A Conservative Foreign Policy
by Paul M.Weyrich
In 1951, one of America's true conservatives, Senator Robert A. Taft,
published a book titled A Foreign Policy for Americans. I think what Senator
Taft wrote then applies to our own time as well.
In discussing the purposes
of American foreign policy, he said:
"There are a good many Americans who talk about an American century in which
America will dominate the world. They rightly point out that the United
States is so powerful today that we should assume a moral leadership in the
world . . . The trouble with those who advocate this policy is that they
really do not confine themselves to moral leadership. . . In their hearts
they want to force on these foreign peoples through the use of American
money and even, perhaps, American arms, the policies which moral leadership
is able to advance only through the sound strength of its principles and the
force of its persuasion. I do not think this moral leadership ideal
justifies our engaging in any preventive war . . . I do not believe any
policy which has behind it the threat of military force is justified as part
of the basic foreign policy of the United States except to defend the
liberty of our own people."
Like the Founding Fathers, Senator Taft valued liberty here at home above
"superpower" status abroad. The Founding Fathers understood that these two
are in tension. To preserve liberty here at home, we need a weak federal
government, because a strong federal government is the greatest potential
threat to our liberties. The division of powers between the legislative,
executive, and judicial branches of government is intended to make decisions
and actions by the federal government difficult. But playing the great power
game abroad demands the opposite. It demands a strong federal government
that can make decisions, including of peace or war, quickly and easily. To a
large degree, that is the kind of federal government we now have.
But should we? In my view, the next conservatism needs to take a hard look
at our foreign policy from exactly this perspective. Do we now have a
foreign policy that requires a federal government, and particularly an
executive branch, so strong that it is a danger to our liberties? If we do,
then we have a fundamental contradiction at the heart of our foreign policy.
Why? Because the most basic purpose of our foreign policy should be to
preserve our liberties.
As Senator Taft understood, this touches on the most sensitive foreign
policy question: to what degree should America be active in the world? Since
his time, the whole Washington Establishment, the New Class, has come to
condemn his position, which I think is the real conservative position, as
"isolationism." But the word is a lie. America was never isolated from the
rest of the world. Rather, through most of our history, America related to
the rest of the world primarily through private means, through trade and by
serving as a moral example to the world, the "shining city on a hill." That
policy served us well, both in maintaining liberty here at home and in
developing our economy. As Senator Taft wrote, "we were respected as the
most disinterested and charitable nation in the world."
Then, after World War II, we instead began to play the great power game,
which the Founding Fathers had opposed. Because of the threat of Communism,
that was necessary for a time. But when Communism fell in the early 1990s,
we did not return to our historic policy. Rather, we declared ourselves the
dominant power in the world, "the only superpower," the New Rome as some
would have it. We set off on the course of American Empire, despite the fact
that empire abroad almost certainly means eventual extinction of liberty
here at home.
The next conservatism needs a different foreign policy, a foreign policy
designed for a republic, not an empire. It needs to recognize that the
Establishment wants to play the great power game because it lives richly off
that game. But the next conservatism is about throwing the Establishment
out, not enriching it further. The next conservatism's foreign policy should
proceed from these wise words of Senator Robert A. Taft:
"I do not believe it is a selfish goal for us to insist that the overriding
purpose of all American foreign policy should be the maintenance of the
liberty and peace of our people of the United States, so that they may
achieve that intellectual and material improvement which is their genius and
in which they can set an example for all peoples. By that example we can do
an even greater service to mankind than we can do by billions of material
assistance - and more than we can ever do by war."
Paul M. Weyrich is the Chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation.