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Liberty as Foreign Policy


In 1775, in a Richmond church, Patrick Henry gave the reason for the American Revolution and, subsequently, the explanation for any American political independence in the first place. “Give me liberty or give me death” was described by one man in the audience (Thomas Marshall, father of the first Chief Justice, John Marshall) as “one of the boldest, vehement and animated pieces of eloquence that had ever been delivered.”

Note that Henry didn’t say “equity, equality, diversion, inclusion;” he said “liberty,” a political definition that precedes the numerous sociological expressions that are universal in both attribution and/or denial. This has been both the theory and practice of the American democracy since its time on earth. And for all to see: in arriving first in America, immigrants in the last century saw a “Statue of Liberty,” not a “Statue of Equality.”

Liberty precedes any/all sociologies and is unique in both theory and practice to a tiny handful of political sovereignties. To borrow from the Latin, it is the sine qua non of Political Science, from which all else human is derived, good, bad, or indifferent.

Liberty is the reason that the Canadian border is tranquil and passive and the Mexican border is continuously “on fire.” It is the reason that the Twentieth Century saw a “special relationship” between Britain and America that defined the nature of that time, in particular the greatest wars in world history. It is also the reason that we have spent $50 billion defending Ukraine’s independence and other similar movements since our own began.

Typical of such situations, liberty has been the motivation, the explanation we give ourselves and others. This was, and remains, quite distinct from the “appropriate, timely, balanced [or] reasoned.” Human nature can do good things in bad ways and bad things in good ways.

To use a French expression, “raison d’état” is ultimately the reason why America exists in the first place and, in the second place, why she does or doesn’t do anything at all. In the third place, it remains the decisive opinion whether or not the country deserves praise or not in fulfilling its own definition for its own behavior. By such standards, we will, and should, be judged.

This appropriately began “in the beginning.” Well before the Revolution ended, Thomas Jefferson combined two opposite political terms in defining what a future America would do. In his “Empire of Liberty” speech (1780) Jefferson explained that America’s destiny was to, “have such an empire for liberty as she has never surveyed since the creation: & I am persuaded no constitution was ever before so well calculated as ours for extensive empire & self government.”

Later, he reflected that democracies would eventually end despotism: “where this progress will stop no-one can say. Barbarism has, in the meantime, been receding before the steady step of amelioration; and will in time, I trust, disappear from the earth.”

Apart from the Farewell Address and the long period of “isolationism” (see earlier essay on “Isolationism”), America’s commitment to global liberty began in 1947 with the policy of containment and the Truman Doctrine. In addressing Congress on March 12, Truman was explicit that, “It must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures.”

Then came the Marshall Plan, the Berlin Airlift, and NATO as pillars of the American commitment to democracy and liberty on a global scale. Yet containment, by definition, was comparatively “defensive” in asserting that liberty should be the objective.

Objections to containment came first with the 1952 Republican Platform, which asserted a more positive or “forward” foreign policy. Explicitly:

“We shall again make liberty into a beacon light of hope that will penetrate the dark places. That program will give the Voice of America a real function. It will mark the end of the negative, futile and immoral policy of ‘containment’ which abandons countless human beings to a despotism and godless terrorism, which in turn enables the rulers to forge the captives into a weapon for our destruction.”

In 1964 Senator Barry Goldwater stepped up the rhetoric in his presidential campaign:

“Now, failures cement the wall of shame in Berlin. Failures blot the sands of shame at the Bay of Pigs. Failures mark the slow death of freedom in Laos. Failures infest the jungles of Vietnam.  …Failures proclaim lost leadership, obscure purpose, weakening wills, and the risk of inciting our sworn enemies to new aggressions and to new excesses.”

But it was Ronald Reagan that, once and for all, assumed “Liberty” as a foreign policy goal, and, purposefully, “without a shot being fired.”

Major changes in direction in U.S. foreign policy began in 1982 and continued throughout the entire first term, producing a total of 135 NSDDs (National Security Decision Directives) that targeted the Soviet Bloc and brought about its downfall. The critical document in this process was NSDD 75, January 23, 1983, and was announced on March 8 in Toledo in Reagan’s famous “Evil Empire” speech. Shortly thereafter, on March 23, he announced the equally famous Strategic Defense Initiative which, while never implemented, remained a symbolic threat to the Soviet economy.

NSDD 75 drew upon a spectrum of economic, military, financial, and political initiatives. The creative product of National Security Council Soviet specialists Richard Pipes and John Lenczowski, the overall strategy developed a coordinated and comprehensive global assault from all quarters against the vulnerabilities of the Soviet Empire. With an antiquated economy decades behind the U.S. in computers and other technologies, the Soviets had no chance to compete with American resources. The Western allies were (reluctantly) persuaded to deny Soviet access to advanced technology and scientific data.

The strategy was to challenge the Soviet Union’s prevailing nature, via geopolitical and cultural initiatives; employing deceptive technical sales to the USSR; deploying Stinger missiles to Afghanistan; enlisting cooperation from global sources like Saudi Arabia and the Vatican; broadcasting to the Iron Curtain from Radio Free Europe, USIA, and Radio Liberty; exporting musical tapes and CDs to captive nations; and even promoting rock concerts and the sales of blue jeans.

In summary, the Reagan Administration employed a complete strategic geopolitical, economic, and cultural “offensive of liberty” to undermine a regime that had threatened liberty since its inception in 1917.

For the moment, it remains to be seen if the current “dollar offensive” against the Russian invasion of Ukraine produces a greater Liberty on earth or “something else.” That “something” may well define the future direction of the new century.

For success, liberty alone is insufficient. It must be accompanied by prudence, insight, restraint, and geopolitical wisdom.

Is that true?