President Obama announced Saturday afternoon that he was delaying any military intervention in Syria until the United States Congress has come back into session following the summer recess, and can debate whether or not to vote authorization for military action as a response to the presumed use of chemical weapons against civilians by the Syrian government.
There has already emerged sharp and splintered dividing lines in America as to whether or not the U. S. should militarily intervene, and if it did what form that military action should take on and for what purpose. Some public opinion polls have suggested that around 50 percent of those asked said that U.S. should not intervene, whether or not the taboo use of chemical weapons has occurred in Syria.
Whatever the Congress might decide, and regardless of what the president chooses to do with or without Congressional approval, there will be no clear and unanimous agreement about the purpose, goal or form of U. S. intervention into the Syrian civil war. And there will, no doubt, remain a significant number of Americans who believe that it is none of the country’s business to meddle into the internal affairs of another nation, especially in such an uncertain setting as Syria today.
The Constitution of the United States is unambiguous that it is the duty and responsibility for the federal government to defend the country from any foreign attack or clear and immanent act of aggression by another nation. But especially in the post-World War II era, the presidents of the United States, sometimes with and sometimes without Congressional approval, have sent U. S. military personnel into harm’s way by intervening in the wars and civil wars of other countries. Tens of thousands of young Americans have lost their lives in these foreign adventures.
Most of these foreign military interventions have created and left divisive scars on the American people for years and decades. In the cases of the Vietnam and Iraq Wars this has most certainly been true.
Everyone of these foreign interventions has required the United States government to take sides in another country’s domestic conflict, making some Americans pay for U. S. participation in wars in other parts of the world that they either don’t understand or strongly disagree with. In the case of the Vietnam War, loved ones were forced to serve, fight, and sometimes die under the government compulsion of military conscription. These foreign adventures not only impose a money tax on America’s citizens, but a “blood tax” in lost or injured lives, as well.
Maybe it is time to stop the era of government foreign political and military intervention through the radical solution of a “privatization” of foreign policy. For the advocate of individual freedom the role of government in a free society is the protection of the citizenry’s life, liberty, and property from force and fraud. It is not the role of government to make over the society, regulate the affairs of the people, redistribute wealth, or compel people to live differently than they peacefully and honestly choose to do.
The same rule should apply in to the foreign relations of the United States with the rest of the world. Just as it is inconsistent in the free society for the government to “intervene” in the personal affairs and voluntary associations of the citizenry, it should likewise not be the business of the United States government to intervene in the domestic affairs of other nations.
But are there not injustices in the world? Do not “bad men” do bad things to the people of other countries? Yes. But just as in the free society concerns about the hardships and tragedies of one’s fellow citizens should be a matter of charity and voluntary community efforts to try to alleviate the misfortunes of those who might reasonably need help, it should be matters of personal conscience and choice to assist those in other lands who seem to need and deserve our support.
In the 19th century, American adventurers and idealists travelled to South America to assist the peoples there to overthrow Spanish rule and become independent countries. In the 1930s, hundreds of American “leftists” volunteered and fought as private citizens on the anti-fascist side in the Spanish Civil War. In the 1980s, American anti-communists donated large sums of money to support the “Contras” who were fighting the Soviet-backed Sandinistas in Nicaragua; and they would have privately supplied military aid as well, if the U.S government had not prevented it.
By privatizing foreign policy in this way people’s personal concerns to reach out to help those in other parts of the world who may be fighting domestic oppression or foreign invaders is not turned into “affairs of state” that drag the entire United States into foreign wars and conflicts that do not involve any attacks and clear and eminent threats to the territory of the nation.
At the same time, those in America who may not support the cause of assisting those in that foreign land are not compelled to pay the taxes for what they do not agree with. Nor will those American’s fathers, sons, or daughters be sent off to fight battles that they do not consider “just” or justifiable.
Those who wish to contribute money, send material and supplies, or even offer to fight on behalf of that foreign cause – for free or for money – would be free to do so. But, at the same time, they cannot expect to “Marines” to come to their rescue or the U. S. government to go to war on their behalf.
No doubt, the suggestion to “privatize” foreign policy in this way will be viewed by many as shocking, or “utopian” and unrealistic, or unworkable. But all steps throughout history toward freedom for the individual and less power and control by the government have initially seemed that way.
Simply because government has monopolized some economic or social activity in the past did not mean that it could not be freed from political control and regulation and shifted to the private sector. That is how free competitive enterprise came about.
The free society of the future should include the freedom of individual choice and association in following a “foreign policy,” as well. Then there would be no “national debate” about bombing Syria, or which opposition group in that country to support or not support. It would be none of the government’s business. It would be the private affairs of individual citizens, and not “reasons of state.”
Dr. Richard Ebeling was the president of the influential Foundation for Economic Education in New York from 2003-2008, and from 1988-2003 was the Ludwig von Mises Professor of Economics at Hillsdale College in Michigan. He was also vice-president of the Future of Freedom Foundation in Fairfax, Virginia, from 1990-2003. In December, he was appointed to the advisory board of the Foundation for the Advancement of Free Market Thinking in Lichtenstein. He is currently a professor of economics at Northwood University in Michigan and an adjunct scholar of the Ludwig von Mises Institute.
Dr. Ebeling is the author of Austrian Economics and the Political Economy of Freedom (Edward Elgar, 2003) and Political Economy, Public Policy and Monetary Economics: Ludwig von Mises and the Austrian Tradition (Routledge, 2010). He is the co-editor and co-author of the four-volume series, In Defense of Capitalism (Northwood University Press, 2010-2013). He is also the editor of the three-volume work, Selected Writings of Ludwig von Mises (Liberty Fund, 2000; 2003; 2012). The work is based on Mises’ “lost papers” that were looted by the Nazis from Mises’ Vienna apartment in 1938 and captured by the Soviet Army in 1945. Dr. Ebeling and his wife, Anna, later retrieved them from a formerly secret Soviet archive in Moscow, Russia.
The views expressed on austriancenter.com are not necessarily those of the Austrian Economics Center.
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