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To the Shores of Tripoli

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From the very beginning, the US could not avoid “foreign entanglements.”

By George Friedman

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 more profound issue: Did his wish ever constitute American strategy?

Entangled in Foreign Affairs at Birth

The United States was born out of a deep entanglement in international affairs, extracting its independence via the founders’ astute exploitation of the tensions between Britain and France. Britain had recently won the Seven Years’ War with France, known as the French and Indian War in the colonies, where then-Col. George Washington led forces from Virginia. The British victory didn’t end hostilities with France, which provided weapons, ammunition and other supplies to the American Revolutionaries. On occasion, France landed troops in support of American forces, and its navy served a decisive role in securing the final U.S. victory at Yorktown.

America’s geopolitical position required that it continue to position itself in terms of this European struggle. The United States depended on trade with Europe, and particularly Britain. Revolution did not change the mutual dependence of the United States and Britain. The French Revolution of 1789, however, posed a deep dilemma for the United States. That later revolution was anti-monarchist and republican, appearing to share the values of the United States.

This forced the United States into a dilemma it has continued to face ever since. Morally, the United States appeared obligated to support France and its revolution. But as mentioned, economically, it depended on trade with the British. The Jeffersonian Democrats wanted to support the French. The Federalist Party, cautious of British naval power and aware of American dependence on trade, supported an alignment with Britain. Amid much tension, vituperation and intrigue, the United States ultimately aligned with its previous enemy, Britain.

When Jefferson was elected president in 1800, he did not reverse U.S. policy. By then, the French Revolution had grown vicious, and Napoleon had come to power in 1799. Besides, Jefferson knew as well as Washington had that the United States required trade relations with Britain. At the same time, Jefferson was more aware than others that the United States was a narrow strip of land between the Atlantic and Appalachians. With minimal north-south transportation and dependence on the sea, the United States needed strategic depth.

Read more: Mercatornet.com

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