Does Opposing Intervention Mean Ignoring the Plight of Protesters in Foreign Countries?

Their grievances shouldn't be dismissed because the U.S. government's taken a stand


i can't tell who the bad guy is, is it america?
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Increasing violence in Ukraine and Venezuela has the usual interventionist suspects pushing for more "American leadership" in the crises abroad. President Obama warned of "consequences" if the violence in Ukraine escalated. That wasn't enough for the likes of Peggy Noonan, who argued for the U.S. government to voice "full-throated support" for protesters in Ukraine, and called the president's statements "meaningless, crouching and process-driven." Joe Biden, as he is sometimes wont to do, went further than Obama, warning Ukraine's president that the U.S. could impose sanctions on Ukrainian officials. Though not as significant as economic sanctions against a whole country, even such limited sanctions can serve as a propaganda tool for embattled political leaders.

A principled opposition to sanctions or even military action, however, is not needed to understand why such actions can have the opposite of the intended effect. Not only can U.S. action be used to shore up domestic support and demonize the opposition, it can also distort priorities on the ground, which ought to be driven by the grievances of protesters, not what might please the U.S. government. U.S. national security interests do not necessarily align with principles of democracy, self-determination or even human rights. Indeed, they seldom do. Anyone who's done any kind of travel abroad is likely to have been exposed to the sentiment of foreigners that they "love Americans but hate their government." For protesters in Ukraine, or Venezuela, or anywhere else to succeed, it's paramount that the U.S. stay out of the political conflict.

That, however, shouldn't preclude Americans themselves from having an opinion on the unrest overseas, or even from providing financial and material support for foreign opposition groups (though fears of running afoul of federal law might preclude that), so long as they do it as private citizens free from government encouragement. The American Conservative argues it's difficult to tell who the good guys and the bad guys are in a place like Ukraine, and question whether protesters share any of the values Americans do. Yet it's not difficult for Americans to sympathize with the side that's being shot at by government forces, even if some on that side shoot back. The "right to rebel," after all, is one of the reasons the U.S. has a Second Amendment. 

As Todd Seavey wrote in the Libertarian Republic earlier this month while explaining that libertarians and neo-conservatives may be more "feuding cousins" than "ideological opposites," the suggestion "that libertarian rights apply inside the (presumably arbitrary) geographic boundary of the U.S. but do not apply to the (equally human) Albanians or Cubans or Iraqis overseas would be a bizarre relapse into leftist, geographically-arbitrary relativism" and that "the libertarian default should be in favor of those who recognize no government-drawn borders, those who recognize that the same laws of economics apply in Albania and in Texas and that written law everywhere should reflect that fact." At the very least, libertarians should not excuse the actions of tin-pot dictators abroad because they've positioned themselves as anti-American, nor because of tin-pot dictators at home, and ought to understand that making a judgment on the struggle of people abroad to change their governments doesn't translate to support for action by the U.S. government.