(With this inaugural post, Ben Froland joins The Trenches as part of our editorial team. We’re glad to be enjoined by Ben in the cause of promoting America’s founding principles. We’re sure you’ll appreciate his insight in the contributions and editorial he’ll be providing as we march forward. Enjoy!)
The national debt for the United States is racing towards $17 Trillion and unfunded liabilities are topping a staggering $123 Trillion. These sobering statistics have many reconsidering the folly of foreign aid. After all, we are printing money, borrowing from China, and heaping debt on our children while sending out billions of dollars in freebies to other nations. Not smart by any measure.
Despite this momentary lapse of reason, most conservative Christians are unwilling to even consider reducing aid or severing obligations with the nation of Israel. The small, middle eastern country was the #1 recipient of US aid in 2012 at nearly $3.1 billion. That money, and all other money spent on foreign aid, is sorely needed right here at home.
So what is it that compels conservative Christians to put Israel’s welfare at a priority level equal to, and in some cases ahead of, the welfare of the United States? Is it something ingrained in them by the American culture established by the founders? Is it a matter of practicality for US national security or a necessity for Israel’s survival? Does Scripture obligate Christians to champion the modern nation of Israel? Let’s take these questions in order starting with the Founder’s worldview of foreign aid and alliances.
Thomas Jefferson famously proclaimed in his inaugural address: “peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none.” This single phrase, often quoted and no longer emulated, is the essence of the Framer’s foreign policy. All nations, including Israel, should expect peaceful coexistence, exchanges of goods and services, and open relations with the United States. No mention is made of foreign aid, and the multi-generational affair between Israel and the United States can only be described as “entangling.”
Years later, John Quincy Adams delivered the following Address on July 4th, 1821 to celebrate the anniversary marking America’s independence.
America, with the same voice which spoke herself into existence as a nation, proclaimed to mankind the inextinguishable rights of human nature, and the only lawful foundations of government. America, in the assembly of nations, since her admission among them, has invariably, though often fruitlessly, held forth to them the hand of honest friendship, of equal freedom, of generous reciprocity. She has uniformly spoken among them, though often to heedless and often to disdainful ears, the language of equal liberty, equal justice, and equal rights. She has, in the lapse of nearly half a century, without a single exception, respected the independence of other nations, while asserting and maintaining her own. She has abstained from interference in the concerns of others, even when the conflict has been for principles to which she clings, as to the last vital drop that visits the heart. She has seen that probably for centuries to come, all the contests of that Aceldama, the European World, will be contests between inveterate power, and emerging right. Wherever the standard of freedom and independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own. She will recommend the general cause, by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example. She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself, beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom. The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force. The frontlet upon her brows would no longer beam with the ineffable splendor of freedom and independence; but in its stead would soon be substituted an imperial diadem, flashing in false and tarnished lustre the murky radiance of dominion and power. She might become the dictatress of the world: she would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit.
Adams clearly reiterates the position of Jefferson and articulates it. There has always been conflict in the world and there always will be. America is to be a beacon, a shining example of freedom for the rest of the world, but not a worldwide enforcer of those values. Even if we share principles with another struggling country, we are to mind to our own affairs and keep them in our prayers. Looking back at the last 100 years of warfare involving America, his caution against “enlisting under other banners than her own” is prophetic. Now that we have involved ourselves in the Middle East, we find ourselves nearly “beyond the power of extrication.”
Nowhere is the blueprint for American foreign policy more eloquently presented than in the farewell address of George Washington himself. In particular, Washington addresses the dangers of extending “favorite nation” status to any country.
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.
Washington is explicit that support of even “good” nations brings a host of unintended consequences. Among them are a false sense of common interests, involvement in unnecessary conflicts, citizens developing loyalties to other nations, and foreign influence in American society. Washington’s foreshadowing is uncanny.
Much like blind allegiance to a political party, blind allegiance to favored nations puts principles aside and the focus becomes the personalities, organizations and countries involved. In the case of Israel, the origins of the conflict with its neighbors are lost to the sands of time. Israel’s actions have become beyond reproach to many Americans and the motivation of its enemies have become irrelevant. Otherwise patriotic Americans hold parades and vigils, create signs, add Israeli flags to their online avatars, and even tailor their votes, all to declare their solidarity with the nation of Israel.
For the conservative Christian, the path is clear. No obligation to Israel, or any other foreign country exists. The Founders intended America to practice a policy of non-interventionism. (Which is often purposely misidentified as isolationism.) To advocate any other brand of foreign policy is to reject conservatism and the wisdom of the Founders themselves. After all, what are you conserving?
Despite reading this post, many conservative Christians will continue to reject the non-interventionism of the Founders. Why? Could they have a reasoned argument to support Israel? We will look at this in our next post…