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Anne Applebaum Almost Gets It Right on Foreign Interventionism


The interventionist mindset is fascinating. Even when they, deep down, don’t want the U.S. government to be intervening in the internal affairs of other countries, they feel compelled to call on the U.S. government to intervene. It’s almost as if they can’t help themselves, much like an alcoholic.

A good example is provided by Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum in her recent column “What the U.S. Should Stand For in Egypt.” Consider what she says:

… it’s none of our business who runs Egypt and we shouldn’t be backing anybody at all. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel came close to this view when he declared this week that “It’s up to the Egyptian people. And they are a large, great, sovereign nation. And it will be their responsibility to sort this out.”

Now, one might think, “Wow! Applebaum has become a libertarian, at least insofar as foreign policy is concerned.”

Alas, however, Applebaum can’t help herself. Immediately after suggesting that what happens in Egypt is none of the U.S. government’s business, guess what she proceeds to do.

Yep, you guessed it! She proceeds to call for intervention. Like I say, interventionists just can’t seem to help themselves.

She writes:

When Hosni Mubarak was in power, we should have pressured him, loudly and clearly, to hold elections. When Morsi was president, we should have called on him, equally loudly and clearly, to share power with other groups, to make concessions to minorities, to make sure that a flawed constitution was interpreted as fairly as possible. Now that the military is in power, we should come out loudly and clearly against its coup and use whatever limited influence we have to persuade the generals to return Egypt to constitutional rule.

Of course, by her use of the pronoun “we,” Applebaum is referring to the U.S. government.

How about just having the U.S. government but out of Egyptian affairs completely, Ms. Applebaum? No pressuring of anyone and, more important, no more foreign aid to military dictatorships or anyone else! If what happens in Egypt is no business of the U.S. government, then why should the U.S. government be pressuring anyone in Egypt to do anything?

More important, like so many other interventionists, Applebaum is unable to get at the root of the problem, which is this: The U.S. government is responsible for having built up, supported, and fortified Egypt’s national-security state apparatus, including its all-powerful military, which forms the foundation of Egypt’s governmental system. That’s because U.S. officials ardently believe in and favor that type of governmental system.

Why is that a problem? One reason is because as long as the foundation of Egypt’s governmental system is a national-security apparatus, there is no possibility that Egypt can ever be — and will ever be — a genuinely democratic, free, and prosperous society.

President Eisenhower warned Americans about this phenomenon in his Farewell Address. While his warning was directed to Americans, it applies universally. Eisenhower warned that America’s powerful military-industrial complex was a grave threat to America’s democratic processes.

What Ike meant by that was that if democratic processes ever went to go in the direction that the Pentagon and the CIA felt were threatening to “national security,” the national-security state apparatus might go into action and make things right. If it did, there would be little that anyone, including Congress, the judiciary, and the American people, could do about it because of the overwhelming firepower wielded by the military.

That’s precisely what has happened in Egypt. The Egyptian national-security state apparatus felt that the Egyptian people made a mistake in electing Mohamed Morsi as president. The electorate’s “mistake” was not permitted to play itself out within the democratic process. Instead, the military and intelligence forces, in their minds, had to “save the country” by ousting Morsi and reaffirming military control over the country. Egypt’s national-security state apparatus went into action and corrected the voters’ “mistake,” just as Ike said could happen here in the United States.

(By the way, Eisenhower’s successor, President John F. Kennedy, had the same concern as Ike, which is why he encouraged that the novel Seven Days in May be made into a movie to serve as another warning to the American people of the dangers of a powerful national-security state apparatus. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seven_Days_in_May.)

I’d be remiss if I failed to point out that that’s precisely what happened in Guatemala in 1953 and Chile in 1973, with the full support of the Pentagon and the CIA. In both instances, the U.S. national-security state apparatus helped engineer military coups, just like the one in Egypt. Why did the Pentagon and the CIA do that? Because U.S. officials felt that voters in those countries had made a mistake by electing the wrong person and that it was up to the national-security state apparatus in such countries to correct the “mistake,” just as Ike and JFK warned could happen here in the United States.

What Applebaum and other interventionists just won’t recognize is that the U.S. national-security state — the one that Ike warned us about — fully supports the governmental structure in Egypt. And U.S. officials don’t see anything fundamentally wrong with what their Egyptian counterparts have done, which is precisely why they continue to furnish their counterparts with weapons and money.

Thus, it’s no surprise, at least not to libertarians, that the U.S. government has continued — and will continue — to support the Egyptian military dictatorship. In the minds of U.S. officials, the Egyptian tyrants — who U.S. officials do not consider to be tyrants — are doing precisely what they should be doing: maintaining “order and stability” and remaining pro-U.S.

It all goes to show what a morally bankrupt paradigm interventionism has always been and will continue to be. Americans would be wise to follow Applebaum’s initial instinct — that the U.S. government should butt out of Egypt and everywhere else in the world, entirely. Even better, the American people would be wise to finally dismantle their own national-security state apparatus.

This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.