On the anniversary of his birthday, it once was the custom to read in the United States House of Representatives all of George Washington’s Farewell Address. The tradition lost its immediacy with the passage of time and ceased during the 1970s, when Washington’s endorsement of a free republic that assiduously avoided the quarrels of others became increasingly irrelevant to an America mired in Vietnam that was moving in the opposite direction at breakneck speed. I had hoped that the custom might be revived this year by some of the tea partiers, but, alas, could not find a congressman willing to take the lead to honor our first president.
We ignore George Washington at our peril. Our first president as well as Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, and Adams predicted ruin for a republic that would involve itself in foreign politics. The founders also foresaw and warned against what we now call democracy promotion, the urge to fan the flames started by the American revolution to launch a crusade to convert the nations of the world into firebreathing republicans. James Madison’s Secretary of State John Quincy Adams described it as "going abroad in search of monsters to destroy."
The United States is currently involved in a number of conflicts in which it has no imaginable interest while the nation seems to wallow in an orgy of military-worship. Fifty thousand American soldiers hunker down in Iraq, which is, according to media reports, reverting to the same kind of government oppression that characterized the reign of Saddam Hussein. Recently 29 demonstrators protesting against government corruption were shot dead. The only difference from Saddam is that this time the government carrying out the brutalizing is Shi’ite, not Sunni. So the end result is that the United States removed a dictator who did not threaten Americans and replaced him with a government that is beginning to kill people protesting against it, a sense of official entitlement not far removed from that of the dictator whose removal started the whole process. Oh, and one might add that Saddam was hostile to would-be regional hegemon and perennial American enemy-in-waiting Iran while the current Iraqi government is extremely friendly to the Mullahs. So much for mitigating the threat to the United States. And along the way, the still uncompleted transition process has cost nearly 5,000 American lives, the lives of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and the displacement of millions more, and at least one trillion dollars and still counting.
Democracy promotion is here to stay, even if it requires a splendid little war or two to get the juices flowing. The United States is preparing to help everyone become just like America. If they refuse, they will have to answer to Hillary. In fact, the United States is perfectly prepared to meddle just about anywhere. The Washington Post on the morning of March 4th might just be considered a fine example of news from the empire, lacking only a “Democracy or bust” section where all the really juicy bits might be collected in one place. On page one, Scott Wilson writes how “US prepares for possible rise of new Islamist regimes.” Wilson reports how a White House assessment dated February 16th determined that all Islamic groups are not the same as al-Qaeda. Some are actually quite different and do not aspire to creating a universal Caliphate, killing all infidels, and introducing Sharia law to Oklahoma. President Obama was reportedly stunned to learn that people in Algeria could not even locate Oklahoma on a map. According to an anonymous source for the story, the White House will keep the report close at hand with colored paper clips in the margin highlighting key judgments and will in future evaluate Islamists by how they behave. But, as Hillary put it somewhat ominously, they have to “agree to play by the rules of democracy.”
Now I wouldn’t want to speculate too much, but I would guess that the rules of democracy will come from Washington and they might be somewhat tricky to navigate. The White House will also have a pretty fixed idea on what constitutes bad behavior. I would bet being nice to Israel will be right up there on both lists. Antisocial behavior will quite possibly also include mentioning America’s propensity to invade other countries and the war crimes and other incidents that seem to follow the flag. Minor transgressions like waterboarding, rendition, Abu Ghraib, and Guantánamo should best be forgotten if one wants to play at democracy. And then there are the usual politically correct trimmings – free trade, women’s and gay rights, religious freedom, and labor unions. Will they have to agree to “choice?”
Farther back in the newspaper, on the op ed page, Charles Krauthammer picks up the Iraq theme, congratulating himself and his other neocon friends for having the perspicacity to embrace the George W. Bush “freedom agenda” that is currently liberating the entire world and which started in Baghdad, where, regrettably, the democracy remains “fragile and imperfect.” After seven years and hundreds of billions of dollars invested, one might note that perfection is also something that costs a lot. As ex-Trotskyites, neocons can be unyielding in their understanding that freedom doesn’t come cheap or easy, even if they have been able to avoid the fighting and paying on any personal level. They know that that’s why you have government and a professional army – to make someone else actually bear the pain and cough up the cash.
On the Post‘s pages A8-9, “The World,” one learns that a violent spring looms in Afghanistan, that blood money might have to be paid to free American hitman and CIA contractor Raymond Davis from Pakistan, that Mexico really doesn’t like the United States very much, and that Bibi Netanyahu is happy because Pope Benedict XVI has rejected “the claim that the Jewish people were responsible for killing Jesus.” Must have been the Romans, but the Post is not reporting any current plans to invade Italy to punish them.
But a final little article tucked away in the corner is the piece de resistance, symptomatic of how the Empire has a finger in every pie, an opinion on everything, and a duty to speak out when the heathen hosts challenge its authority. “US criticizes move to dismiss Nobelist.” US ambassador to Bangladesh James F. Moriarty reportedly complained to the Bangladeshi government because Nobel Peace laureate Muhammad Yunus was about to be removed as head of a microcredit bank that he founded. Per Moriarty, Washington is “deeply troubled” because Yunus is “one of the greatest Bangladeshis.” Now, one might challenge Moriarty to name the second greatest Bangladeshi after Yunus, but as the ambassador is a George W. Bush appointee that might be asking a bit much. And the name Moriarty does itself bring to mind Sherlock Holmes and the Reichenbach Falls incident, but no matter. What national interest does the United States have in microcredit in Bangladesh? Yunus is not an American citizen and his bank is not US owned. Well, as near as I can determine there is no interest at all but for the fact that microfinance helps poor people obtain loans, which is undeniably a nice thing to do. Yunus is a Bangladeshi government employee as head of his bank and the mandatory retirement age for government employees is 60. Yunus is 71. I do not doubt that politics are involved, but where is the vital interest for the United States? Maybe it is something woven into the US government official DNA, the compulsion to seize the bully pulpit to tell Bangladesh and everyone else how to run things.
And so it goes. Our republic was founded on the principle that the United States would not consume itself in other people’s quarrels. The national saying that appeared on the Fugio cent, the first one penny coin minted by the new republic, was “Mind your business.” But today, a government on steroids is engaged in doing nothing but interfering. Iraq was a failure and Afghanistan, perennially “turning the corner,” is about to do the same. A huge and expensive empire fuels poverty and disorientation at home. We trumpet freedom agendas when freedom is on the wane in our own country and judge foreign political parties by standards that they will never meet just so we can say no to them. We are so ignorant that we need to commission a report to describe the difference between a secular Turk and a Saudi terrorist yet we insist that we have a right to judge who is acceptable and who is not. An ambassador tells a third world country how to run its banks when our own banks have robbed and pillaged the American public. Everyone hates us and is eagerly waiting for us to leave the world stage. Is there more? Certainly, but it is too dispiriting to go on. I had a thought last week that it would be nice to sit by George Washington’s tomb on his birthday and read his farewell address. But I didn’t do it because I would have become terribly depressed. I have read the address a number of times and doubt that many in Congress have read it at all or choose to ignore it if they have. Its sound advice and good common sense on how to preserve our republican liberties are anachronisms, a relic of an America lost and gone.
If contemporary Americans really believe the grand illusion that this nightmare world created by the Bushes, Clintons, and the Obamas will somehow lead to a bright and prosperous future they are delusional, if not mad. But even madness can be understood and treated. It is up to this generation of Americans to reverse the course of the ship of state by removing the charlatans who lead us to bring back a republic based on individual rights and decency that the Founding Fathers would recognize and respect.