I find myself looking to Thomas Jefferson for guidance on this issue of involvement in foreign wars. While Jefferson was vocally opposed to involvement in foreign wars… he did initiate the first foreign military action against the Barbary Pirates. Jefferson was very aware of the gap between the “Ideal” and the “Practical” and the difficulty and need to bridging the two. Thomas Jefferson recognized that the American People should be protected beyond the borders of the United States. Jefferson went to war with the Barbary Pirates because it was in the interest of the people of the United States. This does not conflict with his doctrine of non involvement in foreign affairs. A war in support of the interests of the American People is not a foreign war even if it takes place on foreign land.
In this modern age of aircraft, the oceans that once provided a safe buffer are now mere ponds that can be easily crossed within a day. It is vital we keep foreign bases and be able to monitor the activities of those wish to undermine the United States. Who would wish to undermine us…? Do a bunch of Muslim Fanatics living in the mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan really care what is going on in the United States? What would motivate them to plot against the United States? Again I look to guidance in the history books and I find myself studying the example of how England came to undermine Spain as a world power through the employment of privateer-pirates. It is a fair bet that the terrorists around the world who plot against the United States are financed by the economic rivals of the United States (China, Russia, Europe). If we did manage to kill off all the Muslim Fundamentalist Terrorists in the Middle-East it is a safe bet that these competing powers would finance other terrorists to undermine the United States. I suspect that the United States counters with its own financing of rebels opposing the Chinese and Russian governments while manipulating the individual European governments against each other. All is fair in love and war.
Nations always have worked to undermine each other. We are part of the global competition for resources. It is a cut throat competition that is sure to get worse as the planets population grows and resources become more scarce. We should not give up a single individual liberty as we compete in the world. I stress the word “compete” rather then “war” because war is one of many tools used to compete for resources. The (Un)Patriot Act is a complete embarrassment to everything this country stands for. This is the ultimate example of putting the “game” before the “player”. The Constitution was intended and designed to protect the American People from the Government… that protection does not extend to non-citizens because if it did… there would be no point in being a citizen of the United States. The protection of the Constitution may even be stretched to Resident Aliens living in the United States since they can be considered our guests… but there has to be a line drawn somewhere… otherwise we might find ourselves obligated to guarantee liberty to people living in China too. This is not something that Thomas Jefferson intended. His example was to pursue interests of the American People (citizens)… regardless of what continent those interests might be on.
The goal of this essay is to try to fit Thomas Jefferson’s ideology into present day. I do not think this is very difficult, because nothing has changed much. Just as the 1790’s the United States is competing with other world powers by entering into alliances, trade agreements, fighting pirates… and at the same time is obligated above all to guarantee the Individual Liberty of its Citizens.
(Note: Permission to reprint and link with credit to Bill Tsafa is hereby granted)