America’s Self-Crippled Foreign Policy - The Objective Standard

An Interview with Yaron Brook, Elan Journo, and Alex Epstein

I recently interviewed Dr. Brook, Mr. Journo, and Mr. Epstein of the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights. Mr. Journo is the editor of a new book, Winning the Unwinnable War: America’s Self-Crippled Response to Islamic Totalitarianism (Lexington Books, 2009. 250 pp. $27.95 [paperback]), which contains essays by all three men. The book is scheduled for release this November and can be preordered through the Ayn Rand Bookstore (www.aynrandbookstore.com). This interview was conducted orally and retains the character of an informal discussion. —Craig Biddle

Craig Biddle: Thank you for joining me, gentlemen, and congratulations on the publication of your book, Winning the Unwinnable War. As the book is about a proper vs. an improper foreign policy, let me begin by asking what you regard as the proper overarching principle of American foreign policy and why.

Yaron Brook: As we argue in the book, the principle that should guide our foreign policy is the same principle that should guide all governmental action: Our government should protect the individual rights of Americans. That’s our government’s only proper function. Deriving from that same purpose, our foreign policy should work to protect the lives and the property of individual Americans—from threats that are initiated outside the borders of this country. Clearly one major threat that the government must be on guard for—and retaliate against—is that of countries or groups launching a war against us or sending out terrorists to cause the mass slaughter of Americans. Other kinds of threats include threats to the property of Americans: Think of the pirates off the coast of Somalia taking ships for ransom. It is part of the government’s job to secure our right to property, to protect our ability to trade freely, and to prevent our property from being stolen by thugs on the high seas.

Elan Journo: Hearing this, most Americans would likely nod in agreement—obviously, our government ought to keep us safe from foreign enemies. And if you listen to our policymakers, they’ll package everything they do in terms of serving American interests. But as we argue in our book—the facts tell a different story. From examining the intentions and actions of our military in the field, it becomes obvious that what animated Bush’s policy was the notion of bringing elections and social services to Iraq and Afghanistan—not protecting American lives. And while Obama wants to be seen as the anti-Bush, his approach is animated by a similar goal. In his high-profile speech in Cairo last summer, he promised to fund and create “centers of scientific excellence in Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia.” What’s common here is the moral idea behind these policies—the idea that America must serve the meek and needy of the earth. We argue in the book that this conventional outlook on morality has shaped American foreign policy, and that the effect has been inimical to our liberty and security.

CB: Some argue that the absence of a terrorist attack on American soil since 9/11 proves that the Bush administration’s “forward strategy of freedom” was a success. What do you make of this claim?

EJ: It is grossly myopic to portray that fact as a success achieved thanks to Bush’s policy. The standard to apply here should not be the absence of another 9/11—the standard should be the thorough defeat of the enemy that attacked us that Tuesday morning. Judged by a rational standard, Bush’s policy has left us worse off.

The “forward strategy of freedom”—Bush’s misleading name for his crusade to bring elections to the Middle East—lived up to the name we give it in the book: the forward strategy of failure. It served only to empower our enemies—the Islamists—by granting them legitimacy and political control, for example, in Iraq and the Palestinian territories. Near the end of Bush’s time in office, some of his supporters began trying to salvage his reputation by claiming that the “surge” of U.S. troops in Iraq has worked a miracle. But a look at the facts refutes that idea. In chapter 6 we explore what actually happened. Washington’s policy was to throw around wads of cash so that insurgents who were murdering Americans would switch sides—for as long as the money flows.

Further, many Islamists used Iraq as a training ground and have taken their battle-tested expertise to other fronts, including Afghanistan. Suicide bombings were once unheard of in Afghanistan; now they’re commonplace. There were thirty such attacks in the first five years of the Afghanistan war. In the first six months of last year, there were more than twelve hundred. The Afghan-Pakistan border is now a hotbed of jihadist training camps. Many terrorist plots, like the plot to blow up airliners crossing the Atlantic, trace back to that part of the world. The Islamist threat not only endured but grew worse under Bush—who watched as the most active sponsor of Islamist terrorism, Iran, chased nuclear weapons. This is what passes for “success”? . . .

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