When we talk about federal overreach, most people think about domestic issues. They focus on federal actions related to education, healthcare, social policy, guns, religion and so-on. But federal overreach in the realm foreign policy is just as dangerous to American liberty – perhaps more so.

In his Political Observations dated 20 April 1795, James Madison warned us about the danger to liberty when a government embroils itself in foreign interventions and war. It’s no different than domestic policy. When the federal government engages in unconstitutional actions abroad, the consequences are a loss of liberty and a larger, more powerful central government at home.

The U.S. has been constantly at war since 9/11. And for all practical purposes, America has been fighting foreign wars for more than a century. The monetary cost alone is extraordinary.

The Numbers

According to some very good studies, 25 percent of federal spending goes to foreign and defense policy.

In 2013:

  • The DoD base budget which included mandatory and discretionary spending was $531.7 billion.
  • A sneaky budget gimmick called Overseas Contingency Operation (or Global War on Terror spending) added another $88.5 billion in defense spending.
  • The Department of Energy’s nuclear program added $19.4 billion
  • Veterans Affairs spending came in at $137.7 billion, including spending for veterans of past and current wars.
  • There was $46.3 billion in spending by the Department of Homeland Security and all other federal agencies that spent money on “homeland security.”

When you add up these numbers, along with the interest on the debt, the United States spends about a trillion dollars a year on defense.

Are we safer after of all this spending?

Clearly not.

Even the war hawks admit the threats to the United States are more numerous today than they were in 2001. So, if we are not safer what have we gotten for our trillions spent?

In fact, we have more wars that have nothing to do with the original missions in Afghanistan. Executive power has increased dramatically. Costs are soaring. Debt is increasing. People are dying. The wars are failing.

This was all avoidable, of course. Anyone familiar with the nature of government could have foreseen this financial, military, and constitutional disaster. Any government, at any time or place, will use war to increase its power and influence over its citizens or subjects. Those who demand that the government avoid more unnecessary wars take their cues from the great American statesman, James Madison.

Madison knew that the arch of a government’s power only increases – and doesn’t return to the status quo ante – during wars.

By examining one of Madison’s famous passage about war in Political Observations, you can understand why his advice on war is so important:

War Begets War

Madison: Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other.

For example, studying the history of World War I and its aftermath reveals the terrible consequences that led to World War II. The international order after World War II led to the Cold War. The Cold War then led to dozens of smaller wars around the world. American involvement in the Middle East during the Cold War gave Osama bin Laden a pretext to a