Originally published on AntiWar.com on September 20th 1999
While op ed pieces and television talking heads speculate on and debate the political impact of Patrick J. Buchanan’s switch to the Reform Party, and the Republican Establishment goes ballistic, the real story of what makes Pat run is to be found in the pages of his latest book.
Released just as the attacks on (and rising support for) PJB are reaching a crescendo, A Republic, Not an Empire is most definitely not a campaign book of the sort we are all-too-used to, one such as George Dubya and/or Gore the Bore might write, filled with pompous bromides, innocuous blather, and more padded than the intake room at Bellvue. It is indeed not a campaign book at all, unless you are talking about Buchanan’s ongoing campaign to inject a note of sanity into the foreign policy debate: it is, instead, the passionately written, startlingly original, and intellectually daring manifesto of a principled noninterventionist, whose distinct and unique view of America and the world is expressed in nearly flawless prose.
WAR AND THE FALL OF EMPIRES
Such is the beauty and drama of Buchanan’s prose that it elicits, in the reviewer, the temptation to quote endlessly from this book’s 400-plus pages: I will try to restrain myself. But just listen to how he opens:
“At the opening of the twentieth century there were five great Western empires – the British, French, Russian, German, and Austro-Hungarian – and two emerging great powers: Japan and the United States. By century’s end, all the empires had disappeared. How did they perish? By war – all of them.”
AN APPEAL TO INNOCENCE
Here, in a few brief declarative sentences, the author sets down his thesis, the insight that informs his remarkable account of how the U.S. became an empire and what this has to mean, encapsulating the urgency and the basic analysis of the noninterventionist position. Whether he is making the distinction between Manifest Destiny and European-style imperialism, revisiting the tragic history of how the Brits dragged us into two world wars, or mocking the pretensions of a self-infatuated elite which aspires to “world hegemony,” this is Buchanan at the top of his form, not only as a writer but as a serious thinker. His thesis is of particular interest to regular visitors to Antiwar.com. Buchanan’s theme is, indeed, the central thesis of any American antiwar movement worthy of the name; that is, one with any legitimate hope of influencing the American people. Buchanan’s anti-imperialism, like that of the conservative noninterventionists who came before him, such as Senator William C. Borah, the “Lion of Idaho,” is rooted in the wisdom of the Founding Fathers and the basic aversion to empire that is ingrained in the American character. It is to this basic distrust of would-be kings and self-proclaimed global “hegemons,” that the author appeals.
THE LAST AND ONLY SUPERPOWER
America has survived, the Last and Only Superpower, while so many others have fallen by the wayside, their bones littering the road to empire: Rome, Spain, Portugal, France, Russia, and – closest to ourselves – a once-great Britain, whose tatterdemalion “Commonwealth” is not even a ghost of her Britannic Majesty’s former glory. Are we immune from the decadence that seems to set in shortly after dreams of empire are realized, or is our hubris likely to catch up with us in the coming century? This is the question asked and definitively answered in this book – a tour-de-force of riveting historical narrative, pyrotechnical polemics, and programmatic clarity that is sure to inspire a whole new generation of conservative noninterventionists.
WHO WILL STAND AGAINST US?
We have extended guarantees to the Baltic nations, who clamor for NATO membership, the doomed princes of the Gulf, who live in fear of the “Arab street, ” the Koreans and the Taiwanese, the Albanians and the East Timorese – all of which may seem, for the moment, a burden of empire that can be shouldered with relatively little effort. Who, after all, will stand against us? The question may soon be answered, says Buchanan. We feel invincible, now –
“But so did Britain’s guarantee of Belgium’s neutrality in 1839, which dragged Britain into the Great War, cost it hundreds of thousands of dead, and inflicted on the empire a wound from which it would never recover.
Our country is today traveling the same path that was trod by the British Empire – to the same fate. Do we want America to end that way?”
This, then, is the underlying theme of A Republic, Not an Empire: We can go the way of our British forebears, or chart a new course, one that is uniquely American.
BEYOND THE DREAMS OF ALEXANDER
In chapter 2, “Courting Conflict with Russia,” Buchanan exposes the most immediate and dangerous foreign policy gambit of recent times, the effort by US policymakers to encircle and threaten Russia, restart the Cold War, and provoke a reaction inside the former Soviet Union that can only lead to World War III. Most importantly, Buchanan does us all a service by underscoring the evil “Wolfowitz Memorandum,” a remarkable document prepared by then-Undersecretary of State Paul Wolfowitz, a forty-six-page manifesto for those who envision the US as a world empire beyond the dreams of Alexander, dominating the globe and slapping down any who would aspire to even nominal independence.
Described in the media as a classified document leaked by anonymous sources, the memo purports to be a foreign policy blueprint for the next century. If so, it will be a century of endless wars, for it targets Russia as the biggest threat to American interests and projects a U.S.-Russian confrontation over NATO expansion. Having assured Gorbachev and the former Communist regime that America and her allies would not move eastward if the Berlin Wall were allowed to fall, US policymakers were now going back on their word. America, declared Wolfowitz, must be ready to go to war, and many should be prepared to die, for the principle of NATO expansion: if Russia dared to assert her own version of the Monroe Doctrine, and moved to block the NATO-ization of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, the US must be prepared to move against Moscow. Not only that, but our troops and “vital interests” must inhabit – even dominate – every continent. The great goal of the Wolfowitzian vision is to prevent the emergence of any regional powers as possible rivals to American world hegemony. All must be reduced to the status of small and militarily impotent states, lest they challenge the imperial dominance of the One and Only Superpower. Was a madder, more megalomaniac vision ever conceived outside of a loony bin?
MASTERS OF ALL WE SURVEY
We must prevent the rise of any possible threat to our global dominance, and, according to Wolfowitz, this prevention policy is the “dominant consideration underlying the new regional defense strategy and requires that we endeavor to prevent any hostile power from dominating a region whose resources would, under consolidated control, be sufficient to generate global power. These regions include Western Europe, East Asia, the territory of the former Soviet Union, and Southwest Asia.”
DUBYA AND THE WOLF
In other words, the US will now virtually annex most of the civilized world – and a great deal of it that is not quite civilized – in an act of hubris so reckless, so contrary to the lessons of history and common sense, that it is positively breathtaking in its folly. That Paul Wolfowitz, the author of this mad memorandum, is now a top foreign policy to George Dubya, the theoretician and behind-the-scenes policymaker who could well be the next Secretary of State, is a thought that ought to send chills down the spines of noninterventionists of every political persuasion and coloration. What could be clearer? If Dubya slips into the White House, we are headed for war.
GENERALS FIGHTING THE LAST WAR
As a conservative, Pat naturally turns to the lessons of history, and the news is not good for the empire-builders, but before he does that he looks into the possible futures awaiting us, the wars of tomorrow that we could well find ourselves (or our children) fighting. With Communism dead for a decade, and no great enemy having arisen to challenge us, America’s elites pine for the good old days of certitude that shaped the foreign policy of yesteryear – but our policymakers, says Buchanan, are generals fighting the last war. Locked into a Cold War stance, the foreign policy Establishment that guides government officials has planted its flag on every continent: we are bound by treaty and tradition to defend not only Europe and North America, but also the Balkans, the Middle East, the Persian Gulf, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, Thailand and Pakistan, Australia, and Latin America. Listing this astounding catalog of de facto dependencies, Buchanan, citing Senator Robert A. Taft, makes a point central to the urgency of his thesis:
IMPERIAL OVERSTRETCH TIMES TEN
“Nothing can destroy this country except the overextension of our resources. . . . Indeed, it would be an understatement to describe the commitments above as an over extension of our resources. In their totality, they make the nineteenth-century British Empire look isolationist; truly, this is imperial overstretch.”
WARS OF THE FUTURE
Buchanan sets out a frightening and all-too-realistic scenario of five future wars: his portrait of the “Second Balkan War” reads like a news dispatch hot off the wires from AP or Reuters, and may have been written before the attack on Serbia. If so, it loses nothing in terms of realism, and differs from what actually happened only in minor details: as either a prediction, or a portent of things to come, his description of the burgeoning Balkan crisis has the ring of authenticity. Then there is “the Second Korean War,” a reenactment of the earlier conflict with the added feature of nuclear weapons. In “the Baltic War,” Russia and Belarus overrun Lithuania and demand that the Baltics remain a “weapons free zone,” a Finlandization that the West finds unacceptable: “The US President declares, ‘This will not stand,’” avers that “there will be no Munich in the Baltics,” and takes us to the brink of nuclear war – in the name of NATO “credibility.” In the Middle East, the “Arab street” explodes, toppling the Saudi princelings and provoking a massive US intervention in Iraq: the “Second Gulf War” (wouldn’t that be the Third – or does it only seem like that many?) pits the US and Israel against virtually the entire Arab world in what Buchanan rightly calls “a nightmare scenario.” It seems a nightmarish future awaits us. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
A MODERN PAUL REVERE
The tripwires buried by our rulers in the soil of every continent will reap a harvest of woe – and that is a prediction that is unfortunately bound to come true, unless and until the country wakes up. God bless Pat for sounding the alarm, a modern-day Paul Revere riding through the American political scene shouting “To arms! To arms! The warmongers are coming!”
THE TAIWAN QUESTION
Most interesting is Buchanan’s disquisition on “the China-Taiwan War,” which starts in the shadow of an economic downturn that drags down China and all of the Far East in the slough of depression. As the People’s Liberation Army puts down riots in Hong Kong, “Taiwan declares independence in Jefferson’s own language and asks the United States and the United Nations for recognition. Both refuse.” Taiwan proceeds to recklessly threaten the mainland with nuclear retaliation if Beijing dares to even contemplate an invasion. The Chinese leadership responds by informing the US and the rest of the world to stay out of it, blockades the island, and the siege of Taiwan is begun. “Should the navy engage Chinese air and naval units in the waters around Taiwan,” asks Pat, “or stay out of the war?”
FOREIGN POLICY BANKRUPTCY
The answer may surprise many conservatives, who misunderstand Buchanan’s position, particularly on the question of China, but clearly Buchanan favors the latter course; that is, a policy of strict nonintervention. As he puts it,
“In none of the wars would any vital US interest be at stake to justify sending a large American army to fight or to risk nuclear war. In each of the wars described above, America is drawn in because of commitments dating to a Cold War that has been over for a decade, a Gulf War that ended in 1991, or a commitment to a Balkan peninsula that should never have been made. Should simultaneous wars break out in the Gulf and Korea, and should the Middle East or the Balkans flare up, American will come face to face with what [Walter] Lippmann called foreign policy bankruptcy.”
AN AMERICAN NATIONALIST
As an American nationalist, Buchanan’s concern is the interests of this country as fundamentally distinct from all others, and deserving of a special place – indeed, the only place – in the affections of our makers of policy. He is, above all, an American patriot, deeply in love with the tradition and spirit of a people uniquely averse to empire-building on account of their love of liberty. Yet any assertion of this kind of Americanism is “shouted down as `isolationist!’” he complains, and “it is time to expose this malevolent myth of ‘isolationism,’ so that our foreign policy debate can proceed on the grounds of what is best for America.” What is best for America – not the multinational corporations, or the United Nations, or the peoples of the world, or even the New World Order. No, not any of these, but for America First – a slogan that Pat has revived single-handedly, and one that deserves the widest possible circulation.
BUSH’S BIG LIE
One of Buchanan’s major achievements in this book is to rescue the memory of the old America First Committee from the slanders of the War Party. Citing a particularly egregious example in the speech of Bush senior on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of Pearl Harbor – “Isolationists flew escort,” said Bush, “for the very bombers that attacked our men”! – Buchanan avers that “President Bush had stood history on its head.” Uttered at the height of Buchanan’s assault on the Bushian Establishment, this lying canard no doubt enraged Buchanan at the time, and in an important sense much of the rest of A Republic, Not an Empire is a refutation of this Big Lie.
It wasn’t the “isolationists” who had control of the White House when Japanese bombers rained death on our unsuspecting fleet, but the Great Interventionist himself, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who had furthermore been angling and maneuvering to get us into the war for many months. But isolationism, says Buchanan, is a myth, a useful one for the War Party, but a myth nonetheless, and proceeds to make his point in the next few chapters as he tells the story of the expansion of the US from a struggling confederation clinging to the Eastern shore to a continental republic on the brink of empire. It is an enthralling and – as told by Buchanan – engaging account, packed with historical details and odd facts. The fateful turn toward Empire, says Buchanan, began with the acquisition of the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and the “liberation” of Cuba, and he dramatizes the temper of the times with such fascinating doggerel as the Boston Transcript’s ode to Commodore George Dewey, the conqueror of Manila:
ODE TO COMMODORE DEWEY
“O Dewy at Manila
That fateful first of May,
When you sank the Spanish squadron
In almost bloodless fray,
And gave your name to deathless fame;
O glorious Dewey, say,
Why didn’t you weigh anchor
And softly sail away?”
– KIPLING AND T.R.
History buffs will love it when Buchanan digs up such gems as the correspondence of Rudyard Kipling, the poet laureate of British imperialism, and our own Teddy Roosevelt; it seems Kipling sent T. R. a copy of his ode to “The White Man’s Burden,” who dryly remarked that he found it “rather poor poetry, but good sense from the expansionist viewpoint.” Buchanan cites the New York World’s riposte to Kipling (and can’t you just hear the screams of outrage coming from our politically correct critics?):
THANKS BUT NO THANKS
“We’ve taken up the white man’s burden
Of ebony and brown
Now will you kindly tell us, Rudyard,
How we may put it down?”
A FATEFUL DECISION
Americans exulted in the taking of the Philippines, but, as Buchanan shows, it was a fateful – and near fatal – decision, one that we would fully pay the price for as this most vulnerable possession had to be defended. Indefensible against the rising peoples of the East, who were nation-building in spite of Western interference, the Philippines instead of becoming the forward position of an expanding American power in the Orient became our Achilles heel – as the events of World War II in the Pacific would demonstrate.
THE BACILLUS OF IMPERIALISM
The bacillus of imperialism, as one critic of the Spanish-American war put it, had infected the American body politic, and, most importantly, taken root in the consciousness of the financial and intellectual elites. Instead of upholding the republican tradition and foreign policy of the Founders, the “progressive” imperialists were committed to a frankly imperial vision: the new prophets of an overseas empire “broke with the vision of the Farewell Address and raised Manifest Destiny to a new level.” We had become a mirror image of the Mother Country, against whose depredations we had rebelled – and were now inflicting on the conquered peoples of the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and the Caribbean isles. No longer our nemesis, Great Britain was now “our exemplar.”
The great departure, however, wasn’t really experienced by Americans on a grand scale until the tragedy of World War I unfolded. Buchanan asks “Why did Woodrow Wilson break with all tradition and lead American into a slaughterhouse that had consumed millions of the best and bravest of Europe’s young, when no vital interest was at risk?” In his answer to this agonizing question Buchanan points to the Anglophilia rampant among the nation’s elites, and cites historian Ralph Raico in an analysis that bears repeating here:
“The President and most of his chief subordinates were dyed-in-the-wool Anglophiles. Love of England and all things English was an intrinsic part of their sense of identity. With England threatened, even the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, Edward D. White, voiced the impulse to leave for Canada to volunteer for the British armed forces.”
A MORTGAGED NATION
While the British propaganda effort in America was massive and quite effective, it wasn’t just Perfidious Albion all by itself that dragged us into a war that marked the end of Western civilization and the beginning of a new barbarism. There was also, Pat points out, the all-pervasive influence of “the money power.” The munitions industry grew fat on the profits of war, and were a mighty lobby for intervention, but also there was the indebtedness of the Allies to the New York banks. Without an Allied victory, those loans would never be repaid. The economic future of the nation had been mortgaged and linked to the victory of England and France. The American people had no interest in the victory of either side, it was a war between empires in which our old Republic could have no part, and Wilson campaigned on the slogan “He kept us out of war!” Not long after he took the oath of office, Wilson, the sanctimonious “man of peace, took us into the war – and planted the seeds of the next one.
THE TRIUMPH OF INTERVENTIONISM
It is Buchanan’s account of the events leading up to World War II that will prove to be the most controversial section of his book, and already the San Francisco Examiner columnist and television commentator, Chris Matthews (of “Hardball” fame), has taken him to task for upholding the proud tradition of America First. In Buchanan’s view, this war was a mistake that could and should have been avoided; it gave rise to the creation of the Soviet Empire and fifty years of a life-and-death struggle that never had to be. Hitler was intent on going east, and never wanted war with the Western powers. England was out of danger after the Battle of Britain, with the US not yet in, and the Germans’ failure to cross the Channel signaled that the Brits were beyond the power of the Nazi armies. Having secured his Western front, Hitler then moved East: the invasion of the Soviet Union could have meant that the two totalitarian powers might have destroyed each other and thus eliminated the two main dangers to liberty in a single blow. But it was not to be. The American Left, including the Communist Party and its many allies among the liberals, were determined to save the Soviet Union, which they worshipped as the socialist “fatherland.” As soon as the Soviet Union was attacked, they went into action, while, on the other side of the barricades, the conservatives and their libertarian brethren, were organizing the America First Committee.
THE STORY OF AMERICA FIRST
Buchanan’s recounting of the story of the founding of the America First Committee (AFC), and its many distinguished supporters, covers much of the ground first turned over by such historians as Wayne G. Cole and Justus Doenecke, popularizing and dramatizing the trenchant point made by these pioneering scholars: that the AFC, far from being “a Nazi transmission belt,” as its leftist and Communist opponents insisted, was the beginning of a movement to take our old republic back, a mass-based antiwar movement that embodied the traditional American aversion to the turmoils and intrigues of Europe. Eight-hundred thousand strong, the AFC developed a sophisticated analysis of the world situation that reflected the instincts of the ordinary American, who (in June of 1940) opposed US entry into the war under any circumstances in overwhelming numbers: 86 percent. Only 5 percent wanted us to fight, and this, as Buchanan points out, at the nadir of the Allied predicament, when the fate of England was still in some doubt.
THE POLITICS OF DECEPTION
The role of FDR in all this was to lay low until safely elected for a third triumphant term, pretending to be more isolationist than America First and declaring “I will not take us into any European war.” If we parse his words with Clintonian exactitude, however, we discover that he wasn’t lying: after all, he did not take us into a European war directly, but only got us into it by the back door, in the Pacific. The President’s war message to Congress in the wake of Pearl Harbor did not even mention the Germans. Hitler declared war on us a few days later, a blunder that Buchanan understandably calls “monumental.” Yet he does not relate the whole story, if he knows it, and that is Hitler’s declaration of war was in reaction to the fake news of a supposed “Victory Plan” planted in the media – ironically enough, in the antiwar Chicago Tribune – by British intelligence: it told of American plans for an expeditionary force of millions to aid the Allied war effort in Europe. Hitler cited this report in his war message – and so it turns out that both the German Fuehrer and the American people fell for this ruse, with disastrous consequences for both.
FDR’s policy of deception and deliberate provocation is here chronicled in detail, from the Gulf of Tonkin-like incident of the sinking of the Greer – supposedly on a “mail run,” but actually involved in targeting German subs for the Brits – to the fake map of the alleged Nazi master plan for the conquest of the Americas, cited by the lying Roosevelt in one of his “fireside chats.” The map the President spoke of was a forgery cooked up in the dirty tricks laboratory maintained by British intelligence in the US, which purported to show the reorganization of Central and South America under “five vassal states” under German dominion. Buchanan cites Nicholas John Crull, author of Selling War: The British Propaganda Campaign Against American Neutrality in World War II, as saying that “the most striking feature of the episode was the complicity of the President of the United States in perpetrating the fraud.”
HE LIED US INTO WAR
Citing the famous remark by Clare Booth Luce that FDR “lied us into a war because he did not have the political courage to lead us into it,” Buchanan defends the heritage of the modern conservative movement against the leftist charge of “treason” and “subversion”:
ISOLATION FROM WAR
“This needs to be said again and again: The America Firsters did not want to ‘isolate’ America from the world; they wanted only to isolate America from the war. The struggle with FDR was over one issue: Should we follow the example of Washington and stay out of European wars, or the example of Wilson and go in? By the fall of 1941, the two great combatants were Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia. Most Americans did not believe their husbands, fathers, or sons should die for either one.”
JAPAN BY THE THROAT
When the war finally came, it came through the back door, in the attack on Pearl Harbor: Buchanan’s account of the long series of provocations, diplomatic blunders, and wrong-headed policies that set us on the road to that “day of infamy” is riveting and can only be summarized here. The roots of the conflict were in the acquisition of our Achilles heel, the Philippines, and the proclamation (and failure) of the overarching policy of the Open Door in China; both, says Buchanan, led directly to the events culminating in war with Japan. The catalyst, however, was the economic embargo declared by FDR after the Japanese seizure of French, British, and Dutch colonies in Indochina and outlying islands. As Buchanan puts it, Japan was thus “gripped by the throat,” and had to fight or perish. They chose to fight, and the rest is history – but history as written by the victors, a self-serving chronicle of self-justification and self-glorification, composed by “court historians” historians – in the phrase of the revisionist historian Harry Elmer Barnes, adopted by Buchanan – to honor the vanity of statesmen and whitewash their crimes.
AGAINST THE COURT HISTORIANS
Against the court historians, Buchanan has raised up an alternative view of American history that challenges the premises and vital assumptions of the victors of World War II. Particularly interesting is his take on the campaign of repression unleashed by FDR on the antiwar movement of the early 1940s, which seems in many ways very much like a similar campaign unleashed by President Richard Nixon, his old boss, on the antiwar movement of the 1960s. After detailing the smear campaign unleashed by the President and his henchmen, Buchanan writes: “But a vengeful FDR was not finished with America First. He had unleashed the FBI and IRS on its members, tapped their phones, had them hauled before grand juries, charged them with near-treason, and smeared them as ‘appeaser fifth columnists’ and Nazi sympathizers.” To anyone who grew to political consciousness in the sixties, all of this sounds awfully familiar – yet Pat does not remark on the parallels with our own experience, an omission that is interesting in itself.
CALLING THEIR BLUFF
The Bushian smear that the America Firsters were “riding escort” on the Japanese warplanes that devastated Pearl Harbor is, here, refuted in detail and at length, to the satisfaction of anyone who cares about the truth of the matter. Yet that will not stop the smearmongers and the Hate Buchanan Brigade from babbling nonsense about “Father Coughlin” and the “Nazi sympathizers” of the antiwar movement. If Norman Thomas is a Nazi – as he was called by the pro-war Commies of his day for aligning himself with the AFC – then the epithet means nothing, a political four-letter-word meant to stifle all discussion, and, most importantly, all debate about the future course of American foreign policy. All they have to do is start babbling about “Munich” and “Hitler” and invoke all the familiar catchphrases and stock images of old war movies, and the War Party thinks it can literally get away with murder. The publication of this book marks the beginning of the end of that kind of overweening arrogance: it is time to call their bluff, and tell the people the truth about the delusions they have been fed all these years. In A Republic, Not an Empire, Pat Buchanan does a masterful job of telling the real story behind two world wars – and the threat of yet another.
THE COLD WAR
I will not tarry over my disagreement with Buchanan’s thesis that Stalin started the Cold War and that the US was fighting in a noble cause – and that any of this had the slightest effect on the ultimate fate of the Soviet Union and its satellites other than to prolong their existence. His interpretation of the Vietnam war, and his view that we could have “won” it, is belied by his own analysis that concludes we should never have been involved to begin with. He veers close to the revisionist view, however, at several points in the text, such as when he remarks that, in Vietnam, “the New Frontiersmen were pursuing Wilsonism – with guns.” He gives a very abbreviated account of how Ronald Reagan supposedly won the Cold War, in three paragraphs; nothing is said about the economic impossibility of socialism, but economics is not Buchanan’s strong point. History is his forte, and he tells it with a narrative drive that clearly and colorfully illustrates the central thesis of this book: that the road from a republic to an empire is one-way, but it is not too late to change course.
Buchanan’s book reminded me of Garet Garrett, a writer even more eloquent than Buchanan, who wrote so eloquently about the same subject in his classic pamphlet, Rise of Empire:
RISE OF EMPIRE
“We have crossed the boundary that lies between Republic and Empire. If you ask when, the answer is that you cannot make a single stroke between day and night; the precise moment does not matter. There was no painted sign to say: ‘You are now entering Imperium.’ Yet it was a very old road and the voice of history was saying” ‘Whether you know it or not, the act of crossing may be irreversible.’ And now, not far ahead, is a sign that reads: ‘No U-turns.’”
CAUSE FOR OPTIMISM
But Garrett, chief editorial writer for the Saturday Evening Post and certainly the most lyrical of the Old Right journalists, was also among the most pessimistic. Perhaps the publication of Buchanan’s brave book would have lightened up his dark vision, in that it implies a movement to take back what has been lost, to make a U-turn away from the fate of the Brits and so many before them, and get our old Republic back. No, I won’t go on about the Cold War, who started it and what ended it, but merely point out Buchanan’s great insight about the post-Cold War world: “The difference between crafting foreign policy then and now is the difference between arithmetic and calculus.” It is indeed a qualitatively leap in the expectations and demands we make of our leaders: Buchanan, in this book, shows above all that he is up to the task. This is not some cheap politician, or even a populist leader, but a thinker and potentially a statesman whose ability to recognize greatness in others, in this detailed and fascinating history of American foreign policy, is a measure of his own.
AN AMERICAN GULLIVER
I can hardly resist one last quote, one that seems to sum up this book thematically and stylistically. In describing the victory of America in the Cold War, and the wave of euphoria that swept the world as the Soviet Empire was tossed into the dustbin of history, Buchanan writes:
“All that America had ever sought had come to pass. Yet rather than seize the opportunity to pull up our ‘trip wires’ around the world and shed unwanted commitments – to recapture our freedom of action and restore a traditional foreign policy – Republican internationalists were now joining with Wilsonian globalists to tie America down like Gulliver in some ‘New World Order’ where US wealth and power would be put at the service of causes having nothing to do with the vital interests of the United States.”
THE FOREIGN LOBBYISTS
And that is where we are today, with only Buchanan championing the freeing of the American Gulliver. In opposing the internationalists who control both parties and holding aloft the banner of America First, Buchanan dared to stand up against his President and the leader of his own party during the Gulf War, just as he stands up to the same gang today. In this book he makes a salient point about the character of the War Party, and the motives of the interventionists who lobby for foreign aid and intervention. They are the various “amen-corners” of foreign governments, whose views and activities reflected the agenda of interests who most definitely do not put America First. During the first Gulf War, this sent the War Party into a towering rage, when they practically demanded his head on a silver platter for daring to expose the dirty little secret at the core of their lobbying efforts. But somehow Pat survived their furious smear campaign, and the War Party suffered a big setback. For the first time in a while it was stuck with the image of being the party of foreign interests, the creature of ethnic and religious constituencies in the US which are routinely mobilized for the purpose of decisively influencing the course of our foreign policy.
DISSECTING THE WAR PARTY
Seen as an alliance of ethnic lobbies, special interests groups, a sensationalist warmongering media, and what he calls “the new Religious Crusaders,” the War Party is identified in virtually all of its constituent parts. Nor does he leave out another crucial component, and that is the transnational corporate elite that owes allegiance to nothing and no one but the Company. In the Buchananite analysis, economic interests become another major factor in the mix, working hand-in-hand with those who lobby for intervention in China and elsewhere to secure universal religious freedom as a matter of American foreign policy.
A GOOD CATHOLIC BOY
To these various factions, each with their own motives for getting us involved in foreign wars, Buchanan’s answer is blunt and definitive: “When one considers that today, nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons can be delivered by such conventional means as merchant ships and truck bombs, the case against going abroad in search of monsters to destroy becomes conclusive.” As a devout Catholic, Buchanan upholds the “just war” theory developed by the Jesuits which insists on, among other things, “proportionality” – that is, that the punishment meted out by aggrieved party in any conflict must be proportional to the original aggression. Is the defense of Taiwan worth the risk of a nuclear exchange? Does the defense of Lithuania have to mean the nuclear decimation of Europe? To a good Catholic like Buchanan – and to any decent human being – the answer is clearly and emphatically no.
HITTING THE HEGEMONISTS
I won’t tarry over the many details of Buchanan’s excellent case against globalism, except to note that he makes short work of the two most pompous (and well-funded) spokesmen for the new imperial “hegemonism,” the dwarfish Bill Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard and the Little Napoleon of the Neoconservaties, and Robert Kagan, the Standard’s chief foreign policy maven and “hegemonist” theoretician-in-residence (p. 359-62).
MUST WE GO TO WAR FOR TAIWAN?
I would also point out to conservatives that Buchanan, in the essentials of his position on China, upholds the same position that we have been energetically taking at Antiwar.com, and that is most ably expressed by the remarkably talented Bevin Chu, our newest columnist: that the US cannot and must not intervene in the ongoing Chinese civil war. For all his bellowing at China on the issue of trade, Buchanan estimates that “China does not today threaten any vital US interest.” He quite properly says that “United States policy toward China should be neither to aggravate nor appease Beijing,” and as for defending Taiwan against a Chinese invasion force: “the first defense perimeter of Free Asia should be manned by Asians themselves, united in regional alliances, with the United States relegated to” a supporting role. Would President Buchanan go to war with China over Taiwan? The answer is clearly no.
THE VERDICT OF HISTORY
Korea and Japan must also defend themselves, and US troops should be withdrawn. These are relics of a Cold War that has ended, and old alliances must not be allowed to drag us down into new quagmires – especially on the mainland of Asia. The American people will never stand for it, not again – and that is the lesson not only of Vietnam, but also, as Buchanan shows, the verdict of history: we must not overreach. If we do, we follow Great Britain into the imperial bone-yard.
We must choose between a Republic and an Empire. Which will it be? This is the question posed by Buchanan’s book. That such a man is asking such a question, and millions are hearing it for the first time, is cause for celebration. In the antiwar movement of the new millennium, in which hippies and aging flower children will play absolutely no part, Patrick J. Buchanan is a towering figure, our A. J. Muste, our Gandhi, the standard-bearer and publicist of our cause.
Whether or not he really believes he can be elected President is not the subject of this column, and I take no position (and neither does Antiwar.com) on whether he will or ought to be elected to that exalted office. I can only say that the appearance of this book is a milestone in the history of the opposition to war in this country. For here, between two covers, is the case for peace and nonintervention, for a foreign policy that puts America not only first, but also – as Pat likes to put it – second and third as well. Aside from his few allusions to trade protectionism – a view with which I thoroughly disagree, but which is easily separable from his foreign policy stance – this book is a near perfect summary of the most important issue of our time: the vital question of war and peace. There are not many guideposts we can point to that offer a consistent vision of what a pro-American noninterventionist foreign policy would be like, or why it is preferable to the crusading globalism of our bloody-minded rulers: A Republic, Not an Empire is one of them.