Libertarians want to bring our troops home and concentrate, as Cato’s David Boaz outlines here, on “the defense of the United States.”
David writes, “We support maintaining the world’s largest and most powerful military, by a wide margin, although not as big as the foreign-policy establishment wants.”
In this 15th year of war in Afghanistan, as the United States is becoming further entangled in military conflicts in Iraq, Syria and Yemen, we need a serious debate about whether we want to be permanently at war.
We can start by noting a few simple rules about war and foreign policy. First, war kills people. Especially in the modern world, it often kills as many civilians as soldiers. War cannot be avoided at all costs, but it should be avoided wherever possible. Proposals to involve the United States — or any government — in foreign conflict should be treated with great skepticism.
Second, war creates big government. That’s one reason libertarians and other believers in limited government have tried to avoid war. Throughout history, war has provided an excuse for governments to arrogate money and power to themselves and to regiment society.
During World Wars I and II, the United States government assumed powers it could never have acquired in peacetime — powers such as the military draft, wage-and-price controls, rationing, close control of labor and production and astronomical tax rates. Constitutional restrictions on federal power were swiftly eroded.
That doesn’t tell us whether those wars should have been fought. It does mean that we should understand the consequences of war for our entire social order and thus go to war only when absolutely necessary.