War Correspondence I
Charles Krauthammer's argument for an interventionist foreign policy ("In From the Cold War," Mar.) was for years also advanced on behalf of an interventionist domestic policy: In its absence there will be "chaos." Unless "world order is imposed by the West," he writes (meaning imposed by the United States), the world will be "chaotic and highly dangerous." We must, therefore, "impose our will" on "recalcitrant actors who threaten the world system." (This is conveniently defined as a "state of nature without a police force.") Substitute the word economic for international in the following Krauthammer dictum, and you hear the voice of the central planner (and perhaps also Krauthammer himself a decade ago): "Unless the international system is actively, consciously, and willfully shaped into a stable form, it adopts an anarchic and dangerous form."
Krauthammer's comments have the merit of candor. America should throw its weight around in the world, he says, and needn't bother to disguise power as principle. Rarely do foreign-policy people speak so plainly. Power should be applied ad hoc, not on the basis of "systematic principle," he says. His undeclared philosophy is that might makes right.
Of course, the easy destruction of Iraq's military showed that Saddam Hussein never did constitute a threat to world peace. Nor did his invasion of Kuwait threaten American vital interests. Kadafi sells us Libyan oil, and Hussein had every intention of selling us Iraqi/Kuwaiti oil, as was inherent in the logic of those who warned that he would enrich himself by doing so. If our real objection is to Third World countries' enriching themselves or acquiring nuclear weapons, then our objections should be so stated.
"We can make an example of Iraq," Krauthammer said, suggesting the advancement of just such an unstated policy goal. Such a policy, whether disguised or overt, will not be easy to achieve. In invading Kuwait, Saddam Hussein infringed a clear-cut U.N. rule: Don't cross borders with armies. Future potential targets of U.S. wrath will find it easy to avoid this infraction. Krauthammer thinks that our "weight will [now] be respected throughout the world," but the U.S. reaction to the invasion of Kuwait is more likely to encourage prudence among tyrants than an end to tyranny.
As for the possibility that Saddam & Co. might at some point have missiles with 7,000-mile ranges, this is an argument for missile defenses, not for invading foreign lands. The problem with the U.S. military at present is that it is all offense and no defense. If the United States is going to get into the business of smashing up countries because they might at some point develop modem weapons, then we had better build a defensive system soon, because we are going to need one.
When Joshua Muravchik was asked why "Joe Jones in Kansas ought to pay for your fomenting of democracy in Zaire," his answer perhaps summarized the defect of the majority view on your panel: "We have an agreement that there are such things as common purposes, and we have a system of government which is predicated on the idea that if a majority decides that certain purposes are in the common interest," then it is "fundamental to our way of government that we have the right to do that," just so long as these common purposes involve only "taxing [citizens], making them contribute some money." Oh. Libertarians stand corrected, then.
Interest-group majoritarianism is not in fact "fundamental" to our way of government. Although the federal government currently functions in this manner, the Constitution gives no such mandate to anyone. The strongly pro-interventionist orientation of your foreign policy panel suggests a certain editorial sympathy for Muravchik's point of view. Has REASON finally come to terms with teleocratic government?
I was greatly disappointed to read Ted Galen Carpenter's concession that U.S. foreign policy should be conceived to support "America's vital interests." The vagueness, elasticity, and, indeed, subjectivity of that phrase was ably demonstrated by Carpenter's inability to provide a succinct definition to the symposium. The mischief implicit in such loose thinking should be obvious: interminable, open-ended interventions and involvements wherever our global "interests" du jour may beckon.
Three principles should direct our foreign policy: preservation of our national sovereignty, protection of freedom of navigation, and treaties of mutual defense.
Concerning sovereignty, the most important foreign-policy function of government is to maintain our liberties against external threats, not only defending its citizens from outright aggression, but also resisting hegemonic intimidation and refusing to accept the authority of any international organization (such as the United Nations).
Concerning freedom of navigation, our liberty to travel and trade freely—and to defend such actions—should be maintained in nonterritorial waters, skies, or in the open spaces beyond the atmosphere.
Concerning mutual defense, wherever we may further the above ends by entering into treaties that provide territorial concessions for mutual defense (as with NORAD for strategic warning and defense), we may rightfully sanction and abide by such treaties.
But, beyond these ends, we have no constitutional or moral justification for armed intervention in the affairs of the world—or "vital interests" beneath which to cloak the covert special interests of large banks, multinational corporations, or elitist cliques that seek opportunities to employ government policy for their ultimate pecuniary advantage.
If we have a truly vital interest, it is the observance of the Constitution and the exercise of the Bill of Rights. Foreign adventure is irrelevant to this end and usually becomes a pretext for its corruption—as recent events have shown.
Michael J. Dunn
Ted Carpenter has a reputation of opposing the "national security state," but his remarks regarding the early years of the Cold War show him to be at best a weak and inconsistent advocate of his own ideas.
The late '40s should have been a time to dismantle the military-industrial complex that grew to such gigantic proportions during World War II. Instead, under the cover of an alleged threat from the Soviet Union, the entire national-security apparatus retained control of U.S. policy, was enormously strengthened, and was redirected to target a backward socialist economic system that would eventually collapse like a house of cards from its own internal contradictions.
Ludwig von Mises correctly pointed out shortly after the Bolshevik revolution that communism would collapse of its own weight. Frank Chodorov pointed out in the late '40s that statism in the United States was growing like a cancer because of the inordinate exaggeration of the potential of communism.
Unless Carpenter can see through the propaganda fog laid down by the "national security state" at its birth, his current claims to oppose the manifestations of that state will be rendered ineffective by his own inconsistencies.
Paul S. McKnight
The panel of foreign-policy experts did not address the fundamental strategic issue behind the gulf intervention. The Gulf War was conducted on the basis of a two-point agenda: reasserting U.S. military power in the world and reversing two decades of antiwar sentiment at home. By crushing the well-armed and combat-tested Iraqi army, the basis has been laid for further police actions against those who challenge U.S. world domination. And with Saddam Hussein as the perfectly cast villain, the propaganda value of Kuwaiti independence far exceeded its actual significance in the conflict.
The gulf victory reintroduced our role as the planetary policeman. As Ted Carpenter pointed out, this comes at a time of increasing instability and volatility in global affairs. With the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the dangers posed by the administration's imposition of a "new world order" compel a thoroughgoing analysis of the reasons behind such a policy.
Carpenter's definition of "vital interests" may be too narrow. If indeed the promulgation of democratic self-government, freedom, and individual liberty was the legitimate aim of this or any other intervention, we might well arrive at a national consensus that it is worth the price. Freedom may be our birthright, but for hundreds of millions around the world it is only a cherished dream. Our willingness to sacrifice for the freedom of others is one of the most noble American traits.
However, this motivation will probably not drive the nation's foreign policy. The gulf intervention, with its sordid alliance of tyrants and rogues, demonstrated that, for the Bush administration, democracy is at best an expedient in the interplay of global economic and political forces. The question then becomes whether Saddam's threat to oil-price stability constitutes a vital national interest.
The next challenge to the "new world order" will be more rather than less likely to be met with American force. While this may not be a problem in Zaire or in the hypothetical Hungary-Romania dispute, when we must "impose our will" in the Philippines or in Mexico we will taste the fruit of the administration's interventionism.
Los Angeles, CA
Ted Carpenter essentially defined America's vital interests correctly, as developments that threaten the survival, liberties, or independence of Americans. However, I would not define those developments as interests, but as direct threats.
The idea that our nation—any nation—can have "interests" abroad is a holdover from an older, imperialist era. The doctrine of national interests implies that American political whims take precedence over the sovereignty of another nation and over the right of self determination of its inhabitants. Interests are defined by government for governmental ends and have no moral or constitutional basis.
If another nation were to intervene militarily in the United States to protect its so-called interests, Americans would be outraged. America has no special rights among nations, since only individuals, not political entities, have rights. Therefore, the U.S. government cannot justify intervention abroad with the same explanation.
National interests as defined by the government shift yearly; our change in policy toward Iraq from arms-length friend to armed enemy is a case in point. If our government can arrogantly exercise military action abroad in the name of those nebulous, politically expedient interests, is it unreasonable to expect that it would violate its citizens' liberties if it considered this week's "domestic interests" to be threatened?
Huntington Beach, CA
The discussion on foreign policy demonstrated a sad truth facing libertarians: Such discussions justify government itself. The Gulf War reinforces this idea. The stated goal of the war is "restoring the legitimate government of Kuwait" and establishing a "new world order."
Libertarians challenge such notions on first principles. Any group or individual which initiates force is committing an immoral act—the act of a thug. All governments today initiate violent force through taxes and regulations.
Restoring the government of Kuwait means that the thugs who run the United States and the coalition countries think it was wrong for Iraq's thugs to replace Kuwait's thugs; they want Kuwait's previous thugs back and to make sure Iraq's thugs don't endanger the thugs who run Saudi Arabia, Syria, etc. The "new world order" will ensure that all thugs who run existing territories will be secure from aggression by neighboring thugs.
The big-league thugs are no more legitimate than the petty thugs who run drug territories, or those who used to run territories during Prohibition. But petty thugs don't claim to represent the people—they want wealth and power, and don't try to pretend otherwise. The political thugs elevate their actions by appealing to moral visions. But they still need the threat of a gun to keep their power. The libertarian must retain these simple truths, especially now, when support for the government seems so potent.
Thousand Oaks, CA
I would like to congratulate REASON for providing an instructive and timely debate on foreign policy. The panel discussion zeroed in on the true battlefield: the interplay between foreign policy and America's governing principles. I think the discussion helped clarify the positions of those for and against American military intervention in the gulf, and especially identified the weak foundation of the latter's arguments.
If I had to cite a shortcoming, it would be the failure of most of the participants to delve far enough into what "foreign" policy is. It is unfortunate, for example, that if you oppose military intervention you are considered a "libertarian" with moral principles, but if you support it you are called a "conservative" or even a "neocon" and equated with amoral Kissingerism. The existence of a state is, in itself, a sort of "military intervention" in that it is created and sustained by force.
Libertarians and allied limited-staters do not make ethnicity or national sovereignty or language a first or founding principle of government—they stress the nature of the government, whether it protects individual rights or abrogates them to pursue some other goal, such as "social progress" or economic egalitarianism.
On a moral level, it makes no sense for advocates of the limited state to support the suppression of domestic crime and thuggery by government but to cry foul when that government suppresses foreign thugs. Individual rights don't stop at the border or apply only to English-speaking progeny of European imperialists. And if you are uncomfortable with using government (force) to protect liberty and individual rights, foreign or domestic, you are not a libertarian—you are a pacifist. You can't really be both.
Isolationists will rush to fill this breach in their Fortress America by saying that countries like Kuwait don't have much liberty, anyway, so we can't restore it by chasing Iraq out. True enough, but the related argument—that there is no moral difference between the governments of Kuwait and Iraq—is absurd. No one can wave a magic wand and create a liberal, constitutional democracy, but there are steps (the establishment of some semblance of international order, the protection of trade routes, the spread of American ideas through trade and culture) that can advance the process. And some Third World tyrannies are worse than others. Pre-war Kuwaitis enjoyed a fair amount of personal freedom. Iraqis (and conquered Kuwaitis) did not. For libertarians, who are supposed to care more about the scope of government than its form (democracy or monarchy or' whatever), the distinction between the emirate of Kuwait and the dictatorship of Iraq should have been obvious.
This is not to say, as Charles Krauthammer and Benjamin Frankel correctly pointed out in the discussion, that America should start intervening in every conflict to advance liberty. It's not possible. We must have priorities that take the strategic and economic importance of foreign trouble spots into account. Ethnicity, language, history, and other factors will define the contours of possible action, though they are not our first principles as a government. But if a massive and successful military intervention, paid for in large part by allies and liberated countries, were possible, it would certainly be moral—at least to the same extent that it is moral to tax citizens of Maine to defend the freedom of Alaskans—if it left relatively liberal, constitutional democracies respecting property rights and free markets in its wake. As it is, we must rely heavily on moral suasion, example, and trade to accomplish the objective. But military force must also play a role. The liberating powers of overseas trade are irrelevant if pirates rule the oceans.
John M. Hood
John Locke Foundation
REASON is to be commended for holding a symposium on the state of the world after "the chill is gone," for the common wisdom is that the Cold War has indeed thawed following the Eastern European revolution of 1989–90. But has it? Whether or not the Soviet Union can be called a "superpower"—and in many ways this term is no longer appropriate—surely the danger from Moscow, both to the people of the Soviet Union and elsewhere, is hardly gone.
Accordingly, U.S. policy must now be approached in a new, more subtle framework. Will the people of the United States become inebriated by the collapse of communism into a false sense of (national) security? Conversely, will those who believe—and not without reason—that capitalism has somehow triumphed in Eastern Europe be lulled into a euphoria of apparent ideological victory that obscures the dangers of socialism at home? In both cases, wisdom would dictate that vigilance is very much in order, in both international and intranational matters. No, the chill isn't gone; it's only more insidious.
This does not translate necessarily into greater government spending—obviously not on the domestic front. As for foreign policy, I applaud Ted Carpenter's point—which echoes some of the ideas expressed by Joshua Muravchik, Charles Krauthammer, and other participants—that "'there are various forms of engagement—diplomatic, cultural, economic, political, as well as military." Let's engage on all these fronts; not with more dollars but with much greater sophistication and ingenuity, coupled with a strong determination to persuade and an internal conviction that our system works best because it allows the greatest scope for individual freedom.
It seems wise to avoid the concept of the United States as "world policeman" altogether—no one is suggesting so extreme: a role. But thinking of the United States as the leader of the West, as the beacon of liberty and independence—that, yes. And with a vengeance.
Juliana Germ Pilon
National Forum Foundation
War Correspondence II
As a longtime admirer of Virginia Postrel's writing, I am extremely disappointed with the conclusion of her editorial "Historical Certainties" (Mar.). It seems that she deliberately abandons reason for a "visceral sense" in deciding to favor war. And, astounding as it seems, she nowhere mentions the option of staying with economic sanctions through a continued embargo enforced by a land and sea blockade; these words do not even appear in the editorial.
She wrote the editorial on the eve of war. Surely the war, three weeks old at this writing, has gone at least as well as she could have hoped then: "Our" losses have been small and "their" losses have been great. Yet I experience a sense of depression, tragedy, and foreboding as a direct result of this "success." With great ease and minimal risk, we are killing and crippling God knows how many people, many either civilians or young conscripts thrust out onto the front lines. How can the fruit of these actions be anything but bitter?
I am appreciative of the fact that "not to challenge expansionist tyrants is to encourage them to expand farther." But I see this war at this time as completely unnecessary. I also believe that it was started by President Bush for completely disingenuous reasons. And I greatly fear that it will have long-lasting and disastrous consequences, for ourselves and for the Middle East.
I fervently hope that I am wrong.
I'm glad that Virginia Postrel at least feels uncomfortable about Bush's Persian Gulf War. However, I'm amazed that she can't reach a devout stand in favor of U.S. neutrality and self-defense from her "liberal" (why the hell doesn't she call them libertarian) principles.
Is Ms. Postrel overlooking the billions of tax and debt dollars that a war such as this one costs? Is she forgetting the tremendous cost to the taxpayers and the U.S. economy of retaining huge standing armed forces, which are good for almost nothing but instant participation in such foreign wars? Doesn't she realize that by fighting such wars, instead of protecting the lives and property of Americans throughout the world, the U.S. government puts them at grave risk of terrorism?
Ms. Postrel mentions important freedoms of Americans to invest, trade, and travel overseas. But who violated such freedoms in this conflict? It was Bush who embargoed all trade with Iraq and Kuwait. Saddam Hussein sought desperately to keep that trade. Hussein had posed absolutely no threat to American trade, travel, or investment in the region (and no remotely conceivable threat to U.S. security), at least until Bush appointed himself the Persian Gulf Cop. The bottom line is that the U.S. government intervention violated the very freedoms that Ms. Postrel tries to use to justify it.
Isn't it obvious that war is, and has always been, the perfect opportunity to extend control over the citizenry? In the midst of patriotic war fervor and security concerns, the government extends censorship, spending, borrowing, taxes, industrial directives, civilian spying, and even wage and price controls and the draft. Fortunately, this war should prove too short for a lot of this—if our luck holds. But what wars can possibly be worth the risk of such damaging intrusions, except wars of self-defense?
REASON's publisher, Robert Poole, outlined the correct approach to interventionism when he suggested that the U.S. Neutrality Acts be modified or repealed. This would allow private U.S. citizens who truly desired to fight for Truth, Justice, and the American Way on a global scale to do so, with no U.S. government involvement. Of course, they would have to rely strictly on voluntary contributions from other Americans.
If instead; we let the state play Rambo, the remaining liberties of all Americans will eventually be lost for sure.
I am currently serving with the U.S. Army in operation Desert Storm and have also been a subscriber to REASON for over two years.
I expected REASON to take a strong editorial stand against massive U.S. military action in the Persian Gulf because many libertarians were inherently opposed to the U.S. invasion of Panama. But in her March editorial, Virginia I. Postrel mildly concurred with President Bush's actions up to Jan. 15, although with "serious doubts." I too have doubts. As a soldier I have more to lose than most. America should pick up the sword only reluctantly, but once we grasp it we should use it swiftly and surely.
Ms. Postrel's editorial stated that Saudi Arabia was not deserving of the defense being provided by American troops. Certainly this is not a country Americans easily fall in love with. We look at it as a wasteland both geographically and politically, and we are chafed by their suffocating social customs (especially regarding female service members).
When I first entered the city of Riyadh I expected to find a backward community riding camels and shopping in bazaars; instead I saw Chevys and American-style shopping malls. The Saudi people have fallen in love with consumerism, and a good consumer demands that society takes account of his or her own individual tastes. I sense that the Saudis are more concerned with their day-to-day comforts than the liberation of Palestine. This may bode well for their country and the entire Middle East.
To be sure, the appearance of modernity here is deceptive. Riyadh is much safer to stroll around in at night than Washington, D.C., largely because of the heavy presence of the "morals" police. Most Americans would not want to trade their personal liberty for urban security, but instead of dismissing Saudi Arabia as hopelessly mired in the Middle Ages, Americans should know that the Saudis greatly admire the prosperity of the Western nations. They are thankful to American troops for saving them from Iraqi tyranny.
There is repression here, but it seems to be based on tribalism more than some cohesive totalitarian philosophy. Although this does not make this repression any less repugnant to Americans, much the same type of repression exists in Japan, and we consider that nation a member of the fraternity of liberal powers.
Religion is still the dominant force in Arab politics, but I view the wave of Islamic fundamentalism as a historical phase that will wane with the rise of political stability and economic prosperity. As the last remaining superpower and a regional force in the Middle East, America is in a position to plant a notion of individual rights that may sprout in the decades ahead.
It is wise to remember great civilizations once existed here that viewed Europeans as barbarians and religious fanatics. Let's not abandon the Arabs to immoderate influences.
Michael D. Samstag
Staff Sergeant, US. Army
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Letters".