Coolidge: Reason Rather than Threats Should Guide U.S. Foreign Policy

Instead of following the foreign policy trajectory blazed by Bush Clinton, Bush, Obama and Trump, perhaps it would serve us consider the wisdom of a former president who is generally overlooked: Calvin Cooledge. 

While some U.S. presidents receive the praise and adulation from modern establishment historians, others are often overlooked for one reason or another. Either they failed to institute some grandiose domestic program or their foreign policy was too “isolationist,” a term frequently used by warmongers and meddlers to describe a humble mindset advocated by the founders, who had no desire to embroil themselves in the affairs of other nations.

One president that comes to mind in that regard is Coolidge. Vice president under Warren Harding before taking over the office after his death, Coolidge advocated many ideas that would be unthinkable to hear from a president today, but were perfectly aligned with what men who wrote the Constitution envisioned for the country.

In his 1925 inaugural address, Coolidge said: “A display of reason rather than a threat of force should be the determining factor in the intercourse among nations.”

In other words, he saw the U.S. acting as a leader on the world stage through demonstrated moral conduct, rather than via a worldwide network of military bases, secret prisons and unaccountable surveillance agencies.

During that speech, Coolidge also remarked that “we have never any wish to interfere in the political conditions of any other countries.” Such sentiment is revolutionary in our modern era where talking heads in the media openly and unabashedly discuss “regime change” in countries that fail to kowtow to the latest preferred U.S. policy.

However, this is precisely what George Washington argued for in his 1796 farewell address to the nation (bold emphasis added):

Observe good faith and justice towards all nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all….nothing is more essential than that permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular nations, and passionate attachments for others, should be excluded; and that, in place of them, just and amicable feelings towards all should be cultivated.

The nation which indulges towards another a habitual hatred or a habitual fondness is in some degree a slave. It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest. Antipathy in one nation against another disposes each more readily to offer insult and injury, to lay hold of slight causes of umbrage, and to be haughty and intractable, when accidental or trifling occasions of dispute occur. Hence, frequent collisions, obstinate, envenomed, and bloody contests. The nation, prompted by ill-will and resentment, sometimes impels to war the government, contrary to the best calculations of policy.

The government sometimes participates in the national propensity, and adopts through passion what reason would reject; at other times it makes the animosity of the nation subservient to projects of hostility instigated by pride, ambition, and other sinister and pernicious motives. The peace often, sometimes perhaps the liberty, of nations, has been the victim.

The wisdom of Coolidge’s declaration and Washington’s warning have been demonstrated many times over since 9/11. An aggressive, continuous state of undeclared war overseas has removed numerous governments from power, only to replace them with ethnic conflicts, the reintroduction of slavery in parts of Africa, and prolonged civil wars. At home, it has cost trillions of dollars, and has been used to justify the loss of civil liberties, the creation of unnecessary and unconstitutional federal agencies, and normalized the concept of a militarized police department.

As Washington observed, peace and liberty are sometimes the casualties of war, and that has certainly been the case for America. Sadly, the loss of both might have been avoided if Americans preferred politicians such as Coolidge and demanded serious candidates who voice similar beliefs.

At the same time, the hydra-like apparatuses of the federal government today has become so entrenched that any man elected espousing Coolidge’s rhetoric would find himself facing down a monstrosity created, fed and bred by his predecessor.

It is why getting “the right guy” into office won’t bring down the D.C. swamp monster and its tentacles wrapped around other nations. That will only happen when the states decide to stop letting it feed off their resources.

About Tenth Amendment Center
The Tenth Amendment Center is a national think tank that works to preserve and protect the principles of strictly limited government through information, education, and activism. The center serves as a forum for the study and exploration of state and individual sovereignty issues, focusing primarily on the decentralization of federal government power as required by the Constitution. For more information visit the Tenth Amendment Center Blog.

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