In opposing and challenging U.S. foreign policy, there is a tendency among some in the libertarian movement to excuse the crimes and misdeeds of foreign regimes that Washington sees as antagonistic. Fundamentally, I believe this represents a grave bias that has no place in the liberty movement.
Recent statements by Ron Paul have been interpreted by some as being too hesitant to call out Putin for his interventionism in Ukraine. Paul is correct, in my opinion, to place criticism of U.S. foreign policy as a priority over that of other governments (as Americans, that is our responsibility). And we always need to be skeptical of the rhetoric coming out of Washington directed towards America’s ostensible enemies.
But I don’t think it is very libertarian to carry water for Russian policies of military interventionism. This line of thinking was picked up by Alexander McCobin of Students for Liberty. He wrote a perfectly respectful piece disagreeing with Paul on the substance of whether Russia’s incursions and the Crimean referendum were legitimate. In response, Daniel McAdams of the Ron Paul Institute for Peace wrote a scathing polemic attacking McCobin and pretending like Russian foreign policy is benevolent.
Justin Raimondo, Antiwar.com’s Editorial Director, also made this the subject of his column today. I fundamentally disagree with it on many counts.
There are two issues to be addressed here. One is the appropriateness of libertarians condemning governments other than their own. The other is whether or not Russia’s interventionism and Crimea’s referendum were legitimate.
On the latter issue, McAdams and Raimondo argue Russian troops were already in Crimea by mutual agreement. But to say the troops were already there by mutual agreement is to push Putin’s propaganda. Of course, there were thousands (nobody knows exactly how many because they disguised themselves) of extra Russian troops that moved into Crimea that went beyond the mutual agreement. And the mutual agreement was about basing rights in Sevastopol. I don’t believe it granted these Russian troops the right to seize police and military bases, as they did. Some Crimean minorities boycotted the vote, which is their right, but others wanted to vote and couldn’t because they were not sent the vouchers.
Crimeans do have a right to self-determination. And they very well may have voted to rejoin Russia even without Moscow’s meddling and military incursions. But it is just a fantasy to believe this is anything other than an interventionist power grab by Russia. Obviously, this doesn’t mean one ought to support U.S. intervention of any kind. But I think it does mean libertarians, when asked directly, should not defend Putin’s regime.
On the former issue, I believe it is incumbent upon us as Americans to criticize our own government, especially in the realm of foreign policy, before we go off criticizing foreign governments. And while much of the rhetoric coming out of Washington regarding Russia, Iran, China, and other bogeymen is structured to justify more U.S. interventionism, that doesn’t mean the criticisms of those governments are always and everywhere without merit. Just admitting that Russia’s actions are deplorable doesn’t make one an agent of the State Department or in bed with the neocons.
I’m an anti-war libertarian to the bone. But I’m also consistent. There is a lot to criticize about the approach of the U.S. government towards Ukraine. But if the U.S. government conducted the kind of foreign policy Russia has in Ukraine, I would stand in strong opposition to it, as any consistent libertarian should.
Reason’s Jesse Walker posted a rather prescient blog about this earlier this month. It is worth re-reading.
1. It is possible to believe that fascists and other creepy sorts played a notable role in the Maidan uprising and that the revolt was, on balance, a movement for greater freedom.
2. It is possible to believe that the Maidan revolt was a movement for greater freedomand that people elsewhere in Ukraine have legitimate reasons to be aggravated about the new government, and even about the fact that they’re ruled from Kiev in the first place.
3. It is possible to believe that there are Ukrainian citizens with legitimate complaints about Kievand that Russia should not be inserting its military, or indeed any of its influence, into the country.
4. It is possible to believe it’s bad that Russia’s sticking its snout into its neighbor’s affairs andthat it would be dumb for the U.S. to intervene to stop it.
Disagree with any of those combinations of views that you want. But don’t act as though they’re inconceivable. There have been a lot of logical leaps in the debates over the ongoing crisis, particularly—and most dangerously—from the folks who don’t seem able to understand #4.
Bonus: It is possible to believe that the U.S. should stay out of the conflict and that it’s a good idea to allow increased exports of natural gas, not because that will cut into Putin’s power—though that could be a happy effect—but because it’s something the government ought to be allowing anyway.