I was not always in favor of a non-interventionist foreign policy. At one point, I strongly supported the invasion of Iraq. Saddam Hussein was an evil man, and I believed that it was the moral imperative of the United States government to destroy the tyrannical regime that he led. And of course he had WMDs… he was a tyrant, after all. And even if he didn’t, he surely had and used them in the past (which he did), and that was sufficient enough reason to support any military action against him.

I believe this no longer. No, I have not been indoctrinated by the “liberal” media (at least, I don’t think so). Rather, I have come to this position kicking and screaming, not by any modern politicians or media reports, but by a careful perusal of the foreign policy of our Founding Fathers. The men who formed our nation have a remarkably persuasive power for me; someone can win me in almost any debate by showing that Jefferson or Washington was on their side. I suppose that is a weakness of mine, but no matter… I believe these men deserve our respect.

What was the foreign policy of our Founding Fathers? It is difficult, if not impossible, to accurately pigeonhole the political views of this wide variety of intelligent men. However, I believe we can certainly sees trends of agreement. Let me address two central points: (1) military intervention, and (2) entangling alliances.

Military Intervention

First, what was the general opinion of the Founding Fathers on foreign military intervention? Forgive me for sharing some extensive quotes here, but I believe we should take note of their words (Also, studies show that the majority of readers skip block-quotes. Don’t conform! Read them! You know you want to!). John Quincy Adams described Americas position among the “assembly of nations,” and then gives us a dire warning:

America, in the assembly of nations, since her admission among them, has invariably, though often fruitlessly, held forth to them the hand of honest friendship, of equal freedom, of generous reciprocity. She has uniformly spoken among them, though often to heedless, and often to disdainful ears, the language of equal liberty, of equal justice, and of equal rights; she has, in the lapse of nearly half a century, without a single exception, respected the independence of other nations while asserting and maintaining her own; she has abstained from interference in the concerns of others, even when the conflict has been for principles to which she clings as to the last vital drop that visits the heart. …

Wherever the standard of freedom and Independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she 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 will commend the general cause by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example. She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the 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 change insensibly from liberty to force. … she might become the dictatress of the world. She would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit.1

In other words, America is to welcome and encourage freedom worldwide, but is to enforce and protect the freedom of only her own people. If America were to pursue and destroy the nations with which it disagreed, or whose system of government seemed awry, she would open herself to the consequences of war, which inevitably serve the wishes of the author of war, the destroyer of peace and liberty. Let me share two other quotes, both by James Madison; read these words and consider their prophetic implications in our present day. James Madison said,

The management of foreign relations appears to be the most susceptible of abuse, of all the trusts committed to a Government, because they can be concealed or disclosed, or disclosed in such parts & at such times as will best suit particular views; and because the body of the people are less capable of judging & are more under the influence of prejudices, on that branch of their affairs, than of any other. Perhaps it is a universal truth that the loss of liberty at home is to be charged to provisions against danger real or pretended from abroad.2

He also said,

Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive is extended; its influence in dealing out offices, honors, and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force, of the people. The same malignant aspect in republicanism may be traced in the inequality of fortunes, and the opportunities of fraud, growing out of a state of war, and in the degeneracy of manners and of morals, engendered by both. No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.2

Anyone who cannot see the prophetic nature of these quotes is not informed of our domestic loss of freedom and the expansion of powers of the executive branch of the United States government in recent years.

A majority of Latter-day Saints (at least in Utah) are conservative in their political views. Most are supporters of small government. I believe this is great! I am a fan of small government and traditional conservative politics. However, it seems that many Latter-day Saints have aligned themselves with the foreign policy of the Republican party, and do not realize that the Republican party, by and large, no longer supports traditional conservative politics. The foreign policy of the Republican party is not a conservative point of view. Despite this obvious fact, however, I have seen the war in Iraq defended voraciously, even with scripture.

I would like to say that it is okay for a Latter-day Saint to oppose the Iraq war and any foreign military intervention. How do I know this? Because one of my favorite members of the church, the honorable Secretary of Agriculture of the United States, Ezra Taft Benson, opposed what I believe represents our present foreign policy. Sure, his point of view on this issue shouldn’t be given the weight of prophetic authority. However, it certainly discredits any claim that a good Latter-day Saint has to support the invasion of Iraq and our present foreign entanglements in the middle east. He said:

There is one and only one legitimate goal of United States foreign policy. It is a narrow goal, a nationalistic goal: the preservation of our national independence. Nothing in the Constitution grants that the President shall have the privilege of offering himself as a world leader. He’s our executive; he’s on our payroll, in necessary; he’s supposed to put our best interests in front of those of other nations. Nothing in the Constitution nor in logic grants to the President of the United States or to Congress the power to influence the political life of other countries, to “uplift” their cultures, to bolster their economies, to feed their peoples or even to defend them against their enemies. This point was made clear by the wise father of our country, George Washington2:

I have always given it as my decided opinion that no nation has a right to intermeddle in the internal concerns of another; that every one had a right to form and adopt whatever government they liked best to live under them selves; and that if this country could, consistent with its engagements, maintain a strict neutrality and thereby preserve peace, it was bound to do so by motives of policy, interest, and every other consideration. — George Washington (1732-1799) Letter to James Monroe (25 Aug. 1796)

Was the Iraq war a war of self-defense? Simple question, with a simple answer: no. Iraq did not attack us. Ron Paul says it well:

Americans have the right to defend themselves against attack; that is not at issue. But that is very different from launching a preemptive war against a country that had not attacked us and could not attack us … A policy of overthrowing or destabilizing every regime our government dislikes is not strategy at all, unless our goal is international chaos and domestic impoverishment.1

Entangling Alliances

Second, what was the Founding Fathers position on alliances with foreign nations? George Washington, in his farewell address, said:

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. …

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. … 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?1

In the same spirit, Thomas Jefferson called in his inaugural address for “peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entagling alliances with none.”1 Simply put, both Jefferson and Washington were for open friendship and commerce with the nations of the world, but they did not feel any need to insert themselves into alliances with any of them to the exclusion of others. This would also preclude any alliances that subject our national sovereignty under an international authority. Just as Thomas Paine wrote during the American Revolution that it was absurd to suppose that “a continent [be] perpetually governed by an island,” I think it is silly to suppose that men who govern on a global level should have any say in local American politics. We should not obligate ourselves to give them power over our nation through treaty or any other means.

Of course, this point of view is often labeled as “isolationist.” This is a silly claim. It is not isolationist to claim that we ought to respect the national independence of other nations, and at the same time protect our own. Ezra Taft Benson easily responds to this accusation:

Already, I can hear the chorus chanting “Isolationism, isolationism, he’s turning back the clock to isolationism.” How many use that word without having the slightest idea of what it really means! The so-called isolationism of the United States in past decades is a pure myth. What isolationism? Long before the current trend of revoking our Declaration of Independence under the guise of international cooperation, American influence and trade was felt in every region of the globe. Individuals and private groups spread knowledge, business, prosperity, religion, good will and, above all, respect throughout every foreign continent. It was not necessary then for America to give up her independence to have contact and influence with other countries. It is not necessary now. Yet, many Americans have been led to believe that our country is so strong that it can defend, feed and subsidize half the world, while at the same time believing that we are so weak and “inter-dependent” that we cannot survive without pooling our resources and sovereignty with those we subsidize. If wanting no part of this kind of “logic” is isolationism, then it is time we brought it back into vogue.2


in summary, the United States should 1) end its worldwide military presence, including the Iraq occupation, and 2) get out of the United Nations. People may claim, says Ron Paul, that our age is different than the simple world that the Founding Fathers lived in. International threats require us to engage in entangling alliances with other nations and to involve ourselves in foreign affairs “beyond the power of extrication.” Such is simply not the case. “If anything,” Ron Paul explains, “today’s more complex world cries out for the moral clarity of a noninterventionist foreign policy.”1

That is the foreign policy I adhere to. I do not believe it is practical or wise for our nation’s government to intervene in the political affairs of other nations. Clearly, we cannot fix every problem that the world has. In fact, I don’t think it is any government’s job to fix the world’s problems. Neither can we pursue and destroy every despotic government. It simply isn’t the job of the United States government. We pay our legislatures to protect domestic peace and defend against foreign invasion, and precious little more. I do not believe that we should have any alliance with an international authority that obligates us to intervene or interfere with international affairs, or that obligates us to change any of our domestic policies. In other words, no United Nations. Our nation is ours to run, and we don’t need some world leader to tell us how to do it.

1. Ron Paul, The Revolution: A Manifesto, (New York: Grand Central).
2. Ezra Taft Benson, “United States Foreign Policy,” Friday, June 21, 1968, Preston Idaho.

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Posted in Politics Tagged: Constitution, Ezra Taft Benson, foreign military intervention, Founding Fathers, George Washington, interventionism, Iraq, isolationism, James Madison, John Quincy Adams, Latter-day Saints, Mormons, Republican Part, Ron Paul, Saddam Hussein, self-defense, Thomas Jefferson, U.S. foreign policy

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