Tuesday, March 22, 2011

As Far As We Are Able

It appears there is growing dissension within conservative ranks over the prudence of the so-called "freedom agenda".  It's always been there, but this time with a Democrat president being pushed by its logic, at least in part, the dissenters are a bit noisier than they were during the Bush Administration.  The particular issue is of course our involvement in Libya's current troubles.  Should we or shouldn't we? 

I've noticed that the famous quote by John Quincy Adams is making the rounds again.
America does not go abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.
While I do find a great deal of wisdom in it, I think perhaps Mr. Adams goes a bit too far.  We indeed are, and ought to be, the "champion and vindicator" of liberty around the globe, for the spread of freedom is consistent both with our principles and with our interests.

However (you knew this was coming), our resources are limited.  They always have been, but perhaps moreso now than at any time in living memory.  We simply must pick and choose our fights.  And here's the kicker, we will pick and choose them whether we admit it to ourselves or continue to pretend that we won't. If indeed we persist in pretending that "we shall pay any price, bear any burden,...", we will surely be charged, and also be guilty of, if not hypocrisy, then at least an embarrassing and self-confidence eroding inconsistency in our foreign policy.

So, as long as we're tossing around famous quotations, how about this one from Emerson:
A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.
A "foolish consistency" in foreign policy is one that promises beyond its ability to deliver.  Hence, I propose that these six simple words be appended to the end of every new "Doctrine" articulated by all future presidents:  "As far as we are able."

True, to the cynic, who is almost always a jilted idealist, those words form an all too easy escape clause from any and all promises.  But, to the prudent statesmen, they are a humble bow to reality and the bedrock of a wise consistency.

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