I believe, without question, it is the latter. Our mission has become too large. Years after completing our mission in Afghanistan, America remains—spending $50 billion a year nation-building. We are adding debt at nearly $2 million per minute.
If we’re not careful, we will spend our way into second-tier nation status quickly.
If the long war is to ever end, we must understand what must take its place.
It isn’t just religion, nor even abject poverty, that motivates those seeking a better life. It is often the simple idea of freedom that we in the west take for granted.
Mohammed Bousazizi, the Tunisian street merchant who set himself on fire and began the Arab Spring, was an aspiring entrepreneur foiled by an overbearing government.
He had a dream. He’d save for a truck, and he’d sell his wares on the streets to build a life.
Cronyism and overbearing government stifled his dream. He set himself on fire, and the flames are still burning.
My great grandfather came to America with a dream not unlike Bousazizi’s. He peddled vegetables until he saved enough to purchase a truck, to become what was then logically called a truck-farmer. Over time he was able to purchase a home, then a small bit of land.
My grandfather didn’t need a permit or a license. No government hindered his success.
Peruvian economist De Soto spoke to Bousazazi’s father and asked him if he left a legacy. He replied, “Of course, he believed even the poor had a right to buy and sell.”
To own one’s labor and the products of one’s labor is a fundamental human right.
To trade one’s labor and products is also a fundamental right.
Strangely, neocons and libertarians likely agree that government should largely leave us free to pursue our dreams. Neocons, however, feel some universal calling to liberate humanity. Libertarians want the same liberty for individuals across the globe but think that ‘spreading liberty’ through perpetual war can only occur with a big government that tramples individual liberty.
When you boil it all down, the dilemma is whether liberty spreads best by persuasion or force.
And going one step further, one must ask if the government can maintain its character as a defender of individual liberty if the government must large enough to support perpetual war.
This was the great battle fought between William F. Buckley and Murray Rothbard in the early 1960’s. Everyone thinks Buckley’s National Review won hands down. And yet, Buckley himself ended up doubting the wisdom of the Iraq War.
The schism that divides neocons and libertarian realists will heal when the neoconservatives finally acknowledge that a government big enough to “make the world safe for democracy” is inconsistent with individual liberty.
When neoconservatives accept that a government large enough to fight perpetual war requires taxes and debt so extensive as to be to inconsistent with individual liberty—then will the schism heal.
When that time comes, libertarians and neoconservatives will gather in Williamsburg and raise a pint to our common heroes: Jefferson, Paine, Madison, and yes, even John Adams. That will be a glorious time, a time when liberty is no longer divided and we can all celebrate the great American experiment in Liberty.
Rand Paul is a U.S. senator from Kentucky.