The recent terrorist attacks suggest that it might be time to re-examine our foreign policy. What should that foreign policy be? Part of the answer might lie in the foreign policy principles enunciated at our founding.
President George Washington’s Farewell Address in 1797 warned: “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.” Thomas Jefferson, our third president, sounded a similar warning in his first Inaugural Address in 1801: “Peace, commerce and honest friendship with all nations – entangling alliances with none.”
If our farsighted Founders were here today, what might they say about our foreign entanglements? What might they say about our “nation building” and “peacekeeping” efforts in Haiti, Latin America, Somalia, Yugoslavia, Bosnia, the Middle East, Europe and the Far East?
You might say: “Williams, they were in the 18th century. We are in the 21st century, and those principles don’t apply in today’s world.” You’re half right, but to what extent can those principles guide us today? One can make a case for some alliances and military actions, but most of our global political and military activity today has little to do with our constitutional mandate to “provide for the common Defense” of the United States.
In our arrogance in thinking we can solve the world’s problems, by turning our military into peacekeepers and social workers, we’ve tragically betrayed the wise counsel of our Founders. We fail to bring harmony among people who’ve been trying to slaughter one another for centuries, but we succeed in getting them to hate us.
Given that we’ve pursued such arrogance and gotten into the internal affairs of other nations, what do we do now? First and foremost, we must recognize that while terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center and part of the Pentagon, they didn’t destroy our Constitution and Bill of Rights. The true threat comes from our political leaders anxious to seize upon any excuse to restrict liberty. We shouldn’t tolerate any restraints on our liberties in the name of combating terrorism and producing domestic safety. Keep in mind that a caged canary is safe but not free.
Instead, the plain message to terrorists should be that if you attack the United States you will pay the ultimate price. And the message to countries who harbor or assist terrorists is that a heavy, unacceptable price will be exacted. We will ruthlessly take out your infrastructure, kill tens of thousands of your people and turn your productive capacity into a basket case.
In part last week’s attack is a legacy of American liberal soft-minded thinking that since the Soviet empire collapsed we no longer live in a hostile world. We’ve restricted covert and undercover activities of our national security forces to infiltrate and gain information on foreign groups who’d do us harm. We’ve decided that handout spending is the legitimate function of the federal government and, if military spending threatens it, then military spending has to go.
Right now, there are no inbound missiles – that means a missile defense system is not only uncalled for but a threat to prescription drugs, food stamps, corporate welfare and other handouts. With this vision, defense spending has fallen from 24 percent of the federal budget (5.2 percent of the GDP) in 1990 to 16 percent of the federal budget (3 percent of the GDP) in 2000.
That’s on top of our ongoing social experiment, where we’re attempting to prove that there are no combat ability differences between men and women. In important ways, last week’s attack can be seen as a small part of Clinton’s legacy.