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Wednesday, 16 January , 2008 / ermes

Freedom at Home and Abroad


appeasement.jpgTraggo spunto da un articolo pubblicato nella giornata di ieri dal Wall Street Journal, per regolare – da aspirante liberale, liberista e libertario – i miei conti con una realtà politica americana che mi ha sempre affascinato e al contempo sconvolto.

Entro subito con i piedi nel piatto. Quanto mi spaventa delle teorie di buona parte dei libertarians statunitensi è l’assenza in esse di un approccio liberale – nel senso classico: popperiano, salveminiano, einaudiano – al mondo delle relazioni internazionali. Non si può predicare l’individualismo metodologico nello studio della scienza politica ad ogni livello, per sol trarne, infine, una prammatica ottusa e irresponsabile nel campo della diplomazia. Non si può sbandierare ai quattro venti il proprio credo nella nobiltà e nella irriducibilità delle core liberties di ogni persona, eppoi non approntare strumenti giuridici di sostegno ai diritti dell’uomo in ogni angolo del globo.

E’ proprio guardando a tale paradosso che si comprende la pericolosità di proposte politiche che sognano (ecco il dramma delle utopie…) il Paradiso in terra, potendo regalarci al contrario solo un ben rispettabile Inferno. In politica estera, si dice alla nazione americana, non v’è bisogno di altro se non di allargare i commerci… per il resto totale disengagement! disinteresse non solo militare, ma anche politico, culturale, ideale su quanto accade fuori dalla finestra… E’ inutile sopportare il fardello della promozione delle libertà fondamentali dell’individuo nel mondo, esse si svilupperanno se – e dove – il caso, la fortuna, il destino vorranno.

Niente di nuovo sotto il sole: si tratta di puro e semplice isolazionismo, classico isolazionismo riconducibile agli insegnamenti delle peggiori scuole diplomatiche che si siano sviluppate nella bicentenaria storia degli States. Una corrente di pensiero spesso abbracciata anche dagli statisti più illuminati e che, per fare un esempio, portò lo stesso Franklin Delano Roosevelt a non scegliere tra aggressori ed aggrediti negli anni Trenta in Europa, a considerare parimenti meritevoli di rispetto italiani invasori ed abissini aggrediti, franchisti insorti e governativi spagnoli, nazisti divoratori e democratici divorati.

Invero, i diritti naturali dell’individuo sanciti nelle carte costituzionali di ormai molti Paesi non piovono dal cielo, ma si sono storicamente acquisiti e come tali vanno continuamente monitorati ed implementati. Le libertà civili e politiche, economiche e religiose guadagnate con il sangue, per tanta parte delle popolazioni del globo nel corso del Novecento, non sono eterne, bensì da eternamente tutelare. Ad esse va rivolto uno sguardo costante, tenace, inquisitivo, rovesciando in termini nonviolenti e liberali le caratteristiche del Grande fratello orwelliano.

P.S.: solo riflettendo sulla superficialità, spensieratezza e cocciutaggine con cui tanti libertarians americani affrontano caldissime tematiche di politica internazionale, si può comprendere, credo, la faciloneria con la quale spesso invocano derive anarchiche in politica interna. Partendo da sacrosante critiche alla diffusa invadenza del potere pubblico nella vita privata dei cittadini (e non vivono in Italia, figurarsi…), giungono talvolta a negare la necessità stessa di strutture giuridiche statali a garanzia dei bisogni primari di ogni uomo. Uomo che così diventerebbe, anche all’interno dei confini del proprio Paese, in brevissimo tempo homini lupus.

Ron Paul and Foreign Policy

By Bret Stephens
January 15, 2008; The Wall Street Journal, Page A12

Ron Paul invited the audience at last Thursday’s Republican debate to entertain the notion that the Middle East would be a better place with the U.S. out of the picture.

“It’s time that we come to the point where we believe the world can solve some of their problems without us,” said the Texas congressman, who has raised a mountain of cash on the strength of such views. As President Bush completes his swing through the region, it’s a thought worth considering.

Dr. Paul is a libertarian, and a libertarian’s core belief is that a person’s pursuit of happiness is, or ought to be, his own affair. Up to a point, most of us are probably sympathetic to that argument. But is it true of all people? And is what’s true of some or all people also true of countries? The libertarian conceit — which now extends well beyond Dr. Paul’s cult-like following — is that it is.

Thus, speaking of America’s relationship with Israel, Dr. Paul insisted at Thursday’s debate that “we need to recognize they deserve their sovereignty, just as we deserve our sovereignty.” Of the feuds within the Arab world, he offered that “none of the Arab nations wanted Saddam Hussein in Kuwait and I think they could have taken care of Saddam Hussein back then and saved all the mess we have now.”

Of Israel’s relationship with its neighbors, he argued that if only America got out of the way by cutting off the aid spigot (which, he claimed, favored the Arabs by a 3-to-1 ratio), there would “be a greater incentive for Israel and the Palestinians and all the Arab nations to come together and talk.” And of America’s relationship with the Arab world, the congressman said in a previous debate that “they attack us because we’ve been over there.”

Dr. Paul’s own remedy is that if “we trade with everybody and talk with them . . . there’s a greater incentive to work these problems out.” But here’s a rub.

As historian Michael Oren observes in “Power, Faith and Fantasy,” his history of America’s 230-year involvement in the Middle East, as early as the 1790s “many Americans had grown dismayed with the country’s Middle East policy of admonishing the [Barbary] pirates while simultaneously coddling them with bribes.” It was precisely out of a desire to “trade with everybody” that the early American republic was forced to build a navy, and then to go to war, to defend its commercial interests, a pattern that held true in World War I and the Persian Gulf “Tanker War” of the 1980s.

These details of history pose a problem not just to Dr. Paul’s views of the Middle East, but to the intellectual architecture of libertarianism itself. Liberal societies are built on the belief in (and defense of) individual rights, but also on the overawing power of government to transform natural rights into civil ones. In the same way, trade between nations is only possible in the absence of robbers, pirates and other rogues. Whose job is it to get rid of them?

A strict libertarian might offer that mercenaries could be authorized to build aircraft carriers, Aegis cruisers and nuclear submarines to keep the freedom of the seas in the Straits of Hormuz and Malacca. But what happens when the pecuniary interests of mercenaries collide with the political interests of the U.S. or some other government? Ultimately, some kind of decisive power is needed there too, at least if the trading opportunities libertarians claim are so precious stand any chance of flourishing.

That isn’t to say that Dr. Paul’s specific arguments against American entanglement in the Middle East are purely spurious. Does U.S. diplomacy invariably facilitate peaceful outcomes in the region? The seven feckless years of the Oslo process suggest not. Does it make sense to arm Saudi Arabia and Egypt at the same time we arm Israel? The verdict will depend on what kind of governments the two Arab states have in, say, 10 years time. Should the Bush administration have backed Pervez Musharraf to the hilt these past seven years? Had it done more to cultivate democratic alternatives to the Pakistan strongman in years past, it might not have seen its Plan B vanish with Benazir Bhutto’s assassination last month.

These questions turn on differences of tactics and strategy, whereas Dr. Paul’s objection is philosophical. It helps his case rhetorically that he can tally the costs of America’s involvement in the region — the billions spent and thousands killed in Iraq and Afghanistan; the “blowback,” as he puts it, from supporting Saddam at one moment and opposing him the next — whereas hypotheticals are, by their very nature, costless. But that’s only true while they remain hypothetical.

Nobody can say what, precisely, the cost would be of U.S. withdrawal from the Middle East or, for that matter, disengagement from rest of the world. But John McCain was on to something when he quipped, in reply to Dr. Paul, that the only items al Qaeda likes to trade in are burqas, and that they only fly on one-way tickets.

Mankind is not comprised solely of profit- and pleasure-seekers; the quest for prestige and dominance and an instinct for nihilism are also inscribed in human nature, nowhere more so than in the Middle East. Libertarianism makes no accounting for this. It assumes the relatively tame aspirations of modern American life are a baseline for human nature, not an achievement of civilization.

There is a not-incidental connection here between libertarianism and pacifism. George Orwell once observed that pacifism is a doctrine that can only be preached behind the protective cover of the Royal Navy. Similarly, libertarianism can only be seriously espoused under the protective cover of Leviathan.

That’s something worth considering as Americans spend the coming year debating the course of things to come in the Middle East. It is beguiling, and parochially American, to believe that things go better when left alone. In truth, as Yeats once wrote, things fall apart. With so much at stake in this election, it’s no small blessing that Dr. Paul remains a man of the fringe.

Write to bstephens@wsj.com

3 Comments

Leave a Comment
  1. ermes / Aug 20 2008 2:40 AM
  2. ermes / Aug 25 2008 4:23 PM

    Hoping Paul is not the new Goldwater…

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