Tuesday, January 31, 2012


I have to admire Cong. Ron Paul and his bid for the Republican nomination in that he is without a doubt among politicians of all stripes the most sincere in his core beliefs, many of which I share. Like him, I consider myself a libertarian who believes in minimal government in order to promote individual sovereignty and dignity. But I differ from him in how I understand libertarian philosophy deals with our international relations.
I became a libertarian after considering it to be the best economic, political and moral theory. Every day, libertarians are presented with examples of the failures of government both large and small, and still there are those who believe that a big problem requires a big government solution even absent of any evidence in support. Our collective “Wars” on poverty, drugs, obesity and cancer, etc. have not yielded much to be heralded, and yet still we persist. The evidence of the awareness of the failure of government is what I attribute Ron Paul’s continued and steady growth in popularity. But it is in the area of foreign policy that I think Cong. Paul is not so much libertarian as he is an older, much more insidious form of Americanism, and that is the Isolationist.
Many Republicans consider Cong. Paul to be unelectable because of his assertion that America is responsible for the 9-11 attacks by homicidal maniacs.
At a campaign stop on Saturday in Winterset, one man asked Paul how terrorist groups would react if the U.S. removed its military presence in Middle Eastern nations, a move the candidate advocates.

“Which enemy are you worried that will attack our national security?” Paul asked.

“If you’re looking for specifics, I’m talking about Islam. Radical Islam,” the man answered.

“I don’t see Islam as our enemy,” Paul said. “I see that motivation is occupation and those who hate us and would like to kill us, they are motivated by our invasion of their land, the support of their dictators that they hate.”

Regarding 9/11, Paul said that attacks against the U.S. from Middle Eastern groups at home and abroad can be traced to the foreign presence of U.S. troops, as well as America’s relationships with dictator regimes.

Paul referred to a military base in Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, as a key motivator in the Sept. 11th attacks. Osama bin Laden viewed it as an American desecration of holy land.

“After 9/11, (people said) ‘Oh yeah, it’s those very bad people who hate us,’ but 15 of (the hijackers) came from Saudi Arabia,” said Paul. “One of the reasons they attacked us, is we propped up this Sharia government and the fundamentalists hated us for it.”
Maybe Paul is correct that without our presence in Saudi Arabia, there never would have been the attacks. But if you look more closely at it, this is still an assertion which is contra-factual. Countries, like neighbors, can freely enter into mutually beneficial agreements. In this case, after the invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein the Saudi government invited the US in to help protect their kingdom. If we had said no, what would have been the ultimate result? More than likely a Middle East dominated by a murderous megalomaniacal dictator, raping and pillaging as he felt without any consequences. Osama bin Laden may have offered up his jihadist mujahadeen to defend the kingdom, but while good for the publicity (a new Defender of the Holy Sites) they would have not been successful in containing the Iraqi Army as it moved south. Their lightly armed fighters would have been swept away in much the same way that the Kuwaiti Army was in August 1990.
How is it not libertarian in principle to aid your neighbor? If anything, it is the basis for the moral philosophy which leads each of us to assist as we can without the demand from some other force that we "contribute" to our neighbor.
Even setting aside the First Gulf War, if that wasn't the reason for OBL to attack the US there would have been others: Defense of Israel, or at least provision of aid, and if we had no presence in the Middle East, it would have been our "decadent lifestyle" that allows women to be full participants in our society instead of submitting to the will of their male relatives or husbands. Or our tolerance of other religions, homosexuality, bacon, or whatever. I suppose that the only solution that would have prevented the attacks on 9-11 would have been for the US to adopt Sharia law and disregard the Constitution. I am not willing to concede that this would be considered to be libertarian foreign policy. Instead it is the politics of the pacifist which is simply surrender.
Another complaint is our involvement in the defense of countries like Germany and South Korea that have the ability to defend themselves means that we should not maintain a presence there. It certainly is attractive in the case of Germany. As a young officer, I arrived in Germany in 1980, just 35 years after the end of the Second World War and observed it to be one very large armed camp. I think at the time, we had more American troops stationed in Germany than France had under arms in total. We were facing, as we jokingly called it, the Third Soviet Mongol Horde across the border from us. In a country the size of Ohio, the Soviets had over 250 frontline divisions waiting for the order to roll west to the Channel. Further east, there were multiples of even more divisions/Guards Armies stretching from Poland all the way to the Urals. Luckily for us, the Soviets believed their own propaganda about the inevitability of the coming Socialist Revolution and never launched the invasion.
Now that the Soviets are gone, Germany no longer needs our troops to defend them and our interests in Europe. And we are in the process of drawing down, going from more than two corps to just two brigades, hardly any force necessary to protect our NATO ally from invasion. But the presence of the two brigades is a statement that the US has an interest and commitment to our treaty allies. It is also one third of the world closer to any trouble than having the brigades stationed in America. These two brigades reaffirm that the United States is not withdrawing behind our oceans and ignoring the world.
South Korea is different because it still is a hot spot and potential for conflict. The dirty little secret about our troops on the Korean peninsula is that they are really just hostages. At 20,000 strong, they are no match for the million man army of the North Koreans. Nor could our forces do anything about the thousands of artillery tubes that are dug into mountains but within range of Seoul that would bring terror and destruction on our ally. But our presence sends a message to the Norks that we will not tolerate them killing Americans in their homicidal attempt to “reunify” the peninsula. At a cost of one division, we have prevented an outbreak of the war that is only in a cease fire for the last 50 years. A pretty reasonable price considering the potential for human tragedy that would result from an invasion.
Other forces are arrayed around the world, but only in limited numbers, usually involved in training of local forces. This is a low cost way to protect our national interests in stability of those countries, while at the same time hoping to instill the professionalism and respect for human rights that we promote. Since we are not imposing our will, but instead acting on the invitation of the host countries, we have the ability to promote the dignity of the individual for very low cost. That certainly would be a libertarian principle.
How about Cong. Paul's assertion that we have been entering into wars without having Congress declare them? This would strike a pure Constitutionalist as a valid complaint. But what if it isn't? Did Thomas Jefferson, who was closer to the understanding of the Founders declare war on the Barbary Pirates? Did he act unconstitutionally, or did he act within his understanding of what "declaring war" actually means? To declare war is to put the full weight of the nation behind an effort to destroy another nation's military or domestic/foreign policy that we find to be in our national interests. We have declared war only a few times, the last being the Second World War when war was thrust upon us because of our desire to be left alone. However, we have engaged in the Korean War as a duty of our treaty obligations with the United Nations, the Viet Nam War as a result of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, the first Gulf War after consent of Congress as well as the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq which were also voted on and approved by Congress. While technically not a declaration of war, the fact that these wars were approved by Congress means that the complaint is a distinction without a difference.
Since WWII, we have attacked other countries without a congressional authorization, such as Grenada, Panama and most recently Libya. However, in each of these cases the Congress was consulted at the least, and the leadership of both houses would have had the ability to enter laws forbidding the expenditure of funds in support thereof. Instead Congress went along, whether complicit or abdicating their responsibility, they gave their approval.
Finally, I wonder if Cong. Paul understands what would happen if there is no US military and what the effect would be on the world? One example would be our Libyan misadventure where we "led from behind." Providing only intelligence and logistic support, we watched as an uprising became bloodier and longer than it probably would have if we had been more active in our assistance to the rebels. This is what I mean by isolationism being a detriment to libertarian principles. By our failure to act, more people died than would have if we had acted. For each of those deaths, what is the dollar amount that we can proudly point to and say that is a "libertarian" savings by not being involved?
Let's face it, we are the de facto policeman whether we want to be or not, because we are the only country capable of doing what we do and doing it in the interests of human rights. And human rights are what I understand libertarianism to be about. We should never be so selfish as to deny others that right to their inalienable rights because it costs too much should we?

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