Monday, August 06, 2007

Libertarian Foreign Policy?

More catching up: Libertarian law professor Randy Barnett wrote this op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal back on July 17th about libertarians and the war. (Some reaction from the Reason community here.) The piece is, in part, a response to the popularity of Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul among libertarians which has been driven almost entirely by his stringent anti-war stance. Barnett, like myself, is more of a hawkish libertarian, who worries that the general public will see libertarians first and foremost as a group of anti-war mongers.

Barnett asks the question, "Does being a libertarian commit one to a particular stance toward the Iraq war?" and answers with a resounding no. I would take Barnett's argument a step further. It's not just that libertarianism doesn't provide a specific answer on the war in Iraq, I believe that libertarianism doesn't provide any answers when it comes to foreign policy, period. And truth be told, I don't think any political ideology provides real foreign policy answers- rather, at various points in history, members of differing political ideologies tend to take on different sorts of foreign policy positions. (For instance, you'd be hard pressed to come up with any strong policy differences between the foreign policies of the Democrats and the Republicans in the years from Truman to LBJ.)

Having spent a great deal of time studying American foreign policy as an undergrad, both from a political science perspective and a historical perspective, I'm left with the pragmatic impression that there are no right answers and there are no easy answers when it comes to international relations. Libertarians can hope for an ideal libertarian system within our own borders because all we're basically asking is for government to protect life, liberty, and property. Libertarianism doesn't provide an answer for what to do about Nazi Germany, international communism, or even international Islamic terrorism for that matter. At some point you have to recognize that there are groups of people in the world- be it nations or international organizations- who aren't bound by your laws and don't subscribe to your beliefs of freedom and equality. And when it comes to what to do about these people, I don't think there are any right answers, just different choices, some of which are more uncomfortable than others.

I think libertarians, particularly libertarian-leaning candidates, should shy away from taking strong foreign policy stances, period. For one thing, the president essentially dictates foreign policy, so unless you're actually running for president, your foreign policy views aren't all that relevant to the job you'll be doing. And if libertarians are ever going to actually be elected, they need to position themselves as true alternatives to the same tired conservative and liberal positions. Yes, I know both sides are out for blood when it comes to the war issue, but the point should be that we don't want to play that game and we're not going to. I think we libertarians do ourselves a disservice, when we do as Ron Paul and make the war the most important issue. All it does is divide those who want smaller government and a truly free country.

Other libertarians may be excited about Ron Paul, but I'm not. Not only is he for the immediate pull out of the troops from Iraq, regardless of the consequences, he's also anti-immigration and anti-abortion. I've voted Libertarian in past elections, primarily as a protest vote, but also because I could look past the foreign policy wackiness and vote based on the domestic agenda. Paul may have some good small government credentials, but I differ with him too much to be a real supporter. I never voted for him, but I've been happy with Bush the leader, Bush the commander-in-chief, as the lesser of 2 evils. Bush may have mishandled and mismanaged the war in Iraq (he's certainly mishandled the propaganda), but he was better than Kerry-no plan, and as I said in the days following September 11th, "thank God Al Gore isn't president." At this juncture, I don't have anyone I'm supporting, but if by some miracle it comes down to say, Hilary vs. Ron Paul, Hilary Clinton is going to be my new George Bush.


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