In the Washington Post this week, I outline some of the advice I believe my old boss, the late Senator Jesse Helms, would have for the newly elected conservative insurgents as they take their seats on Capitol Hill. One additional point I think Helms would make to the GOP class of 2010, were he alive today: Don’t forget foreign policy.
Despite the fact that America is still a nation at war, foreign policy and national security were virtually absent from debate in the 2010 campaign. This would have bothered Helms a great deal. He cared so much about foreign policy, he gave up his post as chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee (with its obvious benefits to North Carolina) in order to claim the chairmanship of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The Left tried to tar Helms as an isolationist, but they could never do so successfully because he was a consistent champion of conservative internationalism. The concept of a Fortress America was as alien to him as European socialism.
It is true that Helms fought the U.N., the International Criminal Court, and treaties that tied America’s hands, but he did precisely because he wanted to preserve America’s freedom of action to pursue what he called “a moral foreign policy.” As he put it in the introduction to a book of his speeches and essays:
Some in the so-called “human rights” community …. insist [that] America must be willing to cede its sovereignty to a profusion of international institutions (such as the United Nations and the International Criminal Court) and submit its conduct at home and abroad to the judgment of the world, through a plethora of treaties which they claim will ban every conceivable forms of abuse every weapons system known to man…. They would bind America up in a straight jacket formed from these treaties and institutions. And in so doing, they would have us sacrifice our freedom of action to defend not only our own liberty but that of others as well.
Helms made it his mission to champion liberty at home and abroad. He stood with freedom fighters and dissidents from China and Cuba to Burma to Belarus. He supported expanding NATO to support the new democracies of Central Europe, and the imposition of sanctions on cruel regimes that abuse their citizens and threaten America. He supported increased defense spending, and robust engagement in the world to defend both American interests and American values. “I believe in a sovereign America,” Helms wrote. But, he added, “I believe she has a moral mission: to fan the flames of freedom across the globe.”
Were he alive today, he would advise incoming conservative Senators to defend American sovereignty, reject isolationism, and make sure they always champion a foreign policy that puts liberty at its core.