Monsters and U.S. Foreign Policy

by | Nov 27, 2019

Monsters and U.S. Foreign Policy

by | Nov 27, 2019

It looks like the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity will be having some competition.
The formation of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft was recently announced. The think tank gets its name from John Quincy Adams. According to the organization’s website,
The Quincy Institute promotes ideas that move U.S. foreign policy away from endless war and toward vigorous diplomacy in the pursuit of international peace.
The foreign policy of the United States has become detached from any defensible conception of U.S. interests and from a decent respect for the rights and dignity of humankind. Political leaders have increasingly deployed the military in a costly, counterproductive, and indiscriminate manner, normalizing war and treating armed dominance as an end in itself.
Moreover, much of the foreign policy community in Washington has succumbed to intellectual lethargy and dysfunction. It suppresses or avoids serious debate and fails to hold policymakers and commentators accountable for disastrous policies. It has forfeited the confidence of the American public. The result is a foreign policy that undermines American interests and tramples on American values while sacrificing the stores of influence that the United States had earned.
The Quincy Institute is an action-oriented think tank that will lay the foundation for a new foreign policy centered on diplomatic engagement and military restraint.
The primary funders of this new anti-interventionist foreign-policy think tank are billionaires George Soros and Charles Koch. Soros’s Open Society Foundation and Koch’s Charles Koch Foundation each donated a half a million dollars to the Quincy Institute. Other individual donors added another $800,000 in funding. The think tank hopes by next year to have a $3.5 million budget and a staff of policy experts.
Writing in the Boston Globe, author Stephen Kinzer termed the Soros-Koch union “one of the most remarkable partnerships in modern American political history.” Soros has said, “An endless war waged against an unseen enemy is doing great damage to our power and prestige abroad and to our open society at home. It has led to a dangerous extension of executive powers; it has tarnished our adherence to universal human rights; it has inhibited the critical process that is at the heart of an open society; and it has cost a lot of money.” And likewise Koch: “We keep kicking out dictators and then we don’t get anything better, and we mess up a lot of people’s lives in the process — spend fortunes and have Americans killed and maimed. What do we have to show for it?”
But progressives and conservatives alike are questioning how two seemingly diametrically opposed parties can work together, especially since the leftist Soros is hated by conservatives and the right-wing Koch is despised by progressives. Others have pointed out that both Soros and Koch aren’t exactly anti-interventionist libertarians when it comes to U.S. foreign policy. Soros’s foundation is a big donor to the Atlantic Council — as are some U.S. defense contractors. And Koch’s foundation supports the American Enterprise Institute — the opposite of an anti-interventionist think tank. But since the leaders of the Qunicy Institute are broadly anti-interventionist, and because there are apparently no policy conditions set by the donors, this new left-right consensus is a welcome alternative to liberal “humanitarian” and neoconservative interventionists.
It’s not just the Quincy Institute that has appropriated the name of John Quincy Adams. The John Quincy Adams Society has been around a few years. It differs from the Quincy Institute in that it is a student organization. According to the organization’s website,
The John Quincy Adams Society (JQA) is a national network of student groups focused on U.S. foreign policy, with a centering vision of restraint. Our chapters aim to help college students advance, both intellectually and professionally, while promoting a broader and more strategic conversation about America’s approach to international affairs. We’re nonpartisan and nonpolitical: we work in the world of ideas, not on activism or elections, and we seek to work with every corner of the political spectrum.
The United States is far bigger and far stronger now than it was in Adams’s day, and that means it is in better position than ever to serve as an exemplar of liberty, justice, and peace to the world. While remaining an exemplar of a prosperous, open society at home, America’s relations with foreign nations should be characterized by commerce and cultural exchange rather than entangling military and political ties. These beliefs were, for much of America’s history, one of the main currents in its foreign-policy debate. Yet now, they are underrepresented in academia, in the policy process, and in the press. The result has been a string of unsuccessful, expensive, destabilizing interventions, and, more subtly, a decline in the ability of that foreign-policy debate to distinguish between truly vital interests and those that are secondary. A less rigorous, lower-quality debate hinders all viewpoints. JQA aims to revive that conversation.
Why the appropriation of the name of John Quincy Adams? Why the association of him with a non-interventionist U.S. foreign policy?
John Quincy Adams
John Quincy Adams (1767–1848) had an unusual and privileged life, but one that was marked by tragedy. He was born in Massachusetts, educated by private tutors, graduated from Harvard College, acquired several languages, lived in Europe for several years, practiced law, served in the Massachusetts State Senate, kept a diary for most of his life, outlived three of his four children — and became the sixth president of the United States.
He was one of the most unusual of all the American presidents. He was the son of the nation’s second president, John Adams. He was appointed to fill a vacancy in the U.S. Senate before he became the president and was elected to nine consecutive terms as a representative to the U.S. House from Massachusetts after he had served as the president. He was a diplomat under three presidents before serving as secretary of State to James Monroe during both of his terms in office.
Adams also has the distinction of being the only U.S. president chosen to that office by the House of Representatives. In the election of 1824, Secretary of State Adams was in a four-way race with Sen. (and former general) Andrew Jackson, Secretary of the Treasury William H. Crawford, and Speaker of the House Henry Clay. Jackson received the most electoral votes (99 of 261), and had a plurality of the popular vote (41.36 percent) as well. But (for the first and only time in history), because no candidate received a majority of the electoral votes, the Twelfth Amendment to the Constitution directed that the election be decided in the House of Representatives, with voting by state for one of the top three candidates by electoral vote. Adams won on the first ballot.
In the election of 1828, Adams lost his bid for reelection to Andrew Jackson. Adams was an opponent of slavery and its expansion, and opposed the annexation of Texas and the Mexican War, although he supported the westward expansion of the United States. While secretary of State, Adams negotiated with Spain what came to be called the Adams-Onís Treaty of 1819, wherein the United States acquired Florida and the western and southern borders of the United States were set. Adams took a broad view of the Constitution’s General Welfare clause and supported federal funding of internal improvements, such as roads and canals. But aside from of all of that, there is mainly one thing that John Quincy Adams is known for.
Adams’s Fourth of July address
On the Fourth of July in 1821, in Washington, D.C., Adams was invited to deliver an address “at the request of the committee of arrangements for celebrating the anniversary of independence.” His 34-page learned address, which is full of classical and biblical allusions, was afterward published by the Harvard University Press. Adams begins with a brief survey of the British nation, “a nation, renowned in arts and arms, who, from a small Island in the Atlantic ocean, had extended their dominion over considerable parts of every quarter of the globe.” Though “through long ages of civil war the people of Britain had extorted from their tyrants, not acknowledgments, but grants of right,” yet the people “looked back only to conquest as the origin of their liberties, and claimed their rights but as donations from their kings.” Adams then recounted the founding of the American colonies and how they declared their independence because of how they were harshly and unjustly treated by the British parent state. In the middle of his address, Adams read the entire Declaration of Independence. The Declaration “demolished at a stroke the lawfulness of all governments founded upon conquest” and “announced in practical form to the world the transcendent truth of the unalienable sovereignty of the people.” It holds out “to the sovereign and to the subject the extent and the boundaries of their respective rights and duties.” After briefly mentioning the formation of the state governments, the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution, Adams brought his address to a conclusion by asking and answering the question, “What has America done for the benefit of mankind?”
America, with the same voice which spoke herself into existence as a nation, proclaimed to mankind the inextinguishable rights of human nature, and the only lawful foundations of government. America, in the assembly of nations, since her admission among them, has invariably, though often fruitlessly, held forth to them the hand of honest friendship, of equal freedom, of generous reciprocity.
She has uniformly spoken among them, though often to heedless and often to disdainful ears, the language of equal liberty, of equal justice, and of equal rights.
She has, in the lapse of nearly half a century, without a single exception, respected the independence of other nations, while asserting and maintaining her own.
She has abstained from interference in the concerns of others, even when the conflict has been for principles to which she clings, as to the last vital drop that visits the heart.
She has seen that probably for centuries to come, all the contests of that Aceldama the European world, will be contests of inveterate power, and emerging right.
Wherever the standard of freedom and Independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be.
But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy.
She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all.
She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.
She will commend the general cause, by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example.
She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom.
The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force. The frontlet upon her brows would no longer beam with the ineffable splendor of freedom and independence; but in its stead would soon be substituted an imperial diadem, flashing in false and tarnished lustre the murky radiance of dominion and power.
She might become the dictatress of the world: she would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit….
Adams’s statement that America “goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy” is a phrase short on words but long on significance. It is one of the most profound things ever said about the foreign policy of the United States by one of its early presidents. It is rivaled only by a statement made by Thomas Jefferson in his first inaugural address, delivered on March 4, 1801: “Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations — entangling alliances with none.”
Contrast Adams’s Fourth of July address with what the Fourth of July has become since 9/11: a day to celebrate American military might, a day to reverence veterans and current members of the U.S. military, a day to celebrate a reckless, belligerent, and meddling U.S. foreign policy, a day to celebrate America’s vanquishing of monsters.
The world has always been full of monsters. Hollywood may have its make-believe monsters, but history has its real monsters who are responsible for the starvation, torture, maiming, and killing of millions of people: Adolf Hitler, Mao Zedong, Vladimir Lenin, Idi Amin, Pol Pot, Benito Mussolini, Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-il, Kim Jong-un, Fidel Castro, Robert Mugabe, Saddam Hussein, Joseph Stalin, Leopold II, Ivan the Terrible, Napoleon Bonaparte, Maximilien Robespierre, Mengistu Haile Mariam, Hugo Chávez, Josip “Tito” Broz, Manuel Noriega, Nicolae Ceauşescu, Augusto Pinochet, François Duvalier, and Nikita Khruschev. There are, of course, many other lesser-known monsters and their henchmen who have caused untold suffering across the globe down through history. And it’s not just individuals; it is also ideologies: fascism, Nazism, communism, socialism, Marxism, Leninism, Bolshevism, totalitarianism, authoritarianism, collectivism, despotism, absolutism, colonialism, imperialism, nationalism, progressivism, militarism.
The question is not how bad, how destructive, or how evil these foreign monsters are. The question is what the U.S. government should do about them. We are not talking about actual, unprovoked, and verified attacks on U.S. territory by the armies, navies, and air forces of these monsters. We are talking about what they and their militaries, secret police, intelligence agents, and security forces do to their own people and to each other.
Should America intervene in civil wars? Should America change regimes? Should America bomb other countries? Should America take sides in territorial disputes? Should America invade other countries? Should America occupy other countries? Should America conduct drone strikes in other countries? Should America make the world safe for democracy? Should America be the world’s policeman? Should America garrison the planet with hundreds of bases and thousands of troops? Should America care which flag is hoisted on a small piece of land thousands of miles away? Should America engage in nation building? Should America enforce UN resolutions? Should America maintain no-fly zones in other countries? Should America try to change a country’s form of government? Should America monitor elections in other countries? Should America send military advisors to other countries? Should America engage in covert actions in other countries? Should America forcibly open markets in other countries? Should America contribute peacekeeping forces to trouble spots around the globe? Should America conduct assassinations in other countries? Should America guarantee the security of other countries? Should America conduct extraordinary renditions? Should America support revolutions and coups? Should America contain Communism? Should America go abroad seeking monsters to destroy?
One’s view of the nature and purpose of the U.S. government will determine the answers to those questions. For that we must turn, not to the Declaration of Independence, but to the Constitution.
The seven articles and twenty-seven amendments of the Constitution concern the government of the United States and its relationship to its states. Nothing in the Constitution authorizes the U.S. government to intervene in the affairs of another country, police the world, or go abroad seeking monsters to destroy. Absolutely nothing. The purpose of government is supposed to be to protect the lives, liberties, and properties of the people who form it — not to protect the lives, liberties, and properties of people thousands of miles away.
Other monsters
There are other monsters that America should not be going abroad seeking to destroy. Like the monstrous tyrants, governments, and ideologies that have plagued the world, these monsters are also bad. They hurt people, mentally and physically. Sometimes they kill people. I am referring to things such as poverty, homelessness, hunger, starvation, disease, and national disasters. But also to things such as religious persecution, injustice, sex trafficking, slavery, forced labor, political oppression, violence against women, exploitation of children, suppression of free speech, human-rights abuses, and violations of property rights.
Again, the question is not how bad, how widespread, or how fixable these monsters are. The question is what the U.S. government should do about them. Again, the answer is absolutely nothing. The United States cannot right every wrong, correct every injustice, stop all oppression, feed all the hungry, fix every problem, and relieve all the suffering in the world — nor should it. That means that the U.S. government has no right to take money from Americans against their will and give it to foreigners or their governments — regardless of the need, crisis, or circumstances.
All foreign aid and disaster relief should be individual, private, and voluntary. If individuals (or groups of individuals or organizations) in America see a problem or an injustice or a monster somewhere in the world, they are welcome to try to do something about it on their own or through any number of private organizations — as long as they use their own money. But it is not the job of the U.S. government to go abroad seeking monsters to destroy.
It is not enough to appropriate the name of John Quincy Adams. It is his principles of U.S. foreign policy that must be adopted and strictly adhered to, no matter what is going on in the world: neutrality, nonintervention, friendship, independence, noninterference, and peace.
Reprinted from the Future of Freedom Foundation.

About Laurence Vance

Laurence M. Vance is a columnist and policy adviser for the Future of Freedom Foundation, an associated scholar of the Ludwig von Mises Institute, and a columnist, blogger, and book reviewer at He is also the author of Social Insecurity and The War on Drugs Is a War on Freedom. His newest books are War, Christianity, and the State: Essays on the Follies of Christian Militarism and War, Empire, and the Military: Essays on the Follies of War and U.S. Foreign Policy.

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