American Exceptionalism and the Politics of Foreign Policy
Has the United States sacrificed its founding and traditional values in its conduct of foreign policy?
- The price of the Republic is accepting personal risk and failure. The price of empire is the loss of personal freedom and the collective failure of the nation.
- Mike Mullen, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, admitted that America's number one national security threat is debt.
- A plague on both political houses! The glory of empire is taking false communal pride in telling other countries what to do.
The Democratic and Republican parties have gotten out of step with the public. Neither of the major parties is serious about solving the nation’s fiscal crisis. Republican candidates won’t reduce military spending. Democratic candidates won’t reduce entitlement spending.
To protect their respective priorities and constituencies, the parties go along with both the welfare state and the warfare state. Hence, Democratic and Republican exceptionalism guarantees fiscal irresponsibility.
Mike Mullen, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, admitted that America’s number one national security threat is debt. Rasmussen polls show that eight out of ten Americans believe that economic threats are greater than military ones. Two out of three voters want a smaller government with fewer services and lower taxes. Four out of five voters think Americans are overtaxed.
Only a third of Americans share the Republican view of exempting the military from budget reductions. The public only supports a dozen of the United States’ standing commitments to defend 56 nations.
Only 11% of Americans want to be “global policeman,” 75% think no troops should be stationed overseas except for “vital national security interests,” and only 28% want to keep troops in Europe. Most Americans favor “Protect America First” — rather than “Send Americans First.”
The Democratic and Republican parties serve different constituencies and identity groups, yet both are beholden to Wall Street, the military-industrial complex, AIPAC and other major special interests.
The Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street protest the corruption of the two-party system. Campaign finance reform isn’t popular with politicians whose job is raising money. The left feels betrayed by the Democratic Party. The right feels betrayed by the Republican Party. And the American people are betrayed by both parties.
Democratic and Republican exceptionalism has failed the country. We are in the midst of the greatest constitutional crisis the nation has faced in 225 years. The imperial Presidency must be ended and the executive brought back into balance with Congress and the courts.
Political competition has become a destructive zero-sum game for the nation. Democrats pay taxes for the welfare state, and are willing to raise taxes to pay for the warfare state. Republicans pay taxes for the warfare state, but refuse to pay more taxes for the welfare state. Trillion dollar annual deficits are covered through unsustainable borrowing. Republicans and Democrats compete to be fiscally irresponsible.
With trillion-dollar annual deficits, the time is approaching fast when credit downgrades will force significant reductions in government expenditures. By not cutting spending, Republican and Democratic inaction sets the country on a path where annual borrowing costs will be the largest individual cost in the federal budget.
In 2011, annual interest payments climbed to $400 billion. When all-time low interest rates (currently about 3%) move up, interest payments on cumulative federal debt will exceed the Pentagon’s budget.
America’s financial crisis will redefine the meaning of “strong defense.” The Founders were very clear on this subject. The Constitution doesn’t require a large military to protect the nation. In fact, the Founders were afraid of the military. They believed that liberty and war were incompatible. They established constitutional government to make the state work for the individual. War, however, makes the individual subservient to the state.
Since the Cold War ended, the United States has been at war two out of every three years. None of these wars were declared by Congress as required by the Constitution. Consequently, few Americans can name every war the President is fighting.
The United States is currently engaged in many clandestine military operations around the globe. There is no end in sight, with war aims not clearly stated or understood. President Obama, as a war president, is no longer under the law, he is the law.
A plague on both political houses! The glory of empire is taking false communal pride in telling other countries what to do. The glory of the Republic is each individual’s opportunity to do what you want to do and become what you want to be.
The price of the Republic is accepting personal risk and failure. The price of empire is the loss of personal freedom and the collective failure of the nation.
The Founders believed that “strong defense” meant defending our borders and active diplomacy. America must not go abroad in search of monsters to destroy and must avoid entangling alliances. Global military dominance destroys constitutional government.
So what can be done? A place to start is heeding the words of John Quincy Adams, in his famous address to Congress on July 4, 1821. Adams explained why the preservation of American individualism — the essence of American exceptionalism — demands a noninterventionist foreign policy:
[America] has abstained from interference in the concerns of others, even when conflict has been for principles to which she clings, as to the last vital drop that visits the heart… Wherever the standard of freedom and independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own. She will commend the general cause by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example. She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom. The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force…. She might become the dictatress of the world. She would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit… [America’s] glory is not dominion, but liberty.
This is the fourth and final part of The Globalist’s “Thomas Paine” series “Death of American Exceptionalism.” Previous parts can be found here:
Part I: The Idea of American Exceptionalism
Part II: Democratic and Republican Exceptionalism
Part III: How We Lost American Exceptionalism