Modern circumstances continue to bear out the prescience of America’s founders. Especially George Washington’s warning against “entangling alliances.”
In contrast, U.S. policymakers today treat military allies like Facebook friends, the more the merrier, something to brag about. However, most of Washington’s existing alliances are harmful, expensive commitments with little relevance to American security. Indeed, a couple are strikingly dangerous, even risking conflict with nuclear armed powers. A good place to start with an “America First” foreign policy would be to turn allies into friends, cooperating when in both nations’ interests but no longer treating foreign governments as defense dependents.
Early America used its relative geographic isolation to avoid “entangling alliances.” The colonies relied on France’s aid to defeat Great Britain, but that reflected the exigencies of war. Paris was not particularly interested in empowering the new democratic republic once peace negotiations began. And the value of the French connection to America as a permanent alliance plummeted when Paris was taken over by brutal revolutionaries; the relationship cratered when Napoleon Bonaparte gained control and engaged in a “quasi-war” against American shipping.
It was a century before Washington joined another alliance. And in World War I, America technically fought as an “associated” rather than allied power. Woodrow Wilson, who with a touch of megalomania desired to reorder the globe, imagined that quasi-independence would enable him to pose as the representative of mankind.
The United States had nothing significant at stake in the conflict between the competing imperial powers. Washington should have left the participants to settle their imperial slugfest on their own.
Under those circumstances, a divided, exhausted Europe might have ended the war early, preserving the monarchies and avoiding Nazism, fascism, and communism. Instead, America’s intervention turned a possible compromise peace into a one-sided allied victory, loosing multiple totalitarian furies. Wilson’s fabled “14 Points” largely disappeared as participants at the Versailles conference fought over territorial plunder.