Camille Wead, editor of Law & History
While Americans are horrified by the beheading of innocent civilians by Islamic Terrorist groups in the Middle East they have remained surprisingly consistent about not wanting to send American troops back into the region. This trend showed dramatically last year when a Public Policy poll revealed that 74% of Americans did not want to send American troops back into Iraq. (http://www.thenation.com/blog/180297/americans-really-do-not-want-be-part-another-war-iraq#) This feeling is primarily driven by “war fatigue.” And it may change abruptly as the atrocities escalate. But this sentiment is also driven by an emerging political force in American politics, the Libertarians. Who are the Libertarians and what are their views of the war on terror?
For this blog post I interviewed my father, Doug Wead, who is a friend of Senator Rand Paul and on the staff of the Senator’s political action committee, RandPac. Rand Paul is often referred to as a Libertarian and is one of the front-runners for the GOP nomination for president in 2016.
Libertarians are a political movement that emphasizes personal liberty and freedom of choice. They favor less government control and regulation and intrusion into the private lives of citizens, and yet they are strong proponents of the American Constitution which they see as the ultimate law for American society.
The Libertarian Movement attracts followers from across the socio-cultural-political spectrum, groups that might not otherwise have things in common. Doug says, “For example, Gays are attracted to Libertarianism because of its emphasis on personal privacy. Liberal Democrats like its emphasis on civil liberties and freedom from government surveillance. People who advocate legalizing marijuana are drawn to the Liberty Movement in hopes of changing local laws. African Americans see the movement as helping them redress the criminal justice system. They see their youth disproportionately sentenced to longer sentences as young whites for the same crime. And finally, a very large Christian Liberty Movement has emerged.” These are Christians who believe that because of a hostile national media they will continually lose efforts to legally federalize their beliefs on marriage and abortion and that the greater danger is now a threat to religious freedom itself. By joining with other Libertarians they are fighting for religious freedom and more local, statewide, autonomy where in some states religious groups may predominate.
To make matters more complicated there are different types of Libertarians. Senator Rand Paul represents a new trend in what are called “practical Libertarians.” These are people who lean toward the Liberty Movement but recognize, that at times, there are wider issues for the community that make compromise necessary. For example, Senator Paul does not favor legalizing marijuana.
So what are the Libertarian views about American foreign policy?
Libertarians believe that America should mind its own business. That it should be friendly with other nations and trade with other nations but not dictate to their governments nor assume responsibility for their problems. Doug comments, “They believe that American should export its ideas by example not at the end of the bayonet.” Libertarians believe that war should be the last resort. They oppose foreign aid. On February 28, 2015, Senator Rand Paul asked the audience at CPAC, “Why should we borrow money from China and give it to Pakistan?” Senator Paul has introduced legislation that would make it illegal for the USA to give foreign aid to governments who execute Christians simply because of their faith. He opposes foreign aid that is “passed through” to terrorist organizations, such as U.S. foreign aid to the Palestinian government which is passed onto the terrorist organization Hamas.
Libertarians oppose wars that do not threaten the security of the United States. For example, Libertarians publicly opposed the war in Iraq warning of blowback or unintended consequences. When told of the atrocities of the Saddam Hussein government, Libertarians pointed to the Ronald Reagan years. Doug says, “President Reagan saw the Soviet Union and its version of communism as a threat to the security of the United States. Reagan’s wars were almost always proxy wars against the Soviet Union. Reagan never sought to bring Pol Pot of Cambodia to justice, even thought Pol Pot was responsible for murdering almost half of his own people.” When Reagan came to the White House Idi Amin, the evil, African dictator had just been toppled from power. Reagan did not bring Amin to justice.
Sometimes Libertarians can favor war. Former Congressman Ron Paul, the father of the Senator and a former presidential candidate himself, favored war against Afghanistan because it was harboring Osama Bin Laden and he was considered a threat to the United States. He did not favor the war in Iraq, saying that they had not been part of 9-11 and our involvement would cause blowback. Likewise in 1981, Ron Paul was one of the few American leaders who defended the Israeli attacks against the Iraqi nuclear facility. Doug comments, “Paul said that America should not dictate Israeli policy and she had a right to defend herself.”
More recently, Senator Rand Paul was the first public figure to call for a declaration of war against ISIS which he sees as a threat to American security.
But not all Libertarians agree. Trying to get Libertarians, who cherish the rights of personal, individual freedom, to unite on anything has been compared to herding cats.
Libertarians say that America’s second war in Iraq was the cause of the current chaos across the region and is an example of the unintended consequences of an unnecessary war. They oppose American torture and point to Soviet long term studies in the Gulags that show it didn’t work. Many of them believe that 9-11 was caused by American bases in Saudi Arabia near Islamic Holy Sites which provoked Islamic anger. Many of them, represented by “practical Libertarian” Rand Paul, understand that we must now fight ISIS but also, they believe, we must eventually leave the region and try to mind our own business or the wars will never end.