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Foreign Liberals Shouldn’t be Liberal with American Lives and Money

Before becoming wedded to statism in America, liberalism was a philosophy of liberation. But while leading liberals of the past advocated peace, many foreign (“classical”) liberals today favor war—at least, if conducted by America. 

For instance, former chess champion Garry Kasparov has taken on the thankless task of battling for democracy in his Russian homeland. Less commendably, he is surprisingly generous with other people’s lives. He recently declared: “Anything less than a major U.S. and NATO-led ground offensive against ISIS will be a Pentagonguarantee of continued failure and more terror attacks in the West.” 

Kasparov is confused over cause and effect, since terrorism most often follows intervention, as did the recent Islamic State strikes against France, Hezbollah and Russia. But there is a more basic point. 

It’s easy for a celebrity Russian living in the West to argue that it is the job of Americans, with maybe a couple Europeans tossed in, to destroy ISIS, save Syria, and more. But there’s actually nothing liberal in pushing a broader, longer war on others. 

Kasparov is not alone. A Slovak ensconced at the American Enterprise Institute argued that non-intervention “is unwise and reckless, and would ultimately jeopardize libertarian principles of individual freedom.” He cited three Europeans—Lithuanian, Russian, Swedish—who contended that “compelling [libertarian] arguments can be made for both advocates of globalist and non-interventionist foreign policy positions.” 

Actually, that’s true only so long as one isn’t paying the cost of the foreign policy. As foreigners typically do not for American intervention, unless it is directed at them. Indeed, foreign liberals who call for intervention mostly talk about America. 

After all, the Russian government is interventionist—“globalist,” if you will—but not in a way supported by Kasparov and other Russian liberals. Slovakia has precisely 15,850 men under arms. Lithuania and Sweden have fewer men at the ready. No one cares whether the latter three countries even have a foreign policy. 

About the only option for them is to ask someone else, namely America, to defend them. Thus, when foreign liberals argue for collective security and military forces, they really meant Americans should do the creating and investing—and, ultimately, fighting. 

Some complain that it's ad hominem to point out the obvious. That's a little extra chutzpah coming from someone who believes in limited government for me, but big government for thee. 

U.S. foreign policy should, indeed, must, be guided by what is in the interest of those doing the paying and dying, namely the American people. The Pentagon exists to protect them, and the liberal republic which governs them, not conduct grand “liberal” crusades around the world. 

First, as social critic Randolph Bourne warned, “War is the health of the state.” Military spending is the price of one’s foreign policy. 

Moreover, war kills, disables, and wounds. Today the home front also becomes a battlefield. The national security state generates economic controls, restraints on civil liberties, and restrictions on political freedoms. 

Second, U.S. alliances act as a form of international welfare. Washington doing it ensures that no one else will do it. It made sense for the U.S. to protect war-devastated Western Europe at the end of World War II. But not today, when the European Union enjoys a greater GDP and population than America. 

Third, an interventionist, warlike policy kills. Not just Americans, but foreigners. The foolish Iraq invasion unleashed sectarian war that killed perhaps 200,000 Iraqis before ebbing, only to flare again under the Islamic State, a malign force spawned by the conflict. 

Fourth, Washington does badly at social engineering at home. It does far worse attempting to remake the world. The vision is simply mad when applied to the Middle East. 

Given these realities, the kind of aggressive U.S. policy toward Russia desired by many foreign liberals would be foolish and, yes, illiberal, for America. Russian activities harm the liberties of other peoples. Doing more to stop Moscow would do greater damage to the liberties of Americans. 

Russia doesn’t pose a danger to the U.S. Nor does Moscow any longer even threaten to dominate Europe. The continent enjoys around eight times the GDP and three times the population of Russia. Europe’s eastern border lands remain vulnerable to pressure, but the American purpose is not to risk war with nuclear powers to rescue states in bad geopolitical neighborhoods. 

Is the result a good outcome? No. But nothing in liberal philosophy requires residents of the globe’s most powerful “liberal” nation to bankrupt themselves, sacrifice their liberty, and court national destruction to try to make the earth a better place. Americans, especially traditional liberals, should choose domestic peace and prosperity over international charity and conflict. 

 

Doug Bandow is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute. A former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan, he is author of Foreign Follies:  America’s New Global Empire (Xulon). Foreign Follies: America's New Global Empire: http://www.xulonpress.com/bookstore/bookdetail.php?PB_ISBN=9781597819886

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