Sunday, July 23, 2006

Wah! Hooooh! Good God, Y'all ...

In a thread below, TW left a comment that calls for post-length discussion:
TW said...
Thanks for the response and for posting the foreign policy section of Washington's Farewell Address. I don't recall out and out reading it before, although, some parts of it seemed familiar.

Washington's Farewell Address is wise counsel in my humble opinion. Particularly for the year 1796. I truly believe that George Washington could provide us with wise counsel today as well. He was obviously a gifted man. I dare say today his counsel would be somewhat different today than what he espoused in 1796.

In 1796 the movement of things like men, materiel, trade goods, and raw natural resources like oil, metals, textiles, and such were not of paramount concern. In essence the United States was for the most part self-sufficient and insulated from the rest of the world's troubles by time and distance.
It's not at all clear to me that international trade had less relative importance to Americans in 1796 than international trade has for us today. Even by the standards of the time, America had essentially no industrial infrastructure and was highly dependent on the world (Europe, more or less) for manufactured goods and for the tools needed to build an industrial base. As time went on, America did become relatively self-sufficient, but that had yet to happen in Washington's time. Obviously, the details of the trade (specific commodities and goods) and the volume of trade (proportional to population, more or less, and there were lots fewer of everyone then) are different -- but it seems to me that trade was vital then, and trade is vital now.
How would things like the world economy, as in the world's interdependence on products, services and natural resources from other parts of the world affect his advice? Those considerations are just for starters.
Once again, there was trade in 1796; if trade means international interdependence, then the world was interdependent then and is now, too. Are the world's economies more closely intertwined now? Probably -- but I see that as a difference in degree, not a difference in kind.
How about things like chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons or even aircraft and machine guns? How would things like ICBMs, terrorism (both state and group sponsored), or asymetrical warfare modifiy his guidance? How about the ability of a person to travel halfway around the world in a matter of hours versus months.
Let's take that a little at a time. Weaponry = details of how wars are fought; I do not see how the details of the weapons of war affect the desirability of entering into alliances, as opposed to honesty, evenhandedness, and mutually-beneficial trade with all. Terrorism, state-sponsored or less formal? That would have been nothing new to George Washington; read the history of the French and Indian War(s). Among the French and English militaries, the colonists, and various Indian tribes, there was a broad spectrum of conflict, much of which would qualify as "terrorism," I think, by anyone's definition. (I can recommend Allen W. Eckert's That Dark and Bloody River as some fairly horrifying reading on this subject.) Warfare was horrible in Washington's time, and is at least potentially even worse today; I don't think that whatever changes have taken place in the intervening time would militate against Washington's counsel concerning the best ways to avoid the bloody business.
I've just touched on a few of the major differences between 1796 and 2006. While I'm sure much of what he said would still hold true for today, I can hardly envision him making exactly the same Farewell Address for today's world.
Now there I can agree. I'm sure that Washington would have realized that there wouldn't be much point in writing or delivering an address that demanded as much literacy, and ability to closely follow a line of reasoning, as the one he wrote in 1796. For today, he'd need something that would fill 30 seconds or less, using English that calls for a reading level of grade 3 or so.
And, while your answer was fairly good, I'm still left wondering about when you would become concerned about national defense, what sort of worldly events or actions would motivate you to action? Precisely at what point would you take action and what type of action is permissable in your view?
Oh, I'm wildly concerned right now about what our leaders are pleased to call "national defense," and is in fact national offense: interventionism. What is a legitimate national defense? Well, I think Major General Smedley Butler, USMC (ret.) had it about right, in his famous War Is a Racket: "The ships of our navy, it can be seen, should be specifically limited, by law, to within 200 miles of our coastline. Had that been the law in 1898 the Maine would never have gone to Havana Harbor. She never would have been blown up. There would have been no war with Spain with its attendant loss of life. Two hundred miles is ample, in the opinion of experts, for defense purposes. Our nation cannot start an offensive war if its ships can't go further than 200 miles from the coastline. Planes might be permitted to go as far as 500 miles from the coast for purposes of reconnaissance. And the army should never leave the territorial limits of our nation."

In my view, actual invasion of U.S. territory is a legitimate cause of war. An obvious invasion fleet could legitimately be attacked off the coastline. Any offense not provably and officially committed by a nation-state is an international criminal act, and the legitimate response is a police response, not warfare against whatever nation-state happens to be convenient. A 9-11 type attack falls into that latter category. 9-11 would not have occurred if the U.S. had not been -- against all of Washington's counsel -- indulging "passionate attachments" for some (or one) nation, and "inveterate antipathies" toward other nations. I do not say that we can now avoid all further terrorism by beginning now to practice non-intervention; as The Poor Man has put it so colorfully, it's hard to "unshit the bed." No, we should start practicing non-intervention now because we don't need to compound our existing problems by adding to the list of our bitter enemies. The first rule for the prudent man who finds himself at the bottom of a deep pit: stop digging!

No comments: