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Imperialism, Interventionism, and Isolationism

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Conservatives and neo-conservatives sometimes claim that libertarians are “isolationists” because we oppose empire and interventionism. Their suggestion is that if the U.S. government did not have the unrestrained power to drop bombs on countries around the world, that would mean that America would be an “isolationist” country, sort of, I suppose, like Switzerland, whose government does not drop bombs on anyone. One of the amusing aspects to all this is that at the same time that conservatives and neo-cons declaim against “isolationism,” they’re building walls around the United States and harassing people who enter our country, including those who come here legally.

Let’s clarify the issues.

The conservative/neo-conservative position contains two core elements:

(1) The U.S. government must continue to wield the unrestrained, omnipotent power to do whatever it wants to any country anywhere in the world. This power encompasses such things as military attacks, invasions, sanctions, embargoes, wars of aggression, bombing, kidnapping, coups, regime changes, assassinations, torture, military tribunals, overseas prisons, foreign aid, and renditions.

(2) To protect the American people from retaliation from the victims of U.S. foreign policy, the U.S. government wields the power to isolate Americans from the rest of the world. This includes such things as building walls along America’s borders, visa restrictions on foreigners, fingerprinting tourists, and travel restrictions on Americans traveling abroad.

The libertarian paradigm is exactly the opposite.

(1) The U.S. government’s overseas power would be reined in. That would entail the dismantling of the U.S. Empire and the restoration of a limited-government republic. That would mean the dismantling of the 700 U.S. military bases in more than 100 countries. It would also mean bringing all U.S. troops stationed overseas home and discharging them into the private sector. The U.S. government would be prohibited from interfering in the internal affairs of other countries, including the use of military attacks, invasions, sanctions, embargoes, wars of aggression, bombing, kidnapping, coups, regime changes, assassinations, torture, military tribunals, overseas prisons, foreign aid, and renditions.

(2) All restrictions on the freedom of the American people (i.e., the private sector) to interact with the people of the world would be lifted. Foreigners would be free to travel back and forth to the United States for work, tourism, cultural activities, or investment. Americans would be free of all U.S. governmental restrictions to travel to foreign countries for the same reasons.

Notice the big difference between the two paradigms. It’s the conservative/neo-con paradigm that inevitably leads to isolationism of the private sector in order to protect the unrestrained, omnipotent power of the public sector. In the libertarian paradigm, the effect is the exact opposite — the government’s power is reined in and the American people are free to interact with the people of the world.

Conservatives and neo-conservatives sometimes argue that it’s necessary for the U.S. government to wield unrestrained, omnipotent power in foreign affairs in order to help foreigners who are suffering tyranny, citing Iraq as an example. They say that the Iraqi people are better off today than they were before the U.S. invasion of their country despite the fact that there are now an estimated million dead Iraqis and countless more maimed, including many Iraqi children. They maintain, oftentimes somewhat cavalierly, that the U.S. invasion of Iraq has been worth it, the same position that they (and liberals) took with respect to the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children who died from the brutal sanctions imposed on Iraq during the 1990s.

Yet, the libertarian paradigm provides a much better solution to help people who are suffering under foreign tyranny. Rather than invade their countries and kill and maim hundreds of thousands of their people in the process, the libertarian paradigm sends out the following message: “If you are suffering tyranny or economic oppression in your country, our government will not come to save you with invasions, bombs, missiles, sanctions, assassinations, and occupations. Instead, if you are willing and able to escape your plight, know that there is always at least one country to which you can come without fear of being repatriated to your nation — the United States of America.”

Although certainly not perfect, the libertarian paradigm is certainly a much more humane approach to foreign tyranny and oppression than the conservative/neo-con approach. In fact, isn’t it ironic that while the conservatives and neo-cons claim to be occupying Iraq out of love for the Iraqi people, they have absolutely refused to permit more than a few thousand Iraqis to immigrate to the United States, despite the fact that other nations are permitting millions of Iraqi immigrants to enter their countries?

As the various crises facing our country increase in magnitude and intensity, both here at home and abroad, there is at least some solace in knowing that there is a solution to them. That solution is libertarianism. It’s just a matter of time and pain before Americans finally reject the conservative-neo-con paradigm of imperialism, interventionism, and isolationism, and embrace the libertarian paradigm of limited government and peaceful and harmonious relations with the people of the world.

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.