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Stossel's Column: Make Trade, Not War
By: John StosselSeptember 17, 2013

 

What's up with so many Democrats wanting missile strikes on Syria, while Republicans balk? I'm told Republicans are the war party.

Is this just hypocrisy? Politicians change their position on military intervention when their own party controls the White House?

Historian Thaddeus Russell says it's not. He says it's always been "progressive" Democrats who led America into war: Woodrow Wilson in World War I, FDR in World War II, Truman in the Korean War, Kennedy and Johnson in Vietnam and Bill Clinton in Somalia and Kosovo.

Russell says the progressives like "nation-building" because it fits their view that government can reform the world "not just in the ghettos, but outside our borders. Anywhere we find the oppressed, we must go out and save them."

Of course there are the neoconservatives, such as William Kristol, who were pro-war under both Bush and Obama.

"The so-called neocons who drove us to war in Iraq actually all began in the Democratic Party. They all began as progressives," says Russell. "They supported intervention in Iraq to remake Iraq in our image, and they support intervention in Syria to do the same."

Both neocons and progressives call those of us who oppose most intervention overseas "isolationist."

A Wall Street Journal column complained about "the isolationist worm eating its way through the Republican Party apple." On the left, Secretary of State John Kerry declared, "This is not the time for armchair isolationism."

I resent the smear.

"Isolationist" suggests that anyone who objects to killing people in foreign countries (mostly people who have never attacked us) wants to "isolate" America, withdraw from the world.

Before World War II, American isolationists did fight to prevent refugees who were escaping Hitler from coming to America. Isolationists also opposed trade and immigration. That's nuts. We libertarians who are skeptical about war today are nothing like that.

I want to be engaged with the world without us being in charge of it. Let us trade with people of every nation. It's said that when goods cross borders, armies don't. History backs that up. A report funded by several governments found that the level of armed conflict in Muslim countries is lower today than two decades ago, and trade is the reason. You're less likely to bomb the people with whom you engage in commerce.

Preferring trade to government action may not sound "progressive" to progressives, but it's not a surrender to evil or a withdrawal from global affairs. As we trade goods, we also export our ideas and our culture.

I don't claim that this will end all conflict, but it is harder for radicals to make you hate people who sell you things, inspire you to change your hairstyle or make movies that make you laugh.

When the Soviet Union fell, conservatives said it happened because of Ronald Reagan's military buildup. OK, that played a part. But so did American music.

In 1988, Bruce Springsteen held a concert in East Berlin, and even there, behind the Iron Curtain, 160,000 people came to hear him perform. And they knew the words to "Born in the USA" and sang along. Springsteen stopped his performance and told the crowd he hoped one day all the barriers would be torn down. One year later, the Berlin Wall did come down.

I don't claim that America's culture, consumer goods or Bruce Springsteen was entirely responsible for that, but the obvious comparison between Soviet repression and America's vibrancy did play a part. Eventually, people in the Soviet bloc wanted what we had.

These cultural and economic influences work, and they are less likely to create new enemies and bankrupt America than bombing and invading.

So let tourism flow. Let our music alarm mullahs. Let neocons donate books to the Middle East filled with ideas dictators hate. Let our cell phones expose isolated people to the wonders of the free world.

There are times when we have to go to war, but real progress means making those times as rare as possible.

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