Monday, February 20, 2012

George Washington, Isolationist

Libertas et Memoria rightly rejects the "holiday celebrating the various holders of that office, noble and ignoble alike," and "leave[s] for another time the honoring of presidents like John Tyler, Franklin Pierce, Woodrow Wilson, Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton" — Washington's birthday. Instead, he suggests that "it might be a wise idea to read and ponder the summation of his public life, his majestic Farewell Address, issued by Washington as his final statement to the nation at the end of his presidency."

Indeed. George Washington's Farewell Address is undoubtedly "one of the great documents of American political thought," about which Bill Kauffman once said, "One doubts if any secular sutra has ever been violated with such brutal regularity… especially in its foreign-policy injunctions."

The Founder warns us against today's Israel-firsters, arguing rightly that "a passionate attachment of one Nation for another produces a variety of evils." About those who would shed American blood and treasure in the Middle East, he explains, "Sympathy for the favorite Nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest, in cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter, without adequate inducement or justification."

This, he argues, "leads also to concessions to the favorite Nation of privileges denied to others, which is apt doubly to injure the Nation making the concessions; by unnecessarily parting with what ought to have been retained; and by exciting jealousy, ill-will, and a disposition to retaliate, in the parties from whom equal privileges are withheld." Blowback, anyone?

Furthermore, as if having today's neocons in mind, he writes, "And it 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."

Again, the current Iran-Israel confluct comes to mind with these words: "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." And those who refuse to drink the Israeli kool-aid: "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."

His final counsel in this matter: "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 connexion as possible."

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1 Comments:

Blogger Mark in Spokane said...

Great post, and thanks for the link! I enjoyed your summary of Washington's views on foreign policy, but I would suggest one change in perspective. Washington wasn't an isolationist -- he favored commerce and interactions with other nations, and he sought out improved relations with the Great Powers in Europe, particularly England and Russia. He was a non-interventionist in other countries, and he was, as you rightly point out, opposed to alliances with other powers. But he wasn't an isolationist.

Interestingly enough, it was Washington's refusal to enter into alliances with other powers that alienated him from Jefferson, who desperately wanted the United States to side and ally with Revolutionary France. Washington was having none of that -- insisting that the United States remain free and independent of entangling alliances with other nations.

February 20, 2012 at 11:37 PM  

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