September 12, 2013

Neither Unilateralism Nor Internationalism: Against Obama and Putin

By In Politics

The foreign policy of the United States is in complete and utter shambles.  It is a disgrace to the world, it is a disgrace to the American people, and it is a disgrace to the very principles of individual liberty.  And worse, the foreign policy of the United States, while hardly a consistent style or method, has been bad since the Spanish-American War at the very end of the nineteenth century.  The historic and Constitutional policy –indeed the only policy which is consistent with libertarianism — of non-interventionism has been debated off and on since the progressive era, but has rarely won out.  That non-interventionism has been long lost, although it is rapidly returning to the minds of America’s liberty movement, is one of the greatest factors in the down spiral of American economy and liberty.

And yet today in the political realm we see a depressing false dichotomy played out so clearly in the recent march toward a Syrian war.  The dichotomy is one in which Obama, playing off of the unilateral perspective of “we are America and we can do whatever we want,” has been a seamless follow-up to George Bush’s disastrous neoconservative influence.  That Washington thinks it is the policeman of the world, can drop bombs, and push for “limited air strikes” against foreign governments who have done no harm to the American people is so fundamentally outrageous one wonders how it is possible to give any credibility at all to the current or previous US regimes.  Obama, it has been seen, acts on the basis of neoconservative influence, just like Bush.  Where the American empire is the sole good in the world and wrongful acts are defined, on principle, as anything that is said or done which fails to promote US government activity –all previous standards of morality and goodness rudely shoved aside.

In Syria, where Obama has begged like a sociopath to send in the might and strength of American military, Russia’s Vladimir Putin has been the major foreign opposition.  Yesterday, twelve years to the day that New York City became victim to acts of terrorism, Putin was able to publish an op-ed in the New York Times.  It is astounding that on the anniversary of a great tragedy it became clear that the United States Federal Government has still not learned that to create enemies overseas is to make the American people less safe.  In this op-ed, it was Putin who told the American people that the US ought to just stay out of Syria.  It was the ex-KGB Russian President who has expressed dissatisfaction with an American ruler that thinks it can have its way with the world.

9/11 took place for a reason.  Have we not learned this reason?  How can creating enemies in Syria lead to a scenario that is different than any other example of “blowback” that American has experienced?  Indeed, Putin wants America to stay out.  We would do well to take this advice.  But on what basis has Putin made his case?

In the op-ed, Putin makes the point that the institution of the UN should be a preventative to unilateral American action in Syria.  He writes:

We need to use the United Nations Security Council and believe that preserving law and order in today’s complex and turbulent world is one of the few ways to keep international relations from sliding into chaos. The law is still the law, and we must follow it whether we like it or not. Under current international law, force is permitted only in self-defense or by the decision of the Security Council. Anything else is unacceptable under the United Nations Charter and would constitute an act of aggression.

He is right that for America to act against Syria is not only unpopular according to major world governments, but it is also highly illegal.  The world has put up with, even supported, American interests during the post-Cold War era from Reagan to Obama, including and especially Bush’s war crimes and heinous efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.  But where the world has put up with American intervention for decades, a time is coming when world rulers realize that American is a liability, not an asset.  That day is perhaps already here and thus Putin’s decision to publish a piece in the New York Times.  Russia and the world have a message for America: you will not be the next world dictatorship.  We will not let you.  In the words of Paul Craig Roberts, Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Reagan there is a new tyranny brewing: “Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Washington–the axis of evil.”

But although Putin is right that America must not act unilaterally and that the world does not want to serve the American empire any longer, the basis for his statement is indeed equally dangerous for the future of liberty.  For why should the United States government serve the interests of the United Nations?  The United Nations is essentially a worldwide government by which the liberties of the individual are ignored, dismissed, and trampled.  Putin writes,

No one wants the United Nations to suffer the fate of the League of Nations, which collapsed because it lacked real leverage. This is possible if influential countries bypass the United Nations and take military action without Security Council authorization.

Well I for one, and many libertarians and conservatives agree with me, would be quite pleased if the United Nations suffered the fate of the League of Nations.  If liberty depends on decentralized power and local political activity (so local, in fact that it is based on individual voluntary action), then how could we possibly find good in the world governments?  It is true that taking “military action without Security Council authorization” is a dangerous step toward tyranny, but the solution to this is to refrain from military action because the Constitution of the United States does not allow it, not because the UN says “no.”  This idea that we ought to obey the whim of the Security Council is just as dangerous as United States unilateral action.  The founders warned against “entangling alliances” with nations.  American participation in the United Nations is a grand dismissal of the founders’ pertinent warning.  In this specific case, the Security Council’s refusal of US intervention is good for America, but it is only good because of the fact that it happens to reach a consistent conclusion with the Constitutional restrictions on the Federal Government.

The false dichotomy is that we must choose between bombing the world without the permission of anyone else on one hand, and on the other hand participating in a crony and completely illegitimate conglomerate of world governments.  The United Nations’ very existence depends on American membership.  If the US Federal Government left the UN alone, and the world alone, the UN would falter and the world would be much blessed.  World governments are by definition large governments.  And where the large government is, there freedom does not exist.  The neoconservative policy is distinct from the “Old-Boy Network” of Rockefeller influence.  The Old Boy Network of international agreements and crony deals through institutions like the World Court and United Nations is not the solution to America’s post-9/11 neoconservative authoritarianism.  It is just as bad.

Putin’s recommendation to the American people, to listen to the UN and not bomb Syria should be shifted.  The recommendation should be to listen to the Constitution of the United States and the principles of individual liberty and not bomb Syria.  We don’t need the United Nations.  We need libertarianism.  Many who oppose Obama’s efforts to strike Syria have recently praised Putin as the man of peace.  This is wrongheaded.  First, Putin has as much a stake in this fight as do the lobbyists pressuring Obama.  There are oil and other lobbying interests that Putin is dealing with here too.  He is friends with Assad, not because Assad is some role model for the world, but because it is financially and economically expedient to do so.  Putin does not oppose American activity in Syria for some “greater good.”  That is laughable.  In the same way, the Obama Administration has determined that Assad is the devil, not because of Assad’s worldview, but because it is financially and economically expedient to weaken his rule.  In opposing Obama, there is no reason to support Putin, even if we agree that Obama should not issue a strike.  An analogy would be FDR’s stupid decision to support Stalin (or even Churchill for that matter) simply because he opposed Hitler.  Such is the folly of making international pacts and accords which compel us to act against our interests and against the liberties of the American people.

On a second note, it is dangerous to support Putin on the same basis that it is dangerous to support Obama; namely, that there is never a reason to trust and believe a world leader, especially on issues of war.  Not only is war a tool of the State, it is also the very means by which Putin will protect his own interests if America moves into Syria.  Russia has stated that it will act militarily if we do.  From a libertarian perspective, what ought Putin do if America invades?  If one were a Russian libertarian, we would advise Putin to just stay out and practice the doctrine of non-intervention.  Our message is the same across the boards.  Putin is no man of peace, for he is like any other State ruler.

When it comes to unilateralism and the neoconservative doctrine, the libertarian ought to adamantly stand against it.  We want no American empire that runs the world and dismisses morality and liberties! Conversely, the libertarian should dismiss any notion of obligation to support the United Nations and the world government.  Empire is bad whether America is tyrannical by itself or whether it allows other governments to be tyrannical with it.  Concerning Obama and Putin, trust neither of them and keep preaching libertarianism and non-interventionism.  When it comes to foreign policy, has not history, and Christ, taught us nothing else?


Written by C.Jay Engel

Editor and creator of The Reformed Libertarian. Living in Northern California with his wife, he writes on everything from politics to theology and from culture to economic theory. You can send an email to
  • Thanks, and this is a good response to Putin’s article and Paul Cragi Robert’s new article ( It appears that Putin is sort of a god in some sects of alternative media, as well as statism (the leftish strand of which is represented by, which has several anti-libertarian articles, including one defending Keynes:

  • Marko

    Obviously enough it is not possible for Putin to make an argument for peace from the position that it goes against the US constitution. Him being a Russian the US constitution is an internal, American factor that bears no relevance to him as a foreigner. For him to insist the US must follow its constitution would be for him to meddle in internal American affairs.

    What he can do as a stateman, the head of a nation-state bound by international law is to point out the US has the same obligations to the body of that law that Russia does. That is what he does and does so in the interest of peace. He points out aggression against Syria would mean violating international law US claims to adhere to.

    This allows him to make an argument against US waging a war in Syria that is free of moralizing. The Russians do not believe it is the place of sovereign independent states to moralize to one another. Therefore Putin fails to strike a moral pose against the US but sticks to a technical argument instead. That under the UN charter war is only permissible with the authorization of the UN Security Council.

    It is extremely difficult to see Putin as an internationalist interventionist. The Russians’ vision is not one where the US and Russia jointly go intervening wherever they can around the world under the cover of a UNSC resolutions. It is that of a multi-polar world where independent great powers pursue independent, seperate foreign policies, but where the UN serves as a kind of a permanent forum of great powers to hammer out their differences, reduce the likelihood of flareups and keep tensions between them at a minimum. A kind of Concert of Europe or a permanent Congress of Berlin. This indeed would be far from ideal, but a huge improvement over the current situation.

    I do not believe there is any evidence whatsoever there is a financial gain to Russian backing official Syria, just as I do not believe there is such a gain to the US in opposing it. Also I would ask you to substantiate your claim that the Russians have stated they would become involved militarily if the US intervened herself. I doubt very much they would ever state that.

    • cjayengel

      You had five paragraphs.

      1. No one ever even came close to suggesting that Putin should tell us to mind the constitution. But so what if he did? How is that “intervening” to make such a recommendation?

      2. Agreed. You assume I am somehow mad at Putin for suggesting we stay out. But I am not. My point is that our reason should be Constitutional not International Law. To obey International law before Constitutional law could lead us to a very dangerous place on the scale of liberty.

      3. Agreed. I never stated the opposite.

      4. “Extremely difficult?” That is absurd. All world leaders are international interventionists. What do you think the UN is? They have strategic interests in the middle east just like we do. But that is far beside the point. Because I never even argued anything in that respect about Russia. Rather, I argued that for us to pursue a more “realist” foreign policy akin to the post-WWII arrangements of banking and oil conglomerates is worse than a non-interventionist policy. This post is about the American ideal –not Russian policy tendencies.

      5. a) Russia backs Syria because Assad has been key in preventing a pipeline that would lead a huge loss in Russian energy interests (
      b) RT News reports (

      “Russia “will help Syria” in the event of a military strike, Putin stressed as he responded to a reporter’s question at the summit.

      “Will we help Syria? We will. And we are already helping, we send arms, we cooperate in the economics sphere, we hope to expand our cooperation in the humanitarian sphere, which includes sending humanitarian aid to support those people – the civilians – who have found themselves in a very dire situation in this country.”

      I believe though, after reading your comment, that we are largely talking past each other and that you did not completely understand my article. The entire point was that we should neither “do whatever we want” in Syria nor “refrain from force because the UN says so.” Rather, we should refrain from force because the Constitution and the principles of limited government say so. Putin was right, but for the wrong reasons. America ought to never intervene in foreign affairs. We ought to leave the world alone. We can start by leaving the United Nations and focusing on American policy.