War and peace and the American republic

Foreign Policy

The primary lesson former law school professor Barack Obama learned last week was how not to lead a constitutional republic into war.

Consider: One of the hot topics on Twitter last week was coming up with a clever way to use the president's newspeak formulation of "time-limited, scope-limited military action" as a substitute for the word "war"- such as Time-Limited, Scope-Limited Military Action and the Absence Thereof (otherwise known as the novel War and Peace). One gets the impression from watching this administration conduct foreign policy that what's going on behind closed doors resembles a brainstorming session in an undergraduate public relations class or a mock United Nations club.

But this is no time for Starbucks and scones foreign policy. In a constitutional republic, the tools of foreign relations-military, diplomatic, and economic resources-are to be employed to preserve the way of life embodied in its founding documents. George Washington's "Farewell Address" remains the clearest statement of American principle and policy:

"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. . . . Our detached and distant situation invites and enables us to pursue a different course. If we remain one people under an efficient government, the period is not far off when we may defy material injury from external annoyance . . . when we may choose peace or war, as our interest, guided by justice, shall counsel."

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Unfortunately, the absurdity of the Obama administration's euphemisms threatens to obscure each part of Washington's advice. If the endgame merely amounted to comparing the aesthetic quality of presidential speeches, little would be lost. But what is erroneous and ultimately regime-threatening in President Obama's approach to international relations is most clearly demonstrated in his studied deference to the dictates of the UN Security Council.

Four times in his address to the nation Monday night, the president invoked the Security Council's resolution on Libya-he mentioned consultations with Congress only once. In explaining America's interest in entering the conflict, he argued that, absent American action, the "writ of the UN Security Council would have been shown to be little more than empty words, crippling its future credibility to uphold global peace and security." One would wish he would show such concern for the credibility of the constitutional writ of the American people.

For President Washington, success in foreign policy meant securing the independence necessary to protect our regime-to choose peace or war on our terms, rather than another's. For President Obama, success in foreign policy means subordinating our independence to the agenda of 21st century transnational elites-choosing peace or war as the "international community" dictates. But the America's Founding Fathers placed the control of the military in civilian hands-those of the U.S. president, not the UN Security Council.

In the post-Cold War era, it has become common for presidents to look to the United Nations for the moral sanction necessary to justify their military actions. But President Obama's deference to the Security Council is the most virulent strain of this disease yet to emerge.

When America's Founders sought to justify the Revolutionary War, they appealed to "the laws of nature and of Nature's God." The justice of their actions had to be found in the reason of the thing, not a trumped-up "consensus" of 15 international bureaucrats (five of whom might choose to abstain). If they were wrong, they would willingly bear the responsibility, as leaders of their new nation, before both God and their fellow citizens.

Have the Security Council members made the same pledge? Have the American people placed the security of their rights in their hands? Can they hold the Security Council responsible for its failures? Until the answer to each of these questions is "yes," there is no substitute for careful and thoughtful foreign policy deliberation by the elected leaders of the American people-deliberation that must be guided and limited by the charge they have been given (in the words of the presidential oath) to "preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States."

David Corbin is the dean of the School of Politics, Philosophy, and Economics and Matthew Parks the assistant provost at The King's College in New York City. They are the authors of Keeping Our Republic: Principles for a Political Reformation (Resource Publications, 2011).

David Corbin and Matthew Parks
David Corbin and Matthew Parks

David is a professor of politics and Matthew an assistant professor of politics at The King’s College in New York City. They are co-authors of Keeping Our Republic: Principles for a Political Reformation.


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