Libertarians (among others) often criticize the past few decades worth of foreign entanglements, pointing out that they have almost universally not gone as intended, have almost universally produced unintended adverse consequences, and have cost the nation trillions of dollars it does not have ($5.9T and counting since 9/11 alone). Hawks of various flavors and intensities routinely rebut these criticisms with reductionist straw men that isolationism (snarkily defined by someone lost to history as “wanting to invade one less country than you do”) is a recipe for worldwide disaster, with assertions (unverified and often unverifiable) that if America doesn’t play globocop, the world economy will collapse (or, more narrowly, that our militarism is economically beneficial), and, often, by bringing up World War II as proof that America needs to fight wars in other parts of the world.

Indeed, it happened again, just yesterday, in a discussion about an escalation between Russia and Ukraine, and what America should do about it.

In the eyes of many, World War II was a “good war.” I’m not going to challenge that point (other to note that we were attacked in the Pacific i.e. we didn’t start it). I do subscribe to the theory that World War II was primarily a continuation of World War I, and that Wilson’s decision to involve America in World War I contributed substantially to the conditions that led to World War II. But, the causes and evitability of the war do not obviate the conclusion that American involvement was a Good Thing.

However, it being a Good Thing doesn’t validate the numerous subsequent military actions, which should stand on their own merits and not ride on a straw man constructed from a conflict that ended 73 years ago.

Since that Good War, America has been involved in:

  • The Korean War
  • The Viet Nam War
  • The Gulf War
  • The Iraq War
  • Coups, civil wars and insurgencies in Iran, Cuba, Laos, the Dominican Republic, Thailand, Bolivia, Cambodia, Zaire, Lebanon, Grenada, Libya, Panama, Somalia, Bosnia, Haiti, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uganda, Syria, and Yemen, plus almost certainly others we are unaware of.

How many of these have gone “as intended?” How many have produced unintended or undesired results, short-term or long-term? How many would, in retrospect, have been better off left alone?

It’s hard to find a militarist who’d lament even one of these actions, and if you push hard enough, you’ll get to either a “stop the next Hitler” Godwinism or a more general World War II reference couple with an “ounce of prevention” claim.

The problem with the “ounce of prevention” position is that, if you add up a lot of unnecessary preventative ounces, you eventually exceed the pound of cure.

In 2001, the national debt stood at $5.8 trillion. Today, it’s at $21T. The $5.9T we’ve spent on foreign wars since 9/11 amounts to nearly 40% of the total increase in the national debt. Yes, we were attacked on 9/11, but the attackers were mostly Saudis, and we engaged in large-scale war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Would we have been better off leaving Saddam Hussein in place? Heck, might we have been better off not reacting to the Kuwait invasion? Hard to say, but we certainly can’t dismiss the questions either.

Not everyone is the next Hitler, not every repressive regime is on the path to becoming the next Third Reich, and not every foreign war is justified by the one we fought and won eight decades ago.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.

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