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Why Is Foreign Policy Neglected?


Throughout the (thankfully concluded) election year, everyone — including the electorate and the blindly shilling punditry — was so very zeroed in on the domestic economy, as they perceived it, that foreign-policy issues were virtually completely neglected. No one in the mainstream debate, which was hardly one at all, cared to remark on or decry the fact that the permanent war economy is perhaps the single greatest mainspring of the economic plight the country finds itself in. It is indeed impossible to understand or analyze the domestic economic crisis without taking stock of the lurching U.S. empire and its economic implications. “Big Four” audit firm Deloitte estimated that in 2010 the American defense and aerospace industry saw $324 billion in sales revenue, employing millions of Americans and holding the title as the United States’s largest net exporter. The same study estimated that the industry accounts for more than 3.5 million jobs, “not including industry skilled workers employed by the federal government or airlines.” The numbers concretize a reality of American economics that the two major political parties and their cheerleaders in the big media don’t want introduced into the discourse — that an entire political and economic paradigm now depends on interminable imperialism. Observing the centrality of the military industry within the larger framework of the American political economy, Robert Higgs argued,

In defense spending, the lines separating the public sector and the private sector have been almost completely obliterated; and even where they seem to remain, as in the private ownership of contracting firms, the appearance has little substance. Government involvement infuses every aspect of the operation of these firms.

Higgs does not hesitate to characterize the relationships between the influential military firms and the formal state as a form of fascism. We are never, of course, going to hear such a trenchant criticism of the prevailing military adventurism from the Red or Blue wings of the unified (if truth be told) Washington political elite. Their careers and the entire infrastructure that they work for, both ideological and tangible, depend on an uncritical boosterism of the war economy, even in the few instances where they seem to critique it on the margins. Taking a comprehensive view of American political and economic interconnections, libertarians understand both the moral and the economic problems with war and empire; furthermore, libertarians appreciate the important fact that we cannot coherently isolate those problems from one another. And owing to the “disaggregated neocorporatist arrangements” detailed by Higgs, the warfare state now has its own impetus, a momentum driving the country toward further foreign entanglement.

A full 20 percent of all federal government spending is concentrated in the Department of Defense, making up approximately half of so-called discretionary spending. As such a huge part of the whole American economy, the massive defense firms that drive those staggering numbers have serious clout in Washington, D.C., shelling out tens of millions to lobby lawmakers. (Last year, the defense/aerospace industry spent $60 million, according to the Senate Office of Public Records.) The data tell the story plainly, one of a baleful collusion between parasitic “public sector” and “private sector” actors committed to bilking productive Americans through maneuverings within the political process. We libertarians often observe that as far as big government welfare programs go, war must be regarded as occupying the top of that disgraceful list, as the center of a system of ruling-class redistribution. So with the familiar bleating about “fiscal cliffs,” all overarched by a wildly out-of-control federal debt, we needn’t wonder why the fundamental premises of the permanent war system of political economy are never questioned in the mainstream discussion.

War — though blighting the American economy that most of us interact with (to say nothing of liquidating innocent people by the day) — makes perfect sense for the country’s political class. As George Orwell so astutely observed in Goldstein’s treatise in 1984, enthusiasm for war is at its most pronounced among the elites who are never confronted with the full, odious horror of it. The realpolitik considerations of war, the Machiavellian symbioses that exists between economic and political institutions, are substantial enough to drown out the blazing contradictions of the war economy. The American rulership accepts the lies of war out of dependence on them. Libertarians are not taken in by the proposition of political “solutions” or “fixes” because we know them to be the fruits of the same debauched, statist process that sired what we have today. We would all do well to remember that foreign-policy issues, broadly understood, are in no way separate from domestic economic issues. The ways that they interrelate are right in front of us, which is something that neither the Republicans nor the Democrats want us to notice.

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    David S. D'Amato is a policy advisor at the Future of Freedom Foundation, an attorney, and an adjunct law professor. He is also a regular contributor at the Cato Institute's Libertarianism.org and a policy advisor at the Heartland Institute. His writing has been featured at public policy organizations such as the Institute for Economic Affairs, the Centre for Policy Studies, and the Foundation for Economic Education, and in popular media such as Forbes, Investor's Business Daily, Newsweek, and RealClearPolicy.