Non-intervention is off the table

Jeremy Davis
Mar 4, 2011 at 3:44 PM

The conversations among Washington policymakers and political pundits on America’s role in the situation in Libya swarms with talks of intervention.

They carry on with little to no acknowledgement of the fact that past U.S. foreign intervention has given rise to damaging blowback and an expansion of empire. Nevertheless, the policeman of the world look with eager eyes toward Libya as the setting for their latest foreign adventure.

With sanctions, freezing $30 billion of Libyan government assets, and U.S. warships on the move, American interventionists are just getting warmed up. Their shortlist of proposed responses includes initiating a no fly zone, supplying Libyan rebels with arms, and an interventionist’s favorite pastime, outright military involvement. Completely absent from the dialogue however, is the option of taking no action at all. As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton put it; “everything is on the table.” Perhaps the only thing actually off the table is a rational consideration of non-intervention. 

Instead of embellishing the typical interventionist creed, the thing we really need to be talking about is how to scale back the empire America has constructed; which has come about through the government’s insatiable appetite to involve themselves in the internal matters of foreign nations. Regardless of however noble it may appear, we can’t commit ourselves to ousting every dictatorial regime in every corner of the globe. An unavoidable side effect of forcefully promoting the advancement of liberty and democracy abroad is that it operates at the expense of our own liberties here at home. In order to maintain a policy of perpetual war and conflict, the state must grow to sustain its numerous commitments.

Besides, what kind of credibility in spreading freedom abroad can America claim? How can an interventionist American government hold the moral high ground in promoting the liberty of foreign peoples when the U.S. has made a strong career out of supporting and propping up repressive regimes? It’s exactly this kind of international meddling that breeds resentment for the U.S. and gives tangible footing for potential blowback.

But will Congress or the president take these arguments into account before they commit the U.S. military into another needless conflict? The fact is that interventionists simply can’t stomach reality; they won’t hear it. Rather than heed the advice of America’s founders of maintaining a humble nation, their motivations are instead poisoned by echoes of old time Wilsonianism of “making the world safe for democracy” by intervening abroad.

That’s why the Obama administration chooses to leave “everything on the table.” But perhaps Secretary Clinton would be well served in taking the advice of a former predecessor of hers. In a July 4, 1821 address, then Secretary of State John Quincy Adams laid out the traditional position of the founders in their interpretation of American foreign policy when he stated that “wherever the standard of freedom and independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and prayers be. But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.”

And should America ever go in search of “monsters to destroy” as Adams had warned, it’s transformation from a humble republic to an arrogant empire would become evident. “The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force. The frontlet upon her brows would no longer beam with the ineffable splendor of freedom and independence; but in its stead would soon be substituted an imperial diadem, flashing in false and tarnished luster the murky radiance of dominion and power.”

It’s clear that many of the founders would have a few choice words for the imperialists currently at the helm of American foreign policy. And with living in an empire that’s always commissioning war somewhere around the globe, it would be advisable if we too had a few choice words of our own in the conversation of foreign intervention.