Intervene Only When It’s In 'Our National Interest'?

by | Jul 25, 2023


One of the popular mantras for some conservatives and some libertarians when it comes to foreign interventionism is the following: “We should never intervene abroad except when it is in ‘our national interest.’”

There is one great big problem, however, with that qualifier: It serves as no limitation whatsoever with respect to foreign interventionism.

Why is that? 

Because the people who are ultimately deciding that particular issue are the Pentagon, the CIA and the president, all of whom always believe that whenever they are intervening abroad, it is necessarily in “our national interest.”

Consider, for example, the US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Many years after those invasions and occupations, some conservatives and some libertarians began questioning the wisdom of having undertaken them. They maintained that in retrospect, it’s “clear” that those invasions and occupations were not in “our national interest.”

But what they ignore is that in the eyes of the people who ordered those invasions and occupations, it was clearly in “our national interest” to do so. 

The same with the Vietnam War. When President Kennedy sent thousands of troops to Vietnam, he believed that it was in “our national interest” to do so. The same for President Lyndon Johnson. He was convinced that expanding the war to defeat North Vietnam was in “our national interest.”

Yes, it’s true that if a conservative or a libertarian who buys into the “our national interest” qualifier were to be elected president, he would likely have a more limited view of what “our national interest” entails. Even then, however, it is far from clear that he would have the power to oppose the Pentagon and the CIA if their interpretation of “our national interest” was more expansionary than his.

The point is this: In deciding whether to vest people with this type of discretionary, subjectively interpretative power, one should always assume that his worst enemy is going to end up wielding the power. If that is unacceptable, then such power should not be delegated to anyone. 

In foreign affairs, then, the principle must be one of strict non-interventionism, where the US government is absolutely barred, preferably by constitutional amendment, from intervening in the affairs of other nations and also lacks a massive military-intelligence establishment to do so. The restoration of non-interventionism and a limited-government republic are among the principal keys to getting our nation back on the right track — toward liberty, peace, prosperity, and harmony with the people of the world.

Reprinted with permission from Future of Freedom Foundation.


  • Jacob G. Hornberger

    Jacob George Hornberger is an American attorney, author, and politician who was a Libertarian candidate for president in 2000 and 2020. He is the founder and president of the Future of Freedom Foundation.

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