George Washington portrayed in the Princeton Battle Monument, Princeton, N.J.

This essay, first posted on, was posted here on March 17, 2012.

Ron Paul in Good Company on Foreign Policy

Mary Meehan

We often hear that Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) is out of step with other Republicans and conservatives on foreign policy. In the Republican presidential debates, though, it's striking how seldom his opponents actually deal with his case for a peaceful and restrained policy. Instead, they try to outdo one another in threatening military action against Iran. (Watch out, guys! If you get what you want, you may be very sorry that you did.)

The Republican hawks ignore warnings against interventionism by our first and greatest conservative, George Washington. During his presidency, Washington worked hard to prevent U.S. involvement in a French war with England. Warning against entanglement in European politics and wars in his Farewell Address, he asked: "Why quit our own to stand upon foreign ground?"

The old general disliked Europe's perpetual warfare. Before his presidency, in June of 1788, he wrote his good friend, the Marquis de Lafayette: "There seems to be a great deal of bloody work cut out for this summer in the North of Europe. If war, want and plague are to desolate those huge armies that are assembled, who that has the feelings of a man can refrain from shedding a tear over the miserable victims of Regal Ambition?"

Earlier he had written another Frenchman who, like Lafayette, had aided America during her Revolution. Referring to the Marquis de Chastellux's marriage, Washington said, "A wife! well my dear Marquis, I can hardly refrain from smiling to find you are caught at last.... While you have been making love...the great Personages in the North have been making war." He added that "you have had much the best and wisest of the bargain." He hoped that agriculture and commerce would "supersede the waste of war and the rage of conquest."

John Adams, our second president, resisted much pressure for war with France, instead making a settlement that helped both countries. Biographer David McCullough has written that Adams thus avoided "what would almost certainly have been a disastrous mistake.... It was a brave, heroic performance." Thomas Jefferson, in his inaugural address as our third president, summed up his foreign policy this way: "peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none." Before his own presidency, John Quincy Adams declared that America "goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy."

Later presidents of the 1800s generally followed a non-interventionist foreign policy; but greed for land led to some exceptions. President James K. Polk, a Democrat, provoked a war with Mexico by sending U.S. troops into a disputed border area in 1846, won the war, and acquired New Mexico, Arizona, and California. Whigs in the House of Representatives said that Polk had "unnecessarily and unconstitutionally" started the war. Rep. Abraham Lincoln of Illinois supported that position and criticized Polk severely on the House floor. Lincoln told a friend that allowing a president to start a war at will "places our President where Kings have always stood."

There was also dissent when President William McKinley, a Republican, acquired Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines through the 1898 Spanish American War and a payment to Spain. Under McKinley, the U.S. brutally suppressed a Filipino revolt that it inherited from Spain. Many Republicans, including Sen. George F. Hoar of Massachusetts, protested. Noting that the Filipino rebels had established their own government before the U.S. settled with Spain, Hoar declared, "You cannot buy the liberties of a people from a dispossessed tyrant--liberties they have bravely won for themselves in arms. You cannot buy sovereignty like merchandise, and men like sheep."

Another Republican, Robert M. La Follette, Sr., of Wisconsin, led an effort to prevent President Woodrow Wilson, a Democrat, from involving America in World War I. Editors called La Follette a traitor; fellow senators shunned him; there was even an effort to expel him from the Senate. "Fighting Bob," who had a backbone of steel, stood firm but couldn't prevent a U.S. declaration of war that led to over 100,000 American deaths from battle and disease. Had the U.S. not intervened, the stalemated Europeans might have reached a fair peace agreement. World War II might not have occurred, at least not in Europe.

Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor enabled Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt to lead a united country into World War II. But some conservative Republicans were appalled by the atomic bombing of Japanese civilians in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. According to historian Gar Alperovitz, former President Herbert Hoover said in a private note: "The use of the atomic bomb, with its indiscriminate killing of women and children, revolts my soul." Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, later a Republican president, had advised against the bombing.

In his farewell presidential address, Eisenhower said that "we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted the military- industrial complex." Instead of bowing to that powerful combine, Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney, and Newt Gingrich should look to those who follow the wisdom of our founding presidents. For starters, they could sit down and have a serious talk with Ron Paul.

Ron Paul supporters with banner for 'Life/Liberty/Ron Paul'