A pamphlet from the National Park Service reads … “Adams followed many of the precedents set by Washington for the office of the President. ‘The great Washington,’” as one visitor called him, set the tone and formality of the office, its boundaries with Congress, and began the ritual of the annual “state of the union” message where each branch of government took its place, but always within the framework of the whole. ... The office of President of the United States was identified by the Constitution in 1787, with Gen. George Washington in mind.”
So who was Washington? As a young man, he embraced and lived by “The Rules of civility & Decent Behavior in Company and Conversations.”
He led from the front.
He was not perfect, but at different times during his life he noted and willingly began making difficult self-changes. Perhaps the best description of his leadership presences came from a young officer at the Battle of Princeton: “I shall never forget what I felt ... when I saw him brave all the dangers of the field and his important life hanging as it were by a single hair with a thousand deaths flying around him. Believe me, I thought not of myself.”
The president was constitutionally granted a few powers strictly of his own, including commander and chief and chief diplomat.
In recent times, the president has acted as and has been recognized around the world as “the” leader of United States foreign policy. If used wisely, this position holds great power.
Washington left us with some sound advice on foreign policy: Cultivate peace and harmony with all, act in good faith, and “steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world.”
Interestingly, Washington begrudgingly signed the Jay Treaty, a very weak agreement with the British. Considering our weak military circumstances, he felt that this was the best he could get. Time has left us with a more perfect view. Good foreign policy is best negotiated from a position of strength and not weakness.
Our history is rich with examples. Washington demanded the surrender at Yorktown from a position of power. President AbrahamLincoln continually replaced timid, indecisive generals until William Sherman and Ulysses S. Grant were appointed. Teddy Roosevelt had his policy of “Speak softly but carry a big stick!” FDR quietly armed the British while in the Senate, Democrats spent their time cozying up with the USSR and Republican doves buried their heads in the sand. And after rebuilding our military, President Ronald Reagan demanded the USSR “tear down this wall!”
Today we see a pattern of nonengagement on the part of the president and his administration. Nobody is telling where the president was during the attack on the consulate in Benghazi but we do know the next day he headed to Las Vegas for a fundraiser. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton refused to provide adequate security for the consulate in Benghazi and then in front of the world said “What difference does it make?” Secretary of State John Kerry undercut our Israeli allies because they would not weaken their own national security.
There is a U.S. Marine in a Mexican jail because he mistakenly took a wrong turn at the border and we seem powerless to do anything about getting him released.
What is wrong with this picture? What’s the message being sent to our friends around the world? It’s time for us to learn from our history. Peace through strength works. Peace through appeasement doesn’t!
Bill Sargent, Mark Mansius and John Gay are writing a series of columns on timely issues for today. All three ran in the 14th Congressional District primary.