In a word: harshly
With election season upon us -- indeed, when did it ever end? -- anti-interventionists are faced with a dilemma: since the leadership of both major parties, including their respective candidates for the presidency, support our foreign policy of global meddling, is there any place in the political system for us?
The answer is an emphatic yes. Ron Paul is a good example of how one anti-interventionist politician found his place in our pro-interventionist two-party system. Dennis Kucinich was another good example, at least until recently. Yet there is no doubt this is a difficult row to hoe.
First, the context: Since the end of World War II, US foreign policy has been directed and managed by a bipartisan interventionist "consensus," summed up succinctly by the former "isolationist"-turned-warmonger Sen. Arthur Vandenberg, who opined -- in answer to his former co-thinkers dismayed at his betrayal -- "Politics stops at the water's edge." This idiotic aphorism gave voice to the emerging Establishment consensus in the postwar era that the US was fated to be the world's policeman: as the anti-Communist hysteria reached new heights in the US, opportunists like Vandenberg, who had opposed US entry into World War II, took the opportunity to reverse course, get with the program, and join with others in both parties who were climbing on board the "war on communism" bandwagon. (He also got a little push from his British mistress, who worked for her country's intelligence service -- but that's another story.)
In reality, the Vandenberg aphorism needs to be stood on its head: politics, for the anti-interventionist, starts at the water's edge.
This is not universally true: in, say, Spain, for example, which hasn't been a world power since the 17th century, a candidate's views on whether or not Syria ought to be subjugated to Hillary Clinton's will are marginal, at best. After all, the Spanish electorate, including the political class, has little to no influence over Hillary's subjugation agenda.
However, an American voter living in 21st America inhabits a very different context. His or her government is currently on a rampage that started on September 11, 2001, and shows no signs of ending -- indeed, the violence and ambition of Washington's worldwide "war on terrorism" is escalating at an alarming rate. Furthermore, the US has enjoyed this hegemonic advantage ever since the end of the cold war: with the demise of the Soviet Union, a military build-up that had been accelerating for decades culminated in Washington's elevation to the status of a "hyperpower" -- that is, a world power whose military capacity is unrivaled. This is neatly illustrated in the oft-cited statistic that the US military budget is more than the next 20 largest military spenders combined.
What this means is that Americans are electing a government that not only rules their own country, but also regularly imposes its will on much of the rest of the globe: they are citizens of an empire. It is, naturally, a modern empire, defined not by a formal border but by a worldwide web of multilateral arrangements, treaties, and tacit understandings in which American policymakers are inextricably entangled. They, of course, don't think of it that way: they see themselves as running an empire, instead of the empire running them.
The American empire is a global network of outright possessions, US-supported puppet regimes (e.g. Hamid Karzai's Afghanistan), protectorates (e.g., Kuwait, which just welcomed the presence of our Iraqi occupation forces), first-tier allies (e.g. the NATO powers, and Israel), and a number of second- and third-tier allies (South Korea, the Philippines, and Australia -- newly important given the Obama administration's recently inaugurated Pacific orientation, aimed at Beijing -- come immediately to mind).
In managing this vast realm, US policymakers must necessarily subordinate domestic to foreign policy. Indeed, the line between the two becomes indistinguishable, as the frontiers of empire are pushed outward, until it is completely erased. A decision to raise taxes, to take one example, must take into consideration the numerous foreign commitments and ambitions that direct our actions abroad. Empires are expensive luxury items, and paying for them is the chief concern of every empire-builder: the answer, invariably, is to raise taxes on the home front, either by formally hiking tax rates or else by printing more money and thus imposing a hidden or "invisible" tax, devaluing the dollars we have in our pockets and creating fresh funds out of thin air courtesy of the Federal Reserve.
A decision to impose regulations on certain business, for example -- or to refrain from doing so -- is often dependent on the appeasement of overseas interests. The late Chalmers Johnson pointed to the Eastasian example of US protectorates shielded by our military in return for one-way "free trade" as an example of how imperialism functions as an economic system: another name for it is mercantilism, whereby the interests of certain powerful economic actors (e.g. banks invested in the bonds of allied governments, oil companies, etc.) utilize the US Army as their private police force. It's cheaper than hiring security guards. (The Marxist analysis that imperialism is an inherent and inevitable feature of the market ignores the fact that the State favors certain economic actors over others and therefore creates a market that is in no sense "free.")
Interventionist foreign policy distorts the politics of the nation that practices it, and eventually crowds out all other concerns. The result is that ostensibly "conservative" politicians, who claim to want to reduce the power and size of government on the home front, invariably subordinate these views to the exigencies of "national security." Today we are faced with the spectacle of "limited government" conservatives advocating unlimited government power to intern American citizens, spy on them, invade their homes and investigate and harass them to no end -- in the name of our endless "war on terrorism." All through the Bush years, as the US military conquered Iraq and Afghanistan, and set its sights on Iran, these alleged fiscal conservatives agreed to shell out over $1 trillion in support of a foreign policy of "advancing freedom." They created a "national security" leviathan that is so big and out of control that no one really knows its scope, its true cost, or what it is up to. They printed money galore. It all ended in a brutal bust.
If this is "fiscal conservatism," then what is profligacy?
There is a principle at work here. Garet Garrett, editor of the Saturday Evening Post in its heyday and a leading conservative voice in the New Deal era, observed that, as a nation enters the imperial phase...
"Domestic policy becomes subordinate to foreign policy. That happened to Rome. It has happened to every Empire.
"It needs hardly be argued that as we convert the nation into a garrison state to build the most terrible war machine that has ever been imagined on earth, every domestic policy is bound to be conditioned by our foreign policy.