Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Would the Founding Fathers have invaded Iraq? (II): Bigtime historian says Yingling and Cohen both wrong

It is good to have smart friends who can correct your other educated friends. Sure beats trying to correct them myself. Here a prominent historian who has published extensively on the founding generation of Americans writes in to say that both Prof. (Lt. Col.) Paul Yingling and Prof. (consigliere emeritus) Eliot Cohen are wrong in ...

Mario Tama/Getty Images
Mario Tama/Getty Images
Mario Tama/Getty Images

It is good to have smart friends who can correct your other educated friends. Sure beats trying to correct them myself. Here a prominent historian who has published extensively on the founding generation of Americans writes in to say that both Prof. (Lt. Col.) Paul Yingling and Prof. (consigliere emeritus) Eliot Cohen are wrong in their interpretations of how the Founding Fathers would have handled out current foreign policy problems:

"Both our friends have it somewhat wrong or misleading. 

"For Paul:  those guys would never have invaded (except for very temporary, specific, or short-term reasons) someplace out of the hemisphere, and certainly not to spread democracy.  But they would certainly have engaged in complex schemes to defend the country or advance American empire (1765-1783 being a beautiful set of examples). 

It is good to have smart friends who can correct your other educated friends. Sure beats trying to correct them myself. Here a prominent historian who has published extensively on the founding generation of Americans writes in to say that both Prof. (Lt. Col.) Paul Yingling and Prof. (consigliere emeritus) Eliot Cohen are wrong in their interpretations of how the Founding Fathers would have handled out current foreign policy problems:

"Both our friends have it somewhat wrong or misleading. 

"For Paul:  those guys would never have invaded (except for very temporary, specific, or short-term reasons) someplace out of the hemisphere, and certainly not to spread democracy.  But they would certainly have engaged in complex schemes to defend the country or advance American empire (1765-1783 being a beautiful set of examples). 

"For Eliot: Madison in my judgment invaded Canada and took on a vastly distracted Britain (which wasn’t ‘the world’s only superpower’) for overwhelmingly defensive reasons–he botched the military and more disastrously, the domestic political foundation for the action, and meant it only for limited purposes.  And he was using the war to get at the Med pirates.  In other words, these guys WERE great schemers, but Madison wasn’t the champ of the generation–as Eliot says, Hamilton was much the worst — he had all sorts of daffy schemes in the late 1790s.  But we shouldn’t neglect Benjamin Franklin and John Adams.  Then there were the domestic schemers . . . like Aaron Burr, Sam Adams, and many others. 

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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