A Conversation with Yaron Brook and Elan Journo

Seton Hall Journal of Diplomacy and International Relations, Winter 2012 | Go to article overview

A Conversation with Yaron Brook and Elan Journo


J. .Low should the U.S. respond to the events that have gripped the Middle East over the past year? This question has been debated coundess times by the media, academics, and politicians alike. Will the toppling of authoritarian regimes unleash a wave of democracy and individual freedoms across the region? Or will the power vacuums created allow darker forces to come to the fore? For a unique answer to these questions, the Whitehead Journal looked to Dr. Yaron Brook and Elan Journo, both of the Ayn Rand Institute (ARI) in Irvine, California. Founded to promote the philosophy of twentieth-century novelist Ayn Rand - Objectivism - ARI advocates for the principles of reason, rational self-interest, individual rights, and ¿aisseçfaire capitalism. In the 2009 book Winning the Unwinnable War, both of these scholars argue for a revised U.S. foreign policy - one based on the principles that Ayn Rand stood for. To examine just what a foreign policy based on Objectivism would mean for the U.S., the Whitehead Journal's Christopher Bartolotta and Jordan McGillis spoke with Dr. Yaron Brook and Elan Journo on the Arab Spring, American interests, Iran, China, and much more.

Whitehead Journal: The uprisings in the Middle East have received a lot of attention over the past year. Do you view these movements as a positive development for the United States and its interests in the region? How do you approach this situation?

Elan Journo: When talking about U.S. interests, in the Middle East or anywhere else, we take a distinctive approach. We define the basic purpose of foreign policy as an extension of the government's proper function: to protect the individual rights of Americans to their life, liberty, and property. Our national interest, then, consists in safeguarding the lives and freedom of Americans in the face of foreign threats.

That stands in contrast to salient approaches in foreign policy - for instance, realism, liberal internationalism, and neoconservatism. Should we purchase the precarious, immoral friendship of some tyrant who tomorrow seeks to stab us in the back? No. Should we serve the world's have-nots with foreign aid, doling out grain, medical supplies, cash? No. Should we go on a crusade to bring ballot boxes to Iraq and elsewhere, à la Bush? No. Such policies, we argue, are at odds with - indeed, subvert - the goal of protecting the lives and freedom of Americans.

But, should we assert our interests - the safeguarding of the freedom of Americans - and should we use the full range of coercive options, including military force, in retaliatory self-defense when facing objective threats? Yes. Should we distinguish morally between our allies and enemies - acting consistently across time to encourage and support our friends, while shunning, ostracizing, and, when necessary, thwarting enemies? Yes. These key elements - the Americans, and the centrality or moral judgment in foreign-policy thinking -inform our approach.

To sum it up briefly, in our view, U.S. national interests reduces to the aggregate interest of American citizens to have their rights defended, to live free from foreign threats and attacks. We base our approach on the moral-political ideas of Ayn Rand, along with the founding principles of America.

Yaron Brook: When I look at the turmoil in the Middle East, the prospects are depressing. We have long been concerned that adherents of Islamic totalitarianism would rise to power. By the term Islamic totalitarianism, I'm referring to many groups - the Muslim Brotherhood, Al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Islamist regimes in Iran and Saudi Arabia. Despite their differences, what unites them as an "ism," as an ideological movement, is the ideal of enforcing the rule of Islamic law (Sharia) - as an all-encompassing principle - and their ultimate goal (as far-fetched as it might seem to us in the West) of imposing Sharia across the world - by force if necessary.

Today, the situation is far, far worse than even I would have projected when the protesters in Tunisia, Egypt, and elsewhere first took to the streets. …

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