Abusing John Quincy Adams
Despite Adams’ well-known pronouncements in favor of non-intervention and steering clear of distant wars, some hardliners want us to think that he would be on their side today.
I wrote about Tom Cotton’s revisionism and cherry-picking in my Responsible Statecraft column this week:
Cotton’s abuse of Adams extends to an anachronistic misreading of the Monroe Doctrine, which he believes is still applicable when it comes to “China’s meddling in Latin America.” Of course, the Monroe Doctrine was never intended as a blanket justification for U.S. interference in the affairs of our neighbors, nor was it a catch-all excuse to oppose the growth of commercial and diplomatic ties between our neighbors and other nations.
Just as the American imperialists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries turned the Monroe Doctrine on its head to pursue their aggressive designs in this hemisphere, Cotton would like to do the same today in the name of opposing China. This is how Cotton picks and chooses what he can twist to advance hawkish goals. While Adams warned that America “goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy,” Cotton can quickly dismiss that as a product of its time with no importance for today, but when Cotton reinterprets the Monroe Doctrine as a justification for anti-Chinese hawkishness he finds it to be “highly relevant.”
Foreign policy hardliners used to deride John Quincy Adams for his July 4th speech and its rejection of U.S. involvement in foreign conflicts, but it has become more common in recent years to try to turn Adams into something closer to one of the hardliners’ forerunners. For whatever reason, there is now a desire to co-opt Adams for their cause rather than dismiss him as irrelevant. Despite Adams’ well-known pronouncements in favor of non-intervention and steering clear of distant wars, some hardliners want us to think that he would be on their side today and that any specific recommendations he made in his own time have no bearing on how the U.S. should conduct itself in the world. They would like to claim the man but reject his words and works, and this leads them into all sorts of absurdities.