Military adventurism and the Monroe Doctrine

Doug Bandow is a fairly prolific writer and a strong libertarian – more minarchist than anarchist, but a thoughtful and insightful analyst.

His recent article “Military spending is not defense spending” published by the American Institute for Economic Research (AIER) is an example of his writing for the most part. I encourage you to read, enjoy, and ponder his conclusions, with which I very much agree.

The FedGov has demonstrated time and again the difference between defense and military adventurism and bullying. A sickening difference that is seemingly ever trending upwards. Despite the “wake-up call” that the most recent fiasco in Afghanistan, both the current regime and its official opposition seem intent on continuing to do such stupid things.

While I do have a couple of nits to pick with Doug, please accept them as positive and supporting critiques. Do not let them distract from Doug’s major (and important) points about the American warfare state. And at the same time learn that the Fed Gov’s record, though black, is not totally black – there were some redeeming moments.

First, look at the Monroe Doctrine. Although later USED as an excuse to justify intervention by DC in the affairs of Latin American nations time and time again, that was not its “purpose.” Rather, its intent was defensive. When Madison conceived this (together with John Quincy Adams) in 1823, the idea of American intervention in the new republics (and empires) of the New World was not seen as desirable or feasible. Like his contemporaries Jefferson and Madison, he valued liberty and self-determination. While his record on slavery and indentured servitude is mixed, he did make some effort to end slavery. And he certainly recognized the inability to the Union to compel any of the newly-free Spanish, Portuguese (and finally French) colonies to do the bidding of Washington.

And his Doctine had one major feature that has been virtually ignored for well over a century: that just as European powers (with the exception of Great Britain, tacitly) were to leave the New World alone, so to the United States were to not to mess with the Old World: Europe, Africa, or Asia. It is interesting to note that just as the US helped finally push Spain out of the Americas (the Spanish-American War of 1898) it was in essence setting the stage (domestically and globally) for the end of that little-known other side of the Monroe Doctrine coin: American involvement in the Great War (World War One). (Doug’s condemnation of this is both strong and just.)

The Monroe Doctrine is frequently condemned (seemingly especially by Marxists and their comrades) for advocating and institutionalizing intervention in Latin America continuously since 1811 – more than 200 years. Even though the doctrine was not established for more than a decade after that. Now, AMERICANS did “intervene” in Latin America from an early date, but they were NOT government interventions: they were private. Starting with the Gutierrez-Magee Expedition of 1812, seeking to help Mexico free itself from Spain. As nearly as I can determine, FedGov intervention didn’t get going until the early 1870s (unless you count threats by Congress and the Army against the French-backed Emperor Maximillian of Mexico after the American War Between the States in 1867).

(The Mexican War of 1846-1848 was NOT an intervention, but initially a defensive action – a topic for later. And which I realize is a very controversial claim.)

What can we learn about liberty from the Monroe Doctrine? Not that it was created for the purpose of exploiting the other American republics from DC and therefore automatically evil. Rather, that even ideas with good intentions and of great importance are corrupted by government. And by “democratic” action – the lusts of the mob and its leaders. The Monroe Doctrine, like so many seemingly good ideas became the EXCUSE for intervention by DC in virtually every Latin nation in the New World for 150 years. And continues to be so today.)

Given the events of the French Revolution and the wars and the Napoleonic Empire and Wars which resulted, ending only in 1815, Monroe’s and Adams’ idea made sense to them. It also made sense to declare that the States would NOT interfere in Old World affairs. (If only people had listened and remembered that less than a century later!)

But governments (and honestly, it is an American private trait also) just can’t mind their own business! (Consider the modern likes of 19th Century filibusters – like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet and Zuckerberg.) And governments (far more than private business and individuals) generally make matters much worse by getting involved.

Again, the lesson to be learned is clear, and does not distract from Doug’s thesis. We, the American people, have let DC make a hash of things military for more than 200 years. Defense is legitimate and moral and to be honored. Military spending for adventurism and intervention is not.

I’ll mention some more points that Doug brought to mind in other commentaries.

About TPOL Nathan

Follower of Christ Jesus (a christian), Pahasapan (resident of the Black Hills), Westerner, Lover of Liberty, Free-Market Anarchist, Engineer, Army Officer, Husband, Father, Historian, Writer, Evangelist. Successor to Lady Susan (Mama Liberty) at TPOL.
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