Monday, October 27, 2008

The Boston Tea Party and Foreign Policy: The Tricky Thing about Paradigm Shifts

In a response to a recent post on the American cross-border raid into Syria, commenter G Rex raises an important question about the Boston Tea Party's various positions on foreign policy.

Right now there are two almost identical positions--one a part of the program and one a resolution:

From the program (and lifted from Ron Paul's Campaign for Liberty, actually):

Foreign Policy: The Iraq War must end as quickly as possible with removal of all our soldiers from the region. We must initiate the return of our soldiers from around the world, including Korea, Japan, Europe and the entire Middle East. We must cease the war propaganda, threats of a blockade and plans for attacks on Iran, nor should we re-ignite the cold war with Russia over Georgia. We must be willing to talk to all countries and offer friendship and trade and travel to all who are willing. We must take off the table the threat of a nuclear first strike against all nations.

From the resolutions:

Whereas the United States of America has a military presence in over 130 countries and

Whereas in accordance with Article 1 Section 8, the Congress has not Declared War since 1942 and

Whereas such War ended in 1945

Be it RESOLVED that the Boston Tea Party calls for an immediate cease-fire of all military conflict and

Be it RESOLVED that the Boston Tea Party calls for an immediate removal of all military personnel from all foreign nations and

Be it RESOLVED that the Boston Tea Party calls for an immediate closure of all military bases in all foreign nations.

And here's G Rex's comment:

As for the BTP resolution, isn't that a unilateral abrogation of our treaty obligations? NATO is the most obvious one, but we have mutual defense and basing agreements around the world, like with Japan and Korea. I'm sorta new to this whole Libertarian thing, but is your party's underlying point that we're only permitted by the Constitution to maintain our forces within our own borders and sally forth only when attacked by a hostile state or states?

OK, let's tackle that one, because it is important--perhaps critical--to Libertarians being perceived as serious candidates for any national office.

I'll start with two observations: First, that the programs and resolutions of political parties are general statements of intent, not detailed plans of execution; and second, that the actual BTP platform doesn't require any candidate to take a specific stance on foreign policy:

The Boston Tea Party supports reducing the size, scope and power of government at all levels and on all issues, and opposes increasing the size, scope and power of government at any level, for any purpose.

That's it, folks, the entire platform. And as I have said before, I find myself about 95% in agreement with it, which is more than I have with any other party platform.

But back to foreign policy. I'm not naive enough to believe, nor do I think you will find many Libertarian candidates who do, that the US will manage a complete withdrawal from an interventionist and imperialist foreign policy in the blink of an eye. I think it will and should happen gradually and in the context of a national strategic policy that is carefully considered.

Here are some of those careful considerations, both for Libertarians and other folks:

For Libertarians: there was never any immaculate past in which the US didn't have any foreign bases, especially naval bases. Particularly after the development of steam-powered vessels, coaling stations were critical to any navy which took seriously the requirement to protect the trade lanes. Nor did interventionist American military actions begin with the aftermath of World War Two, but decades earlier. Exactly how do you think we pried Florida loose from Spain, Texas from Mexico, or twice tried to acquire Canada. The nettles of foreign policy are to be grasped individually and carefully, with the principles of the BTP as a guide rather than a simplistic prescription.

For other folks: Time to rethink a lot of the assumptions you've been fed over the years. Take NATO, for example: a defensive alliance created when Germany was still divided and occupied, the Soviet Union had thousands of tanks in central Europe threatening invasion, and we had no relationship with China. For forty years we paid the bulk of the bill in money, troops, and equipment to support the defense of Europe. Today: Germany is reunited and Western Europe has an economy that rivals our own, with the complete ability to defend itself, especially as the Soviet Union no longer exists. It's time for a European security organization that pays its own way, takes responsibility for its own borders, and can go to war over Georgia without us if it so desires. It's time for Japan, which has one of the largest military establishments in the world, to defend itself. It's time for South Korea to acknowledge that it doesn't need the 2nd US Infantry Division as a tripwire to deter the conventional attack of a starving North Korea.

In other words, the BTP program and resolutions are a challenge to the basic assumptions about foreign policy and military intervention that have been foisted on us by unimaginative politicians, ideologues, and the military-industrial complex for more than half a century.

That's what the BTP program means to me.


ChrisNC said...

Check out my statement in this regard, written in response to the Georgian conflict. The link is one my website ( As an endorsed candidate of the Boston Tea Party, I am gratified that my position is in such close accord with theirs.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Steve.