Thursday, September 18, 2014

Foreign policy foreign to Founders

What would George Washington think of the foreign relations of our Presidents for the last 100 years?  Or even two hundred years?

Consider what George Washington wrote in his “Farewell Address”:

“Hence likewise they will avoid the necessity of those overgrown military establishments, which under any form of government are inauspicious to liberty, and which are to be regarded as particularly hostile to republican liberty.”

Poor George probably spun in his grave when Madeleine Albright said, “What's the point of having this superb military that you're always talking about if we can't use it?”

“…the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party … opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which find a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another.”

How often does the influence of Israel hamper U.S. policy in the Middle East?  Sometimes the Democrats and Republicans both work overtime to show how great their support of Israel is.

“Excessive partiality for one foreign nation and excessive dislike of another cause those whom they actuate to see danger only on one side, and serve to veil and even second the arts of influence on the other. Real patriots, who may resist the intrigues of the favorite, are liable to become suspected and odious, while its tools and dupes usurp the applause and confidence of the people to surrender their interests.”

Japan and Vietnam have forgiven the U.S. for the damage done to them.  I wonder when the U.S. will get around to forgiving Cuba and Iran for the minor damage done to it.

“The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is, in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible. So far as we have already formed engagements, let them be fulfilled with perfect good faith. Here let us stop.”

I wonder if George Washington would appreciate being called “the leader of the free world”?

“Why quit our own to stand upon foreign ground? Why, by interweaving our destiny with that of any part of Europe, entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of European ambition, rivalship, interest, humor, or caprice?”

George Washington really would really disapprove of the hundreds of U.S. bases around the world.

“It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world—so far, I mean, as we are now at liberty to do it, for let me not be understood as capable of patronizing infidelity to existing engagements (I hold the maxim no less applicable to public than to private affairs, that honesty is always the best policy)—I repeat it therefore, let those engagements be observed in their genuine sense. But in my opinion it is unnecessary and would be unwise to extend them. Taking care always to keep ourselves, by suitable establishments, on a respectably defensive posture, we may safely trust to temporary alliances for extraordinary emergencies.”

Would George Washington approve of the U.S. staying in NATO after the collapse of the Soviet Union?

“But if I may even flatter myself that [these counsels] may be productive of some partial benefit, some occasional good, that they may now and then recur to moderate the fury of party spirit, to warn against the mischiefs of foreign intrigue, to guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism—this hope will be a full recompense for the solicitude for your welfare by which they have been dictated.”

Unfortunately, faction arose strongly shortly after Washington left office – Jefferson and Adams became strong political opponents.  Fortunately, they did become friends later in life.

Both Jefferson and Madison waged war on the Barbary Pirates who demanded tribute to not attack U.S. ships in the Mediterranean and ransom for captured sailors.  These were wars with limited objectives that ended with treaties favorable to the United States.

On the other hand Madison’s war with Great Britain was called just that by those opposed to it – “Mr. Madison’s War”.  The opposition was particularly strong in New England where many merchants continued to trade with Britain.

One of the first major expansions of U.S. influence was the Monroe Doctrine to curb any influence by European powers over the newly independent countries of Latin America.

“The occasion has been judged proper for asserting, as a principle in which the rights and interests of the United States are involved, that the American continents, by the free and independent condition which they have assumed and maintain, are henceforth not to be considered as subjects for future colonization by any European powers.”

How often did the U.S. interfere with “the free and independent condition” of these countries?  George Washington’s “foreign intrigue” certainly was practiced in Latin America by many of his successors.

The very faction that Washington warned against, one section of the country against another, led to the Civil War.

And on and on it went, war after war.  Some required U.S. involvement; many didn’t.  Some of the latter were called “wars of choice” by critics.

Those who signed the Constitution and promoted it knew that circumstances and the Constitution would change, but would they approve of all the changes?