How should America respond to the current conflict in the Middle East?
Well, if we followed the foreign policy of George Washington and others in the founding generation, we wouldn’t.
This is not a popular position.
I remember a common refrain when Ron Paul was running for president. “I like that Ron Paul feller, except for his foreign policy.”
Confession: I said this.
Here’s an ironic twist on that mantra.
“I like George Washington, except for his foreign policy.”
While you won’t hear anybody say this, it perfectly reflects the views of the vast majority of people. Washington is revered, but if you spell out his foreign policy, most people in the U.S. would reject it.
So, let’s spell out Washington’s policy. He laid it out very clearly in his farewell address.
Here it is.
That was his foreign policy in a nutshell.
In his farewell speech, he implored the country to “Observe good faith and justice towards all nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all.”
Not just some nations. All of them.
He went on to say that the U.S. should exclude “permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular nations, and passionate attachments for others.”
In other words, don’t pick sides.
“The nation which indulges towards another a habitual hatred or a habitual fondness is in some degree a slave. It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest.”
Washington went on to say “a passionate attachment of one nation for another” produces a variety of evils. Including a tendency to get dragged into quarrels and wars “without adequate inducement of justification.”
Washington also said favoritism toward certain nations “gives to ambitious, corrupted, or deluded citizens (who devote themselves to the favorite nation), facility to betray or sacrifice the interests of their own country, without odium, sometimes even with popularity; gilding, with the appearances of a virtuous sense of obligation, a commendable deference for public opinion, or a laudable zeal for public good, the base or foolish compliances of ambition, corruption, or infatuation.”
I think the billions given to Ukraine in the last couple of years bear this out.
Instead of favoritism or antipathy, Washington said, “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.”
Trade makes for peace.
Washington wasn’t alone in holding this non-interventionist viewpoint. Thomas Jefferson staked out a similar positon in a letter to Elbridge Jerry.
I am for free commerce with all nations, political connection with none, & little or no diplomatic establishment: and I am not for linking ourselves, by new treaties with the quarrels of Europe, entering that field of slaughter to preserve their balance, or joining in the confederacy of kings to war against the principles of liberty.
Tenth Amendment Center director Michael Boldin dug deeper into the foreign policy of the founders in a recent Path to Lberty podcast. and explored the genisis of these ideas. As he put it, “Grasping their approach means understanding where it comes from as well.”
Sadly, this will be widely ignored. It will even make some of you mad. The quickest way to get people to abandon founding principles is to suggest that maybe the U.S. shouldn’t be involved in every war or dispute in the world.
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