Foreign Policy Demands Principle and Prudence

By Carafano, James | Examiner (Washington, D.C.), The, December 31, 2012 | Go to article overview

Foreign Policy Demands Principle and Prudence


Carafano, James, Examiner (Washington, D.C.), The


Call them the Founding Squabblers. America's Founders disagreed - - a lot. All of them, including George Washington, picked sides.

Our first president's farewell address was a high-water mark of partisanship. The top issue of the day was how to protect the nation's newly won freedoms. Washington signaled he wanted his countrymen to support the party that would "steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world."

Washington's dictum is often wrongly regarded as a permanent principle of foreign policy. In practice, he had no problem with making alliances when they suited. Washington signed several treaties -- with Britain, Algeria and Spain.

But as he was leaving office, he knew it wasn't the right time to be making binding commitments. War was brewing among the great European powers. Signing up with one side or the other would inevitably drag the young American republic into a global conflict. His farewell statement was just prudential policymaking.

When it comes to foreign policy and national security, George Washington was America's first conservative president. What marks Washington as a conservative was his constant self-imposed struggle to maintain the right balance of prudence and principle, matching the demand to protect the nation's vital interests above all else with the republic's desire to be both a symbol of and a force for good in the world. Even his principled desire to work for the good was tempered with a utilitarian rationale: A family of nations that shared a commitment to freedom would be, he believed, the best bulwark against the spread of tyranny.

If conservatives bounce back into national leadership, that bounce will start, in part, with national security and foreign policies that are true to conservative principles. But those policies, like Washington's, must also be the most practical for the time. …

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