Are Non-Interventionists Delusional?

There is a perception out there that libertarians are naive at best and delusional at worst when it comes to foreign policy. They are labeled as isolationists and derided for wanting to withdraw from a relationship with the rest of the world. This is not a left or right issue. It is an establishment view that has been picked up by the masses. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would agree with it as wholeheartedly as right wing radio host Michael Savage.

In the 11/28/2011 issue of the Washington Times, establishment insider Frank Gaffney Jr. wrote an article that expresses this point of view very clearly. He utilizes the most popular arguments that sophisticated political types use to make a non interventionist foreign policy look like  a policy sure to bring about national suicide.

Unfortunately, his arguments are based on faulty history and a misunderstanding of what a non-interventionist policy entails. Analyzing his article paragraph by paragraph provides a fantastic exercise for those who would like to debunk theses popular ideas.

What is the libertarian, non-interventionist foreign policy that establishment types hate so bad anyways? To understand this we must go to the core of the libertarian philosophy. The libertarian credo is based on what’s called the non-aggression principle. It simply means that people can do whatever they want as long as they don’t interfere with other people’s right to do the same. This means that no aggressive violence is allowed. Each individual has a right to their property and they may do with it whatever they please as long as they respect the property rights of others. Violence may be used only in defending ones property or to punish violators of the non-aggression principle.

In the realm of government action, this principle means that the military and police force may only be used to defend a country from outside attacks or in retaliation to attacks carried out. The government may not deploy the military for missions of conquest, nor is it permitted to use force for the purposing of exporting political ideas and institutions. Lastly, the government may not use the military to fight wars on behalf of citizens who are being oppressed in other countries.

This last caveat is the hardest to swallow. If there is any justification to use the military, surely protecting innocents would be it. However, under a truly libertarian system, it would not be up to the government to fight proxy wars for the oppressed people of the world. Rather, it is up to each individual to either go and fight and die for the causes they believe in or to send monetary support as they see fit. It would be a violation of property rights to force a person to support a war financially if they are against the war. Even more so is it a violation of liberty to send a person to die against their will for a cause they don’t believe in.

Overthrowing governments, propping up dictators, supporting opposition parties, interfering with elections, and all other types of international geopolitical intrigue are actions that are strictly prohibited to the government under a libertarian system.

Finally, if foreign nations are at war, it is not the job of the government to protect the lives or property of individuals who decide to get involved with the combatants. If a businessman wants to put himself at risk by supplying foreign militaries with supplies and one of his ships gets attacked heading into the war zone, it is not the responsibility of his government to protect him. If citizens decide it is worth risking their lives to fight for a cause that it just, they must do so at their own peril. Using taxes to protect the businessman would amount to a subsidy and protecting citizens who decide to go fight in a war is tantamount to being in the war.

One other point must be made before analyzing Frank Gaffney Jr.’s article. The term “isolationist” is terribly misleading when applied to the libertarian foreign policy. If there is any school of thought that is expressly non-isolationist it is libertarianism. Libertarians are the foremost champions of free market economics. We call for removing all barriers that keep humans from interacting with each other. It is a philosophy that supports the highest level of mobility for human energy, capital and ideas. It calls for the abolition of all trade restrictions, the liberalisation of travel, and the flourishing of interpersonal relationships despite nationality, ethnicity, or creed. What libertarians condemn is violent action against foreigners, not business and personal relationships with them.

In his article Gaffney puts forth a number of sophisticated, albeit incorrect, arguments against non-interventionism.

His first attempt at making is case goes as follows,

After all, if history teaches us anything, it is that wars happen – as Ronald Reagan put it – not when America is too strong, but when we are too weak. In the run-up to World Wars I and II, we followed more or less the libertarians’ prescription, and disaster ensued. 

This is a solid point. It appeals to American pride and gives the reader the feeling that his in role in the world is that of the keeper of peace. We’re strong, but we’re fair. If it weren’t for us, the cretans that make up the rest of the world would be at each other’s throats non stop.  Its just too bad that the historical example he gives proves just the opposite.

In the run up to World War I, the American’s were not following a libertarian prescription at all. Many historians see the Spanish-American war of 1898 as a turning point in American history. This took place just 16 years before the start of WWI. The Americans kicked the Spaniards out of the Philippine islands and booted the Spanish from their possessions in the Caribbean as well. American soldiers were greeted as liberators, the world’s greatest champions of democracy and self-determination. Unfortunately for the islanders, the Americans had crossed the Rubicon into imperialism. They intended to stay.

Intellectuals had convinced policy makers that American capitalism needed new markets to expand in to. Asia was considered the best place for dumping cheaply manufactured American goods. In order to project power into that part of the world and open up markets, the American military set up bases in the Philippines. The locals revolted and were put down ruthlessly by American troops.  America was on the road to empire.

It is well known that Woodrow Wilson and his closest adviser Colonel House were raging anglophiles with close connections to JP Morgan business interests. Although WWI started out as a purely European conflict over which combination of powers would control the continent, Wilson was inclined to get involved from the very start. He was stymied by public opinion however. The vast majority of Americans saw the war for what it was: a bloody game of power politics that had nothing to do with Americans.

In spite of the headwinds against him, Wilson carried on a campaign to get America into the war. He signed agreements with the British to supply them with war material. He cried bloody murder when American ships were threatened by German subs but said not a peep when the same tactics were applied by the British military. Meanwhile, JP Morgan was selling bonds hand over fist in the United States in order to help the Allies finance their costly war.

It has been taught to generations of Americans that the Germans were nothing but Barbaric huns hell bent on bringing down civilization. The allies were noble heros trying to make the world safe for democracy. This, of course, is balderdash. The reality is that all of the countries involved were cynical to the max. Each was angling to enlarge their portion of the spoils and to smash their enemies.

When America finally did get into the war in 1917, they broke a stalemate. Had they not entered the war, the participants would have likely been forced to declare it a draw. Unfortunately America, against the public’s wishes, threw their weight behind the allies and brought the war to a lopsided conclusion. The allies were able to impose harsh consequences on the Germans.

It is common amongst historians to view World War 1 and World War 2 as two acts of the same war. With American power on the side of the Allies, the monstrous Treaty of Versailles was imposed on the German people. The German’s were forced to accept full responsibility for the war and were made financially responsible for all of its devastation. The treaty carved up Germany and distributed its most productive zones among the victors. When the German leaders refused to sign initially, the British blockaded their coast and starved a ghastly number German citizens to death. Finally, Germany gave in.

In the interwar period, the Germans suffered through years and years of unspeakable poverty. Without their productive centers they were unable to pay back the reparations imposed on them. The allies refused to renegotiate the settlement. France’s behavior was particularly repulsive. There were two hyper-inflationary episodes. The division of labor broke down and people starved and froze to death. Hitler rose to power in this environment and carried out his unspeakable atrocities.

During the lead up to World War 2, the United States government was not following a libertarian prescription in the slightest. As early as 1940, Roosevelt has already promised Churchill that he’d get the U.S. into the conflict. This occurred in spite of the fact that American opinion was once again dead set against getting into the war.

Even though the U.S. had not officially entered the war, it openly favored the British, French, Russian coalition by sending them armaments and war supplies. Stalin was the dictator in Russia at the time and he was every bit the monster that Hitler was.

While all of this was happening, the U.S. was also protecting its interests in China. The Japanese empire was violently expanding its footprint throughout Asia. The United States was a close ally of the populist Chinese government in power at the time. This brought the US and the Japanese into conflict. The US policy was to take a hard line with Japan which they carried out by imposing a crushing oil embargo on the island county. With no oil of their own and their scarce supply of petrol rapidly dwindling, the Japanese launched an attack on Pearl Harbor. This brought the U.S. officially into the war.

Needless to say, nothing that the US government did in the lead up to the World Wars could rightfully be called libertarian prescriptions. In fact, had libertarian policies been followed, we would have likely been spared the rise of Hitler and Stalin and could have avoided the cold war altogether. In distinct contradiction to Gaffney’s position, it was precisely American power that made things much worse than they would have been otherwise.

Gaffney continues,

By contrast, for more than six decades, the world has been spared another global conflagration because the U.S. military has been both formidable and forward-deployed. Do we really want to try our luck and once again indulge in a “come home America” posture?

There may not have been a full fledged world war during this time but there sure was a lot of death and destruction. The bulk of it was caused by the “formidable and forward-deployed” American military. The pointless, and undeclared Korea war followed right on the heals  of the Second World War. We fought against the communists  who not 6 years early were our allies against Hitler.

Around the same time, the British and the Americans overthrew a democratically elected Prime Minister in Iran. His name was Mohammed Mosedegh and he was sick of seeing his country exploited by foreign interests. He planned to nationalize Iranian oil and kick out the British. Before he could do this he was overthrown in a coup organized by western intelligence agencies. The brutal and despicable Shah was installed in his place. Iranians were terrorized by this western backed puppet for the next 28 years until the anti-American Iranian revolution finally took him down.

The war in Vietnam, a truly awful war that caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, was based on a lie. There is no question that this war was result of America’s “forward looking”, non-libertarian foreign policy.

Brutal dictators were installed and supported in country after country around the world. There may have been peace for America and its allies but not for those who suffered under the yolk of oppression saddled on them by American puppets.

A mostly forgotten war is the Iran-Iraq war that raged from 1980-1988. After the ayatollah overthrew the Shah in Iran in 1979, the Americans wanted revenge. Iraq’s dictator Saddam Hussein had something similar in mind. With Iran in turmoil, Saddam took the opportunity to invade. He was supplied with American arms, intelligence, and financing. The war raged on for 8 years and left one million people dead.

Let us not forget the 60 minutes interview in which Madeline Albright declares that the American sanctions which resulted in the death of 500,000 Iraqi children were “worth it”.

Truly, these examples just scratch the surface. I see no libertarian principals being applied here either; only lots of pointless death and violations of liberty.

Back to Gaffney. In his next paragraph he writes,

Now, in fairness, an argument could have been made (and was) in the aftermath of President Reagan’s successful use of all instruments of national power to defeat the Soviet Union in the Cold War that we were now without serious peers or adversaries. Even then, however, the unlikely durability of such an assessment made it a poor basis for U.S. disengagement from the world.

But no one in his right mind would mistake today’s strategic environment as one in which we are unchallenged – or even as one that is stable, let alone tranquil.

Indeed, virtually everywhere one turns, there are rising threats to our interests and security. The Chinese, Muslim Brothers and other Islamists, Russians, Latin American Chavistas, Iranians and North Koreans are among those who increasingly sense weakness on our part. They are responding as thugs everywhere do to such vacuums of power – by becoming more assertive, aggressive and dangerous. Ditto erstwhile “allies” such as Pakistan, Turkey and Egypt.

Many strident cold warriors such as Pat Buchanan, Chalmers Johnson, and Andrew Bacevich have made and continue to make the argument that without the Soviet Union, our whole defense apparatus makes no sense. Countless cold warriors became disillusioned after end of the cold war. When the troops weren’t brought home, and the empire wasn’t scaled back, they realized that cold war may have actually been a sham. It was a way for the Russian and American military-industrialists to grow fat on the back on regular hard working citizens.

Indeed, the troops remain. The American military has 700 bases in 130 countries. That this level of involvement is necessary, given the threats he mentions, is laughable.

Remember, the libertarian position on defense is that we are to defend ourselves against attacks and punish those who attack us. Does anybody really think we should fear military aggression from the Chinese, Muslim Brothers and other Islamists, Russians, Latin American Chavistas, Iranians and North Koreans? What about Pakistan, Turkey and Egypt?

The Chinese, for the first time in centuries, are seeing their standard of living rise. They are learning that peace and free market economic policies work. Even though China is still a communist country, the government’s control over the people is far from absolute. Unless bellicose policies by the Americans enrage the citizenry, it is highly unlikely that the Chinese people could ever be dragged into a military conflict with their largest trading partner.

Apparently the Muslim brothers are now considered a threat. Throughout their entire history they have been considered a moderate Egyptian politicial party. They’ve had the express long term strategy of winning seats in the government through democratic elections. They live in one of the poorest countries in the world and depend on American aid in order to keep from starving to death. We need bases all over the world to protect ourselves against these guys?

Islamists used to be our allies. They were considered a bulwark against communism and were presented to the American people as freedom fighters. When Russia invaded Afghanistan in 1979, the United States supported the Mujaheddin with arms, intelligence, and financing. Osama bin Laden was a close ally. What happened?

Islam has been around for roughly 1400 years. Is it possible that the whole religion changed out of the blue some 30 or 35 years ago for no discernible reason? The first ever recorded suicide terrorist attack carried out by a Muslim occurred in 1980 in Lebanon. It was carried out by Hezbollah in retaliation to the joint U.S.-Israeli invasion of that country. As soon as those forces left Lebanon, the suicide attacks ceased.

Indeed, the statistics paint an illuminating picture. Suicide terrorism only occurs in territories that have been invaded by foreigners. No group has launched more suicide terrorism attacks than the Marxist Tamil tigers who view themselves as having been invaded and occupied by Sri Lanka.

The pertinent question, then, is obvious. Have the Americans invaded and occupied Islamic countries? You bet.

The modern Islamist movement took a strong turn for the worse after the first Gulf war.

Saddam Hussein was a raging egomaniac. He felt insulted by something a Kuwaiti politician said about him and used the insult as a casus belli for a war with Kuwait. His intention was to seize Kuwaiti oil fields and recreate what he called greater Iraq. There was some really weird stuff going on behind the scenes though. Saddam was widely and correctly viewed as an American puppet. Osama bin laden was prepared to wage a holy war against Saddam to keep him out of Kuwait. In bin Laden’s eyes, Saddam was an infidel and a stooge. However, before that could happen, the Americans decided invade Iraq and stop Saddam in his tracks.

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