The short answer to this question is yes. It is very possible to remain true to the principles of libertarianism while applying a pragmatic approach. The two are not mutually exclusive. However, some candidates and leaders in the Libertarian Party will tell you otherwise. The most telling example is the Libertarian Party Vice Chairman, Arvin Vohra.
First, we must acknowledge that the Libertarian Party is not a party of anarchy. While there are certainly anarchists within the party, and the Statement of Principles certainly allows for this, the arguments he makes in his position both as Vice Chair and as a Senate candidate would seem to make it appear that the only acceptable libertarian is an anarchist.
One of the most glaring example is his attacks against the military. His position, while in line with the principles and platform of the Libertarian Party, also alienate many people who don’t subscribe to his specific brand, and in defending his assertions, he has essentially stated that anything contrary doesn’t belong. His positions certainly don’t have veterans coming into the party in droves, and for family with veterans and service members, they are leaving or staying away in some instances.
Today, we will use the military as an example of being pragmatic and principled.
So, first, let us examine the problems:
- The single largest budget item in discretionary spending at federal levels is defense spending. Current spending levels exceed more than $700 billion.
- Oversight on military spending is nearly non-existent and when problems are identified, there is little recourse taken by the House or Senate to ensure waste and corruption are taken care of.
- The military is deployed all over the world, to the point it could be argued that the Untied States is acting more akin to an empire, as opposed to defending its own interests and borders.
- The military is engaged in conflicts around the world that are outside the scope of defense, and it could definitely be argued that they are measures of offense and in violation of international law in some cases.
So what is the pragmatic way to approach these situations? Can we be principled without calling soldiers and Marines murderers as some have chosen to make their point? Let us examine how to approach this in a manner that is in line with principles of the Libertarian Party without alienating the majority of the country.
- The most obvious thing to address is how much spending is occurring. How do we address this while still maintaining for a defensive posture?
- First, we must recognize that the spending is out of control. There is no reason why we should spend more money than the next ten nations combined to “defend” our country. Even our largest rivals, with military technology and man power similar to our own, spend approximately 1/10 of what we do. As Libertarians, we do not have “sacred cows” so we can speak about these sorts of issues.
- Next, we must examine what money is being spent on. The biggest item is obviously on personnel. When examining the FY 2018 budget for the Department of Defense, it can be seen that more than 50% is on wages and benefits. This includes a portion spent on civilian contractors. Since civilian contractors are paid far more than their counterparts in the military, the most obvious course to take would be to eliminate these positions. As Libertarians, we can clearly call for these positions to be defunded.
- To continue on the spending issue, we must also look to what appropriations are being made for equipment. When we examine the budget, we find that failed programs are still being funded. Items like the F-35, which has proven to be a spending boondoggle, are still being made. When a program fails, that item needs to be immediately cut. Typically, Senators and Representatives have a hard time doing so, because they “created jobs” in their home states/districts. They refuse to acknowledge that it is a waste of money. As Libertarians, we need to call out such programs and ask that they be cut.
- While the list of spending on items continues, and should be addressed by federal candidates, we cannot spend a whole paper devoted to every piece of spending. Moving on, we, as Libertarians, must call out the “use or lose” practice of budgeting (and this is a problem with every department, not just the DoD). Essentially, this “use or lose” process means that toward the end of the fiscal year, the DoD will spend everything it still has on items it doesn’t need to ensure they get at least the same amount the following year. We need to shift this to where each year, the Department must justify not only every dollar the spent the previous year, but also justify their requests for the upcoming year. Each spending item must be examined, justified, and then it must be shown why they need that item for the next year as well.
- With that last paragraph, it ties in to point 2 from the previous section of problems: oversight. While Republicans and Democrats have no problem dragging in a partisan opposite to be grilled in a hearing, or a single issue like Benghazi, where there were several investigations, hearings, interviews, etc., when it comes to Department spending and oversight, very little is done unless there is something partisan involved to grandstand on. Instead of using these as opportunities to grandstand, they should be common practice.
- Bases around the globe need to be evaluated for defense necessity. Tied in with this is the need to begin evaluating treaties to make sure they are in line with what is really needed for defense of U.S. interests. This is a position that can be easily used by Libertarians running for office. With nearly 800 bases around the world, we clearly could stand to close some done.
- The final point is that of our forces deployed globally in conflicts. There are pragmatic ways to call for them to end:
- Abuse of the Authorization for Use of Military Force passed in 2001.
- Blowback causes more recruitment than stopping any terrorists.
- Permanent presence overseas harbors resentment among nations, instead of fostering good will.
- Occupying another country and submitting them to our way of life negates their sovereignty.
- For every alleged terrorist killed, the collateral damage outweighs the benefi
- We would save an average of about $75 billion per year by ceasing intervention in the Middle East alone.
There is a pragmatic way to approach this without being an edgelord. There is a legitimate discussion to be had, and there are definitely concerns. The approach is what matters. The one outlined above is something that nearly everyone not currently elected can get behind.
It is important to stay principled, as there are few who can claim to have principles in any level of government. You do need to be careful how you message to ensure you can actually make a difference by getting elected to office.