America’s Foreign Policy: Why Should You Care?

by , January 28, 2013

Every once in a while it’s worth it to recall just why we’re doing this: that is, why we here at Antiwar.com spend our days reporting on events in obscure countries no normal person has ever heard of, tracking the pronouncements of politicians and foreign policy wonks, and exposing the War Party’s latest schemes.

It is, frankly, a thankless and exhausting task, and the problem is that one often loses sight of the forest for the trees. Our days are spent asking and trying to answer questions such as: How long will the French linger in Mali? Will Chuck Hagel be confirmed? Is the CIA secretly supporting rebels in Syria? Will the Magnitsky Act lead to a new cold war with Russia? What often gets lost is the answer to the question: Why should we care?

Americans, being a naturally "isolationist" lot, tend to ignore events overseas unless there is some immediate and tangible impact on their everyday lives – and not even wars in which we are involved necessarily qualify. It took years of occupying Iraq before the American people noticed we had been lied into that costly war, and over a decade before anybody began asking what we thought we were doing in Afghanistan.

This means that our political class, left to their own devices, has pretty much of a free rein when it comes to meddling in the affairs of other countries – not because Americans approve of such activities, but because they generally are unaware it’s even happening. Once they do become aware it’s usually too late to do much about it, because the very fact that’s it’s come up on their radar means it’s already backfired.

Antiwar.com, then, is a kind of early warning system for the ordinary American who wants to keep tabs on what his or her government is up to overseas. Yet that raises the question: why is this information important?

At the core of our credo is the moral question. Hundreds of thousands of human beings were killed, and many more maimed and their lives destroyed, by the US invasion of Iraq – all in the name of finding "weapons of mass destruction" that never existed in the first place. Thousands have been killed in Afghanistan, Afghans and Americans alike, and for what? And now a coalition of foreign lobbyists and war-crazed "conservatives" is agitating for yet another war in the Middle East, this time targeting Iran – and the drumbeat coming from Washington is getting louder by the day.

These wars were and are profoundly immoral: none involved self-defense, including the war in Afghanistan – which was nothing but a war of vengeance. We aren’t any safer: quite the opposite. And, you’ll note, neither Iraq nor Afghanistan ended in victory, or even anything close to a draw: both, the honest observer will have to admit, ended in defeat. A well-deserved defeat, to be sure, and yet no "mainstream" pundit, let alone major politician, has had the courage to say this, at least in public. To do so would be "unpatriotic" – and here is the point when one knows the country has gone off the rails. Because the moment truth becomes treason you know you’re in big trouble.

So, yes, we oppose these wars because they are immoral – but that is just a starting point. Because wars, aside from being horrifically destructive of human lives and resources, are inimical to human liberty. Every war in our history has led to greater restrictions on our basic liberties, violating the humanity and dignity of our citizens. Just to take up the wars of modernity: World War I was the occasion for the massive jailing – and lynching – of war opponents, and the first efforts to mobilize the entire economic and political life of the nation in the service of the government. World War II, aside from giving the federal government unprecedented power to regulate the economic and social fabric of the country, led to the internment of Japanese-Americans, a witch-hunt against war critics, and the creation of a national security bureaucracy with an interest in permanent war. The cold war gave carte blanche to the militarist bureaucracy, dominated our domestic political discourse for a generation, led to all-pervasive surveillance and spying on US citizens – and, by the way, took us to the brink of nuclear Armageddon.

Our present war – the seemingly endless "war on terrorism" – is meant to be a permanent state of affairs. All the "emergency" and supposedly temporary measures taken to ameliorate the alleged danger posed by our enemies abroad – warrantless wiretaps, secret prisons, unchecked executive powers, confiscatory taxation – are still in place, and will remain in place until and unless the American people rise up and put a stop to them. That’s the way it’s always worked in this country: the political class declares the Republic is in mortal danger, "temporary" "emergency" measures are enacted, the danger passes (or is discovered to have never existed in the first place) – and yet these "temporary" measures are still on the books.

Our foreign policy of perpetual war also serves an important economic function – important, that is, to the maintenance and expansion of the power and prestige of the political class.

There are only so many "social" programs through which the government can spread its largesse, buy political support from various constituencies, and justify a debt measured in the trillions. Short of flinging wads of bills from airplanes and showering the populace with Federal Reserve notes, when a slump occurs – as a natural result of government-created "bubbles" popping – the politicians in Washington have trouble coming up with reasonable-sounding "stimuli" to quicken the nation’s failing economic pulse. When it comes to breaking the partisan "gridlock" so bemoaned by professional "centrists" and other "good government" types, there’s nothing like a military appropriations bill to bridge the gap between the two parties. That’s because there’s nothing like a good old-fashioned war to bring "unity" to our usually fractious political class: the sum total of their disagreements is over how to divide up the spoils.

Since 2001, military spending has skyrocketed to World War II levels – and yet, even in the midst of the worst economic turmoil since the Great Depression, the political class resists every effort to cut back. The reason is simple: stratospheric levels of military spending enrich and entrench the political class. The Lockheed-Martin/Boeing/Raytheon military-industrial complex funds the politicians – and the pro-war thinktanks – who feed the war machine. And so do the bankers who sell the bonds, finance our debt, and provide our overseas proxies and client states with loans and other services. It’s an enormously lucrative business, albeit one that impoverishes the vast majority of Americans as well as oppressing and even slaughtering the unfortunate citizens of foreign countries.

It used to be that our politicians had to gin up a war every few years or so to keep the money rolling in, but no more. Ever since the 9/11 attacks, however, it’s been all war all the time – with no end in sight. Peace used to be associated with normality, but that’s just a fond memory these days: today, war is the default, and it’s peace that’s considered unusual, or even impossible.

No country can be at war indefinitely and remain free for long. The President assures us we’re bringing the wars to an end, and that America is finally coming home, and yet we are threatening Iran on a daily basis, supporting violent "regime change" from Libya to Syria, and conducting drone strikes on targets worldwide.

Nothing exemplifies the style and spirit of 21st century American imperialism better than the drone campaign. It embodies all the essential characteristics of our soul-less political class: cowardice, secrecy, ruthlessness, and the ability to evade the reality of their own moral corruption. No writer of fiction could invent such villainy: not even Tolkien, in his portrayal of the Dark Lord and his minions, comes close. Next to Washington, D.C., Mordor is the Emerald City. Our rulers have worn the Ring of Power for far too long: they are corrupted beyond redemption, and if the Republic is to be saved, it must be torn from their grasp.

This is why I spend practically every waking hour of every day working on the problem that is the central question for libertarians in the present era: how to stop the juggernaut of war and repression. If we can halt the former, we can win the battle against the latter –and that, in short, is what Antiwar.com is all about.

NOTES IN THE MARGIN

I’m on Twitter quite a bit these days: you can follow me here.

Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Forward by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).

Buy my biography of the great libertarian thinker, An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books,2000), here.

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