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Thu. June 20, 2024
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Words of Wisdom: A Constitutional Foreign Policy
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By Patrick Corcoran There is a theme in U.S. politics – asking the question of what the founding fathers would do in this situation or quoting the Constitution for a justification for a law or decision (but really, just paying lip service). I would argue that 9 times out of 10, the politicians or lawmakers who invoke such rhetoric are often incorrect, and the founding fathers are constantly misrepresented by the media, political parties, and even citizens. This article seeks is to explore what exactly the founding fathers decreed on issues of foreign relations and policy making – using all primary sources, of course. First, those who warned against foreign influence on the U.S. government: John Adams wrote in a letter to The Boston Patriot, “Our form of government, inestimable as it is, exposes us, more than any other, to the insidious intrigues and pestilent influence of foreign nations. Nothing but your inflexible neutrality can preserve us.” Alexander Hamilton at the Constitutional Convention also said, “The weak side of a republican government is the danger of foreign influence.” Do we not see the impact of the Israeli lobby (the effects of which not to be debated here, just from an observational standpoint) or the strength of influence states have because of our addiction to Middle Eastern oil? Second, those who spoke of isolationism, and sure I will concede that globalization is in fact the opposite of such a policy – but isolationism does not prohibit trade and economic relations. Thomas Paine wrote, “Not a place upon earth might be so happy as America. Her situation is remote from all the wrangling world, and she has nothing to do but to trade with them.” Hamilton added in a letter to Thomas Jefferson, “My commercial system turns very much on giving a free course to trade, and cultivating good humor with the world.” It is clear that the United States does trade with the world, but overthrowing governments, supporting dictatorships or fighting proxy wars, something tells me the founders would not have embraced such action. Third, the principles of foreign policy – what should be the ultimate goal of U.S. foreign relations? Charles Pinckney said at the Constitutional Convention, “We mistake the object of government, if we hope or wish that it is to make us respectable abroad. Conquest or superiority among other powers is not or ought not ever to be the object of republican systems. If they are sufficiently active and energetic to rescue us from contempt and preserve our domestic happiness and security, it is all we can expect from them, it is more than almost another government ensures its citizens.” Thomas Jefferson echoed Pinckney’s point, “If there be one principle more deeply rooted than any other in the mind of every America n, it is that we should have nothing to do with conquest.” James Monroe in 1823 said, “It is by rendering justice to other nations that we can expect it from them.” Well, in the last decade alone – how do we assess Iraq, Afghanistan, and now Libya if not by the requirements of conquest? Fourth, alliances, Thomas Jefferson said in his First Inaugural Address, “Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none should be our motto.” James Madison, in his First Inaugural Address said, “Indulging no passions which trespass on the rights or the repose of other nations, it has been the true glory of the United States to cultivate peace by observing justice, and to entitle themselves to the respect of the nations at war by fulfilling their neutral obligations with the most scrupulous impartiality.” Finally, George Washington’s farewell address, “Observe good faith and justice towards all nations. Cultivate peace and harmony with all. … The nation which indulges toward another a habitual friend 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 leave it astray from its duty and its interest.” I ask, how does the history of U.S. foreign policy measure up to the virtues of the founding fathers? From the Monroe Doctrine to Roosevelt Corollary to the Bush Doctrine, there rides this idea of American exceptionalism – which in of itself is fine, for Americans to “think” of themselves as such – but assuming that others in the world crave this ideal or want it, is where it becomes extremely problematic. The guidance of the founders and the role of the constitution in foreign affairs is eroding – a declaration of war is no longer necessary for military action overseas, the support of dictators, gross amount of defense spending, acceptance of neoconservative platitudes, and so on will lead to the United States to a path of destruction – propagating tyranny abroad is a pretense for tyranny at home and John Adams warned against such infringements, “But a Constitution of Government once changed from Freedom, can never be restored. Liberty once lost is lost forever.” Patrick Corcoran is a Doctoral Student of world politics at The Catholic University of America

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