- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 16, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

COMMENTARY:

If the United States neglects to rethink its purpose informed by the genius and practice of the Founding Fathers, it is destined to self-destruct like every other empire from hubris and overreach. At present, the Republic is undergoing a metamorphosis into executive despotism featuring escalating taxes and permanent warfare because of staggering ignorance of the nation’s birth certificate among officeholders, candidates and the public.

The Constitution’s preamble explains that the national interest of the United States lies in providing for the “common defense” and “secur[ing] the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.” The Founding Fathers denied that the United States was saddled with either a moral or legal responsibility to implant freedom throughout the planet.

None ever hinted at a national duty to overthrow the French Bourbons, the Russian Romanovs, or the Ottoman Sultans. Nor did they believe Americans would be made either safer or freer by attempting to cram American democracy down the throats of feudalistic, tribal, sectarian or autocratic foreign political cultures, for example, Afghanistan, Iraq, Russia or China. The exercise would be futile because the knowledge needed to pluck the flower of democracy from the nettle of longstanding tyranny is beyond human grasp.

Further, these utopian larks would make Americans less safe and less free. Military interventions abroad make enemies by the inevitable killing of innocent civilians in pursuit of actual enemies. Think of the mounting “collateral damage” deaths in Afghanistan or Iraq. Resentments are also awakened by the insult to national dignity implicit in American military bases or occupation forces - a variation of “The Ugly American” by Eugene Burdick and William Lederer.

In addition, the trillions of dollars squandered in foreign military frolics subtract from fashioning a virtually invulnerable defense posture at home earmarked by spy satellites and aircraft, anti-missile systems, submarines, upgraded border security, sophisticated intelligence collection, and a credible threat to destroy any enemy nation with the audacity to attack.

Finally, the military exertions necessary to effectuate an endless American crusade for democracy abroad would be the death knell of the republic. War endows the president with invincible power at home. He controls the public record of information through selective disclosures of classified intelligence. He awards military honors and contracts. And he commands popular political support by exploiting the natural patriotism and fears of Americans that he manufactures by logarithmically inflating foreign threats.

A president with unchecked authority spies on political opponents, flouts the rule of law, cripples the congressional power of oversight, and, arbitrarily detains, harasses or punishes citizens or noncitizens alike on his say-so alone.

In sum, the United States would have become a mirror of the tyranny that provoked the Declaration of Independence if its mission was the global expansion of liberty.

President Bush epitomizes the light years the United States has traveled from its more modest founding purpose and the Constitution’s injunctions. Bob Woodward reports in his new book “The War Within”: “The opportunity to spread freedom throughout the globe, and particularly in the broader Middle East and in the Muslim world,” [Bush’s National Security Adviser Stephen] Hadley said that day, “that is, I think for the president, the defining idea of his presidency… it is not only a sort of moral duty, it’s not only consistent with our principles, it’s consistent with our interests, it’s actually essential for our national security. … For liberty to be secure at home, liberty has to be on the march abroad. Big stuff. Not big. Huge.” But President Bush’s ambitions are also delusional, ill-founded and extra-constitutional.

Not a syllable in the Constitution or Declaration of Independence, however, suggests the president has either the duty or authority to carry freedom to the four corners of the Earth. And Mr. Bush’s concoction of a moral obligation is unconvincing. The United States did not create the dictatorships, autocracies or lawlessness that afflict Egypt, Libya, Sudan, Somalia, Zimbabwe, Eritrea, Ethiopia or Syria. It is not morally bound to relieve afflictions it did not create.

Further, that messianic task would contradict the nation’s principles as expounded by the Founding Fathers. Then Secretary of State John Quincy Adams in his July 4, 1821, address amplified: “[The United States] has abstained from interference in the concerns of others, when the conflict has been for principles to which she clings. … She goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own. … She might become the dictatress of the world: she would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit.”

In addition, liberty in the United States can thrive irrespective of foreign dictators or despots. The suppression of human rights in Burma, Venezuela, Iran or North Korea does not undermine enforcement of the Bill of Rights.

To be sure, nations that honor democracy are less likely to attack the United States. But nondemocracies can be deterred by the threat of incineration a la Hiroshima or Nagasaki coupled with enhanced defense technologies and intelligence. Moreover, the United States does not know how to evolve democracies from political cultures barren of democratic DNA.

Alarming theories of national purpose and interests are propounded by President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and the 2008 Republican and Democratic Party contenders for the White House. Those grandiose ideas clearly demonstrate the quartet would have been Tories opposed to the American Revolution. They would have been denied admission to the ranks of the Minutemen as fifth columnists. They would have been excluded from the Constitutional Convention as unfit. None can be trusted to recapture the republican principles of the Founding Fathers needed to frustrate executive despotism.

Bruce Fein is a constitutional lawyer with Bruce Fein & Associates, Inc. and author of “Constitutional Peril: The Life and Death Struggle for our Constitution and Democracy” (Palgrave Macmillan).

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