I used to view a military intervention as an isolated event with manageable negative consequences and that any regime change is good when the U.S. installs a leader allied with democracy. I was never a war-hawk, but I assumed that a group bent on destroying America and American freedom should be aggressively countered. More important than my lack of geo-political knowledge, however, was my assumption that the political left embodied the antiwar, and thus, anti-patriot, faction in political discussion.
My views were considerably dated, as politics on both sides appears to have evolved towards embracing an aggressive foreign policy. Rather than the youth-in-revolt New Left ideologues I pictured, I encountered self-identified liberals and socialists claiming that our enemies must be destroyed through quick, violent action. More incredulous to me, as I thought this was solely a production of right-wing politics, these same people embraced the idea that American occupation and regime change are necessary to protect such countries against outside dangers.
An understanding of interventionism and its negative effects has lead me to know the implications of this foreign policy. With much of the authorization centralized in the President, anyone in the Oval Office appears free to escalate conflict anywhere in the world by any means, but mostly through ordering drone strikes and, now, outright bombing. In all of this, the mobilization of a nationwide antiwar movement comparable to the late 1960s is not seen in the present day. A viable Democrat or Republican antiwar candidate has not appeared since Ron Paul in 2008 and 2012.
The scale of intervention only rose after the election of Barrack Obama, which was celebrated as a victory for liberal principles with his healthcare and economic reform. In fact, when it became apparent that Obama was ordering more bombings and drone strikes than President Bush I began to question what I thought politics represented.
What can be done to approach this apparent consensus? Who will be willing to take up the antiwar banner is probably subject to future circumstances. But where the narrative of forever war continues to dominate mainstream politics, the libertarian movement can gather those few on both sides who reject those hawkish views. Libertarians can harken back to the antiwar position with its support for individual freedom, reminding our politicians that liberty lies in the hands of those who would shape their society from within, and not ours. This issue should be approached in a uniquely libertarian way, searching for truth while recognizing that individuals must come to it willingly. Accepting that people will always quantify the loss of life on one side against potential disaster for the other is instrumental if we are to challenge this idea. Regardless of how many lives were potentially saved, the physical and social dislocation surrounding American intervention can make not doing anything the safer option.
Communicating this will not be easy, of course. Libertarians must be patient, recognizing that the idea of government doing less is counterintuitive in this day and age. We must use wisdom, gathering enough facts and opposing views to craft a well-informed opinion. In the process, one might conclude that there is no way for nations to completely avoid conflict. There is a way, however, to avoid escalation, and hoping that our weapons will be used by the “right” people is a destructive gamble.
From now until the end of America, will we look back on 2017 as the year we brought peace to Syria, or the year we escalated a conflict we shouldn’t have been involved in? In other words, how many times will we rely on hindsight to determine the legitimacy of military action? Take heart in that you are not alone as antiwar activists around the world continue to fight for the same thing: a freer world which will sue for peace sooner than sending its people to war.
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