George Washington in his 1796 Farewell Address:
“That we may be always prepared for War, but never unsheathe the sword except in self defense so long as Justice and our essential rights, and national respectability can be preserved without it; for without the gift of prophecy, it may safely be pronounced, that if this country can remain in peace 20 years longer: and I devoutly pray that it may do so to the end of time; such in all probability will be its population, riches, and resources, when combined with its peculiarly happy and remote Situation from the other quarters of the globe, as to bid defiance, in a just cause, to any earthly power whatsoever.”
The world of George Washington was a world completely alien to our own. While Washington proclaimed the need for political isolationism and neutrality in foreign affairs, he also wasn’t living in as interconnected of a world as we.
Americans at the time were pretty much either farmers or businessmen, and getting involved in costly foreign wars wasn’t going to be good either of these groups as the gains could not outweigh the costs. That is, unless it was against the Barbary pirates, but that was just a matter of standing up to a bully.
The world has changed, and the United States needs to realistically involve itself in problems and conflicts abroad that serve its interests, but only so far as it is applied to domestic security and the preservation of our quality of life. At least that’s how I believe Washington would have viewed the contemporary global environment and the United States’ role in it.
Any greater level of involvement would simply be a waste on our resources. Some examples of wasteful foreign adventures that the United States has engaged in have been: The Cold War, Vietnam, The covert wars in Afghanistan, Angola, Congo, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Colombia, etc., the War on Drugs, and the propping up of archaic, corrupt regimes around the world. And that’s just to name a few.
These conflicts are a drain on our natural, economic, and human resources and provide few or little gains. Washington knew this by watching the old powers of Europe battle each other in endless wars that brought little gain for either side save for the glory gained in battle: You can’t build industry, employ people, or make massive innovations when glory is smashing your resources to bits on a battlefield somewhere.
That’s why the United States, heeding Washington’s advice for the 100 years following his address, proclaimed itself a neutral nation who would trade with anybody, and use the profits to develop its industry, human resources and economic power. That is why the United States is so powerful, but the fact that it is beginning to intervene again in the structuring of other countries governments and foreign policy (Iraq and Afghanistan) will only bring resentment (Sept. 11, but also general global attitudes toward United States foreign policy) instead of willing trading partners who feel like equals.
Any foreign intervention must be pragmatic and in our best interests, not for ideology, the perpetuation of the “garrison state/military industrial complex”, or even the conquest of strategic resources (oil).
American’s reliance upon oil for the past several decades is as dangerous as any foreign war, mainly because it costs so much in the ways of lost moral high-ground and maintaining a steady supply. Because of oil we have and will be involving ourselves in the Middle East, Central Asia, South America, and Africa, and many other places that have problems that should not be made those of the United States.
This does not mean withdraw from the world community: that’s almost impossible; we should just use American ingenuity for finding ways not to be forced to involve ourselves in foreign affairs.
To put it as simply as possible, make $1 million and live off the interest instead of working every day just to make ends meet.