Libertarian foreign policy is “confident and cosmopolitan.” So says Cato Institute Vice President for Defense and Policy Studies, Christopher Preble. Preble gave a lecture at the International Students for Liberty Conference Saturday afternoon about what a “libertarian foreign policy” looks like.
In full disclose, I’m not a libertarian, especially on foreign policy and national defense issues. But Preble gave a compelling talk to a completely packed room. I’m not kidding. People were sitting on the floor and crowded around the doorway to hear him. It was very likely a fire hazard.
Preble’s idea of what the ideal libertarian foreign policy looks like has deep roots in the American Founding. He held up a pocket Constitution several times, pointing out we should be looking to the Constitution for guidance in deciding matters of foreign policy.
Basically, George Washington had the right idea. I don’t think he was advocating strict Washingtonian Isolationism, but Preble made it very clear the United States shouldn’t be entangling itself in the internal affairs of other counties. Instead of fighting in foreign wars, we should be concentrating on our own infrastructure.
Don’t misunderstand, Preble did admit that even though war is harmful to liberty, sometimes it can’t be avoided. He explained that the Cold War was unavoidable and the United States was right in getting involved. However, the idea of a “common defense” was expanded after the defeat of the Soviet Union, when NATO was expanded three separate times. That’s where he insists the US got it wrong. He believes the goal of the US wasn’t just to defeat communism (and other threats), but to discourage other countries from arming and defending themselves. And, for Preble (and most libertarians) that goal is wrong.
The Q&A session was lively. I’ve never seen so many college-aged kids so engaged in a lecture with so many questions. Preble answered as many as possible, trying to give thorough and thoughtful answers to each. When pressed on the issue of Afghanistan, he responded carefully. He agreed that going into Afghanistan initially was the right move. But, he says, “the mission changed.” When the goal went from deposing the Taliban, destroying al Qaeda’s ability to function and sending a message to other countries to not aide or harbor terrorists to nation and state-building, it became unacceptable.
Perhaps most telling about what a libertarian foreign policy looks like was when the question of genocide came up. Preble agreed genocide is horrific, but the US shouldn’t be in the business of getting involved, rather we should encourage the neighboring countries to get involved, as it would be a real security issue for them.
I don’t know if I completely buy what the libertarian foreign policy is selling, but I can’t deny Preble was an excellent addition to the ISFLC and certainly made me think.