We need to create a Foreign Policy Constitution. A document that we hold up to the light to reveal how we should approach every foreign engagement. We can refer to this document so that America can consistently carry the moral authority expected of this free and powerful nation without compromise.
Am I being facetious? Not really. Naïve? Maybe. What we have is a vague set of evolving principles that have been subjected to so many diverse and conflicting interests that our authority on the world stage has become a liability.
The officially stated goal of the foreign policy of the United States, from the Foreign Policy Agenda of the U.S. Department of State, is “to create a more secure, democratic, and prosperous world for the benefit of the American people and the international community.”
Could anything be more vague and open to interpretation? What determines security? Prosperity? What are the parameters? By what measure? When are we benefitting? How far do we go?
In addition, the United States House Committee on Foreign Affairs states: “Export controls, including nonproliferation of nuclear technology and nuclear hardware; measures to foster commercial intercourse with foreign nations and to safeguard American business abroad; international commodity agreements; international education; and protection of American citizens abroad…”
Forgive me, but the best, and most ironic, part of that is “intercourse with foreign nations…”
I like the specificity regarding nuclear proliferation, but we are witnessing today that “export controls” has wide latitude. It doesn’t say “Strangle or obliterate perceived rogue nations that have nuclear potential,” yet that has been added to the debate.
Constitutionalists and modern Federalists will reiterate the foreign policy themes expressed in George Washington’s farewell address. These included: “Observing good faith and justice towards all nations and cultivating peace and harmony with all, excluding both ‘inveterate antipathies against particular nations, and passionate attachments for others’, and “steering clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world.”
The primary trend of U.S. foreign policy since the American Revolution has been the shift from non-interventionism to hegemony, becoming the dominate world power during World War II. President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s support of the Allies against Germany and Japan resulted in an intense internal debate that initially determined that our policy was to become the “Arsenal of Democracy”; financing and equipping the Allied armies without sending American combat soldiers.
Roosevelt then defined fundamental freedoms to rally American involvement which he said ought to be enjoyed by people “everywhere in the world.”
These were “freedom of speech and religion, as well as freedom from want and fear.”
From here on a new expansionist American Foreign Policy objective was realized, and trouble has followed a never-ending, exponentially expanding, and impossible set of directives to accomplish. How, when, where and what will a sovereign, democratic Republic determine how, when, where and what we can accomplish?
While the President is Commander in Chief of the United States Armed Forces, only Congress has authority to declare war. The United States Secretary of State is our foreign minister and is the primary conductor of state-to-state diplomacy and both the Secretary of State and ambassadors are appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate.
But those are just the rules. Rules need to have purpose, vision and clear directives to retain relevance.
This may be the fundamental dysfunction of government, in general, but it is a conflict that we must resolve if we are ever to find balance domestically and abroad. Just as we refer back to the Constitution of the United States of America, and a Supreme Court was created to interpret the application of its laws, we should have a document as accepted and revered for its timeless wisdom, by which to inform and guide our involvement in an ever changing world.
We should call for a new Continental Congress (I’m being a bit tongue-in-cheek, but I do believe that Thomas Jefferson suggested that we hold one every 50 years or so to remain relevant) to draft: The Constitution of American Foreign Policy.
Such a charter will always be subject to interpretation, just as the breadth of our Constitution is continually challenged, but its essential purpose to outline fundamental laws protecting our freedom is respected around the world.
As we continually face military action in the Middle East, and as we consider loss of life and global impact, we must be clear on what it is we’re doing and why. Chemical warfare and genocide are unthinkable crimes against humanity, but can we be sure that our policies are preventing any of it from happening?
Have they so far?