- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 3, 2008





The current political campaigns are blind to what the Founding Fathers intended elections to be about. Not the economy, not the projection of a global military footprint, but elections ought to deal with securing freedom, self-government and independence at home with a robust and transparent system of checks and balances. The candidates should be debating such issues as whether the president is empowered to initiate warfare, whether Congress may delegate to the president its authority to move the nation from a state of peace to a state of war, or whether international terrorists are criminals or warriors necessitating permanent war powers over every square inch of the planet to adorn the White House.

John Quincy Adams, then-secretary of state, elaborated in a July 4, 1821 address: “[The United States] glory is not dominion, but liberty. Her march is the march of mind. She has a spear and a shield; but the motto upon her shield is Freedom, Independence, Peace. This has been, as far as her necessary intercourse with the rest of mankind would permit, her practice.”

The Founding Fathers understood that the nation was conceived to promote liberty at home, to defend its sovereignty against foreign aggressors, and to honor government by the consent of the governed. No citizen would be a vassal. All would be exhorted to scrutinize and criticize public officials. A collective vigilance against government abuses or lawlessness would protect the Republic from imitating the decline and fall of Rome. Self-government would give lofty meaning and fulfillment to life between ashes to ashes and dust to dust. The people would be masters of their political fate, captains of their political souls. Everything else, the Founding Fathers sermonized, would be ornamental.

They also knew that a global military profile and endless warring abroad would destroy the Republic. Liberties would be steadily curtailed, expenditures and taxes would soar, and secret government would flourish under a national security banner. Executive power would come to eclipse the legislative by controlling and manipulating public information and inflating danger to frighten would-be detractors. James Madison warned: “If Tyranny and Oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy.”

The political maxims extolled by the Founding Fathers were timeless. They pivoted on human nature and the temptations to abuse power that are present at all times and in all places - including the prevailing era of globalization. John Quincy Adams brilliantly amplified as to why chronically deploying military force abroad in hopes of enhancing safety or spreading liberty would be folly subversive of the national interest: “[The United States] 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 well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself, beyond power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom. The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force. The frontlet upon her brows would no longer beam with the ineffable splendor of freedom and independence; but in its stead would be soon substituted an imperial diadem, flashing in false and tarnished luster the murky radiance of dominion and power. She might become the dictatress of the world: she would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit.”

To respect the original meaning of the United States, the 2008 election campaigns should center on overthrowing the false orthodoxy that the national interest mandates permanent warring abroad to kill suspected international terrorists or other enemies, to advance the march of democracy, and, to secure economically strategic resources like oil and gas. That false conviction has prevailed without serious challenge since at least the beginning of the Cold War like the geocentric theory of the universe before Copernicus. The domino theory was said to necessitate the Vietnam War. The dominoes fell, but the predicted heightened danger to the United States never came. The absence of freedom in Tiananmen Square or Red Square does not threaten freedom in the United States.

Generally speaking, the sovereignty of the United States and its constitutional dispensation is made less secure by the contemporary custom of employing military force abroad. The costs are prohibitive. Think of the trillion dollars spent in the Iraq and Afghan wars. President Dwight D. Eisenhower admonished: “We will bankrupt ourselves in the vain search for absolute security.” The inevitable United States killings of civilians in pursuit of Taliban, al Qaeda or Iraqi insurgents create new enemies. Others become resentful by efforts to coerce cultural or political change in the image of the United States. Finally, United States military personnel are killed in foreign military ventures.

The best United States defense of its national interests is genuine defense - Star Wars, anti-missile defense, spy satellites and aircraft, submarines policing coastal waters, and a military esprit de corps fortified by a reverence for the nation’s celebration of individual freedom and the rule of law. The United States should threaten to incinerate ala Hiroshima or Nagasaki any foreign nation with the audacity to attack, but otherwise withhold the sword from any ideological or other foe that leaves the United States undisturbed.

If the United States neglects to restore the national interest vision of the Founding Fathers, executive despotism, legislative impotence and an inert citizenry are inescapable.

Bruce Fein is a constitutional lawyer at Bruce Fein & Associates and author of “Constitutional Peril: The Life And Death Struggle For Our Constitution and Democracy” (Palgrave Macmillan).



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