Elizabeth Cobbs, the Melbern Glasscock chair of American history at Texas A&M and a research fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution, has penned one of the most astute op-eds on foreign policy in recent times. Her article, entitled “For U.S. Foreign Policy, It’s Time to Look Again at the Founding Fathers’ ‘Great Rule,’” was published in the Los Angeles Times on the Fourth of July. It’s an article that every American should read.
It’s appropriate that the op-ed appeared on Independence Day because Cobb wants everyone to know that the interventionist foreign policy that now holds America in its grip — a foreign policy that she describes as one based on “playing global police officer” — was not the foreign policy on which America was founded.
Citing George Washington’s famous Farewell Address in 1796, she says that the speech, which was edited by Alexander Hamilton at Washington’s request, “crystallized the president’s sentiment against foreign entanglements — then shared by most— into the ‘Great Rule.’” Washington and Hamilton argued, she points out, that “interweaving our destiny [with others] would entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of European ambition, rivalship, interest, or caprice.”
Cobbs points out that that meant that “America should therefore pursue economic integration with the world, but maintain strict neutrality in its feuds.”
Cobb then goes on to cite the famous Fourth of July speech that John Quincy Adams delivered to Congress in 1821, entitled “In Search of Monsters to Destroy.” Adams pointed out that America “goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.”
That’s the central point that every American should be reflecting upon — that the foreign policy of empire, interventionism, and regime change, which has now held our nation in its grip for more than a century, is contrary to the foreign policy on which our nation was founded.
Cobb observes where one of the principal breaks with America’s founding principles occurred. She writes:
At the start of the Cold War, President Harry Truman proposed a new great rule to replace the old. Like Washington, Truman had public opinion behind him. Following a vigorous debate, the U.S. Congress accepted Truman’s contention that it was imperative “to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures.
Citizens agreed that it was the United States’ job to defend the so-called Free World — alone, if necessary. Anything less was deemed un-American. Decision-making stoked this sentiment to forestall isolationism. They encouraged Manichean thinking to “scare the hell out of the American people,” as Sen. Arthur Vandenberg put it.
Communists, communism, the Soviet Union, Red China, North Korea, Cuba North Vietnam, and other communist regimes were the types of monsters that Washington, Hamilton, and Adams were referring to. Monsters, in one form or another, have been in the world since the beginning of civilization. The Founding Fathers said: Leave them alone. Just continue building a free society here at home to serve as a beacon of freedom for the people of the world.
That’s obviously not what Truman did. Instead, he said that America needed to go abroad to save the world from communists and communism.
He fully understood, however, that in order to accomplish this new mission, there would have to be a fundamental re-altering of America’s governmental system. To keep the world safe from communists and communism,, America would have to become a national-security state, a type of governmental system that, ironically, characterized the Soviet Union, China, and other totalitarian states.
A national-security state consists of an enormous, permanent military establishment, a secretive police force with omnipotent powers (like the CIA), an expansive secretive bureaucracy that keeps tabs on the citizenry (like the NSA), the adoption of police-state policies, and the militarization of society (as well as the glorification of the military). All these things characterized the Soviet Union and they still characterize China’s communist regime.
Truman’s notion was that in order to oppose the Soviet Union, Red China, and the worldwide communist conspiracy, it was necessary for America to graft a totalitarian-like structure onto America’s federal governmental system. The change was supposed to be temporary. As soon as the Cold War was over, the national-security state apparatus would presumably be dismantled.
Notice something else that Adams pointed out in his Fourth of July speech: That if America were ever to abandon its founding principles, she would become like a dictatress to the world, imposing her will on others through military force.
What effectively became a new branch of the federal government — the national-security branch, consisting of the military-industrial complex, the CIA, and the NSA — quickly became the most powerful and influential branch. Today, the other three branches all inevitably defer to its judgment and decisions when it comes to matters relating to “national security.” (See “Rule by Illusion” by David S. D’Amato and The CIA, Terrorism, and the Cold War: The Evil of the National Security State by Jacob Hornberger.)
When the Cold War ended, the Truman doctrine didn’t, and neither did the national-security branch of the government that Truman had called into existence to wage the Cold War. It simply went abroad in search of new monsters to destroy and easily found them, in the form of Saddam Hussein, al-Qaeda, the Taliban, Qaddafi, Assad, terrorists, terrorism, Islam, Muslims, and ISIS, not to mention Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea.
Is it possible — just possible — that America’s abandonment of its founding principle of non-intervention is the root cause of America’s woes today with respect to terrorism and perpetual war?
There can be no doubt about it. Consider what the abandonment of America’s founding principles has brought into existence: a government with the omnipotent, non-reviewable power to assassinate anyone it wants, including American citizens, anywhere in the world, including right here in the United States. (In the “war on terrorism,” the entire world is the battlefield.); a government that has the omnipotent power to take Americans and others into custody, torture them, and keep them incarcerated for life (or as long as the war on terror goes on); a government with mass, secret surveillance powers over the people of the world, including Americans; a government that has the omnipotent, non-reviewable power to invade and occupy any nation on earth for whatever reason it chooses, including regime change; the constant, ongoing of threat of terrorism against the American people; and a vast Homeland Security Agency that would easily fit within any totalitarian regime in the world.
Is that the type of government that the people who signed the Declaration of Independence intended to bring into existence? On the contrary, that’s the type of government they rebelled against.
But the good news — the news that should provide hope to every libertarian in America — is that an increasing number of Americans are figuring all this out. In her great article, Cobb writes:
In 2013, for the first time since the Pew organization began polling Americans on the question five decades earlier, the majority (52%) said the United States should “mind its own business” and allow other countries to get along on their own. Today, Pew finds, the number has risen to 57%.
The public is abandoning the Cold War consensus. Americans are sick of being told they must pay for policies they don’t understand by elites whose explanations make less and less sense and whose children rarely serve in the armed forces.”
Persistent elitism triggers reactive populism. Voters turn to political outsiders when insiders won’t listen. There are now more people registered independent (42%) than Democrat (29%) or Republican (26%). Britain’s revolt against the European Union, opposed by responsible leaders but approved by an alienated populace, should be considered an early warning signal.