Getting to American Neutrality

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As in the past, this Congress and this President continue the non-neutral foreign policies of the U.S. A neutral U.S. would not have helped depose the Prime Minister of Iran in 1953. It would not have aided Saddam Hussein, later sided with him in the Iraq-Iran War, signaled him to invade Kuwait, then invaded Iraq, bombed it for years, and then invaded again. It would have dealt with these nations in a totally different manner. A neutral U.S. would never have assertively interfered in their politics and lands in the ways that it did. The non-neutrality of the U.S. is what set in motion the retaliatory destruction of 9/11. Non-neutrality produced the current Iraq War. It may produce a war with Iran or worse.

Non-neutrality as a U.S. foreign policy means that our leaders extract huge amounts of wealth from us that they then use on foreign escapades that interfere with many foreign states and peoples. The U.S. uses military, political, and economic means to influence and pressure other nations and peoples. It uses covert CIA-type means as well.

Non-neutrality means that the U.S. becomes a political player in these distant lands. The locals shape their policies and measures in expectation of U.S. actions, and the U.S. is drawn into their politics. For example, the U.S. supports Pakistan, a nuclear power. But this upsets India, another nuclear power that is in conflict with Pakistan. The U.S. then engages India in a strategic partnership, which upsets Pakistan, which then ties itself formally to Iran’s military. But Iran, which has nuclear aspirations, is on the enemy list of the U.S. These sorts of complications multiply endlessly if we bring in two more nuclear powers, China and Russia, who have their own relations and conflicts with all of these States.

What then happens is that there is a continual menu of problems for the U.S. One problem leads to another, often many others. Our leaders place us on a merry-go-round of crises, each one connected to the last. Each problem crops up as a risk that must be dealt with or matters will deteriorate further. Yet each problem increases the chances of deeper conflicts. Our leaders act as if the merry-go-round is unstoppable. They claim we can never get off, that we have to keep riding the whirlwind endlessly because we are the world’s leaders and this is our responsibility.

Yet it is obvious that far from enhancing the national security of the U.S., the non-neutral foreign policies weaken it. And we can get off the merry-go-round any time we want to by replacing the policy of interference with a policy of neutrality. As President Wilson put it in 1914 after World War I had begun:

"Every man who really loves America will act and speak in the true spirit of neutrality, which is the spirit of impartiality and fairness and friendliness to all concerned."

In his declaration of neutrality, Wilson placed in opposition to non-neutrality its logical opposite, namely, a policy of peace and the encouragement of peace:

"Such divisions amongst us would be fatal to our peace of mind and might seriously stand in the way of the proper performance of our duty as the one great nation at peace, the one people holding itself ready to play a part of impartial mediation and speak the counsels of peace and accommodation, not as a partisan, but as a friend.

"I venture, therefore, my fellow countrymen, to speak a solemn word of warning to you against that deepest, most subtle, most essential breach of neutrality which may spring out of partisanship, out of passionately taking sides. The United States must be neutral in fact, as well as in name, during these days that are to try men’s souls. We must be impartial in thought, as well as action, must put a curb upon our sentiments, as well as upon every transaction that might be construed as a preference of one party to the struggle before another."

The case for neutrality is the case for peace. The case for non-neutrality is the case for the exercise of power, aggressive power, and that is the case for conflict in all its many forms including war.

U.S. policy in the Mid-East exemplifies its non-neutrality. The U.S. is enmeshed in the politics of just about every country in that region. If there is any single reason for the U.S. attempts to control Mid-East politics and nations, it is oil.

The Swiss and the Japanese make no attempt to control their oil supplies in this way. Neither do most other nations. Why then does the U.S. try to control oil? The answer is that the U.S. leaders want to be able to wield power without constraint. The exercise of power requires a military. The U.S. military cannot run without oil. It also cannot run without the U.S. economy, which cannot run without oil. Our leaders want a huge and dominant U.S. military that has no problem getting the oil it wants. They want this military to have all sorts of offensive capabilities and to be able to project power across the globe. The consequence of this power-seeking goal is that our leaders want to control the Mid-East and its oil. The attempts at control go back to the days of FDR and before.

What have these power-plays brought Americans? Higher-priced oil than ever and no end of headaches. Our leaders have gotten us into several serious wars in the Mid-East. They threaten another one. They have stirred up anti-American terrorism. Their confused policies have at times aided one side, then another, and even terrorists. It has got to the point where our leaders promise us war for the next 100 years, warn us of nuclear catastrophes on American soil, and form a Department of Homeland Security to protect against the blowback from their Mid-East power-plays.

Americans want peace and security. Peace and neutrality go together, and they are classic American ideals and policies. When war broke out between France and Great Britain, President Washington in 1793 issued a Proclamation. In order not to offend anyone, it did not use the word "neutrality," but it declared neutrality nonetheless:

"Whereas it appears that a state of war exists between Austria, Prussia, Sardinia, Great Britain, and the United Netherlands, of the one part, and France on the other; and the duty and interest of the United States require, that they should with sincerity and good faith adopt and pursue a conduct friendly and impartial toward the belligerent Powers;

"I have therefore thought fit by these presents to declare the disposition of the United States to observe the conduct aforesaid towards those Powers respectfully; and to exhort and warn the citizens of the United States carefully to avoid all acts and proceedings whatsoever, which may in any manner tend to contravene such disposition.

"And I do hereby also make known, that whatsoever of the citizens of the United States shall render himself liable to punishment or forfeiture under the law of nations, by committing, aiding, or abetting hostilities against any of the said Powers, or by carrying to any of them those articles which are deemed contraband by the modern usage of nations, will not receive the protection of the United States, against such punishment or forfeiture; and further, that I have given instructions to those officers, to whom it belongs, to cause prosecutions to be instituted against all persons, who shall, within the cognizance of the courts of the United States, violate the law of nations, with respect to the Powers at war, or any of them."

In step after step, as the U.S. expanded into the Pacific, especially in the Philippines in 1900, and as it entered World War I, the U.S. abandoned neutrality. The last serious stand of a policy of neutrality occurred in the 1930s when Congress passed several Neutrality Acts. But when World War II left the U.S. in a relatively strong position, both militarily with the advent of nuclear weapons and economically, and when the Cold War commenced, the U.S. threw over all traces of neutrality. Not only is the U.S. no longer neutral toward the conflicts and wars of others, but the U.S. actively inserts itself into the politics and affairs of others. The U.S. is interventionist, not simply non-neutral. It has embraced interventionism with a vengeance and never looked back. The time has certainly come to look back.

Americans want and have always wanted a military oriented toward our defense that results in our peace and security. Instead, our leaders have built up a military oriented toward aggressive actions overseas. They then have gone looking for trouble because they had such a military and wanted to use it. Americans neither need nor want a military spread throughout the world, but our leaders do. How else can they secure for themselves the power they want? How else can they project the power they wish to exercise?

The end of the Cold War provided a major political window of opportunity to reduce nuclear weapons and lead the world away from their production and use. The time was also ripe to reduce the American presence overseas. The time had come to dissolve the dangerous alliances of the Cold War. Fortunately, they had never set off a major conflict with the U.S.S.R., but they had served their purpose. The U.S. and the U.S.S.R. had managed to avoid war for 45 years. Major areas in the rest of the world were moving away from centrally-controlled economies and toward decentralized market-oriented economies. The time had come to revert to a foreign policy of peace, not force and power, and such a policy had to be one of neutrality.

Our leaders failed miserably to lead us and the world in this direction. Instead, both Bushes and Clinton have continued the extensive use of U.S. power overseas, in the Mid-East, in the old Yugoslavia, and in central Asia. President Bush has promoted U.S. nuclear weapons policies that make nuclear war and nuclear proliferation more likely.

Nuclear proliferation does not necessarily enhance the prospects of peace via the effect of deterrence. As more nations are involved, so are more leaders who may decide, for whatever reasons or non-reasons, to employ nuclear weapons. Furthermore, the more weapons there are and the more widespread they are, the greater the chances of their falling into the hands of shadowy and unidentifiable groups who do not respond to deterrence. Apart from some talk about suitcase bombs, the costs of obtaining and using nuclear weapons are still high enough that States are the prime organizations geared to their manufacture.

The public’s instincts are sound in favoring the vast reduction and elimination of these weapons altogether. In the foreseeable future, it seems that this has to be done within the framework of the world’s system of States because that is the system we have. Yet there is a great problem in thinking solely in such terms. At present, the dangerous motion toward terrible nuclear catastrophes on American and foreign soils is a function of the world’s organization into States. States are uniquely able to seize and gather civilian resources and funnel them toward large-scale weapons programs. They are able to develop, buy, and steal nuclear secrets and technologies. They are able to spy, connive, and trade for them using political quid-pro-quos. They are able to conduct expensive programs to build and deploy nuclear weapons. States are able to mobilize the fears and suspicions of their peoples in order to gain their support for such programs. By concentrating power, States are vulnerable to the whims of their leaders who can take them into wars.

Therefore, to help reduce the problems posed by nuclear weapon availability, our overriding, continuing, and long-term focus should be to reduce the coercive powers of every State in the world. We should learn how to live without States so that we may attain a greater measure of peace. Only by moving toward less powerful States can we reduce their ability to wage the modern and devastating wars that we have witnessed since the system of States became entrenched in the world.

Attaining the aim of greater peace through reducing and ending States is not about to occur. It is not on the horizon of this or even the next few generations. It is a very long-term aim that spans the lifetimes of many more than a few generations. But peace should be our fundamental aim and direction, no matter how long it takes. What do we do now to further that goal? We do whatever we can to encourage States to moderate their war-making potential and adopt non-aggressive policies. We should align our short-term actions and policy recommendations to the longer-term strategic goal of reducing States to mere shadows of their former selves.

We should never lose sight of this ultimate aim: a greater measure of peace by living without States. This is an aim that can unite every person on the globe who wants to live peacefully with all other people. This aim unites peace-loving Americans, Russians, Africans, Iranians, Israelis, Europeans, Australians, and Asians.

The aim of peace is the only moral high ground. States divide one people from another. They frequently attempt to justify their heinous war-making acts as moral acts of defense or national security when they are not. We need to measure the actions taken by States against a clear standard, and that standard is whether or not the action enhances peace. American neutrality is squarely a policy that aims for peace.

If we forget or diverge from this aim and standard, we are liable to get caught up in short-term judgments that compromise reaching the goal of peace. Instead of reducing the massive and centralized powers on this earth, we will enhance them. We will get taken in and diverted by the policies of our States.

We cannot forget that States pose the greatest risk to us all, both here and abroad. States have and can get nuclear weapons. States have many other means of producing mass destruction. During World War II, States on both sides used massive fire-bombing. To mention a few cases, late in 1940, Hitler struck Coventry and London. Churchill, in joint operations with the Canadians and the Americans, hit Hamburg with Operation Gomorrah in 1943, killing at least 50,000. The Allies firebombed Dresden in 1945. Roosevelt firebombed Tokyo in 1942, killing at least 80,000. He hit Kobe in 1945. Truman used atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.

There are those, like Norman Podhoretz, who believe that the U.S. should bomb Iran now and stop it from developing nuclear weapons. Whatever the pragmatic soundness of this recommendation may be, starting a war is an act of aggression. It is also an extension of non-neutrality. When the U.S. abandons neutrality for non-neutrality, the next logical step is to take sides, as the U.S. did in World War I. At present, the U.S. considers that it has taken sides with its "allies and friends." The 2005 Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations states "The US defense strategy aims to achieve four key goals that guide the development of US forces [sic] capabilities, their development and use: assuring allies and friends of the US steadfastness of purpose and its capability to fulfill its security commitment; dissuading adversaries from undertaking programs or operations that could threaten US interests or those of our allies and friends…"

The U.S. takes sides with its allies and friends, and it speaks for them in a leadership role. This non-neutrality procedure divides nations into friends and enemies. U.S. leaders can then attack the enemies and not consider it wrong in moral terms (although it may be pragmatically unwise) since they are enemies, the bad guys, who aim to destroy us and our friends, the good guys. Once the U.S. leaders have mapped out the Iranians as enemies, they act as if they know that Iranian intentions (homogenized) are evil. They know that these enemies have plans that they fully intend to bring to fruition. They know that no events will transpire that will alter these plans. These enemy plans must, by some kind of human predestination that takes them out of God’s hands, come to pass. Nothing can be done to stop the enemy but attack now. Our leaders do not have to wait until a crime is committed or even wait until the outlines of its actuation appear visible. They can attack now because these, after all, are enemies.

Our leaders need a reality check. An aggression against Iran is still an aggression. It is a reprehensible and morally culpable act. Only by a devilish sleight of moral thought can our leaders (and Podhoretz) transform aggression into something justifiable. They want us to think that attacking Iran is an act of peace and good will toward men. How can this be so when it is an act of war? We are supposed to think that this is an act that will save millions of lives by preventing the bad guys from developing a weapon that will then kill the good guys. We are to strike out against Iran now and start a war because of what we imagine they might do in the future. If killing others because of what we imagine they may do is morally acceptable, then we are in for a great deal more killing. If a man’s imagination is to be judge, jury, and executioner, then we have abandoned a thousand years of rule of law.

All of this bizarre thought of our leaders, which is fostering an outlandish reality in the Mid-East and elsewhere, stems from a foundation in U.S. non-neutrality coupled with the power to fashion events.

Neutrality in foreign policy means peaceful relations with other nations. It means non-interference in other nations. This will produce greater security for us at home.

Our leaders have taken us way off course. They have steered us away from neutrality, which was an American ideal. They will not steer us back unless and until we demand it and reduce their powers. Our predicament stems from the fact that our leaders command a very powerful nation and military. The U.S. can defeat almost any foe, even in Iraq and Iran, if it commits the resources, selects the winning strategies, acts ruthlessly enough or clearheadedly enough, and avoids the blunders that have held it back. But these strong capabilities present us citizens with a problem. Our leaders will continue to use these powers, even if they use them with amateurish ineffectiveness as in Iraq, until we scale them back. We cannot get our leaders to adopt a neutral foreign policy until we make it impossible for them to follow any other course but neutrality.

Michael S. Rozeff [send him mail] is a retired Professor of Finance living in East Amherst, New York.

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