During his campaign for President in 2000, George W. Bush said he would be judicious in his use of the military and opposed using it for nation building. Yet by the end of his Presidency, the U.S. had invaded Afghanistan and Iraq and was rebuilding those countries; and the military was being used without a declaration of war in a number of other countries that had not attacked us.
As a candidate for election in 2008, Barack Obama promised to remove troops from Afghanistan and Iraq and to end America’s involvement in foreign wars. Now we are fighting wars in those two countries, plus Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia; and we currently maintain about 900 military bases in more than 100 countries.
The Founders warned us about the dangers of overseas military engagements.
In his farewell address, President George Washington said:
Our detached and distant situation invites and enables us to pursue a different course… 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 Europe, entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of European ambition, rivalship, interest, humor or caprice?
Later, in a letter to Patrick Henry, he wrote:
My ardent desire is, and my aim has been … to comply strictly with all our engagements foreign and domestic; but to keep the United States free from political connections with every other country. To see that they may be independent of all, and under the influence of none. In a word, I want an American character, that the powers of Europe may be convinced we act for ourselves and not for others; this, in my judgment, is the only way to be respected abroad and happy at home.
And in a series of tracts called The American Crisis, Thomas Paine wrote:
Not all the treasures of the world, so far as I believe, could have induced me to support an offensive war, for I think it murder; but if a thief breaks into my house, burns and destroys my property, and kills or threatens to kill me, or those that are in it, and to ‘bind me in all cases whatsoever’ to his absolute will, am I to suffer it?
The Founders believed we should stay away from foreign entanglements and involve ourselves only in wars in which there was an expressed vital U.S. interest or in response to an attack.
As you evaluate who you will support in the next Presidential election, ask yourself which of the candidates demonstrates that he or she understands the proper use of the military as envisioned by the Founders. They didn’t believe the U.S. should police the world, and we can certainly no longer afford it.