Questions for Hawks and Libertarian Imperialists

Is there any war (or OOTW) that the United States has fought that it should not have (assuming what was known at the time of the force initiation, not post hoc)? 

What wars/OOTW’s should the United States have participated in/undertaken that it did not?


30 thoughts on “Questions for Hawks and Libertarian Imperialists

  1. All that were not in response to a direct and imminent threat to the safety and security of the United States. Most, then.

      1. I think both would say the same, but would have a different measuring scale. For example, hawks advocated going in to Iraq based on the threat to US safety they saw from Saddam’s expressed belligerence and the mistaken assessment of his WMD capabilities. Imperialists, on the other hand, are motivated more by security concerns, primarily economic ones. So for them, entering Iraq as a means to maintain ready access to relatively cheap sources of energy was all the justification needed.

    1. A lot of libertarian imperialists are motivated by ideology – desiring to spread liberty and protect the human rights of others through the sword. These folks are often utilitarians and thus give little thought to the problem of decreasing the liberty of some as long as it is compensated (in theory a priori) by a greater increase in the liberty of others. But it isn’t purely other-regarding as these moves are said to ultimately benefit all free states.

      1. Well, if that is so, and I do not doubt it is in some measure, then the only thing I can think of that would stop an imperialist from his imperialism – he sort of owes it to the poor slobs to spread his success – is an assessment of the engagement that predicts failure, i.e.; substantial loss of blood and treasure. Yet, imperialists are not given to such pessimistic self-assessment so in answer to your original question I’m sort of stuck with “none”.

  2. Been asked that question many times. My usual answers are: the Philippine-American War, and the Serbian-American War. Strictly on grounds of national interest. US conduct in the Philippine War wasn’t anywhere near as bad as it’s usually made out to be by its critics, and Milosevic was every bit as bad as he was made out to be by his critics.

  3. As for the “should have” question, Patton ought to have been given the go-ahead to roll back the Soviets in 1945 like he wanted to.

      1. It would’ve prevented the Soviet occupation of central Europe, Mao’s takeover of China, Ho Chi Minh’s victory in North Vietnam, Kim Il Sung’s victory in North Korea, the spread of communism in Indochina, etc. Might well have gotten rid of Stalin & the Soviets entirely, before they had nukes.

    1. Sounds like you are making a utilitarian not a national interest argument in response to my question re: Patton — should American boys die to keep Indochina free of communism absent a connection to self-regarding interests?

      1. No Soviets, no Cold War, no ICBMs aimed at America, etc. You don’t see any national interest there?

      2. But this forces you into the position of arguing that a hot war with Patton in the lead was better for the national interest than a Cold War and the threat of nuclear war. I’m not buying. You are talking about hundreds of thousands of Americans killed and wounded (on the low side even) to prevent what turned out to be an expensive but relatively bloodless (especially since Korea and Vietnam were avoidable wars) Cold War that the US “won.” And this even assumes that the US would have won such a preventive war in any meaningful way against the Soviets and global communism (so, we would have succeeded where Napoleon and Hitler failed).

    2. Tim’s idea presupposes that the USA could have successfully rolled back the soviets. This is a dubious propositions since the Soviets, at the time were numerically superior, probably a tougher, better fighting force, and would have the advantage of defense in depth.

      Assuming Tim got his wish list, what would be the difference today? All the items enumerated are today moot: ” the Soviet occupation of central Europe, Mao’s takeover of China, Ho Chi Minh’s victory in North Vietnam, Kim Il Sung’s victory in North Korea, the spread of communism in Indochina, etc.”

      1. Korea & South Vietnam weren’t “avoidable” if the Cold War was to be won by the USA. Both contributed to our victory in significant ways.

        The strength of the Soviet military at the end of WWII has been greatly exaggerated. Stalin was terrified of another conventional war, and rightly so. He only beat Hitler w/ Lend-Lease aid, which wouldn’t have continued if we’d gone to war w/ him. The Soviets had no long-range bombers (which Germany had also lacked), we did, and the fighter escorts to protect them. We had nukes, they didn’t. Why should US casualties from the invasion of Russia have been any higher than the casualties from the “invasion” of Japan?

    1. Yo Adrian! Economist Fred Foldvary has got your back!

      Wars the U.S. shouldn’t have fought? World War I, the drug war (good one, by the way!), the Spanish-American War, the Mexican-American War, the Vietnam War, the Iraq War (either of them), the mess in the Balkans, and probably a couple dozen of so Indian Wars.

  4. Are these questions only for hawks and imperialists, or can anyone get involved?

    1. For me, the clearest case where we should not have gone to war was the Spanish-American War, 1898.

    2. Although I like the long-term outcome (i.e. having all those states out West south of Oregon), the Mexican-American War of 1848 seems…difficult to justify on libertarian, classical liberal, or Just War Theory grounds. (But not as clearly bad as the Spanish-American War of 1898.) Critics at the time (e.g. Henry Clay and Abraham Lincoln) recognized this, as did U.S. Grant in his memoirs.

    3. Did we really need to get involved in World War One?

    4. For the “should have participated in/undertaken that it did not” category, we could have done much more in 1918-1920 to support the Whites and the Czechoslovak Legion in the Russian Civil War. The U.S. (and Britain and France) had a chance to kill the Bolshevik state before it got its walking legs. The experience of the French Revolution, and the Paris Commune of 1871, and the evidence of foreigners and Russian exiles at the time should have been sufficient.

  5. 1. The Spanish-American War

    2. WW1

    3. Korean War

    4. Vietnam War

    5. Gulf War (both 1 and 2)

    6. Grenada

    7. Mexican-American war CLEARLY

    8. Serbian American war

  6. I am neither a hawk nor a libertarian imperialist so I should not answer. But I will anyway. I would characterize all of them as avoidable.

  7. The US-Mexican War is defensible given the clear national interest, and ongoing Mexican hostility.

    The War of Northern Aggression basically destroyed our early Constitution.

    The US-Spanish War is marginally defensible under the Monroe Doctrine, however the postwar occupations are not.

    Our participation in WWI was due to Wilson’s arrogant progressive vanity, and needlessly cost America lives & treasure.

    I agree that we should have pushed Stalin back to the Russia border at the end of WWII, but not farther.

    Most modern wars (post WWII) are fairly indefensible from a classical liberal perspective, but many became marginally necessary due to the abandonment of those principles during the Roosevelt administration and thereafter. In fact, in a few cases we even fought on the wrong side (e.g. Serbia). Sadly, once we accepted the conditions of the Cold War, we were forced to fight it.

    But by far the most damaging, costly, and disruptive wars in our history have been the War on Drugs, the War on Poverty, & the War on “Terrorism.” Those three unending campaigns have been wars against the American people themselves, with our own complicit support.

    1. One could certainly argue that the elimination of slavery was worth the over 600,000 deaths during the war, but I don’t think you could make a case that forcing the State of Maryland to honor 5th Amendment property protections would have quite the same value in human life. Its legacy taken as a whole, the 14th Amendment has been the most abused of them all, good intentions be damned.

  8. Oh and who gets to define what’s in our “best interest”? That’s an awfully subjective term. Preventing the deaths of tens of millions may be in our self interest to some. Letting other nations destroy themselves might be in our self interest to others.

    Someone made the argument concerning the Soviets and the counter argument was that stopping communism was a moot point as it collapses (almost) everywhere anyway. Hey that’s great! Tell that to the hundred million or more people who were slaughtered by communist government. Tell that to the hundreds of millions of people who were slaves to the “Peoples’ Governments”.

    I know, I know. It’s not in our self interest. How could having trading partners with hundreds of millions of free productive people to trade and do business with be in our self interest.

    To assume that only fighting to protect our borders is in our self interest is a fairly narrow view.

    We’re not an autarky, therefore our self interest goes beyond our borders.

    My $0.02.

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