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If there had been a maximum point of peril for America
in the war in Europe, it was the summer of
Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds
himself silenced with surprising
There it is a nutshell. That is what all the fuss about. Pat Buchanan has written a lively, engaging and important assessment of 200 years of American Foreign Policy. He offers a compelling argument that we have dangerously, even disastrously, drifted away from the Founding Fathers' vision of an America free of foreign entanglements. Relying on the entirely mainstream work of historians like Paul Kennedy, Paul Johnson and Walter McDougall (see Orrin's review of Promised Land, Crusader State: The American Encounter with the World Since 1776 (1997)(Grade: A), he provides a clear and concise review of history, makes a pretty irrefutable case for muscular isolationism as an integral theme of American policy and offers a strong argument that nations which take on extensive foreign obligations tend to perish. And out of all of this, all you hear people talking about is how he's somehow "soft on Hitler". What a load of bunk.
I've addressed that canard before (see Letter to the Editor). I think it's fairly obvious to any impartial observer that Buchanan is right on at least this point, Nazi Germany was no threat to the United States in 1941. Whether we, and the world, would have been better served by simply stepping aside and allowing Hitler and Stalin to slug it out, is a more difficult question to answer definitively. But looking back on the wreckage left over from the Soviet Union and the Cold War, it's hard to see how things could have actually been worse had we done so.
But the hysteria over this issue has allowed Pat to skate on several other points where he seems to me to be more clearly in the wrong. First, while it is understandable given the administrations he served, he is guilty of not rigorously applying the logic of his own argument to the Cold War. If he were to be scrupulously honest, he would have to call into question the entire policy of containment and the forty year American confrontation with the Soviet Union. This policy will, like America's entry into WWII, never be dealt with in a clear eyed manner, because the West eventually "won" the Cold War. But it behooves the reader to consider whether bankrupting the nation, tearing ourselves apart over Korea, Vietnam, Central America, etc. and creating a massive Security State was truly worthwhile in light of the fact that we allowed most of the globe to fester under communist tyranny for that entire period.
In the first instance, we have to regard the decision to stop the war in Europe with the Communists still in power in Russia as an incontrovertible disaster. Second, we have to consider whether we did not have some moral obligation to take the Cold War hot and juke it out with the USSR. Third, we should at least contemplate the possibility that the USSR would have fallen as quickly, or even more quickly, had we simply ignored them. Not only was much of their oppression legitimized by the argument that they faced a hostile West, it is also likely that had they been allowed to overrun more of their neighbors they would have become even more overextended and the centrifugal forces that contributed to their demise would have been greatly exacerbated. If, as I believe, the criticism of American engagement in WWII is legitimate, then the same criticism, or at least a critical eye, should be turned on American engagement in the Cold War. Buchanan's failure to engage in this exercise unnecessarily weakens his overall argument about the pedigree and success of U.S. isolationism.
More centrally, Buchanan's essential thesis, that we have incurred too many obligations in the world, obligations which we would be irresponsible to fulfill, while it is absolutely correct, has been rendered a nullity by the march of budgetary politics. The present budget surplus--despite Clintonian and Republican rhetoric about hard decisions, revolutions, and fiscal responsibility--is exclusively a product of the gutting of the Defense Budget. We now spend less ( in adjusted dollars, percentage of the budget and percentage of GDP) on the military than we did in the years leading up to World War II and, as a result, we once again have a hollow army. There is no way on God's Green Earth that we could ever meet any of the treaty obligations that rightly concern Pat, unless we resorted to nuclear weapons (the prospect of rapid resort to nukes does not particularly bother me, but one assumes that most critics of this book would be troubled, if not horrified, by the prospect).
We no longer have the manpower, nor the materiel, nor the willingness to pay for the type of military excursion that he fears we will be sucked into. (Recall that even in the relatively minor Gulf War we made other nations foot the bill.) Sure we can stop China from taking Taiwan, but that is more a function of the difficulty of the task. We might even stop North Korea from taking South Korea, because some Americans would be killed in the North's invasion. But let Russia decide to pummel Chechnya and we stand around like the paper tiger that we have become and mouth hoary platitudes while the attacks continue. Does anyone honestly think that we would saddle up and ride to the rescue of Lithuania in like circumstances? Be real. The forces of isolation that are tightly interwoven in the American psyche have been hard at work for a decade now and have already answered many of Pat's concerns. Regardless of the high-flown phrases of the Clintonistas, the fact remains, Bill Clinton, Strobe Talbott, Madeline Albright, et al, preside over an America which is incapable, because it is unwilling, of backing up the promises that we have made. In battling against the prospect of American military intervention abroad, Buchanan is, by and large, attacking a straw man. National pride and American trustworthiness will be the casualties, not American boys, should a bill come due for one of our myriad alliances.
There is one other thing that is being ignored in the mad rush to condemn Pat and brand him an extremist kook. The press, the critics and the pundits are overlooking the fact that Pat is providing exactly what they always claim to want, a campaign of ideas. Regardless of whether you agree with any or all of what he says, I think you have to acknowledge that he has elevated the intellectual content of this campaign, indeed he appears to have raised it beyond the capacity of the talking heads to understand his thesis, and started an important national dialogue over America's proper role in the world. After the recent Presidential contests that devolved into cat fights over things like flag burning, Sister Souljah, Willie Horton, and the like, it is refreshing to see candidates actually discussing more profound issues like WWII, entangling alliances, free trade, etc. But, typically, the nattering class is so repelled by his ideas that they refuse to even acknowledge that he is trying something exceedingly rare in the history of the Republic; he's actually running on a unified and coherent ideology.
In fact, there have only been two other major candidates this century who presented such a clearly ideologically based message to the voters--Goldwater and Reagan. Significantly, both of them were likewise treated as kooks by the mainstream intelligentsia. Goldwater of course got trounced, but Reagan, running on virtually the same platform 16 years later, won in a landslide and changed the political landscape for a generation. Now Pat is running a campaign which embraces not merely any old ideas, but themes that have proven extraordinarily resilient throughout our nation's history. His arguments can be dismissed by the nabobs, if they don't honestly engage the issues he raises, but they do so at significant risk to their own hegemony. This election may not be the one that returns us to an openly stated posture of isolationism, but that is clearly where we are headed and, more than likely, where most of us hope to arrive.
This is an extremely entertaining book, written with Buchanan's trademark polemical style (a style developed in the Nixon White House and honed by twenty years of McLaughlin Group and Crossfire). It is possible to disagree with most of the books conclusions and yet still learn a lot from it. In fact, I especially recommend it to those who assume that they will hate it. He will at least engage your mind, even if he doesn't change it. When's the last time a candidate for President actually made you think?
-The American Cause
-BOOKNOTES: The Great Betrayal: How American Sovereignty and Social Justice are Being Sacrificed to the Gods of the Global Economy Author: Pat Buchanan (CSPAN)
-Pat Buchanan on the Issues (Issues 2000)
-PAT BUCHANAN ON THE INTERNET
-Pat Buchanan's Skeleton Closet
-Pat Watch (National Review)
-ESSAY : The Old Cause : Buchanan, The Good War, and Ironclad Orthodoxies (Joseph R. Stromberg, AntiWar)
-ESSAY: DADDY'S BOY: THE ROOTS OF PAT BUCHANAN'S AUTHORITARIANISM (Charles Lane, New Republic)
-ESSAY: Buchanan as Historian: Parsing the arguments, and the lineage, of the presidential candidate's revised account of World War II (Gabriel Schoenfeld, Commentary)
-ESSAY: Strange Bedfellows: A Guide to the New Foreign-Policy Debates: Amid all the shifts of position on Left and Right brought about by the end of the cold war, certain things--including the isolationist temptation--remain constant ( Norman Podhoretz, Commentary)
-ESSAY: Politics: Right-Wing Populist: For most of its history populism has been a phenomenon associated with the political left. Pat Buchanan's candidacy demonstrates how sharply populism has swerved. (Steven Stark, The Atlantic)
-Pat Buchanan: The Great Contradiction (Center for Trade Policy)
- Demjanjuk: A Summing-Up (Joshua Muravchik, Commentary)
-ESSAY: Cold War Revelations and "Progressive" Holocaust Denial (Jamie Glazov Front Page Magazine)
-ESSAY: The Other Vietnam Generation (Douglas Brinkley, NY Times)
-Foreign Relations of the United States (Historian's Office | Department of State)
-ESSAY: Guess who hates America? Conservatives. Fall Guys (LAWRENCE F. KAPLAN, New Republic)
-ESSAY: Do Conservatives Really Hate America? The New Republic's diagnosis of the foreign-policy elite (Mike Potemra, National Review)
The People's Pit Bull: Pat Buchanan is moving into the void left by liberals'
failure to address the issue of economic injustice (ALEXANDER COCKBURN,