On the Coming Fall of the American Empire

(C4L) – Bruce Fein’s American Empire: Before the Fall is not for the faint of heart. “You, your family, your friends, your professional colleagues, and your elected and appointed officials in the nation’s highest circles will fiercely resist the truths this book expounds,” the author warns. He’s not kidding. Only the most well informed constitutionalist will fail to be surprised by this book — and even that reader will come away from American Empire with a clearer understanding of the dangers facing our republic. In a little over 200 pages, Fein documents America’s slide from the rule of law into arbitrary power and the reduction of her citizens to comfortable serfs. The force that has brought about these changes is ceaseless war, which demands the sacrifice of real liberty for a spurious security.

When Campaign for Liberty first asked me to help edit the book some months ago, I feared it would be a dry foreign-policy tome. I could hardly have been more wrong: Fein writes with passion and verve; he is a man who has been robbed of his country, and readers who pick up American Empire will soon share the outrage he feels.

Fein is every bit as keen an analyst and trenchant a critic of empire as such left-of-center writers as Chalmers Johnson and William Appleman Williams. But Fein comes from the right: he was associate deputy attorney general in the Reagan administration and has been affiliated with the Heritage Foundation and American Enterprise Institute. Liberals as well as libertarians will profit from this book — but conservatives need it most. Militarism and the expansion of executive power that comes with it pose a deadly internal danger to our political system; they are the antithesis of what the Founders envisioned for America.

Their vision is elucidated in Fein’s third chapter. To understand the course the Founders intended the republic to follow, one must look to the Constitution, certainly — but not just to the Constitution. There are, Fein argues, four “Charter Documents” that encapsulate our political tradition. The first two are obvious: the Declaration of Independence announced Americans’ right to self-government, and the Constitution established the rule of law within a federal framework. But to discover the Founders’ wisdom in foreign policy, one must look to two other Charter Documents: George Washington’s Farewell Address and the speech before Congress that Secretary of State John Quincy Adams delivered on July 4, 1821.
Washington’s Farewell Address is the logical place to begin a search for the foreign-policy principles most compatible with our republic’s design. Washington was painfully aware of the internal divisions that foreign commitments could sow — he knew well the passionate attachments that some radical Jeffersonsians had formed for France and the vested interests that bound many Federalists to Great Britain. At their worst, American partisans of foreign ideologies seemed to feel more loyalty for alien powers than solidarity with their fellow citizens. And even beyond the factional tensions created by interventionist foreign policies, there was the danger of military despotism — which is why Washington took as his own character model not Caesar, the popular military commander who seizes political power, but Cincinnatus, the Roman “dictator” (the word originally meant a general with supreme authority) who laid down his sword and returned to his farm once he had won his war.

These considerations led Washington to announce in his Farewell Address a foreign policy that today, as Fein notes, would be denounced as isolationism: “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. . . . It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world. . . .” In international trade as well as in matters of war and peace, Washington counseled disinterestedness: “Harmony, liberal intercourse with all nations, are recommended by policy, humanity, and interest. But even our commercial policy should hold an equal and impartial hand; neither seeking nor granting exclusive favors of preferences; consulting the natural course of things; diffusing and diversifying by gentle means the streams of commerce, but forcing nothing. . . .”

In contrast to later presidents, Fein writes, “Washington at no point insinuates that the United States should resort to military force to secure access to allegedly strategic materials to bolster the nation’s economy, or to compel foreign nations to embrace free trade as opposed to mercantilism to boost economic growth.” There is no room in Washington’s foreign policy to wage wars for natural resources or to open global markets. “From 1776 to 1846, the United States economy flourished without the establishment of a single American military base on foreign soil,” Fein observes in answer to those who believe that only a global military presence can vouchsafe our prosperity.

Washington spoke not as a Jeffersonian or Hamiltonian — though Hamilton himself, in perhaps his greatest contribution to the American tradition, helped Washington draft his remarks — but as a patriot beyond party. Secretary of State John Quincy Adams did likewise in his July 4, 1821 address. He was a Federalist president’s son and served in the administration of James Monroe, last of the Virginia dynasty founded by Thomas Jefferson. America, said Adams, “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 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.”

Compare those sentiments to utterances of recent administrations, which have proclaimed, “the security and well-being of each and every American depend on the security and well-being of those who live beyond our borders,” and “The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands.”(Those quotes are from Obama and Bush respectively, cited by Amy Zegert here.) The foreign policy described by Adams permits no nation-building in Afghanistan or pre-emptive wars to destroy monsters like Saddam Hussein.

Yet, as Fein laments, John Quincy Adams was the last of a breed. After Adams’s own term as president came the popular general Andrew Jackson, and following him “a stream of mediocrities.” William Henry Harrison’s campaign slogan “Tippecanoe and Tyler too,” says Fein, “epitomized the political culture’s regression into infantilism.” And as the political culture regressed, rapacious interests and new ideologies (such as Manifest Destiny) vied to chart America’s course in the world. Fein enumerates the long train of wars that ensued once these grasping factions consolidated their positions at home. The Spanish-American War brought the U.S. significant overseas territories for the first time. From that point forward, America would hardly cease from global interventions. Fein succinctly describes how the two World Wars and the Cold War continued to expand what Dwight Eisenhower would call the military-industrial complex — while constricting liberties at home.

And now the War on Terror has sent the empire into overdrive. Fein presents at the end of his sixth chapter a devastating litany of post-9/11 presidential power-grabs and crimes against Americans’ liberty. “President Obama, parroting President Bush, defines the �battlefield’ as anywhere that an act of terrorism might conceivably be perpetrated. Accordingly, President Obama asserts unlimited power to order U.S. citizens killed anywhere in the world with no judicial or legislative checks if he suspects they are implicated in international terrorism. King George III would be envious.” Indeed, this year it became public knowledge that Obama was continuing a George W. Bush program that permits the Pentagon to target for assassination any American abroad suspected of terrorist links. Even in the Roman empire, Saint Paul was entitled as a Roman citizen to appeal a capital charge before Caesar. The American Caesar has less regard for his subjects.

Fein does not offer counsel of despair. He concludes his book on a hopeful note — albeit a distant one — with a series of proposals for restoring the republic. Among his suggestions: “military commissions should be abolished,” “the Federal Reserve Board should be abolished,” “No monies of the United States should be expended to execute a law to which the President has affixed a signing statement, “”Deficit spending should be prohibited absent two-thirds majorities of the House and Senate, and federal taxes should be capped at 10 percent of national income.” Some of these ideas will have to await a distant day to be fulfilled; others can happen speedily, if only the minority of Americans awake to the plight of their country will organize and act in their own communities and congressional districts.

American Empire: Before the Fall is a compact education in the abuses of empire and liberties we have lost. It shines with moral intensity, which never detracts from the author’s scrupulous compiling of evidence. It’s exactly what a book written by a partisan of the Constitution should be. Buy a copy for yourself and one for a friend — and perhaps one for a Sean Hannity listener in need of enlightenment.

Source: Campaign for Liberty

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