Last week, President Barack Obama issued a warning to the Ukrainian government that the international community would not stand for violence aimed at peaceful protesters, much to the chagrin of many libertarians. As strife in countries such as Ukraine and Venezuela captivates international attention, libertarians are quibbling over just what American policy towards such events should be. Prominent libertarians have condemned President Obama’s remarks and scoffed at any U.S. involvement in either nation. Ron Paul, former Republican presidential candidate and libertarian figurehead, warned that the U.S. should let Ukraine solve its own problems.
Political leaders in both Venezuela and Russia (in regards to Ukraine) have accused the US of meddling and fomenting anti-government dissent. Whether any US covert support is going to the opposition in either case is unknown, though the possibility does exist. What is surprising is how few libertarians feel the US should ever involve itself in situations where liberty is struggling to exist. From Lew Rockwell to the Future of Freedom Foundation, libertarian blogs have rejected US involvement.
It’s understandable for libertarians to be wary of intervention after more than a decade of military adventurism. Military interventions are costly, create collateral damage and blowback, and often leave unstable situations requiring prolonged military presence. Military involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq, for example, has dragged on for over a decade and cost over $6 trillion. Libertarians are right to reject these kinds of interventions when US security is not being directly threatened. But, the military is not the only way to intervene in or influence foreign affairs. Diplomacy, rhetoric, and even trade limitations can be used to bring pressure to bear on repressive regimes.
When a political opposition emerges, the US can vocally support it, provide it with intelligence and may even work covertly to aid its ends. In 2003, the former Soviet state of Georgia experienced a bloodless revolution which ousted former Communist Party boss Eduard Shevardnadze. The Revolution of Roses, as it is known, was supported by non governmental organizations, civil societies and independent media funded in part by the US.
There are many libertarians who are strict non-interventionists. They maintain the US should mind its business. Is it really none of our business what happens around the world? Thanks to social media and technological advances, the world is more interconnected than ever. Libertarians should especially understand this, being staunch supporters of free trade. Liberty can bring people together or it can be used to maintain isolation. America ought not to aim to be the international equivalent of the angry old man at the end of the street who cries, “Get off my lawn!”
When autocratic regimes deprive people of individual liberty, it should be a concern to free peoples. When the Soviet Union collapsed, 300 million people were suddenly freer. Socialism had oppressed people and destroyed nations under the Soviet flag for most of the 20th century. In Ukraine, over 20 million people were starved to death as a direct result of Soviet policy. It is ironic how many libertarians laud Ronald Reagan yet would have been staunchly opposed to any counter measures against the spread of the Soviet system.
The US should not force nations to bend to its will and should not support unsavory or repressive forces simply because it shares an enemy. We have made such mistakes in the past. Each situation is unique and requires an assessment of potential benefit versus potential blowback. The world is not black and white, and libertarians do themselves a disservice pretending it is.
What if covert operations could have taken out Adolf Hitler prior to his invading Poland? Would libertarians support such an operation, or would it be seen as intervening in another country’s business? What if our intelligence community could provide internet access to protesters in a nation that restricts their access and limits their speech? Would libertarians really say this is an improper use of US power and influence? Is it more libertarian to allow repressive regimes to do as they see fit so long as they keep off our lawns?
When the President says that the United States is opposed to governments who use violence against peaceful protesters, libertarians should applaud. When people stand up against tyranny and say they are tired of starving, of not having medicine, of food shortages, of being denied free speech and access to international markets, Americans should applaud. If possible, we should help.
It is important to remember that if France had held such non-interventionist views, Americans would likely still be bowing to the Queen of England.
In regards to the United States, Thomas Jefferson once wrote, “The last hope of human liberty in this world rests on us. We ought, for so dear a state to sacrifice every attachment and every enmity.” We are now, more so than then, an international leader. If we shirk from the cause of human liberty, who will come to its aid?