Preble on Obama’s Speech

One problem that I think we have in terms of trying to build a coalition in support of a less militaristic foreign policy is that often the voices of restraint aren’t willing to give credit where due, unless a politician is willing to go all the way off the reservation of conventional wisdom. So I was glad to see Cato’s Chris Preble offer some appreciative remarks about Obama’s speech in Cairo:

President Obama wisely connected U.S. policy in the 21st century to its founding principles from the earliest days to remind his audience — or perhaps to teach them for the very first time — that the United States was not now, nor ever has been, at war with Islam, or with any other religion. George Washington affirmed the importance of religious equality in his letter to the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island. President Obama quoted John Adams, who saw no reason why the United States could not enjoy good relations with Morocco, the first country to recognize the United States. When signing the Treaty of Tripoli, Adams wrote, “The United States has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Muslims.”

But the president also drew on the Founders to convey a broader message. They believed that the new nation should advance human rights and the cause of liberty by its example, not by military force. Some of our recent leaders seem to have forgotten that, and a few pundits have actually scorned the suggestion. The president wisely cast his lot with the earlier generation, quoting Thomas Jefferson who said “I hope that our wisdom will grow with our power, and teach us that the less we use our power the greater it will be.”

It is a good quote. I use it in my book, too.


I think this is a crucial point. Neoconservatives seem to have adopted the belief that American power actually derives from profligate use of force and coercion. A more realistic view recognizes that our power stems from objective factors — our resources, our population, our stock of capital goods, our positive relationships with others — and that this power is actually undermined by throwing it around. Of course, sometimes you have to. But it’s something we should be reluctant to do.