War Abroad, War at Home

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Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, speaking at a Ron Paul Institute conference this past weekend, predicted US troops would remain in Afghanistan another 50 years — just as they have in Germany and Korea. He also termed the ongoing US-backed campaign in Yemen the “most brutal war on earth,” a war western media overwhelming ignore.

Colonel Douglas Macgregor at the same conference called Washington DC “the place where good ideas go to die.” His years at the Pentagon, coupled with his experience leading US forces into Iraq during the first Gulf War, caused him to question the DC War Party in the most profound ways. Visiting the parents of an America soldier incinerated in a tank during that foray into Iraq, a foray with few US casualties otherwise, caused him to question not only his own missions but also the larger mission of US armed forces.

Both of these men now pose the same question: what is the goal? Why do seemingly endless military conflicts persist, despite lacking any constituency for their prosecution beyond the DC beltway? And why does US military strategy appear incoherent and counterproductive, when viewed through the lens of peace? Why can’t we do anything about this, no matter whom we elect and no matter how much war fatigue resides in the American public?

The answer is not found in a facile denunciation of the military industrial complex or war profiteers, though both are very serious problems. The answer lies in understanding how the DC War Party operates. Its goals are not ours. It is not democratic; the government is not “us.” It is not political; its architects are permanent fixtures who do not come and go with presidential administrations. It is not accountable; budgeting is nonexistent and gross failures only beget greater funding. It is above all not “economic” —  it operates in an artificial “market,” one created and perpetuated by wars and interventions ordinary people don’t want. War socialism, or what former Congressman Barney Frank brilliantly termed “military Keynesianism,” has taken on a life of its own.

Ludwig von Mises saw peace as the key to any liberal economic program, and argued strenuously against the fallacy of war prosperity. Even early in his career, before his horrific experiences as an officer in the Austro-Hungarian Army during World War I, he recognized the critical distinction between economy and war: the former characterized by exchange and cooperation, the latter marked by the worst form of state intervention:

Only one thing can conquer war — that liberal attitude which can see nothing in war but destruction and annihilation, and which can never wish to bring about a war, because it regards war as injurious even to the victors.

For Mises, war was worse than zero-sum. Even the prevailing party suffers, just as the shopkeeper suffers in Bastiat’s “Parable of the Broken Window.” The glazier’s profit does not benefit society, just as the War Party’s success in breaking other countries does not. But the loss is not only economic, it is also cultural and moral. War, the ultimate rejection of reason as a means of navigating human society, reduces our capacity for compassion and makes us complacent about atrocities. Worst of all, it emboldens and strengthens the domestic state — encouraging us to accept absurdities like TSA theater and heavily militarized SWAT teams operating in peaceful small towns.

While US troops remain mired throughout the Middle East, a subsurface political war heats up in the US. This cold civil war creates the kind of hyper-politicized society progressives once only dreamed of. Social media outlets encourage even the most ill-informed and ill-intentioned voices to spread hatred against those with differing views. Goodwill doesn’t translate, so fake bravado hidden behind anonymity or distance are the order of the day. Epithets like “racist,” fascist,” “Nazi” and worse become cheap currency in the new vocabulary of meaningless words. Dissenting voices lose jobs, reputations, and access to popular platforms. Mobs form to attack political opponents in restaurants and shops, shout down campus events, and threaten online disclosure of their perceived enemies’ personal information.

Meanwhile overt socialists like Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Keith Ellison, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez lead the Democratic Party to demand government health schemes, guaranteed incomes, and “people’s” ownership of corporations. The statist house organ known as the Washington Post calls for the word “socialism” to be “reclaimed” and viewed in positive terms. Ostensible conservatives like William Kristol, Max Boot, and Lindsey Graham follow suit and utterly divorce themselves from any notion of judicious government. They call for the destruction of Iran, escalation of tensions with nuclear-armed Russia, and belligerence toward China and North Korea. Donald Trump, despite some initial antiwar instincts, hunkers down with twitter while surrounding himself with rabidly interventionist advisers like John Bolton.

What can this environment yield other than a rapidly coarsening society and the increasing potential for outright war between nuclear nations?

Just as civilization cannot be divorced from civility in our personal comportment, economics cannot be divorced from war. The most important and immediate action we can take is to expose the gross economic fallacies of our day. The hawkishness of neoconservatives and the “democratic socialism” of progressives both lead in the same direction, toward economic destruction and war. If you think American society is polarized and prone to lashing out abroad now, what happens with a shrinking economy and 40% unemployment?

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Jeff Deist is president of the Mises Institute. He previously worked as chief of staff to Congressman Ron Paul, and as an attorney for private equity clients. Contact: emailtwitter.

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Contributed by Jeff Deist of Mises Institute.

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