Must We Go Abroad Searching for Monsters to Destroy?

By Cruz Marquis

On Independence Day, 1821, President John Quincy Adams gave a timeless speech where he laid out the foreign policy a nation conceived should pursue: “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.” How things change.

In 2022, the United States is the preeminent global superpower, if no longer a hyperpower, with as close to total freedom of action as a state can ever have. All other states must choose to align for or against the United States, and all who choose to stand with her must submit to her judgement, rely on her munitions and dollars, and will always come to her when there is a problem.

Enter Zelensky in a sweatsuit. This was his first foreign trip since the Russian invasion and he did not go to Berlin, London, Paris, or so very close Warsaw, but, instead, all the way around the world to Washington. If nothing else is indicative of the United States being the nation universally turned to whenever something goes awry, this is. 

In the midst of Zelensky’s solicitation of aid, he failed to even wear a suit or shave. He wore a sweatsuit to speak in our Congress. His fanboys in journalism were quick to rush to the aid of his faux pas and compared him to Winston Churchill, in that both had their mannerisms (wearing a full sweatsuit, unshaven, vs smoking a cigar apparently) which they always kept up during their wars to assure the people of constancy. Historians will decide if Zelensky is a modern-day Churchill, but at least the latter wore a suit when he met with Franklin Roosevelt.

How did it get this way? How did America go from the free and representative, mercantile republic on the periphery of civilization asking only to be left alone, to the preeminent military power on the planet, the first nation foreigners turn to when aggressors beckon? I addressed how this metamorphosis happened step-by-step in a previous article, and suffice it to say, that the culprit was Woodrow Wilson and his conception of the state, and America’s role in the world.

Before Wilson, American presidents were content to serve the cause of liberty by inaction, favoring proper administration at home over any sort of adventurism abroad. To everyone before him, liberty would quickly get a bad name if it disregarded the situation at home, while trying to impose itself by bayonets abroad. Surely, they had a point, Napoleon’s strategy was just the opposite of the Founding Fathers, and a precursor of Wilson’s, and it united the whole of Europe against his cause, devastated his country, earned him an exile in Elba, put a monarch back on the throne, and set back the cause of liberty decades. Figuring that Napoleon’s eventual downfall was the wage of interventionism, Americans of the 19th Century wisely kept to their corner of the globe and refrained from trying to make the world safe for democracy.

Woodrow Wilson was not like his predecessors. True, he was a genius of the highest order, but this only made him more insidious: His conception of the state and the historical mission of America directly contravened Quincy Adams, and the entirety of his predecessors. Professor Richard M. Gamble expands on this:

“Wilson had never tired of referring to America as the servant-nation, chosen to bring light and liberty and peace to all the world. Consistent with the habit of mind of the nineteenth-century Romantic nationalists he so admired, Wilson deified the American state and its historical mission, applying to the United States the attributes of Christ and his atoning work—the promise and hope of the Incarnation secularized and fulfilled.”[1]

The implications of Wilson’s moral aggrandizement of the state are far reaching. Previously, it had been enough to provide a refuge for the oppressed people yearning to breathe free, and to secure liberty for Americans and their posterity, and being the avenger of Americans—not man in general. The reimagining of the state for the Great War reversed all prior wisdom about good government and made it America’s duty to intervene and spread democracy wherever possible. Henceforth, the state was not to be the protector and avenger of America and her own, but all of man, thus, taking on an impossible mission.

Impossible missions tend to never be completed or done in such a shoddy way that it would have been better not to start in the first place. Such has been American foreign policy since Wilson’s presidency: The state drunkenly stumbling, bullying, and coercing, from one international crisis to another. During the stumbling, the United States loses friends, spends first billions and then trillions, of dollars, and loses thousands of lives in wars.

One would think after all of the stumbling around and leading with the sword, there would be serious blowback and a movement to sheath it, but this never gets substantial traction. No matter how many years are spent in the Middle East, or how vast our commitments abroad become, it is ever inconceivable to mainstream Washington to return to the counsel of the man for whom their city is named and lead by example.

Consciously for Wilson and unconsciously for the neo-Wilsonians who follow in his footsteps, America is held to be an analog for Christ, bleeding for the sins of the world. For the sin of the Habsburg throne, America had to go to war. For the sins of socialism in some foreign land, America had to go to war. For the sins of radical Islam in countries few could find on a map, America had to go to war.

This blasphemous conception of America wrongly attributes the features of Christ to an invention of men and thus takes glory rightfully placed on the former and puts it on the latter. In practice, since nations do not act, glorifying the nation at war translates to the glorification of the state in the midst of its most violent pastime. Further, exterminating evil everywhere is once again an impossible task which yolks the American people with a burden that can never be undertaken. Despotism and iniquity will be with us until the day of the Second Coming, no matter how many states we topple.

Every other empire had to acquiesce to its finite powers and longevity, but the special position of the United States allowed us to put that reckoning off a long time. For a few generations, this country has creaked under the pains of empire, and it is high time the politicians who perpetuate it to realize the limits of power, and for presidents to remember that they, like the Roman Emperors of old, are not gods of war, but mortals.

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[1] (Reassessing the Presidency: The Rise of the Executive State and the Decline of Freedom. John V Denson (ed.) 2001. Ludwig von Mises Institute. Pages: 413-414)

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