Jo Jorgensen, the 2020 presidential nominee of the Libertarian Party, gives her acceptance speech during the 2020 Libertarian National Convention at the Orange County Convention Center. (Photo by Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
The 2016 Republican presidential primary debates revealed a sea change. From 2008 to 2012, then-congressman Ron Paul was routinely booed for his criticism of America’s foreign policy. It was even common to hear Republican office holders, commentators, and activists say they “agreed with Ron Paul on everything but foreign policy.” Yet in 2016, candidate Donald Trump was cheered for calling the Iraq war the biggest blunder in American history.
One would have thought Trump’s victory would have resulted in a major reduction of America’s military presence in the Middle East and Afghanistan. However, three years and 10 months after President Trump was sworn into office, at least 3,000 troops will remain in Iraq at the end of the year if Trump’s troop reductions go into effect. How many troops will remain in Afghanistan depends on how successful the military-industrial complex, and their allies on Capitol Hill and in the media, are at undermining Trump.
Meanwhile, the U.S. is still supporting Saudi Arabia’s vicious war against Yemen, which has created a humanitarian crisis. We still have approximately 700 troops in Syria. Trump kicked off the new year by provoking hostility with Iran when he ordered the assassination of Iranian leader Qassem Soleimani. He has poked at both China and Russia.
How did a candidate who was elected in part on a promise of no more useless, endless wars wind up keeping the warfare machine humming along?
Partly because, even at his best, Trump is far from being a consistent non-interventionist. Even as he railed against the endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, candidate Trump rattled sabers at Tehran by pledging to withdraw the U.S. from the Iran nuclear deal.
Trump also called for dramatically increasing the military budget, repeating the lie that Obama had decimated the military. But U.S. military spending has continually gone up, not down.
Trump has been more successful at stirring up hostilities with Iran than at withdrawing from Afghanistan and Iraq. The biggest reason his actions have not matched his campaign rhetoric is that the entire foreign policy infrastructure in D.C. is controlled by pro-war factions. Even a truly non-interventionist Republican or Democrat would likely fail to roll back America’s military presence overseas.
The House versions of the fiscal year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) contained provisions designed to block Trump from fulfilling his promise to withdraw troops from Afghanistan.
This provision was championed by Wyoming Republican Representative Elizabeth Cheney, daughter of famed hawk and former vice president Dick Cheney. Representative Cheney is not some backbencher. She is the third-ranking Republican in the House. Cheney was joined in supporting this amendment by Democratic Representative Jason Crow of Colorado. The amendment easily passed the House Armed Services Committee by a vote of 45-11. Only eight Republicans voted to support their president’s efforts to end America’s endless war. Even more discouraging, only two Republicans, Representative Thomas Massie of Kentucky and Representative Mo Brooks of Alabama, voted for an amendment to the NDAA offered on the House floor to establish a plan to end the war in Afghanistan. Libertarian Representative Justin Amash also voted for the amendment.
The Senate’s version of the NDAA warned against a “precipitous” withdrawal from Afghanistan. It also expressed concerns about closing any U.S. base located in Europe without offering an alternative, thus putting a monkey wrench in President Trump’s attempt to draw down the number of American troops in Germany.
Even worse, the Senate rejected an amendment by Senator Rand Paul to withdraw troops from Afghanistan. Paul’s measure failed by a vote of 60-33.
For all the often-justified handwringing over how the Republican Party has become a “cult of Trump,” the sad truth is, for most Republican representatives and senators, devotion to Trump stops at the water’s edge.
One reason for the GOP’s fidelity to the warfare state is the military-industrial complex’s outsized influence on Capitol Hill. For starters, the defense industry donated $27 million to political campaigns in 2016.
But the main reason military contractors wield clout with many federal lawmakers is their business model. Instead of manufacturing a complete product at one plant, they make components at various plants spread across the country. This means that many representatives and senators have a vested interest in supporting a large military budget—and thus an interventionist foreign policy—because those weapons produce high-paying jobs in their districts and states.
Too many conservative Republicans, who usually denounce stimulus spending bills, claim that throwing money at failed weapons projects like the F-35 creates jobs and helps grow the economy. The truth is that money heaped on the Pentagon creates less than half the number of jobs that the same amount would create if spent by the taxpayers who had earned it.
The defense industry also maintains its influence through generous donations to D.C.-based think thanks. Recipients of these funds produce research papers, op-eds, congressional testimony, and presentations given to congressional staffers that promote an interventionist foreign policy beneficial to their donors’ bottom lines.
Defense contractors’ support for think tanks is not limited to conservatives. Center-left think tanks and foreign policy scholars also receive funding.
This enables the defense industry to control both sides of the foreign policy debate, no matter the election results. The military-industrial complex wins while U.S. troops fight and die in unnecessary, unconstitutional wars. Taxpayers who fund these wars are saddled with debt and high taxes.
And defense contractors are not the only ones funding pro-defense D.C. think tanks. Foreign governments also provide money in exchange for justification of U.S. interventions on behalf of their countries.
The funding given to pro-war think tanks breeds pro-war political operatives who fill presidentially appointed civil service positions and congressional staffs. This is why President Trump has staffed his administration with neocons like John Bolton, who spend their careers promoting the disastrous foreign policy that Trump had promised to reverse.
The Democratic Party is just as welded to the warfare state as are the Republicans, as was shown by the bipartisan effort in Congress to stop President Trump from withdrawing most of the troops from Afghanistan. Further evidence is provided by the presidency of Democrat Barack Obama. His opposition to the Iraq war was a major reason he bested uber-hawks Hillary Clinton and John McCain in 2008. Yet Obama expanded America’s military presence around the world and infamously made a “kill list” of individuals—including American citizens—subject to summary execution without due process.
The modern Democrats’ love for the war party was also shown by their attacks on Representative Tulsi Gabbard for meeting with Syrian President Bashar-al-Assad. By the logic of Gabbard’s critics, John F. Kennedy should never have negotiated a peaceful end to the Cuban missile crisis. They were willing to attack her, even though she’s a down-the-line progressive and a mixed-race military veteran who would seem an ideal presidential candidate for the Democrats.
The Democratic Party is now fielding presidential and vice-presidential candidates who are all in with the war party. Joe Biden was an instigator of the Iraqi war. Senator Kamala Harris recruited her foreign policy advisors for her presidential bid from the Center for a New American Security, which has long pushed Democrats to embrace war.
While I am grateful for pro-liberty, antiwar Republicans such as Rand Paul, Thomas Massie, and, of course, former congressman and 1988 LP presidential candidate Dr. Ron Paul, the fact is that the war party is too embedded in the infrastructure of the two major parties and the D.C. establishment. Neither Republicans nor Democrats will change our disastrous foreign policy.
If we are to adopt a policy of peace, antiwar activists must work outside the two-party system. We should be guided by independent think tanks that are free of the corrosive influence of the military-industrial complex, citizen groups that pressure elected officials to stand up to the warfare state, and alternative parties that are not beholden to the military-industrial complex.
As the Libertarian nominee for president, I am proud to build on the work of former Libertarian presidential candidates Ron Paul and the late Harry Browne to bring the message of peace, prosperity, and liberty to the American people. As I campaign from coast to coast, the reception I have gotten convinces me that the majority of Americans want peace.
If I am elected, I will begin to bring troops home from the Middle East on day one of my presidency. As a member of a party that is not beholden to any part of the military establishment, I will not budge under pressure from the military-industrial-think-tank-media complex. Instead of seeking a “benevolent global hegemony,” I will make America like a giant Switzerland: armed and neutral. Furthermore, I will remove barriers to free trade with all nations, which will reinforce peaceful relations.
Republicans and Democrats cannot deliver peace because they are loyal to special interests that benefit from continual war.
Libertarians, who have been fiercely committed to a non-interventionist policy throughout their party’s 49-year existence, stand ready and eager to deliver the peace and neutrality that Americans want and need.
Jo Jorgensen is the 2020 Libertarian Party presidential nominee, and was the party’s 1996 vice-presidential nominee. She is a businesswoman, entrepreneur, and senior lecturer at Clemson University. She holds an MBA and a Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology. Her ticket is on the November ballot in all 50 states.
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