Before they went insane after 9/11, some conservatives I knew used to quote Washington's Farewell Speech to me. It was a good speech. Of course they saw it as recommending no UN, complete isolationism, and no "entangling alliances." It seemed good advice to me, and the denouement of recent events recommends his word anymore. Which I suppose is why I haven't heard a conservative quoting it to me in a long time.
Good Faith and Justice
Washington's advice seems especially cogent now, in the face of the subversion, sedition and sabotage we are seeing in the Senate against efforts by the Obama administration to work with the Security Council nations to negotiate a Nuclear Arms agreement with the Iranians. Washington would have been fine with such treaties, as long as we weren't getting in bed with any particular country! He admonished that we should:
"Observe good faith and justice towards all nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all. Religion and morality enjoin this conduct; and can it be, that good policy does not equally enjoin it - It will be worthy of a free, enlightened, and at no distant period, a great nation, to give to mankind the magnanimous and too novel example of a people always guided by an exalted justice and benevolence."
When T.R. Roosevelt negotiated the Russo-Japanese peace treaty, Franklin Delano Roosevelt created the UN, or Truman went ahead and recognized Israel, they were guided by the principle that US Foreign Policy should be magnanimous, just and that benevolence is, in the long run, more profitable than greed. I believe that Obama's negotiations with Iran are guided by a similar approach. Something that doesn't sit well with the privateers and free booters who think they own our foreign policy and see any other approach as idiocy and usurpation. Yet Washington's guidance was wise and prescient:
"Who can doubt that, in the course of time and things, the fruits of such a plan would richly repay any temporary advantages which might be lost by a steady adherence to it ? Can it be that Providence has not connected the permanent felicity of a nation with its virtue ? The experiment, at least, is recommended by every sentiment which ennobles human nature. Alas! is it rendered impossible by its vices?" [Washington's Farewell Address]
The root of viciousness is "vice" and our foreign policy, while occasionally following Washington's admonitions has been more often vicious, greedy, self serving and even violent. For every Portsmouth Treaty (TR's negotiation), there was a land grab or selfish intervention like that of the Panama Canal. And if we've removed tyrants, we've also installed them. And our rationale has been often, petty self interest of a minority of our officials, or of our entangled allies:
"the main beef with the Iranian Prime Minister was that, in May of 1951, he had nationalized the oil fields controlled by the Anglo Iranian Oil Company, the precursor to BP. From the perspective of Washington, though, as the newly released documents confirm, Mossadegh’s biggest sin was his flirtation with the Soviet Union, which, like Britain, had colonial ties to Iran." [http://www.newyorker.com/news/john-cassidy/the-lessons-of-classified-information-from-mossadegh-to-snowden]
And that action back in 1953 is still bearing bitter fruit. If our GOP Cons are upset that Iran might get Bombs, the Iranians still have a grudge about that coup.
Permanent Friendships or Permanent Antipathies
Washington next gave this piece of advise:
"In the execution of such a plan, nothing is more essential than that permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular nations, and passionate attachments for others, should be excluded; and that, in place of them, just and amicable feelings towards all should be cultivated."
Just and Amicable, or Exxon and Mobile
Now note, it's not enough that we should avoid too much friendship, or too much enmity, we need to cultivate "just and amicable feelings". This is what the purpose of the "League of Nations" was intended to be, and of the United Nations. That it hasn't always worked that way is because we have not cultivated justice but have violated these principles. And that excessive zeal for "special relationships" has plagued our country.
"The nation which indulges towards another a habitual hatred 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 lead it astray from its duty and its interest."
Shortly after Washington left office we started to have a "Quasi-war" with France. It was never declared, but the Federalist Faction wanted war with France and Spain while the Republican faction wanted peace. We had been too attached to the French, and already the Brits were working their diplomacy on us to reverse that attachment by recruiting ex-tories and Anglophiles. Later we would be forced to war with the Brits. Once there is a war among our neighbors, it is difficult to stay out of them. The Brits too have a motto "no permanent friends, no permanent allies", which they violate with impunity too.
Trying to play both sides.
Though it may seem to be neutral to "play both sides". I don't think Washington was talking about that kind of "neutrality." One reason for both the Quasi-War and the War of 1812 is that our merchants were smuggling arms and materiel to both sides of their conflict with each other. When we sent more goods to the Brits and the French thought they had the power to stop us, the French attacked. Later when the French lost control over the seas and we continued to sell goods to them, the Brits started attacking our ships. Washington's advice wasn't always easy to follow.
"Antipathy in one nation against another disposes each more readily to offer insult and injury, to lay hold of slight causes of umbrage, and to be haughty and intractable, when accidental or trifling occasions of dispute occur. Hence, frequent collisions, obstinate, envenomed, and bloody contests."
We had an embargo on Cuba for more than 50 years, which was useless in stopping Human Rights Violations, and mainly hurt the families of Cuban refugees who's anger drove the antipathy. And similar ill will drives the efforts of Senators to sabotage Obama's negotiations with Iran. Instead of listening to Washington.
Power of Outside influence from "Pernicious" Forces
"The nation, prompted by ill-will and resentment, sometimes impels to war the government, contrary to the best calculations of policy. The government sometimes participates in the national propensity, and adopts through passion what reason would reject; at other times it makes the animosity of the nation subservient to projects of hostility instigated by pride, ambition, and other sinister and pernicious motives. The peace often, sometimes perhaps the liberty, of nations, has been the victim." [FA]
Not to mention the opportunism of privateers, smugglers and arms salesmen. It turns out that hostilities towards nations, peoples (or internal minorities) is profitable. Sometimes the folks pushing war have "pernicious motives" as is the case of folks like Senator Cotton who were paid by Israeli Lobbyists to try to sabotage our peace treaty with Iran. I've found evidence that the folks pushing to scuttle talks want us to be at odds because it marks up the value of their smuggling. Which is exactly what the next passage in George Washington's Speech was referring to:
"Most Favored Nation"
"So likewise, a passionate attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils. Sympathy for the favorite nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest in cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter without adequate inducement or justification."
Which is exactly what has been happening with our "special relations" with France and Britain, where we were duped into supporting French interests in Vietnam or British influences in Iran, on the false fear of "communism." Our special relationships with European Countries also led to us supporting European banks in oppressing Central and South America, and latter letting the former Colonial powers try to "take back" properties they'd invaded and conquered as colonial subjects once before. Much of our fear of Communism was exaggerated fear of revolutions that were as much a reaction to colonialism and tyranny as a result of the spread of Bolshevik ideas. And this also has led to us supporting bad trade treaties like the Trans Pacific Partnership which try to overrule even our own laws:
"It leads also to concessions to the favorite nation of privileges denied to others which is apt doubly to injure the nation making the concessions; by unnecessarily parting with what ought to have been retained, and by exciting jealousy, ill-will, and a disposition to retaliate, in the parties from whom equal privileges are withheld."
A lot of our conflicts have been the result of other countries perceiving that we are in league with their enemies. Not just between countries, but even within them. When our country serves the interests of the wealthy, or of the giant multinational countries, we are creating blowback.
"And it gives to ambitious, corrupted, or deluded citizens (who devote themselves to the favorite nation), facility to betray or sacrifice the interests of their own country, without odium, sometimes even with popularity; gilding, with the appearances of a virtuous sense of obligation, a commendable deference for public opinion, or a laudable zeal for public good, the base or foolish compliances of ambition, corruption, or infatuation." [FA]
One of our biggest problems for us started was when we let the British and French convince us to take their side in World War I, and also after World War II when we joined our intelligence services. This has led to a CIA with purported or actual factions, ever since. And it has led to some countries having legal access to our intelligence information, which gives them a massive advantage in manipulating us. The British, Australian, Canadian, New Zealand governments, for example, signed an intelligence sharing agreement with us called the 5 Eyes, which gets advertized as the agreement that makes it unnecessary for us to spy on each other. But what it has actually done was to set it up so we could form a condominium so our governments could mutually spy on our citizens without taking credit for it. This excessive friendship harms both the USA and the other four countries. Similarly our "special relationships" with Israel, Japan, South Korea and other countries, have often caused us more trouble than they've been worth. It's not that we shouldn't be friendly towards these countries but that Washington's words on too much "friendship were never more cogent:
"As avenues to foreign influence in innumerable ways, such attachments are particularly alarming to the truly enlightened and independent patriot. How many opportunities do they afford to tamper with domestic factions, to practice the arts of seduction, to mislead public opinion, to influence or awe the public councils. Such an attachment of a small or weak towards a great and powerful nation dooms the former to be the satellite of the latter." [FA]
It is fortunate that we listened to Washington during our early years -- and that we preserved our Union. The European powers at various times had designs on Texas (Prussia) California (Britain) NW (Britain/Russia) and our own South only could have won the Civil war by becoming a satellite of either France or Britain.
"Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence (I conjure you to believe me, fellow-citizens) the jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly awake, since history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government. But that jealousy to be useful must be impartial; else it becomes the instrument of the very influence to be avoided, instead of a defense against it. Excessive partiality for one foreign nation and excessive dislike of another cause those whom they actuate to see danger only on one side, and serve to veil and even second the arts of influence on the other. Real patriots who may resist the intrigues of the favorite are liable to become suspected and odious, while its tools and dupes usurp the applause and confidence of the people, to surrender their interests." [FA]
We should be as careful in dealing with the Brits and French as we are with the Germans or the Ukrainians, and with them as we are with the Russians. And we should be careful with all of them. Not over-enthusiastic. Nor doing the "1984" equivalent of hating on the "enemy of the week." It's as much to protect us against home-based demagogues as to protect against the Foreign intrigues of a Rupert Murdoch or some other foreigner.
"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. Hence, therefore, it must be unwise in us to implicate ourselves by artificial ties in the ordinary vicissitudes of her politics, or the ordinary combinations and collisions of her friendships or enmities." [FA]
Taking this seriously, we should not be creating special Admiralty style Courts to give private separate advantage to external investments as we have been doing with our TPP negotiations and the ISDS provisions. Washington was also counselling Union. Modern seditious, subversive and centrifugal folks would disrupt our Union, but it's been our unity that has allowed us to survive:
A vision of the USA as a Powerful Neutral Force for Good
"Our detached and distant situation invites and enables us to pursue a different course. If we remain one people under an efficient government. the period is not far off when we may defy material injury from external annoyance; when we may take such an attitude as will cause the neutrality we may at any time resolve upon to be scrupulously respected; when belligerent nations, under the impossibility of making acquisitions upon us, will not lightly hazard the giving us provocation; when we may choose peace or war, as our interest, guided by justice, shall counsel." [FA]
Had we split up, our country would resemble El Salvador, Honduras, or at best Brazil; with an even more bloody history of repression and poverty. We'd still have rich people, but our industry or middle class would never have been allowed to develop. And part of the reason we've avoided such breakups is that we haven't played favorite. Even when factions wanted us too.
"Why forego the advantages of so peculiar a situation? Why quit our own to stand upon foreign ground? Why, by interweaving our destiny with that of any part of Europe, entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of European ambition, rivalship, interest, humor or caprice?" [FA]
UN and Entangling Alliances
The key is to understand what Washington was talking about when he said the following:
"It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world; so far, I mean, as we are now at liberty to do it; for let me not be understood as capable of patronizing infidelity to existing engagements. I hold the maxim no less applicable to public than to private affairs, that honesty is always the best policy. I repeat it, therefore, let those engagements be observed in their genuine sense. But, in my opinion, it is unnecessary and would be unwise to extend them." [FA]
In other words we need to be friendly to all, but not subject to any. I think the UN, in it's best sense might be an exception, because it isn't any "portion" and at it's best is a forum for communications, cultivating "good faith and justice, peace and harmony" towards all nations than the kind of "entanglement" he's warning about. Even so I think those who've read Washington would see he was warning even about relying too much on the UN.
"Taking care always to keep ourselves by suitable establishments on a respectable defensive posture, we may safely trust to temporary alliances for extraordinary emergencies." [FA]
We have violated this principle since the beginning of the 20th century. Mostly by going from a defensive posture to an offensive one.
"Harmony, liberal intercourse with all nations, are recommended by policy, humanity, and interest. But even our commercial policy should hold an equal and impartial hand; neither seeking nor granting exclusive favors or preferences; consulting the natural course of things; diffusing and diversifying by gentle means the streams of commerce, but forcing nothing; establishing (with powers so disposed, in order to give trade a stable course, to define the rights of our merchants, and to enable the government to support them) conventional rules of intercourse, the best that present circumstances and mutual opinion will permit, but temporary, and liable to be from time to time abandoned or varied, as experience and circumstances shall dictate; constantly keeping in view that it is folly in one nation to look for disinterested favors from another; that it must pay with a portion of its independence for whatever it may accept under that character; that, by such acceptance, it may place itself in the condition of having given equivalents for nominal favors, and yet of being reproached with ingratitude for not giving more. There can be no greater error than to expect or calculate upon real favors from nation to nation. It is an illusion, which experience must cure, which a just pride ought to discard." [FA]
Ironically our treaties with countries like China or South Korea grant them "most favored nation" status. Pretty much sticking a finger in Washington's statue's eye. And treaties like TPP pretty much ignore him.
- Sources and Further Reading
- Source: Wasington's Fairwell Address [http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/washing.asp]
- TR & Russo-Japanese War: [https://history.state.gov/milestones/1899-1913/portsmouth-treaty]
- FDR & UNhttp://globalsolutions.org/blog/2010/04/FDR-and-United-Nations-Enduring-Legacy#.VSsCWPnF9Ag
- Britannica on Mossadegh: http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/393304/Mohammad-Mosaddeq
- Mosaddeq's overthrow: http://www.newyorker.com/news/john-cassidy/the-lessons-of-classified-information-from-mossadegh-to-snowden