Machan’s Archives: Genuine Military Defense Anyone? (updated)
Tibor R. Machan
As much as one may object to Iran’s government’s efforts to build atomic weapons, the American government isn’t supposed to be some kind of meta-police that embarks upon restraining such governments! Certainly spending American taxpayers’ funds on conducting military actions against Iran would be going way beyond the proper military role of the American government, which is to protect its citizen’s freedom from domestic and foreign criminals.
It bears remembering here that however off course the American government has gone in its role in the country, the real role it has is to be a government strictly limited to the functions laid out in the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, which is to stand ready to defend the country when it is attacked or when there is a demonstrably clear and present danger that it will be–not might be–attacked. So the criteria by which one must judge its conduct, both domestic and international, is whether it amounts to such defense.
Sadly, of course, most politicians and bureaucrats, as well as their cheerleaders in the academy and media, don’t give a hoot about restraining the power of government. After all, the same rationale that serves to justify its relentless intervention in our lives at home is what is used to rationalize it abroad. (Does it occur to folks that despite some of the rhetoric of restraint associated with the political thought of President Obama, it is modern liberalism’s interventionism that removes all principled restraint and leads to the imperialist policies of which this Libyan expedition is a case in point? Obama is, after all, a self-professed pragmatist and that means rejecting all principles as mere ideology!)
I am talking, of course, from the position of someone who has always agreed with President George Washington’s warnings about foreign entanglements, made in his farewell address and one implicit in the basic thrust of the American political tradition of limited government. The limitation is not all that tough to grasp: it is self-defense, just as in the case of when people are justified to use force against each other, namely, when they have been attacked, when they encounter an aggressor. This does not include being deprived of someone else’s productive work or resources, including Iran’s oil. If my neighbor refuses to sell me his produce or labor, I have no right to attack him and try to force him to hand these to me because I want them very badly, even need them desperately. And if he arms himself and his family to the teeth in anticipation, justified or not, of being attacked by local gangs, that too is not cause for me to attack him.
Such is the proper standard of international military policy for a bona fide free society and whether that goes contrary to domestics intellectuals, the community of nations, the UN or whoever else sounds off about it, it makes no difference. None of that is going to make it right and, furthermore, one rotten consequence of it is that all the rhetorical opposition to international banditry is certainly going to sound mighty hallow!
Once a country’s government abandons the stance by which its use of force is kept to national defense and nothing else (however tempting it is to breach it), it has lost its moral authority as it criticizes other aggressors around the globe, including that of the Iranian or Syrian government against “its own people”. Rogue regimes everywhere, with their rulers aspiring to impose their will upon everyone, will be able to point to the USA and declare, correctly: “Look at the leaders of the free world, see how they butt into all manner of misconduct by their fellow governments, so clearly it must be permissible for us to act likewise when we disapprove of what others do!”
Just as the philosophy that demands restraining government domestically is the most radical and sound political idea–just compare it to all the imperialism throughout human history embarked upon by hundreds of regimes–so this insistence that governments keep to their oath of protecting the rights of their citizens is radical, sound and sadly neglected.