17 October 2008|
The Sale of the American Spirit
How John Quincy Adam’s 167 year old admonishment rings too true today
By: Matt Fay
“But [America] goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher of freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator of only her own.”
The quote from John Quincy Adams, delivered to Congress while serving as one of the country’s greatest secretaries of state, is often seen as sound and prescient advice. But, what is often left out is the reason that the young Mr. Adams gives for not going “...abroad in search of monsters to destroy.” He would continue,
“The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force...She might become the dictatress of the world. She would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit....”
With the United States currently embroiled in two wars - and countless other minor conflicts worldwide, a loss of liberty at home from legislation like the USA PATRIOT Act and Protect America Act, and the current financial crisis and economic meltdown, it would seem America’s spirit has been sold out just as Mr. Adams warned so long ago.
The 2008 election is less than three weeks away and during this seemingly endless charade neither candidate, or their former opponents, have taken the time to look at the country with any critical objectivity. If a candidate had, they probably would no longer be running as the supporters of Dr. Ron Paul know all too well. Neither John McCain or Barrack Obama have thought it necessary to level with the American people about the depths to which the economy will possibly fall. Neither candidate has paid more than lip service to the idea of restoring the civil liberties routinely violated in the name of national security. They have in no way thought it necessary to discuss with their current or potential constituents the true costs of the military-industrial complex and an interventionist foreign policy that “...goes abroad in search of monsters to destroy.”
Numerous presidents have violated John Quincy’s dictum - George W. Bush is certainly not the first president and will undoubtedly not be the last, he is not the cause of the disease but merely a virulent strain. Now, though, the Bush Doctrine has institutionalized the search for monsters abroad to destroy. This crusading spirit is not new. It was evident in Woodrow Wilson’s foray into World War I. It was there as John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson escalated the U.S. troop presence in Vietnam. And it was prevalent as Bill Clinton lobbed cruise missiles and dropped bombs in corners of the world ranging from Haiti to Iraq to the Balkans and calling it “Humanitarian Intervention.”
After 9/11 the United States did have a monster that needed to be destroyed. His name was Osama bin Laden. He and his followers murdered three thousand innocent people in a daring and brazen act of terrorism.
Bin Laden, in many ways though, was a monster of America’s creation - accidental as he may have been, blowback from American support for the Afghan Jihad against the Soviets and American interventionism in the Muslim world. As the U.S. sought to stave off the Soviet monster and secure Middle Eastern energy reserves vital to its own economy, it supported Arab tyrannies in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, and the various emirates; propped up the Shah of Iran, then supported Saddam Hussein as he fought the Mullahs who had deposed the Shah; and supported the recently created Israeli State as a bulwark against the Soviet client state Syria. As the Soviet Union faded into oblivion a new monster appeared as Saddam Hussein - our own Frankenstein gone wrong - invaded Kuwait in an attempt to control its vast oil reserves. In the aftermath of his defeat in Kuwait, Saddam’s Iraq was subjected to a brutal regime of economic sanctions - made worse by the frequent U.S. and British bombing raids and the tyranny of Hussein himself. The suffering of the Iraqi people only added to bin Laden’s already seething hatred of America. He struck not as a monster that America had gone in search of but as a monster in search of America.
America had its monster to destroy in bin Laden, but it let him slip through its fingers. Instead of redoubling its efforts, American neoconservatives and other policy-makers took up a sentiment held by many since the end of the Cold War - articulated best by Charles Krauthammer’s “Unipolar Moment” article and Paul Wolfowitz’s Defense Planning Guidance document. This idea of a Pax Americana - a permanent crusade to destroy monsters abroad and install democratic governments in their place - would become bedrock policy known as the Global War on Terror. Saddam Hussein was but the first monster on a list that is purported to have included Bashir Assad of Syria, the Ayatollahs of Iran, Mommar Qaddafi of Libya, and Kim Jong-Il of North Korea among others - a list to which liberal internationalists, attempting to emulate President Clinton’s humanitarian interventions, would add Sudan, Zimbabwe, and other areas of the world dealing with various tragedies that caught their attention.
Whatever noble intentions may have been behind the various interventions in far off lands, the results have been nothing short of disastrous. America’s “....fundamental maxims....” have changed “....from liberty to force....” Under its 2002 National Security Strategy, the United States has claimed the right to use military force to establish democratic governments in any country as it feels necessary. The rubric for use of force is reduced to the notion that a state may someday, at some point in the future, become a possible threat. This can also include preventing any nation from becoming a legitimate competitor to the United States - whether economically or militarily.
Promiscuous use of force is only one way in which America is “....no longer the ruler of her own spirit.” While America’s political elites expend the country’s blood and treasure in the name of “freedom and independence” abroad, liberty at home begins to fade away. The USA PATRIOT Act was said to only target those who would seek to do the country harm, yet it was a provision of that legislation involving reporting of large cash bank withdrawals that led to the resignation of New York Governor Eliot Spitzer after a prostitution scandal. Another amendment to the Patriot Act allowed the president to unilaterally fire U.S. attorneys - leading to the firing of eight U.S. attorneys possibly for political reasons such as refusal to prosecute political opponents. The Protect America Act, authorizing the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on American citizens without warrants in violation of the 4th Amendment to the Constitution and the Foreign Intelligence and Surveillance Act (FISA), was passed by the Democrat-controlled Congress in 2007 and reauthorized by the same Congress in 2008. This legislation was also claimed to only be directed at terrorism suspects, but it has been recently revealed through NSA records that analysts would frequently listen in on private, non-relevant conversations - including phone sex. Also recently made public was the fact that the state of Maryland had added to their terrorist watch list 53 nonviolent activists opposed to the death penalty because “[Former State Police Superintendent Thomas E.] Hutchins said the program was a bulwark against potential violence and called the activists ‘fringe people.’”
Now, with America’s financial system going down the drain, it has been lost behind all the talk of the recent $700 billion ($850 billion after all the earmarks attached to it) bailout, the $85 billion loan to AIG - with a supplemental of an additional $35 billion, as well as the coming $25 billion bailout of the auto industry, that a $630 billion defense appropriations bill was passed. The $630 billion did not, of course, include the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan which are still funded by emergency supplemental, seven years into the War on Terror. That number also does not include nuclear weapons which are part of the Energy Department’s budget. Even with all that the United States armed forces are smaller than they have ever been, overstretched by more responsibilities, and relying on older and more worn out equipment. There is also an estimated $53 trillion worth of unfunded liabilities for Medicare and Social Security that will be due in the coming years.
America can no longer claim to be “....ruler of her own spirit.” She is in debt up to her eyeballs to countries such as China, Japan, and Saudi Arabia. She has allowed the liberties that made her great to be stripped from her in return for a false sense of security. Her overstretched military will have to sacrifice funding to keep the economy afloat and will not be as effective in protecting her from the actual monsters that may seek to do her harm. America has sold her spirit in a vain attempt to search out monsters and is on the verge of losing more.