Libertarianism and Restraint
To be sure, such wars often do not have the intended reassuring effect. We should ponder that reality as well. Many U.S. allies looked on in horror as the United States blundered into a ruinous war in Iraq. The war in Afghanistan drags on, meanwhile, and many U.S. allies have contributed troops or other resources to the fight. But the war is unpopular in many of these countries, resulting in restrictions and caveats on how the troops are employed, and therefore limiting their effectiveness.
Conceding that some of these wars don’t advance liberal ends, Fay contemplates an array of measures that might “discourage the promiscuous use of military force,” but he also admits that it will be an uphill battle. Even if we fought fewer wars, however, Fay would have us maintain a larger and more active military than called for by restraint or offshore balancing in order to prevent a future threat from materializing.
But maintaining a massive national-security apparatus in anticipation of an uncertain tomorrow is a threat to limited government and individual liberty today. Maintaining such an apparatus in order to discourage other countries from defending themselves merely compounds the problem. It creates a federal government that is unnecessarily large and insufficiently accountable, a military that is unnecessarily active, and a populace that is unnecessarily motivated to wreak vengeance on distant peoples that harbor no particular animus towards us (the indifference of Americans to the suffering of Iraqis or Yemenis pummeled by U.S. and allied air power is merely the latest manifestation of this phenomenon).
To be sure, there is much in Fay’s approach to foreign policy that I find commendable. I would particularly echo his concerns about Donald Trump’s bellicose, big-stick foreign policy, which has precious little to recommend to libertarians. And I share his desire to create additional ways to constrain the use of American military power. Above all, I welcome fresh perspectives on U.S. foreign policy, and look forward to engaging Fay’s arguments at greater length in the future.
Christopher Preble is vice president for defense and foreign-policy studies at the Cato Institute and the author of The Power Problem: How American Military Dominance Makes Us Less Safe, Less Prosperous, and Less Free.