Many Americans objected to President Clinton’s bombing of Yugoslavia — without a declaration of war by Congress and with no threat of attack against the United States. You might be one of those who think it’s wrong to bomb innocent Serbs for the alleged sins of one man.
By attacking a smaller country without provocation, our president invited the resentment of hundreds of millions of people worldwide, as well as the active interest of terrorists who might want to react to such a dangerous foreign policy.
Who gave President Clinton the authority to jeopardize our future in this way?
Well, maybe you did. Even if you opposed Clinton’s bombing campaign, you still may have authorized it.
If you cheered when President Reagan sent troops into Grenada, you endorsed the idea that the president of the United States — at his own discretion — is free to wage war against anyone he chooses, for any reason he chooses. He need not get a declaration of war, and America need not be threatened with attack.
If you thought President Bush was “standing tall” when he sent troops to kidnap Panama’s Manuel Noriega or rescue Kuwait from Saddam Hussein, you said, in effect, that presidents should be free to attack anyone they want.
“But,” you say, “those were different circumstances. We can’t allow a communist government in the Western Hemisphere, or a drug dealer to rule Panama, or naked aggression to succeed in the Middle East.”
Or a dictator to oppress his subjects in Kosovo?
The circumstances may seem different to you, but no one asked you — and no one ever will. When you supported the previous U.S. attacks, you said that a president should be free to choose his own targets — without the constitutional requirement that Congress deliberate long enough to issue a formal declaration of war, without the common-sense requirement that our land and lives must be threatened, and without asking you first.
I don’t say these things to reproach you, but rather to warn you to beware in the future when you’re tempted to hand your favorite politician the power to do good. You will simultaneously be handing some future reprobate the power to do bad.
If you approved when President Reagan took a stand against terrorism by bombing Libya, you shouldn’t have been surprised when President Clinton took a stand against terrorism by bombing a Sudanese perfume factory.
If you give a “good” president the power to do good, you are paving the way for a bad president to exploit that power to do bad. You won’t always have your choice as president, and you will never get to choose his targets.
Power doesn’t distinguish between right and wrong. Once the power is granted, it will be used — and used for whatever purpose pleases whoever has it. And the greater the power, the more likely that ruthless people will seek control of it. So why should you give such power to any president? As P.J. O’Rourke said, that’s like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys.
Politicians will always use your support as a precedent to do whatever they choose. And this doesn’t apply only to war making.
Give the politicians the power to ban assault rifles and you give them the power to ban any kind of self-protection you might want to rely on.
Grant the politicians the power to give vouchers for private schooling and you grant them the power to tell private schools what to do.
Do these examples seem far-fetched? Such possibilities always do when raised in advance. But when you give politicians the power to do anything, they never stop at the point where you think they’ve done enough.
Libertarians know the goal isn’t to assure that only the right people get elected to positions of power. We realize that’s impossible. The goal is to minimize the politicians’ power as far as possible. What they don’t have, they can never misuse.
Almost all Republican and Democratic politicians are more eager to increase government’s ability to do “good” than in limiting power. So until all politicians are bound down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution (as Jefferson put it), we aren’t safe from any politician.