Charles Koch Institute

Let's Not Treat Koch's Libertarian Opposition to U.S. Military Action in Yemen as 'Unexpected'

Can we stop being surprised (or pretending to be surprised) at well-established critiques of interventionism?


Charles Koch
Bo Rader/TNS/Newscom

Over at The Daily Beast, Spencer Ackerman takes note of the cross-ideological alliance trying to put an end to the U.S. military's participation in Saudi Arabia's deadly activities in Yemen. The alliance itself is not new. Libertarian-leaning Republicans like Rep. Justin Amash (Mich.) and Sens. Mike Lee (Utah) and Rand Paul (Ky.) have long been critical of our involvement with and funding of military actions that have killed innocents, especially since we are not officially at war with any of the nations involved.

What's new, Ackerman notes, is that the Charles Koch Institute is briefing conservative lawmakers about a resolution introduced by Rep. Ro Khanna (D–Calif.) that would direct the president to end all military action in Yemen that is not covered by the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF). To keep U.S. forces involved in the conflict, the White House would need to seek an explicit declaration of war from Congress.

The resolution has 69 co-sponsors right now, only three of which are Republicans (Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky among them). The Koch Institute and libertarian-conservative FreedomWorks are going to be pushing Republicans to try to get a vote in November, after the midterms. Whether such a resolution would actually change anything is a question that deserves our skepticism. Every presidential administration since that of George W. Bush has used the AUMF to justify military activity against any terrorist organization overseas.

The subheadline of Ackerman's piece calls the Koch Institute's involvement "unexpected." Media companies should be past this by now, particularly since they've obsessed over the Kochs for nearly a decade. The Koch Institute's foreign policy page is very clear that while it supports a strong military, it's opposed to the sort of interventionist adventures associated that have defined our activities in the Middle East for years now. Here's a blog post from 2016 expressing concern about military actions in Yemen and the negative consequences of our alliance with Saudi Arabia.

In fairness, Ackerman's reporting does not treat it like an unexpected development. He notes that FreedomWorks has been lobbying for a year on a failed effort by Lee and Sens. Bernie Sanders (I–Vt.) and Chris Murphy (D–Conn.) to force a vote on military action in Yemen.

But it's nevertheless frustrating that the headlines tend to treat the Koch brothers' very common libertarian attitudes toward a number of policies as surprising. We saw it happen years ago where people seemed to be surprised at David Koch's position in support of gay marriage recognition in 2012, even though he, like many libertarians, had felt that way for quite a while (before many Democratic leaders, in fact). Media outlets seem to frequently feign surprise that the Kochs favor criminal justice reforms, even though they've supported such efforts for years.

There's a tendency among some media outlets to approach the Koch's libertarian brand of conservatism as though the brothers' deviation from typical Republican stances are unusual for them. They're not. When media outlets write this way, it tells libertarian audiences that they know very little about the Kochs and what separates libertarians from conservatives. Disappointing libertarians may seem like small potatoes, but it also misinforms people who know little about what distinguishes libertarians from Republicans. I would argue that this is actually bad: It allows Republicans to pass as lovers of liberty even when they're not, and—perhaps in rarer instances—it allows libertarians to join ranks with Republicans when they shouldn't. Treat them as distinct, and you make it harder for both groups to say one thing and then do another without consequence.

Disclosure: David Koch sits on the Board of Trustees for the Reason Foundation, which publishes this site.