The British Empire, the Ottoman Empire, and even the Romans are examples for America. England’s empire was ruined by the costs of two world wars.

The Ottomans of Turkey depended on borrowed money, the last empire to do so. Rome went down because taxes became so high that citizens welcomed the barbarian invasions as a way of escaping Roman tax collectors. Today, they are gone, but we can learn from their failures.

We may not see ourselves as having an empire, but with some 800 military stations abroad and two unending trillion dollar wars, we do. Even a great and blessed country can become an empire when it extends itself, even with the best intentions, into the farthest corners of the world.

These are perilous times. Our future, in the words of Senator Tom Coburn, “is as uncertain and tenuous as at any point in our history.” The Tea Party represents probably the last hope for reform — for stopping ruinous government spending, reining in our out-of-control bureaucracy, and saving our constitutional freedoms. I believe that our movement must also take a stand for the principle in Thomas Jefferson’s first inaugural address: “Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations — entangling alliances with none.”

James Madison’s often quoted dictum, “No nation can preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare,” reflected a view that was widely shared by the Founders. That concept was a basis for our Constitution’s provision that only Congress can declare war. Yet, today, America’s presidents start wars as if they were kings in old Europe. (Those wars, it should be noted, were a major reason our forefathers risked all to leave Europe.)

Washington is full of interests that profit from wars; support for wars cuts across party lines. U.S. involvement in the war on Serbia about Kosovo was started by a Democrat president and supported by most establishment Republicans in the Congress. (Outside of Washington, the war had little conservative support. A majority of newly elected Republicans in Congress, freshmen and sophomores, voted against it.)

Barack Obama owes the 2008 Democratic nomination and most likely the election to the fact that he opposed the Iraq war backed by Hillary Clinton and George W. Bush – yet, once in power, he now follows most of the same foreign policies as President Bush. Yearly military spending is far higher even than the $700 billion shown in the budget. An analysis by Robert Higgs of the Independent Institute shows that it is well over $1 trillion — over a million times a million dollars — if one includes intelligence, homeland security, nuclear weaponry, and other hidden items.

And an October 29, 2010 Washington Post report on the $80 billion intelligence community exposed duplicative work and incredible waste, with some 50,000 reports yearly and nearly a million persons holding top secret security clearances. In the wake of the report, not a single Republican congressional leader voiced a word of support for reforming the intelligence community.

Overseas, the State Department’s “public diplomacy” effort (also known as “winning hearts and minds”) is a notorious failure, as one might expect given that, for example, the department has only two or three diplomats who speak Arabic well enough to debate our foreign policy on local television.

Meanwhile, tens of billions in foreign aid programs also show incredible waste, with some of this aid from the U.S. taxpayer being used to prop up dictatorships.

America Alone

We go it almost alone in our wars and now are about to expand the war in Afghanistan into Pakistan as well, where America’s once great popularity has now plummeted. A recent Pew Research poll indicates that two thirds of Pakistanis now consider America their enemy.

And our supposed victory in Iraq is such that few American businessmen dare to visit, fearing for their lives from families wanting vengeance for the deaths of relatives and for other suffering caused by war. Most trade and oil contracts in Iraq are going to other nations, not the U.S., and the country’s two million refugees include most of the nation’s Christians, their businesses ruined and their lives threatened.

Tea Party supporters are solidly pro-defense. They need not be awed by the Defense establishment which is bloated beyond imagination and bankrupting our nation. Washington must prioritize issues and reform spending. Senator Coburn has said that the military industrial complex has made weapons too expensive for America to buy. This is because inputs are spread around congressional districts to make work, such as the F-22 that had parts made in 42 states.

Advocates of high levels of military spending often argue that America should have the same percentage of its economy devoted to the military as during the Cold War. They even compare Islamist radicals to the Soviet Union, with all its nuclear missiles, half of Europe in its servitude, and with vast leftist networks in Europe and America supporting its goals. It is absurd to suggest that the Islamist threat is at or near the level of the Soviet threat.

To a great degree, it is America’s own policies which generated the hatred against us. It is not unpatriotic to suggest so, any more than to say that U.S. welfare policies fostered dependency or that U.S. government regulations pushed banks to issue subprime loans. America is the greatest country in the world, but often our government makes mistakes that harm our legitimate interests.

As Pat Buchanan famously said, “They are over here because we are over there.” Few Americans remember or even know about the memorable inquiry on 60 Minutes (May 12, 1996) by Leslie Stahl to former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright about the human cost of a half million Iraqi children dying of starvation and disease during the Clinton Administration’s economic blockade of Iraq — a tragedy that occurred after we bombed Iraq’s irrigation, electricity and sanitation systems during the first Iraq war. Albright’s famous answer was, “Yes, we think it was worth it.”

During the Presidential debates, Ron Paul was the lone candidate to spell out the real reasons America is hated and was attacked. Yet today we see President Obama continuing most of the Bush war (and homeland security) policies. He has not even closed a single overseas base. His actions show how powerful and entrenched are the pro-war forces in Washington.

Looting Our Own Treasury

“Follow the money!” is always a good rule. Wags in Washington comment how most empires loot conquered nations. Instead, in America, it is our own Treasury which gets looted. Look now at the proposals to spend billions on missile defenses for Europe against Iran. The Europeans don’t think it’s worth the cost, so Washington is offering to pay for all of it.

Did you know that we spend some half a million dollars per year for each soldier we maintain in combat?

If America is to survive and thrive, we must cut back on our forces abroad. The perpetual warfare must end. Bankrupting our country makes us neither safer nor better liked in the outside world. It also costs us our liberties as our government shreds the Fourth Amendment in an impossible quest to achieve a perfect level of safety.

Defense, Medicare, and Medicaid are where most money is spent (and wasted). If the defense budget is declared off-limits by Tea Partiers and their allies, meaningful budget cuts are impossible.

Therefore, I propose that the Tea Party’s foreign policy be based on these principles:

1) We must treat all nations fairly. We must not create or motivate enemies unnecessarily.

2) We must maintain our economic strength and vitality, and not waste money on military efforts that are unnecessary or counterproductive.

3) We must work with allies and other nations. As Winston Churchill noted, “There is only one thing worse than fighting with allies, and that is fighting without them.”

4) We must maintain our moral bearings which once gave us great strength in the minds of all the world’s downtrodden. We must become again that “shining city on a hill,” with freedom and prosperity that appealed to all mankind.

Sun Tzu, the legendary Chinese military tactician, said the key to victory was to “Know thyself and know thy enemy.” We must understand our own limitations, we must make every possible effort to understand our enemies’ motivations and beliefs, and, most important, we must realize that democracies cannot run empires.

Ultimately, we must be a republic, not an empire.

Jon Basil Utley is associate publisher of The American Conservative. He was a foreign correspondent for Knight Ridder newspapers and former associate editor of The Times of the Americas. For 17 years he was a commentator for the Voice of America.

Copyright (c) 2011 by Jon Utley and the Tea Party Review. All rights reserved. It is reprinted with permission from the March 2011 issue of Tea Party Review.