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The Framer's View of Foreign Policy

(excerpt from Nature of Powers) April 8, 2012

Safety and security are perhaps the most fundamental principles behind the nature of government. They render its very existence, fuel its engine, and unite, at the darkest times of our country, the society which it manages. Indeed what would be the purpose for government if there was no security and safety of its people? Would there be a need for Federalism, checks and balances, administrations and elections if there is no fundamental guarantee of societal durability which would secure the very existence of these elements? Past and modern non-interventionists have long challenged this question, and their philosophy and position evolved with time. At first, it was argued that non-interventionism is the founding principle of our society, and that Washington, Jefferson and Hamilton gave birth to its existence in America. However, as the political world shifted and transformed, a phenomenon occurred. Non-interventionism has split into two different ideologies all together: one being the traditional Libertarian position which still rallies around the words of Washington, and the other being a totally new anti-American philosophy which rallies around the hate toward United States and the role it plays in the world. In this sense, the term “non-interventionism” does not apply to both of these ideologies, for the classical non-interventionist still believes in the good character and role of his country, while the modern non-interventionist despises everything about it. Nevertheless, neither the former nor the latter are historically accurate positions.

Many modern non-interventionists believe that United States should not play “world cop” and stop its firm interference in foreign affairs for a selfish reason of increasing its national strength, safety and respect. However, we must note, through the context of Federalist #3, that if America needs to “observe the laws of nations” in order to establish “safety” then is it not a legitimate function of our government to do so? Moreover, as Jay puts it, national “safety seems [to be] the first” function of a federal government. Priority in respect to federal jurisdiction was not vested upon that of social programming, or domestic administrative agencies, or education. The priority was vested firstly and most importantly upon that of the military and national defense. Furthermore, to “observe the laws of nations” in order to formulate a foreign policy which best relies on such an observation is to go against the most fundamental principle of non-interventionism. After all, what would be a point in closely observing the laws of other nations if your main principle is to embrace the “multi-polar” development of individual governments?

Washington’s farewell address is most commonly misunderstood and misinterpreted to form an image of isolationism and non-interventionism during the time of our founding: "It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world..." This one statement, perhaps more than any other quote by any Founding Father, serves as a foundation for all classical non-interventionists around the country. However, this quote is simply misunderstood by non-interventionists who purely ignore the fact that George Washington was taking a strategically neutral political position to navigate the nation from going to war with either France or England. As the president of the Landmark Legal foundation and a nationally syndicated radio talk show host Mark Levin explained: “George Washington’s Farewell Address of 1796 is often misunderstood as a proclamation of isolationism. This ignores its historical context. At the time, Washington was concerned with the very survival of the young nation. The address is a call for prudence-not only in dealings and relationships with foreign states, but in issues that threaten national unity…He issued his warning because the American public was deeply divided in its sentiments relating to the European powers that were at war. The nascent political parties, the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists (or Democratic Republicans) were coalescing around support for different countries- the Federalists for Britain, the Anti-Federalists for France. Throughout his presidency, Washington tried to steer a course of strict neutrality between the two countries while promoting commercial relationships and vigorous trade with both sides in the conflict. The address makes clear he did so not because neutrality was an end itself, but because he feared that taking sides could split the country apart.”

The fact that Washington and some of the other party leaders did their best in steering clear from a decision which could divide the nation is not a fact which must be ignored and omitted from political discussions over foreign policy. What the history actually reveals is that the nation did in fact form alliances, sign international military pacts and participate actively in foreign commerce before, during and after the ratification of the Constitution: “America has already formed treaties with no less than six foreign nations, and all of them, except Prussia, are maritime, and therefore able to annoy and injure us. She has also extensive commerce with Portugal, Spain, and Britain, and, with respect to the two latter, has, in addition, the circumstance of neighborhood to attend to.” Bluntly ignoring these facts and bending diplomatic positions into expressions of alleged isolationism is neither an honest nor an accurate policy. It attempts to build fake constitutional principles in order to appeal to the conservative base and logic. Moreover, there is even a larger point projected here within the Federalist Papers. Jay argues that the efficiency these foreign activities will be significantly improved and the degree of their operations widened if the nation is wise enough to adopt a stronger federal government under the proposed Constitution. If the Framers were truly non-interventionist and isolationist, then would they feel a need to campaign for a document which at the core of its design, instituted a capability for a more dynamic and powerful foreign policy?