Saturday, November 10, 2012

Why I became a foreign policy non-interventionalist

Over the last few of weeks, a couple of people have asked me why I’ve turned into such a foreign policy non-interventionalist. Or as one friend put it, “What turned you into such a bleeding-heart?”

To put the question into context, I was once quite the hawk. I supported the first Gulf War to “liberate Kuwait,” I urged on the invasion of Afghanistan after 9/11, and I stood behind G.W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq. And I’m not going to lie, I still love military hardware, I respect the toughness and dedication of our warriors, and I am awed by projections of force.

But over the last few years, I’ve struggled to develop a cohesive political philosophy that also encompasses my faith in Christ. And I’ve realized, at times, my previous “conservative” political viewpoints contradicted the tenants of my faith, even occasionally contradicting each other.

After a great deal of reading and thought, I’ve settled upon the non-aggression principle to guide my political philosophy. Simply put, I find the use of coercive force in a non-defensive context morally objectionable.This principle provides a moral constant against which I can evaluate both domestic and foreign policy.

With that in mind, it becomes clear why I can no longer support U.S. inverventionalist foreign policy.

But I recognize many people, particularly some of my conservative friends, won’t accept the non-aggression principle as a viable reason to oppose U.S. foreign policy and war-making. They will raise some valid question: don’t we need to sometimes strike preemptively to defend ourselves? Don’t we have a moral obligation to defend democracy and human rights in other parts of the world? If we withdraw from our role as the world’s “policeman,” won’t our enemies fill that power vacuum and endanger our security.

All valid questions.

But I contend that even rejecting the moral arguments against foreign intervention, several practical reasons exist to abandon the neo-conservative worldview that drives both Republican and Democratic foreign policy.

First off, we simply can’t afford any more empire building. The U.S. has emptied the bank account and maxed out the credit card. Historically, overextended empires have led to the fall of many great societies. If America insists on continuing to play the role of international cop and spending the trillions of dollars necessary, she will soon collapse. The U.S.  may  still stand as the premier world power, but the republic is quickly rotting from the inside out.

A nuclear Iran doesn’t pose the greatest threat to U.S. security.

Neither does Al Qaeda.

How about China?


The greatest threat to American security takes the form of a $16 trillion debt.

This number stares down the nose of every moral and philosophical argument for continuing U.S. interventionalist policy.

Secondly, we cannot have limited government at home while at the same time intervening in nations across the globe. As Randolph Bourne brilliantly argued, “War is the health of the state.” Constant military engagement leads to the expansion of government power and an erosion of even the most basic civil liberties. We see this playing out in the U.S. with Patriot Act Spying, NDAA indefinite detention and drone executions without due process. It even weaves its way into everyday life, taking the form of TSA groping at your local airport.

So, self-proclaimed conservatives who constantly advocate for limited government, while pushing for an every larger military and continued intervention around the world, actually stand for mutually exclusive policies.

James Madison eloquently made this point more than 200 years ago.
"Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive is extended; its influence in dealing out offices, honors, and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force, of the people. The same malignant aspect in republicanism may be traced in the inequality of fortunes, and the opportunities of fraud, growing out of a state of war, and in the degeneracy of manners and of morals engendered by both. No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare."
Finally, U.S. foreign policy is convoluted and counter-productive. America claims to fight for democracy while supporting tyrants when expedient. The U.S. constantly engages in actions which result in blowback. And we even arm select groups, only to fight them later on.

A speech by Tom Woods served as a turning point in my journey toward non-interventionalism. He pointed out that conservatives constantly talk about the utter ineptitude of federal policymakers and government in general when it comes to domestic policy. Then he asks a profound question:  how is it that these same people suddenly become geniuses when it comes to foreign policy?

The answer is self-evident.

They don’t.

If we truly want limited government, we must not only fight for less federal control domestically. We must also oppose the warfare-state in all of its manifestations. We can’t afford it, and it hovers like an axe blade over our most basic liberties.

That is why I’ve turned into such a “bleeding heart.”

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