By Patrick Harris
American Solidarity Party National Committee, Secretary
Subsidiarity is one of the concepts that gets thrown around a lot in discussions of Christian democratic politics—for good reason, to be sure. Different forms and levels of governance exist for different purposes, and higher levels should support, not supplant, lower forms. Ordinarily, this principle is used (and sometimes abused) in discussions about whether or how the state should intervene in a particular economic or social issue. But there’s really no issue in which the logic of subsidiarity is clearer and more obvious than in foreign policy.
Put simply, it’s good that there are different countries. They exist for a reason. That doesn’t mean nationalism is an unmixed good, of course; untempered by an acknowledgement of human dignity that is borderless, it can be quite dangerous. Yet, it remains true that people are best able to govern themselves in community with others with whom they share interests, values, traditions, and institutions. Likewise, the people best qualified to decide the internal arrangements of a country are the people who will live with the consequences.
Consequently, there is, or ought to be, a very high bar to clear for one country to meddle in the internal politics of another. The capacity to intervene is not the same thing as the competence or the right to do so, even in the service of a good cause. We understand this in domestic politics when, say, the state government makes it impossible for a town to change its property taxes or zoning laws. We understand this in private life when your Aunt Helen won’t shut up about how you should really change your tacky drapes and keeps telling your kids they can come live with her if you won’t let them keep a golden retriever in your walk-up apartment.
The current US foreign-policy establishment is a bit of an Aunt Helen—if Aunt Helen had eleven aircraft-carrier strike groups and a recurring habit of cluster-bombing the houses of people with bad drapes.
Admittedly, the comparison is a tad frivolous. There are a lot of terrible rulers in the world today, with terrible crimes to their names. Until a few years ago, Muammar Gaddafi, the former leader of Libya, was one of them. Despite decades of not posing a tangible threat to the United States and voluntarily giving up its nuclear program, it’s safe to say Gaddafi’s regime was not a Jeffersonian democracy. Gaddafi massacred Libyan citizens in an attempt to hang on to power, and threatened to massacre more. So, as a noted American stateswoman put it gleefully, “We came, we saw, he died.”
Outcomes like those in Libya are why American politics needs a party with a commitment to just war principles. They show why it’s important for the American Solidarity Party to offer a credible and coherent alternative to the two-party duopoly in foreign policy, not only in terms of condemning unjust wars, but also in taking a critical view of the mindset that makes them possible in the first place. Part of that mindset is the assumption that the interests of the United States are essentially boundless, that there is no place in the world where we do not have the right—even the duty—to intervene. Part of it is the belief that, in any given crisis, doing something is always better than doing nothing, since American “credibility” is at stake. Part of it is the hope against hope that there are always readily-identifiable “good guys” in every situation, and that American attempts to tip the scales on their behalf will never backfire.
A countervailing force for realism and restraint is desperately needed. That’s true not just in the case of the wars we fight directly; it’s also true of conflicts we facilitate through proxies and clients. (I’ve written about the disaster that is Yemen here, and things have gotten worse since then.) It’s true of our efforts to coerce foreign governments through sanctions and to dictate the outcomes of foreign elections or political crises through ostensibly peaceful means, which have a peculiar way of escalating.
Late last month, Marco Rubio provided a great case in point, as he often does. The senior senator from Florida appeared to taunt Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro by tweeting a series of pictures of deposed foreign dictators, including an image of Muammar Gaddafi when he was in power juxtaposed with his bloody visage while he was being tortured and killed by an angry mob during the Libyan Civil War (the one in 2011). Aside from proving that borderline sociopathy is a bipartisan condition when it comes to foreign affairs, Rubio’s tweet makes clear that the most diehard hawks are happy to piggyback off the more limited steps the US has taken to intervene in Venezuela.
Make no mistake: in recognizing the opposition leaders and attempting to assist them in ousting the Maduro government, the US has already committed itself to a policy of regime change. If the situation there worsens further, it is entirely possible that we will find out what President Trump’s assertion that “all options are on the table” really means. The potential slide toward more drastic measures is precisely why a party committed to just war principles should seek to promote a broader strategic posture of restraint. As one of the great cultural touchstones for Millennials reminds us, fools rush in.
You might ask, “What about solidarity?” Shouldn’t we care about people suffering under corrupt governments? Far be it from me to suggest that solidarity stops at the water’s edge. International cooperation should be part of any Solidarist platform. We should seek peace among nations and common effort on questions of common concern. None of that makes the United States an effective or disinterested arbiter in the affairs of every nation on the globe.
National sovereignty is not an absolute good, nor is restraint the same thing as isolation. But the overwhelming tendency in American foreign policy for decades has been toward attempts to expand American hegemony, with disasters like the Iraq War brushed aside as mere aberrations. Meanwhile, a huge swath of the electorate, cutting across party lines, is looking for an alternative to an interventionist consensus that does a disservice to both our interests and our values. The American Solidarity Party can be that alternative, if it is willing to look beyond the stale and destructive clichés that have shaped our foreign policy debates for far too long.