Washington’s final warning echoes through the centuries

GBy Taqee Khaled

 george Washington’s farewell address is among the most eerily predictive commentaries on our current state of domestic and international affairs. More than two centuries ago, the man who traversed the Delaware River and led this nation to its inception was unanimously called upon to be its first president. The founding fathers had in them unparalleled qualities of foresight and wisdom, evident not only in Washington’s farewell speech, but also in the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. In his final words as president, Washington warned a young nation of the intertwined perils that would result from partisan politics and biased foreign policy.

“The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension Ö is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries, which result, gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of Public Liberty Ö It Ö kindles the animosity of one part against another (and) Ö opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which find a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another.”

“So likewise, a passionate attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils. Sympathy for the favorite nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest, in cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter, without adequate inducement or justification. It leads also to concessions to the favorite nation of privileges denied to others, which is apt doubly to injure the nation making the concessions; by unnecessarily parting with what ought to have been retained; and by exciting jealousy, ill will, and a disposition to retaliate, in the parties from whom equal privileges are withheld. And it gives to ambitious, corrupted, or deluded citizens, (who devote themselves to the favorite nation,) facility to betray or sacrifice the interests of their own country, without odium, sometimes even with popularity; gilding, with the appearances of a virtuous sense of obligation, a commendable deference for public opinion, or a laudable zeal for public good, the base or foolish compliances of ambition, corruption, or infatuation…”

“Excessive partiality for one foreign nation, and excessive dislike of another, cause those whom they actuate to see danger only on one side, and serve to veil and even second the arts of influence on the other. Real patriots, who may resist the intrigues of the favorite, are liable to become suspected and odious; while its tools and dupes usurp the applause and confidence of the people, to surrender their interests.

“The great rule of conduct for us, in regard to foreign nations, is, in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connexion as possible. So far as we have already formed engagements, let them be fulfilled with perfect good faith. Here let us stop.”

This was 200 years ago. Such words from one of the pre-eminent figures of our history delivering his parting words to the people for whom he gave his full physical and intellectual capacity must be considered in complete honesty. Do we have unfair alliances in our conduct with foreign countries? Has our political atmosphere been so degraded that the issues have become completely secondary to the race to hold power?

Israel is our foremost world ally and the last bastion of democracy in the savage Middle East, as is often said conveniently with impunity. According to the ABC News Web site, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee “takes credit for procuring nearly $3 billion of annual U.S. aid to Israel, 75 percent of which is military aid.” As Americans, we should shudder in disgust at the idea of our government brokering a just peace between Palestine and Israel as an impartial arbiter.

Every day the Israeli occupation persists against United Nations resolutions that have serial numbers not worth repeating because they are forgotten as quickly as they are recited. Sitting as permanent members on the UN Security Council, our representatives soundly veto any matter critical of Israeli interests as if they were synonymous to our own interests.

We are obliged to recall the admonition given to us by Washington if we wish to call ourselves patriots as he has defined the notion. We are so convinced of our indispensable alliance with Israel that our administration is only “visibly displeased” when Israeli war planes bomb civilian residences as preemptive measures against reported criminals and their families. No judge, no jury. Just bombs. As participating citizens of this democracy, we must question such unwavering support in the face of these measures.

Beyond this to the east, we find a headlong drive by the administration to reject world opinion in an effort to make the first non-imperialist “regime change” in history by attacking Iraq. As Jimmy Carter wrote in the Washington Post last week, our government’s penchant for unilateral action isolates us “from the very nations needed to join in combating terrorism.”

It is no wonder, according to University graduate Thomas Friedman, that people can reject the Sept. 11 perpetrators and still dislike America: “Because we want to drive big cars, we support repressive Arab dictators so they will sell us cheap oil. Because our presidents want to get votes, they readily tell Palestinians how foolishly they are behaving, but they hesitate to tell Israelis how destructive their West Bank settlements are for the future of the Jewish state. Because we want to consume as much energy as we please, we tell the world’s people they have to be with us in the war on terrorism but we don’t have to be with them in the struggle against global warming and for a greener planet.”

We believe we are the greatest democracy in history. The second part of that famous phrase is “by the people” and to maintain that as truth, we must stay actively involved. It’s the definition of our sovereignty. Our individual values and those of our founding fathers must be revived to keep in check our government’s policies. These policies reflect directly the nature of the people who tolerate them.

Our greatest advantage is our diversity of composition and our unity in American ideals. So if you are a Buddhist, be an upstanding Buddhist American and practice what your way of life impels you to practice. As a Muslim American, I am reminded of chapter “Ar-Rahman” in the Koran where I am told never to fall short in the establishment of justice and fairness in relations between people. The words of the prophet whom I follow also remind me there is no inherent superiority of any one nation over another. Those are among my personal guiding principles and such are also among the founding values of this nation. If you are a Christian, Jew, Hindu, atheist or anything else that we are in this country, be that kind of American to your best ability. If we want to be viewed respectfully as members of the global community, we must hold fast to our principles and shun their dilution by those who would serve their own interests at the expense of the American people. That is true patriotism by Washingtonian definition, not mine.


Taqee Khaled is an undergraduate student in neuroscience and a former president of the Muslim Student Association. Send comments to [email protected].