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Mr. Bush Flunked on Purpose


I think George W. Bush hoodwinked us. When he said he couldn’t name the leaders of Chechnya, Pakistan, and India, I believed him. I thought he really didn’t know. I took that as a good sign. But now I suspect he was just playing ignorant, and I’m disappointed.

Why would it be good for Mr. Bush to not know those names? Because it doesn’t matter who runs Chechnya, Pakistan, and India. In terms of the interests of the American people, it is irrelevant. The only Americans who care about such things are politicians and bureaucrats, who need pretexts to plunder the taxpayers, and tedious foreign-affairs commentators, who are paid handsomely to care and who ire to cushy State Department jobs. (See Strobe Talbot’s resume.)

So when I heard that Mr. Bush couldn’t name those guys (are they all guys?), I thought to myself: Finally, a presidential candidate with some perspective on what really matters to Americans. I figured that any candidate who doesn’t see the point of learning the names of foreign leaders demonstrates just the right attitude about foreign affairs. It seemed to signify someone who doesn’t want to meddle abroad. And that’s just what we need: a president who refuses to meddle abroad. What a refreshing change that would be from Bill Clinton, who meddles everywhere he can. “Meddles” doesn’t quite capture it. Bombs! Yes, that’s better. He bombs wherever he can. Bill Clinton knows all those names. He’d never bomb anyone without first knowing his name.

But something about Bush doesn’t add up. If he is as much of an “isolationist” as his apparent sensible obliviousness indicates, why does his team of foreign policy advisers consist of retreads from his father’s administration? The team includes former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney and former national security advisers Brent Scowcroft and Condoleezza Rice-interventionists all. They are the same people who sent us to war against Iraq (a war that President Clinton continues to this day). They are the people who gave us the New World Order, for which we must be prepared to die at any time. Another foreign meddler, former Secretary of State George Shultz, also supports Mr. Bush. He was gung ho for a military victory over Yugoslavia.

Mr. Bush himself supported the murderous and illegal war in Yugoslavia. He says he might have used ground troops. His web site says he “would maintain long-standing U.S. commitments, but order an immediate review of overseas deployments in dozens [!] of countries, with the aim of replacing uncertain missions with well-defined objectives.” That’s a nice way of saying that America would remain the policeman of the world. How many of the “dozens” of deployments do you think he’d scrap? Given the Bush-approved precedent of the NATO war against Yugoslavia, the United States is now committed to prosecuting offensive war just about everywhere. Americans trade and travel throughout the world. A “vital American interest” can always be conjured up to justify military intervention.

It’s clear that Mr. Bush would like to stand in that long line of American presidents, beginning with William McKinley (if not earlier), that saw the world as their stage and the American people as their expendable extras. Their imperial thinking sent Americans into senseless overt wars in Europe and Asia and into idiotic covert wars in countless other places. As the conduct befitting an empire has expanded, the institutions appropriate to a constitutional republic have transmogrified into something ugly and oppressive. And, of course, individual liberty has receded. As Randolph Bourne once said, war is the health of the state.

Free people, jealous of their liberty, resist the grand view of foreign affairs. A proper government leaves citizens at liberty to live their lives, raise their families, pursue their work, and enjoy their friends and communities. But that’s too mundane for the big thinkers who want to lead us. Free people don’t want a leader. So freedom is shelved in favor of “national greatness” or some such nonsense.

I know. I know. I’m an isolationist. When it comes to political and military meddling abroad, that’s exactly what I am. But I’m a free trader too. We in the private sector should be able to deal peacefully with whomever we please. Only the politicians should be restrained.

Shame on you, Mr. Bush. You almost had me fooled.

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    Sheldon Richman is former vice president and editor at The Future of Freedom Foundation and editor of FFF's monthly journal, Future of Freedom. For 15 years he was editor of The Freeman, published by the Foundation for Economic Education in Irvington, New York. He is the author of FFF's award-winning book Separating School & State: How to Liberate America's Families; Your Money or Your Life: Why We Must Abolish the Income Tax; and Tethered Citizens: Time to Repeal the Welfare State. Calling for the abolition, not the reform, of public schooling. Separating School & State has become a landmark book in both libertarian and educational circles. In his column in the Financial Times, Michael Prowse wrote: "I recommend a subversive tract, Separating School & State by Sheldon Richman of the Cato Institute, a Washington think tank... . I also think that Mr. Richman is right to fear that state education undermines personal responsibility..." Sheldon's articles on economic policy, education, civil liberties, American history, foreign policy, and the Middle East have appeared in the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, American Scholar, Chicago Tribune, USA Today, Washington Times, The American Conservative, Insight, Cato Policy Report, Journal of Economic Development, The Freeman, The World & I, Reason, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Middle East Policy, Liberty magazine, and other publications. He is a contributor to the The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. A former newspaper reporter and senior editor at the Cato Institute and the Institute for Humane Studies, Sheldon is a graduate of Temple University in Philadelphia. He blogs at Free Association. Send him e-mail.