After two four-year terms as president of the
United States, George Washington delivered some exceptionally sound advice in
his farewell address
in 1796, advice that's been basically ignored.
After expressing hope "that the free Constitution, which is the work of
your hands, may be sacredly maintained," Washington, commander in chief
of the Continental Army, referred to "overgrown military establishments
which, under any form of government, are inauspicious to liberty and which are
to be regarded as particularly hostile to republican liberty."
In foreign relations, Washington advocated a posture of strict neutrality:
"The nation which indulges toward another an habitual hatred or an 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
Not only was a strategy of impartiality, of "good faith and justice toward
all nations," the most effectual stance for the nation, it was also the
ethical thing to do, Washington maintained: "Religion and morality enjoin
In relations with trading partners, the "great rule of conduct" for
the United States should be "to have with them as little political connection
as possible," Washington advised. "It is our true policy to steer
clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world."
On Aug. 25, 1796, several weeks before his farewell address, Washington succinctly
stated his nonintervention policy in a letter to James Monroe: "I have
always given it as my decided opinion that no nation had a right to intermeddle
in the internal concerns of another; that every one had a right to form and
adopt whatever government they liked best to live under themselves."
That concept of America staying out of the internal business of other countries
is long gone. From Guatemala, Iran, and Cuba to Chile, Vietnam, and Iraq, "preemptive
war" and "regime change" are painted as humanitarian intrusions.
On March 19, 2000, for instance, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright
acknowledged America's past intervention in the internal concerns of Iran: "In
1953, the United States played a significant role in orchestrating the overthrow
of Iran's popular prime minister, Mohammed Mossadegh."
Believing that Iranian oil belonged to Iranians, Mossadegh became a U.S. target
after he backed a policy of nationalizing the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, a British
firm that controlled the production and sale of Iranian oil since the early
years of the 1900s.
Not unlike George Washington, Mossadegh saw his country getting the short end
of the stick in its economic relationship with the British.
The New York Times ran an editorial approving of the coup against Mossadegh,
in which it said, "Underdeveloped countries with rich resources now have
an object in the heavy cost that must be paid by one of their number which goes
berserk with fanatical nationalism."
Berserk and fanatical nationalism by developed countries was different, i.e.,
acceptable. We didn't invade Iraq; we "liberated" it.
Following the ousting of Mossadegh, the United States during the next quarter
century backed the shah's regime, a dictatorial government that, in Albright's
words, "brutally repressed political dissent."
The coup against Mossadegh was "clearly a setback for Iran's political
development," said Albright, "and it is easy to see now why so many
Iranians continue to resent this intervention by America in their internal affairs."
"The 1953 CIA coup in Iran was named 'Operation Ajax' and was engineered
by a CIA agent named Kermit Roosevelt, the grandson of President Theodore Roosevelt,"
writes Jacob G. Hornberger, founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.
For a time, as Hornberger explains, it looked to U.S. planners like the coup
was an unqualified triumph: "U.S. officials, not surprisingly, considered
the operation one of their greatest foreign policy successes until, that
is, the enormous convulsion that rocked Iranian society with the violent ouster
of the shah and the installation of a virulently anti-American Islamic regime
The coup, in essence, paved the way for the rise to power of the Ayatollah
Ruhollah Khomeini and all the rest that's happened right up to 9/11 and beyond.
It's called "blowback," the unintended consequences of covert operations
or as Sheldon Richman, editor of The Freeman, defines it, "the
CIA's term for what happens when a foreign operation explodes in one's own face."
It's something that George Washington seemed to understand.