1. In 1796 when President George Washington wrote his Farewell Address, the U.S. Constitution was only eight years old and the nation itself had only existed for 20 years. Since the country was still in the early stages of development its foundation and doctrine were weak and infantile, which made it an easy target for established nations like England and Spain who wanted to expand their imperial power. The leading fear of forming alliances with foreign nations was that a permanent partnership would be formed, which in turn would challenge the sovereignty of America and its progressive development. Washington states, “it is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world” (Washington 1796, 27), and in turn, advises that the United States refrain from becoming entrapped in a partnership where the country has to compromise and give more than it desires. This fear of becoming trapped in an alliance with more developed and influential nation is completely rational and probable. At the time, the United States was a new and feeble nation that was struggling to maintain its independence and develop a national identity. Forming an alliance with Spain or England could have quickly turned into a parasitic relationship where the powerful foreign government decided to make claim to America. If that would have happened the U.S. could not have defended against the force and strength of the much more established and robust nation. Thus, in turn, the country could have quickly succumbed to foreign rule. To avoid losing the country’s independence, George Washington advised that the United States avoid forming entangling and potentially detrimental foreign alliances. The country needed to work on developing its economy and had to learn how to be self-sufficient; however, becoming reliant and entrapped in an international alliance would have prevented state sovereignty and the development of an independent national identity.
In 2015 the United States has existed for almost 240 years. The country is one of the richest and most influential nations in the world and its sovereignty is rarely in jeopardy. Ironically the type of relationship that President Obama pledged to develop with Afghanistan was the same type of alliance that President Washington advised to avoid. However, there is one very important factor that differentiates the situations. The roles are reversed, which means that instead of the United States being the weaker nation in danger of losing its sovereignty, in the Afghani-American alliance the United States is the powerful nation offering assistance to a weaker state. President Obama “recognized the resolve of the Afghan people nand government to increase responsibility for security and continue to ensure that Afghanistan doesn’t become a safe haven for terrorists” (White House 2010). In one sense the fear is not rational because, while on the surface President Obamas recognition of an enduring international alliance violates President Washington’s warning, on a deeper level the warning does not directly relate. Washington was afraid of the United States falling victim to a hazardous relationship where the country would not be strong enough to escape the restrictive confines of a powerful foreign nation; but, in 2010 the United States took on the role of the powerful foreign nation and the country’s independence was not threatened by forming an alliance. However, in another sense the fear is completely rational because President Washington warned that foreign alliance could lead to the United States having to compromise and inevitably sacrificing more than it had initially intended. In the case of Afghanistan, the U.S. has dedicated more lives and money than it intended and is currently trapped in a costly foreign alliance.
Ultimately a valid argument can be made arguing that President Washington’s fear was rational or irrational. Personally, I feel that his concern was valid, but it is impossible for the United States to remain uninvolved in foreign alliances. Globalization has made foreign alliances necessary, but what can be controlled is the number of alliances the United States forms and its investment into each relationship.
George Washington: “Farewell Address,” September 19, 1796. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=65539.
White House. “Reaffirming Commitment to Partnership Between the U.S. and Afghanistan.” 2010. Accessed October 19, 2015. https://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2010/05/12/reaffirming-commitment-partnership-between-us-and-afghanistan.
2. Two of the many differences within the dyadic relationship proposed this week, are the systemic realities and the dynamics of international relations of the two centuries. First, for Washington, the U.S. was young and nearly impotent compared to the world powers of the time on a grand scale. Because of the distances involved and the logistics of getting to the continent from Europe, the infant U.S. was able to “win” the War of Independence by simple virtue of the European dynamics of the time. Had the UK devoted the time, ships, manpower, and money necessary to crush the revolution, which they were entirely capable of doing, their continental rivals would have crushed them in the meantime at home. Thus, while we had “won” the war, the true issues in Washington’s sights were the inherent transitory nature of alliances in the European continent and the normal back stabbing within those alliances. After centuries of alliances signed and broken, only a fool would jump head first into an alliance for the mere sake of feeling more secure for the moment at the risk of destabilization in the long term. One does not become a master tactician by way of foolish mistakes and unnecessary involvements. Of course, there were instances in his career where some of those masterful tactics could have turned the Revolution into ashes (crossing the river is easy today, it wasn’t then).
Second, for the 44th President and his Offices, the nature of the world has only one similar note to Washington’s times; we still exist on this planet. For the 21st century, beset by global threats and competing alliances (financial, military, trading, etc.), the U.S. is no longer the infant nation governed by Washington for eight years. Today, the realities of global trading routes necessary for national growth and prosperity require alliances to properly administer a global economic empire. There are even so called “Alliances of convenience” which, though they leave a bad taste on the tongue, serve the very purpose for which Washington wished for the infant U.S. not to be on the short end of the stick. Thus, for Washington, times were not in favor of the U.S. global policy while, for the 44th POTUS, the cards are currently in his favor on a global scale.
Each POTUS, since the 1st to the 44th, have had to weigh the possible strategic purposes of alliances and pacts. While isolationism allowed for a stronger initial base from which to expand, at some point any power must continue to expand or be mired in self-inflicted impotence. All this is not to say each alliance has proven effective or for that matter intelligent yet, no gambler has ever won every hand dealt him/her. Foolish alliances are never a good idea, for obvious reason however, if dealt with properly and with specific goals in mind, an alliance (even one of convenience) can prove invaluable to the national strategy. The U.S., while a military might unmatched in the history of the world, truly relies on its economic power for nearly all of its global power reach. Scary as it is to think about, this is the exact same model every other nation-state, which ruled the world during its time, it is not a model with much lasting success. So, maybe Washington had it right after all.

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