George Washington, A Passionate Attachment, and Israel
Monday, February 15, 2010 6:14 PM
From: “Stephen Sniegoski”
To: “Sniegoski, Stephen”
Monday, February 15, was celebrated by the US federal government as George Washington’s Birthday this year. (The federal holiday is officially the third Monday of February, though Washington’s actual birthday is February 22. It should be pointed out that the mainstream media and advertisers like to call this day “Presidents’ Day” and a small number of states do officially use that designation.) The holiday is usually accompanied with a celebration of Washington’s life and achievements as leader of the Continental Army and the first President of the United States (under the Constitution), but one thing that is usually ignored in any public discussion is his “Farewell Address” of 1796, especially the part where he discusses the serious danger to the United States from Americans with a “passionate attachment” to a foreign country and advises his countrymen that “Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence . . . the jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly awake, since history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government. . . . Excessive partiality for one foreign nation and excessive dislike of another cause those whom they actuate to see danger only on one side, and serve to veil and even second the arts of influence on the other.” The relevance of Washington’s words to the role of a particular foreign country today is all too apparent, and is clearly spelled out in the book, “The Passionate Attachment: America’s Involvement With Israel, 1947 to Present,” co-authored by the late George Ball, who served as Under Secretary of State for Economic and Agricultural Affairs in the administrations of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson from 1961 to 1968, and his son, Douglas B Ball. And the years since the book’s publication in 1992 have seen Israel’s influence over US policy increase geometrically.
Washington’s “Farewell Address” was his political testament to the nation as he prepared to leave the presidency at the end of his second term. Washington never delivered the address in public and it was originally published in the Philadelphia Daily American Advertiser on September 19, 1796 and then reprinted in papers around the country. It very quickly gained great popularity and for more than a century held a place in the pantheon of sacrosanct American documents.
Although the address also dealt with domestic issues, the section on international relations was more significant in actually providing a standard for American policy. During the time of Washington’s presidency, the “passionate attachment” of many idealistic Americans was to the new revolutionary republic of France, which was at war with England and other European monarchies. Not only did idealistic Americans feel an ideological affinity for a fellow republic involved in a life-or-death struggle with monarchical regimes, but many Americans held that a debt of gratitude was owed to France because of its military support during the American Revolution and that the United States was still obligated to abide by the 1778 alliance with France which did not include an end date. Washington, however, astutely held that in foreign policy the United States should pursue its own interests and not be involved in another country’s conflicts, which could only bring on unnecessary problems.
Undoubtedly, the conservative Washington eschewed the radical direction that the French revolution had taken (though in his public statements he remained supportive of republicanism per se in France) , but he expressed his opposition to supporting France in terms of the concrete interests of the United States and not the domestic practices of the French Republic. Consequently, Washington’s Farewell Address applied this principle to American foreign policy in general, not just in situations where an unappealing regime was involved. During Washington’s time, this position could be used to apply also to support for Britain, which was desired by some high Federalists. As Washington wrote: “So likewise a passionate attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils. Sympathy for the favorite nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest in cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter, without adequate inducement or justification.”
Washington certainly faced some serious problems in this area, especially in the case of the Genêt Affair. Edward-Charles Genêt (referred to as Citizen Genet in the egalitarian revolutionary lexicon of the French Revolution) was a brilliant linguist and ardent republican, who was made the French Minister to the United States by the Girondins when they ran the revolutionary government. Genêt arrived in Charleston, South Carolina in early April 1793 and instead of traveling to the temporary US capital in Philadelphia to present himself to President George Washington for accreditation, the colorful Genêt tarried in South Carolina where he harangued crowds with radical republican ideals and raised soldiers and privateers for service against France’s enemies—England and Spain. When Genêt finally left for Philadelphia, he stopped along the way to continue these same activities while being feted by adoring crowds.
Genêt’s activities obviously endangered American neutrality in the war between France and Britain, which Washington had pointedly declared in his Neutrality Proclamation of April 22, 1793. When Genêt met with Washington, he asked for what amounted to a termination of American neutrality and after being turned down, he defied the United States government by continuing to promote military activities against France’s enemies. But while he was able to cause some radical Americans to attack “old man Washington,” as Genet came to call him, his appeal to Americans waned since most Americans identified more with their president than with French republican ideas, and when the more radical Jacobins overthrew the Girondins in June 1793, Genêt fell from favor at home, too. Ultimately, Genêt would have to beg asylum from Washington so as to not be sent back to France to be tried and likely guillotined. A non-vindictive Washington would grant his request, and a chastened Genêt would marry and live out his life in the United States as an American citizen.
The similarity of Genêt to some Israel luminaries has not been missed. In March 2003, Patrick J. Buchanan wrote in his mastery article “Whose War?” that immediately after the 9/11 terrorism, “‘Bibi’ Netanyahu, the former Prime Minister of Israel, like some latter-day Citizen Genet, was ubiquitous on American television, calling for us to crush the ‘Empire of Terror.’ The ‘Empire,’ it turns out, consisted of Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran, Iraq, and ‘the Palestinian enclave.’ Nasty as some of these regimes and groups might be, what had they done to the United States?” Of course, the obvious answer to Buchanan’s rhetorical question was “nothing,” but they were all obvious enemies of Israel. Fortunately, for “Bibi” the political climate was much more favorable for this approach than it had been for the hapless Citizen Genêt in the 1790s.
Obviously, with Israel “passionate attachment” has reached a level that Citizen Genêt could never have dreamed of. For now it has become politically necessary for the United States to fully and unconditionally support a foreign country. And there is almost absolute agreement among all America’s political leaders, with deviation simply verboten.
And support for Israel since the beginning of the Bush administration has involved war and the threat of war by the US against Israel’s adversaries with the invasion of Iraq and now the belligerent stance toward Iran. While Israel was in the background as a reason for war against Iraq, it is front and center in the move toward war on Iran. And the dangers used to justify an attack on that country more often than not pertain to Israel, not the United States. Thus concern about Iran’s aid to Hamas and Hezbollah, threats to eliminate Zionism or even to “wipe” Israel off the map, and a possible nuclear weapons program do not really involve sufficiently serious threats to the security of the United States to justify an actual Middle East war.
As the United States pursues a war policy on behalf of Israel’s interests, no one is allowed to point out this obvious fact, even though many of the ardent champions of this policy are closely connected to Israel. These people are instead regarded as American patriots and followed by the gentile super patriot masses who listen to Fox News and right-wing talk radio. Even the critics of the war hawks do not really differ in their assessment when they have described neocon Israel Firsters such as Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, and Norman Podhoretz as overwrought American nationalists. The prescient Washington foresaw this inversion of truth when he wrote: “Real patriots, who may resist the intrigues of the favorite, are liable to become suspected and odious; while its tools and dupes usurp the applause and confidence of the people, to surrender their interests.” And the real American patriots who oppose the wars in the Middle East are often condemned as traitors and defeatists, as neocon David Frum, the author of the Bush’s “Axis of Evil” speech, characterized them in his article “Unpatriotic Conservatives: A war against America,” which appeared in the April 7, 2003 issue of the National Review, once the bastion of American conservative nationalism in the United States. (Born and raised in Canada, Frum was not even an American citizen when he wrote this article.)
Washington, sufficiently wise and modest, and not given to the utopian optimism in regard to the United States, acknowledged that his warning would not “prevent our nation from running the course which has hitherto marked the destiny of nations.” But Washington hoped that his words might “be productive of some partial benefit, some occasional good; that they may now and then recur to moderate the fury of party spirit, to warn against the mischiefs of foreign intrigue, to guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism.”
So while it would be wise for Americans to heed Washington’s warning today, it unfortunately appears that the American polity has fallen too far for Washington’s words to have any effect. And most likely, Washington’s words on the issue of international relations are no longer even known to any but a few specialists on American history and foreign policy, and the United States will likely run “the course which has hitherto marked the destiny of nations,” namely deterioration and destruction, which cannot be but hastened by its involvement in unnecessary wars.
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Washington’s Farewell Address 1796
[Section dealing with Foreign Policy ]
Observe good faith and justice towards all nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all. Religion and morality enjoin this conduct; and can it be, that good policy does not equally enjoin it – It will be worthy of a free, enlightened, and at no distant period, a great nation, to give to mankind the magnanimous and too novel example of a people always guided by an exalted justice and benevolence. Who can doubt that, in the course of time and things, the fruits of such a plan would richly repay any temporary advantages which might be lost by a steady adherence to it ? Can it be that Providence has not connected the permanent felicity of a nation with its virtue ? The experiment, at least, is recommended by every sentiment which ennobles human nature. Alas! is it rendered impossible by its vices?
In the execution of such a plan, nothing is more essential than that permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular nations, and passionate attachments for others, should be excluded; and that, in place of them, just and amicable feelings towards all should be cultivated. The nation which indulges towards another a habitual hatred or a habitual fondness is in some degree a slave. It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest. Antipathy in one nation against another disposes each more readily to offer insult and injury, to lay hold of slight causes of umbrage, and to be haughty and intractable, when accidental or trifling occasions of dispute occur. Hence, frequent collisions, obstinate, envenomed, and bloody contests. The nation, prompted by ill-will and resentment, sometimes impels to war the government, contrary to the best calculations of policy. The government sometimes participates in the national propensity, and adopts through passion what reason would reject; at other times it makes the animosity of the nation subservient to projects of hostility instigated by pride, ambition, and other sinister and pernicious motives. The peace often, sometimes perhaps the liberty, of nations, has been the victim.
So likewise, a passionate attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils. Sympathy for the favorite nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest in cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter without adequate inducement or justification. It leads also to concessions to the favorite nation of privileges denied to others which is apt doubly to injure the nation making the concessions; by unnecessarily parting with what ought to have been retained, and by exciting jealousy, ill-will, and a disposition to retaliate, in the parties from whom equal privileges are withheld. And it gives to ambitious, corrupted, or deluded citizens (who devote themselves to the favorite nation), facility to betray or sacrifice the interests of their own country, without odium, sometimes even with popularity; gilding, with the appearances of a virtuous sense of obligation, a commendable deference for public opinion, or a laudable zeal for public good, the base or foolish compliances of ambition, corruption, or infatuation.
As avenues to foreign influence in innumerable ways, such attachments are particularly alarming to the truly enlightened and independent patriot. How many opportunities do they afford to tamper with domestic factions, to practice the arts of seduction, to mislead public opinion, to influence or awe the public councils. Such an attachment of a small or weak towards a great and powerful nation dooms the former to be the satellite of the latter.
Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence (I conjure you to believe me, fellow-citizens) the jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly awake, since history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government. But that jealousy to be useful must be impartial; else it becomes the instrument of the very influence to be avoided, instead of a defense against it. Excessive partiality for one foreign nation and excessive dislike of another cause those whom they actuate to see danger only on one side, and serve to veil and even second the arts of influence on the other. Real patriots who may resist the intrigues of the favorite are liable to become suspected and odious, while its tools and dupes usurp the applause and confidence of the people, to surrender their interests.
The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible. So far as we have already formed engagements, let them be fulfilled with perfect good faith. Here let us stop. Europe has a set of primary interests which to us have none; or a very remote relation. Hence she must be engaged in frequent controversies, the causes of which are essentially foreign to our concerns. Hence, therefore, it must be unwise in us to implicate ourselves by artificial ties in the ordinary vicissitudes of her politics, or the ordinary combinations and collisions of her friendships or enmities.
Our detached and distant situation invites and enables us to pursue a different course. If we remain one people under an efficient government. the period is not far off when we may defy material injury from external annoyance; when we may take such an attitude as will cause the neutrality we may at any time resolve upon to be scrupulously respected; when belligerent nations, under the impossibility of making acquisitions upon us, will not lightly hazard the giving us provocation; when we may choose peace or war, as our interest, guided by justice, shall counsel.
Why forego the advantages of so peculiar a situation? Why quit our own to stand upon foreign ground? Why, by interweaving our destiny with that of any part of Europe, entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of European ambition, rivalship, interest, humor or caprice?
It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world; so far, I mean, as we are now at liberty to do it; for let me not be understood as capable of patronizing infidelity to existing engagements. I hold the maxim no less applicable to public than to private affairs, that honesty is always the best policy. I repeat it, therefore, let those engagements be observed in their genuine sense. But, in my opinion, it is unnecessary and would be unwise to extend them.
Taking care always to keep ourselves by suitable establishments on a respectable defensive posture, we may safely trust to temporary alliances for extraordinary emergencies.
Harmony, liberal intercourse with all nations, are recommended by policy, humanity, and interest. But even our commercial policy should hold an equal and impartial hand; neither seeking nor granting exclusive favors or preferences; consulting the natural course of things; diffusing and diversifying by gentle means the streams of commerce, but forcing nothing; establishing (with powers so disposed, in order to give trade a stable course, to define the rights of our merchants, and to enable the government to support them) conventional rules of intercourse, the best that present circumstances and mutual opinion will permit, but temporary, and liable to be from time to time abandoned or varied, as experience and circumstances shall dictate; constantly keeping in view that it is folly in one nation to look for disinterested favors from another; that it must pay with a portion of its independence for whatever it may accept under that character; that, by such acceptance, it may place itself in the condition of having given equivalents for nominal favors, and yet of being reproached with ingratitude for not giving more. There can be no greater error than to expect or calculate upon real favors from nation to nation. It is an illusion, which experience must cure, which a just pride ought to discard.
In offering to you, my countrymen, these counsels of an old and affectionate friend, I dare not hope they will make the strong and lasting impression I could wish; that they will control the usual current of the passions, or prevent our nation from running the course which has hitherto marked the destiny of nations. But, if I may even flatter myself that they may be productive of some partial benefit, some occasional good; that they may now and then recur to moderate the fury of party spirit, to warn against the mischiefs of foreign intrigue, to guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism; this hope will be a full recompense for the solicitude for your welfare, by which they have been dictated.
How far in the discharge of my official duties I have been guided by the principles which have been delineated, the public records and other evidences of my conduct must witness to you and to the world. To myself, the assurance of my own conscience is, that I have at least believed myself to be guided by them.
In relation to the still subsisting war in Europe, my proclamation of the twenty-second of April, I793, is the index of my plan. Sanctioned by your approving voice, and by that of your representatives in both houses of Congress, the spirit of that measure has continually governed me, uninfluenced by any attempts to deter or divert me from it.
After deliberate examination, with the aid of the best lights I could obtain, I was well satisfied that our country, under all the circumstances of the case, had a right to take, and was bound in duty and interest to take, a neutral position. Having taken it, I determined, as far as should depend upon me, to maintain it, with moderation, perseverance, and firmness.
The considerations which respect the right to hold this conduct, it is not necessary on this occasion to detail. I will only observe that, according to my understanding of the matter, that right, so far from being denied by any of the belligerent powers, has been virtually admitted by all.
The duty of holding a neutral conduct may be inferred, without anything more, from the obligation which justice and humanity impose on every nation, in cases in which it is free to act, to maintain inviolate the relations of peace and amity towards other nations.
The inducements of interest for observing that conduct will best be referred to your own reflections and experience. With me a predominant motive has been to endeavor to gain time to our country to settle and mature its yet recent institutions, and to progress without interruption to that degree of strength and consistency which is necessary to give it, humanly speaking, the command of its own fortunes.
Though, in reviewing the incidents of my administration, I am unconscious of intentional error, I am nevertheless too sensible of my defects not to think it probable that I may have committed many errors. Whatever they may be, I fervently beseech the Almighty to avert or mitigate the evils to which they may tend. I shall also carry with me the hope that my country will never cease to view them with indulgence; and that, after forty five years of my life dedicated to its service with an upright zeal, the faults of incompetent abilities will be consigned to oblivion, as myself must soon be to the mansions of rest.
Relying on its kindness in this as in other things, and actuated by that fervent love towards it, which is so natural to a man who views in it the native soil of himself and his progenitors for several generations, I anticipate with pleasing expectation that retreat in which I promise myself to realize, without alloy, the sweet enjoyment of partaking, in the midst of my fellow-citizens, the benign influence of good laws under a free government, the ever-favorite object of my heart, and the happy reward, as I trust, of our mutual cares, labors, and dangers.