The Fourth of July weekend gave me time to consider events in Iraq and Ukraine, U.S.-German relations and the Mexican borderland and immigration. I did so in the context of the founding of the United States, asking myself if America has strayed from the founders’ intent with regard to foreign policy. Many people note Thomas Jefferson’s warning that the United States should pursue “peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations — entangling alliances with none,” taking that as the defining strategy of the founders. I think it is better to say that was the defining wish of the founders but not one that they practiced to extremes.
As we know, U.S. President Barack Obama has said he wants to decrease U.S. entanglements in the world. Ironically, many on the right want to do the same. There is a common longing for an America that takes advantage of its distance from the rest of the world to avoid excessive involvement in the outside world. Whether Jefferson’s wish can constitute a strategy for the United States today is a worthy question for a July 4, but there is a profounder issue: Did his wish ever constitute American strategy?