Roger L. Simon

Christie, Paul, Libertarianism, and the NSA

Chris Christie created a flap among Republicans the other day by attacking the libertarian wing of the party, specifically “Rand Paul and others,” for isolationism. (He also equated Obama’s terrorism policies with George W. Bush’s, which is utter hogwash, but I won’t go into that here except to say — can you imagine how Bush would have behaved after Boston compared with Obama?)

Christie, however, has a point, although I think the jury is still out on Paul and the nameless “others.” We don’t know enough individually about what they really think. This will most probably emerge.

But the issue is or should be libertarianism itself — to what degree should its policies pertain beyond the nation’s borders.

I admit to having a strong attraction to libertarianism domestically, especially in this era of monumental deficits, pervasive bureaucracy, and endless government spending, but I find it almost absurd as a basis for foreign affairs.

Part of the rationale, I suppose, in making it such a basis is that if the USA evolves into the perfect libertarian republic, others will see the errors of their ways and seek to emulate it — ironically a kind of Stalinist “socialism in one country” argument.

Oh, really? Tell that to the likes of Ayatollah Khamenei, Hassan Nasrallah, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, or even NATO member Turkey’s Recep Erdogan, who famously stated “democracy is like a train. You take it where you have to go, and then you get off.” I don’t think he meant get off at libertarianism.

Their final station isn’t Finland. It’s a global caliphate and what America does couldn’t be less material.

The somewhat more defensible rationale is that we should only intervene in foreign situations when absolutely necessary for our own safety or survival — no wars or military intervention unless we are directly attacked, etc.

This is classically naive thinking that defies common sense. In the real world the wise man or woman confronts his enemies or suffers greatly for it. Who wouldn’t want to replay the Munich Conference of 1938 and actually stand up to Hitler, rather than appease him?

Well, I guess maybe some extreme orthodox libertarians. But they would have to answer to the estimated forty-eight million who died in World War II, not to mention their families.

So, as an example, when I watch Fox’s John Stossel — whose echt-libertarian cable show is one of my favorites when he’s concentrating on domestic issues — speak of foreign affairs, I think I’m listening to an idealistic nine year old at a Quaker meeting. What happened to the smart, clever fellow who was just talking? He went down the drain of ideological purity.

It’s time to think about walking and chewing gum at the same time. In other words, why can’t we lean libertarian on some issues and not on others? Life doesn’t have to be that simple and classifiable with buzz words. In fact, to be ideologically rigid in any way is not, well, libertarian.

Which leads me back to Christie, Paul, and the NSA.

A lot of posturing is clearly going on here on both sides. The NSA is a complex matter. Many of us thought they had been spying on us and the rest of the world for years, literally since the eighties. There’s little new here except for the inevitable expansion of technology and that, believe it or not, is not Obama’s fault. (Blame the president for a lot of things — Benghazi, the IRS, the economy, racial incitement, spying on the press, etc. — but this one didn’t start with him.)

Paul has said that we are in danger of becoming a “police state.” (He used those words Monday night on Hannity.) I doubt that he really means it. Just as I doubt Christie really thinks Paul would dismantle, or ultimately even much hinder, the NSA. That would be really stupid in this day and age. They’re both playing their own version of politics.

Not that the NSA doesn’t need supervision, serious supervision. Its hiring practices need review as well as all its oversight systems, internal and external. Paul is of course right about the importance of liberties.

But seriously restricting the ability of the NSA to do its job would be suicidal for our country. Technology, like nature, abhors a vacuum. Pull back the NSA and the Russians and the Chinese would move in instantly to fill that hole, if they haven’t already. Do you trust them with all this information more than us? Really?

Related: Rick Moran on “A Fight that Had to Happen: A debate that will not only determine the future of the Republican party, but also have a great impact on who will be the GOP standard bearer in 2016.”

(Thumbnail on PJM homepage assembled from multiple images.)