How would America’s founding fathers react to Syria?
by Craig Considine
In all likelihood, President Barack Obama will soon bomb Syria in the hope of dealing a blow to Syrian President Bashar al Assad’s regime. This dangerous act of war is a betrayal of the foreign policy vision of America’s founding fathers and will only serve to further weaken the US’s floundering moral credibility around the world.
For months now, President Obama has supplied military aid to factions of the Syrian rebellion, an act that, according to George Washington’s “Farewell Address,” is antithetical to American values. Speaking in 1796, Washington, who served as the first president of the US, advised future generations of Americans to stand clear of “foreign entangling alliances.” For Washington “our [Americans’] true policy [is] to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world.” President Obama’s commitment to the Syrian rebellion and the alliances that the US has etched with Israel and Saudi Arabia, two of Syria’s top rivals, means that the US government is now bogged down in foreign wars that Washington would not have approved of.
Moreover, in his “Farewell Address,” Washington added that Americans must take care “always to keep ourselves by suitable establishments on a respectable defensive posture.” Washington suggested that American foreign policy should only be of a defensive and not an aggressive or pre-emptive nature. Arguably, by intervening in Syria’s civil war, President Obama is ignoring Washington’s advice and repeating the mistakes of the Bush administration in aggressively invading foreign countries that pose little threat to the direct security of American citizens.
Similarly, on US Independence Day in 1821, John Adams, the second president of the US, gave an address on foreign policy that called for Americans to stay out of the business of other countries. In his speech, Adams congratulated the American people because up until that point in US history, Americans had “abstained from interference in the concerns of others.” Adams proudly added that America “goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy,” a passage which is highly relevant in light of the US’s recent attacks against Saddam Hussein of Iraq, Osama bin Laden of al Qaeda, Muammar Ghadafi of Libya, and now, seemingly, against Bashar al Assad of Syria.
In concluding his speech, Adams called for a non-violent and peaceful foreign policy in stating that “[America’s] glory is not dominion, but liberty. Her march is the march of the mind. She has a spear and a shield: but the motto upon her shield is, Freedom, Independence, Peace. This has been her Declaration: this has been, as far as her necessary intercourse with the rest of mankind would permit, her practice.” Therefore, Adams did not advise future American leaders to seek control or sovereignty over foreign countries. He would have liked for Americans to use diplomacy and dialogue instead of war-like rhetoric and bombs to solve political dilemmas.
Additionally, Thomas Jefferson, the main author of the Declaration of Independence and the third president of the US, echoed Washington in that he called for Americans to not entangle themselves in the affairs of other countries. In a letter to a Mr. Lomax in 1799, Jefferson wrote that “… alliance with none, should be our motto.” Similarly, in a letter to Mr. Gerry in 1799, Jefferson wrote that Americans should never enter “the field of slaughter” to preserve balance in Europe.
Although he was speaking in an 18th century European context, one can imagine Jefferson also encouraging Americans to avoid entering the “field of slaughter” in Syria. Moreover, and perhaps most importantly, Jefferson encouraged Americans to seek out non-violent means to solving conflicts and disputes, as he once stated that there are “other modes of punishing injuries than by war, which is as much a punishment to the punisher as to the sufferer.”
The American founding fathers advised future generations of Americans to steer clear of becoming involved in the domestic affairs of other countries. Beyond this, they recommended that Americans engage in dialogue and not warfare with foreigners if political problems arose. Ultimately, President Obama would be wise to heed the moral clarity offered by the men that founded the US. If he does not, he will dangerously lead the US down the road to its own self-inflicted destruction.
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