Washington’s Farewell Address and the Middle East

What would happen if we substituted “the Middle East” for “Europe” in George Washington’s Farewell address? Emphasis and words in brackets added.

“Observe good faith and justice towards all nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all. Religion and morality enjoin this conduct; and can it be, that good policy does not equally enjoin it – It will be worthy of a free, enlightened, and at no distant period, a great nation, to give to mankind the magnanimous and too novel example of a people always guided by an exalted justice and benevolence. Who can doubt that, in the course of time and things, the fruits of such a plan would richly repay any temporary advantages which might be lost by a steady adherence to it ? Can it be that Providence has not connected the permanent felicity of a nation with its virtue ? The experiment, at least, is recommended by every sentiment which ennobles human nature. Alas! is it rendered impossible by its vices?

In the execution of such a plan, nothing is more essential than that permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular nations, and passionate attachments for others, should be excluded; and that, in place of them, just and amicable feelings towards all should be cultivated. 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 interest. Antipathy in one nation against another disposes each more readily to offer insult and injury, to lay hold of slight causes of umbrage, and to be haughty and intractable, when accidental or trifling occasions of dispute occur. Hence, frequent collisions, obstinate, envenomed, and bloody contests. The nation, prompted by ill-will and resentment, sometimes impels to war the government, contrary to the best calculations of policy. The government sometimes participates in the national propensity, and adopts through passion what reason would reject; at other times it makes the animosity of the nation subservient to projects of hostility instigated by pride, ambition, and other sinister and pernicious motives. The peace often, sometimes perhaps the liberty, of nations, has been the victim.

So likewise, 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 interest 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. It leads also to concessions to the favorite nation of privileges denied to others which is apt doubly to injure the nation making the concessions; by unnecessarily parting with what ought to have been retained, and by exciting jealousy, ill-will, and a disposition to retaliate, in the parties from whom equal privileges are withheld. And it gives to ambitious, corrupted, or deluded citizens (who devote themselves to the favorite nation), facility to betray or sacrifice the interests of their own country, without odium, sometimes even with popularity; gilding, with the appearances of a virtuous sense of obligation, a commendable deference for public opinion, or a laudable zeal for public good, the base or foolish compliances of ambition, corruption, or infatuation.

As avenues to foreign influence in innumerable ways, such attachments are particularly alarming to the truly enlightened and independent patriot. How many opportunities do they afford to tamper with domestic factions, to practice the arts of seduction, to mislead public opinion, to influence or awe the public councils. Such an attachment of a small or weak towards a great and powerful nation dooms the former to be the satellite of the latter.

Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence (I conjure you to believe me, fellow-citizens) the jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly awake, since history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government. But that jealousy to be useful must be impartial; else it becomes the instrument of the very influence to be avoided, instead of a defense against it. Excessive partiality for one foreign nation and excessive dislike of another cause those whom they actuate to see danger only on one side, and serve to veil and even second the arts of influence on the other. Real patriots who may resist the intrigues of the favorite are liable to become suspected and odious, while its tools and dupes usurp the applause and confidence of the people, to surrender their interests.

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. So far as we have already formed engagements, let them be fulfilled with perfect good faith. Here let us stop. [The Middle East] has a set of primary interests which to us have none; or a very remote relation. Hence she must be engaged in frequent controversies, the causes of which are essentially foreign to our concerns. Hence, therefore, it must be unwise in us to implicate ourselves by artificial ties in the ordinary vicissitudes of her politics, or the ordinary combinations and collisions of her friendships or enmities.

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 take such an attitude as will cause the neutrality we may at any time resolve upon to be scrupulously respected; when belligerent nations, under the impossibility of making acquisitions upon us, will not lightly hazard the giving us provocation; when we may choose peace or war, as our interest, guided by justice, shall counsel.

Why forego the advantages of so peculiar a situation? Why quit our own to stand upon foreign ground? Why, by interweaving our destiny with that of any part of [the Middle East], entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of [Middle Eastern] ambition, rivalship, interest, humor or caprice?

It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world; so far, I mean, as we are now at liberty to do it; for let me not be understood as capable of patronizing infidelity to existing engagements. I hold the maxim no less applicable to public than to private affairs, that honesty is always the best policy. I repeat it, therefore, let those engagements be observed in their genuine sense. But, in my opinion, it is unnecessary and would be unwise to extend them.

Taking care always to keep ourselves by suitable establishments on a respectable defensive posture, we may safely trust to temporary alliances for extraordinary emergencies.

Harmony, liberal intercourse with all nations, are recommended by policy, humanity, and interest. But even our commercial policy should hold an equal and impartial hand; neither seeking nor granting exclusive favors or preferences; consulting the natural course of things; diffusing and diversifying by gentle means the streams of commerce, but forcing nothing; establishing (with powers so disposed, in order to give trade a stable course, to define the rights of our merchants, and to enable the government to support them) conventional rules of intercourse, the best that present circumstances and mutual opinion will permit, but temporary, and liable to be from time to time abandoned or varied, as experience and circumstances shall dictate; constantly keeping in view that it is folly in one nation to look for disinterested favors from another; that it must pay with a portion of its independence for whatever it may accept under that character; that, by such acceptance, it may place itself in the condition of having given equivalents for nominal favors, and yet of being reproached with ingratitude for not giving more. There can be no greater error than to expect or calculate upon real favors from nation to nation. It is an illusion, which experience must cure, which a just pride ought to discard.

In offering to you, my countrymen, these counsels of an old and affectionate friend, I dare not hope they will make the strong and lasting impression I could wish; that they will control the usual current of the passions, or prevent our nation from running the course which has hitherto marked the destiny of nations. But, if I may even flatter myself that they may be productive of some partial benefit, some occasional good; that they may now and then recur to moderate the fury of party spirit, to warn against the mischiefs of foreign intrigue, to guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism; this hope will be a full recompense for the solicitude for your welfare, by which they have been dictated. “

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7 Responses

  1. Glue that back-to-back with I Like Ike Too’s Farewell Address, and FDR’s speeches about Oligarchs, and gee, you start to have something of substance to think about.

    I wish us all luck actually Changing any of the framework, but there’s always Hope while there’s breath…

  2. As to FDR: “During the campaign Roosevelt often flayed the capitalists, whose power had “become so disproportionate as to dry up purchasing power within any other group. . . . It is a proper concern of the Government to use wise measures of regulation which will bring this purchasing power back to normal.”3 In another speech, he said that “if the process of concentration goes on at the same rate, at the end of another century we shall have all American industry controlled by a dozen corporations, and run by perhaps a hundred men. Put plainly, we are steering a steady course toward economic oligarchy, if we are not there already. (link to thefreemanonline.org)

  3. Politicians and people across this nation profess to admire and respect our founding fathers’ wisdom and foresight — except when they contradict their own, or get in the way of their ambitions, or are inconvenient, or when they “just don’t apply, because, you know, that was a long time ago”, etc. ad nauseum.

    Oh but if we could only truly take the wise counsel of our fore fathers. What terrible outcomes we could avoid.

  4. “and passionate attachments for others, should be excluded; and that, in place of them, just and amicable feelings towards all should be cultivated.”

    “According to the Channel 4 documentary “Dispatches – Inside Britain’s Israel Lobby” around 80% of UK Conservative MPs are members of the ‘Conservative Friends of Israel”.

    “Tony Blair (Middle East Envoy)is on a ‘retainmer’? of 2.5 million GBP from JP Morgan (US bank generally considered to be run by Jewish Zionists”

    It would appear that the US is not the only one ignoring Washington’s advice !

  5. Brilliant idea to tie Washington’s words to our present foreign policy foibles. Wise words that sadly are largely ignored or worse… knowingly disregarded.

  6. Thought-provokimg idea this – historical transliteration of Washington’s views on international relations. Teo brief observations comments 1) Putting the focus on the Middle East – in particular US policy towards the region – helps highlight much of what is problematic and or plain wrong in this domain, in particular the lack of a holistic long-term vision for the region’s future evolution and in its place a combination of (at least publicly) unshakeable support for Israeli policies, a strong tendency towards knee-jerk anti-Islamism and a generally short-termist, frequently opportunist way of responding to day-to-day developments ii) From another perspective, Washington’s speech can i think justifiably be read as exemplary of the philosophical underpinnings of the isolationist /neutralist current in US foreign policy – a current that historically has played a significant role (c.g. fevered debates on US engagement in both World War I and II) and arguably continues to do so, not least in the Republican party. Even if the Washingtonian perspective points towards a liberal version of isolationist/neturality based foreign policy, this is not a position I, many Europeans and indeed many in the Middle East wish to see the US adopting, I suspect. US constructive engagement in global affairs – yes please! Just not destructive neo-imperialist foreign interventionism with little truck for international law, the UN etc à la George Dubya thank you very much . . .

    • Mark, I don’t think isolationist is the correct description, neutrality based foreign policy seems closer to what (imho) Washington was talking about. The foreign policy that you say Europeans as well as people from the Middle East region want, that is, constructive engagement without the imperialist bullying. The first thing that struck me about this is, why oh why do you think you should get what you want… hell, I am an American citizen and THAT is what I desperately want as well. No one is listening to me. Millions of Americans, at least those that are paying attention to the destruction wrought by American Empire, want THAT also. No one gives a tinker’s dam what WE want. The corporatists will continue to use the American politicians with the help of the American military to extract every last resource that can be used to turn a profit until there is nothing left.

      I don’t know how to stop them and I’m not even sure if they can be stopped. I do know that they won’t stop voluntarily. Maybe the Occupy movement can develop into a grand world movement capable of exerting enough pressure. Free market unfettered/unregulated capitalism is not compatible with life on earth.

      I once heard an interview about the guy who invented the Monopoly board game. Apparently, he was asked if he invented the game to show how capitalism works. He answered that, No, I invented it to show how capitalism does not work. After all, one person ends up with everything and everyone else with nothing.

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