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  • Response From The Independent Institute

    Posted by Jonathan on April 10th, 2004 (All posts by )

    David Theroux of The Independent Institute responded via email to my recent critical post about his organization’s position on the war. I reproduce below, with David’s permission, the text of his email response. (We have since exchanged additional emails, so I am posting his response in case other readers want to join the discussion.)

    In reference to your recent comment about the Independent Institute
    on the Chicago Boyz blog, you may be interested in the following new
    article from our quarterly journal, THE INDEPENDENT REVIEW (Spring
    2004). Here incidentally is the table of contents for this issue of
    the journal:
    http://www.independent.org/tii/content/pubs/review/current.html

    “The Republican Road Not Taken: The Foreign-Policy Vision of Robert
    A. Taft,” by Michael T. Hayes (Professor of Political Science,
    Colgate University):
    http://www.independent.org/tii/content/pubs/review/tir84_hayes.html

    Also for clarification, the proper term to describe the proposal we
    have been making for U.S. foreign policy reform is
    “non-interventionism”, not “isolationism.” “Isolationism” was a smear
    term originally coined by Wilsonians (“liberal-progressive”
    interventionists) to denigrate their opponents (constitutional and
    otherwise). The Wilsonian tradition is one of government
    interventionism both domestically and internationally, a position
    that Robert Higgs and other scholars have shown is inseparably linked
    by foreign interventionism (warfarism) being the central
    public-choice engine that drives domestic statism
    (http://www.independent.org/tii/catalog/cat_crisis.html).

    In contrast to “non-interventionism,” “isolationism” properly defined
    requires a “Closed Door” (or autarchic) policy severely restricting
    the free flow of people and trade internationally.

    Most nation states in the world today maintain a foreign policy of
    general non-interventionism based on the tradition of international
    law, and many also remain strictly neutral in world affairs while
    simultaneously pursuing very active trade, travel, cultural, and
    other exchanges. Meanwhile, almost alone among nations today, the
    U.S. government pursues a deliberate policy of preemptive covert and
    overt interventionism, and many scholars now consider such policies a
    major cause of economic and political instability and hardship,
    upheaval, and terrorism.

    Attempts by the U.S. or any government to centrally plan and impose
    rule over people is exactly what classical liberals and libertarians
    have historically opposed. Non-interventionism is the traditional
    policy of the U.S. as a republic as described by Washington, Madison,
    Jefferson, and other Founders, based on the simple ethical and legal
    position that aggression against innocent, peaceful people is wrong
    and a rule of law should be applied universally to prohibit it. For
    your review, here is a web page with references that seriously
    discuss non-interventionism:
    http://www.onpower.org/foreign_non_inter.html

    Further information on our program in this regard can be found via
    our Center on Peace & Liberty:
    http://www.independent.org/copal

    Please advise me with any questions.

     

    17 Responses to “Response From The Independent Institute”

    1. David Says:

      Mr. Theroux should reread the history of World War II. The United States has tried “non-interventionism”. What we discovered on December 7th, 1941, and in the battles that followed, is that non-interventionism did not lead to peace and stability, but to a world-wide conflagration where the fate of our democratic allies and our own democracy was put at risk.

      Americans discovered in WWII that diabolical madmen were capable of seizing power in countries throughout the world. We learned that these madmen could build huge armies and military machines. We learned that, unchecked, they would use these armies to invade other countries in acts of naked aggression. We learned that treaties and negotiated agreements with these madmen were not worth the paper they were printed on. And we learned that they were capable of atrocities on a previously unimaginable scale – factories of death – where millions of innocents, women and children, would be senselessly slaughtered.

      Finally, having helped to pummel Germany and Japan into unconditional surrender through brutal warfare, we learned that we could help them to rebuild into peaceful, stable, prosperous, and sovereign democracies in a few short years.

      For these and many other reasons, Americans accept the need for interventionism. Yes, there have been spectacular failures. Vietnam is one and there are others. But the successes and failures must be weighed together, and it is by no means clear that the world, or America, would be better off with less interventionist policies.

      In contrast to “non-interventionism,” “isolationism” properly defined requires a “Closed Door” (or autarchic) policy severely restricting the free flow of people and trade internationally.

      But to defend against attacks from Islamist terror cells on American soil, you would have to do precisely that: severly restrict the free flow of people and trade internationally. You would have to dramatically restrict not only immigration from all countries (terrorist operatives may have British or Canadian citizenship for example), but international travel and commerce as well. You would have to perform detailed background checks on international air passengers before they even enter American airspace. You would have to inspect all inbound international cargo. And you would have to give law enforement even greater powers to investigate and find terrorists already within the country. If “non-interventionism” means allowing terrorists to live unmolested, to train, and to recruit in their host countries, then you will have to create “fortress America” to defend against attacks and this will require “isolationism”.

      Most nation states in the world today maintain a foreign policy of general non-interventionism based on the tradition of international law, and many also remain strictly neutral in world affairs while simultaneously pursuing very active trade, travel, cultural, and other exchanges. Meanwhile, almost alone among nations today, the U.S. government pursues a deliberate policy of preemptive covert and overt interventionism, and many scholars now consider such policies a major cause of economic and political instability and hardship, upheaval, and terrorism.

      This is ludicrous. In the 20th century, Germany, Japan, and Russia committed unprecedented acts of aggression that plunged the world into multiple global wars, leading to the deaths of tens, if not hundreds, of millions of people. They were defeated in no small part due to American military intervention. America then led and financed their reconstruction according to democratic principles in a framework of international law and institutions (the United Nations being one of many), based on a previous set of international institutions (League of Nations) which America also helped to create. And now, at the beginning of the 21st century, you survey the global landscape and determine that America is the leading cause of “political instability and hardshiop, upheaval, and terrorism?” American interventionism created the relatively peaceful world you see today.

    2. DSpears Says:

      “Non-interventionism” sounds nice but even Jefferson and Madison weren’t fully faithful to that policy. Our policy in the 1930’s was never “Non-interventionism”, it was isolationist then covertly interventionist before the attack on Pearl Harbor. It overstates the case to say that Pearl Harbor was what FDR wanted to get America into the war, but our foreign policy towards the axis before 1941 was certainly NOT “non-interventionist” by any stretch of the definition. I’m not saying that was the wrong course of action, but FDR wanted America in WWII before most Americans did, his motives for this were many and the subject of serious debate to this day.

      “….based on the simple ethical and legal position that aggression against innocent, peaceful people is wrong and a rule of law should be applied universally to prohibit it.”

      When has America used miltary aggression against “innocent, peaceful” people? Certainly not since the admitedly imperialistic administration of Teddy Roosevelt, and even then it’s hard to make the “innocent and peaceful” argument. The North Korean communists were innocent and peaceful? No. The North Vietnamese and Vietcong were innocent and peaceful? No. Saddam Hussein? No. The Taliban? No.

      This kind of thought process sounds nice on paper, but in the real world it just doesn’t work. In a lot of ways it is really appealing to bring our miltary home, let the rest of the world fight amongst itself and peacefully live our lives protected by 2 oceans. America has tried it before. It is, and always has been a temporary arrangement. The only question is do we mitigate the level of bloodshed by getting in early instead of late (like WWI and WWII) or would that just needlessly raise our casualty count? I don’t know.

      “Non-interventionism” necessarily means that we have to live with the international decisions of others with NO input from America (otherwise it couldn’t be called “non-inerventionist”, right?). I don’t think that is a situation that would last very long.

      Does “non-interventionism” mean pulling out of the UN? I’m certainly for that.

    3. James R. Rummel Says:

      I was going to comment and point out how Mr. Theroux’s veiws aren’t supported by either the historical record, or the facts at hane.

      But it would appear that D. Spears and David have already done it for me.

      That’s what I get for leaving the computer to go do things in the meat world.

      James

    4. Mark Says:

      Jefferson:

      “…we shall form to the American union a barrier against the dangerous extension of the British Province of Canada and add to the Empire of liberty an extensive and fertile Country thereby converting dangerous Enemies into valuable friends.”

    5. George Lee Says:

      “Meanwhile, almost alone among nations today, the U.S. government pursues a deliberate policy of preemptive covert and overt interventionism, and many scholars now consider such policies a major cause of economic and political instability and hardship, upheaval, and terrorism.”

      I can’t see how this view differs much from that of Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, etc.

    6. Sylvain Galineau Says:

      Did U.S. “interventionism” produce Hitler’s Germany ? Is it responsible for the mass graves of Kosovo and Bosnia ? For the gulags of the former Soviet Union ? Somehow, interventionism is responsible for all the world’s woes, and the consequences of non-interventionism are assumed to be all positive.

      As for the notion that the U.S. is “almost alone” in this respect, it sounds like Mr Theroux is attempting a shock & awe display of gross ignorance. Or childish naivete. Or both.

      Never mind the claim that “many scholars consider such policies to be a major cause” of this, that and the other thing, this is standard, bogus, intellectual bullying. Noam Chomsky is a scholar; so is Paul Krugman. And their views on foreign policy are essentially as irrelevant and wrong as their predictions (remember the “silent genocide of Afghanistan”, with its millions of starving children ?).

      Finall, nobody will ever disagree that “agression against innocent, peaceful people is wrong”. When The Independent Institute is done navel-gazing and pondering its boring platitudes, maybe it will tell us whether the likes of Hussein or Bin Laden, or the Taliban, are to be considered innocent and peaceful. And, most importantly, how their doctrine deals with them. And with what likely consequences.

    7. Robin Goodfellow Says:

      This is merely the same claptrap about American “Imperialism” reformulated. America does not subjugate nations. America is not an oppressive imperialistic nation. America does not upset the lives and livelihoods of those in other nations for mere petty motives. Overwhelmingly, successful American military intervention brings long-term improvement. Freedom from the violence of militaristic regimes at home or on the borders. Personal freedom from oppressive regimes or cultures. Democracy. Prosperity. Peace. This is not supposition, it is backed by decades of fact. In Europe, Japan, Korea, and elsewhere.

      They would have us believe that military intervention was always deleterious to those in the war zone, always brought about by corrupt or petty motives, and always more harmful to innocents than not. In short, always bad and never good. But this ignores history and the numerous examples where it can be good.

      Here is the central problem with their analysis, it ignores motives and it concentrates narrowly not just on actions but on a class of actions. It is a debate akin to debating the case of a man shooting another man. Is it good or bad? We cannot know because it is stripped of context. If the shooter were a burgler in the act of armed robbery, then no. If the shooter were a policeman in the act of protecting innocents from an armed man, then probably yes. This is the crux of the modern difficulty in the west with these matters. There are a group of people who do not believe that America, especially, is good, acts from good motives, or seeks good outcomes (for any but itself, at least). For these people the debate has to be structural because they see no difference between the motivations of America and of China or Syria. And therein lies the potential for paralyzation and tragedy. For while we may be concerned about the unfortunate consequences of the use of force and while we may restrain ourselves from such out of a wish not to do harm, others do not. The Ba’athists in Iraq, certainly, did not. And the only realistic way to stop such things is to intervene.

    8. Noel Says:

      The writer seems to assume well-ordered nation-states instead of a borderless conspiracy of mad-men seeking WMDs.

      The simple fact is we’ve tried it all; diplomacy, propping up local strongmen, limited interventions, UN ‘resolutions’, no-fly zones, inspections, billions in foreign aid, etc., etc., etc., etc., etc.

      Everything, that is, except the current mix of Jacksonian ruthlessness–hunting down our enemies and killing them–with the Wilsonian/Lincolnian policy of dragging these societies into the modern era. Sorry; it’s either that or surrender.

    9. Ken Says:

      “Did U.S. “interventionism” produce Hitler’s Germany ? ”

      Well, it did drive from power the one man who would otherwise have had the means and the motive to keep Hitler away from the reins of power. I seriously doubt that Hitler would have been able to overthrow the Kaiser, and probably wouldn’t have even dared to try.

    10. Sandy P. Says:

      Non-interventionism based on international law?

      Or were their neighbors bigger? What happened before there was “international law?”

    11. Sylvain Galineau Says:

      Ken, care to elaborate on that ? Which man was that ?

      The notion that the U.S. are somehow responsible for Hitler’s election and his strong, widespread support among the German population, is a new one to me. Hitler did not overthrow anyone. He was elected and proceeded to cart out the weak remnants of the former regime, with support and approval of the populace. The Kaiser was a figurehead at that point.

    12. Ken Says:

      “Ken, care to elaborate on that ? Which man was that ?”

      The Kaiser, of course.

      “The notion that the U.S. are somehow responsible for Hitler’s election and his strong, widespread support among the German population, is a new one to me. Hitler did not overthrow anyone. He was elected and proceeded to cart out the weak remnants of the former regime, with support and approval of the populace. The Kaiser was a figurehead at that point.”

      Because he (the Kaiser) lost WWI. Had he won it, he’d be firmly in the driver’s seat and respond vigorously to any upstart Austrians trying to take over his job.

    13. George Lee Says:

      Hitler was never elected to head the German state. He was appointed Chancellor by President Paul von Hindenburg in January, 1933. Just 3 months earlier in the November, 1932 elections his National Socialist party had lost 34 seats and garnered 2 million fewer votes than it had got in the July, 1932 elections.

      Hitler never got more than 36.8% of the vote in a national election. That means in his best electoral showing 73% of Germans voted against him.

      Even after he became Chancellor he was able to place only 2 Nazi party members in his cabinet–Goering and Frick.

      However, he quickly went about greatly expanding his party’s power and influence with the broad support of the German people.

      It is absurd to maintain that America brought Hitler to power. You might as well argue that the Kaiser did because he entered WW1 and persisted in it long after it was prudent. It is even rather a strech to maintain that the Versailles Treaty brought Hitler to power, but if one did maintain that, he’d also have to acknowledge that the American President Wilson struggled to lighten the burdens placed on Germany, but European leaders would have nothing to do with leniency. It is only fair to point out that if the American approach had been followed, German pride and legitimate self-respect would have suffered far less in the 1920s, and, not having to pay harsh reparations would have benefited the German workers after the worldwide economic collapse. But European leaders would not relent, and German resentment grew.

      There were many men in Germany with the “means and motive” to have staved off the rise of Hitler. Von Hindenburg never thought well of him and, previous to Jan. 1933, he had thwarted Hitler’s ambitions. He appointed Hitler Chancellor because he and von Papen thought Hitler would be easy enough to control–a terrible mistake. Had von Hindenburg simply appointed someone else, Hitler could not then have legally assumed a position of power.

      There were also many people outside of Germany with the “means and motive” to halt the rise of Hitler and, later, the militarization of Germany. German re-armament didn’t really get into gear until the spring of 1936.

      When Hitler’s troops entered the Rhineland, if only the European powers had forced him to back down and withdraw them, his image as mystical/Genius/Hero would have been shattered. His intoxicating spell might have lifted. Alas, the Europeans did not rise to the occasion.

    14. David Says:

      Thanks George Lee.

      When Hitler’s troops entered the Rhineland, if only the European powers had forced him to back down and withdraw them, his image as mystical/Genius/Hero would have been shattered. His intoxicating spell might have lifted. Alas, the Europeans did not rise to the occasion.

      But who can blame them, after the incredible slaughter and waste of men that was trench warfare in World War I? Leaders on both sides of the Atlantic saw war as utterly futile and horrific and to be avoided at all costs, even if that meant capitulating to Hitler’s demands.

    15. George Lee Says:

      Geesh, who can blame them? All the world can and should blame them. Standing up to Hitler when he violated the Versailles Treaty and moved troops into the demilitarizied Rhineland would not–could not–have led to an early beginning of WW2. Germany was nowhere near prepared for a long, tough war. Hitler acknowledged that he would have had no recourse but to withdraw the troops immediately. Sheer inanition explains the failure of Western leaders to respond vigorously. Hitler’s reckless gamble was met by the even more reckless lack of response by France and Great Britain.

      Our duty is to criticize the poor leadership shown in the 1930s. In a sense German ineptitude coincided with French and British ineptitude and you know the rest.

      WW2 was never inevitable. The public persona Hitler constructed relied on pursuing “the wisdom of the extreme.” Confidence in that persona and his daring wisdom could have been destroyed short of the destruction of 97% of German infrastructrure and many millions of lives. The Rhineland was just such a missed opportunity.

    16. David Says:

      Hmmm. Perhaps you’re right. Maybe Hitler would have backed down. But you don’t go to war expecting the enemy to back down. You go to war expecting to have to crush the enemy’s military forces with extreme loss of life on both sides and in the civilian population as well.

      As for whether Hitler would have backed down, or lost power after a military defeat in the Rhineland, we can look to the first Gulf War when Saddam Hussein refused to withdraw from Kuwait even when faced with an overwhelming coalition of forces led by the United States. Then, after a crushing defeat, Hussein remained in power for another decade, and was beginning to succeed in his propaganda program to have the sanctions lifted.

    17. Sylvain Galineau Says:

      David, I can blame them. They waited for years, while Hitler built a massive, technologically superior army – I guess they thought it was a purely artistic hobby of the Fuhrer – until it was too late to do anything but beg for mercy. This madness was self-inflicted and a result of moral and political cowardice. It could have been settled effectively and decisively early on.

      But then, one just has to watch the European spectacle around Iraq in particular and terrorism in general to realize some lessons will just never be learned, however awful the past. And there will always be people to ask : “but who can blame them ?”.