“We don’t seek empires. We’re not imperialistic.” ~ Donald Rumsfeld (2003)
“If we want Iraq to avoid becoming a Somalia on steroids, we’d better get used to U.S. troops being deployed there for years, possibly decades, to come. If that raises hackles about American imperialism, so be it. We’re going to be called an empire whatever we do. We might as well be a successful empire.” ~ Max Boot (2003)
“We’re an empire now.” ~ a senior adviser to President Bush (2004)
The number in Germany is 69,395. The number in Japan is 35,307. The number in Korea is 32,744. The number in Italy is 12,258. The number in the United Kingdom is 11,093.
I am not speaking of the number of car accidents last year in Germany, Japan, Korea, Italy, or the United Kingdom. And neither am I speaking of the number of poisonings, suicides, or armed robberies in any of these countries.
No, I am speaking of something far more lethal: the continued presence of U.S. troops.
According to the latest edition of the “Active Duty Military Personnel Strengths by Regional Area and by Country,” published by the Defense Department’s Directorate for Information Operations and Reports (DIOR), the U.S. has troops in 142 countries. This is up from the figure of 136 countries that the government was reporting the last time I addressed the subject of the number of countries under the shadow of the U.S. Global Empire. Additions to the list are Armenia, Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Iran, Malawi, Moldova, Slovak Republic, and Sudan. Subtractions are Eritrea and North Korea. Only 49 countries to go and the United States will have hegemony over the whole world. But it is worse than it appears. Counting the U.S. troops in territories, the officially reported number of countries or territories that the United States has troops in is now 155. It is not without cause that the twentieth century’s greatest proponent of liberty, and the greatest opponent of the state, Murray Rothbard (1926—1995), said that “empirically, taking the twentieth century as a whole, the single most warlike, most interventionist, most imperialist government has been the United States.”
This foreign troop presence is, of course, directly opposite the foreign policy of the Founding Fathers:
- George Washington: “The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is, in extending our commercial relations to have with them as little political connection as possible.”
- Thomas Jefferson: “Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations — entangling alliances with none.”
- John Quincy Adams: “America . . . goes not abroad seeking monsters to destroy.”
In his Farewell Address, George Washington also warned against “permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world.” Could he have ever imagined the commitment of the United States to be the world’s policeman?
Since the Spanish-American War of 1898, the foreign policy of the United States has been one of interventionism, which is always followed by its stepchildren belligerency, bellicosity, and jingoism. When televangelist Pat Robertson recently said that the United States government should “take out” the president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, he had a history of CIA assassinations and assassination schemes to go by. This certainly doesn’t excuse his remarks, but it is important to note that U.S. intervention abroad has not always been masked under the noble purposes of humanitarian relief or making the world safe for democracy.
Because we live in an imperfect world of nation-states that is not likely to change anytime in the near future, the question of U.S. foreign policy cannot be ignored. Many libertarians make the mistake of expending all of their energies in an attempt to downsize the state by freeing the market and society from government interference while forgetting that “war,” in the immortal words of Randolph Bourne (1886—1918), “is the health of the state.” Libertarians who disparage the welfare state while turning a blind eye to the warfare state are terribly inconsistent.
So, as Rothbard again said, since “libertarians desire to limit, to whittle down, the area of government power in all directions and as much as possible,” the goal in foreign affairs should be the same as that in domestic affairs: “To keep government from interfering in the affairs of other governments or other countries.” We should “shackle government from acting abroad just as we try to shackle government at home.”
The state’s coercive arm of foreign intervention is the military. U.S. troops don’t “defend our freedoms.” As the Future of Freedom Foundation‘s Jacob Hornberger has so courageously pointed out, U.S. troops
serve not as a defender of our freedoms but instead simply as a loyal and obedient personal army of the president, ready and prepared to serve him and obey his commands. It is an army that stands ready to obey the president’s orders to deploy to any country in the world for any reason he deems fit and attack, kill, and maim any “terrorist” who dares to resist the U.S. invasion of his own country. It is also an army that stands ready to obey the president’s orders to take into custody any American whom the commander in chief deems a “terrorist” and to punish him accordingly.
To say that U.S. troops “defend our freedoms” is to say that my freedom to write this article right now that is critical of the U.S. government’s foreign policy is a direct result of the recent U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. That may sound ridiculous, but it is no more ridiculous than saying that U.S. troops “defend our freedoms” when what they actually do is bomb, invade, and occupy other countries.
“Well,” I can hear the retort, “if it wasn’t for U.S. troops halting the German menace we would all be speaking German right now.” I suppose this is the same Germany that couldn’t cross the English Channel and invade Great Britain. And how does that justify keeping 69,395 U.S. troops on German soil over sixty years later?
There is, therefore, one element of foreign policy that I would like to touch on: the role of the U.S. military in foreign affairs. It should be quite obvious from my writings on the U.S. empire (“The U.S. Global Empire,” “The Bases of Empire,” “Guarding the Empire,” and “What’s Wrong with the U.S. Global Empire“) that I don’t agree with Max Boot’s statement that “on the whole, U.S. imperialism has been the greatest force for good in the world during the past century.” That being said, the subject to be addressed is what should be done with the U.S. military in order to dissolve the U.S. empire and return to the nonintervention policy of the Founders.
Today Iraq, tomorrow the world.
The first thing that needs to be done is to get out of Iraq before the blood of one more American is shed on Iraqi soil. I have elsewhere shown that it is a simple matter to withdraw from Iraq in not only a safe, reasonable, and timely manner, but also in a just manner. That was back on August 8, when the number of wasted American lives was “only” 1,827. Three hundred more American soldiers have died since then. And for what? Three hundred more sets of American parents have suffered the loss of a child. And for what? Six hundred more sets of grandparents have suffered the loss of a grandchild. And for what? Many hundreds more brothers and sisters have lost a brother, or in some cases, a sister. And for what? Untold numbers of friends and acquaintances have lost the same. And for what?
It is the warmongers who are anti-American, not us “anti-war weenies.” We never considered the shedding of the blood of even one American to be “worth” whatever it is that U.S. troops are now dying for. As I have elsewhere said: “Bringing democracy to Iraq and ridding the country of Saddam Hussein is not worth the life of one American. What kind of government they have and who is to be their u2018leader’ is the business of the Iraqi people, not the United States.”
We should withdraw our forces, not because the war is going badly, not because too many American troops are dying, and not because the war is costing too much. We should withdraw our troops because the war was a monstrous wrong from the very beginning.
Withdraw from Iraq today, and withdraw from the rest of the world tomorrow.
After the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, the rest of the world should be put on notice: you’re next. Instead of listening to the BRAC Commission recommendations about which bases to close in the United States, Congress should close all foreign bases first. Instead of reading documents like Defense Planning Guidance or Rebuilding America’s Defenses, Congress should have read Murray Rothbard:
The primary plank of a libertarian foreign policy program for America must be to call upon the United States to abandon its policy of global interventionism: to withdraw immediately and completely, militarily and politically, from Asia, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, from everywhere. The cry among American libertarians should be for the United States to withdraw now, in every way that involves the U.S. government. The United States should dismantle its bases, withdraw its troops, stop its incessant political meddling, and abolish the CIA. It should also end all foreign aid — which is simply a device to coerce the American taxpayer into subsidizing American exports and favored foreign States, all in the name of “helping the starving peoples of the world.” In short, the United States government should withdraw totally to within its own boundaries and maintain a policy of strict political “isolation” or neutrality everywhere.
This is certainly a policy that could be implemented. How many countries in the world do the countries of Italy, Argentina, and Iceland have troops and bases in? How about Switzerland, Mongolia, and Lithuania? Are any of these countries in danger of being attacked because they don’t have an empire of troops of bases? There is absolutely no reason why the United States has to have an empire of troops and bases that encircles the world that it presently has.
This policy is one of political isolation. It doesn’t mean that the United States should refuse to participate in the Olympics, refuse to issue visas, refuse to trade, refuse to extradite criminals, refuse to allow travel abroad, or refuse to allow immigration. It is a policy, not of isolationism, but of non-interventionism.
It is also the policy of the Founding Fathers, like Thomas Jefferson:
- No one nation has a right to sit in judgment over another.
- We wish not to meddle with the internal affairs of any country, nor with the general affairs of Europe.
- I am for free commerce with all nations, political connection with none, and little or no diplomatic establishment.
- We have produced proofs, from the most enlightened and approved writers on the subject, that a neutral nation must, in all things relating to the war, observe an exact impartiality towards the parties.
No judgment, no meddling, no political connection, and no partiality. What is wrong with the wisdom of Jefferson?
Today Iraq, tomorrow the world — and then what?
Once American troops are withdrawn from garrisoning the planet, they should be prevented from doing so again. One way to do this would be to adopt the Amendment for Peace, proposed by U.S. Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler (1881— 1940):
1. The removal of members of the land armed forces from within the continental limits of the United States and the Panama Canal Zone for any cause whatsoever is hereby prohibited.
2. The vessels of the United States Navy, or of the other branches of the armed service, are hereby prohibited from steaming, for any reason whatsoever except on an errand of mercy, more than five hundred miles from our coast.
3. Aircraft of the Army, Navy and Marine Corps is hereby prohibited from flying, for any reason whatsoever, more than seven hundred and fifty miles beyond the coast of the United States.
This amendment is a great starting point. Obviously, the Panama Canal Zone statement is now irrelevant. And whether the government could be trusted to not use “an errand of mercy” as a covert operation is now very debatable.
Major Butler believed that his amendment “would be absolute guarantee to the women of America that their loved ones never would be sent overseas to be needlessly shot down in European or Asiatic or African wars that are no concern of our people.”
He also reasoned that because of “our geographical position, it is all but impossible for any foreign power to muster, transport and land sufficient troops on our shores for a successful invasion.” In this Butler was echoing Jefferson, who recognized that geography was one of the great advantages of the United States:
The insulated state in which nature has placed the American continent should so far avail it that no spark of war kindled in the other quarters of the globe should be wafted across the wide oceans which separate us from them.
At such a distance from Europe and with such an ocean between us, we hope to meddle little in its quarrels or combinations. Its peace and its commerce are what we shall court.
But even without the advantage of geography, a policy of non-intervention is sufficient, as Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX) has pointed out: “Countries like Switzerland and Sweden who promote neutrality and non-intervention have benefited for the most part by remaining secure and free of war over the centuries.”
What, then, would become of our military if a strict non-interventionist policy of peace and neutrality were adopted? For starters, perhaps the Department of Defense could then actually do something to “defend our freedoms” like guard our borders and patrol our coasts. The military could be scaled back considerably (along with what Robert Higgs has estimated to be its $840 billion budget), with militias picking up the slack, as William Lind has recently pointed out here and here.
Some say that Jefferson’s ideals are not practical in a post-9/11 world. To them I offer the wisdom of Representative Paul, who has described a foreign policy for peace in these words:
Our troops would be brought home, systematically but soon.
The mission for our Coast Guard would change if our foreign policy became non-interventionist. They, too, would come home, protect our coast, and stop being the enforcers of bureaucratic laws that either should not exist or should be a state function.
All foreign aid would be discontinued.
A foreign policy of freedom and peace would prompt us to give ample notice before permanently withdrawing from international organizations that have entangled us for over a half a century. US membership in world government was hardly what the founders envisioned when writing the Constitution.
The principle of Marque and Reprisal would be revived and specific problems such as terrorist threats would be dealt with on a contract basis incorporating private resources to more accurately target our enemies and reduce the chances of needless and endless war.
The Logan Act would be repealed, thus allowing maximum freedom of our citizens to volunteer to support their war of choice. This would help diminish the enthusiasm for wars the proponents have used to justify our world policies and diminish the perceived need for a military draft.
If we followed a constitutional policy of non-intervention, we would never have to entertain the aggressive notion of preemptive war based on speculation of what a country might do at some future date. Political pressure by other countries to alter our foreign policy for their benefit would never be a consideration. Commercial interests and our citizens investing overseas could not expect our armies to follow them and protect their profits.
A non-interventionist foreign policy would go a long way toward preventing 9/11 type attacks. The Department of Homeland Security would be unnecessary, and the military, along with less bureaucracy in our intelligence-gathering agencies, could instead provide the security the new department is supposed to provide. A renewed respect for gun ownership and responsibility for defending one’s property would provide additional protection against potential terrorists.
Today Iraq, tomorrow the world. The sooner we adopt this policy the better. How many more U.S. soldiers have to needlessly die in Iraq before Americans realize this?