April 15, 2002
Were the Founding Fathers Wrong about Foreign Affairs?
Last week I appeared on a national television news show to discuss recent events in the Middle East. During the show I merely suggested that there are two sides to the dispute, and that the focus of American foreign policy should be the best interests of America - not Palestine or Israel. I argued that American interests are best served by not taking either side in this ancient and deadly conflict, as Washington and Jefferson counseled when they warned against entangling alliances. I argued against our crazy policy of giving hundred of billions of dollars in unconstitutional foreign aid and military weapons to both sides, which only intensifies the conflict and never buys peace. My point was simple: we should follow the Constitution and stay out of foreign wars.
I was immediately attacked for offering such heresy. Weíve reached the point where virtually everyone in Congress, the administration, and the media blindly accepts that America must become involved (financially and militarily) in every conflict around the globe. To even suggest otherwise in todayís political climate is to be accused of "aiding terrorists." Itís particularly ironic that so many conservatives in America, who normally adopt an "America first" position, cannot see the obvious harm that results from our being dragged time and time again into an intractable and endless Middle East war. The empty justification is always that America is the global superpower, and thus has no choice but to police the world.
The Founding Fathers saw it otherwise. Jefferson summed up the noninterventionist foreign policy position perfectly in his 1801 inaugural address: "Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations- entangling alliances with none." How many times have we all heard these wise words without taking them to heart? How many champion Jefferson and the Constitution, but conveniently ignore both when it comes to American foreign policy? Washington similarly urged that the US must "Act for ourselves and not for others," by forming an "American character wholly free of foreign attachments." Since so many on Capitol Hill apparently now believe Washington was wrong, they should at least have the intellectual honesty to admit it next time his name is being celebrated.
In fact, when I mentioned Washington the other guest on the show quickly repeated the tired cliche that "We donít live in George Washingtonís times." Yet if we accept this argument, what other principles from that era should we discard? Should we give up the First amendment because times have changed? How about the rest of the Bill of Rights? Itís hypocritical and childish to dismiss certain founding principles simply because a convenient rationale is needed to justify foolish policies today. The principles enshrined in the Constitution do not change. If anything, todayís more complex world cries out for the moral clarity provided by a noninterventionist foreign policy.
Itís easy to dismiss the noninterventionist view as the quaint aspiration of men who lived in a less complicated world, but itís not so easy to demonstrate how our current policies serve any national interest at all. Perhaps an honest examination of the history of American interventionism in the 20th century, from Korea to Vietnam to Kosovo to the Middle East, would reveal that the Founding Fathers foresaw more than we think.