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Isolationist Options for the United States

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Whenever a libertarian calls for the dismantling of the U.S. government’s overseas military empire and the end of foreign interventionism, the standard response of the pro-empire, pro-intervention crowd is, “We cannot return to isolationism. That would be a disaster.” The sentence is intended to immediately shut down all further discussion given the opprobrium that is attached to the term “isolationism.”

Actually, however, there are three different options, including the libertarian one, when it comes to analyzing foreign policy and isolationism. To understand why libertarianism is the only viable option, both morally and pragmatically, it is necessary to examine each of those three options.

First of all though, in analyzing foreign policy it is important to draw a distinction between the government sector and the private sector, something that the pro-empire, pro-intervention crowd is usually loathe to do. Employing the pronoun “we,” they inevitably conflate both the government and private sectors in their analyses. Actually, however, there are two separate and distinct groups of people — those in the government sector and those in the private sector — a phenomenon that is reflected, for example, in the Bill of Rights, which expressly protects the private sector from the government sector.

Here are the three foreign-policy options with respect to isolationism:

1. Continue to permit the U.S. government to have omnipotent rein all over the world while restricting the ability of the private sector to interact with the people of the world. This is the paradigm under which the United States has been operating for many decades.

This option would mean that the U.S. government would be able to continue maintaining military bases around the world, invading and occupying countries, kidnapping and renditioning people, torturing and sexually abusing terrorist suspects, sanctioning and embargoing foreigners, and providing foreign aid to brutal regimes.

At the same time, through tightened visa restrictions and travel controls, the private sector would be discouraged from interacting with foreigners. Foreigners would be inhibited from coming to the United States, while Americans, through embargoes and sanctions, would be discouraged from traveling overseas.

Thus, this option involves unleashing the government sector onto the world while isolating the private sector from the rest of the world. In a sense, the two positions are related given that the threat of terrorist blowback from the government’s overseas operations provides the excuse to protect the American people from the terrorist threat by isolating them from foreigners.

2. Rein in the federal government overseas by dismantling all overseas military bases, bringing all U.S. soldiers home and discharging them, and prohibiting the U.S. government from intervening in the affairs of other nations. At the same time, restrict the ability of the private sector to interact with the people of the world, as described in Option 1.

With this option, both the government sector and private sector are being isolated from the rest of the world. While preferable to Option 1, it is still less than ideal due to its isolation of the private sector from the rest of the world.

3. Rein in the federal government, as described in Option 2, while at the same time unleash the private sector to interact with the people of the world. This is the libertarian foreign-policy paradigm. It would involve the end of all sanctions and embargoes and other restrictions that interfere with the ability of the American people to freely trade, travel, and spend money anywhere in the world.

Option 3 rests on the notion that the American people — the private sector — are our nation’s greatest ambassadors. It recognizes that American tourists, cultural groups, businessmen, and charities are the best means for producing the natural harmonies that guide human affairs while government officials, including soldiers, are among the worst.

The United States will soon have a change of administrations. However, what our nation needs most of all is a change of paradigms. A paradigm of empire and intervention and isolation of the private sector is the wrong way to go. A paradigm of limited government and isolation of the private sector is also the wrong way to go. The best paradigm for foreign policy is the libertarian one — one which embraces limited government in overseas affairs and freedom for the American people — the private sector — to interact 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.