Getting Back To Ike

Arnold Kling muses:

I just cannot buy into pacifism as some libertarians express it. It seems to me that Eisenhower_dollar_obverse1 some libertarians link arms with the far left as blame-America-firsters, with scathing attacks on America’s military and its foreign policy. I am not sure what constructive solutions come from this stance. Sure, it would be great if nationalism and tribalism would wither away, we could have open borders, and no wars. But that is not the world we live in. I think that one of my favorite Presidents for foreign policy was Eisenhower, who kept us out of Vietnam and spoke out against the military-industrial complex. But he believed in national defense, and in an imperfect world, so do I.

There's not much in his post I'd disagree with in principle. I am no pacifist, believe in the prudent use of military force as a last resort and as leverage for diplomacy, have no illusions about nationalism or fundamentalism disappearing any time ever, and believe in policing national borders. But in practice, right now, after the last ten years ... well, as Will Wilkinson puts it:

To my mind, the first question is whether America’s military and foreign policy deserve withering criticism, and the answer is, Yes, it does. This isn’t a matter of “blaming America first”. It’s a matter of honestly evaluating American policy and laying the blame where the blame is due.

What does this kind criticism accomplish? What does telling the truth about anything accomplish? Ideally, when we square ourselves to uncomfortable truths about policy, we change our minds. Obviously, nationalism and other forms of tribalism are not on the cusp of extinction, but it’s a major matter of life and death to keep them in check. It is not all or nothing. Simply acquiescing to the inevitable influence of humanity’s most toxic impulses is dangerously fatalistic. A better world is by definition not the world we live in. But we can bring a better world about. We’ve done it before. A world with more porous borders and fewer wars would be a great achievement, and it’s not an impossible dream as long as people don’t reckon it’s impossible.

He concludes by insisting that sharp criticism of American foreign policy isn't at odds with support for national defense. That's exactly right. In fact, one cogent line of criticism is that the United States makes itself more vulnerable to attack by terrorists when our military campaigns in far flung countries involve dead innocents, contentious patrols of foreign populations, and meddling in various governments.