Published On: Mon, Jul 20th, 2015

The Intervention Intervention. Part One: Foreign Entanglements

You know that moment when you finally get a piece of information, and with it you suddenly understand? That spark that completely changes how you look at something? I suspect that a lot of people are on the edge of a moment like that right now, so close to understanding that the U.S. government is costing its citizens an awful lot of money and worry by doing things it was never intended to do. What is the name for that? Intervention—the placing of its nose where the founding fathers, and usually the people, never intended it to be. More than that, the idea of interventionism is a way of seeing things that cuts across many issues and through the left-right fallacy.

John Trumbull (1756-1843) painting

John Trumbull (1756-1843) painting

In this first part we’ll look at the way our nation tends to intervene in matters across the world that are best left to the countries that created the issues in the first place. First, though, let’s be clear: It goes without saying that America needs a substantial defense against aggression. If anyone bombs our buildings or attacks our shores we must respond with staggering force against whoever committed those acts. That, though, is very different from going to war in, or for, other countries when we have never been attacked ourselves.

Rather than a fringe topic, this is the cause of our greatest generals. George Washington, in his farewell address in 1796, advised friendly relations and commerce with all countries, but not to “entangle our peace and prosperity” with them. Seehttp://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/washing.asp.

Similarly, outgoing President Eisenhower in 1961 noted that: “This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. . . . In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.” See http://coursesa.matrix.msu.edu/~hst306/documents/indust.html

An America with an “immense military establishment” continued with the threat of communist expansion in the 1980s, at which time we armed forces in nations at odds with the communists (some of those forces would later use those guns against us, for example, in Afghanistan). Regardless of whether the cold war spending level was necessary, though, it certainly has not been needed at that scale since its end, particularly if the job of the military is the one George Washington defined as being our vigorous defense, but avoiding foreign entanglements that might lead to us into wars.

Instead, though, America’s policy in the modern age has been almost constant foreign intervention.

The War in Iraq is an obvious recent example. Initial predictions of the cost to the U.S. were around $21 billion. See http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Backchannels/2011/1222/Iraq-war-Predictions-made-and-results. It cost $800 billion for just the war itself, and the oil revenues never materialized to help the funding. Over 36,000 were wounded and killed. In the beginning it had a strongman suppressing its people but who was largely benign to the interests of the United States. At the far end it is being taken over by ISIS, a group that is outright hostile to the United States, and its people are no better for the effort and one can hardly expect the Iraqi people to consider American in a better light after it all is said and done. So the intervention cost $800 billion for a lot of blood, no oil, and no goodwill. Those are the wages of interventionism.

This is not a question of being for or against the military.  The vast majority of those in the military are heroes who should never be denigrated (as occurred after the Viet Nam War).  Rather, we should give them the respect of carefully reviewing whether we really need to put them in harm’s way for any reason other than to defend America.  Nor is it a question of isolation, it is a matter of thinking things through.  Washington himself urged commerce over war, and more often than not commerce creates more peace in the longer term.

As a nation, unless someone in our family is in the military, we tend to forget that we always seem to be putting young people in harm’s way for some reason other than our nation’s defense, whether it’s labeled humanitarian or war: Panama, Somalia, Haiti, Colombia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Afghanistan. There are those who would have us defending Ukraine, militarily supporting a side in Syria, or attacking Iran right now. There is always an enemy and the cry is always for intervention.

Rather than following the lead of politicians and “foreign policy experts” who are never called to account after their predictions fall apart, but rather are brought back again as experts, the American people should take it on themselves to ask whether the talking heads calling for intervention are correct, or whether Washington was right to advise us not to entangle ourselves in other country’s causes. We should ask whether Eisenhower was right that our leaders may have motivations other than patriotism in mind when they want us to march into another country. We should ask ourselves whether it is worth our country’s blood and money to protect the interests of foreign powers. And we should conclude, far more than we have in recent years, that it is not worth the cost unless we ourselves are under attack.

John D. Pierce, Esq.

John “JD” Pierce is an attorney in Clearwater, Florida and a member of the Libertarian Party of Florida, serving on the Executive Committee as the representative for Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando Counties.

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