A Rothbardian Foreign Policy for Today

As everybody knows, we are in grave danger of nuclear war, because brain-dead Biden and his gang of neocon controllers have launched a proxy war with Russia over the Ukraine. Some people say we have to do this, because Putin is guilty of unprovoked aggression. These people argue that we have to preserve a “rules based international order.” As I’ll explain below, I don’t share this opinion of what’s happening in the Ukraine. In fact, Putin is responding to US aggression. But it’s important to understand why we shouldn’t get involved even if everything the enemies of Putin say about him is true. This is where the great Murray Rothbard comes in. He explained better than anyone else the principles that should govern a sound American foreign policy.

Here’s an example of what we’re up against. James Traub, writing in the November issue of Foreign Policy, under the headline “Progressives Should Give War a Chance,” says that American “progressives” should support the Ukraine, even though progressive are usually opposed to war. He says, “Here, I think, we come to the nub of the matter. Because the parties to the war in Ukraine are major global suppliers of food and fuel, the ripples of suffering have spread around the world—including, if to a much lesser degree than elsewhere, the United States. Just how much sacrifice do the rest of us have to accept to preserve Ukraine’s boundaries? [Kevin] McCarthy’s statement implies that House Republicans, and presumably their constituents, have reached their limits. The United States just doesn’t have that much of a dog in that fight. The progressive view is not a selfish or isolationist one: The limits are defined by an acute awareness of global costs, including those to the United States’ ability to care for its own citizens. The unstated premise of the letter [by progressives in Congress calling for a peaceful settlement of the war] is that Biden would help the world by getting Ukrainians to see reason.

Most of the world does, in fact, think just that. Major developing countries like India or South Africa have resisted Biden’s insistent framing of the war as a local affair putting European powers against one another. The U.S. left is also extremely leery of endorsing what sounds like the Cold War Manichaeism of the 1950s, exemplified in Foreign Policy’s interview with historian Stephen Wertheim of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in August. Progressive figures like Sen. Bernie Sanders do not hesitate to criticize China and Russia for violations of human rights, but they balk at the idea of an ideological struggle with America leading the white hats.

If what’s at stake is just territory, then Ukraine is perhaps asking too great a sacrifice from the rest of us; after all, the country effectively recognized Russian control of the Donbas in 2014 by signing the Minsk agreement. But it is clear now, if it wasn’t then, that Putin doesn’t simply wish to shift borders but to undermine a Western-led order that he regards as inimical to his project of restoring Russian greatness. He doesn’t want a home in Europe and thus cannot be contained inside a new European security architecture. It is precisely because so many people in Europe and the United States recognize the danger he poses that, at least until now, the West has held together in the face of Putin’s punishments and threats. Ordinary citizens understand the stakes.

The war in Ukraine is so unlike any other war of the last 60 years that it has disoriented thinking on all sides—but above all, on the left. The wars that have shaped liberal thinking about foreign policy in these decades are ones that the United States waged against distant threats—in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq—or against moral monsters—in the Balkans, Somalia, and Libya. We argue over whether America needed to unleash its firepower against adversaries who posed no immediate threat to its existence. On the left, where skepticism of U.S. power runs deep, the answer has usually been ‘no.’ But the war in Ukraine is not about American power and does not pose the question of humanitarian intervention. It is an unprovoked war of territorial aggression, like then-Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait—save that Ukraine is an enormous country and a democracy. It’s not the worst war, but it is the most dangerous one since World War II.

The signatories of the Congressional Progressive Caucus letter rightly assert that ‘it is not America’s place to pressure Ukraine’s government regarding sovereign decisions.’ Yet, they still seem to feel that the time has come to replace force with diplomacy, as if each side was making unreasonable demands. That time hasn’t come, and thinking so betrays a misunderstanding of the relationship between diplomacy and force. In the face of a ruthless aggressor, diplomacy can only begin to work after the tide of battle has decisively turned. Then-U.S. Civil War Gen. George McClellan ran against then-incumbent Abraham Lincoln in 1864 on a platform of diplomacy with the South; Lincoln insisted that the republic must first be saved. That’s Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s position.

In my lifetime, America has carried out two colossally misbegotten wars and many pointless acts of aggression (Panama, Grenada, etc.). We have learned that talking, however unsatisfactory, is almost always the wiser course than killing people. But sometimes, it isn’t; and sometimes, you have no choice but to keep killing people until the other side stops.”

The way of looking at the war is utterly wrong. The renowned foreign policy expert Philip Giraldi tells us why: “America’s dominant neocons characteristically believe they have inherited the mantle of empire and of the war powers that go hand-in-hand with that attribute, but they have avoided other aspects of the transition in turning the United States into a nation made and empowered by war. First of all, what comes out the other end after one has initiated hostilities with another country is unpredictable. Starting with Korea and continuing with Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq as well as other minor operations in Latin America, Africa and Asia, American war-making has brought nothing but grief on those on the receiving end with little positive to show for the death, destruction and accumulated debt. Also forgotten in the rush to use force is the raison d’etre to have a federal national government at all, which is to bring tangible benefit to the American people. There has been none of that since 9/11 and even before, while Washington’s hard-line stance on what has become a proxy war against Russia over Ukraine promises more pain – perhaps disastrously so – and no real gain. . . America’s uncritical support for Ukraine, which has been a contrivance by the White House and media since the fighting started, has led to a growing number of Republicans, particularly some of those aligned with Donald Trump’s ‘America First’ approach, to challenge the need for massive federal spending abroad at a time of record-high inflation at home. Since Russia launched its invasion in February, Congress has approved tens of billions in emergency security and humanitarian assistance for Ukraine, while the Biden administration has shipped billions more worth of weapons and equipment from military inventories, all done with only limited or even no oversight of where the money and weapons are winding up. . . Both President Joe Biden and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi have confirmed that the US is in with Ukraine until ‘victory’ is obtained, whatever that is supposed to mean, while other Administration officials have indicated that the actual purpose of the fighting is to weaken Russia and remove President Putin. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre glibly spouted the party line when asked about McCarthy’s comments. She thanked congressional leaders for bipartisan work to ‘support Ukraine to defend itself from Russia’s war crimes and atrocities,’ adding that ‘We will continue to work with Congress and continue to monitor those conversations on these efforts and support Ukraine as long as it takes. We are going to keep that promise that we’re making to the brave Ukrainians who are fighting every day, to fight for their freedom and their democracy. . . So basically, anyone talking sense about Ukraine in Washington is being shut down by forces within the political parties themselves working together with a compliant national media that is misrepresenting everything that is taking place on the ground. It is a formula for tragedy as the Biden administration has shown no sign of seeking diplomacy with Russia to end the conflict despite the president’s recent surprising warning that the world is now facing the highest risk of nuclear ‘Armageddon,’ which he, of course, blames on Putin. Given all of that, in my humble opinion a government that is unable or unwilling to take reasonable steps to protect its own citizens while also avoiding a possible nuclear catastrophe that could end up engulfing the entire world is fundamentally evil and has lost all legitimacy. It should recognize that fact before submitting its resignation.” See this.

It’s important that we understand why brain-dead Biden and the neocons are wrong, even if you accept the false view of the war that James Traub expressed in his article. Here is where the great Murray Rothbard comes in.  We don’t have a duty to resist “aggression”. Even if the world changes in ways we don’t like, that poses no threat. If we try to block aggression, this is a recipe for “perpetual war for perpetual peace.”

Here is what Murray has to say: “The collective-security concept that so enchanted the old (pre-1965) left sounded pretty good: Each nation-state was viewed as if it were an individual, so that when one state ‘aggressed against’ another, it became the duty of the governments of the world to step in and punish the ‘aggressor.’ In that way, the bitter and lengthy war in Korea became, in President Truman’s famous phrase, a ‘police action,’ needing no declaration of war but simply an executive decision by the world’s chief cop — the president of the United States — to be set into motion. All other ‘law-abiding’ nations and responsible organs of opinion were supposed to join in.

The ‘isolationist’ right saw several grave flaws in this notion of collective security and the analogy between states and individuals. One, of course, is that there is no world government or world cop, as there are national governments and police. Each state has its own war-making machine, many of which are quite awesome. When gangs of states wade into a conflict, they inexorably widen it. Every tinpot controversy, the latest and most blatant being the fracas in the Falkland Islands, invites other nations to decide which of the states is ‘the aggressor,’ and then leap in on the virtuous side. Every local squabble thus threatens to escalate into a global conflagration.

And since, according to collective security enthusiasts, the United States has apparently been divinely appointed to be the chief world policeman, it is thereby justified in throwing its massive weight into every controversy on the face of the globe.

The other big problem with the collective-security analogy is that, in contrast to spotting thieves and muggers, it is generally difficult or even impossible to single out uniquely guilty parties in conflicts between states. For although individuals have well-defined property rights that make someone else’s invasion of that property a culpable act of aggression, the boundary lines of each state have scarcely been arrived at by just and proper means. Every state is born in, and exists by, coercion and aggression over its citizens and subjects, and its boundaries invariably have been determined by conquest and violence. But in automatically condemning one state for crossing the borders of another, we are implicitly recognizing the validity of existing boundaries. Why should the boundaries of a state in 1982 be any more or less just than they were in 1972, 1932, or 1872? Why must they be automatically enshrined as sacred, so much so that a mere boundary crossing should lead every state in the world to force their citizens to kill or die?

No, far better and wiser is the old classical liberal foreign policy of neutrality and nonintervention, a foreign policy set forth with great eloquence by Richard Cobden, John Bright, the Manchester school and other ‘little Englanders’ of the nineteenth century, by the Anti-Imperialist classical liberals of the turn of the twentieth century in Britain and the United States, and by the old right from the 1930s to the 1950s. Neutrality limits conflicts instead of escalating them. Neutral states cannot swell their power through war and militarism, or murder and plunder the citizens of other states.” See this.

We should do everything we can to educate people to understand Murray’s wisdom. Don’t let the world be blown up in a futile crusade against “aggression.”