Murray N. Rothbard
article was originally published in the January-February 1980 issue
of The Libertarian Forum.
are grim times for those of us who yearn for a peaceful American
foreign policy, for a foreign policy emulating the ideals of Thomas
Paine, who exhorted America not to interfere with the affairs of
other nations, and to serve instead as a beacon-light of liberty
by her example. The lessons of the Vietnam intervention have been
shuffled off with obscene haste, by masses and by intellectuals
alike, by campus kids and by veterans of the antiwar movement of
the 1960's. It started with Iran, with bloody calls for war, for
punishment, for "nuking 'em till they glow."
just as we have been whipping ourselves up to nuking Muslims and
to declaring war against "fanatical" Islam per se, we
are ready to turn on a dime and sing the praises of no-longer fanatical
Muslims who are willing to fight Russian tanks with their bare hands:
the heroic freedom fighters of Afghanistan. All of a sudden President
Carter has gone bananas: declaring himself shocked and stunned by
the Soviet incursion into Afghanistan, mobilizing the United Nations
in stunned horror, levying embargoes (my how this peanut salesman
loves embargoes!), and threatening the Olympics so dear to sports
fans around the globe.
all very scary. There is the phony proclamation of personal betrayal
– Brezhnev not coming clean on the Hot Line – all too reminiscent
of the late unlamented King of Camelot before he almost got us into
a nuclear holocaust over Cuba. There is the same macho insistence
on regarding every foreign affairs crisis as a duel with six-shooters
at high noon, and trying to prove that good ole Uncle Sam still
has the fastest draw.
set the record straight from the first: Yes, it is deplorable that
Russia saw it fit to move troops into Afghanistan. It will, we can
readily predict, be a disaster for the Soviets themselves, for tens
of thousands of troops will be tied down, Vietnam-fashion, in a
country where they are universally hated and reviled, and where
they will be able to command only the cities and the main roads,
and those in the daytime. But deplorable as the Soviet action is,
it is neither surprising nor shocking: it is in line with Soviet,
indeed with all Russian actions since the late 19th century
– an insistence on dominating countries on its borders. While unfortunate,
this follows the line of Czarist imperialism: it is old-fashioned
Great Power politics, and presages neither the "fall"
of Southwest Asia nor an immediate armed strike upon our shores.
the righteous horror of the U.S. and the U.N. at Soviet actions
in Afghanistan takes on an ironic perspective when we consider the
massive use of military force wielded not very long ago by the United
States against Cuba, Vietnam, Cambodia, and the Dominican Republic.
Indeed, the ground for Soviet invasion: the backing of one side
in another country's civil war, was precisely the groundwork of
the massive and disastrous U.S. military intervention in Vietnam.
In Vietnam, too, we intervened on the side of the unpopular repressive
regime in a civil war against a popular revolution: and now the
Soviets are doing the exact same thing. So why the selective moral
indignation wielded by: Carter, the U.N., the war hawk conservatives,
the Social Democrats, the liberals, the media, etc.? Hypocrisy has
become rife in America.
are two crucial differences between America's and Russia's "Vietnam"
in Afghanistan. One, that Russia will be slaughtering far fewer
Afghans than we did Vietnamese. And two, that Afghanistan is, after
all, on Russia's borders while we launched our intervention in Vietnam
half the globe away from our shores. And Afghanistan, of course
is even further away than Vietnam. The whole thing is ludicrous
and absurd. Is Afghanistan now supposed to have been part of the
"Free World"? Afghanistan has no resources, has no treaties
with the U.S., no historic ties, there are none of the flimsy but
popular excuses that we have used for over a century to throw our
weight around across the earth. But we go, intervening anyway, loudly
proclaiming that Russia's actions in Afghanistan are "unacceptable,"
and for which we are ready to scrap SALT, detente, and the feeble
past attempts of the Carter administration to shuck off the Cold
War and to establish come sort of modus vivendi with Russia.
The conservatives, the Pentagon, the Social Democrats, the neo-conservatives,
the Coalition for a Democratic Majority – all the worst scoundrels
in American life - have been yearning to smash detente, and to accelerate
an already swollen arms budget and heat up the Cold War. And now
Carter has done it – to such an extent that such conservative organs
as Human Events are even finding Carter foreign policy to
be better in some respects than that of its hero Reagan.
idiocy of the sudden wailing and hand-wringing over Afghanistan
may be gauged by the fact that that land-locked and barren land
had been a Russian client state since the late nineteenth century,
when clashes of British and Russian (Czarist) imperialism came to
draw the Afghan-Indian border where it is today. (An unfortunate
situation, since northwest and western Pakistan is ethnically Pushtu
– the majority ethnic Baluchi: the same group that populates southern
Afghanistan and southeastern Iran.) Ever since, the King of Afghanistan
has always been a Russian tool, first Czarist then Soviet – to the
tune of no bleats of outrage from the United States.
in 1973, the King was overthrown by a coup led by Prince Mohammed
Daud. After a few years, Daud began to lead the Afghan government
into the Western, pro-U.S. camp. More specifically, he came under
the financial spell (i.e. the payroll) of the Shah of Iran, the
very man much in the news of late. Feeling that they could not tolerate
a pro- U.S. anti-Soviet regime on its borders, the Russians then
moved to depose Daud and replace him with the Communist Nur Taraki,
in April 1978. Ever since then, Afghanistan has been under the heel
of one Communist ruler or another; yet nobody complained, and no
American president threatened mayhem.
reason for the latest Soviet invasions is simple but ironic in our
world of corn-fed slogans. For the problem with Hafizullah Amin,
the prime minister before the Soviet incursion, was that he was
too Commie for the Russians. As a fanatical left Communist, Amin
carried out a brutal program of nationalizing the peasantry and
torturing opponents, a policy of collectivism and repression that
fanned the flames of guerrilla war against him. Seeing Afghanistan
about to slip under to the West once again, the Soviets felt impelled
to go in to depose Amin and replace him with an Afghan Communist,
Babrak Karmal, who is much more moderate a Communist and therefore
a faithful follower of the Soviet line. There are undoubtedly countless
conservatives and Social Democrats who still find it impossible
to conceive of Soviet tools who are more moderate than other Communists,
but it is high time they caught up with several decades of worldwide
deplore the Soviet invasion; I hope for victory of the Afghan masses:
and I expect that eventually, as in Vietnam, the oppressed masses
will triumph over the Soviet invaders and their puppet regime. The
Afghans will win. But that is not reason whatever for other nations,
including the United States, to leap into the fray. We must not
die for Kabul!
crocodile tears shed for the Afghans point up once again the disastrous
concept of "collective security" which has provided the
basis for the U.S. foreign policy since Woodrow Wilson and is the
very heart and soul of the United Nations. Collective security means
that any border skirmish anywhere, any territorial rectification,
any troubles of any pipsqueak country, necessarily provides the
sparkplug for a general holocaust, for a world war "against
aggression". The world does not have one government, and so
international war is not a "police action," despite the
successful attempt of the warmonger Harry Truman to place that seemingly
innocuous label on his military invasion of Korea.
hysteria over Afghanistan is the bitter fruit of the doctrine of
collective security. If we are to avoid nuclear holocaust, if we
are to prevent World War III, we must bury the doctrine of collective
security once and for all, we must end the idea of the United States
as God's appointed champion of justice throughout the world. We
must pursue, in the immortal words of classical liberal Sydney Smith
quoted in this issue, "apathy, selfishness, common sense, arithmetic."
But we can't be apathetic in this pursuit, because time's a wastin.'
American officials are ominously spreading the word that the Afghan
crisis is the most threatening foreign affairs situation since the
Cuban missile crisis of 1962, or even since World War II. No doubt:
but only because the Carter administration and the war hawks have
made it so.
must mobilize to Stop the War, and to stop it now! We must stop
the embargo (Carter's favorite foreign policy tactic), which is
both criminal and counterproductive. Criminal because it aggresses
against the rights of private property and free exchange. Criminal
because it represses trade and thereby injures both the American
public and the innocent civilian public of both Iran and Afghanistan.
Counterproductive because, while hurting innocent civilians, embargoes
do nothing to injure the power elites of either side. Embargoes
will only unify the people of Iran and Afghanistan behind their
regimes, which they will identify as defending them and their food
supply against the aggressor Carter.
must stop the war...and earn the gratitude of all Americans who
cherish peace and freedom, and of future generations of Americans
who will, one hopes, emerge from the bloody century-long miasma
of nationalist chauvinism to see their way clear at long last for
the truly American and the genuinely libertarian policy of nonintervention
© 2001 Ludwig von Mises Institute