I am still unconvinced of the isolationist argument vis Iraq that would have had Western militaries – and probably as a result civilians – quit the entire Middle East, and leave Saddam to wreak havoc as he has before, but my goodness, the case for non-interventionist foreign policy has never looked so good at the moment as the insurgency in Iraq gets worse. Jim Henley sums up the “do as little as possible” school of libertarian foreign policy as well as anyone:
If a war is worth years of struggle, billions squandered and thousands or tens of thousands of dead on both sides, why isn’t peaceful change worth as much? Why is it a “bold initiative” to announce a “generational struggle” to transform a region of the world through a war that might or might not achieve its ends, but preemptively absurd to launch a generational struggle to transform the same region through nonintervention, to instill liberalism and justice by exemplifying it? Because people might get killed? People get killed the other way. Because it might not work? Look around you. The other way isn’t working now.
My main problem with Jim’s argument is that setting an example to the dictatorships, thugocracies etc of that region would strike me as a fairly drawn-out, if not rank impossible, endeavour (that’s putting it politely, ed). We are talking about a process that might last thousands of years. And I am afraid that in the meantime, the various despots in that region might not quite get with the Enlightenment programme and develop a continued fondness for blowing infidels up. At best, I would say that such folk might, even at their craziest, be deterrable, which is why I think the libertarian world-view – if I can presume to call it that – should focus on deterrence, and forswear the temptations of what folk called pre-emptive action. But again – and Jim and others have to answer this question – does observing the niceties of national sovereignty always trump other considerations? For me, one of the clearest-cut examples of justified and smart pre-emption was the Israeli airforce’s bombing of the Iraqi nuclear facilties in the early 1980s. No doubt some libertarian “leave-well-alone” foreign policy commenters fulminated about that event at the time, in a way that may have echoes now in what is being written about Israel’s actions in Lebanon (see the posts below).
What to do?