Foreign Policy and the Midterms

The United States is currently fighting two wars, and a third one in Pakistan that is as yet unacknowledged – and yet, with the midterm elections coming up in a matter of a few weeks, we don’t hear anything about this from the candidates. Why is that?

Three reasons, the first being the old adage, attributed to noted turncoat “isolationist”-cum-interventionist Arthur Vandenberg, that “politics stops at the water’s edge.” This tired aphorism is always wheeled out to explain why there is virtually no discussion of the most important issue facing our elected officials, which is when (and if) to send our soldiers to kill, and be killed. Buried under masses of platitudes and pious declarations of “supporting the troops,” the real motive for not addressing what is clearly an important issue is the typical politician’s cowardice: it’s easier to say nothing. This craven attitude, combined with the elitism of Washington insiders – who believe the voters are too dumb to understand the “complexities” of foreign policy questions, and too self-centered to care – is one layer of the onion. But if we peel back yet another layer of obfuscation, it’s clear that there is no real difference between the two parties when it comes to the question of maintaining and expanding the American empire.

The second reason is that Vandenberg’s comment, uttered in the context of today’s politics, is largely accurate: politics does stop at the water’s edge, as Democratic complicity with the invasion of Iraq made all too clear. You’ll recall it was the Clinton administration that passed the “Iraq Liberation Act,” which paved the road to quagmire. Both parties, being creatures of Washington, believe that the inhabitants of the Imperial City know what’s best for the world, and are entirely qualified to run it, sending troops hither and thither to suppress native revolts with the same hubristic disdain they display for the folks at home. We’re all peons to them.

The Democrats don’t want to deal with this issue because their own base doesn’t support the wars, and they don’t want to remind their voters that a Democratic President is waging them. Why depress Democratic turnout even more than it already is? Much better to stick to safe topics, like how many goodies they’re promising to dole out to cash-strapped voters, and how Rand Paul supposedly worships the demon-god “Aqua Buddha.”

The Republicans, for their part, agree with Obama’s escalation of the war on the Afghan front, and only wish he’d do more – but don’t dare say so because they can read the polls, too, which show the Afghan war is more unpopular than ever.

Tom Brokaw recently had a piece in the New York Times, in which he asks:

“Why aren’t the wars and their human and economic consequences front and center in this campaign, right up there with jobs and taxes?

“The answer is very likely that the vast majority of Americans wake up every day worrying, with good reason, about their economic security, but they can opt out of the call to arms. Unless they are enlisted in the armed services — or have a family member who has stepped forward — nothing much is asked of them in the war effort.”

Hold on, there: in the same piece, Brokaw relates that the taxpayers have shelled out a whopping $1 trillion for combat operations and other war-related activities in the past nine years. So ordinary Americans, who wake up every day wondering how they’re going to pay the mortgage, are indeed being asked for something, and it isn’t chickenfeed, either. The problem is that they just aren’t aware of it – and both parties have a vested interest in ensuring that they never wake up to the fact that our empire is a major cause of our economic woes.

Writing in 1951, at the dawn of the cold war, Garet Garrett, a man so conservative that he must seem a radical today, wrote that one of the marks of being an empire is that

“Domestic policy becomes subordinate to foreign policy. That happened to Rome. It has happened to every empire… The voice of government is saying that if our foreign policy fails we are ruined. It is all or nothing. Our survival as a free nation is at hazard.

“That makes it simple: for in that case there is no domestic policy that may not have to be sacrificed to the necessities of foreign policy – even freedom. It is no longer a question of what we can afford to do: it is what we must do to survive.”

Which brings us to the third reason for the near invisibility of foreign policy in this election: an empire such as ours has no strictly “domestic” policy. All issues, especially fiscal matters, are related to our hegemonic status as the world’s policeman. Our politicians know this, and hope the voters never discover it. We’re building schools in Afghanistan, while our own are less than inadequate: we’re constructing bridges in Iraq, but our own infrastructure is falling to piece.

America’s overseas empire is an albatross hung ’round our necks: if we gave it up, we could solve a good many of our economic problems here on the home front, or at the very least make a good beginning.

As it is, however, politicians of both parties are content to give the military the lion’s share and dole out the crumbs to the rest of us, and get us to fighting among ourselves for the choicest morsels, like starving prisoners inveigling the warden for an extra portion of porridge.

The war question, however, isn’t going away. As the economic crisis puts everything on the table – after all, a bankrupt empire must either shrink, or go into foreclosure – the evasions of our “leaders” will prove insufficient. The laws of economics are the weapons of mass destruction that will get us in the end.


The schedule for the Autumn tour is shaping up. Here’s what we have scheduled so far:

  • OCTOBER 25, 7 p.m. The Michigan Campaign for Liberty and the University of Michigan College Libertarians will host “War Without End: The Shame of the American Left.” This free event will be held in the Michigan League Ballroom (911 N. University) at the Central Campus in Ann Arbor. You can also join the hosts and Raimondo at the sponsors’ dinner by purchasing tickets here.
  • OCTOBER 26, 5:30 p.m. California Lutheran University (Lundring Events Center, 60 W. Olsen Road, Thousand Oaks, CA 91360) with Reason magazine’s Brian Doherty. Hosted by the Steven and Susan Woskow Trust and co-sponsored by Students for Liberty, the World Can’t Wait, Ventura County Libertarian Party, and the Center for Equality & Justice. Free admission.
  • NOVEMBER 10, 6:30 p.m. Western Connecticut State University (Westside Classroom Building, WS Room 218, 43 Lake Avenue Ext., Danbury, CT 06811). Hosted by the Ridgefield Liberty Co-op. $1,000 prize essay contest encourages students to submit a thoughtful essay after the talk. Free admission.
  • NOVEMBER 18, 7:30 p.m. University of California at Berkeley (20 Barrows Hall, Barrow Lane and Bancroft Way, Berkeley, CA 94704). Hosted by Students for Liberty. Free admission.

Interested in booking me for an event? E-mail to coordinate. New events will be posted at the blog and announced in the newsletter.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].