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Mr. Washington, I Presume?

How would the first U.S. President George Washington advice the 43rd President George Bush on foreign policy?

September 20, 2002

How would the first U.S. President George Washington advice the 43rd President George Bush on foreign policy?

U.S. President Bush has a lot of foreign policy problems on his plate. But where can he go for some sage advice? We imagine a conversation between George W. Bush and George Washington — the first president of the United States. The venerable Mr. Washington offers some intriguing guidance — and surprising insights taken mainly from his September 17, 1796 farewell address — for Mr. Bush and his policies.

Bush: Would you agree with my stand on Iraq?

Washington: “Permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular nations and passionate attachments for others, should be excluded.”

How did this hurt us?

“The nation which indulges towards another a habitual hatred — or a habitual fondness — is in some degree a slave.”

But there must be some advantage in being the leader of the most powerful nation on earth?

“Our detached and distant situation invites and enables us to pursue a different course.”

I know it’s a bit odd. But don’t you think it’s marvelous that our former colonial master Great Britain is such a great support?

“Sympathy for the favorite nation — facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest in cases where no real common interest exists — betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter.”

How is the United States different from other nations?

“While many of the nations of Europe have been involved in a contest unusually bloody, exhausting and calamitous, our favored country, happy in a striking contrast, has enjoyed tranquility — a tranquility the more satisfactory because maintained at the expense of no duty. Faithful to ourselves, we have violated no obligation to others.”

(Annual Message to Congress, December 1795)

George — if I may call you that — in matters of trade, would you have imposed steel tariffs and signed the farm bill?

“Our commercial policy should hold an equal and impartial hand, neither seeking nor granting exclusive favors or preferences, diffusing and diversifying by gentle means the streams of commerce — but forcing nothing.”

Can you help me understand European politics?

“Europe is engaged in frequent controversies, the causes of which are essentially foreign to our concerns.”

So, if in doubt, you’d just go ahead and do your own thing?

“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?”

There are those who say we only have one true ally left — Israel. Should I worry?

“It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world.”

Before we part again, what is your view on my doctrine of preemptive action?

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

(Speech to both Houses of Congress, January 1790)