"She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence; she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom. The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force…."
~ John Q. Adams
Whenever political catastrophe strikes, there usually arises a unique moment in which a battle of ideas ensues. The battle occurs to define the public’s consciousness for the reasons behind the disaster. It is at such times that paradigms for the future are created or destroyed. The outcome of this battle often determines the direction of the polity far into the future.
One such moment occurred in the stock market collapse that heralded the Great Depression. As many libertarians have noted (including the ex-libertarian and current Fed bubble-boy, Alan Greenspan), the reasons for that economic catastrophe originated with the Federal Reserve’s policy of "easy money". The wizards in our central bank thought, throughout the 20’s, that they had found the magical formula for perpetual prosperity. Namely, they engaged in a decade-long policy of interest rate suppression and currency debasement. This strategy created impressive short-term opulence, but it also gave rise to numerous speculative bubbles that ultimately deflated…causing the collapse of the market and the nation’s downward spiral into depression.
But the battle of ideas that ensued was won by the forces of statism. FDR’s socialists succeeded in convincing the American people that the depression was caused, not by government intervention in the free market, but rather by the excesses of capitalism and a dearth of government regulation. This ideological loss by the forces of liberty carried with it devastating consequences for America which still haunt us today. Most of the socialist policies that are slowly eating away at our Republic had their genesis in this ideological defeat of freedom.
What had been a golden opportunity to instruct the American people in the ideals of liberty and limited government became a hideous green light for statists to begin an exponential growth of government power.
As our Iraq adventure begins to rot around the edges, we are again approaching one of these critical moments in the history of our Republic.
Neoconservatism is, in my opinion, ultimately untenable. The idea that America can exercise "benevolent world hegemony" is nonsense. The American people will not tolerate perpetual wars of conquest in the name of reconstructing the Middle East in our image. As the cost in blood and treasure mounts, America will reach a state of ideological crisis. We will then arrive at what the liberals call a "teachable moment".
Al Gore gave a blistering speech last week which attacked the Bush administration’s horrendous policies of suppression at home and militarism abroad. All in all, it was not a bad harangue. He hit many points with which any libertarian would agree. But it is also clear that he, and the forces of statism which he represents, are aware of the situation and intend to make philosophical hay of the debacle.
It is not adequate that the American people should come to recognize the disastrous ideology that is neoconservatism. It is possible to be right for the wrong reasons. And if the wrong paradigms become embedded in the consciousness of the American people, the outcome could be even more devastating than the neoconservative calamity itself.
First and foremost, it is critical that the public comes to understand why this Iraq war was not a disaster.
It was not a disaster because we failed to obtain the UN’s permission to attack Iraq. It was not a disaster because we ran roughshod over the opinions of our allies. It was not a disaster because we failed to create a significant "coalition" to accompany us in the invasion.
Rather, the reasons why this war is a disaster revolve around the ideals and beliefs which accompanied the creation of our Republic. President Bush launched a pre-emptive attack without the constitutionally-mandated declaration of war by Congress. He arrogated to himself the right to unilaterally plunge America into an armed conflict…which is a concept that was explicitly denounced by the Founding Fathers.
Furthermore, his paradigm for launching the war was in diametric opposition to the beliefs of the creators of our Republic. George Washington (among many of our Founders) specifically warned the American people against the dangers of overseas entanglements. John Q. Adams noted that "America does not go abroad in search of monsters to destroy". Many of our Founders even opposed the existence of a permanent army on the argument that such professional militaries are always a danger to self-government.
The leftists who now seek to define this failed war’s aftermath are preaching an entirely different Gospel. In their view, the collapse of neoconservatism should be analyzed in the paradigm of Wilsonian internationalism and big-government socialism. Their differences with Bush are more stylistic and technocratic than moral or constitutional. Given the choice, most of these leftists would probably prefer a continuation of Bush’s neoconservative militarism than a return to Washingtonian "isolationism".
The left had no problem with invading Haiti in the 1990’s for the purpose of "nation building". They had no issue with attacking Serbia to stop a war of ethnic hatred. They have even actively sought to turn many aspects of our governance over to a variety of unelected UN bureaucracies.
Al Gore may denounce the Patriot Act, but he also vehemently supports the Kyoto treaty, which will regulate even the gases we exhale. He decries the intrusion of Bush’s paranoid security apparatus into the daily lives of our citizens, but enthusiastically supported the planned seizure of our entire health care industry by the federal government.
The next year or so will be one of a unique contest of ideas. While Bush’s ideology of perpetual war is slowly becoming discredited in the eyes of the public, it is vitally important that libertarians effectively communicate our paradigms to the American people. If we fail, Wilsonian internationalism will assert its control over our future in a much more virulent form than it has in the past.
Neoconservatism arose in a unique moment in American history when the people were in shock over 9/11. But it is not stable. In the long run, Wilsonianism is a far greater danger to our Republic than the ludicrous rantings of the neocons.
As this Iraq adventure creaks into its ugly final stages, the elites from across the political spectrum will unite to ensure that the American people don’t draw the "wrong" conclusions from the debacle. It is the task of libertarians to make certain that they do.
We libertarians lost the war to stop this war. We must not lose the war to define the peace.
Steven LaTulippe [send him mail] is a physician currently practicing in Ohio. He was an officer in the United States Air Force for 13 years.