Friday, May 20, 2011

First Principles (or, Romney Needs a History Lesson)

President Obama's speech yesterday on American policy toward the Arab Spring and the Middle East has prompted a host of hysterical responses on the right, most of which suggest that the president has done something radical by saying: "The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states."

As numerous commentators have noted, this is not anything new, but the right is so accustomed at this point to reflexively condemning any position that Obama takes as "radical" that it is hardly a surprise.

What is somewhat surprising is the following comment by Mitt Romney that Andrew Sullivan picked up on:

"[The president] has also violated a first principle of American foreign policy, which is to stand firm by our friends."

Romney needs a history lesson.

If you want to talk about first principles of American foreign policy, you can't do better than the definitive statement by George Washington in his Farewell Address.  And what would Washington think about this idea that the U.S. should "stand firm by our friends"?

[N]othing is more essential, than that permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular Nations, and passionate attachments for others, should be excluded ... The Nation, which indulges towards another an habitual hatred, or an 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.... 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.

Washington would be appalled at Romney's statement, but knee-jerk support for the foreign policy of the Israeli government has become yet another article of faith on the right.  But nothing could be more contrary to "first principles" of American foreign policy.

Washington, of course, knew of what he spoke.  He had spent the previous three years fending off American friends of France, who wanted the U.S. to do whatever it could to support revolutionary France in its wars.  Washington, wisely, determined that American interests were not involved in those European conflicts and he remained uninvolved.

The pro-French faction, like Romney today, argued that the U.S. should stick by France out of friendship because of French aid in the American Revolution.  It is that fundamental error that Washington noted when he argued that such a "principle" would lead Americans "to betray or sacrifice the interests of their own country."

Someone needs to tell Romney that the "first principle" of American foreign policy is, and always has been, to pursue American national interests.

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