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A Tea Party foreign policy?

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Marion Smith
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      Marion Smith

      Marion Smith is founding president of the Common Sense Society in Budapest, Hungary and a graduate fellow at The Heritage Foundation in Washington, DC.

The Tea Party has had an extraordinary effect on American domestic policy. It has raised interest in policy debates, rallied public opinion, and given conservatives a voice on various spending and constitutional issues.

On foreign policy, though, the Tea Party has been largely silent. But with the United States currently involved in three wars on foreign soil, the Tea Party needs to think about foreign policy.

Silence on foreign policy issues has allowed isolationist voices to claim to speak on the Tea Party’s behalf. That’s unfortunate, because those voices discredit the movement’s relevance to American diplomacy.

Ron Paul, for instance, advocates a strict non-interventionism. (Non-interventionism means that America would not be politically or militarily involved with other countries’ affairs.) He claims that to be the Founders’ foreign policy. It isn’t.

Not only is non-interventionism potentially detrimental to America’s security, it is at odds with the principles of America’s founding. While a policy of non-intervention is sometimes appropriate, the doctrine of non-interventionism severely limits the foreign policy options available to America, weakening its ability to defend freedom. It is a limitation the Founders did not adopt, and neither should today’s lawmakers. The Tea Party has the opportunity to reject isolationist policies and to reinforce America’s indispensable role in the world.

America stands for the principles of liberty, independence, and self-government. Those principles define and shape our national interests. The Founders did not believe that America had a duty to spread the ideas of liberty by waging wars that might be detrimental to America’s interests and security. They did, however, welcome opportunities to prudently support the principles and practice of liberty around the world, even at times through military force. George Washington recommended choosing “peace or war, as our interest, guided by justice, shall counsel.”

The Tea Party should look to the Founders on foreign policy as it has done on domestic policy. In doing so, it should resist the temptation to oversimplify America’s early foreign policy.

The true consistency of American foreign policy is to be found not in its policies, which can prudently change and adapt, but in its guiding principles, which are unchanging and permanent.

From the Founders’ perspective, then, a prudent foreign policy means never excluding the possibility of strong military action at a moment’s notice. This, of course, requires maintaining a strong military.

Embracing the Founders’ understanding of statecraft also means promoting America’s political principles whenever possible through the conduct of foreign policy. The ideas of liberty and self-government were not just true for Americans but for all people. America’s early diplomats considered the defense and spread of America’s principles fundamental to their task of representing the people of the United States abroad. At times, the American military was engaged to support those seeking liberty. It rescued refugees and leveraged American support to tip the balance in favor of economic, civil, and religious freedom around the globe.

There are no easy answers to the hard questions of foreign policy. As George Washington recognized, policy based only on material interests would harm America’s ideals, while a policy based only on ideals would ignore the realities of the world. Prudence allowed the Founders to navigate the complex circumstances of international affairs while protecting America’s interests and promoting America’s principles.

  • Frank_D

    For you guys wanting more facts, Mr Smith links to several. Including this one: http://www.heritage.org/Research/Reports/2010/12/The-Myth-of-Isolationism-Part-1-American-Leadership-and-the-Cause-of-Liberty

    The article says non-interventionism is an “isolationist policy”, which it is, not that it is equal to isolationism. The founders didn’t hope for war, but htey certainly did not avoid it, even when other options were available….like surrenduering a bit of American independence or safety. Ron Paul ignores what the founders actually did, and he cherry picks quotes to make them sound like strict isolationists. It makes him look silly and those who blindly take his version of history.

    • krjohnson

      You know, you can quote the heritage foundation I can quote the CATO institute. Nothing gets advanced that way. And no one is saying that the United States was 100% non-interventionist for any extended period of history, but the overwhelming evidence shows that non-interventionism was where her moorings lay. We’ve never had a 100% free market either, but I don’t see conservatives advocating economic interventionism just because we had a tiny bit of it in the first century of the country.

      Instead of quoting think tanks, lets look at some primary sources. How about Washington’s farewell address?
      http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/GPO-CDOC-106sdoc21/pdf/GPO-CDOC-106sdoc21.pdf

      One of my favorite speeches was given by Senator William Borah in opposition to Wilson’s League of Nations. He laid out clearly the principles of our foreign policy in the 143 years up until that point. He spoke with such passion that it is said he left Sen Henry Cabot Lodge in tears.
      http://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/resources/pdf/BorahLeague.pdf

      He summed it up nicely with this sentence:
      “America has arisen to a position where she is respected and admired by the entire world. She did it by minding her own business.”

      He also said:
      “Call us little Americans if you will but leave us the consolation and the pride which the term American, however modified, still imparts… If we have erred we have erred out of too much love for those things which from childhood you and we together were taught to revere… because we have placed too high an estimate upon the wisdom of Washington and Jefferson, too exalted an opinion upon the patriotism of the sainted Lincoln.”

      Which reminds me. Lincoln was also a non-interventionist. Kind of flys in the face of your thinking, right? But he was the sponsor of the “spot amendment” which asked the military to point to the exact spot at which the Mexican Army supposedly fired at the American army, sparking the Mexican-American war. You see, he didn’t want war with Mexico and he didn’t believe that the Mexicans had fired on us. He was kind of like a 19th century version of a 9-11 truther.

  • OldMexican

    Silence on foreign policy issues has allowed isolationist [sic] voices to claim to speak on the Tea Party’s behalf.

    Fallacy of equivocation: To change the meaning of a word in order to argue against the word.

    Non-interventionism does NOT mean “isolationism”, Marion. The isolationists par excellence are actually the protectionists/merchantilists who advocate for trade and immigration restrictions; the non-interventionists, by contrast, advocate for free trade and peaceful relations with ALL foreign countries and people.

  • OldMexican

    He [Ron Paul] claims that to be the Founders’ foreign policy. It isn’t.

    Thomas Jefferson summed up the noninterventionist foreign policy position perfectly in his 1801 inaugural address: “Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations — entangling alliances with none.” Washington similarly urged that we must, “Act for ourselves and not for others,” by forming an “American character wholly free of foreign attachments.”

    http://www.lewrockwell.com/paul/paul375.html

  • HardRightTurn

    Just because, as the writer claims, the Founders weren’t non-interventionist doesn’t mean they were pro-interventionist. As he states, it’s all about having a strong defense. Offensive military operations are not supported.

    More to the point of current concern, the constitution and the War Powers Act define necessary military actions and require consensus. Intervention is not an included necessary military action becuase it is not defensive in nature.

  • dan1davis

    Dream on, neocon.

    • HardRightTurn

      Please give us your definition of neocon. And then tell us why you are calling Marion Smith a neocon.

      • OldMexican

        Re: HardRightTurn,

        A “neo-con” or neo-conservative is an iteration of the old statist/warmonger left turned “conservative” (hence, “neo”.)

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  • caseyinaustin

    Interesting that you never mentioned Thomas Jefferson. The Tea Party has a wide range of views other than one major topic – adhering to the US Constitution. Seems like you would at least quote the author, but that wouldn’t have made your point because he was in disagreement with your stance of military agression. He didn’t even believe in a standing army and concluded that we should stay out of dangerous ties when he stated, “peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none.” James Madison agreed with him saying, “a standing army is one of the greatest mischief that can possibly happen.” Thomas Paine was in agreement against alliances as well. Sounds like they were pretty clear on foreign policy.

    Washington said, “The great rule of conduct for us, in regard to foreign nations, is in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible. Europe has a set of primary interests, which to us have none, or a very remote relation. Hence she must be engaged in frequent controversies the causes of which are essentially foreign to our concerns. Hence, therefore, it must be unwise in us to implicate ourselves, by artificial ties, in the ordinary vicissitudes of her politics, or the ordinary combinations and collisions of her friendships or enmities.” Didn’t mention that either, did you?

  • gatortarian

    “From the Founders’ perspective, then, a prudent foreign policy means never excluding the possibility of strong military action at a moment’s notice. This, of course, requires maintaining a strong military.”

    Thanks some pretty funny stuff.

  • slehar

    It is wise for the tea party to focus exclusively on our number one problem, on which all reasonable people agree. To expand out into foreign policy and/or moral issues would be to fragment the movement into bickering fragments, and would open it to criticism from the Leftie Loonies for the most extreme of those views. The outstanding success of the movement has been exactly its refusal to take a stand on all those other issues.

  • thephranc

    Ron Paul is joke.

    • kingfish

      YOU are the joke, jerk!