October 9, 2012 by Anders Ingemarson
With the second presidential debate focusing on foreign policy being just around the corner, this week provides a good opportunity to take another look at one of the roles the government would properly retain under the total separation of state and the economy – the military.
I have previously argued that the cornerstone of our foreign policy should be to lead by example at home. But what should be the guiding principle for when to get militarily involved and when not? The answer is rational self-interest. Only when the rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness of individual Americans are threatened by foreign powers is military action justified.
Humanitarian missions and engaging in conflicts that do not possess a threat to Americans should not be part of the job description of our military. Americans may spend their own time and money on such activities if it is of value to them, but our government may not.
Unfortunately, our foreign and military policy has been guided by the opposite of rational self interest for a long time.
We have been involved in many conflicts that were not in our self-interest. Kosovo, Somalia, and, I would argue, Vietnam belong in this category.
We have not taken military action when indeed it was in our self-interest. The primary example the past 30 years has been our refusal to eliminate the threat of Iran despite the fact that they’re behind the 1979 hostage crisis, the Lebanon embassy bombing, the USS Cole bombing, 9/11, and the terrorist activities in Afghanistan and Iraq. And we continue to refuse to take military action despite the knowledge that Iran is working on nuclear weapons that will be used against us and our allies.
Why have we adopted what truly is a perverse foreign and military policy? Morality is the culprit. More specifically, the morality of Altruism. Just as Altruism teaches us to put the needs of our neighbors above our own at home, so Altruism teaches us to put the needs of the world above our own abroad.
Is there no room for our government helping oppressed people struggling for freedom in foreign lands? I think a special case can be made for limited military intervention on a voluntary basis. Imagine our president asking “Dear proud Americans in uniform. The people of Farawayland is asking for our help in overturning the tyranny of [insert name of dictator]. Do I have any volunteers to go kick butt?” Knowing our troops, I don’t suspect a shortage of takers. However, the voluntary aspect is essential as no American soldier should be forced to put his life on the line when the self-interest of Americans is not at stake. And obviously the recipient country would have to pay for our services as Americans should not have to foot the bill. Apart from being good practice for our forces, what would be the rational for such interventions? After having set an example in a couple of hotspots, it would promote world peace which indirectly is in our self interest. How? By sending a message to every dictator and despot around the world to get his house in order. If not, an American Marine may come knocking.