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"Non-Interventionism" vs Self-Defense

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By Gus Van Horn from Gus Van Horn,cross-posted by MetaBlog

Ron Paul, demonstrating ignorance of American history, indifference about the proper role of government, and utter unfitness for holding the highest office of the land, attempts to defend his "non-interventionist" foreign policy from the charge that it is "isolationist":

A non-interventionist foreign policy is not an isolationist foreign policy. It is quite the opposite. Under a Paul administration, the United States would trade freely with any nation that seeks to engage with us. American citizens would be encouraged to visit other countries and interact with other peoples rather than be told by their own government that certain countries are off limits to them. [bold added]

So if your neighbor's hippie son converts to Islam and becomes interested in waging jihad against America, he would be "encouraged to visit other countries and interact with other peoples ", even if the "other countries" harbor terrorist training camps for useful idiots who would blend in well with American society, and their "other peoples" are in fact waging war against the United States.

Paul would (and in effect does) protest that our military presence in other nations arouses their hostility towards us and that therefore if our military would leave, the realistic scenario I portray above (among others) would not occur.

But is this assertion correct? And, for that matter, is Paul correct that his "non-interventionism" is true to the principles of the Founding Fathers?

On that score, one would do well to consider our war with the Barbary States, in which the Founders themselves undertook military action against Moslem states -- which were attacking American interests despite the fact that our military was nowhere to be found in northern Africa! The Musselmen were (as they are now) motivated to wage war by their own beliefs -- not determined to do so by America's actions.

So much for foreign aggression being all our fault and for the notion that our Founding Fathers saw no need to "intervene" in foreign affairs or, indeed, to project American military power halfway around the globe.

But to fully understand what is wrong with Paul's position and, incidentally, the American policies that give him an undeserved credibility, one must do what libertarians never do: consider what the purpose of government is. The purpose of government is to protect the rights of individuals from being violated by the initiation of force (or the threat thereof) from other individuals.

This is why -- to use Paul's language in a situation that (perhaps) even he can understand, we are "told by our own government that certain actions are off-limits to us". The government "tells us", for example, that we can't rob, defraud, injure or kill each other -- because such actions endanger the individual rights of other citizens. The government enjoys a legal monopoly (constrained by objective law) of the right of each citizen to use force in self-defense. It can, does, and should "intervene" -- when necessary and only when necessary to protect individual rights.

This goes equally well for when it protects us from foreign threats as it does when it protects us from domestic ones -- or from both at once, as in the case of traitors who would provide aid and comfort to foreign aggressors.

This is why our government engages in war against aggressive foreign powers, as it did with the Barbary States, and why it sometimes forbids citizens from trafficking with hostile regimes (as it does rather inconsistently now). To provide aid and comfort to an enemy state is to threaten the lives and rights of other citizens. For our government -- as Paul constantly advocates -- to not "intervene" in such cases would be for it to fail to protect freedom.

Having said that, Bush's failed attempt to "export democracy at the barrel of a gun" is no indictment of the proper "intervention" known as war because, as Dr. John Lewis has so ably argued, it is precisely the opposite of the type of policy our nation should be pursuing now -- which is the total defeat of all nations that support Islamic totalitarianism with their unconditional surrender as the goal.

George Bush and Ron Paul are both wrong: On the one hand, one cannot, as Bush would, grant a people whose culture is anti-freedom a republic through a ballot box forcibly presented. On the other, one cannot expect freedom and peace to reign for long if those who have it fail to protect it from those who do not.

Ron Paul is right on one score: Ideas don't have expiration dates. But With George Bush or Ron Paul in charge, the life-promoting ideas of our Founders, while not expired, will nevertheless remain unused and gathering dust on the shelf.

-- CAV

10-9-07: Added a clarification.168433986

http://ObjectivismOnline.com/archives/002886.html

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"So if your neighbor's hippie son converts to Islam and becomes interested in waging jihad against America, he would be "encouraged to visit other countries and interact with other peoples ", even if the "other countries" harbor terrorist training camps for useful idiots who would blend in well with American society, and their "other peoples" are in fact waging war against the United States."

If he wants to go to other countries, let him. I'm sure once he gets there and sees what he's dealing with he will be sorry he went. You really think American teenage hippies are that dedicated to "destroying America"?

Paul is saying that our actions around the world have consequences and we should be mindful of them. Cause and effect, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. You cannot make "pre-emptive" strikes against other countries. You cannot INITIATE force against another country. You can only work in self-defense. You can retaliate. You cannot be the one to pull the gun first.

As for our government not letting us go to other countries -- Paul is moreso saying that he doesn't want to restrict trade by government sanctions. It is each individual's responsibility to know about the areas he plans to travel to and the kind of people he should expect to encounter there. Do some research of your own. The government can warn you not to travel to places, but it shouldn't restrict you from leaving the country. We could not accept foreigners from known aggressive countries, but we don't have to stop trading with them. He's trying to take government regulation out of international economy.

I think you are slightly misunderstanding and therefore misrepresenting Ron Paul's views.

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You cannot make "pre-emptive" strikes against other countries. You cannot INITIATE force against another country. You can only work in self-defense.
If a government has credible knowledge that some other country is planning to use force against the country, or is conniving in someone else's use of force against one's country, then it is moral and often practical to strike them first. I'm not saying, here, that some country has done so, but -- as a matter of principle -- wouldn't you agree that such a "pre-emptive" attack qualifies as self-defense?

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You cannot make "pre-emptive" strikes against other countries. You cannot INITIATE force against another country. You can only work in self-defense. You can retaliate.
As far as I understand his position, this is probably correct. What he is saying is, you cannot defend yourself against an aggressor nation until that nation first bombs the US. So we should wait until they drop the first bomb, then we will be justified in retaliating to prevent further attacks from that particular nation.

His problem is that he doesn't understand the concept "initiation of force". It doesn't mean just "the first guy to land a punch", it means, the guy who intiates a causal chain leading to force, i.e. the guy who uses force or threatens to use force.

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Or to put it another way:

If someone starts to draw a gun on you, do you have to wait until they actually pull the trigger and send a bullet at you before you react? Or are you allowed (assuming you are fast enough) to outdraw him and shoot him?

The answer is clearly the latter. The *threat* of force is itself an initiation of force.

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You really think American teenage hippies are that dedicated to "destroying America"?

Do you really need examples of Americans who hate this country enough to try and destroy it? :)

I'm about to leave work for the day, but in case you do need a few:

1.) John Walker Lindh

2.) Ryan Anderson

3.) Clement Rodney Hampton-el

4.) Mark Fidel Kools

5.) John Muhammad

Now I don't know if I would categorize any of these men as "hippies" but the hippie culture sure has produced its fair share of extremists in the past.

Although he's not a hippie or teenager, I know a man who holds such contempt and hatred of our military, that he didn't even want to sell firewood he was trying to get rid of in his backyard to a man because he was a soldier from a nearby base. There are plenty of people that were born within our own borders that would love to see our country not only fail, but destroyed in fantastic fashion.

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Paul would (and in effect does) protest that our military presence in other nations arouses their hostility towards us and that therefore if our military would leave, the realistic scenario I portray above (among others) would not occur.

I'm sure that the political and intellectual leaders of anti-American states and movements are not just reacting to our military presence, but are instead opposed to us on principle. However, we would be foolish to ignore the effect of our military presence around the world affects how much support these leaders have. The leaders, in effect, say to their populace "Are you unhappy with Americans crusading around like they own the world? Then militant Islam is the ideology for you!" If we did not maintain a military presence around the world, such leaders would likely have a smaller base of support. Moreover, when we did find it necessary to crush a genuine aggressor, the populations of other nations would tend to see it more as self-defense rather than imperialism (because that's what it would be), and thus when the militant Islamic activists came around saying "See, they attacked us! We must band together to crush the great Satan America!" the people would reply, "No, they attacked you. Get lost."

Every extension of the American military presence which is not objectively necessary to our security not only wastes resources that ought to be used against genuine threats, but also provides intellectual ammunition to those who oppose us. We must say "World opinion be damned!" when our security is truly at stake, but a lot of the time when we intervene in other nation's affairs, it isn't, and we're just pouring world opinion down the drain.

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Every extension of the American military presence which is not objectively necessary to our security not only wastes resources that ought to be used against genuine threats, but also provides intellectual ammunition to those who oppose us. We must say "World opinion be damned!" when our security is truly at stake, but a lot of the time when we intervene in other nation's affairs, it isn't, and we're just pouring world opinion down the drain.

I agree with the first part, but not the second. If the second were true, then South Korea should be bin Laden's headquarters.

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I agree with you when you say you should try to stop someone from pulling a gun on you, that makes sense. The problem I find is in how leaders truly define "threat." I just don't trust our leaders to properly gauge a threat or communicate it objectively to the public. You just end up with people like Bush policing the world and pushing people around because they can. The problem I have is at what point, really, do you make that pre-emptive defensive strike?

Have you ever seen a fight? Two guys posture and posture and posture, talk noise, throw up their hands but still -- it's all talk. You have to be very keen in knowing when that first punch is actually necessary and then after that first punch you need to know when to walk away to keep from escalating a situation. I don't think America can properly decipher either. I'd rather go with a more peaceful president who is committed to defending America than a president looking for someone to make a threat so they can throw the first punch.

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The problem I have is at what point, really, do you make that pre-emptive defensive strike?
Well, it is difficult to know, because aggressor nations often are not very overt about their actions. So you have to depend on good intelligence sources who will tell you that Syria was building a nuclear missile plant. But for a case like North Korea, we really don't have to rely on intelligence, since it's very clear that North Korea does have the capacity to build nukes. What they really require is an ultimatum, and then carrying out that ultimatum if necessary.

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