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George Washington’s Advice to Us Now

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U.S. President George Washington’s final words to his fellow Americans, upon leaving office, are now even more timely than when he spoke them, but have been ignored in practise for many decades; and the most recently published popular book about that speech ignores the most enduringly important part, so this part of Washington’s Farewell Address will be quoted from here, and will be placed into its historical context, so as to make clear what the central meaning in that speech is for our times, and for all times.

John Avlon (former speechwriter for Rudolf Giuliani, and before that, schooled at Milton Academy and then Yale) was recently the Editor-in-Chief of the rabidly anti-Russian — or “neoconservative” — ‘news’ (or propaganda) site “The Daily Beast.” He issued on 10 January 2017, right before the neoconservative Donald Trump became President, Washington’s Farewell: The Founding Father’s Warning to Future Generations, which book is an extended essay on President George Washington’s famous Farewell Address. That work wins 4.5 out of 5 stars at Amazon, but I am not linking to it, because that book ignores what will be discussed in this brief article, which is the core of the speech that Avlon devotes 368 pages to butchering.

Here, then, is the key passage from Washington’s Farewell Address, in which our first (and — along with Lincoln and FDR, one of our three greatest) President actually had warned us against the neoconservative path, which our nation has been on ever since 24 February 1990 and the end of the USSR and its communism and its Warsaw Pact military alliance. That’s the path of wars (such as in Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Ukraine) (which some wags call “perpetual war for perpetual peace”) to conquer, first, all of Russia’s allies, and then finally (once Russia is thus thoroughly isolated), to conquer Russia itself — in other words, George Washington, when retiring from public life, warned us against Mr. Avlon’s own neoconservative foreign-affairs obsession: eternal enmity against Russia (President Washington warned us, instead, to avoid eternal enmity against any nation, including Russia, as is indicated in this passage, which Avlon’s trashy book ignores): 

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. Europe 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 Europe, entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of European 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.

Such “temporary alliances for extraordinary emergencies” includes The Allies (England, Soviet Union and U.S.) during World War II, but certainly nothing after the Soviet Union and its communism and Warsaw Pact ended in 1991. The entire ‘Western Alliance’ — basically NATO plus Japan — is anti-American policies by the American aristocracy (controlling the U.S. Government) after 1991, and should therefore promptly terminate, and U.S. armed forces be withdrawn from all foreign countries, in accord with the will and intention of America’s democratic Founders including President Washington. Using the U.S. Defense Department, and the U.S. Treasury Department, as (which neoconservatives do) a vast welfare program for the super-wealthy owners of U.S. weapons-manufacturers and for U.S. and other mercenaries, is unauthorized by America’s Founders, and was explicitly condemned by George Washington.

If any U.S.-based international corporations need those foreign U.S. military bases, then they should pick up all of the government’s tab to pay for them, because that kind of ‘capitalism’ is mere imperialism, which is nothing that any of our Founding Fathers advocated — it’s un-American, in terms of the U.S. Constitution, and the men who wrote it.

AsAlexander Hamilton wrote on 9 January 1796, in defending the new Constitution, and especially its Treaty Clause: “I aver, that it was understood by all to be the intent of the provision [the Treaty Clause] to give to that power the most ample latitude to render it competent to all the stipulations, which the exigencies of National Affairs might require—competent to the making of Treaties of Alliance, Treaties of Commerce, Treaties of Peace and every other species of Convention usual among nations and competent in the course of its exercise to controul & bind the legislative power of Congress. And it was emphatically for this reason that it was so carefully guarded; the cooperation of two thirds of the Senate with the President being required to make a Treaty. I appeal for this with confidence.”

He went further: “It will not be disputed that the words ‘Treaties and alliances’ are of equivalent import and of no greater force than the single word Treaties. An alliance is only a species of Treaty, a particular of a general. And the power of ‘entering into Treaties,’ which terms confer the authority under which the former Government acted, will not be pretended to be stronger than the power ‘to make Treaties,’ which are the terms constituting the authority under which the present Government acts.” So: there can be no doubt that the term “treaty” refers to any and all types of international agreements. This was the Founders’ clear and unequivocal intent. No court under this Constitution possesses any power to change that, because they can’t change history.

Furthermore, the third President Thomas Jefferson said in his likewise-famous Inaugural Address, that there should be “Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations — entangling alliances with none.” Jefferson’s comment there was also a succinct tip-of-the-hat to yet another major concern that the Founders had regarding treaties — that by discriminating in favor of the treaty-partners, they also discriminate against  non-partner nations, and so endanger “peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations,” which was the Founders’ chief goal in their foreign policies. But, the Founders’ chief concern was the mere recognition that treaties tend to be far more “permanent” and “entangling” than any purely national laws. This was the main reason why treaties need to be made much more difficult to become laws, and so the two-thirds-of-Senate requirement for passing-into-law any treaty was instituted as the Treaty-Clause, Article 2, Section 2, Clause 2

Though this thinking — avoidance of favoritism in America’s foreign policies — was pervasive amongst the creators of America’s democracy (or people’s republic), America’s newly developed aristocracy subsequently in the 20th Century targeted elimination of the two-thirds-of-Senate requirement, because it’s an impediment toward their re-establishing the aristocracy that the American Revolution itself had overthrown and replaced by this people’s republic. And, the big chance for the aristocracy to restore its position via an imperial President, and so to extend their empire beyond our own shores, came almost two hundred years after America’s founding; it came in 1974, which was when a law finally became passed by Congress allowing some treaties to emerge as U.S. law with only the normal 50%+1 majority in the Senate (unConstitutional though that is). Without that Nixonian law, George Herbert Walker Bush’s NAFTA wouldn’t have been able to become law under Bill Clinton in 1993, and Barack Obama’s TPP with Asia and TTIP with Europe wouldn’t have stood even a chance of becoming law in 2016. Both of Obama’s proposed mega-treaties were designed to isolate and weaken both Russia and China in international trade, but all that Obama ended up with, before his leaving office, was economic sanctions against Russia for its having accepted the desire of the vast majority of Crimeans to rejoin with Russia after Obama’s Ukrainian coup overthrew the democratically elected President of next-door Ukraine, who had received 75% of the vote within Crimea.

Avlon’s website, as a mainstream neoconservative ‘news’ site, opposed Donald Trump as being insufficiently against Russia. They actually urged punishing Russia for Trump’s election! What would George Washington think about having a person (Avlon) so partisan against George Washington’s vision for our country as that, becoming the popular modern ‘interpreter’ of his famous Farewell Address? Would he like that? What would George Washington, and America’s other early Presidents, think of a country which advances such a person as that, to be a commentator and host at CNN, Editor-in-Chief at The Daily Beast, and a favorably received ‘historian’ of the United States? 

This is certainly not the nation that they founded. This ship — now become the wrecker of nations and aspiring global dictator — abandoned its home port in 1945, and hasn’t returned ever since.

Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010

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Hardened US and Iranian positions question efficacy of parties’ negotiating tactics

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The United States and Iran seem to be hardening their positions in advance of a resumption of negotiations to revive a 2015 international nuclear agreement once Iranian President-elect Ebrahim Raisi takes office in early August.

Concern among supporters of the agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program which former US President Donald J. Trump abandoned in 2018 may be premature but do raise questions about the efficacy of the negotiating tactics of both parties.

These tactics include the Biden administration’s framing of the negotiations exclusively in terms of the concerns of the West and its Middle Eastern allies rather than also as they relate to Iranian fears, a failure by both the United States and Iran to acknowledge that lifting sanctions is a complex process that needs to be taken into account in negotiations, and an Iranian refusal to clarify on what terms the Islamic republic may be willing to discuss non-nuclear issues once the nuclear agreement has been revived.

The differences in the negotiations between the United States and Iran are likely to be accentuated if and when the talks resume, particularly concerning the mechanics of lifting sanctions.

“The challenges facing the JCPOA negotiations are a really important example of how a failed experience of sanctions relief, as we had in Iran between the Obama and Trump admins, can cast a shadow over diplomacy for years to come, making it harder to secure US interests,” said Iran analyst Esfandyar Batmanghelidj referring to the nuclear accord, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, by its initials.

The Biden administration may be heeding Mr. Batmangheldij’s notion that crafting sanctions needs to take into account the fact that lifting them can be as difficult as imposing them as it considers more targeted additional punitive measures against Iran. Those measures would aim to hamper Iran’s evolving capabilities for precision strikes using drones and guided missiles by focusing on the providers of parts for those weapon systems, particularly engines and microelectronics.

To be sure, there is no discernable appetite in either Washington or Tehran to adjust negotiation tactics and amend their underlying assumptions. It would constitute a gargantuan, if not impossible challenge given the political environment in both capitals. That was reflected in recent days in Iranian and US statements.

Iranian Spiritual Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei suggested that agreement on the revival of the nuclear accord was stumbling over a US demand that it goes beyond the terms of the original accord by linking it to an Iranian willingness to discuss its ballistic missiles program and support for Arab proxies.

In a speech to the cabinet of outgoing President Hassan Rouhani, he asserted that the West “will try to hit us everywhere they can and if they don’t hit us in some place, it’s because they can’t… On paper and in their promises, they say they’ll remove sanctions. But they haven’t lifted them and won’t lift them. They impose conditions…to say in future Iran violated the agreement and there is no agreement” if Iran refuses to discuss regional issues or ballistic missiles.

Iranian officials insist that nothing can be discussed at this stage but a return by both countries to the nuclear accord as is. Officials, distrustful of US intentions, have hinted that an unconditional and verified return to the status quo ante may help open the door to talks on missiles and proxies provided this would involve not only Iranian actions and programs but also those of America’s allies.

Mr. Khamenei’s remarks seemed to bolster suggestions that once in office Mr. Raisi would seek to turn the table on the Biden administration by insisting on stricter verification and US implementation of its part of a revived agreement.

To achieve this, Iran is expected to demand the lifting of all rather than some sanctions imposed or extended by the Trump administration; verification of the lifting;  guarantees that the lifting of sanctions is irreversible, possibly by making any future American withdrawal from the deal contingent on approval by the United Nations Security Council; and iron-clad provisions to ensure that obstacles to Iranian trade are removed, including the country’s unfettered access to the international financial system and the country’s overseas accounts.

Mr. Khamenei’s remarks and Mr. Raisi’s anticipated harder line was echoed in warnings by US officials that the ascendancy of the new president would not get Iran a better deal. The officials cautioned further that there could be a point soon at which it would no longer be worth returning to because Iran’s nuclear program would have advanced to the point where the limitations imposed by the agreement wouldn’t produce the intended minimum one year ‘breakout time’ to produce enough enriched uranium for a bomb.

“We are committed to diplomacy, but this process cannot go on indefinitely. At some point, the gains achieved by the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) cannot be fully recovered by a return to the JCPOA if Iran continues the activities that it’s undertaken with regard to its nuclear program…The ball remains in Iran’s court, and we will see if they’re prepared to make the decisions necessary to come back into compliance,” US Secretary Antony Blinken said this week on a visit to Kuwait.

Another US official suggested that the United States and Iran could descend into a tug-of-war on who has the longer breath and who blinks first. It’s a war that so far has not produced expected results for the United States and in which Iran has paid a heavy price for standing its ground.

The official said that a breakdown in talks could “look a lot like the dual-track strategy of the past—sanctions pressure, other forms of pressure, and a persistent offer of negotiations. It will be a question of how long it takes the Iranians to come to the idea they will not wait us out.”

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Wendy Sherman’s China visit takes a terrible for the US turn

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Photo: Miller Center/ flickr

US Deputy Secretary of State, Wendy Sherman, had high hopes for the meeting in China. At first, the Chinese side did not agree to hold the meeting at all. The reaction had obvious reasons: Antony Blinken’s fiasco in Alaska left the Chinese disrespected and visibly irritated. This is not why they travelled all the way.

So then the State Department had the idea of sending Wendy Sherman instead. The US government actually needs China more than China needs the US. Sherman was in China to actually prepare the ground for Biden and a meeting between the two presidents, expecting a red carpet roll for Biden as if it’s still the 2000s — the time when it didn’t matter how the US behaved. Things did not go as expected.

Instead of red carpet talk, Sherman heard Dua Lipa’s “I got new rules”. 

That’s right — the Chinese side outlined three bottom lines warning the US to respect its system, development and sovereignty and territorial integrity. In other words, China wants to be left alone.

The bottom lines were not phrased as red lines. This was not a military conflict warning. This was China’s message that if any future dialogue was to take place, China needs to be left alone. China accused the US of creating an “imaginary enemy”. I have written about it before — the US is looking for a new Cold War but it doesn’t know how to start and the problem is that the other side actually holds all the cards

That’s why the US relies on good old militarism with an expansion into the Indo-Pacific, while aligning everyone against China but expecting the red carpet and wanting all else in the financial and economic domains to stay the same. The problem is that the US can no longer sell this because there are no buyers. Europeans also don’t want to play along.

The headlines on the meeting in the US press are less flattering than usual. If the US is serious about China policy it has to be prepared to listen to much more of that in the future. And perhaps to, yes, sit down and be humble.

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Why Jen Psaki is a well-masked Sean Spicer

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When Sarah Huckabee Sanders showed up on the scene as White House Press Secretary, the reaction was that of relief. Finally — someone civil, normal, friendly. Jen Psaki’s entry this year was something similar. People were ready for someone well-spoken, well-mannered, even friendly as a much welcome change from the string of liars, brutes or simply disoriented people that the Trump Administration seemed to be lining up the press and communications team with on a rolling basis. After all, if the face of the White House couldn’t keep it together for at least five minutes in public, what did that say about the overall state of the White House behind the scenes?

But Psaki’s style is not what the American media and public perceive it to be. Her style is almost undetectable to the general American public to the point that it could look friendly and honest to the untrained eye or ear. Diplomatic or international organization circles are perhaps better suited to catch what’s behind the general mannerism. Jen Psaki is a well-masked Sean Spicer, but a Sean Spicer nevertheless. I actually think she will do much better than him in Dancing With The Stars. No, in fact, she will be fabulous at Dancing With The Stars once she gets replaced as White House Press Secretary.

So let’s take a closer look. I think what remains undetected by the general American media is veiled aggression and can easily pass as friendliness. Psaki recently asked a reporter who was inquiring about the Covid statistics at the White House why the reporter needed that information because Psaki simply didn’t have that. Behind the brisk tone was another undertone: the White House can’t be questioned, we are off limits. But it is not and that’s the point. 

Earlier, right at the beginning in January, Psaki initially gave a pass to a member of her team when the Politico stunner reporter story broke out. The reporter was questioning conflict of interest matters, while the White House “stud” was convinced it was because he just didn’t chose her, cursing her and threatening her. Psaki sent him on holidays. Nothing to see here folks, move along.

Psaki has a level of aggression that’s above average, yet she comes across as one of the most measured and reasonable White House Press Secretaries of the decade. And that’s under pressure. But being able to mask that level of deflection is actually not good for the media because the media wants answers. Style shouldn’t (excuse the pun) trump answers. And being able to get away smoothly with it doesn’t actually serve the public well. Like that time she just walked away like it’s not a big deal. It’s the style of “as long as I say thank you or excuse me politely anything goes”. But it doesn’t. And the American public will need answers to some questions very soon. Psaki won’t be able to deliver that and it would be a shame to give her a pass just because of style.

I think it’s time that we start seeing Psaki as a veiled Sean Spicer. And that Dancing with the Stars show — I hope that will still run despite Covid.

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