January 4, 2012
Libertarians and Political InsanityBy Walt Ughes
As Albert Einstein said insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. That pretty much summarizes the Libertarian view of what our government has been doing since FDR. With record deficits, unemployment, and unfunded liabilities, it is time to end the insanity.
In a recent American Thinker article entitled "To Get Ron Paul's Insanity, You Have To Understand Libertarianism," Don Feder proceeds to define Ron Paul's opinions, as a proxy for all Libertarians, as insane. Of course, Mr. Feder's definition of sanity is support for the Vietnam War and the "prohibitionist" War on Drugs. Visit Saigon (sorry...Ho Chi Minh City), Chicago in the 1920s, or the Mexican border to see how those "sane" wars worked out.
Mr. Feder's and my views of libertarian philosophy are worlds apart. Libertarians believe in personal freedom and personal responsibility. They also believe that power corrupts. The best way to preserve freedom and limit government corruption is limited government, something our Founders well understood. When our government goes beyond very narrow limits, it inevitably fails at the cost of money, lives, and freedoms. It also loses moral legitimacy, a critical component of just government.
Mr. Feder says that Libertarians are ideologues who suffer from Emerson's "foolish consistency." Libertarians are "foolishly" consistent not because they are ideologues. They are consistent, foolish or otherwise, because with core beliefs that rights flow from the individual and that government's powers are extremely limited, being consistent is easy. "Is a government action a legitimate use of government power?" Vietnam, the drug laws, and a million other actions are not.
Mr. Feder also seems to think that economic liberty and personal liberty are separable. Libertarians know that you can't be half-free. You are free or you are not. Ask the Chinese in Tiananmen Square -- those who are still alive, that is.
Mr. Feder attempts to provide examples that, while supposedly discrediting Libertarian philosophy, ironically prove the superiority -- or should I say the sanity? -- of Libertarianism.
When Murray Rothbard's view that America could defend herself from a Soviet invasion is presented as an example of Libertarians not being "hampered by reality," the irony is laughable. How did the vaunted Soviet military machine's invasion of tiny, stone-age Afghanistan work out? Couldn't hundreds of millions of Americans with our technology have done better than a bunch of guys in mud huts? Was Charlie Wilson importing stingers from Afghanistan to the USA? One for Mr. Rothbard.
Mr. Rothbard is also attacked for believing that "our involvement in the Second World War was a tragedy: 'Our entry into World War II was the crucial act in foisting a permanent militarization upon the economy and society, in bringing to the country a permanent garrison state, an overweening military-industrial complex[.]'" All wars are tragedies, some are necessary.
Regardless of your view of the causes of WWII, clearly America was changed forever as a result of it. If stationing troops around the world for 65 years for a country that avoided "entangling alliance" for 150 years is not a permanent militarization, what is? When we spend more on defense than the next six countries combined, that is permanent militarization. Another one for Mr. Rothbard.
The article accuses Libertarians of being isolationist, which generally translates into "we don't want to go to your war." Was the Jeffersonian phrase of the Washingtonian concept of avoiding entangling alliances "isolationism"? Calling someone an isolationist is like calling someone a racist. The accused is supposed to shut up in shame. My mom always said when the other party starts name-calling, you know that you have won the debate.
When addressing isolationism, Mr. Feder brings up the Second World War. The Libertarian Platform says the United States should maintain a sufficient military to defend itself. Once we were attacked at Pearl Harbor, I think that most Libertarians would agree (no one Libertarian speaks for us all) that we needed to defend ourselves.
A more important question about Pearl Harbor is this: why were we attacked? The simple answer is that a bunch of Japanese warlords thought that attacking the U.S. to get Dutch oil was worth the risk. The slightly more complex answer is because FDR had imposed a crippling oil embargo on Japan, so the warlords felt that it was capture natural resources quickly or die. America's Pacific fleet and Philippines bases were a threat to Japanese plans and were therefore attacked. The even more enlightening question is, why were we in the Philippines and Hawaii to begin with? Our occupancy there was clearly the legacy of previous imperialism (an i-word that Obama's friend Teddy Roosevelt liked) in the Spanish-American War.
Before addressing what to do about Iran, let's make sure we understand how we got into our last world war. In 1898, America sent a warship to Havana, which subsequently blew up due to an unknown cause. Prominent Americans claim that the Spanish are at fault, and off we go to war. To avenge a U.S. ship attacked in Cuba, we occupy the Philippines for 45 years, brutally surprising some of the natives.
Next we need Hawaii. Even though President Cleveland found that the American troops led to the overthrow of the Hawaiian government, because of the war with Spain, the U.S. needed Hawaii as a naval base to defend our Asian territories. Forty years later, FDR embargoes Japan because of threats in Asia, and our forces in Hawaii and the Philippines are attacked, which gets us into World War Two. Seventy years later, we still have troops in Europe and Japan.
Talk about entangling alliances. What if we hadn't been in Havana? How would the U.S. be different today?
When politicians argue who could best bomb Iran or impose embargoes, Libertarians stand up and say to remember history. Bombing or embargoing Iran is an action that will have consequences. Those need to be fully and freely discussed, without name-calling.
Equally importantly, will they work? We embargoed North Korea, and they got the bomb. Why do we think that an embargo will work in a much richer and more sophisticated Iran, particularly with limited global support? Why do we think that bombing will work? With multiple Iranian facilities, how can we make sure that we get enough to effectively stop their program? Some are in highly populated areas; how many Iranians are we willing to kill? What will that do in the sensitive Islamic world?
Are there more effective actions we could take to protect ourselves against Iran? When any politician talks about bombing Iran, ask him how much money he voted to spend on Electromagnetic Pulse defense. That is a major risk that we can controllably defend against, yet we are doing virtually nothing.
As the saying goes, if you break it, you own it. If we attack Iran, how long are we going to be involved there? The Spanish-American war ended 110 years ago, and we are still living with its ramifications.
Washington and Jefferson warned about entangling alliances. Before we start new wars, we should remember that. Doing the same old thing and expecting a different result -- that is insane.
Walt Ughes is the pen name of a Libertarian blogger and historian who fervently believes in American exceptionalism. While leading demonstrations opposing American involvement in what he believed was an unconstitutional war, as a lover of freedom and the constitution, he volunteered for military service. He previously voted for Ron Paul.
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