Washington, astutely held that in foreign policy the United States should pursue its own interests and not be involved in another country’s conflicts, which could only bring on unnecessary problems.
Monday, February 17, will be celebrated by the U.S. Federal government as George Washington’s Birthday this year. (The Federal holiday is officially the third Monday of February, though Washington’s actual birthday is February 22. It should be pointed out that the mainstream media and advertisers like to call this day “Presidents’ Day” and a small number of states officially use that designation.)
The holiday is usually accompanied with a celebration of Washington’s life and achievements as leader of the Continental Army and the first President of the United States (under the Constitution), but one thing that is usually ignored in any public discussion is his “Farewell Address” of 1796, especially the part where he discusses the serious danger to the United States from Americans with a “passionate attachment” to a foreign country and advises his countrymen that
“Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence . . . 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. . . . 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.”
The relevance of Washington’s words to the role of a particular foreign country today is all too apparent, and is clearly spelled out in the book, “The Passionate Attachment: America’s Involvement With Israel, 1947 to Present,” co-authored by the late George Ball, who served as Under Secretary of State for Economic and Agricultural Affairs in the administrations of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson from 1961 to 1968, and his son, Douglas B Ball. And the years since the book’s publication in 1992 have seen Israel’s influence over US policy increase geometrically.
Washington’s “Farewell Address” was his political testament to the nation as he prepared to leave the presidency at the end of his second term. Washington never delivered the address in public and it was originally published in the Philadelphia Daily American Advertiser on September 19, 1796 and then reprinted in papers around the country. It very quickly gained great popularity and for more than a century held a place in the pantheon of sacrosanct American documents.
Although the address also dealt with domestic issues, the section on international relations was more significant in actually providing a standard for American policy. During the time of Washington’s presidency, the “passionate attachment” of many idealistic Americans was to the new revolutionary republic of France, which was at war with England and other European monarchies. Not only did idealistic Americans feel an ideological affinity for a fellow republic involved in a life-or-death struggle with monarchical regimes, but many Americans held that a debt of gratitude was owed to France because of its military support during the American Revolution and that the United States was still obligated to abide by the 1778 alliance with France which did not include an end date. Washington, however, astutely held that in foreign policy the United States should pursue its own interests and not be involved in another country’s conflicts, which could only bring on unnecessary problems.
Undoubtedly, the conservative Washington eschewed the radical direction that the French revolution had taken (though in his public statements he remained supportive of republicanism per se in France) , but he expressed his opposition to supporting France in terms of the concrete interests of the United States and not the domestic practices of the French Republic. Consequently, Washington’s Farewell Address applied this principle to American foreign policy in general, not just in situations where an unappealing regime was involved. During Washington’s time, this position could be used to apply also to support for Britain, which was desired by some high Federalists. As Washington wrote:
“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 participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter, without adequate inducement or justification.”
Washington certainly faced some serious problems in this area, especially in the case of the Genêt Affair. Edmond-Charles Genêt ( Rreferred to as Citizen Genet in the egalitarian revolutionary lexicon of the French Revolution, in the photo right) was a brilliant linguist and ardent republican, who was made the French Minister to the United States by the Girondins when they ran the revolutionary government. Genêt arrived in Charleston, South Carolina in early April 1793 and instead of traveling to the temporary US capital in Philadelphia to present himself to President George Washington for accreditation, the colorful Genêt tarried in South Carolina where he harangued crowds with radical republican ideals and raised soldiers and privateers for service against France’s enemies—England and Spain. When Genêt finally left for Philadelphia, he stopped along the way to continue these same activities while being feted by adoring crowds.
Genêt’s activities obviously endangered American neutrality in the war between France and Britain, which Washington had pointedly declared in his Neutrality Proclamation of April 22, 1793.
When Genêt met with Washington, he asked for what amounted to a termination of American neutrality and after being turned down, he defied the United States government by continuing to promote military activities against France’s enemies. But while he was able to cause some radical Americans to attack “old man Washington,” as Genet came to call him, his appeal to Americans waned since most Americans identified more with their president than with French republican ideas, and when the more radical Jacobins overthrew the Girondins in June 1793, Genêt fell from favor at home, too. Ultimately, Genêt would have to beg asylum from Washington so as to not be sent back to France to be tried and likely guillotined. A non-vindictive Washington would grant his request, and a chastened Genêt would marry and live out his life in the United States as an American citizen.
The similarity of Genêt to some Israel luminaries has not been missed. In March 2003, Patrick J. Buchanan wrote in his mastery article “Whose War?” that immediately after the 9/11 terrorism, “‘Bibi’ Netanyahu, the former Prime Minister of Israel, like some latter-day Citizen Genet, was ubiquitous on American television, calling for us to crush the ‘Empire of Terror.’ The ‘Empire,’ it turns out, consisted of Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran, Iraq, and ‘the Palestinian enclave.’ Nasty as some of these regimes and groups might be, what had they done to the United States?” Of course, the obvious answer to Buchanan’s rhetorical question was “nothing,” but they were all obvious enemies of Israel. Fortunately, for “Bibi” the political climate was much more favorable for this approach than it had been for the hapless Citizen Genêt in the 1790s.
Obviously, with Israel “passionate attachment” has reached a level that Citizen Genêt could never have dreamed of.
For now it has become politically necessary for the United States to fully and unconditionally support a foreign country.
And there is almost absolute agreement among all America’s political leaders, with deviation simply verboten.
And support for Israel since the beginning of the Bush administration has involved war and the threat of war by the U.S. against Israel’s adversaries with the invasion of Iraq and now the belligerent stance toward Iran.
While Israel was in the background as a reason for war against Iraq, it is front and center in the move toward war on Iran.
And the dangers used to justify an attack on that country more often than not pertain to Israel, not the United States.
Thus concern about Iran’s aid to Hamas and Hezbollah, threats to eliminate Zionism or even to “wipe” Israel off the map, and a possible nuclear weapons program do not really involve sufficiently serious threats to the security of the United States to justify an actual Middle East war. As the United States pursues a war policy on behalf of Israel’s interests, no one is allowed to point out this obvious fact, even though many of the ardent champions of this policy are closely connected to Israel.
These people are instead regarded as American patriots and followed by the gentile super patriot masses who listen to Fox News and right-wing talk radio. Even the critics of the war hawks do not really differ in their assessment when they have described neocon Israel Firsters such as Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, and Norman Podhoretz as overwrought American nationalists.
The prescient Washington foresaw this inversion of truth when he wrote:
“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.”
And the real American patriots who oppose the wars in the Middle East are often condemned as traitors and defeatists, as neocon David Frum, the author of the Bush’s “Axis of Evil” speech, characterized them in his article “Unpatriotic Conservatives: A war against America,” which appeared in the April 7, 2003 issue of the National Review, once the bastion of American conservative nationalism in the United States. (Born and raised in Canada, Frum was not even an American citizen when he wrote this article.)
Washington, sufficiently wise and modest, and not given to the utopian optimism in regard to the United States, acknowledged that his warning would not “prevent our nation from running the course which has hitherto marked the destiny of nations.”
But Washington hoped that his words might “be productive of some partial benefit, some occasional good; that they may now and then recur to moderate the fury of party spirit, to warn against the mischiefs of foreign intrigue, to guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism.”
So while it would be wise for Americans to heed Washington’s warning today, it unfortunately appears that the American polity has fallen too far for Washington’s words to have any effect. And most likely, Washington’s words on the issue of international relations are no longer even known to any but a few specialists on American history and foreign policy, and the United States will likely run “the course which has hitherto marked the destiny of nations,” namely deterioration and destruction, which cannot be but hastened by its involvement in unnecessary wars.