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A return to non-interventionism

Mark Poyar | Wednesday, September 5, 2007

George Washington rightly sits atop most people’s list of “great” Presidents. Not only was he critical to the success of the American Revolution and the subsequent founding of the United States of America, he also managed as President to keep the fragile young republic out of European troubles. France was in the midst of a revolution which resulted in a grueling and bloody war with England and others. Washington realized that avoiding such bloodbaths was essential to the future prosperity of the United States. It was with this intent that the President published his letter to the American people at the conclusion of his second term in office.

Washington’s Farewell Address became the guiding document for American foreign policy for the next 100 years. “The great rule of conduct for us,” he wrote, “in regard to domestic nations, is in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible.” He believed that European nations had fundamentally different interests which were “essentially foreign to [America’s] concerns,” and caused them to engage in frequent wars. Consequently, it would be foolish to tie America’s prosperity to these nations. Alliances with these nations would merely make the European problems America’s problems – problems that Americans sought to leave by coming to America. By only intervening when America’s security is directly threatened, America would “avoid the necessity of those overgrown military establishments which … are inauspicious to liberty, and which are to be regarded as particularly hostile to republican liberty.”

Washington’s call for non-interventionism was largely heeded by his successors. Thomas Jefferson famously said at his inaugural address in 1801 that America should follow a policy of “peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations” and have “entangling alliances with none.” Similarly, James Monroe stated that “in the wars of the European powers … we have never taken part, nor does it comport with our policy, to do so.” America would only take up arms and make alliances when “our rights are invaded, or seriously menaced that we resent injuries, or make preparations for our defense.” John Quincy Adams said “America does not go abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion only of her own.”

America outright abandoned its non-intervention foreign policy that had served it so well shortly after World War II. It waged largely ineffective wars halfway around the globe in countries that Americans had barely ever heard of. It propped up corrupt governments, both financially and militarily, that were more concerned about their own power (and thus were more receptive to American influence) than the welfare of their own people. Wars were fought with little regard to the survival of the civilian populations. This military and financial intervention in the internal affairs of countries around the world earned America the resentment of millions. While these wars might have seemed like good ideas at the time, history tells us that occupation, whether for the “good” of the occupied country or not, tends to turn the local populace against the occupiers. The same can be said for other diplomatic tactics such as embargoes, as well as financial and military support for a country’s enemy.

The fact is that there is no surefire way to prevent another terrorist attack. There is no chance that a man who is willing to blow himself up to slaughter dozens of innocent victims can be held at bay indefinitely. In order to combat terrorism, particularly terrorism stemming from the Middle East, the only strategy that will yield results in the long run is to reduce the motivation of the terrorists to attack America. Therefore, the most prudent question is: what motivates the terrorists to attack America and what can America do to reduce that motivation?

A popular delusion endorsed by the Bush administration is that the terrorists hate us because “they hate our freedom.” According to this theory, the terrorists hate us because we have a democratic form of government and other rights. While some in the Middle East might not like that I am allowed to go to Las Vegas to gamble, this is hardly reason enough to motivate a terrorist attack. Indeed, a Zolby poll released in 2002 showed that the majority of Kuwait public looked favorably upon our freedom and democracy, but 88% disagreed with our policies in the Middle East. This was roughly the same throughout the rest of the Middle East. The hijackers of Sept. 11 didn’t fly planes into the World Trade Center because we have McDonalds and women can vote.

The Middle East is rife with American influence and has been for the last fifty years. When Muslims complain about America, it usually isn’t that they object to our freedom. It’s that they object to our influence and presence in the Middle East. In his first video after the September 11th attacks, Osama bin Laden told the world that “I swear to God that America will not live in peace before all the army of infidels depart the land of the prophet Muhammad.” Our continued military presence in nearly every Muslim country is certainly not helping matters particularly when many Muslims in the region (wrongly) associate Christian presence in the Middle East as another Crusade. It’s because we support Israel unilaterally, who many in the region view as a mortal enemy, both financially and militarily. The United States gave Israel much of its military technology, which has been used on Muslims in the past (and more recently in the short war with Lebanon). It’s because we caused half a million Iraqi deaths with the US led embargo on Iraq and then declared the deaths were “worth it.” It’s because over 50,000 Iraqi civilians have already died in the War in Iraq. In short, it’s because we’ve been meddling in things that we have no business meddling in. Our interference, as even the US government has conceded, has only increased the resentment of Muslims around the world and increases the motivation to attack America.

PJ O’Rourke once wrote in his classic Parliament of Whores that “whatever it is that the government does, sensible Americans would prefer that the government do it to somebody else. This is the idea behind foreign policy.” The problem is that America needs to stop doing “it” to someone else. Interventionism got America into this crisis, but a return to the non-interventionism of the Founding Fathers is the only long-term solution to the terrorist threat.

Mark Poyar is a junior finance major and vice president of the College Libertarians. Their Web site is http://ndlibertarians.blogspot.com. He can be contacted at mpoyar@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily The Observer.