A few days after 9/11, a friend of mine at the conservative Heritage Foundation proudly exclaimed to me that Heritage had immediately jumped out in favor of the Bush administration’s war on terrorism, with positions papers and articles. At the same time, Heritage continued to carry the same mission statement on its website: “to formulate public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional values, and a strong national defense.”
What my friend failed to recognize is that by jumping out in favor of the war on terrorism, the Heritage Foundation was, at the same time, supporting a policy that permanently precluded the achievement of “free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, and traditional values.”
Look at what the war on terrorism has brought our nation:
1. The attack, invasion, and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, which are still taking place some 8 years later, along with the deaths and maiming of hundreds of thousands of people, the exile of millions of people, and the destruction of both countries. Such actions have ensured the perpetual threat of terrorist retaliation, which means the war on terrorism has become a permanent feature of American life. We should also bear in mind that neither attack was done with the constitutionally required congressional declaration of war, thereby further denigrating the very document that conservatives purport to hold dear.
2. Federal spending continues to soar out of control, not just to fund ever-growing welfare-state needs at home but also because of the ever-growing expenses associated with the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. That can only mean ever-growing taxes, borrowing, and inflation.
Yet, while conservative scholars, including those at Heritage, seem to understand the economic dangers posed by out-of-control federal spending, taxation, government debt, and inflation, what’s fascinating is that they don’t see that it’s the very policies they support that destroy sound money.
3. One of the aspects of the war on terrorism that has most fascinated me is how conservatives have either supported or pooh-poohed the torture and sex abuse that has taken place at the hands of the U.S. military and the CIA. Before 9/11, never in my wildest dreams did I ever think conservatives, who generally pride themselves on their religious values, would ever endorse or downplay the torture and sex abuse of other people. I would have thought that they would be so shocked and appalled by it all that they would be demanding investigations to determine whether such acts were not just the product of some dysfunctional CIA agents and U.S. soldiers, but instead part of a well-organized governmental policy to discourage resistance to U.S. power. Alas, not so. Conservatives continue to oppose any investigation into the matter, whether through criminal prosecution or by truth commission.
4. The war on terrorism has vested the U.S. government with the power to seize Americans as “enemy combatants” and to deny them trial by jury and due process of law, powers that that cannot possibly be reconciled with the principles of a free society. Since the war on terrorism is permanent, so are the powers that are integral to waging it.
5. Americans are also now subject to the constant threat of random searches of their email and wiretapping of their telephone calls. Even if it’s done illegally, everyone knows that no federal official who does it is ever going to be punished for doing so. How can living in a society under the constant threat of being spied upon and monitored be consistent with freedom? Yet, that’s an integral part of the war on terrorism.
As part of its mission statement, Heritage also calls for a “strong national defense.” But deep down, conservatives have to realize that such a position is disingenuous. In actuality, conservatives support a federal military and military-industrial complex that has nothing to do with defending the United States, especially given that no nation on earth has the military capability of attacking, invading, and occupying the United States.
When the conservatives say they support a “strong national defense,” what they really mean is an enormous military with the capability of establishing and maintaining bases in countries all over the world and imposing its will universally through foreign aid, assassinations, invasions, coups, sanctions, embargoes, and the like.
The perversity of that pro-empire, pro-intervention foreign policy is that it produces the very conditions for terrorist blowback, which is precisely what happened with 9/11, which is then used as the excuse to continue indefinitely the policies that destroy freedom here at home, including foreign invasions, occupations, out-of-control federal spending, kidnapping, torture and sex abuse, rendition, and suspension of civil liberties.
Libertarians, like conservatives, favor “free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, and traditional values.” What distinguishes us from conservatives, however, is that we will don’t endorse governmental policies that destroy what we support. That’s why, unlike conservatives, we oppose a foreign policy of empire and intervention and favor the restoration of a constitutional republic to our land.