Posts Tagged ‘Noninterventionism’
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.
Posted on July 19, 2011 at 11.48 am
During the 2008 primaries, Ron Paul led the field in donations from military personnel, apparently striking a chord with his boldly noninterventionist and peaceful foreign policy.
Now, he’s duplicating this success, according to the latest financial statements from presidential campaigns. Here are the raw numbers:
- Paul — $36,739.79
- Obama — $28,833.99
- Cain — $6,223
- Romney — $5,000
- Bachmann — $2,550
- Newt — $1,025
- Pawnlety — $250
- Santorum — $250
- Johnson — $0
Click here for an explanation of the methodology used arrive at these figures, as well as relevant portions of the campaign finance reports to check the math yourself.
Posted on March 21, 2011 at 10.56 pm
On the eighth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq to oust Saddam Hussein under intentionally false charges of possession of weapons of mass destruction, the American empire struck again, this time in Libya. Though it strikes me as self-evident that this was a foolhardy and wrong-headed plan, apparently my impression is not universally shared.
Here, then, in no particular order, are ten reasons why the US should leave Libya immediately. (For those who don’t think we’re actually in Libya — as opposed to over it — read this.)
1. It’s none of our business. Libya did not attack us and posed no threat to American safety or sovereignty. There’s simply no other way to put it: What goes on in Libya is none of our damn business. If you, as a civilian are (admirably!) sympathetic to the Libyan cause, make like Ernest Hemingway and George Orwell did in the Spanish Civil War and actually go join them. What’s that? A plane ticket is too pricey? Oh, I see. That brings me to my next point:
2. We can’t afford it. The US national debt is at $14 trillion and counting, poised to overtake our GDP within the year — perhaps sooner. That’s more than $45,000 per U.S. citizen and nearly $130,000 per taxpayer. This debt has increased more in the last 10 years than the first two centuries of our history combined. Worse yet, when you include all of the government’s unfunded liabilities (chiefly Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid Part D), the fedgov’s obligations top $113 trillion. Our government is, quite simply, broke, and the costs of the Libyan intervention are already piling up. The going rate of invasion is apparently about $10,000 per hour, and as of today, March 21, the invasion “has already cost U.S. taxpayers ‘well over $100 million.‘”
3. It’s illegal. And by illegal I mean the big one: unconstitutional, any way you shake it. Though our government has handily chosen to ignore this provision for more than half a century, the Constitution is pretty clear in its requirement that Congress retain the power to declare war. As Mr. Obama put it before he actually got his hands on the war button, the “President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.” (It would have been nice if some of the congressional opposition to this invasion on constitutional grounds had come a couple wars ago, but I suppose we’ll have to take what we can get.)
4. The Libyan rebels don’t want our help. At this point you’ve likely seen this picture floating around:
Those sentiments seem to be fairly common in Libya, where those rising up against their dictator have repeatedly made clear their desire to go it alone. For instance, take a look at what these guys have to say. “The entire population is insisting against US intervention,” says one man, “or any involvement of foreign powers within Libya.”
In another report from the Associated Press, Ali Zeidan, an envoy for the Libyan National Transitional Council, said he believes “‘we are able to deal with Gaddafi’s forces by ourselves’ as long as it’s a fair fight.” Interestingly, he also said that the rebels do not wish to kill their dictator, which seems a possible outcome of foreign intervention if Saddam Hussein’s fate is any indication: “We don’t like to kill anybody…even Gaddafi himself.” How can we claim to respect rights to self-determination and representative government if we’re ignoring this most basic request?
6. As Libyans and others in the broader Arab and African communities object to foreign intervention, terrorists are surely rubbing their hands with glee. Why? Well, because we just made their recruiting job a whole lot easier. Let’s review the concept of blowback, a term developed by the CIA:
Blowback is the espionage term for the violent, unintended consequences of a covert operation that are suffered by the civil population of the aggressor government…. Generally, blowback loosely denotes every consequence of every aspect of a secret attack operation, thus, it is synonymous with consequence—the attacked victims’ revenge against the civil populace of the aggressor country, because the responsible politico-military leaders are invulnerable.
For a concrete example of blowback, let’s turn to a recent report of nine Afghan boys who were mowed down by a NATO helicopter while collecting firewood. The American military issued an apology, of course, but apologies don’t always make up for mass murders:
“I don’t care about the apology,” Mohammed Bismil, the 20-year-old brother of two boys killed in the strike, said in a telephone interview. “The only option I have is to pick up a Kalashnikov, RPG [rocket-propelled grenade] or a suicide vest to fight.”
That, my friends, is blowback. That helicopter attack directly created a brand new terrorist. And there’s no way our little $10,000/hour jaunt in Libya won’t do the same. For more on blowback, look under Paul, Ron.
7. The American public actually agrees with Libya, the AU, and the Arab League on this one. While previous interventions were met with stronger American support, now it seems the American public may finally be starting to tire of endless, aimless war. These numbers don’t indicate a unanimous switch to a noninterventionist foreign policy, of course, but they’re a good start:
8. We’ve done enough already. “But we’re only getting started!” you cry. I wish that were true. From the early 1990s to early 2000s, the American government imposed economic sanctions on the country, which “crippled the economy” without toppling the dictator. Alas, such is typically the story with sanctions imposed on nations already suffering from awful governments: The government keeps on being awful, which means it passes the negative effects of the sanctions on to the citizens and to them alone: “As we have learned with US sanctions on Iraq, and indeed with US sanctions on Cuba and elsewhere, it is citizens rather than governments who suffer most.” Perhaps without a decade of the cold shoulder from the economic powerhouse of the world, Libyans could have risen up against their government years earlier.
Interestingly, since 2006 the American government has resumed full diplomatic relations with Libya. Maybe we decided they weren’t so bad after all. Or maybe dictators create stability, and stability fosters low prices, and Libya has the largest oil reserves in Africa, most of which remain untapped to date.
9. This goes against our founders’ vision for American foreign policy. Let me simply provide a few telling quotes:
“Peace, commerce and honest friendship with all nations; entangling alliances with none.” — Thomas Jefferson
“America does not go abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.” — John Quincy Adams
“No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.” — James Madison
“The constitution vests the power of declaring war in Congress; therefore no offensive expedition of importance can be undertaken until after they shall have deliberated upon the subject and authorized such a measure.” — George Washington
“All wars are follies, very expensive and very mischievous ones.” — Benjamin Franklin
Need I continue?
10. The likely loss of civilian life. As with other invasions, our government is attempting to cast this attack in the form of a mission of mercy. It is not and will not be any such thing if recent history in our numerous other Middle Eastern engagements are any indication. Excess Iraqi deaths as a result of the Iraq War are estimated by reputable medical studies to be as high as 600,000+.
Meanwhile, the Obama Administration has increased the acceptable ratio of dead civilians:dead terrorists from an already ghastly 29:1 to a horrifying 50:1. 50 to 1! And sometimes we don’t even know who is and isn’t a terrorist. I find it hard to believe that the bombings in Libya will not take their own devastating toll on the Libyan civilian population.
And there you have it: 10 reasons we should get out of Libya now.
Anyone still want to stay?