by Senator Robert A. Taft
In 1951, one of America's true conservatives, Senator Robert A. Taft, published a book titled A Foreign Policy for Americans. I think what Senator Taft wrote then applies to our own time as well.
In discussing the purposes of American foreign policy, he said:
There are a good many Americans who talk about an American century in which America will dominate the world. They rightly point out that the United States is so powerful today that we should assume a moral leadership in the world . . . The trouble with those who advocate this policy is that they really do not confine themselves to moral leadership. . . In their hearts they want to force on these foreign peoples through the use of American money and even, perhaps, American arms, the policies which moral leadership is able to advance only through the sound strength of its principles and the force of its persuasion. I do not think this moral leadership ideal justifies our engaging in any preventive war . . . I do not believe any policy which has behind it the threat of military force is justified as part of the basic foreign policy of the United States except to defend the liberty of our own people.
Like the Founding Fathers, Senator Taft valued liberty here at home above "superpower" status abroad. The Founding Fathers understood that these two are in tension. To preserve liberty here at home, we need a weak federal government, because a strong federal government is the greatest potential threat to our liberties. The division of powers between the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government is intended to make decisions and actions by the federal government difficult. But playing the great power game abroad demands the opposite. It demands a strong federal government that can make decisions, including of peace or war, quickly and easily. To a large degree, that is the kind of federal government we now have.