Below is my essay on war and national security from the book Voices Of Revolution: Americans Speak Out For Ron Paul, now available on Amazon.com. A digital version is available for free download from Political Spectrum Publishing in various formats. It was meant to promote the philosophy of Ron Paul, which is to say Peace, Commerce, and Honest Friendship. It’s filled with some great writing from a number of authors, including Jeffrey Tucker, and I was honored to have contributed some of my work.
For the Neoconservative
Among the principles held by conservatives are limited government, fiscal responsibility, and adherence to the constitution. In order to consistently espouse these ideas however, one cannot also support the state’s endless wars. This essay will demonstrate how a foreign policy of freedom, based on peace, commerce and honest friendship, is consistent with true conservatism, the best defense against foreign threats, and the preferred policy of a free society.
First, let us consider each of the aforementioned conservative principles. A limited government cannot wage perpetual war; only a Leviathan state can do this. A truly limited government would be unable to tax, borrow, or print the vast amounts of money necessary to fund these foreign policy adventures. A limited government would also be powerless to conscript an army, or coercively retain those already in the ranks. Largely ignored, this last item is especially important, as nearly 100,000 service members have had their enlistment terms involuntarily extended over the past ten years, including the author.
Wars are not fiscally responsible; they come at an incredible cost, both in terms of human life and in treasure. More than 6,300 U.S. service members have been killed since 2001; tens of thousands have been severely wounded, brain damage is commonplace, and suicides are increasing. Conservative estimates put the human toll of the ‘War on Terror’ in upwards of 225,000 deaths, or the entire populations of Orlando, Spokane, or Birmingham. In purely monetary terms, the U.S. government has had to borrow trillions of dollars to fund no less than seven undeclared, open-ended, no-win wars.
Chances are good that during your lifetime you’ve never seen a lawful war. December 11, 2011 marked the 70th Anniversary since congress last declared war against another country, pursuant to the U.S. constitution. None of the dozens upon dozens of military engagements the U.S. government has undertaken in the past seven decades has been constitutional. Without exception, each has been a war of aggression. Each was fought at the prerogative of the president, who has behaved more like an emperor, and who was never meant to have war-making powers.
Those who envision a government that is limited, that exercises fiscal prudence, and that follows the rule of law should instead demand the return to a policy of non-interventionism. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson each urged the people of the United States to avoid foreign conflict. Washington, in his farewell address, declared that it is “our true policy to steer clear of permanent Alliances, with any portion of the foreign world.” Jefferson, in his first inaugural address implored the citizens to seek “peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations – entangling alliances with none.”
In more recent times, Howard Taft, who earned the nickname “Mr. Republican” for his steadfast conservatism, was highly critical of foreign policy interventionism. Regarding the U.S.’ role in the world he wrote: “I do not believe any policy which has behind it the threat of military force is justified as part of the basic foreign policy of the United States….”
Russell Kirk, a prominent leader of the conservative movement, was also not one to advocate militarism. He spoke openly of the folly that such actions would bring to the neoconservative movement. Following Operation Desert Storm Kirk was highly critical of the George H.W. Bush’s intervention in the Arab world. Addressing an audience at The Heritage Foundation, he asked: “Are we to saturation-bomb most of Africa and Asia into righteousness, freedom, and democracy?”
To be sure, the United States has had many advocates of interventionism throughout history, but traditionally they were progressive liberals. Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson, none of whom could be described as conservative, were all very much inclined to intervene abroad. They all committed the military overseas, engaged in nation building and involved the U.S. in international organizations such as the League of Nations, U.N., and NATO. All of this has been in direct opposition to the founding fathers’ advice.
Consider also that many conservatives have been elected on the promise they wouldn’t use the military to intervene overseas. While debating his opponent, a liberal democrat, George W. Bush declared: “I don’t think our troops ought to be used for what’s called ‘nation-building.’ I think our troops ought to be used to fight and win wars.” This is entirely consistent with a foreign policy of non-intervention. Only when the U.S. has declared war should troops be deployed.
None of this should be taken to mean the U.S. should isolate herself from the foreign world. In fact, by not intervening in the affairs of other nations, the U.S. would be in a much better position, both militarily and economically. Consider the concept of blowback, a term used by the CIA when describing the unintended, unforeseen consequences of covert U.S. foreign policy. A classic case involves the nation of Iran. Understanding the history of U.S./Iranian relations prior to 1979 is vital to understanding the current environment.
In 1953 U.S. and British agents instigated a coup which overthrew democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh. In his place was put the Shāh, Mohammad-Rezā Pahlavi, who was viewed by the Iranian people as a puppet for the U.S. government. The Shāh, a repressive authoritarian, ruled Iran until his departure shortly before the Iranian embassy was overtaken by protestors, who wanted independence from western influence.
In the decades following, the U.S. backed Saddam Hussein during the Iran/Iraq war, which killed hundreds of thousands, and resulted in chemical weapons being used on civilians. Economic sanctions have ensured that economic recovery hasn’t happened. As Ron Paul and others have noted, the oil-rich nation is in such a poor state they are forced to import gasoline.
Many worry over the prospect that Iran could become a nuclear power, a concern that we should all take very seriously. The question though, is how best to handle such a situation? Thus far the Iranian government has not violated the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, of which it is a signatory. No credible intelligence suggests that Iran is anywhere near having a nuclear weapon. Preemptive war would be devastating not only for the U.S., but for the entire region.
But assuming they did have a weapons program, Iran’s neighbors are the ones who should be concerned. Israel’s economy is far more developed than Iran’s, and she is more than capable of defending herself. As Ron Paul has stated many times, for decades the U.S. and Soviet forces waged a cold war, each side armed with tens of thousands of nuclear weapons. When the Cubans were armed by Russia, instead of launching a preemptive war, we negotiated a peaceful resolution.
The humble foreign policy advocated by non-interventionists should not be taken as a sign of weakness or naiveté. It is centered on the conservative principles outlined above, which, if adhered to, serve as a beacon of freedom, attracting many friends. It recognizes that vengeance is the single greatest factor in motivating terrorism; not an abstract hatred of our lifestyle. Therefore, a nation that garrisons troops across the globe, meddles in the internal affairs of others, and attempts to police the world will find itself increasingly isolated from honest friendship abroad.
Because of the current geo-political environment especially, and because of human nature in general, defense is a vital component of society. This is why Ron Paul wants to maintain a strong national defense. The Pentagon is not subject to audit, so it’s impossible to know exactly where every dollar goes, but we do know that we cannot afford the current budget outlays. In light of this fact, military spending, that is all spending not directly related to directly defending the U.S. should be cut.
The wars should be ended. They only make us more vulnerable to attack. The foreign military bases should be closed and the troops brought home. Rather than defending the borders of other countries, U.S. troops should defend the borders here at home. Foreign aid should be cut as well. Bribing others is no way to ensure their lasting and genuine friendship.
Randolph Bourne once wrote that “war is the health of the state.” Never was this more readily seen than over the course of the last ten years. Under the pretense of protecting us from those who would take our freedom and spreading liberty, the federal government has suspended Habeas Corpus; it has detained many thousands of people and held them without charges in secret prisons all around the world. It violates the sovereignty of other nations and summarily executes their people. It convenes panels in secret, drafting lists of citizens to be hunted and killed without due process, or even so much as the pretense of judicial oversight. Children are not even free from such tyranny. It has killed hundreds of thousands, displaced millions, and destroyed billions of dollars of private property. Torture is considered by many to be perfectly acceptable, even virtuous.
The federal government has claimed the right to take nude photos of anyone wishing to travel by air in this country, and to unnecessarily subject them to potentially dangerous levels of radiation. Those who object are instead treated to what in any other case would be considered sexual molestation. Not even the disabled, the young, nor the elderly can escape this abuse. Our persons, property and effects are no longer secure from federal agents, as warrants issued upon probable cause are from a bygone era. This is the freedom they are fighting to defend, and which conservatives support?
One of the realities we must face is that no government can guarantee safety one hundred percent of the time. There will always be threats to our liberties and there will always be threats to our security. By trading the former for the latter, as Benjamin Franklin warned, we will get neither. Those who tell us we must have one or the other are presenting a false choice; we may have both, but only by jealously guarding our freedom.