LIBERTARIAN INTERVENTIONISM: WILL IT LIBERATE?
Franklin Harris's recent post "Dictatress of the World" reminds me that I've been meaning to post an article I wrote a while back on the subject of libertarian interventionism. The article was for Liberty magazine which, sadly, doesn't have much of a web presence. But I'll put it up here, broken up into four medium-sized chunks. Here's the intro:
Despite the cliché, September 11th didn’t “change everything”; it did, however, change George W. Bush’s approach to foreign policy. On campaign trail 2000, Bush disparaged nation-building and called for a foreign policy based on the American national interest. But in the aftershock of 9/11, his administration embraced an ambitious set of foreign policy goals that goes far beyond eradicating the Al Qaeda threat. The National Security Strategy adopted by the Bush administration last year proclaims that “the United States will use this moment of opportunity to extend the benefits of freedom across the globe.” The war with Iraq, sold to the American people as a vital matter of national security, quickly morphed into “Operation Iraqi Freedom.” As evidence that Iraq had the means or the inclination to attack us has failed to surface, the administration has accordingly leaned ever more heavily on the benefits the war brought to the Iraqi people. And we now have 2,300 Marines poised off the coast of Liberia, where nothing resembling a national security interest presents itself.
Advocates and opponents of the new policy are calling it “imperialism,” but the irreplaceable Michael Kelly, killed in Iraq last April while working as an embedded reporter, coined a more accurate term. Kelly called the new approach “armed evangelism for the freedom of men.”
President Bush isn’t alone in his post-September 11th penchant for armed evangelism. Many libertarians are publicly and privately warming up to an aggressive foreign policy aimed at “building a free world sooner rather than later,” as Reason’s Ron Bailey puts it. It’s not hard to understand why armed evangelism might appeal to libertarians, or to any friend of freedom. If we hold it to be a self evident truth that all men are created equal, then why should some men have their faces ground into the dirt based on accident of birth? Even if, like me, you’re convinced that Saddam Hussein was never a threat to the United States, you’d have to have a cold, dead heart not to thrill when the bastard’s statues came down.
But even though armed evangelism aims at the freedom of men, it’s not libertarian, and libertarians should be loathe to embrace it. It departs from the libertarian tradition in several important respects. I’ll trace several of those departures, in ascending order of significance.
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