Archive for the ‘foreign policy’ Tag

U.S. vs. Islamic Fundamentalist States and an Islamic Caliphate   Leave a comment

U.S. vs. Islamic Fundamentalist States and an Islamic Caliphate.

Posted February 11, 2015 by aurorawatcherak in Foreign policy

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Russia Accuses US Mercenaries Of Inciting Civil War In Ukraine   Leave a comment

Russia Accuses US Mercenaries Of Inciting Civil War In Ukraine.

I suspect this is the pot calling the kettle black, but the kettle is plenty black.

May I suggest that Russia has been fomenting civil war and so have we? Why would we be shocked that this would be the case? Where else have we done this?

How about the entire Arab Spring?

Exceptionalism Is Not Imperialism   4 comments

                I think America was and has the potential to be “exceptional”, but I’m uncomfortable with the sort of exceptionalism that our leaders put forth. That smacks more of imperialism than a recognition of worth and I think America works best when we’re not imperialist, but I admit that we have become imperialist.

                President Obama recently spoke before the UN and said America is exceptional because we “sacrifice blood and treasure to stand up for … the interests of all” (referring to our interference with the internal workings of nations around the globe). Russian President Vladimir Putin criticized that conceit in a New Times op-ed, saying it is “extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional”. This odd advocacy for humility prompted Heritage Foundation President Jim DeMint to fire back that “all humans are created equal, but not all nations are created equal” and John McCain to argue that “the world is better” for active US leadership. Given that McCain and Obama ran against each other in 2008, I’m going to concentrate more on their statements.

                Is being “exceptional” based on an imperialist stance? I don’t think the latter necessarily flows from the former. Exceptionalism is about recognizing that what we have (or, increasingly, had) is (or was) something great. Imperialism is about imposing that something great on others.

Looking back in American history, it appears our forebears always recognized the unique feature that is America. We started with a bold statement “all men are created equal” by men who considered it perfect acceptable to seize the reins of government away from their “god-ordained” king. The Founding generation had little interest in interfering with other nations. They verbalized support for some revolutions that were moving toward self-governance, but they gave no money or troops to most. We fought the Barbary pirates because they were interfering with American trade, but we didn’t invade their country and try to turn them into an American-type republic. In George Washington’s 1794 farewell address, he wrote:

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 … 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. So far as we have already formed engagements, let them be fulfilled with perfect good faith. Here let us stop. Europe has a set of primary interests which to us have none; or a very remote relation. Hence she must be engaged in frequent controversies, the causes of which are essentially foreign to our concerns. Hence, therefore, it must be unwise in us to implicate ourselves by artificial ties in the ordinary vicissitudes of her politics, or the ordinary combinations and collisions of her friendships or enmities.


                Washington advocated restraint because he was devoted to the peace and permanency of the Union, with the goal of preserving domestic peace at all costs. He recognized that the US enjoyed a peculiarly “detached and distance situation” from other nations, a position that “invites and enables us to pursue a different course.”

               The Founding era idea of American exceptionalism was more about what America doesn’t do than what it does. Early American policy at home and abroad was about national self-restrain more than national self-assertion. Our political connections and involvement now extend far beyond European friendships and enmities. Our global interference around the globe is now routine.

               Yale sociologist William Graham Sumner criticized nascent American imperialism in 1899, noting that by claiming it had a unique civilizing mission to perform, America sounded just like every other major power at the end of the 19th century.

“There is not a civilized nation which does not talk about its civilizing mission just as grandly as we do,” he said, referring to the French, Germans, Russians, Ottoman Turks, and Spanish.

               Washington would strongly reject the “exceptionalism” expressed by today’s American politicians. He saw domestic concerns as our most important issues. Our current president, who is quite certain that he himself is exceptional, defines strict national interests as “narrow” and selfish. We must interfere with other countries because we’re better than they are.

                We were better than many other countries, but as we have attempted to force our governing system and culture on “lesser” nations, we have degraded our own exceptionalism. If we were to return to our ideals, we might recapture that unique position once more. If we are to preserve any part of our nation, we would do well to return to those ideas that made us great, return a time when Sumner’s warning made sense.

                America’s governing system worked because it did NOT do things like other nations. We were characterized by what we did NOT do. We let individuals govern themselves. We didn’t have the huge administrative state of France. We had no king like England. We stayed home and paid attention to our domestic concerns and made people from all over the world want to come here to live.

              That is exceptionalism without imperialism. Can we get back to that?

Standing on the Brink Alone   Leave a comment

This president scares me. He’s done nothing in the last five years to convince me that he knows what he is doing or that what he is doing puts America in a safer place on the world stage.

He gives great speeches. The man is a good orator. Then I read the transcript and my stomach clenches.

Months ago, this president drew a line in the sand and said “If Syria’s government crosses this line, I’ll have to respond.” At the time, I thought the danger would be that he’d move the line when the day came. The problem with a line in the sand is that if you aren’t committed to it, if you move it, you look weak and weak nations are open to all kinds of attacks. That sort of mushiness led to the Iranian hostage crisis and 911. “What attacks would Obama’s limp-wristed brinkmanship bring us to down the road?” I thought.

But, now I’m starting to really wonder. The “rebels” in Syria are Alqaeda-affiliated. They’re the bad guys as far as we’re concerned. King Assad is not a nice guy either. There’s no good side here! Why are we involved in Syria? Because it’s a stone’s throw from Israel? Yeah, okay, I can sort of accept that, but arming Alqaeda in Syria doesn’t make any sense if we’re talking about Israel’s safety. Alqaeda is dedicated to the destruction of Israel.

Assad used chemical weapons on his people. That’s bad. I denounce that. But the US’s response will be to arm Alqaeda?

We did something similar in the Iran-Iraq war — supported one side, then supported the other, then went to war against the first side and then … well, I lost our place in that square dance. I’m not sure what side we were on when 911 happened. Does it matter? Probably not!

So after spending a decade dismantling Alqaeda worldwide, we’re going to give material support to them now? On what planet is that considered a wise idea?

Kerry certainly sounded like we might commit American military assets — at least drones — to the Syria action. A USA Today poll says that 80% of us want him to get Congressional approval. Congress has warned him that he needs their approval. Syria has not attacked the United States or our assets. Britain has said they want no part of this charade. President Obama is standing alone on the brink of sticking his finger into a hornet’s nest.

Given his history, do we really think he won’t act without or without Congressional approval? I think that in his deranged little narcissistic mind, he believes this will secure him a third term (the Constitution is no bar to King Obama) … or at least a legacy that won’t fall to defunding legislation or an amendments convention as ObamaCare is likely to do.

The last place I want us to be is Syria. We should have stayed out of the whole devolution of the Arab Spring debacle. It’s not ending in a good place for anyone. But there’s a silver lining in the coming thunderhead. If Obama acts without Congressional approval, we might have grounds for impeachment.

Call your Congressional delegates!

Looking at the Arab Spring   Leave a comment

In December 2010, a wave of protest swept across North Africa. It was fascinating and terrifying to watch. I minored in political science in college — seemed like a good complement to a journalism degree. In a foreign policy class a professor (who has spent several years in the State Department) detailed for us what World War 3 might look like. It was not that long after the Iranian Revolution — Reagan had been president a couple of years, I think — so his scenario made sense.

A reform movement in the Middle East – He thought it would start in Iraq because it was next door to Iran — would take off. It would seem at first to be a democratic opposition movement to a dictator, but then an Islamic ruler something like Khomeini would arise. The movement would sweep the whole region as Islamists would one by one cast out the stable dictatorships that had been in control. Then the frightening part. Knocked loose of its moorings, this movement would suddenly lurch toward democracy and the Soviet Union would step in to prevent that. The United States would have to intervene to protect the oil supply and World War 3 would be underway. He urged all of us Alaskans to write Congress and beg them to allow more drilling on the North Slope, especially Gull Island which was a very promising (and still untapped) field north of Prudhoe Bay. The key to preventing World War 3 in 1982 was for the United States to become energy independent. (More on that subject some other time).

So, watching the Arab Spring, I doubted it was analogous to the collapse of Communism that everybody was so excited about. I remembered my professor’s warning that a sudden shift toward something looking like democracy would set off a series of events that wouldn’t work out well for anyone.

While the mainstream media celebrated the ouster of Mubarak, I maintained a sense of skepticism even as neoconservatives argued that the pro-democracy protests in Egypt and elsewhere were a triumph of Bush’s “freedom agenda” and more liberal forces demanded free elections, individual liberty, free press, religious freed, women’s rights, and free markets from the regions authoritarian monarchies. I just didn’t think spring was in the air.

Alaskans are used to false springs followed by fatal late winter.

As much as western liberals have been critical of autocrats like Murbarak and Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia, we might as well be honest that these dictators provided stability, protected the rights of women and religious minorities, and encouraged reforms of socialist economies, which opened these countries up to foreign investment and new ideas, including liberty. The Islamist parties that replaced them have extended the influence of a very narrow view of Islam, posing a threat to secular men and women. The Muslim Brotherhood may not be socialist, but they are uninterested in free market principles such as entrepreneurship and they have no intention of enabling challenges to the leadership of the “democracy” movement.

The Arab Spring has almost nothing to do with the spread of liberal (as in liberty) democracy. The values of Islam are mostly incompatible with individual rights, religious freedom and women’s rights and all the free elections in the world cannot change that. When the people vote for tyranny, it is not a move toward liberty.

Yes, Turkey’s Islamist movement led to a fairly democratic system with free markets, but that is not necessarily applicable to Egypt or Syria. Turkey is a unique historical and cultural setting. Other Islamic societies have different civilizations and may not be able to replicate the same effects. Mexico used the US Constitution almost exactly when establishing its republic. Both countries have Christian majorities. So why are they so different?

Christian communities in the Arab world now feel besieged and many thousands are fleeing to the West, depriving these societies of their less radicalized, more Western-thinking populations. These counties are regressing in social-economic development. That’s the bad news. US influence in the region is declining as a result of the fall of pro-American regimes. And, I think that’s a good thing.

The United States is constrained by diminishing economic and military power. Moreover, our policymakers seem flummoxed to define US interests in the national, ethnic and religious interests of the constantly shifting landscape. When people call for Washington to “do something” to help this group or that one, I think “NO!” We risk getting drawn into a conflict between Sunnis and Shiites that will not work out well for any of us.

If we were consistent with our founding principles, we’d back off. We’d recognize that these are not democratic-leaning movements and that democratic elections installing tyrannical oligarchies is not self-government. Yes, we have commercial interests in the Middle East. It’s really too bad that we have neglected the full development of domestic energy sources, but we at least have domestic energy sources to tap. Maybe we should get started rather than risk our commercial enterprises drawing us into a war there is no way of winning … or even picking the principled side.

The current upheaval in the Middle East will eventually run its course. How it will turn out — I don’t know. The United States can’t really do much to determine the political direction of the region. And, at this point, since it doesn’t appear to be a liberty movement, we shouldn’t try. We’ve been here before — when we would prop up dictators who supported the US (so long as the US gave them lots of money) and how did that work out for us? Right! Hold that thought!

Now let’s see if our leaders are as sensible as a woman living in Alaska.

Considering 20th Century Foreign Policy   2 comments

So, what would a truly conservative foreign policy look at in light of the Founding principles of protection of our sovereignty and support of liberty? It’s perhaps appropriate that Rand Paul spoke to the Heritage Foundation on this subject recently. I don’t wholly agree with Representative Paul, though I consider him more realistic than his father, but he made some good points.

Isolation doesn’t work. The United States in the early 19th century couldn’t avoid interaction with the world around them. The Barbary pirates needed to be dealt with because they were a threat to our commercial capacity. The British and the French once again decided that America was a good place to beat up on one another and the British felt that our sailors were a good and lawful supplement to their own.

Non-intervention was not an early American policy either, as evidenced by the Marshall Monroe plan and our limited support of the Hungarian and Greek democratic revolutions.

On the other hand, the United States since World War 2 has been far too involved in worldwide events and petty conflicts that often had nothing to do with liberty. Conservatives under the influence of the neoconservative arm of the Republican Party have been willing to support many of these adventures when we probably should not have.

I’m not a libertarian, though I have some libertarian leanings. I believe the United States involvement in WW2 was a good thing. There are wars worth fighting. Germany was attacking our merchant vessels in the Atlantic and even in Chesapeake Bay. We brought some of that on ourselves because we were supplying Great Britain with arms, but I honestly don’t think you can make the argument that we should have left a constitutional monarchy with a degree of self-government to defend against a totalitarian fascist regime. There was clearly a liberty side there, which negated any argument for neutrality. Once Germany began attacking our vessels, they were tacitly declaring war on us. I’m less convinced about our involvement with China that created the conflict with Japan. China’s imperial government was no better than Japan’s imperial government. Our government should have stayed out of it. If our merchants wanted to supply arms to China, they should have done so not as representatives of the United States government, but as private commercial ventures. Would Japan have still attacked Pearl Harbor? I don’t know. Once they did, our national sovereignty required that we respond.

Should we have rebuilt Germany and Japan following the war? I’m going to break with many conservatives and say “yes”.  I’m a pragmatic conservative. It’s probably outside the scope of the Constitution, but there are limited times when America’s ideals of liberty need to be promoted. We can compare what happened with Germany after both world wars and say definitely that our rebuilding Europe was a good thing and our occupation of Japan was also a transformation force for good. In both cases, we supported a move toward liberty and republican self-government.

We shouldn’t still be there, spending our national treasure to protect countries that have robust economies and could afford to protect themselves. We should have exited both countries by the mid-1960s, trusting to our commercial and diplomatic relationships rather than our continued, albeit friendly, military presence.

Which leads us to the topic of alliances. George Washington warned against permanent alliances and I see no evidence that he was wrong. The United States shouldn’t be involved in the United Nations. Yes, it survived when the League of Nations didn’t in large part because we supported it. That’s still not a good reason to be involved in an organization that threatens our national sovereignty and frequently supports national movements that are not toward liberty. We provide more than 40% of the budget of the UN and we host their building. That is a permanent alliance that has frequently insisted that its authority is of greater validity than US sovereignty. The United Nations has set itself up as the watchdog of democracy in the world and yet supports anti-liberty movements such as the Arab Spring that has used the popular vote to put Islamic dictators in charge of several countries. We should withdraw from the UN and give them one year to remove their building from our soil. Deprived of more than 40% of its income, the UN would fold, which might make the world a more turbulent place, but that should not be our concern. The United States of America, in order to be true to our founding principles, should choose national sovereignty and liberty over international cooperation that threaten both our sovereignty and our liberty. There are other alliance organizations that would be much more effective than the United Nations at promoting regional peace.

Conservative Foreign Policy 2   3 comments

The success of the American experiment in self-government is a result of its founding principles, set forth in the Declaration of Independence and secured by the United States Constitution. The universal and permanent truths of human equality and liberty are preserved in America by the rule of law, and are reflected in its institutions and cherished by its people.

So does that mean we have a special role to play in the world?

From the Founding, US foreign policy has been to defend the American constitutional system and the common interests of the American people by providing for the common defense, protecting freedom of commerce and seeking peaceful relations with other nations while maintaining independence so that American can govern itself according to its principles and pursue our national interests.

The Founders also were keenly aware of the universal significance of American principles and our unique responsibility for upholding and advancing those principles. As Thomas Paine wrote “The cause of America is in a great measure the cause of all mankind.” The Founders believed that the idea of human liberty and, therefore, the inherent right of self-government, were applicable not only to Americans, but to all people everywhere.

The Declaration of Independence states that all mankind is endowed with the same unalienable rights, and that to secure those rights “governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” The American Founders spoke of universal truths and created a powerful model of liberty for the whole world. They understood that America’s commitment to its principles—in both domestic and foreign policy—has profound consequences for the cause of liberty everywhere.

The American experiment was important partly because it was an example to oppressed people around the world. After touring the United States, Alexis de Tocqueville noted in 1835 that the “principal instrument” of American foreign policy is “freedom.” He meant that, in the United States, diplomacy is not just something the government does. When American citizens proclaim their faith in their principles and live them at home, they are helping to make their nation’s foreign policy, because their words and actions are a lesson for the world.

Throughout our history, American citizens have been inspired by our political, religious, and economic freedoms to act as ambassadors of liberty. As missionaries, merchants, and medics our citizen-diplomats have established schools, orphanages, and hospitals. They have translated literature, educated children, and inspired political reform in countries around the world that were oppressed and impoverished. The civic engagement of individual American citizens and their commitment to America’s founding principles are a vital part of the United States’ unique role in the world.

Yet as one nation in a world of nations, the United States has also had to practice diplomacy toward other governments. The Founders understood that America’s principles must be reflected in its relations with other nations. For them, diplomacy was not merely a means of negotiating America’s interests. It was also a tool for advancing liberty. Liberty has always been the defining principle of America—it is not merely a political preference. 

America has a unique understanding of statecraft, because the United States’ foreign policy has always been accountable to the American people through their elected representatives. The monarchies and empires of Europe did not recognize the “unalienable rights” of human liberty. Their diplomacy served the interests of their rulers, and did not reflect the consent of the governed.

The Founders believed that America’s role in the world would be limited by constitutional government. It would also be inspired by a sense of justice. That was why George Washington recommended a foreign policy of independence and strength that would allow America to “choose peace or war, as our interest, guided by justice, shall counsel.”

America is a defender of liberty at home. Abroad, the young U.S. maintained its independence and prudently pursued its interests, while standing for the idea of political freedom across the globe. The American people are not required to risk their blood and treasure in defense of the liberty of others, but the United States cannot have a foreign policy that fails to reflect the political truths that define it. America stands for the principles of liberty, independence, and self-government, and its interests are defined and shaped by those principles.

America does have a special role in the world—one that is morally and philosophically grounded in the principles of human liberty, and in its sense of justice. This means that the true consistency of American foreign policy is to be found not in its policies, which prudently change and adapt, but in its guiding principles, which are unchanging and permanent.

America’s independence and its commitment to civil and religious freedom made the United States a prosperous nation, and prosperity made us strong. And it is at this point that I feel we lost our way and need to reexamine our current path as conservatives and as a nation. While we should never shy away from identifying with liberty around the globe, there have been times when our government has pursued policies that supported despotism and conservatives cheered. We do violence to our founding principles when we imprudently follow lock-step with our government as if imperialism is an American principle.

Take a good hard look at the times the United States has propped up dictators because they were friendly to American interests. When American conservatives failed to point out that these were dictators, we erred. We were right to oppose communism, but we were wrong to prop up dictators instead. Chiang Kai-shek was a despot who tyrannized the Taiwanese. Was that better than communist rule? By supporting the puppet government of South Vietnam were we promoting liberty or simply allowing the Vietnamese to be tyrannized by a government of our choosing rather than of China’s choosing? The Shah of Iran wasn’t any better than Khomeini. Saddam Hussein was a bad man when we supported him and when we didn’t. There really was no good side in Nicaragua, including Violeta Chimorra.

By admitting those errors in judgement, the conservative movement can begin disentangling ourselves from the aggressive expansionist foreign policy of the Republican Party. I’m not suggesting we join the Libertarian Party and disarm our military to the point where Guatemalans in fruit baskets could overwhelm us, but let’s be clear about what liberty means and what supporting liberty looks like and return to doing that and refrain from doing the other. It’s not liberty because the United States government says it’s liberty. It’s liberty because it adheres to the founding principles of the Sons of Liberty.

Conservative American Foreign Policy I   2 comments

So I’m still kicking around the principles of American conservatism. How does it fit into the world in which we live?

The United States obviously hasn’t been hiding within our borders and avoiding foreign entanglements like George Washington suggested. On the other hand, maybe we misunderstand George Washington. Were the Founders isolationists with non-interference as their guiding principle? Certainly our policies have changed and adapted over the decades to respond to the real world in which we live, but principles are supposed to be unchanging and permanent. America is a defender of liberty at home and, until the 20th century, we maintained our independence and pursued our own interests while standing for political freedom across the globe. When our government’s practices have deviated from our principles, we have stumbled and conservatives have, at times, stumbled as well.

One thing to know is that isolationism was not really part of America’s political lexicon until the 20th century. It shortly came to be understood as the antithesis of internationalism. By the end of the 20th century, few objected when historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. described American reaction against Woodrow Wilson’s internationalism as a return to the “familiar and soothing isolationism” articulated by George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. I admit, that was what I was taught in high school Government class.

Throughout the 20th century, many scholars and politicians viewed America’s Founding Fathers as naïve, isolated innocents in world affairs. The academic fields of international relations and foreign policy have steadily replaced history, philosophy, and literature with the scientific method and quantitative research. This social science approach spawned researchers and practitioners who confine themselves to rigid theories that create fanciful understandings of international relations and America’s place in the world. The America’s Founders have been afforded little attention, though their principled, common-sense understanding of America’s role in the world and their example of statecraft have great relevance for the United States today.

George Washington recommended a foreign policy of independence and strength that would allow America to “choose peace or war, as our interest, guided by justice, shall counsel.” By emphasizing the importance of both interest and justice, Washington recognized that there are no easy answers to the hard questions of foreign policy. Principles must operate in a real world. The Founders sought to apply America’s principles of liberty, which define its sense of justice, to the circumstances of the day, to secure the blessings of liberty for the American people in a complex and sometimes hostile world.

US sovereign independence could be threatened by international treaties and alliances. America’s very first treaty was the 1778 military alliance with France, which helped secure American independence. A treaty of necessity, it jeopardized American interests when, during the negotiations in Paris that officially ended the Revolutionary War (1782-83) France tried to use the new country as a pawn in their greater game of European diplomacy. The US learned quickly to vigilantly guard against any encroachments upon its sovereignty—even from allies. This is why Washington cautioned against permanent military alliances that restricted the future independence of America to act in pursuit of its interests and in accordance with its principles.

Temporary alliances, however, were not out of the question in times of emergency. During Thomas Jefferson’s administration, the United States joined forces with Sweden and the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies during the Tripolitan War against the Barbary Pirates. Such foreign military cooperation was essential in defeating the Muslim privateers who were attacking American ships of commerce in the Mediterranean Sea. This was America’s first foreign war, fought just 13 years after the Constitution was ratified. The most important goal of American foreign policy continues to be defending the independence of the United States so that America can govern itself according to its principles and pursue its national interests.

The Declaration of Independence states that all mankind is endowed with the same unalienable rights and that, to secure those rights, “governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” The American Founders spoke universal truths and created a powerful model of liberty for the whole world, but they understood that America’s commitment to its principles—in both domestic and foreign policy—has profound consequences for the cause of liberty everywhere. This did not imply a duty to spread the ideas of liberty through force, but it did highlight America’s unique role in the cause of liberty in the world. Unlike the European nations, U.S. foreign policy was not manipulated by a grand strategist who controlled the levers of statecraft. Instead, American statecraft consisted of a varied and vibrant set of actors reflecting the self-governing nature and enterprising spirit of the American people. Nowhere was this more evident than in trade and commerce, a central element of America’s foreign relations.

Instead of military alliances, the U.S. sought to secure treaties of “peace and friendship” with foreign countries as a means of facilitating commerce. While European countries sponsored trading companies, conquered foreign territory, and sought to enforce mercantilism, the activity of American craftsmen, farmers, merchants, and traders far outpaced the scope or control of the U.S. government. Rather than the state propping up business, many of the Founders expected that private enterprise and the trade of the American people would be the key to America’s prosperity and national success.

America’s political ideas in the realm of foreign policy would be tested early when, in 1789, the French Revolution replaced the absolute French monarchy with a nation founded on the principles of libertéégalitéfraternité. The new French Republic soon found itself fighting a war with Great Britain and a civil war at home. The French revolutionaries appealed to the United States to support their cause. Washington quickly saw that the young and militarily unprepared American republic needed to pursue a policy of neutrality. The debate over this gave rise to America’s first political parties, by the way, as the new nation argued — not for isolationism — but for taking sides. One faction wanted to side with the French and the other faction wanted to side with Great Britain. Washington chose neutrality which worked until our independence was repeatedly threatened by both powers violating American sovereignty by impressing American sailors, obstructing sea trade, and imperiling the lives of American citizens. This led to the War of 1812 when we settled the issue of our independence and sovereignty once and for all.

European conflicts continued to extend into the Americas, threatening US national security, impeding freedom of commerce or endangering liberty somewhere in the world. As Latin America began to throw off the yoke of Spanish imperial rule, they appealed to the United States for support. This eventually culminated in the Monroe Doctrine of 1823, maintaining American independence and protecting the principles of liberty in the Americas.

The Monroe Doctrine was a statement of America’s moral opposition to the ideas of colonialism and empire. The idea of human liberty and its political corollary—the principle of self-government—were universal principles that the United States would respect in both foreign and domestic policies. America could not be isolated or unconcerned about manifestations of liberty around the world. The American system prudentially applied the political principles of the American Founding to the practice of foreign policy. Far from being a statement of isolationism, the Monroe Doctrine was a bold and assertive interpretation of world affairs and helped to shift the global order away from a system of empires and toward our modern global system of nation-states in which self-government is a respected principle.

The Declaration of Independence asserts that popular sovereignty is the preeminent principle of government. The Founders understood that the U.S. could not predetermine where liberty would spring forth, but when the desire for republican self-government does emerge, the cause of liberty should be supported. The early security of the United States itself had depended on French military assistance and foreign financial credit. These benefactors, however, could not have imposed self-government upon the Americans; they could merely support the American experiment. There is sometimes a great gap between a people’s natural right to liberty and their capacity for self-government. American foreign policy, however, has contended that when this distance is overcome organically by a people yearning for freedom, it should be acknowledged and even supported.

The debate over the appropriate means will always depend on the circumstances and should be guided by prudence. The Founders clearly favored a foreign policy that advanced the ideas of liberty through example, public opinion, and vigorous diplomacy. From the historical record, it is clear that America’s early statesmen understood diplomacy not merely as a means of negotiating interests, but as a tool for advancing the ideas of liberty. Significantly, this does not necessitate military intervention.

The Founders did not believe that America had a duty to spread the ideas of liberty by waging wars that might be detrimental to America’s interests and security, but they welcomed opportunities to support the principles and practice of liberty prudently around the world. This distinction between duty and opportunity is most clearly visible in the American reaction to Revolutionary France’s foreign policy. In contrast the Greek and Hungarian revolutions attempted to provide for their countries’ own independence rather than expand their system through military force. Americans recognized the cause of liberty in their attempts at self-government. The Greek and Hungarian revolutions were, however, threatened by the complex European network of despotic alliances that America had determined to avoid but that seemed destined to snuff out the flickering light of liberty on the European continent. These circumstances presented the young American Republic with another solemn opportunity to intervene on behalf of liberty. Many Americans, animated by their commitment to the cause of liberty and emboldened by American diplomatic support for the Greeks, donated funds and supplies to aid the Greeks’ fight for independence. Later, Ambassador Daniel Webster sharply criticized the Austrian Empire for trying to oppress the Hungarian uprising and refused to withdraw his critique even at risk of war, stating that the principles of liberty were too important to remain neutral.

The American people rightly place great importance on the permanence of their political principles. It’s crucial to understand the Founders’ approach to foreign policy, not only because the early years of American foreign policy were so successful, but also because their foreign policy decisions were self-consciously based on the ideals of the Founding. It would be historically inaccurate and a dangerous misunderstanding to reduce the Founders’ principled foreign policy to a simplistic rule of non-interventionism.

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