Gary Johnson has been coming under fire from the right over non-interventionism. Is the right wrong for skipping the free market path to peace?
One of the major complaints levied against libertarians is their attempt to adhere to the non-intervention principle. Libertarians aren’t interested in getting involved in foreign conflicts, especially if there’s no threat to the U.S. This stance is causing some conservatives, like TownHall.com’s Guy Benson, to be turned off by Libertarian Party presidential nominee Gary Johnson. Benson tweeted October 6th he was no longer considering Johnson as a candidate because Johnson decided to discuss the accidental U.S. bombing of an Afghani hospital and the civilian deaths in the Syrian Civil War.
“Well no, of course not – we’re so much better than all that,” Johnson told The New York Times editorial board earlier this month (NYT has said Johnson was sarcastic in his comment.) “We’re so much better when in Afghanistan, we bomb the hospital and 60 people are killed in the hospital.”
There are probably plenty of people on both the right and the left who consider Johnson’s comment loathsome. After all, the U.S. is probably the only superpower remaining on the globe (although Russia is sure trying) and supporters of interventionism believe securing democracy for everyone is important. A friend of mine claims Syria is a mess because the U.S. decided to not really get involved, which is why refugees are flooding into Europe. My friend is well-intentioned, but wrong in his assessment, as are most interventionists.
One thing interventionists tend to gloss over is what exactly the U.S., and the rest of the West, have been doing and the effect it’s had on the civil war. Liz Sly at The Washington Post wrote last October how the U.S.’ decision to supply anti-tank missile to Syrian rebels, prompted a response by Bashar al-Assad’s ally, Russia.
The U.S.-made BGM-71 TOW missiles were delivered under a two-year-old covert program coordinated between the United States and its allies to help vetted Free Syrian Army groups in their fight against President Bashar al-Assad… So successful have they been in driving rebel gains in northwestern Syria that rebels call the missile the ‘Assad Tamer,’…
Now that the Russians have introduced more intensive and heavier airstrikes and, for the first time, combat helicopters have been seen in videos strafing villages in the Hama area, the TOW missiles may only be able to slow, but not block, government advances.
The rebels have appealed for the delivery of Stinger missiles or their equivalents to counter the new threat from the air, but U.S. officials say that is unlikely.
There is a cause and effect here. The UN reported about 500K refugees were fleeing Syria at the end of 2012/beginning of 2013. Those stats almost quadrupled by the end of 2013/beginning of 2014, as the fighting got more fierce, and more people started dying. One thing to remember is the fact the U.S. started supplying weapons to rebels in 2012, and training in 2013.
“Western training of Syrian rebels is under way in an effort to strengthen secular elements in the opposition as a bulwark against Islamic extremism, and to begin building security forces to maintain order in the event of Bashar al-Assad’s fall.” The Guardian’s Julian Borger and Nick Hopkins reported in March 2013. “Jordanian security sources say the training effort is led by the U.S., but involves British and French instructors…According to European and Jordanian sources the western training in Jordan has been going on since last year and is focused on senior Syrian army officers who defected.”
It is true there was no authorization to send those specific soldiers into Syria to start fighting, but the fact a weapon supplying program was approved a few months later (not counting the CIA operation from 2012) shows Western involvement was starting to get larger. The effect ended up being over 2M refugees fleeing Syria at the start of 2014 and almost 4M in 2015 (when bombs started falling by U.S. and Russian forces.)
This is why interventionism is a costly policy, specifically when it involves whole countries. It’s completely possible the Syrian Civil War would have ended in a stalemate, and talks between the rebels and al-Assad could have ended up happening sooner. It’s also possible the Arab League would have tried to step in and help in terms of a settlement, instead of funding more arms to the rebels. This Syrian Civil War was a regional war, which has broken out into a proxy war between the U.S. and Russia.
Interventionists believe stabilizing the area will allow freedom to grow, citing the inability for free trade to happen in chaos. But that’s not always the case. How often have there been stories of soldiers or civilians running a black market. The Syrian black market is doing exceptionally well, right now.
“There is so much demand from the Syrian side. There is demand for everything. Last time I was carrying paper napkins,” Mustafa Demir told Reuters in 2013. “I usually deliver to the Syrian rebels on the other side. They bring their own lorry and the transfer is done on the other side. And then I leave.”
There’s also a book by Philip Leigh looking at the black market during the American Civil War. “While Confederate blockade runners famously carried the seaborne trade for the South during the American Civil War, the amount of Southern cotton exported to Europe was only half of that shipped illicitly to the North.” Amazon’s blurb for Trading with the Enemy reads. “Most went to New England textile mills where business ‘was better than ever,’ according to textile mogul Amos Lawrence. Rhode Island senator William Sprague, a mill owner and son-in-law to Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase, was a member of a partnership supplying weapons to the Confederacy in exchange for cotton.”
See the point? The free market will survive, regardless of what interventionists believe. Companies and people wanting to make money will always find a way to deliver goods. If the U.S. were to avoid getting into conflicts it had no business being involved in, then free markets would get even freer. Yes, businesses do end up putting themselves, or their workers, in danger, but it’s likely they know this going in. The business owners and workers are making their own choice to put their lives on the line. Businesses can also refuse work, if it’s going into an area which is too dangerous. The worst businesses end up doing is losing money. Soldiers can’t refuse an assignment without being sent to prison. War ends up risking all kinds of lives, not just civilians, but also soldiers. This was something Gary Johnson told the press before the first debate, and he’s absolutely right. There’s nothing wrong with a country retaliating after they’ve been attacked. But politicians and military members should stop and think before deciding on war. At some point, a country is going to leave itself defenseless if they decide to keep playing world police. There are better ways to spread freedom and liberty around the world. Free markets are that way.