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Newcomb: Imagine this: From G. Washington to G. Bush


Dear President George W. Bush,

Esteemed Sir, in my ''Farewell Address'' to the nation, published as an open letter in September 1796, I offered words of advice and guidance that seemed to me advantageous for the future unity, prosperity and longevity of the United States of America. Given the turn of events during your administration, and given the likelihood that you may have never read my Address, I have felt it prudent to bring to your attention a number of salient and cautionary points that I made to the nation two hundred and eleven years ago.

First, allow me to address the topic of religion. During your tenure in office these past six years, sir, you have certainly made religion, specifically Christianity, a centerpiece of your policy pronouncements to the nation. Some might see a parallel to this religious focus in my ''Farewell Address,'' for I did indeed mention that of ''all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.'' However, I followed up on this observation with an admonition that seems to have gone unheeded during your time in office: ''Observe good faith and justice toward all nations.'' ''Cultivate peace and harmony with all,'' I declared, for ''religion and morality enjoin this conduct.''

I pointed out that the way to observe good faith and justice toward all nations is by excluding ''permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular nations and passionate attachments for others.'' I went on to say that ''just and amicable feelings toward all should be cultivated.'' My reasoning was that the ''nation which indulges toward another a habitual hatred or a habitual fondness is in some degree a slave.'' Such a nation, I observed, ''is a slave to its animosity or its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest.'' And I further noted that antipathy ''in one nation against another disposes each more readily to offer insult and injury, to lay hold of slight causes of umbrage, and to be haughty and intractable when accidental or trifling occasions of dispute occur.''

Had my words been heeded in this regard, Sir, perhaps the country would not now be bogged down in the quicksand of Iraq. Accordingly, I humbly ask that you reflect deeply upon my words as you consider the direction of your foreign policy decisions with regard to Iran and Syria. I ask you: ''Is the prosecution of another deadly and costly war a proper means of promoting 'good faith and justice toward all nations'?''

In my ''Farewell Address,'' I also advised our country to ''cherish public credit,'' for it is ''a very important source of strength and security.'' ''One method of preserving it,'' I said, ''is to use it as sparingly as possible, avoiding occasions of expense by cultivating peace,'' while noting that for the national defense ''timely disbursements to prepare for danger frequently prevent much great disbursements to repel it.'' In short, spending for a national defense is prudent; spending for foreign imperial adventures is imprudent.

I mentioned how important it is to avoid the imprudence of ''the accumulation of debt, not only by shunning occasions of expense, but by vigorous exertions in time of peace to discharge the debts which unavoidable wars have occasioned.'' Yet, contrary to my advice, I have noticed with growing alarm that the national debt currently stands at $8.6 trillion; and, to date, the war in Iraq, since April 2003, has cost some $344 billion, and is now costing an additional estimated $8 billion a month.

With all due humility, Sir, my abovementioned reference to ''unavoidable wars'' is particularly and solemnly pertinent in light of your decision to invade Iraq. The massive expense for the country that has been incurred as a result of that fateful decision, which will be borne by generations of Americans, the costs to the country in lives lost and maimed, and in treasure depleted, to overcome a nonexistent threat to the security of the United States by the regime of Saddam Hussein, makes my words of two centuries and a decade ago seem prescient indeed. A present generation, I said in my ''Farewell Address,'' ought not throw ''upon posterity the burthen which we ourselves ought to bear''; and yet, to my utter dismay, this is precisely what you have done.

I have also noticed with alarm, Sir, that you have assumed unto yourself a color of office more characteristic of an imperial leader than that of an elected President. Of particular note in my ''Farewell Address,'' given your leadership style (I have noticed your more than 700 ''signing statements''), is my statement that ''the habits of thinking in a free country should inspire caution in those intrusted with its administration to confine themselves within their respective constitutional spheres, avoiding in the exercise of the powers of one department to encroach upon another.''

I pointed out that the ''spirit of encroachment tends to consolidate the powers of all the departments in one, and thus to create, whatever the form of government, a real despotism.'' Let there be no change of the constitutional powers ''by usurpation,'' I noted, for though this in one instance may be the instrument of good, it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed.'' With these words of caution, I remain, Sir, but a humble servant of the People.

Your Predecessor,

G. Washington

Steven Newcomb, Shawnee/Lenape, is Indigenous Law Research Coordinator for the Sycuan Education Department, co-founder and co-director of the Indigenous Law Institute, and a columnist for Indian Country Today.