case for cutting back the warfare state:

Consider the following:

  • What if I told you there’s a government program which will cost taxpayers more than Obamacare will over the next ten years?
  • What if that program was just one function of a sprawling government agency which has not been audited in two decades?
  • What if that agency was the third-largest contributor to our $17 trillion national debt, which breaks down to $55,000 per citizen?

What if the same agency wasted tens of billions of dollars annually on projects and goods unrelated to its mission? (Like a study on “whether men holding pistols are viewed as taller, stronger and more masculine than those wielding objects such as saws, paint brushes and caulking guns.” Or “a conference that included a session titled ‘Did Jesus Die for Klingons too?’” Or “research on what the behavior of fish can teach us about democracy.”)

  • What if it also regularly paid hundreds of times the market value for commonplace items?
  • And squandered billions more on outdated equipment which just doesn’t work?
  • And prioritized cuts in vital programs rather than big-budget flops?
  • And lost hundreds of millions to waste and corruption in foreign programs?
  • And destroyed valuable equipment rather than repurposing it?
  • And blew big bucks on cross-promotions with superhero movies?
  • And gave high-dollar contracts to companies known to engage in fraud—contracts totaling more than $1 trillion in the last ten years?
  • And built buildings which will never be occupied?
  • And reported to Congress that it simply couldn’t account for $1 trillion (yes, trillion) it had spent?
  • And yet it still plans to spend the equivalent of the entire GDP of Sweden on a single purchase over the course of the next fifteen years?

What if this agency regularly and intentionally doctored the books to hide these wasteful practices from taxpayers?

For any fiscal conservative, the conclusion must be that this incredibly wasteful, deceptive, and nonproductive government agency is seriously overdue for audits, possibly criminal charges, and huge—massive—ginormous spending cuts. Right?


That program was the War in Iraq. That agency is the Department of Defense. That spending is war spending. And the DoD does indeed waste absurd amounts of money on unrelated projectsgaloreincredibly overpriced purchasesobsolete weaponrypoor prioritizationnation-building projectsdestroying equipmentpromoting the recent Superman flickfraudulent contractorsempty buildingsunaccountable spending, and planes that cost as much as Sweden’s GDP. The DoD has been caught doctoring the books on a grand scale.

Yes, war really is just one more big government program: It’s costly. It’s wasteful. It’s poorly managed and rife with incompetence and fraud.

Read the whole thing here.

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.