Rescuing the Founders from Their Paulestinian Hijackers


Crackpot Ron Paul and his disciples have wrapped themselves in the American flag so tightly you’d think they were direct descendants of Paul Revere.  Whether it’s Paul claiming to “advocate the same foreign policy the founding fathers would,” or his fans claiming he fathered the tea party movement (a claim tea partiers in Paul’s home state would take issue with), the Paulestinians have assumed a monopoly on the legacy of America’s Founding Fathers.

It’s time to break that monopoly.

Invariably, their first piece of evidence to claim the Founders’ favor against the War on Terror is President George Washington’s Farewell Address to the nation, in which the Father of our Country warns against “apostate and unnatural connection[s] with any foreign power,” and “excessive partiality for one foreign nation and excessive dislike of another”:

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.

Washington argues that America should not meddle in foreign conflicts that have no bearing on American interests, and that she should not allow herself to become dependent upon the interests of other nations for her well-being (beyond trade). The isolationist/non-interventionist types that make up the mainline Left and the fringe Right typically interpret this as condemning our involvement in Iraq and/or Afghanistan, our support for Israel, and our military presence abroad.  Sorry, fellas, but I do not think it means what you think it means.

WAR: Not once does Washington say war, or even a post-war occupation, will never be necessary. Therefore, his Farewell Address is only applicable to Afghanistan or Iraq if it can be demonstrated that the goings-on in either country were purely internal, with no bearing on American interests.  Afghanistan obviously meets this standard, since the Taliban harbored and refused to hand over Osama bin Laden and the other terrorists behind the September 11 terrorist attacks, a fact even Ron Paul recognized.

The threat posed by Iraq might be more contentious, but it shouldn’t be.  The overwhelming intelligence consensus prior to the war—not just between the Democratic and Republican parties, but among foreign intelligence agencies (even anti-war Germany and France!)—was that Saddam Hussein was actively pursuing nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, would continue to pursue them regardless of impotent UN wrist-slapping, and had ties to terrorist groups—clearly justifying the war based on what we knew at the time.  After the war, we did not find WMD evidence to the degree we expected, but we did find some, as well as credible theories as to where the rest went, not to mention clear evidence of Hussein’s terror ties.  (Also, multiple investigations found that, while US intelligence gathering had many problems, willful manipulation by the Bush Administration was not among them.)

As for postwar occupation, reasonable conservatives differ as to precisely what sort of regimes we should leave behind.  While trying to shape either nation into a mini-America would be unwise and unrealistic, it’s clear that something has to replace the prior regimes, and at a minimum, those somethings cannot be inclined to pursue the same WMDs and support the same jihadists that their predecessors did.  While “nation-building” for the sake of enforcing the American way of life in all corners of the world should be frowned upon, that’s not at all the same as ensuring the governments we leave behind won’t actively try to kill us, or aid people who will.

ISRAEL: Paulestinians claim America’s relationship with Israel constitutes one of the foreign entanglements Washington warned us about.  Washington may very well have disapproved of federal foreign aid to Israel and other countries, but so would many dreaded “neocons” (including, I seem to recall, Jewish Israel supporter Michael Medved).  And to then infer that, therefore, he would be indifferent to the survival of the only true liberal democracy in the middle of a region dominated by radical Islam is a stretch, to say the least. (The sister claim that “neocon” foreign policy is somehow dictated by Israel reeks of anti-Semitism and is so divorced from reality that it is unworthy of discussion.  If so, why did President Bush consistently insist on a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict?  Why not send US troops to help the evil Israelis crush the Palestinians once and for all?)

MILITARY ABROAD: Washington might not have envisioned a standing American military presence spanning the globe, but it would be hasty to claim him as a sure-fire opponent of our foreign military bases.  Anti-American slander aside, our military is stationed abroad not for the purpose of imperial conquest, but to enable a prompt response should a crisis arise that demands our attention.  Reasonable people can debate the wisdom of the exact number or location of these bases, but the basic principle is not only a common-sense one, but could easily be understood as a fair application of another Washingtonian principle:

To be prepared for war, is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace.

Besides, the world has changed in several major ways since 1796.  For one thing, Washington was speaking for a fledgling new nation that had just survived a brutal war with the world’s premiere military power, and could hardly afford to rub the wrong nation (or handful of nations) the wrong way—a far cry from the world power that America has since become (indeed, at the time Washington had a decidedly narrower interest on his mind: discouraging an alliance with France).  For another, communication, transportation, and weapons technology has radically changed.  To put it in terms simple enough for Paulestinians to grasp, today it’s far, far easier for bad people to do bad things with bad stuff across great distances in short periods of time.  We can’t expect oceans to protect us anymore.

Lastly, it’s worth noting that, not only were the Founders’ words not uniformly non-interventionist, neither were their actions.  During the First Barbary War, President Thomas Jefferson both mobilized frigates to fight in the Mediterranean—gasp!—without a formal declaration of war by Congress—and even endorsed the dreaded concept of regime change: a mission to depose the pasha of Tripoli, Yusuf Karamanli.  A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.

The wisdom of our Founding Fathers should guide all Americans as we make public policy, but for it to be of any use, it must be honestly and fully examined in the context of everything they said and faced—not twisted and hijacked in the pursuit of a political agenda.  Ron Paul and his acolytes might claim to be carrying on the principles of the Revolution, but you’d never know it from how little respect they give our forefathers’ words.

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Hailing from Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, Calvin Freiburger is a political science major at Hillsdale College.  He also blogs at the Hillsdale Forum and his personal website, Calvin Freiburger Online.