That line is from a great column by Steve Chapman, who wonders why NATO still exists. If you read this column and Mark Steyn’s recent National Review article (which I blogged about here), you will have a good grasp of what makes libertarian foreign policy very compelling.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates went to Europe recently to announce that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization may have a “dismal future” and that before long, American leaders “may not consider the return on America’s investment in NATO worth the cost.” Why does he make that sound like a bad thing? “Watch out! We may have to stop spending so much money protecting countries that can protect themselves!” …Its entire purpose was to protect Western Europe from the Soviet and Warsaw Pact forces in Eastern Europe, which were a plausible threat to invade and conquer. But at this point, maintaining NATO is like keeping forts in South Dakota to defend settlers against hostile Indians. The Western alliance won the Cold War, and in the absence of some major, general threat, Gates would do better to ask why it needs to be preserved. …Ever since the end of the Cold War, NATO has been an answer in search of a question. It validates what Ronald Reagan is credited with saying: “Nothing is so permanent as a temporary government program.” Everyone understood why we kept huge forces in (West) Germany a generation ago. But today, it’s a puzzle. Who are they supposed to fight? The Finns? Missions like Libya are an attempt to justify an organization that has outlived the problem it was created to solve. …The defense secretary fumes that too many countries “enjoy the benefits of membership” but “don’t want to share the risks and costs.” Of course they do. If you let people join a nice club without paying dues, how many would turn it down? And if you later asked them to mop the floors, how many would grab a bucket? Our allies are behaving rationally, and we keep wondering why. Gates may enjoy continually pounding his head against a brick wall. But the rest of us might find it feels really good to stop.
I suppose it would be appropriate to acknowledge that the NATO example is very simple and straightforward. It’s much more challenging for libertarians (and everyone else) to figure out how to respond to something like Islamic terrorism. Ending the nation-building projects in Iraq and Afghanistan would be a good start, to be sure, but I strongly doubt whether that would have any significant effect on the threat of attacks. I don’t pretend to know the answer, but perhaps the drone attacks are the least-worst approach. Simply stated, keep cutting the heads off the snakes.