"We don’t seek empires. We’re not imperialistic."
"If we want Iraq to avoid becoming a Somalia on steroids,
we’d better get used to U.S. troops being deployed there for years,
possibly decades, to come. If that raises hackles about American imperialism,
so be it. We’re going to be called an empire whatever we do. We might
as well be a successful empire." ~ Max
"We’re an empire now." ~ a
senior adviser to President Bush (2004)
The number in Germany is 69,395. The number in Japan is 35,307. The number
in Korea is 32,744. The number in Italy is 12,258. The number in the United
Kingdom is 11,093.
I am not speaking of the number of car accidents last year in Germany, Japan,
Korea, Italy, or the United Kingdom. And neither am I speaking of the number
of poisonings, suicides, or armed robberies in any of these countries.
No, I am speaking of something far more lethal: the continued presence of U.S.
According to the latest edition of the "Active
Duty Military Personnel Strengths by Regional Area and by Country,"
published by the Defense Department’s Directorate for Information Operations
and Reports (DIOR), the U.S. has troops in 142 countries. This is up from the
figure of 136 countries that the government was reporting the
last time I addressed the subject of the number of countries under
the shadow of the U.S. Global Empire. Additions to the list are Armenia,
Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Iran, Malawi, Moldova, Slovak Republic, and Sudan.
Subtractions are Eritrea and North Korea. Only 49 countries to go and the United
States will have hegemony over the whole world. But it is worse than it appears.
Counting the U.S. troops in territories, the officially reported number of countries
or territories that the United States has troops in is now 158. It is not without
cause that the twentieth century’s greatest proponent of liberty, and
the greatest opponent of the state, Murray
Rothbard (1926–1995), said that "empirically, taking the twentieth
century as a whole, the single most warlike, most interventionist, most imperialist
government has been the United States."
This foreign troop presence is, of course, directly opposite the foreign policy
of the Founding Fathers:
George Washington: "The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign
nations is, in extending our commercial relations to have with them as little
political connection as possible."
Thomas Jefferson: "Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all
nations – entangling alliances with none."
John Quincy Adams: "America . . . goes not abroad seeking monsters
In his Farewell Address,
George Washington also warned against "permanent alliances with any portion
of the foreign world." Could he have ever imagined the commitment of the
United States to be the world’s policeman?
Since the Spanish-American
War of 1898, the foreign policy of the United States has been one of interventionism,
which is always followed by its stepchildren belligerency, bellicosity, and
jingoism. When televangelist Pat
Robertson recently said that the United States government should "take
out" the president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, he had a history of CIA assassinations
schemes to go by. This certainly doesn’t excuse his remarks, but it
is important to note that U.S. intervention abroad has not always been masked
under the noble purposes of humanitarian relief or making the world safe for
Because we live in an imperfect world of nation-states that is not likely to
change anytime in the near future, the question of U.S. foreign policy cannot
be ignored. Many libertarians make the mistake of expending all of their energies
in an attempt to downsize the state by freeing the market and society from government
interference while forgetting that "war," in the immortal words of
Randolph Bourne (1886–1918),
health of the state." Libertarians who disparage the welfare state
while turning a blind eye to the warfare state are terribly inconsistent.
So, as Rothbard again said, since "libertarians desire to limit, to whittle
down, the area of government power in all directions and as much as possible,"
the goal in foreign affairs should be the same as that in domestic affairs:
"To keep government from interfering in the affairs of other governments
or other countries." We should "shackle government from acting abroad
just as we try to shackle government at home."
The state’s coercive arm of foreign intervention is the military. U.S.
troops don’t "defend our freedoms." As the Future
of Freedom Foundation’s Jacob
Hornberger has so courageously pointed out, U.S. troops
serve not as a defender of our freedoms but instead simply as a loyal and
obedient personal army of the president, ready and prepared to serve him and
obey his commands. It is an army that stands ready to obey the president’s
orders to deploy to any country in the world for any reason he deems fit and
attack, kill, and maim any "terrorist" who dares to resist the U.S.
invasion of his own country. It is also an army that stands ready to obey
the president’s orders to take into custody any American whom the commander
in chief deems a "terrorist" and to punish him accordingly.
To say that U.S. troops "defend our freedoms" is to say that my freedom
to write this article right now that is critical of the U.S. government’s
foreign policy is a direct result of the recent U.S. invasions of Afghanistan
and Iraq. That may sound ridiculous, but it is no more ridiculous than saying
that U.S. troops "defend our freedoms" when what they actually do
is bomb, invade, and occupy other countries.
"Well," I can hear the retort, "if it wasn’t for U.S.
troops halting the German menace we would all be speaking German right now."
I suppose this is the same Germany that couldn’t cross the English Channel
and invade Great Britain. And how does that justify keeping 69,395 U.S. troops
on German soil over sixty years later?
There is, therefore, one element of foreign policy that I would like to touch
on: the role of the U.S. military in foreign affairs. It should be quite obvious
from my writings on the U.S. empire ("The
U.S. Global Empire," "The
Bases of Empire," "Guarding
the Empire," and "What’s
Wrong with the U.S. Global Empire") that I don’t agree with Max
Boot’s statement that "on the whole, U.S. imperialism has been
the greatest force for good in the world during the past century." That
being said, the subject to be addressed is what should be done with the U.S.
military in order to dissolve the U.S. empire and return to the nonintervention
policy of the Founders.
Today Iraq, tomorrow the world.
The first thing that needs to be done is to get out of Iraq before the blood
of one more American is shed on Iraqi soil. I have elsewhere
shown that it is a simple matter to withdraw from Iraq in not only a safe,
reasonable, and timely manner, but also in a just manner. That was back on August
8, when the number of wasted American lives was "only" 1,827. Three
hundred more American soldiers have died since then. And for what? Three hundred
more sets of American parents have suffered the loss of a child. And for what?
Six hundred more sets of grandparents have suffered the loss of a grandchild.
And for what? Many hundreds more brothers and sisters have lost a brother, or
in some cases, a sister. And for what? Untold numbers of friends and acquaintances
have lost the same. And for what?
It is the warmongers who are anti-American, not us "anti-war weenies."
We never considered the shedding of the blood of even one American to be "worth"
whatever it is that U.S. troops are now dying for. As I have elsewhere
said: "Bringing democracy to Iraq and ridding the country of Saddam
Hussein is not worth the life of one American. What kind of government they
have and who is to be their ‘leader’ is the business of the Iraqi
people, not the United States."
We should withdraw our forces, not because the war is going badly, not because
too many American troops are dying, and not because the war is costing too much.
We should withdraw our troops because the war was a monstrous wrong from the
Withdraw from Iraq today, and withdraw from the rest of the world tomorrow.
After the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, the rest of the world should
be put on notice: you’re next. Instead of listening to the BRAC Commission
recommendations about which bases to close in the United States, Congress should
close all foreign bases first. Instead of reading documents like Defense Planning
Guidance or Rebuilding America’s Defenses, Congress should have read Murray
The primary plank of a libertarian foreign policy program for America must
be to call upon the United States to abandon its policy of global interventionism:
to withdraw immediately and completely, militarily and politically, from Asia,
Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, from everywhere. The cry among American
libertarians should be for the United States to withdraw now, in every way
that involves the U.S. government. The United States should dismantle its
bases, withdraw its troops, stop its incessant political meddling, and abolish
the CIA. It should also end all foreign aid – which is simply a device
to coerce the American taxpayer into subsidizing American exports and favored
foreign States, all in the name of "helping the starving peoples of the
world." In short, the United States government should withdraw totally
to within its own boundaries and maintain a policy of strict political "isolation"
or neutrality everywhere.
This is certainly a policy that could be implemented. How many countries in
the world do the countries of Italy, Argentina, and Iceland have troops and
bases in? How about Switzerland, Mongolia, and Lithuania? Are any of these countries
in danger of being attacked because they don’t have an empire of troops
of bases? There is absolutely no reason why the United States has to have an
empire of troops and bases that encircles the world that it presently has.
This policy is one of political isolation. It doesn’t mean that the United
States should refuse to participate in the Olympics, refuse to issue visas,
refuse to trade, refuse to extradite criminals, refuse to allow travel abroad,
or refuse to allow immigration. It is a policy, not of isolationism, but of
It is also the policy of the Founding Fathers, like Thomas Jefferson:
No one nation has a right to sit in judgment over another.
We wish not to meddle with the internal affairs of any country, nor with
the general affairs of Europe.
I am for free commerce with all nations, political connection with none,
and little or no diplomatic establishment.
We have produced proofs, from the most enlightened and approved writers
on the subject, that a neutral nation must, in all things relating to the
war, observe an exact impartiality towards the parties.
No judgment, no meddling, no political connection, and no partiality. What is
wrong with the wisdom of Jefferson?
Today Iraq, tomorrow the world – and then what?
Once American troops are withdrawn from garrisoning
the planet, they should be prevented from doing so again. One way
to do this would be to adopt the Amendment for Peace, proposed by U.S. Marine
Corps Major General Smedley
Butler (1881– 1940):
1. The removal of members of the land armed forces from
within the continental limits of the United States and the Panama Canal Zone
for any cause whatsoever is hereby prohibited.
2. The vessels of the United States Navy, or of the other
branches of the armed service, are hereby prohibited from steaming, for any
reason whatsoever except on an errand of mercy, more than five hundred miles
from our coast.
3. Aircraft of the Army, Navy and Marine Corps is hereby
prohibited from flying, for any reason whatsoever, more than seven hundred
and fifty miles beyond the coast of the United States.
This amendment is a great starting point. Obviously, the Panama Canal Zone
statement is now irrelevant. And whether the government could be trusted to
not use "an errand of mercy" as a covert operation is now very debatable.
Major Butler believed that his amendment "would be absolute guarantee
to the women of America that their loved ones never would be sent overseas to
be needlessly shot down in European or Asiatic or African wars that are no concern
of our people."
He also reasoned that because of "our geographical position, it is all
but impossible for any foreign power to muster, transport and land sufficient
troops on our shores for a successful invasion." In this Butler was echoing
Jefferson, who recognized that geography was one of the great advantages of
the United States:
The insulated state in which nature has placed the American continent should
so far avail it that no spark of war kindled in the other quarters of the
globe should be wafted across the wide oceans which separate us from them.
At such a distance from Europe and with such an ocean between us, we hope
to meddle little in its quarrels or combinations. Its peace and its commerce
are what we shall court.
But even without the advantage of geography, a policy of non-intervention is
sufficient, as Congressman Ron Paul
(R-TX) has pointed out:
"Countries like Switzerland and Sweden who promote neutrality and non-intervention
have benefited for the most part by remaining secure and free of war over the
What, then, would become of our military if a strict non-interventionist policy
of peace and neutrality were adopted? For starters, perhaps the Department of
Defense could then actually do something to "defend our freedoms"
like guard our borders and patrol our coasts. The military could be scaled back
considerably (along with what Robert Higgs has estimated to be its $840
billion budget), with militias picking up the slack, as William Lind has
recently pointed out here
Some say that Jefferson’s ideals are not practical in a post-9/11 world.
To them I offer the wisdom of Representative Paul, who has described a foreign
policy for peace in these words:
Our troops would be brought home, systematically but soon.
The mission for our Coast Guard would change if our foreign policy became
non-interventionist. They, too, would come home, protect our coast, and stop
being the enforcers of bureaucratic laws that either should not exist or should
be a state function.
All foreign aid would be discontinued.
A foreign policy of freedom and peace would prompt us to give ample notice
before permanently withdrawing from international organizations that have
entangled us for over a half a century. US membership in world government
was hardly what the founders envisioned when writing the Constitution.
The principle of Marque and Reprisal would be revived and specific problems
such as terrorist threats would be dealt with on a contract basis incorporating
private resources to more accurately target our enemies and reduce the chances
of needless and endless war.
The Logan Act would be repealed, thus allowing maximum freedom of our citizens
to volunteer to support their war of choice. This would help diminish the
enthusiasm for wars the proponents have used to justify our world policies
and diminish the perceived need for a military draft.
If we followed a constitutional policy of non-intervention, we would never
have to entertain the aggressive notion of preemptive war based on speculation
of what a country might do at some future date. Political pressure by other
countries to alter our foreign policy for their benefit would never be a consideration.
Commercial interests and our citizens investing overseas could not expect
our armies to follow them and protect their profits.
A non-interventionist foreign policy would not condone subsidies to our corporations
through programs like the Export/Import Bank and the Overseas Private Investment
A non-interventionist foreign policy would go a long way toward preventing
9/11 type attacks. The Department of Homeland Security would be unnecessary,
and the military, along with less bureaucracy in our intelligence-gathering
agencies, could instead provide the security the new department is supposed
to provide. A renewed respect for gun ownership and responsibility for defending
one's property would provide additional protection against potential terrorists.
Today Iraq, tomorrow the world. The sooner we adopt this policy the better.
How many more U.S. soldiers have to needlessly die in Iraq before Americans
Laurence M. Vance [send
him mail] is a freelance writer and an adjunct instructor in accounting
and economics at Pensacola Junior College in Pensacola, FL. He is also the director
of the Francis Wayland Institute.
His new book is Christianity
and War and Other Essays Against the Warfare State. Visit his