Yet none of these supposedly overarching theories provides an adequate explanation for how and why we find ourselves in our present predicament. America has bankrupted itself building a global empire with bases, protectorates, and colonies on every continent – and yet still we persist in pursuing a policy that is taking us to the brink of the financial abyss. Our social safety net is in serious disrepair, and shows every sign of failing: our banking system is a rickety house of cards, and the national housing crisis – the latest manifestation of the financial bubble – is dragging the middle class down into penury. Yet still we send billions – nay, trillions – overseas to prop up a precarious overseas empire. How is this possible –and why is it happening?
In positing a libertarian theory of international relations we depart from the prescriptive and focus on the descriptive: that is, we ignore – for the moment – the question of what the ideal foreign policy ought to be, and concentrate on the problem of describing how our present policies are formulated and implemented. We start, therefore, with the question of who is doing the formulating.
In “democratic” societies, we are told, “the people” are the ultimate policymakers, because they – in theory – hold their rulers accountable, not only at the polls but in the forum of public opinion and whatever parliamentary apparatus shares power with the executive. In practice, however, foreign policy is a completely separate realm, the domain of “experts” and specialists ensconced in think tanks – and, of course, the higher reaches of the councils of state.
Furthermore, unless a major war is in progress, one that has an obvious effect on the economic and political life of the nation, foreign policy is the least of the public’s concerns. This is especially true in the US, but also in a broader sense: it’s only natural that people are usually concerned with events closer to home, where their knowledge of the context is more extensive.
This distancing of the citizenry from the policymaking process is accentuated, in the US, by the erosion of congressional power in the foreign policy realm. In the latter days of the American empire, policy is made almost entirely within the White House and the national security bureaucracy: Congress ceded its war-making powers long ago.