Libertarian Foreign Policy: A Dialogue on Imperialism

Ghaddafi is dead. Hooray.

Now on to the part where we actually have to think about the consequences of our actions. Why don’t we take a look at the region of the Middle East that has actually held elections without being occupied by a foreign power: the Palestinian territories.

Would you like to Google ‘Fatah’ and ‘Hamas’, or shall I?

It’s great that Ghaddafi is dead, and it would be nice if our actions in helping to bring him down were celebrated throughout the Muslim world. I won’t hold my breath though. After bombing the Serbians to help out Muslim Bosniaks the U.S. was thanked with a couple of airplanes being flown into our commercial buildings (it also refroze relations with Russia that still haven’t thawed).

The point I make here is not that all Muslims should be lumped together, but rather than our foreign policy establishment DOES lump all Muslims together. They never take into account all of the intricacies involving the political processes taking place in this part of the world. The effort in Serbia was a calculated response by the Clinton administration to win over the hearts and minds of the whole Muslim world, but what we got instead was soured relations with Russia and a nod of approval from the monarchies of the Gulf states, Turkey, and the autocratic regimes of Jordan and Egypt. One enemy (though certainly not the only one) of the Gulf state monarchies – al-Qaeda – had a different opinion on the matter.

Al-Qaeda looked the other way and saw military troops protecting the monarchies of the Gulf states.

Does anybody here seriously think that helping to dislodge a brutal dictator from power in the Muslim world is going to earn us the approval of the same Muslim world? In fact, what happens if – miraculously – a liberal, secular regime is voted into office in Libya? What do think will be the claims of the rival parties (especially the Islamist ones): that the elections were held fair and square, or that the new liberal regime is a mere puppet of the West?

Bottom line: unless there is a direct threat to the U.S. republic, we shouldn’t be playing that Old World game of Realpolitik. All that leads to is intrigue, speculation, and entangling alliances. Sure, some dictators have died because of our efforts. Then again, some have also benefited. Everybody is a hypocrite of course, but the more we can avoid being so, the better. The idea – nay wish! – that the newly liberated people of the Arab world will somehow elect secular, Western-friendly governments after 50 years of oppression by regimes that were perceived by the Muslim public to be secular and Western-friendly belongs to be filed under the category of ‘fantasy,’ not foreign policy.

The Ghaddafi regime undertook policies that were hostile to the West. His regime sponsored terrorism against innocent people in the West. I am glad he is dead. I am glad that his own people shot him in the streets. But I think one of the major complaints that Libyan elites had for his policies was not that he sponsored these acts, but rather that he sponsored them under the guise of anti-colonialism rather than for Islam.

A couple of thought exercises: what happens if the Libyan electorate chooses to entrust an Islamist political party hostile to the West with running the state? Does the United States accept the outcome, or do we take the same route we did when Hamas was elected in the Gaza Strip?

How would the U.S. be perceived by the Muslim world if our role there was limited to one of trading, and not one of policing?

Has anybody here thought about the possibility of a prolonged civil war in Libya due to regional rivalries that have been suppressed by a strong-arm dictatorship for the last 40 years? After all, the main reasons given for NATO’s operation in Libya was twofold: 1) to keep Libya from disintegrating into a civil war that would send thousands of refugees to Europe’s decadent shores and 2) to win over the hearts and minds of the Muslim world.

Can we be confident that these goals have been accomplished, or are we merely stabbing at shadows in the dark in the name of democracy?

5 thoughts on “Libertarian Foreign Policy: A Dialogue on Imperialism

  1. Our role in the world, in my opinion, should be limited to diplomacy by trade and common faith in the power of individual rights and liberty. There is a distinct difference, as you know, between democracy and liberty. Without the unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness [which includes earning and acquiring property and using or disposing of it by whatever means the owner chooses] their is little to celebrate. As stated in a publication on fee.org:

    “[W]ithout limited constitutional government, electoral democracies (with universal suffrage) will undermine what F. A. Hayek called the “constitution of liberty.” Individual rights will then lose ground to special interests, and civil society will be weakened as all aspects of life become politicized. Instead of becoming less visible, the state will become more powerful”.

    The United States, in my view, is inexorably moving from the Democratic Republic of limited government to an electoral democracy in that private property rights are being eroded almost by the day with new regulations on private land use through government fiat and ever changing, pragmatic and often highly political zoning laws and requirements that diminish value as opposed to enhancing it. What value is there in owning property than can only be used as people other than the owner dictate? When it comes to land ownership and development, one might think of owning a car without the right to drive it.

    There are an estimated 120 democracies in the world and only 85 of them are classified as free by Freedom House.Freedom Classifications

    People everywhere should have the same unalienable rights to freedom that are defined in the U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence if we as citizens of America believe in those documents. Part of that freedom is the right for themselves to choose the type of government they wish or are willing to live under. It is not the right of Americans to decide for Egyptian how they are to be governed and how their society should be structured [e.g. combination of religion and secularism or purely secularist].

    That is their choice and it is their obligation to secure for themselves those rights they believe they are entitled to. It is not our right or obligation to seize and “give” those rights to others. If we have any obligation, it is to live up to the promise of our Constitution by keeping our central government as limited as practical in the affairs of states and the state government as limited as practical in the affairs of local communities.

    Action speaks louder than words be the common sentences or lofty diplomatic speeches and admonitions. If we wish to help others seek liberty and the blessings that come with individual rights and economic opportunity, including private property ownership and the right to keep what is earned and dispose of earnings as one sees fit, then we need to set the example.

    Instead, in more recent days, our government has made a turn toward becoming more like Europe and placing a value on the collective that is squashing the private, individual rights our heritage has always valued to the point of sacrificing blood and treasure to keep for posterity.

    The U.S. should refrain from intervention and use force only in retaliation. When retaliation becomes necessary, then, it should be swift, unlimited and complete in defeating the enemy and demonstrating to the world the folly of attacking a nation strong in principle, in heritage, in economics and in superior military power. We should demonstrate that it is more fruitful to accept the palm of a hand offered in friendship and partnership than it is to suffer the pain of the back of a hand swung in swift retribution with no concern for anything other than unequivocal and complete surrender.

    Take my humble opinion for what it is worth. Principle is stronger than pragmatism and example is much more tangible and palpable than words – just ask the Native Americans who acted in good faith only to end up on reservations.

    • Well said, as usual –Rick. I hope you enjoy this old dialogue between Jacques and I. Be sure to keep in mind each of Dr Delacroix’s prophesies, and what each prophesy has to do (if anything) with his god (“democracy”). I think you’ve seen right through his argument, though.

      I’ve only got one nitpick: the Native American groups did emphatically not act in good faith. Most nations succumbed to disease, and the others were more interested in using the European polities in the region (France, the US, Spain, Great Britain, Russia, etc.) as tools to slaughter their longtime enemies, and vice-versa.

      The Native Americans were simply outfoxed. This idea – of non-Europeans as rational actors with viable contributions and lessons for the present-day – has been whitewashed by condescending Leftists and chauvinistic Rightists and has been explored, albeit more abstractly, here at the blog a number of times. This idea can also be difficult to grasp, largely because our post-1968 public education system, our media corporations and our elites all continue to treat non-Europeans as children in their respective narratives.

      More serious readers, such as -Rick, might consider three works by historians (The Middle Ground…, Mexico and the Spanish Conquest and War of a Thousand Deserts) for a better understanding of my argument. If these sound too dense (and they are tough reads), you might consider checking out 1491…, 1493… and Empire of the Summer Moon…, which were all written by journalists synthesizing the latest academic research.

  2. I’ve read 1491 and 1493; both excellent books. I’ve actually used 1491 as a reference for my “Why Thanksgiving should be embraced and celebrated and why we should be thankful for Columbus. I haven’t read the others; so, you’ve just added value to my summer reading list. In terms of the native Americans, I agree that they took advantage of the politics of the time and the tensions between the different nations attempting to claim the New World. My comment was more directed at the end of the great tribes on the plains and how they were either goaded into violence in order to use the Army as a political tool to claim land for both current and later expansion, or the treaties that they agreed to were simply filled with impossibilities that assured the end of the Indian threat to settlers throughout the plains and the more Northwesterly migration and exploration of the continent. So, I have no quibble with your statements and accept them as they are.

    Once again, thank you for keeping such an interesting blog going. I’ve found continued enjoyment here.

    Other good books on this area are: The name of war: King Philips and the Origins of American Identity, Jill Lepore; The Divided Ground; Indians, Settlers and the Northern Borderland of the American Revolution, Alan Taylor

    • Thanks –Rick for your typically well-thought out musings. They make NOL a much richer exchange of ideas and events.

      I’d heard of Taylor’s book but not Lepore’s (which sounds infinitely more interesting to the anthropologist in me!).

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