Rand Paul on Foreign Interventionism

by Don Boudreaux on August 29, 2014

in Hubris and humility, Reality Is Not Optional, Seen and Unseen, War

In yesterday’s Wall Street Journal – in an essay entitled “How U.S. Interventionists Abetted the Rise of ISIS” - Rand Paul wisely warned interventionists of both parties to beware of unintended consequences of intervening in the affairs of other societies and states.

One can understand, if not excuse, “Progressives” who ignore such unintended consequences: they also ignore unintended consequences of domestic economic interventionism.  Much more difficult to understand – and, hence, even more difficult to excuse – is the large number of conservatives who, attuned to the reality of unintended consequences of domestic economic interventions, are blind to the reality of such consequences that spring from military and diplomatic interventions.  The complex and difficult trade-offs, unavoidable imperfections, hidden dangers, impossibility of successfully picking ‘winners,’ and venal and unprincipled vote-grasping politicians that together counsel non-intervention into the domestic economy miraculously disappear when the issue is some problem abroad.  What is seen abroad by pro-foreign-interventionists are relatively simple problems that we good guys – if only we have enough fortitude – can solve with a combination of military force and social-engineering on a global scale.  Yet as Mr. Paul argues, ill unintended consequences – and governments’ proclivity for creating them – are not at all limited to domestic economic interventions.

Here are some slices from Mr. Paul’s essay:

The administration’s goal has been to degrade Assad’s power, forcing him to negotiate with the rebels. But degrading Assad’s military capacity also degrades his ability to fend off the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham. Assad’s government recently bombed the self-proclaimed capital of ISIS in Raqqa, Syria.

To interventionists like former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, we would caution that arming the Islamic rebels in Syria created a haven for the Islamic State. We are lucky Mrs. Clinton didn’t get her way and the Obama administration did not bring about regime change in Syria. That new regime might well be ISIS.

This is not to say the U.S. should ally with Assad. But we should recognize how regime change in Syria could have helped and emboldened the Islamic State, and recognize that those now calling for war against ISIS are still calling for arms to factions allied with ISIS in the Syrian civil war. We should realize that the interventionists are calling for Islamic rebels to win in Syria and for the same Islamic rebels to lose in Iraq. While no one in the West supports Assad, replacing him with ISIS would be a disaster.

….

But the problem is, we did do something. We aided those who’ve contributed to the rise of the Islamic State. The CIA delivered arms and other equipment to Syrian rebels, strengthening the side of the ISIS jihadists. Some even traveled to Syria from America to give moral and material support to these rebels even though there had been multiple reports some were allied with al Qaeda.

Patrick Cockburn, Middle East correspondent for the London newspaper, the Independent, recently reported something disturbing about these rebel groups in Syria. In his new book, “The Jihadis Return: ISIS and the New Sunni Uprising,” Mr. Cockburn writes that he traveled to southeast Turkey earlier in the year where “a source told me that ‘without exception’ they all expressed enthusiasm for the 9/11 attacks and hoped the same thing would happen in Europe as well as the U.S.” It’s safe to say these rebels are probably not friends of the United States.

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