Thursday, July 8, 2010

George Washington's Foreign Policy and the Middle East

Glenn Greenwald highlights, once again, the fundamental problem with America's current foreign policy towards the Middle East.  In an effort to combat extremism we have attacked and occupied Afghanistan and Iraq, committed torture, held supposed extremists in prison indefinitely without charges or hearings, and failed to push back against Israeli aggressions.  As a result, no surprise, we have likely created far more extremism than we have destroyed, we are likely less safe now than we were before 9/11, and we are certainly a bigger target.

After reading Greenwald I stumbled across the following (kind of long) passage from George Washington's farewell address regarding foreign policy:
Observe good faith and justice towards all nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all. Religion and morality enjoin this conduct; and can it be, that good policy does not equally enjoin it -- It will be worthy of a free, enlightened, and at no distant period, a great nation, to give to mankind the magnanimous and too novel example of a people always guided by an exalted justice and benevolence. Who can doubt that, in the course of time and things, the fruits of such a plan would richly repay any temporary advantages which might be lost by a steady adherence to it?. . .

In the execution of such a plan, nothing is more essential than that permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular nations, and passionate attachments for others, should be excluded; and that, in place of them, just and amicable feelings towards all should be cultivated. 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. Antipathy in one nation against another disposes each more readily to offer insult and injury, to lay hold of slight causes of umbrage, and to be haughty and intractable, when accidental or trifling occasions of dispute occur. Hence, frequent collisions, obstinate, envenomed, and bloody contests. The nation, prompted by ill-will and resentment, sometimes impels to war the government, contrary to the best calculations of policy. The government sometimes participates in the national propensity, and adopts through passion what reason would reject; at other times it makes the animosity of the nation subservient to projects of hostility instigated by pride, ambition, and other sinister and pernicious motives. The peace often, sometimes perhaps the liberty, of nations, has been the victim.

So likewise, a passionate attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils. 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. It 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. 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.

As avenues to foreign influence in innumerable ways, such attachments are particularly alarming to the truly enlightened and independent patriot. How many opportunities do they afford to tamper with domestic factions, to practice the arts of seduction, to mislead public opinion, to influence or awe the public councils. Such an attachment of a small or weak towards a great and powerful nation dooms the former to be the satellite of the latter.

Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence (I conjure you to believe me, fellow-citizens) the jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly awake, since history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government. But that jealousy to be useful must be impartial; else it becomes the instrument of the very influence to be avoided, instead of a defense against it. 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. 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.
Our attitude and actions towards the Middle East and certain other countries shows why President Washington was right.  We've meddled and meddled so long in this region, mostly because they have a lot of oil and we love oil, that we have become a slave to it.  The War in Afghanistan is almost nine years old and the Iraq War is over six years old.  We have so much time and emotion and lives and money tied to those wars and our general conduct towards Muslim nations that we are now not able to even extricate ourselves without doing major harm to both ourselves and that region.

I wonder what the situation would be now if we had followed President Washington's advice from the start and treated that region with "an exalted justice and benevolence."  I wonder where we would be if we sacrificed our short-term desire for revenge and power for long-term strategies of patience, peace, and harmony.  But we didn't, and the prophet Washington was right, our failure to follow his advice in the Middle East has led to " frequent collisions, obstinate, envenomed, and bloody contests. The nation, prompted by ill-will and resentment, sometimes impels to war the government, contrary to the best calculations of policy."

It is not at all naive to think that this policy could be implemented today and yield long-term benefits to our nation.  It would not only help us in avoiding future wars and avoiding the creation of more extremism and hatred toward America, but it would make us as individual Americans more free.  It is not too late to change course and live up to the high ideals upon which the nation was founded.

President Washington is right, our religion and morals require us to have a more benevolent attitude towards nations we currently revile or consider our enemies, and it happens to be good public policy as well.

1 comment:

Architect said...

I agree with President Washington. War is bad; War is expensive. Trade is much better. We could get oil without annually shipping billions of dollars of military (government to government) aid to the Middle East. Government to government aid is problematic.