Romney vs. Quincy Adams

Today, at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Virginia, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney offered his thoughts regarding U.S. foreign policy.  The full text of his speech can be found here, but to follow is an excerpt:

The greater tragedy of it all is that we are missing an historic opportunity to win new friends who share our values in the Middle East—friends who are fighting for their own futures against the very same violent extremists, and evil tyrants, and angry mobs who seek to harm us.  Unfortunately, so many of these people who could be our friends feel that our President is indifferent to their quest for freedom and dignity. As one Syrian woman put it, ‘We will not forget that you forgot about us.’…

…I will restore the permanent presence of aircraft carrier task forces in both the Eastern Mediterranean and the Gulf region—and work with Israel to increase our military assistance and coordination.

Now compare these ideas with those of John Quincy Adams, our 6th President.  While serving as Secretary of State, on July 4th 1821, he said the following:

Wherever the standard of freedom and independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her [America’s] 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 of her own.

Quite a difference of opinion, don’t you think?  Both seek to remake the world, but while Adams calls for a policy of peace and leading through example, Romney’s plan will invariably lead to bloodshed and is a call for either direct or covert military action, overthrowing regimes and installing ones more friendly to the United States and her ideals.

It wasn’t too long ago when both those on the left and those on the right would have rejected Romney’s plan of action and instead have embraced the reasoning of Quincy Adams.  As recently as the presidency of Bill Clinton, Republicans condemned the president’s military adventurism in the former Yugoslavia due to the fact that the conflict in no way threatened the security of the United States or her citizens.  In fact, the Kosovo Liberation Army, the group the United States supported in the conflict, had previously been declared a terrorist organization.  But the “isolationist” line of thinking of people like John Quincy Adams and the GOP ought to have changed after the attacks of 9-11, right?

In order to answer that question, we must ask another; what motivated the airline hijackings on 9/11?  Was it due to a rejection of our supposedly decadent American lifestyles and immorality?  Perhaps it was…in some small part.  But, if that reasoning alone was sufficient, why attack the United States?  Aren’t there a variety of “evil” countries closer to the Middle East that could have served as a target just as easily?  Could it be that there might be additional reasons?

It seems that a considerable number of Americans have little to no knowledge of Middle Eastern history prior to the Iran Hostage Crisis of 1979 to 1981.  However, if we turn back the clock several decades, we find a prime example of when the United States interfered in the internal affairs of a Middle Eastern nation with unfortunate results.  Back in the 1950s, Mohammad Mosaddegh, the democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran sought to wrest control of Iran’s oil fields from the British.  In response, the British and the United States governments teamed up to launch a coup against Mosaddegh and propped up the Shah, a man who many Iranians came to view as an increasingly brutal dictator and an unwelcome westernization of their nation.   His overthrow in early 1979 led to the Islamic state, which now rules in Iran and remains hostile to the United States and her allies, as well as leading to the Iranian Hostage Crisis.  I am also certain these actions taken in Iran by the United States helped fuel the hatred and actions of the hijackers on 9/11.

Now I know what you are thinking, two wrongs don’t make a right.  And, of course, I agree.  Regardless of any U.S. foreign policy, the 9/11 hijackers were in no way justified in their actions and ought to be condemned by every civilized people.  But, if two wrongs don’t make a right, shouldn’t we also agree that three wrongs don’t make a right either?  Doesn’t Romney’s plan repeat the mistakes we made in Iran?  If we wouldn’t appreciate a foreign nation either overthrowing our leaders or propping up our despots, what makes us think that some other group of people would?  And isn’t it also possible that if we overthrow either the government of Syria or Iran such an action could lead to blowback that is far greater than what we have seen?

We seem to have forgotten that the primary purpose of both the United States government and its military is to protect the lives, liberties, and property of American citizens.  It is not intended to dole out taxpayer money to foreign governments, install puppet regimes, or promote the horribly misguided Wilsonian idea of “making the world safe for democracy.”  Should we ask our soldiers to give up their lives in order to promote governments that very well might have ties to the same ideology and people who attacked us on 9/11?

Therefore, we must reject any foreign policy that deviates from the limitations imposed by the Constitution.  Although it might be interesting to speculate how our government could mold a better world, we have seen far too many domestic failings of the feds first-hand through bailouts, subsidies, regulations, and overburdensome security at our airports.  What would make us think that the rest of the world would either desire or appreciate the same treatment?  As bad a leader as many of us think Barack Obama is, what would your reaction be if the Iranian government removed him from power and gave us a new president?

Haven’t we learned that we can no longer afford a neo-conservative foreign policy?  More importantly, doesn’t stumbling down this path foster greater hatred of the United States and, in the long run, make us less safe?  Don’t you think that it time to return to the wisdom of men like John Quincy Adams?

Disturbing News From Gitmo

The U.S. detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba continues to be a source of controversy internationally, for the American public, and even within Republican and Democratic circles.  Since shortly after 9-11, the base has been used to hold suspected terrorists.  From what I’ve read, it seems that most Republican politicians favor keeping the camp open.

In theory, the idea of a prison sounds good.  It allows the U.S. government to remove enemies from the fight, which serves to disrupt potential terrorist cells.  However, given that these individuals are held without trial (and some of which have been denied legal council for years), you do have to wonder if any have been wrongfully detained, a simple case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I’m sure some Republicans would prefer to end this discussion right here.  Joshua, they’ll say, these people are terrorists.  They have declared war on America and her people and therefore have forfeited any rights that they may have once enjoyed.  Being detained at Gitmo is far more humane that simply executing them and it is possible that we can extract useful information from them.

However, aren’t we a society who values justice and the rule of law?  Don’t we believe in the right to a trial and at least some limited appeal?  Although we all know circumstances of innocent folks who have been wrongfully imprisoned, overall, I believe that we have an excellent domestic legal system.  However, when it comes to fair detainment and treatment of foreign citizens, places like Gitmo seem to casually toss both habeas corpus and the Geneva Conventions aside.  After all, the Geneva Conventions forbid unlawful confinement and the use of torture, both of which seem to have been done liberally in Cuba.

Earlier today, I discovered the story of Murat Kurnaz, then a Turkish citizen and German resident who was imprisoned for five years, four of them being held at Guantanamo Bay.  According to reports, Kurnaz was beaten and tortured during his time and was never linked to Al-Qaeda or any other terrorist organization.  Back in 2008, he was the first former detainee who testified before Congress regarding the situation at Gitmo.

To follow is a recently recorded interview with Kurnaz.  I encourage you to watch it as you ponder these questions.  If Kurnaz was wrongfully held, like the evidence seems to suggest, was he the only one unjustly imprisoned?  If not, how many lives did this military camp forever irreparably mar?  Does the prison at Guantanamo Bay make us safer by confining terrorists?  Or do stories of unlawful imprisonment further damage America’s reputation and, heaven forbid, spawn future acts of terror?

I’m not suggesting that we open the floodgates and empty Gitmo.  However, we should be certain that each detainee is a threat to American security and immediately release those who are not.

The Libertarian Party and Afghanistan

I admit that I don’t visit the Libertarian Party‘s website very often; maybe a couple of times a year.  But, when I stopped by today, a recent poll caught my attention.  It asked, “after hearing that Osama bin Laden was killed, what are your feeling about the War in Afghanistan?”  Out of the 4,516 respondents, a considerable majority, 66%, answered that, “I supported a withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan even before bin Laden died.”  A small contingency, 9%, holds to the belief that, “I don’t believe the story that Osama bin Laden was killed recently.”  Although it is true that the Obama administration has not offered any hard evidence that bin Laden, to simply dismiss the claim represents, in my mind, a disturbing trend toward a total distrust of government and the rise of wild conspiracy theories.

Personally, I favor the viewpoint held by 13% who say that, “I now favor a withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan.”  After all, the whole purpose of the mission was to bring justice to the people who attacked the United States on 9/11/2001.  And no, unlike the 9/11-truther movement, I do not think that Bush brought down the towers, but rather it was a small group of Arabian Islamic radicals headed by Osama bin Laden.  Unlike in Iraq, in Afghanistan we had a clearly defined mission, capture or kill Osama bin Laden.  Considering that goal is accomplished, it is time for our soldiers to head home.  They should not be used as domestic Afghan police or to rebuild bridges and schools.

The whole Afghan adventure should provide a sobering lesson regarding foreign policy.  Supposed allies propped up with massive funding can turn against us.  After all, we poured considerable wealth into Afghanistan in the 80’s to fight the Soviet Union.  Although that mission was successful, it did spawn unintended consequences once those former “freedom fighters” turned their eye on our own nation.

Anyway, it is time for a new poll on The Virginia Conservative closely mirroring the one on the Libertarian site.  What are your thoughts on the matter?  Do you agree with a majority of Libertarians, neo-conservatives, myself, or do you hold some other opinion?  Feel free to add your comments as well.

Mission (Finally) Accomplished

This morning, my inbox contained multiple emails regarding the death of Osama bin Laden.  Virginia Governor McDonnell, Representative Forbes, and Senate hopefuls George Allen and Jamie Radtke each offered their thoughts on this important moment.  All expressed appreciation for the efforts of the United States armed forces.  Most commended President Obama for his leadership.

If you will recall, back in 2003, President Bush gave a speech on an aircraft carrier declaring “mission accomplished”.  But, at that point, the true mission was far from over.  Rather than expending our resources to catch the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks, Bush and his allies diverted the nation in a conflict in the unrelated nation of Iraq.  Osama was still at large.  His whereabouts were unknown.  Justice had not yet been served and the people lost on September 11th went unavenged.  Now, that chapter is closed.

Presumably with bin Laden’s death and the death of so many of his conspirators over the years, his network is shattered and whatever lasting influence he may have had is erased.  Will some sort of violence erupt as news of his death spreads?  Very likely.  But I would expect it to be sporadic and be brief.  After all, few people would choose to follow in his footsteps, being hunted for a decade before having one’s life suddenly snuffed out.  The message should be clear.  Don’t mess with the United States and her people.

News of his demise raises some important questions that need answers:  How did bin Laden get into Pakistan?  How long had he been there?  How many Pakistanis, including those in the government and military knew that he was there?  Who was aiding him in his compound?  From my understanding of the whole adventure, the Pakistanis were far from strong allies in this endeavor.

But there is a far greater question.  What now?  Now that bin Laden is dead will our troops return home to pick up whatever civilian lives they enjoyed before 9-11?  Will we dismantle our decade old bases in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere?  After all, we have finally achieved what we set out to do.   I can already hear what a few of you will say.  “We need those bases to fight against terrorism!”  Really?  Patrolling a remote and poor nation like Afghanistan is key to U.S. security?  Before you claim that I am against defending our nation, need I remind you that the U.S. is drowning in debt and can scarcely afford to maintain these outposts in now relatively non-strategic areas?

Is the “War on Terror” over or will it remain a new staple of the government like the “War on Poverty” and the “War on Drugs”?  Do we live in an age of war without end?  Will we hunt down every marginally hostile person throughout the greater Middle East?  Back at home, will the TSA continue to grope little old ladies waiting in line at the airport?

Don’t think that I believe the government should not remain vigilant; after all, it must protect the lives, liberty, and property of its citizens.  However, if you want to limit terrorism in America then the most important step is to protect our borders.  Becoming the world’s policemen and setting up a far-flung empire across the globe runs counter to the spirit and Constitutional authority of our national government.

Regardless of any other factors, Bin Laden’s death ought to be a cause of celebration and reflection for all citizens of our nation.  After nearly ten years, the mission is (finally) accomplished.

Eight Years Later

Well…it’s been eight years since the horrific attacks by terrorists on September 11, 2001.  I, like so many Americans, have that morning forever burned into my memory.  I can recall sitting in my dorm room at William and Mary before class reading news of some sort of airplane crash into one of the towers of the World Trade Center.  At the time, I didn’t know what to think.  Was it an unfortunate pilot error?  Was it an attack similar to the 1993 bombing of the very same center?  I remember leaving for class pondering the significance of that event.  However, it was more of a curiosity, like studying an unusual insect that just landed on a nearby windowpane, than anything else.  Certainly I had lived through similar events (the Cole bombing, Oklahoma City, Waco, 1993 as mentioned above, and Columbine to name a few), but they were isolated one-time events and in a part of the country far removed from our fair Virginia.

IMG_1836As I traveled down the stairs heading to the eyesore known as Morton (the Government Department’s building), a fellow member of the College Republicans approached me.  He asked if I had heard of the attacks.  Yes, I said, I did hear of the plane hitting the tower.  I asked him what he thought it meant and if he had any more details. Towers, he corrected me.  Towers?  What?   He told me that the other tower had been struck as well.  I recall feeling a bit queasy as I entered the building.  Both towers?  That couldn’t be a mere accident.  In the government wing every television on my floor broadcast the second plane striking the South tower again and again and again.  As I watched the scene repeatedly, fixated on the fiery impact, my heart sank lower and lower until I felt I could no longer stand.  Then in this dark hour came news of the attack on the Pentagon.  Moments later, the first tower descended into a grey plume of smoke.  I began to wonder if this could be the end, if the country we knew and loved was approaching its finale…if life from that moment would ever be the same again…if all youth and innocence were suddenly and permanently ripped asunder from this world.  Except those were days and worries now eight years in the past.

Prior to 9/11, the national tragedy that haunted my mind was the destruction of the Challenger.  Sitting there in my small plastic chair in my elementary school, my classmates and I eagerly watched the launch.  After all, a schoolteacher was going into space.  How exciting!  My mind swam with the possibilities of space travel.  Oh, wouldn’t it be fun to be an astronaut!  As the shuttle rose into the sky, it carried not only the NASA crew, but my hopes and dreams too.  In a blinding flash both were torn apart and thrown into the cold sea.  I didn’t understand what went wrong at that time, but suddenly becoming an astronaut didn’t seem like such a great idea anymore.  However…that’s another story for another day.

Getting back to 9/11, in the days, weeks, and months that followed fear became a normal part of life.  Runaway airplanes gave way to anthrax letters and no one felt like leaving the relative safety of their plastic encased homes anymore.  The government devised a panic inducing color-coded chart to supposedly assess the terror level.  With danger a shopping mall, bridge, or nuclear power plant away, it felt as if the terrorists had truly won, as if being an American meant living a life of constant fear.

Fortunately, slowly but surely life began to return to a quasi-normal state.  Unfortunately, as is typical, the federal government agency that arose to “deal” with 9/11 remains to this very day.  In our fear, and in the name of temporary security, we bartered away a portion of our freedom to the federal government.  As Ben Franklin reminds us, “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty or safety.”  What startled me was that many of my conservative allies embraced this new police state as if it were natural.  For sticking to our principles and resisting further government intrusion as I had always done, I was labeled a libertarian and scorned by many of my Republican colleagues.  Of course, the nation-building preemptive conflict in Iraq only deepened this growing divide.  Therefore, I must condemn every last one of the neoconservative bastards who used the hijacking of a handful of planes as a political opportunity to hijack our nation and the Republican Party.  Although the state guards over them, neither true security and liberty are derived from the government.  Rather they spring forth from the society, the individual, and, lest we forget, our creator.

What have we learned in eight years time?  Are we wiser than we were then?  Do we have more liberty?  Are we more secure?  I know that this sentiment will sound naïve, but I long for a return to the days of September 10, 2001 when the government was a bit smaller, our foreign policy slightly less interventionist, our gas considerably cheaper, and our people felt more at ease.  Can it happen? I sorely wish it could.  Nevertheless, like the Kennedy assassination and Pearl Harbor before it, 9/11 has become the tragedy of the present generation.  At the risk of sounding like a broken record, so what, if anything, have we learned?