A commenter suggests that classical liberal principles are an impractical guide to international issues. Susan Behrend writes,

You are forgetting one thing – leaving a chaotic Afghanistan to the Taliban led directly to the 9/11 attacks. When the Soviets left, the world community just left the Afghans to sort it all out. They didn’t do a very good job of it. . . . We can’t leave Iraq to descend into becoming a failed state, unable to prevent al-Qaeda from establishing training camps. It is too easy for them to acquire weapons and transport them to our shores. THe problem with the pure ideology of classical liberalism is that its very purity makes it impractical in the real world. . . . What you say may be consistent with Locke et al, but it may not be consistent with keeping this country safe from harm

I agree that this is a dangerous world (of course!) and that our decisions must be based on realities. However, without principles and standards we have no way of judging reality and choosing what is the best course of action. As I have noted in my postings on this matter, there will always be empirical questions of fact to debate, and only then may we wisely apply our principles. I am glad that Susan brought up the emprical questions she raises.

However, I think that it is simply wrong to suggest that our government had a right, much less a responsibility, to project force into Afghanistan after the Soviet withdrawal in order to prevent an attack on New York City nearly fifteen years later. We could hardly have drawn such a conclusion at the time or even in the years leading up to 9/11. Of course, Susan surely means the Afghanistan situation as an analogy to the present time, but the point remains: we have no way of predicting such remote threats and hence no sensible and effective way of countering them.

There is one thing we do know, however, and it is this: if we had operated on classical liberal principles during the mid to late 1990s, we would have answered the attacks on the United States—USS Cole, Somalia, etc.—forcefully, and that might indeed have prevented 9/11 from happening.

Using remote possibilities as premises for military action around the world is precisely what gets a nation in trouble. Responding firmly and effectively to real or imminent offenses is what keeps a nation out of trouble.