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Introduction to The Failure of America’s Foreign Wars

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(Excerpted from The Failure of America’s Foreign Wars, published by The Future of Freedom Foundation in 1996)

America, too, had its global calling, according to the social engineers. America should not merely be a “beacon of freedom” that would be, through its allegiance to its traditional principles of individual liberty and a free, self-governing society, an example and a model for multitudes of others in other lands living in tyranny and yearning to breathe free. No, this older, nineteenth-century conception of America’s contribution to the betterment of the world was discarded in the twentieth century. According to Woodrow Wilson, it was to make the world safe for democracy; according to Franklin Roosevelt, it was to give the world a New Deal; according to every president since World War II, it was to supply “leadership” and to be a global policeman in the name of the “free world” against totalitarian tyranny.

The social engineers thrust America into the global bonfires of the insanities. Hundreds of thousands of Americans were sacrificed on the altar of two world wars and several regional conflicts in the name of world peace. Traditional American freedoms were restricted or sometimes lost in the name of national security. The honest, hard-earned wealth of millions of Americans was taxed away and consumed in military combat, war preparedness, and foreign-aid giveaways to socialist and interventionist governments and to third-world despots willing to declare their loyalty to the West for the right price.

In the name of “freedom,” the U.S. government trained the secret police of other countries in the fine art of surveillance and interrogation — techniques that many governments in those countries then used against their own citizens and in matters having nothing to do with “fighting communism.” The U.S. government overthrew other governments and gave moral sanction to the assassination of foreign leaders and the execution of the “politically unreliable.” In the name of “free enterprise,” the U.S. government subsidized public works projects, financed nationalized industries in various parts of the world, and participated in compulsory land redistributions.

In the eyes of the social engineers, all of these policies were necessary at the time and essential for the fulfillment of America’s active participation in the world. Peoples in other lands did not realize that their backward traditions and institutions were breeding grounds for the enemies of global freedom. They had to be coerced into new ways for their own good and that of the rest of the world. Foreign governments would not follow American global leadership and had to be threatened or bribed to do so. Many Americans were too ignorant to understand that the only way to fight communism was to foster mild socialism and welfare redistributivism — and that their incomes would have to be taxed to pay for these farseeing, progressive policies.

Even now, with the end of the Cold War and the collapse of communism, the American social engineers continue with their calls for American globalism. Before, America had to be actively involved politically and militarily in the world because, it was argued, there was no other major power to stand up to the Soviet threat. Now, when the Soviet Union is gone, it is argued that America is the only “superpower” left on the face of the earth and that the world needs the United States to provide political and military leadership to prevent regional conflicts and global chaos. It seems that no matter how much the world may change, the social engineers can always unearth new rationales for their continuing desire to meddle in other people’s affairs, whether at home or abroad.

It is time to commit the social engineer and his meddling to the dustbin of history. Social engineering at home has long shown its moral and practical bankruptcy. Woodrow Wilson’s New Freedoms, Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, Harry Truman’s Fair Deal, John F. Kennedy’s New Frontier, and Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society did not make America a freer country, a more just society, or a more prosperous nation. Their planning schemes and interventionist programs politicized American society, diminished the freedoms of the American people, perpetuated poverty, and created new political favoritisms.

Nor have America’s global meddling and foreign interventionist adventures made the world free or secure. Woodrow Wilson’s intervention in World War I helped to create the conditions for the old order in Europe to be replaced with communism in Russia, fascism in Italy, and eventually Hitler and Nazism in Germany. Franklin Roosevelt’s intervention in World War II replaced Nazi tyranny with Soviet domination and terror in half of Europe; and it substituted Japanese imperialism in East Asia with the communist conquest of China as well as Marxist regimes in half of Korea and Vietnam. Having helped create the conditions for communist victory in those lands, the United States then found itself fighting two bloody wars in Asia in the post–World War II era — against the very tyrannies its earlier intervention had helped to bring to power. In both the Korean and Vietnam wars, the communists prevailed against the American social engineers and their sophisticated “fine-tuning” conceptions of “limited war” and “controlled escalation.”

And so far in the new post–Cold War era, the social engineers continue to try to make the world over in their own image through military intervention in Panama, the Middle East, Somalia, Haiti, and the former Yugoslavia. In Panama, one corrupt regime was merely substituted for another, although one more to the liking of the people in Washington; in the Middle East, an undemocratic government was reestablished in Kuwait, and the same tyrant continued to rule in Baghdad after American airpower successfully killed thousands of unfortunate Iraqi soldiers and civilians; Somalia has returned to the same clan conflict that prevailed before U.N. intervention under U.S. military leadership; in Haiti, a brutal regime has been replaced by another, headed by a mentally unstable closet Marxist; and in the former Yugoslavia, the United States and its European allies bomb those they label aggressors and send tens of thousands of their military forces to Bosnia as “peacemakers” in a conflict that is grounded in centuries-old animosities between ethnic and religious groups who possess no refined notion of individual liberty, private property rights, or the Western idea of the rule of law.

It is time to change course. It is time to find our way back to the path of individual liberty, limited government, and nonintervention in both domestic and foreign affairs. The Future of Freedom Foundation exists to help in this endeavor to return America back to its original noninterventionist roots. The essays in this book have been brought together in the hope that they can be assist in bringing about that freer and better world that can be ours in the twenty-first century.

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    Richard M. Ebeling is a professor of economics at Northwood University. He was formerly president of The Foundation for Economic Education (2003–2008), was the Ludwig von Mises Professor of Economics at Hillsdale College (1988–2003) in Hillsdale, Michigan, and served as vice president of academic affairs for The Future of Freedom Foundation (1989–2003).