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No Presidential Wars

Donald Trump has made the 2016 presidential race potentially the most important of the last century. The Constitution repudiates presidential wars: they impoverish the people and undermine the rule of law. Trump, if he heeds our advice, can make the Constitution’s foreign policy the battleground of the campaign.

He did a masterful job of exposing the folly of the war in Iraq. He correctly denounced Hillary Clinton’s Senate vote for that war and her later use of her position as secretary of state to wage congressionally unauthorized war against Libya. Rather than learn from her mistakes, which gave birth to ISIS, Clinton is redoubling her efforts to drag our nation into another unconstitutional war in Syria.

The cornerstone of the Constitution’s foreign policy is the exclusive entrustment of the war power to Congress. We made an unprecedented break with history by making Congress the sentinel against gratuitous wars. This was the most important decision we made in Philadelphia. We understood that from the beginning of all government, the Executive has chronically concocted excuses to go to war for power and fame. While Congress is not infallible, the institution has everything to lose and nothing to gain from going to war.

We recognized that these features of the Executive and Legislative branches were timeless because they reflected personalities of the respective institutions that are as constant as the force of gravity. We examined every prior system of government for thousands of years. Regardless of their state of technology, Egyptian pharaohs, Israel’s kings, Genghis Khan, and King George III were indistinguishable in their gravitation toward needless wars.

The proof of our timeless wisdom is in the results. Less than a century after the ratification of the Constitution, by avoiding presidential wars the United States became the world’s largest economy. We attracted the best and the brightest from everywhere to make America the workshop of the world.

Trump’s goal of regaining our former prosperity will be stillborn without restoring the Constitution’s foreign policy. We were present at the creation of the Constitution, and we left no room for ambiguity about why we gave the war power to Congress. We call on Donald Trump to establish a precedent for every presidential candidate: an unequivocal pledge in writing never to initiate war without a congressional declaration. He should lead, and ask Hillary Clinton to follow. The pledges will make America great again.

Trump is to be complimented for questioning alliance commitments that conflict with the pledge. He has asked why we would protect the borders of other countries when we don’t protect our own. At present, the United States is obligated through treaties or executive promises to go to war to protect 69 countries. During our many years of public service, we rejected the idea of permanent friends or enemies and warned against the danger of entangling alliances. Trump’s “No Presidential Wars” pledge will give him justification to extricate the United States from these military entanglements. Why should we safeguard the borders of almost half of the world’s countries, who will betray us whenever their interests diverge from ours? 

In his first foreign-policy address, Trump alluded to John Quincy Adams’s signature statement about the inseparability of foreign and domestic policy:


[The United States has] abstained from interference in the concerns of others. … 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 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. … she would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit. … [America’s] glory is not dominion, but liberty.

The United States is the safest country in history. All the armies of the world couldn’t take a drink from the Colorado or make a track in the Rockies. We now possess more than 7,000 nuclear warheads and the biggest, most technologically advanced Navy and Air Force ever seen. By contrast, when we wrote the Constitution in 1787, the world confronted six empires armed to the teeth: the Chinese Empire, the Russian Empire, the British Empire, the French Empire, the Spanish Empire, and the Ottoman Empire. Despite massive superiority in manpower, ships, and weaponry, the British Empire was unable to defeat us in our Revolutionary War and the War of 1812.

thisarticleappears julaug16 [1]By avoiding standing armies and entangling alliances, our foreign policy of self-defense unleashed the nation’s resources and focused our human capital on making us the richest nation in history. Our greatest entrepreneurs did not squander their genius on warfare. But then our nation’s leaders became seduced by the lure of the limitless executive power that comes with war. Presidents of both parties replaced invincible self-defense with a global military establishment in the false hope of dictating the affairs of other nations. Presidents concocted pretexts to justify wars against Spain, Vietnam, Serbia, Iraq, and Libya. American jobs were traded away to attract professed foreign allies. The Democratic and Republican nominees have not given the American electorate a choice against unconstitutional presidential wars for more than half a century.

Now is the time for Trump to end overseas adventurism and trumpet the invincible self-defense that made us the envy of the world. We have lost our way in abandoning the Constitution’s foreign policy. A “No Presidential Wars” pledge is the first step to refocusing the genius of our people on production at home rather than destruction abroad. This is the way to make America great again.

We are the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. We are the champion and vindicator only of our own.

George Washington and James Madison are a Virginia businessman and lawyer.

14 Comments (Open | Close)

14 Comments To "No Presidential Wars"

#1 Comment By libertarian jerry On June 20, 2016 @ 5:15 am

The Constitution of the United States has been so changed,misinterpreted,amended and or ignored that it is meaningless. We do not live in a nation of objective law but a nation of powerful men,behind the scenes,who seek to control us. Much of this controlling is done with perpetual war, much of it conjured out of thin air,in order to keep the American people in a constant state of fear and anxiety and thus better able to be governed,regulated and controlled. The situation in America today mirrors George Orwell’s “1984” exactly.

#2 Comment By Fran Macadam On June 20, 2016 @ 8:45 am

The truth of the matter is that we didn’t conquer British North America in 1812, either. Too bad we didn’t learn the lesson in 1776 only villains seek to conquer the world and crave empire.

#3 Comment By Liam On June 20, 2016 @ 8:50 am

Unfortunately, hard as it may seem, Trump is even more likely that Hillary Clinton to prosecute unconstitutional wars. He is a textbook case of insecure masculinity who would seek to establish his creds with neocons and others favoring “resolute” interventionism.

Anyone seeing Trump as a stalking horse for recovering constitutionalism on presidential warfare is sadly deluding himself.

#4 Comment By Johann On June 20, 2016 @ 9:00 am

I like what you say, but you Mr. Madison are a hypocrite. When you were President, it was you who pushed for the War of 1812 against Britain. Well, at least you sought a declaration of war from Congress. I’ll have to give you that.

#5 Comment By Kurt Gayle On June 20, 2016 @ 9:42 am

“We call on Donald Trump to establish a precedent for every presidential candidate: an unequivocal pledge in writing never to initiate war without a congressional declaration. He should lead, and ask Hillary Clinton to follow. The pledges will make America great again.”

It’s a great idea! Truly great!

From the beginning of his campaign Donald Trump has called for an end to unnecessary foreign wars that are sapping the strength of the United States. So he, more than any presidential candidate in a long time would understand that returning the war-making power to Congress could help “Trump’s goal of regaining our former prosperity.”

The problem is in the politics of such an unequivocal pledge. The problem is that pledging during the election campaign to “never to initiate war without a congressional declaration” would open Trump to Clinton charges that he was putting the US at a disadvantage in terms of the President’s ability to respond rapidly to a sudden crisis.

B.S., you say. I agree. But that’s not how the Clinton campaign and her willing minions among the Mainstream Media would construe it.

Again, it’s an idea that Trump more than anyone would think long hard about – because the idea would help where he’s going and because the idea involves a return to the Constitution (what a concept!) – but he and his advisers would also fear that super-hawk Clinton could twist it during the campaign to serve Donald’s head on a plate.

Am I missing something? How could the politics of such a declaration be worked to make it do-able?

#6 Comment By Daniel (not Larison ) On June 20, 2016 @ 10:01 am

To expect Donald J. Trump to voluntarily give up power that Presidents have had for several decades is endearingly naïve.

#7 Comment By Fred Bowman On June 20, 2016 @ 10:09 am

I wouldn’t hold my breath on Donald Trump being a great defender of the U.S. Constitution. Truth be told the real problem lies with Congress. Congress should be the voice of the American people, but unfortunately they sold out to special interests in particular the Military-Industrial Complex. Btw, I’ve thought for quite sometime that the real reason the US is involved in so many foreign interventions is to justify the existence and growth of the Military-Industrial Complex.

#8 Comment By Jsmith On June 20, 2016 @ 11:32 am

To my reading the Constitution is clear: war is in Congress’s wheelhouse, not the presidents’. Sadly, Congress has wrongly allowed presidents to take us to war so long as they do not utter the word. I wish all presidents would allow Congress to do what is paid to do: declare war when it is appropriate and keep us out when it’s not.

#9 Comment By Richard Waze On June 20, 2016 @ 2:10 pm

What’s the point of counting on Congress to restrain hawkishness when Congress is full of macho bloodthirsty warmongers that outdo the President? Congress rubber-stamped the Iraq war that was flat-out based on lies. They did not approve Obama’s wars, but nor did they make any substantial effort to stop them, and there’s no reason to think Congress would not have rubber-stamped any authorization to war requested by Obama. The one war Obama chose to publicly stay away from – Iran – Congress worked hard to goad him into war.

Liam: You’re right about the risk from Trump, and certainly that was the case with Bush 43. However, Hillary is an unmasked supporter of Hitlerian ambitions to world domination. Just as Trump is a textbook case of insecure masculinity, Clinton is a textbook case of feminine inferiority complex. What is someone that wants peace supposed to do?

#10 Comment By An Agrarian On June 20, 2016 @ 6:24 pm

Great points, once I got past this fantastical statement: “Trump, if he heeds our advice …”

As if Trump heeds advice of any sort. Our only hope is that if Trump’s instincts consistently align w/ your counsel. And we’ve yet seen Trump be consistent on anything beyond incessant bombast.

#11 Comment By Bob K. On June 20, 2016 @ 11:41 pm

Washington and Madison were joined by John Quincy Adams, who is described in the words of John Lukacs as “the greatest of America’s Secretaries of State” in these sentiments which were delivered in his great 4th of July speech in 1821.

“America does not go abroad in search of monsters to destroy.” Because if it did, it would involve the United States “beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars and interests and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy and ambition. . . . She might become the dictatress of the world. She would no longer be the ruler of her own spirit.”

#12 Comment By LouisM On June 21, 2016 @ 9:21 am

I disagree with fellow posters that Trump is more likely to be a warhawk neocon.

For all Trumps bravado of blitzkrieg and hitem hard, Trump is more likely a hit and run than a hit and stay. A businessman doesn’t sit in a quagmire. They do what must be done, close the deal and move on.

Even more numerous than Trumps bravado is his stance on closing borders (stop exporting jobs and stop immigration) which harken back to very conservative republicans who focused more on defense than on parasitic foreign alliances.

#13 Comment By Doc On June 23, 2016 @ 6:53 am

Outstanding essay that cuts to the bone. Trump has the potential to walk in Washington and Madison’s shoes.
Let’s pray the Almighty gets him a pair that fits.

#14 Comment By Zach On June 23, 2016 @ 5:16 pm

What kind of an essay is this? Yes, I agree with a constitutional approach, but the whole focus of the essay is on to some mythical version of the United States. This is not a realistic approach to politics, but delusional politics. We would have lost the Revolution against the British without France. And the War of 1812 we hurried up and made a treaty since Napoleon lost and Britain could focus on the U.S. America was never great. There are some aspects that made us exceptional, but never great. It is my country and I love it deeply, but don’t sell me a myth. Don’t focus on glory and material wealth, focus on stability and peace. I don’t know what he’ll be like if he becomes president, but his domestic policy and his personality are worse, in my opinion, than however good his foreign policy is.