The Washington Doctrine: A Good China Policy

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As the continuing controversy with China over our spying habits threatens to further complicate our political entanglements with the Chinese government, now would be a good time to examine the source of our antipathy. Is a table-pounding blame-fest really the proper course of action? For the sake of the life and liberty of Americans, I would argue that it is not.

As Lew Rockwell has pointed out, we probably owe much to our economic connections with China for helping force the hand of the American militarists away from the option of war and toward diplomacy and peace. Rockwell looks at the issue through the eyes of the great economist Frederic Bastiat, and indeed Bastiat has many good observations on the matter.

Even before Bastiat, however, good and proper American foreign policy had been defined by George Washington in his own Farewell Address in 1796. Unlike Bastiat who was a brilliant philosopher with a sharp wit, Washington functioned on a more mundane level. He took observations from his own experiences and applied them to his own vision for the future of the United States. The result was not the sophisticated and economic view of Bastiat, but the simple and valuable "Washington Doctrine" that lovers of peace and liberty still defer to today.

Ironically, Washington only needed to look to his own friends in the War for Independence to see the effects of what Washington called "entangling alliances. "

While the United States undoubtedly benefited from France’s involvements in the War for Independence, France most certainly did not. In fact, France’s decision to take on the British once again in North America produced yet another global conflict with Britain. The result was impoverishment of the royal French government, revolution, chaos, and the Terror. Washington didn’t need a P.h.D. in international affairs to see the disastrous effects of international activism.

Why can the war party not now see the folly of its own belligerent policies toward China? Why do they continue to ignore the words of America’s first Commander in Chief? Consider Washington’s words. If Washington were to say such things today, he would undoubtedly be denounced as subversive and isolationist in the extreme. Yet, Washington’s casual observations ring eerily true in light of modern American foreign policy:

"Observe good faith and justice towards all nations. Cultivate peace and harmony with all. Religion and morality enjoin this conduct; and can it be that good policy does not equally enjoin it? …

Who can doubt that in the course of time and things the fruits of such a plan would richly repay any temporary advantages which might be lost by a steady adherence to it? …

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 its interest…

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 [Washington's emphasis] connection as possible."

Forget all that nonsense about the "democratic peace." Washington understood, as did Bastiat, that peace is maintained through the presence of commerce and the absence of politics. Has the state department’s mad drive for democracy ever produced peace anywhere? The policy has an unblemished record of producing utter chaos. Indeed it is such a policy that has produced Washington’s "habitual hatred" and "habitual affection" that has made us slaves to foreign politics. The habitual affection for "democratic" Britain cost us 100,000 American lives in the First World War and habitual hatred cost us tens of thousands more in the "conflicts" of the Cold War.

Washington’s words still speak to us today, and we should heed them. What can our spying activities in China be described as except habitual hatred and suspicion of the Chinese government? What can our military policies in Taiwan be described as except habitual affection? We are now slaves to the politics of the region.

All our troubles with China stem from politics; never commerce. In the wake of our late troubles with China, it is clear that the time has come to end our political involvement in the region. It is time to end our entangling alliances with Taiwan and Japan which can only serve to lead the United States "astray from its duty and its interest." Every moment we further politicize our relations with China, we are lead further away from peace, prosperity, and liberty. We must avoid the road toward chaos that the French traveled down two centuries ago. As Washington observed, religion and morality demand it.

April 14, 2001

Ryan McMaken lives in Denver, Colorado. He edits the Western Mercury.

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