Foreign policy can be a difficult topic because unlike domestic policy, there are so many moving parts and external factors affecting decision making. Do we go to war against a certain enemy? Given how intertwined the world is, any decision has serious implications for not just the parties directly involved. Take the Iraqi invasion and subsequent occupation from a decade ago. While it has since been found to be a bad move for the United States and Iraq, the resulting rise of ISIS has affected everyone. Countries other than our own, like France, are directly feeling the sting of the destabilization.
And it’s for this reason, libertarians tend to be opposed to war unless it’s an absolute last resort.
The problem with Iraq was it wasn’t an absolute last resort, but a preemptive strike. Because of this, many libertarians were opposed. Iraq may have been run by a dictator, but the country itself did not directly threaten or attack the United States. While it is a nice idea to be able to liberate the world from evil, the fact of reality is the human and economic cost of war. We only have so many bodies we can offer for any given leader’s foreign policy political goals and only so much economic strength to support them with. When this is exhausted, we only cripple our own nation.
Still, voicing these concerns had libertarians labeled as isolationists because they refused to support a war that wasn’t constitutionally declared or logically justified.
Isolationism involves more than just war however. There is also trade, travel, and otherwise global interaction. There’s a deeper philosophical debate involving a country’s overall interaction with another. A prominent example of isolationism is official United States policy towards Cuba.
Cuba has long been cut off from the United States, restricting American citizens from interacting there. But nobody uses the dreaded “I” word to describe the government or supporters of the restrictions. Why?
Who is the United States government to tell anyone they can’t engage in private trade with the nation of Cuba? Cuba is not at war with the United States, has not attacked us directly, and is not presently threatening us. Historically, there may be some bad blood and politically, they’re not our friend. But is history and politics enough to justify an isolationist economic and foreign policy?
The United States didn’t isolate China to this degree after the Tiananmen Square massacre, where the Chinese military slaughtered citizens who dared speak freely in support of democracy and demonstrate as a result. In fact, according to declassified National Security Archive information, the U.S. sought to maintain their relationship with China. The United States communicated the shock of our citizens to the recent events, but characterized our outrage as an “internal affair” just as how China handles their citizens is one as well.
Hundreds of innocent civilians were slaughtered by their own government’s military because of their support for democracy, and it was just an “internal affair”? The U.S. response to China after Tiananmen Square compared to the continued treatment of Cuba shows the government is not taking a moral stand against tyranny, but merely maintaining a political feud with Cuba. In all truth, the United States has never had a problem supporting a tyrant if it protected our government’s foreign policy goals.
Should United States citizens and businesses continue to be isolated from relations with Cuba because of the United States government’s continued political feud? Only if you’re an isolationist.