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Hear the Lament of a Libertarian on Foreign Policy

When it comes to foreign policy, I’m all alone. On the one hand, I tend to be less eager than most to invade or enter other countries (be they Libya, Mali, Iraq or Syria) to achieve our foreign policy aims. On the other, I am less meek than many of my libertarian compatriots. I’m all for bombing the ever-living snot out of countries that attack us (hello Afghanistan post-9/11).

Why is it, then, that all foreign policy arguments are so extreme? I’m exaggerating, but it seems as if my options ar…

  1. DrewInWisconsin

    But now that Democrats and Republicans are cheering on the droning of American citizens . . .

    Huh. That’s not the sense I’m getting. Over on another message board I frequent, concern about the Obama administration’s drone war and the assassination memo that was discussed yesterday is one of the few points of bipartisanship. Nobody on either side likes it.

  2. RedRules

    This is exactly why I can’ t fully commit to the Libertarian party. I think their stance on foreign policy shows an unwillingness to confront the world as it currently is: a place where really bad people do really bad things. America’s stance on liberty should not stop at our borders, and not every threat to our liberty comes from within.

    But then, Obama has another 4 years to try and make that happen.

  3. Tom Meyer, Ed.
    C
    Mollie Hemingway, Ed.

    Any advice?

    Keep witnessing.  There aren’t many of us, but there are (slightly) more than a few, and very few speaking in public.

  4. The King Prawn

    Violence is neither never the solution nor always the solution. Those who would make it so binary will frequently be wrong.

  5. Barkha Herman

    Why is it that we must think the worst of people on our side?

    All the feminists forgave Clinton for his cigar escapades with Monica.   Apparently, he is the father of the year.   Is Ron Paul anti-semetic?  Is it possible that his thoughts have evolved?  If a KKK Grand Master (or whatever he was) can be a respected Senator, then why can Ron Paul’s anti semetic writings be like those of Chuck Hagels?  We all forgiving him, aren’t we?

    And what IS wrong with the statement that those who live by the sword may die by it?  Insensitive?  Yes. Reason to write him off?  Don’t throw away the baby with the bath water.

    We are human aren’t we?  You are Christian aren’t you?  What of forgiveness?

    Why to we have to tear ours down instead of standing by them and building them up?

  6. Barkha Herman
    RedRules: This is exactly why I can’ t fully commit to the Libertarian party. I think their stance on foreign policy shows an unwillingness to confront the world as it currently is: a place where really bad people do really bad things. America’s stance on liberty should not stop at our borders, and not every threat to our liberty comes from within.

    But then, Obama has another 4 years to try and make that happen. · 6 minutes ago

    So, are you looking for a cookie-cutter party that meets with your expectations 100%?

    Does the Republican party?

    Does the Democrat Party – for all the registered Democrats?

    Don’t get em wrong, I am a registered independent   However, I don’t support candidates based on 100% compatibility.  I find the most compatible, generally.

  7. Mollie Hemingway
    C
    The King Prawn: Violence is neither never the solution nor always the solution. Those who would make it so binary will frequently be wrong. · 3 minutes ago

    In my old neighborhood, a popular sign in yards was “War is not the answer.” And I used to come up with questions where the answer would be “war.” Such as, “What is a three-letter word for a period of armed hostility or active military operations?” My neighbors didn’t find it as amusing as I did.

  8. Mollie Hemingway
    C
    Barkha Herman: Why is it that we must think the worst of people on our side?

    All the feminists forgave Clinton for his cigar escapades with Monica.   Apparently, he is the father of the year.   Is Ron Paul anti-semetic?  Is it possible that his thoughts have evolved?  If a KKK Grand Master (or whatever he was) can be a respected Senator, then why can Ron Paul’s anti semetic writings be like those of Chuck Hagels?  We all forgiving him, aren’t we?

    And what IS wrong with the statement that those who live by the sword may die by it?  Insensitive?  Yes. Reason to write him off?  Don’t throw away the baby with the bath water.

    We are human aren’t we?  You are Christian aren’t you?  What of forgiveness?

    Why to we have to tear ours down instead of standing by them and building them up? · 3 minutes ago

    It’s not forgiving or helpful to ignore these problems in our discourse. It is helpful, I hope, to have an open discussion about same.

  9. Mollie Hemingway
    C
    Barkha Herman

    RedRules: This is exactly why I can’ t fully commit to the Libertarian party. I think their stance on foreign policy shows an unwillingness to confront the world as it currently is: a place where really bad people do really bad things. America’s stance on liberty should not stop at our borders, and not every threat to our liberty comes from within.

    But then, Obama has another 4 years to try and make that happen. · 6 minutes ago

    So, are you looking for a cookie-cutter party that meets with your expectations 100%?

    Does the Republican party?

    Does the Democrat Party – for all the registered Democrats?

    Don’t get em wrong, I am a registered independent   However, I don’t support candidates based on 100% compatibility.  I find the most compatible, generally. · 3 minutes ago

    This isn’t about party (and the capital L in the headline is just for style, not to mean the party). This is about the streams of thought in our current foreign policy discussion. I find them too extreme and limiting, regardless of their party of origin.

  10. Pilli

    In engineering and in computer programming, when a problem is identified, a “root cause” analysis is performed.  There is an attempt to find the single underlying cause of the problem so it can be fixed.  Programmers in particular have a difficult time with this. They are inclined to write more code that “patches” the problem and fixes the symptom without actually fixing the underlying problem.

    All this is to say that the countries Mollie mentioned she would rather the U.S. stay out of (be they Libya, Mali, Iraq or Syria) are not the “root cause” of the problem.  Two countries, Russia and China, are supporting or backing the trouble spots in the world and not just in the Middle East.  But the U.S. tries to “patch” the problem by directing efforts at the symptomatic countries.

    Our foreign policy should be to nullify the effects of Russia and China directly.  How is the meaningful question.

  11. Palaeologus

    Why aren’t there more middle-ground perspectives out there to help us navigate the very real threats of Islamist terrorism (or other bad guys who want to do us harm) without excess time, money and blood spent in other countries?

    Because only the hardcore types can be bothered to care.

    That is an exaggeration and probably a bit too cynical, but I think there’s something to it.

  12. Lee

    Thank you, Mollie. You’ve got it exactly right and you’re not alone in wondering why you can’t seem to find a decent middle ground on the subject. I consider myself a libertarian in all but foreign policy and that’s the deal-breaker when it comes to who sits in the Oval Office.

    As for Ron Paul, I neither know nor care if he is antisemitic.  What I do know is that he is a hate filled vicious little troll of a man who is more interested in self-aggrandizement than acting as a viable steward of the good causes he espouses. He served a purpose as a congressman but as CIC? Forget it. Ron Paul consistently sides with America’s enemies when it comes to foreign policy—that’s not a difference of opinion, it’s a different worldview—and none of his fiscal restraint or small government advocacy excuses it.

    Out of curiosity, does anyone know if Justin Amash was similarly offended on all the occasions when Ahmadinejad refers to Jews as the sons of apes and pigs? I must have missed that cutting tweet.

  13. Fred Cole
    Mollie Hemingway, Ed.

    This is about the streams of thought in our current foreign policy discussion. I find them too extreme and limiting, regardless of their party of origin. · 9 minutes ago

    Mollie, there’s only one allowed stream of thought about foreign policy: Interventionism Now, Interventionism Tomorrow, Interventionism Forever.  It is the mantra of Democrats and Republicans.

    That’s the only permissible stream.  Anything less than is some brand of isolationism and is not to be tolerated.  Express skepticism about unlimited war, unlimited intervention, unlimited drones and unlimited military spending and you’re an isolationist.

    I’m not a perfectionist.  I’d be happy to vote for someone who at least expresses skepticism about the one stream.

    In reality, even if Ron Paul were elected president, he could only do so much.  There’s a limit to the actions a president can take.  You get choices within a narrow set of options.  So you can have an anti-war, even anti-military president, and there’d only be so much he could do.

  14. Fricosis Guy

    Mollie, half of the problem is that so many feel that they can self-identify as libertarians.  The Bill Maher types are infamous for being “libertarian” on social issues but statist on economic issues.

    The other half of the problem is that there is no good answer for our foreign policy dilemna. We have a sort-of empire — based on an evolution of the Westphalian system – that we don’t admit we have and don’t know how to run.  I’ve read “The Use of Knowledge in Society” one too many times to believe that we’ll be able to manipulate our foreign policy very usefully.

    Perhaps that’s where a truly libertarian or Austrian critique of an emergent world order would have the most value: warning us against the folly of expecting too much from our interventions OR expecting that withdrawal would insulate us from the world around us.

  15. PJ

    I think the John Derbyshire, “rubble doesn’t make trouble” types are basically with you, Mollie.

  16. Paul A. Rahe
    C

    Libertarianism has this in common with Marxism: a tendency to turn into an all-encompassing ideology with a single answer to every question.

    In the economic sphere, I think that the libertarians have much of value to teach us. In foreign affairs, they have a propensity for a utopianism as dangerous as the Wilsonian delusion. Old Woodrow thought that we could fight a war to end all wars, and the extreme libertarians think that spontaneous order will break out in the international arena if we simply withdraw. Both positions are lunatic.

    The real difficulty is that, in foreign affairs, there is no substitute for prudence. No doctrine can determine what we should do in a particular case. Only a careful weighing of our options and a consideration of what is at stake for us in the long run can decide. Should we try to shape the international environment in which we live? Of course, we should. How should we go about it? That is a matter for prudence, which examines each case on its merits.

  17. Semper Conquirentes

    Amen Mollie!

    I’ve been frustrated by this for several years now.  I believe there is a middle ground between the “Bring home American troops from foreign bases and stations” crowd and the “We must intervene everywhere and spread democracy” crowd.

    I think the problem with our foreign policy is that we don’t discuss and communicate what we see as our national interests to the voting public and the world.  Politicians and policymakers say things like, “We only deploy ground troops when it’s in our national interests,” but no one defines what those interests are.  Without clear communication, no one knows what is important, foreign countries don’t know what we find unacceptable, and it ends with politicians doing whatever they think they can justify legally without the voting public weighing in.

    To be sure, we don’t want to broadcast everything we think about world, but our National Security Strategy and other such documents don’t even provide the smallest amount of clarity.  They’re just pablum.

  18. Jeff

    You asked for advice: don’t look to politicians to set a good example.

    Why do foreign policy debates seem so extreme? Because both sides claim the other is “crazy”. Rather than look at the fundamentals, most people tend to rhetorical characterization. It’s an ancient problem, Aristotle and Plato treat it deeply.

    Aristotle noticed that logical demonstrations ought to convince, but instead they provoke skepticism in the untrained mind. Examples ought not produce full conviction, but they do.

    Real politics exists in a world of ostensive examples (eiklasia) and not-fully-informed conviction (pistis).  Politicians develop bad thinking habits. Reasons seem notably absent from most foreign policy debates, for example.

    On another topic, here’s a devilish trilemma of choosing between candidates.

    (1) A crony-Capitalist architect of socialized healthcare in Massachusetts.

    (2) A crypto-marxist, anti-American community organizer bent on destroying constitutional limits on federal power.

    (3) A crazy old coot who won’t prosecute preemptive wars, lacks message control with the media, and leaves social issues to the states – but, actually would reduce the size and scope of government.

    It all comes down to what you’re willing to compromise on. And you must compromise.

  19. Mollie Hemingway
    C
    Semper Conquirentes:

    I think the problem with our foreign policy is that we don’t discuss and communicate what we see as our national interests to the voting public and the world.  Politicians and policymakers say things like, “We only deploy ground troops when it’s in our national interests,” but no one defines what those interests are.  Without clear communication, no one knows what is important, foreign countries don’t know what we find unacceptable, and it ends with politicians doing whatever they think they can justify legally without the voting public weighing in.

    To be sure, we don’t want to broadcast everything we think about world, but our National Security Strategyand other such documents don’t even provide the smallest amount of clarity.  They’re just pablum. · 5 minutes ago

    Wise. I also think we have abandoned the processes by which we make decisions about the use of force and they’ve gotten nothing but more muddled over the years.

  20. Gödel

    Serious question:

    What’s wrong with the “Bring home American troops from foreign bases and stations” position? And please, don’t bring the same old “the rest of the world is a bad place!” arguments. Not only have I heard them before, I agree with them. My question is:

    So what?

    America was founded on the realization that the rest of the world was broken. So horribly, irretrievably broken that for those of us of pre-19th-century ancestry, our forebears were willing to spend months at sea, risking disease, piracy, assault from within, storms, you name it, to escape here.

    Conservatives are constantly reminding each other not to allow the Left to frame the debate, but have completely let the Left frame the debate on geopolitics. We act as if the rest of the world isn’t such a bad place, and maybe we owe them our economic and military support.

    We don’t.

    Continued…

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