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by Benjamin Marks, Economics.org.au editor-in-chief

The Missing Dimension of Rothbard’s Foreign Policy

Murray Rothbard’s 1994 essay on foreign policy features the call to action:

OK, the time has come to get tough and to get consistent. Sanctions are simply the coward’s and the babbler’s halfway house to war. We must face the fact that there is not a single country in the world that measures up to the lofty moral and social standards that are the hallmark of the U.S.A. … There is not a single country in the world which, like the U.S., reeks of democracy and “human rights,” and is free of crime and murder and hate thoughts and undemocratic deeds. Very few other countries are as Politically Correct as the U.S., or have the wit to impose a massively statist program in the name of “freedom,” “free trade,” “multiculturalism,” and “expanding democracy.”

And so, since no other countries shape up to U.S. standards in a world of Sole Superpower they must be severely chastised by the U.S., I make a Modest Proposal for the only possible consistent and coherent foreign policy: the U.S. must, very soon, Invade the Entire World! Sanctions are peanuts; we must invade every country in the world, perhaps softening them up beforehand with a wonderful high-tech missile bombing show courtesy of CNN.

But how will we Look in the Eyes of World Opinion if we invade the world? Not to worry; we can always get the cover of our kept stooges in the UN, NATO, or whatever. Boutros Boutros-Ghali, who is already reneging on his agreement to run for only one term as UN secretary-general, is perfect for the job; no more power-hungry UN official has ever existed. But what about the Security Council? That’s OK, because we can always buy off the abstention of China or whoever for a few billion. No problem.

And then the whole world will subsist under the U.S. and UN flags, happy, protected, free of crime and poverty and hate. What could be more inspiring?

A few isolationist, narrow-minded, selfish, callous, and probably anti-Semitic gripers, however, are bound to complain. They like to talk about various “lessons,” for example, Somalia. They like to say: well sure we can get in and “win” easily, but how do we get out? In order to fix up democracy, genocide, poverty, hate, etc., we the United States, must create the country’s infrastructure, set up and train its entire army and police (preferably in the U.S.). We must teach the benighted country about freedom and free elections, create its two Respectable political parties, and begin with a massive multi-billion dollar aid program to make everyone healthy, wealthy, and wise, provide an educational program (replete with dropping huge bags of food by plane so CNN can do handsprings — even if some of the “helped” are killed by the bags), outlaw smoking and junk food, and feed them all with tofu and organically grown mangoes.

But what about the Getting Out Party? What about our universal experience that when U.S. troops get out, the whole aid, infrastructure, etc. go down the drain? The solution is simple, though it has been far overlooked because some narrow-minded selfish fascist stick-in-the-muds will raise a fuss. The solution: We Don’t Get Out! Ever. So we don’t have to worry about preparing the natives for transition. We should stay in there and cheerfully Run the World. Permanently for the good of all.

This proposal does not go far enough. It takes a purely spatial rather than spatio-temporal approach to “consistent and coherent foreign policy”. In the following I attempt to remedy this oversight by showing that we have to do more than invade the world.

From my reading of Rothbard’s proposal, I get the feeling that he believes that even the U.S. does not live up to its own standards, yet due to the temporal limitations of his analysis was unable to see the solution. The U.S., as Rothbard would admit, is heavily in debt and continues to increase spending, whilst provoking terrorists by making trouble overseas. The U.S. government has already invaded itself with its domestic policy. How much longer will we free citizens persist in isolating ourselves from the rest of the world? We are cowardly, cold-hearted, inhumane, uncaring, terrorist-supporting traitorous pacifists. What Rothbard failed to see is that we need to reinvade the places where the U.S. has already invaded.

I do not deny, for my current purposes, the validity of the reasons for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Sure, no weapons of mass destruction were found on the Iraqi side, but at least we had a good look. Some might say that we planted them all around the country; although at least we had the honour not to say that they were from the Iraqi side. And getting rid of Saddam Hussein was a marvellous idea, even if we did a terrible job of replacing him. Who would want to replace him anyway?

I do think, however, that it is time to invade Iraq again. It is filled with foreign armies or security forces or whatever you want to call them, who are barely supported where they come from or by Iraqi civilians. Many innocents and soldiers have already died. The U.S. forces are continuing to cost their own tax-payers huge amounts of money that they do not want to pay, yet are forced to, for something they want no part in, which is theft. It is contradictory to compromise the property of people at home in order to protect the property of people abroad. Perhaps the underlying theory of such policy is fallacious?

But consider the situation: Occupied Iraq is a dangerous mess. More U.S. soldiers have died since the invasion than civilians in the attacks on September 11, 2001. A few Iraqi’s have died as well: over 655,000 according to Lancet study a few years ago — even critics of that study admit the number is too high. Iraqi’s are oppressed by their government, as always, but now also by foreign armed forces. We should invade Iraq to clear away these trouble-makers. I am only talking about a police operation, that is all we need; not a war. We don’t need to convince the populace first. Our reasons for going don’t need to be true, clear or consistent. In the interests of national security and policy effectiveness, we don’t even need to be told what they are.

Not Every Iraqi and Afghan is Evil, Therefore …

It is true that some of the armies we would need to clear away are from our own country and that of our allies, but so what? Saddam Hussein was an Iraqi, yet he was not without dissenters who could also be called Iraqi.

Of course, we should do some things differently to last time.

We should avoid the use of missiles for etymological reasons.

After invading Iraq again, unlike the previous time, we will have an exit strategy. It is: to leave. Once our job is done or shown to be misguided, we will not continue to make things worse; we will simply leave. This is quite cost-effective too. I have done a feasibility study and based on the premise that the soldiers will return home eventually, the sooner they return the less money is wasted. (Of course, the premise that soldiers return home, especially return home alive, is hardly self-evident.)

We would not bother reimbursing victims, for that would probably just make things worse and slow our exit. Government offering reimbursement to its victims is like a protection racket offering more protection. After all, aiding victims was what the Iraq invasion was supposedly about and that hasn’t quite worked out.

The proposed new invasion force will be less likely to fail, because they know that if they do, they will face a new invasion force, the precedent for which they obviously set. Move over warhawks, here come the mockingbirds, to kill a warhawk or two. It may well be that we invade Iraq again and again and again and again. Unless there is something wrong with the underlying theory of it all.

Perhaps not all Western citizens agree with this proposed interventionist foreign policy, despite the fact that they agree with many precedents for it.

But who cares for precedents anyway? What is the difference between pre-emptive crime and pre-emptive government action, between criminals going by precedent and government going by precedent? Whatever happened to theory, to applying theory?

If it is right that Saddam Hussein was put on trial and hung, and if Hussein was wrong to mislead Iraqi and world opinion, kill innocents and illegally enforce “justice”; then it is wrong when the United States and its allies do it, and wrong that they are not being brought to justice. If government can be criminal, then it means government does not create law; if government does create law, then no government in history can be considered criminal.

If it is wrong to conscript people, then it is also wrong to conscript their money. Once you open the door of devaluing liberty, you let in the draft, and, especially in the United States, the overdraft. Many people claim that taxation is voluntary and consensual; very few believe conscription is. Yet the difference is one of degree, not type.

If it is wrong to compromise the property of foreign (Iraqi) civilians, then it is also wrong to compromise (through taxation) the property of domestic civilians. The leftist critique of the warfare state is equally applicable to the welfare state. The rightist critique of the welfare state is equally applicable to the warfare state. Yet rarely does the left or the right make the connection.

If 9/11 has significantly shaped neoconservative-aligned foreign policy views, as many war-supporters attest, then it is surprising that they act like 9/11 never happened and was not contributed to in any way by the policies they continue to implement, with the new excuse of 9/11. The foreign policy they support is generally the same one they have supported their whole life or in many instances throughout: Wilsonian idealism. Even the countries invaded are unoriginal. I wonder why the wars are mentioned in newspapers, as there is nothing new about them.

So much for those publications, think tanks and political parties, not to mention their supporters, who claim they stand for things like logic, consistency, liberty, property, prosperity and security. Most so-called free market think tanks and former Prime Minister of Australia John Howard, for example, claim that they want a free market, yet do not oppose the government-run “defence” force establishing a government overseas or preventing trade with countries whose government they don’t like. Where are their hallowed free markets? Do they deny the truth of the principles they use to defend free markets in other areas? Why for defence, not quite a minor issue, do they think there is such a big exception?

To be sure, many think tanks do not take a position on the the Afghan or Iraq war and many people believe that there are respectable positions on both sides, but invariably those who think this do not consider very deeply what support for the Iraq war entails. Many people, including many opponents of the Afghan or Iraq war, consider that if one acknowledges that Osama bin Laden or Saddam Hussein is evil that is enough to have respect for their position. Anyone who thinks this is not a true opponent of war; they are not respecting the other side of the debate; they are joining it and insulting themselves. Stalin was evil and Hitler was evil, but this does not mean that Hitler was not evil and Stalin was not evil. That bin Laden or Hussein was evil and criminal is not the issue. The issue is whether we could invade without making things worse and without compromising the principles we are trying to uphold. Yet these issues are ignored. Past failures, lack of success and the reasons for certain Middle Eastern appearances in Western countries are not considered.

But when it comes to foreign policy we don’t need to pick small holes in the great work that these think tanks and the government is doing. There is nothing to pick holes in. They have no theory, and no great work. If they did, why have they not stated it? They have all been around a long time; why have they not been able to say what principles they stand for or political theory they believe in? I do not mean fuzzy statements of principles; I mean their reasoning. Why do they not list their premises and their deductions? That way we could see whether their theory is true and they are sticking to it. This goes some way to explain why government under Howard, the supposed uncompromising defender of free markets, increased. (I recall that some of the think tanks published bits and pieces of antiwar commentary, but why didn’t the think tanks themselves take the free market position against interventionist foreign policy?)

Therefore, Kevin Rudd looks very stupid, especially when he used to call himself Opposition Leader; as he appeared to be for the government rather than against it. Did he have any principled objection to Howard? Does he wish to be an unprincipled hypocrite differing from Howard in rhetoric, even then only slightly, and on relatively minor (though still consequential) issues only? Both Howard and Rudd are clearly more interested in gaining power than understanding and espousing theory.

But I am the first to admit that reinvading Afghanistan or Iraq is unlikely to happen. So I have a more practical suggestion, also in the tradition of popular past practices, but unlike invading Afghanistan or Iraq, this idea remains popular.

A Reflection on Commemorative Silences

In commemoration of workers being fleeced by the tax-man, soldiers sent to defend their governments’ mistakes and other victims of government, I suggest that politicians and their supporters in journalism have a couple of years’ silence.

Imagine a politician who never said a word. He would stand for just as much as his colleagues, yet not make any of their mistakes. If political leaders were mimes, they would be exactly what we need: real puppet governments. It might not provide the same entertainment as now, but it would be harder for them to bluff us into another war, for it would be easier for us to see who is pulling their strings.

Commemorative silence always seems to occur too late and for too short a time. Anything less than 10 minutes is unlikely to have any real effect. It is more a pause than a silence, and only serves to make people more talkative beforehand and afterwards. If a gag order was for a minute only, it would be more a gag than an order. There is no sense in having only a few minutes’ silence a year, for what we are commemorating is far more common. There needs to be some proportion and meaning to it; otherwise it is an empty gesture, like a politician stating his principles, making a speech or wearing clothes.

Everyone is always talking about the importance of a balanced approach to solving problems. For countless years those of us who want some peace and quiet have been insulted and tortured with war and speeches. How about, for only two years, warmongers and demagogues have a go at silence? Lots of noise has contributed towards rather than solved our troubles. How much more time do these people want to achieve their war to end all wars?

Terrorist attacks do not just happen out of the blue, unless it is a sunny day. Western countries are not chosen because they have non-interventionist foreign policies. Of course, getting retribution by killing innocents is a fallacious idea, and certainly not an idea worth repeating. Fallacious ideas cannot be killed, but they can be refuted and taught against. To repeat: the belief that fallacious ideas can be killed is a fallacious belief. (To convince people of the errors of their ways might be futile and readily backfire too, but not nearly to the degree of using far more similar methods to the very thing you are trying to stop, especially since it is similar to the very thing you are trying to stop.) After the attacks of September 11, 2001, there has been much bloodshed, but I have been unable to see any state-sanctioned or supported education to this end. But perhaps that is not the role of government.

What then can government do? With their military intelligence, smart bombs and reasonable budgets, can they be expected to catch the perpetrators of crime without themselves causing the theft of more property and the deaths of more innocents? Their record speaks for itself; this is another reason why their silence is advisable, especially in the interests of national security. It goes without saying, as they should.

In pretending to protect property war-makers expropriate it (at the very least, by using or threatening force to extract tax), thereby continuing what they pretend to prevent. I don’t know how Howard, Rudd, Bush or Obama can live with themselves. I would never live with any of them. They are like millipedes; they have a hand in thousands of young and innocent people’s graves. Maybe they stubbornly refuse to change their mind no matter how evil their beliefs are, because their policy is not to negotiate with terrorists.

Appendix 1: Paine on Iraq/Afghan War

It is often claimed that criticism of American policies is unAmerican, but to maintain this you must believe that Thomas Paine was unAmerican; for words which everyone would agree were once supportive of American policies are now critical of them, and during Paine’s own lifetime — here, for example — he explicitly criticised American policies.

The following quotes are from Thomas Paine, Collected Writings (New York: The Library of America, 1995). After each quote the original publication date and title is supplied in square brackets, along with its page number in the aforementioned edition of Paine’s Collected Writings.

Five years have nearly elapsed since the commencement of hostilities, and every campaign, by a gradual decay, has lessened your ability to conquer, without producing in you a serious thought on your condition or your fate. Like a prodigal lingering in an habitual consumption, you feel the relicks of life and mistake them for recovery. New schemes, like new medicines, have administered fresh hopes and prolonged the disease instead of curing it. A change of Generals, like a change of physicians, served only to keep the flattery alive, and furnish new pretences for new extravagance [see this, for example]. [The Crisis, Number VIII, February 26, 1780, p. 222.]

[W]hen the tumult of war shall cease, and the tempest of present passions be succeeded by calm reflection, or when those who surviving its fury, shall inherit from you a legacy of debts and misfortunes, when the yearly revenue shall scarcely be able to discharge the interest of the one, and no possible remedy be left for the other; ideas, far different to the present, will arise, and embitter the remembrance of former follies. A mind disarmed of its rage, feels no pleasure in contemplating a frantic quarrel. [Ibid., pp. 226-27.]

The case now is not so properly who began the war, as who continues it. That there are men in all countries to whom a state of war is a mine of wealth, is a fact never to be doubted. [Ibid., p. 227.]

War never can be the interest of a trading nation, any more than quarrelling can be profitable to a man in business. But to make war upon those who trade with us, is like setting a bulldog upon a customer at the shop door. The least degree of common sense shews the madness of the latter, and it will apply with the same force of conviction to the former. Piratical nations, having neither commerce or commodities of their own to lose, may make war upon all the world and lucratively find their account in it. But it is quite otherwise with [the countries who invaded Iraq]. For besides the stoppage of trade in time of war, she exposes more of her own property to be lost, than she has the chance of taking from others. Some ministerial gentlemen in Parliament have mentioned the greatness of her trade as an apology for the greatness of her loss. This is miserable politics indeed! because it ought to have been given as a reason for her not engaging in war at first. [The Crisis, Number VII, November 11, 1778, pp. 196-97.]

There is such an idea existing in the world as that of national honor, and this, falsely understood, is oftentimes the cause of war. In a christian and philosophical sense mankind seem to have stood still at individual civilization, and to retain as nations all the original rudeness of nature. Peace, by treaty, is only a cessation of violence, not a reformation of sentiment. It is a substitute for a principle that is wanting, and ever will be wanting till the idea of national honor be rightly understood. As individuals we profess ourselves christians, but as nations we are heathens, Romans, and what not. … In private life we should call it by the plain name of bullying, and the elevation of rank cannot alter its character. It is I think exceedingly easy to define what ought to be understood by national honor, for that which is the best character for an individual is the best character for a nation; and wherever the latter exceeds or falls beneath the former, there is departure from the line of true greatness. [Ibid., pp. 197-98.]

[T]he Congress have as much right to command the King and Parliament of [Iraq] … as they … have to command the Congress. Only suppose how laughable such an edict would appear from [them], and then, in that merry mood, do but turn the tables. [The American Crisis, Number II, January 13, 1777, p. 101.]

Edmund Burke, for what it’s worth, made a similar comment to this last one in 1756:

You may criticise freely upon the Chinese Constitution, and observe with as much Severity as you please upon the absurd Tricks, or destructive Bigotry of the Bonzees [Buddhist clergy of Japan and Asia]. But the Scene is changed as you come homeward, and Atheism or Treason may be the Names given in Britain, to what would be Reason and Truth if asserted of China. [Edmund Burke, A Vindication of Natural Society, in his Pre-Revolutionary Writings, ed. Ian Harris (Cambridge University Press, 1993), p. 45.]

Appendix 2: Jefferson on Afghan/Iraq War

I disagree with Paine and Jefferson on many things, but my aim is not solely to use their reputation, and I am not exactly quoting them in context. All the excerpts I quote display something touching on principle rather than fact, or illustrate a similarity between the past and the present. Therefore, they should encourage theoretical and historical investigation, and prevent respect being given to commentary devoid of any sustained or clear theory.

After each quote, in square brackets, is the original title and publication date, and a page number, which refers to The Life and Selected Writings of Thomas Jefferson, ed. Adrienne Koch and William Peden (New York: The Modern Library, 2004).

We believe the practice of seizing what is called contraband of war, is an abusive practice … And what is contraband, by the law of nature? Either everything which may aid and comfort the enemy, or nothing. Either all commerce which would accommodate him is unlawful, or none is. The difference between articles of one or another description, is a difference of degree only. [Think of sanctions and weapons inspections.] [Letter to Robert R. Livingston, September 9, 1801, pp. 517-18.]

I am for free commerce with all nations; political connection with none; and little or no diplomatic establishment. [Letter to Elbridge Gerry, January 26, 1799, p. 499.]

A little knowledge of human nature [from those who threaten and commit violence], and attention to its ordinary workings, might have foreseen that the spirits of the people here were in a state, in which they were more likely to be provoked, than frightened, by haughty deportment. [Letter to Dr. William Small, May 7, 1775, p. 334.]

peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations — entangling alliances with none [Inaugural Address, March 4, 1801, p. 300.]

[From the Iraq War] one of these conclusions must necessarily follow, either that justice is not the same thing in America as in [Iraq], or else, that [America] pay less regard to it [in Iraq] than [in America]. … [E]xperience confirms the propriety of these political principles, which exempt [Iraq] from the jurisdiction of the [American] Parliament. [A Summary View of the Rights of British America, 1774, p. 277.]

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