The Founding Fathers of the United States envisioned a government just large enough to defend the country’s borders and it’s citizens. They warned against war for resources, brought on by a politicized economy. They warned against treaties and agreements with foreign government, and the loss of control Americans would have over why war was fought. Finally, they warned against the industry of war. This article will detail these warnings, along with providing current examples of US foreign policy that blatantly ignores the wisdom of America’s founding.
America’s original foreign policy was one shaped by a society ridding itself of a tyrannical force, whose hand influenced every aspect of life. From the confiscation of property in the form of taxes, to sharing one’s house with a solider sworn to a crown across the sea.
This newly freed society was filled with individuals who had been living under this force. The protection of their property and basic freedoms were paramount to them. The idea that a government of this society would ever have the power to violate an individual’s privacy in their home, or steal their money to sell arms to a modern monarchy without their representation would mean an end to a life of liberty.
Both of these abuses are results of a foreign policy that reaches out to the world aggressively. Only an outside threat could force the government inside a person’s home or spend indiscriminately on their “defense”. If a government’s foreign policies are enacted transparently and with cause, its actions are the will of the people. A human’s last wish is an unsafe and difficult day-to-day life. The founders of America knew they had to put checks in place, to make sure the people’s wishes were granted.
The founders specifically warned us to state away from wars for economic resources. As Washington echoes in his Farewell Address, “The great rule of conduct for us…is in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible.” I always like to think of “us” as the government in this speech. He is speaking as an exiting executive after all. The “commercial relations” of the private markets of America should function without the political influence or interference of a power seeking government.
The federal government should not have an opinion on what goods the market demands. More importantly, it does not have the power to hire out its strength of force to one special company (foreign or domestic) to drive one good in and another out. The American government’s search for empire and global hegemony can be seen as the domination of all fields of industry by government favored interests. The destruction or reform of foreign cultures along the way is just a consequence.
The idea alliances with foreign power was another warning by the authors of the Constitution. George Washington, and later Jefferson, warned against a government allowing interests out of step with the “will of the people” to have influence over federal policies. These policies directly affect the individuals that live under that government. The “entangling alliances” mentioned by Jefferson in his inaugural pledge, and the act of “interweaving our destiny” by Washington in his farewell address, are these types of policies.
“….peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none” – Jefferson’s 1st Inaugural Speech
Almost immediately, the country’s economic and social path begins moving away from the true domestic wants and needs. A government with the power to spend money and go to war should do neither without the people’s prosperity in mind. Its alliances and foreign “interweaving” that bankrupts the economy of the home country. Clearly something outside the day-to-day wishes we spoke of earlier. Fighting wars for “European ambition” does not deliver fruit back home.
Adams states in his July 4th Address that even if another nation is fighting for its independence from tyranny, the government of the United States cannot risk the liberty of its citizens for involvement in a foreign cause:
“She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence…..The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force…she might become the dictatress of the world…no longer the ruler of her own spirit…”
The results of the first two warnings from the founders help create the third. John Quincy Adams stated that America “does not go abroad in search of monsters to destroy”. He knew as well as we do that this search leads to misfortune for many and profit for few. Today we call it the military-industrial-complex. This industry grows by a government looking to expand its reach. The industry and government work together to find willing partners in the game, or conquer anyone who is uninterested in playing.
Today it is obvious to anyone paying attention that our foreign policy is imperial in nature. Special interests dictate the military’s next theater of conflict. All anyone needs to do is look up which multinational corporation has made a deal with a government in a resource rich area. Chances are American intervention isn’t very far behind. The three dangers the Founders warned about have combined to create what we have today. An imperialistic global policy supported by select members of all major industries. This military-industrial-economic-complex is an entity that operates without much (if any) oversight by the American people. The major geopolitical stories of the day are perfect examples of what the Founders warned about:
- The rekindling of Cold War-era tension between the U.S. and Russia is a prime example of aggressive imperial action which has no grounds in true “American interest”. Using the excuse of NATO, powerful interests in the natural resource and arms industries have expanded their influence eastward to the borders of Russia ever since the end of the Cold War. The breaking up of the Russian territory has always been a goal of western interventionists. Ukraine is just another round in the game of empire being played by the “West” and Russia.
- The whole idea of America having a foreign policy “initiative” would make the Founders skin crawl. So it is safe to say that President Obama’s “Asian Pivot” has no place as an American policy. The same imperial interests that have pushed up on Russia, are also moving east of the oil-rich Middle East to shore up influence in Asia. With China becoming the world’s economic dial-mover, European and “American” interests are in jeopardy. Shipping lanes and military placement is the name of game here. This blind imperialism over the populations of East Asian nations for economic control will come at a price for everyday American citizens. Blowback is inevitable.
- Speaking of the idea of blowback, the U.S. Government’s policy towards Islamic extremists in the Middle East should make the most avid neo-conservative scratch their head. Clearly the interests of the American public do not matter to the executive branch in Washington. The last group Americans would agree to support are those responsible for the attacks of 9/11. But that is exactly what has happened in Libya, Syira and northern Iraq. Those responsible for the Benghazi attack, the ultra-conservative Islamic fighters of eastern Libya are veterans of the Iraq War. Fighting against the U.S. ground troops during the occupation. The overthrow of Gaddafi and the confirmed gun-running operations afterward, has only assisted the extremist elements. With an occupied country in Northern Africa, the weapons used during the Libyan war have found themselves in the hands on rebels in Syria. These rebels destabilize that country, along with occupying the northern part of Iraq. Escalating violence in the formally U.S.-controlled areas of Iraq only proves the theory of blowback.
Neo-conservatives teach us that America is run on “national greatest,” let’s not fall prey to the all too familiar cry of “we no longer live in the times of the Founders,” It is the aggressive economic and militarily actions by the American Government that hamper free trade and travel, and undermine diplomacy. The ideas peace among nations and voluntary interaction between a government and its people are the cornerstone of American foreign and domestic policy.
- The Founders’ Foreign Policy: An Introduction - June 5, 2014