June 27, 2009

Weekend Edition

Please allow me to deviate from the regular format of the blog over the weekends. I'm in the course of preparing for my PhD comprehensive exams. I have been reading some of political science's literature landmarks, and I would like to share with you some of the most remarkable quotes I have come across. There is nothing underreported about this!

As you may have guessed from my last Twitter update, I read George Washington's Farewell Address of 1796. I was impressed by the degree of clear-eyed realism that the first American President promoted. This is especially true when it came to the topic of my dissertation, alliances.

After asking his fellow Americans to enjoin "good faith and justice towards all nations," George Washington warns that this would occur only if the United States has no inherent emotional (dis)inclinations towards other nations.

"...[n]othing is more essential than that permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular nations and passionate attachments for others should be excluded...The nation which indulges towards another a habitual hatred or a habitual fondness is in some degree a slave. It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interests."

Think about the following quote, when reflecting on America's contemporary Middle East alliances:

"...[A] passionate attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils. Sympathy for the favorite nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest in cases where no real common interests exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter without adequate inducement or justification."

Think domestic policy here:

"Real patriots who may resist the intrigues of the favortie (ally) are liable to become suspected and odious, while its tools and dupes usurp the applause and confidence of the people to surrender their interests."

Washington then makes his general case against permanent foreign alliances by arguing that "our detached and distant situation invites and enables us to pursue a different course." That course would enable us to "choose peace or war, as our interest, guided by justice, shall counsel.

George Washington's Farewell Address should be a compulsory reading for our foreign policy and national security establishments. Preferably, they should read Underreported.


Julián Arévalo said...

Now that you mention G. Washington, I remembered that yesterday Obama brought him to the attention of Alvaro Uribe -Colombia's President- as an example of a good leader who promoted democratic values by refusing to re-elect himself as an indefinite ruler of his country. Obama said: "not only he was our first President, but in part what made him great was that he could have stayed in charge for life but, instead, he took the decision of coming back to civil life. That was a landmark for the country" (my translation from the Spanish version).

In Latin-America (although that's not the topic of this blog), things work very different. If a President is doing a good job, he and his fellow countrymen think he is indispensable for the country to succeed. What was at times a good democratic government ends up in a ruthless dictatorship. The differences in the paths generated by these two approaches have a lot to say about the historic rightness and wrongness of one and another.

Yasser M. El-Shimy said...

Great analogy, Julian. The ironic part also is that George Washington was a military general. How many generals do you know have given up political power voluntarily in Latin America or the Middle East?!