Mises Wire

Noninterventionism Is Not Isolationism: The US Government Should Stop Arming Ukraine

Libertarians, liberty-wing Republicans, and other opponents of nondefensive wars are popularly misconceived as having an “every man for himself” approach to both economics and foreign policy. Of course, this is patently false in both cases, but this piece will focus on clarifying the latter.

Local Libertarian activist Roy Minet, who has also written about the former, touched on the popular myth of isolationism in his 2014 LNP article: “Apparently, they call anyone who doesn’t support their various military interventions around the globe an isolationist.” I made this same point in my 2017 piece about how the isolationist label helped kill Ron Paul’s 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns. This conflation of noninterventionism with “isolationism” continues to squelch and distort the message of antiwar voices … which is particularly relevant given the current events in Ukraine.

The Libertarian National Committee recently sent out a mailer titled “No War with Russia.” It warns of the danger of entangling alliances and lays out a brief history of Russia and the US’s precarious relationship and the role the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has played in it. The prescription is noninterventionism because “when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

A recent article on mises.org further explains how the state, along with its media allies, exhibits a pattern of concocting crises to perpetuate the power of this hammer: “What defines our present condition is how the moral panics are used to rally a civilian army that revels in the demise of the nonconforming opposition…. The Russia-Ukraine War is an easy lightning rod that the government and established centers of power in society can use to demonize Americans who hold the wrong view.”

This “wrong view” is often merely a more nuanced and contextualized view of the situation than what is found in mainstream legacy media. “The answer for why Americans pine for more war is probably complicated, but it’s clear that they generally hold simplistic views of the situation over there.”

Perhaps it is people’s resignation to the idea that the history and context of the conflict are too complicated to grasp that leads them to accept the simplistic narrative they are fed. Consequently, popular virtue signaling seems to be centered around criticism of Vladimir Putin and conceding nothing to him (even if this comes at the expense of Ukrainians themselves). But noninterventionism takes the sensible position that Putin is not our leader and that thus Americans can’t hold him accountable for bad behavior. Conversely, if we at least acknowledge the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s role in provoking this conflict, we can work toward holding our own leaders accountable and press them to create a more diplomacy-friendly atmosphere.

Put differently, for many of us, not taking sides also involves pushing back against the absurd one-sided narrative overwhelming our state-run media. This unfortunately plays into the dangerous “you’re either with us or against us” narrative also being perpetuated, where people are being accused of being “traitors” merely for trying to view things through the lens of the other side. It is a divisive mentality that is badly hurting our country, even more than it did during the “freedom fries” Iraq War era.

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The West did not do all it could to prevent this war, nor, as of this writing, has it taken any of the obvious offramps to ending it. There has been much media outcry about Putin’s alleged aversion to diplomacy, yet the US and NATO have never even offered to meet any of his reported demands, such as agreement on Ukrainian neutrality, withdrawal of surrounding NATO forces, or independence for Donetsk and Luhansk. Instead, the prevailing narrative is to ignore the US’s role in the 2014 Maidan coup, which resulted in the installation of a Russia-hostile NATO puppet, and to ignore the neo-Nazi element of the Ukraine government (Azov Battalion et al.), which is responsible for many of the fourteen thousand deaths in the Russian-speaking Donbass regions over the last eight years.

Even among those who claim to be antiwar, there may be some complacency on this topic due to the misperception that we are already practicing nonintervention, just because we are not sending troops directly into Ukraine and are not yet imposing a no-fly zone. The reality is that we are already cobelligerents toward Russia, per the billions of dollars in weapons we have sent Ukraine over the last several years. The Biden administration continues to ramp up spending to arm Ukraine, and Russia has formally warned it to stop doing so. Those who don’t take the threat of this escalating into World War III should consider that Putin has thus far delivered on all the things he said he would do, including the February invasion itself.

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The majority of Americans rely on mass media to tell them what to be outraged about, and for whom to have compassion, and thus are either silent about or vocally supportive of arming Ukraine, under the assumption that this will help the Ukrainians “win.” But have they even considered that these weapons may only serve to prolong the war?

For the civilian population in Ukraine, there are no real winners so long as war is being waged. The idea of “humanitarian war” sounds very noble, but true victory for humanity lies in the quickest path to peace. And the interpretation of what that path is largely depends on what news sources one is following.

To hear our corporate military-industrial-complex-friendly sources tell it, Ukraine is close to victory, if only we can get that next shipment of weapons to them. Military experts such as Colonel Douglas MacGregor and former United Nations weapons inspector Scott Ritter say this is not the case. They attribute Russia’s failure to achieve a quick and decisive victory to its own restraint and the limited scope of its military goals, not on extra Ukrainian firepower provided by the West. And yet they don’t presume to know all that is happening in the field, nor to have access to the “Russian playbook,” as their critics like to straw-man argue. 

So which version of what is currently happening in Ukraine is correct? It might serve to ask a few questions at this point: How many other things have the official sources gotten right over the last two decades? Are Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Yemen really any better off due to our military intervention? What is different about this time?

Or, instead of taking this merit-based approach, one could take the safer and simpler starting point that there is misinformation on all sides, since truth is the first casualty of war. Both sides are capable of propaganda, and so an educated opinion should require attempting to sift through both. But should this be too arduous a task, sifting through neither, while accepting nonintervention as the default correct position, is a good alternative. In either case, the noninterventionist position proves to be superior, as it does not risk having to advocate something that might inadvertently be causing more net harm than good.

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Bottom line, the notion that we need to do something to help Ukraine “win” this war is as shaky as Barack Obama’s 2008 declaration that “Afghanistan is a war we have to win.” Will Americans’ well-intentioned but heavily exploited compassion for Ukraine help turn it into a long-term Afghanistan-like quagmire?

In his interview with Dave Smith, Colonel MacGregor yearns for “the kind of country that we were a hundred years ago, which in most cases, was interested in intervening to end conflicts, not with military power, but to offer its services as an objective partner, as someone who could bring two sides together and avoid a larger more destructive conflict“ Does this sound like isolationism and lack of compassion for our fellow man? Should we continue to listen to the neoconservatives and alleged “humanitarian” interventionists? The future of Ukraine, and humanity, may depend on a resounding no.

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