Response to Arnold on Libertarianism and Foreign Policy
By David Henderson
On both of Arnold’s points (see “Where I Differ with Some Libertarians,”) I agree somewhat with Arnold and disagree somewhat. In this post, I focus on his point #1 about libertarians and foreign policy.
I take “pacifism” to mean opposition on principle to using force, even in self-defense. As I once said, after someone in a roundtable discussion had called me a pacifist, “If you come at me and try to kill me, you’ll see how much of a pacifist I am. I’ll defend myself, with force if necessary.” It was fun to see the person turn a little pale when I made my non-pacifism clear in such a personal way.
Actually, to be fair to Bryan, he is not a pacifist in the sense I defined above. He believes that people should defend themselves, with force if necessary, but thinks war is a bad idea, even in defense of a country that’s invaded. I think there are usually better ways of responding to threats than to make war but I don’t think that’s always true.
Back to Arnold. Where I differ with Arnold is when he jumps from opposing pacifism (again, to emphasize, we agree with here) to his statement:
It seems to me that some libertarians link arms with the far left as blame-America-firsters, with scathing attacks on America’s military and its foreign policy. I am not sure what constructive solutions come from this stance.
First, I think we need to distinguish between “America” and the U.S. government. I often blame the U.S. government and sometimes I blame it “first.” I blame it first when it is the aggressor against a country whose government did not attack the United States: think Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon in Vietnam, Bush I in Panama and the Persian Gulf, Clinton in the Balkans, Bush II in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan, and Obama in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and Yemen. In other words, one can criticize pacifism and support national defense without supporting what I call “national offense.” If you want to see more of the case I have laid out on these issues, start here or just go through my Archives on antiwar.com.
Second, I think that many people, including many libertarians, tend to drop their skepticism about government when it involves foreign policy. Many of them are incredibly ignorant about U.S. foreign policy because they have read so little history or have read only the history written by the victors.
Third, I’m depressingly confident that we can never have the small government so many of us want as long as the U.S. government goes around the world kicking up hornets’ nests and having bases in many dozens of countries. See these two articles by Sheldon Richman (here and here.)