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Empire, Interventionism, and the Wall Street Journal

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On January 15, the Wall Street Journal carried a strange article entitled “Ron Paul and Foreign Policy” by Bret Stephens, a member of the Journal’s editorial board, which criticized Ron Paul’s libertarian foreign-policy views.

Taking libertarians to task for embracing a policy of non-intervention in the Middle East (and the rest of the world), Stephens pointed to 18th-century attacks by Barbary Pirates to make his case against noninterventionism. He claimed that private shippers would have been unable to hire or provide protection from piracy and, therefore, had to rely on the federal government to protect them from the pirates.

Even if Stephens’ point about piracy is correct, which is problematic, isn’t it a bit of stretch to go from there to a foreign policy that entails support of dictatorships (e.g., Saddam Hussein, the Shah of Iran, Pervez Musharraf, Augusto Pinochet, etc.), partnerships with terrorists (e.g., Osama bin Laden), invasions and wars of aggression against countries that have not attacked the U.S. (e.g., Iraq, Grenada, Panama, Korea, Vietnam), foreign aid, military bases in more than 100 countries, an ever-expanding military industrial complex, torture and sex abuse, rendition, secret overseas prisons, and denial of due process and kangaroo military courts?

Not surprisingly, at no time in his article did Stephens take personal responsibility for the actual fruits of empire and interventionism — i.e., out of control federal spending, a crashing dollar, financial and economic crises, terrorist blowback, and anger and rage against America among the people of the world. No doubt his position is the same as that of liberals when confronted by the bitter fruits of the welfare state: Please, judge me by my good intentions, not by the actual results of my policies.

Stephens also makes a bizarre claim about how libertarianism is akin to pacifism.

What?

Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t pacifism a total belief in non violence, including a refusal to defend one’s self from a violent attack? Doesn’t Stephens know that while libertarians oppose the initiation of force (which distinguishes them from both conservatives and liberals), libertarians do support the use of force for self-defense? It would seem that Stephens has reached the strange conclusion that because libertarians oppose wars of aggression, such as the war on Iraq, they must oppose defensive wars as well.

Finally, in his article Stephens cattily refers to “the libertarian conceit” and “Dr. Paul’s cult-like following.” His reference brings to mind the libertarian Nobel Prize winning economist Friedrich Hayek’s famous book “The Fatal Conceit,” which criticized those who have an unshakeable belief in government central planning and in the cult of the omnipotent state.

This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.