A New Americanism

by Patrick J. Buchanan – November 22, 1999
The Cato Institute – Washington, DC

Last month, the Senate rejected the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. The U.S. nuclear arsenal that had deterred Stalin’s empire, the Senate said, must be regularly tested for reliability and to reduce the destructive power of these awesome and awful weapons.

The Senate was right. But to an enraged President, this was a vindictive vote to rob him of a legacy. He lashed out. The Senate, Mr. Clinton said, has embraced a “new isolationism” that seeks to “bury our heads in the sand behind a wall.” A 4000-word tirade against the “New Isolationism” by Samuel Berger quickly followed.

As I have been called, among other names, America’s leading isolationist, my first thought was that he was giving me credit for his defeat. But what we are witnessing here is something more sinister, a resort by Mr. Clinton to a malicious libel to intimidate and silence any who would interfere with his globalist agenda.

And as one who supported every great foreign policy initiative from Kennedy to Reagan, I reject the isolationist label, especially when made by those whose spent their youthful careers marching against the Cold War policies that brought us victory.

America has never been an isolationist nation. “No president or national party in the entire history of the United States…ever advocated isolating the United States from the rest of the world,” writes historian Wayne Cole. Historian Walter McDougall calls the term isolationist “but a dirty word that interventionists, especially since Pearl Harbor, hurl at anyone who questions their policies.”

Why did Mr. Clinton revert to it? To divert attention from his lost opportunity to shape a foreign policy that might endure in our post-Cold War world. Where Truman and Acheson succeeded, Clinton, like Wilson, has failed.

His first attempt at interventionism and nation-building was the bloody debacle in Somalia. His embargo of Haiti and invasion proved ruinous to the people of that impoverished island, with no appreciable benefit to our Haitian neighbors or their quality of life. To divert attention from a personal scandal, the President fired missiles at a poison gas factory in Sudan. It now appears to have been an innocent pharmaceutical plant. Perhaps Mr. Clinton, who was apologizing for yet another of his predecessors’ foreign policy sins, might wish to apologize for one of his own.

Consider our relationship with Russia. Ten years ago, Ronald Reagan was being toasted in Moscow. Today, the prevailing wind is anti-Americanism. Not our fault, the Clintonites say. But who broke America’s word to the Russians that if they withdrew the Red Army from Eastern Europe, we would not move NATO an inch closer to their frontiers?

And what reaction do we expect when we collude with two former Soviet republics, Georgia and Azerbaijan, to build a pipeline to cut Russia out of the oil of the Caspian and ship it to her ancient enemy, Turkey? When enraged Russian generals charge us with meddling in the Caucasus, do they not have a point?

That photo of the President in Istanbul, smiling broadly as the oil treaty was toasted, while his Energy Secretary crowed about our “victory,” was a provocation. Be assured: Russian nationalists are surely even now plotting to overturn Mr. Clinton’s “victory.” Mr. Clinton’s successes have been in Northern Ireland and the Middle East, where America assumed the role of peacemaker, rather than military interventionist. That is the role the greatest nation on earth should play, one ordained in the Sermon on the Mount.

But our Republican elites are even more bellicose. It was his own Republicans who berated President Bush for not marching on Baghdad and establishing a “MacArthur Regency,” Republicans who urged air strikes on the North Korean nuclear facilities, thus risking a second Korean War. It was Republicans who denounced Clinton for not sending 200,000 U.S. troops into Belgrade. And it was a Republican Governor of Texas who complained that our war on Serbia was not being prosecuted “ferociously” enough. And it is Republicans who seem to lust most ardently for a new Cold War. In President Bush’s final year in office, a startling document surfaced in the Pentagon, detailing a plan to send 6 carrier battle groups and 24 NATO divisions to rescue Lithuania, should Moscow recolonize the republic. This prescription for war with Russia was crafted in the shop of one Paul Wolfowitz. It is not reassuring to see the selfsame Mr. Wolfowitz, one of Governor Bush’s “Vulcans,” emerging as an early favorite to be Secretary of State.

Perhaps the defining foreign policy moment of the Clinton presidency was his unconstitutional war on Serbia. The cause of that war was Madeline Albright’s rage that Serbia would not sign a Rambouillet accord that called for the removal of all its troops from Kosovo, and permission for NATO troops to tramp through their country. No American would have accepted that ultimatum. And when war came, it was accompanied by the usual bodyguard of lies.

We were told we were fighting to prevent the ethnic cleansing of Albanians. Before NATO’s air strikes, 90,000 had fled. But after NATO’s peace, 180,000 Serbs have been driven from their homes, as Christian shrines, monasteries, and churches have been desecrated. We were told we were fighting to prevent another Auschwitz, that Milosevic’s mad killers were butchering tens of thousands, perhaps a hundred thousand people, suggested our Secretary of Defense.

A few weeks ago, a Spanish doctor in search of mass graves had found 187 bodies, and the death toll of Albanians was estimated at 2500. Is it possible Milosevic gave orders for the mass murder of civilians, but in 80 days his soldiers were only able to kill this tiny fraction of a defenseless population of 1.5 million? Twenty-five hundred dead is a terrible tragedy; Auschwitz it is not.

Having smashed Serbia, it is now U.S. policy to deny fuel to the Serb people, so they can suffer in the brutal Balkan winter. This immoral policy shames us as a people. What are we doing putting old men, women, and children under a sentence of death for being unable to what NATO itself could not do—overthrow Milosevic?

Under the Christian conditions for a just war, the targeting of innocent civilians is forbidden. But who is suffering, who is dying from the sanctions we impose on Serbia and Iraq? We read of tens of thousands of deaths among Iraqi children. Is it moral to cause their deaths because these toddlers refused to rise up and oust Saddam, which the mighty Army of Desert Storm was itself reluctant to do? America is a good country; she does not make war on children.

We need a new foreign policy rooted neither in the Wilsonian Utopianism of the Democrat Party nor the Pax Americana of the Republican think tanks and little magazines, a policy that reflects the goodness and greatness of this Republic, but also an awareness that we were not put on this earth to lord it over other nations.

The true third way is a New Americanism that puts America first, but “goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy,” that defends America’s freedom, frontiers, citizens, security, and vital interests, but harbors no desire to impose our vision on any other people. As the great scholar Russell Kirk wrote:

[T]here exists no single best form of government for the happiness of all mankind. The most suitable form of government necessarily depends upon the historic experience, the customs, the beliefs, the state of culture, the ancient laws and the material circumstances of a people, and all these things vary from land to land and age to age.

The blunders other nations make are not ours to correct. And our moralistic policy of imposing sanctions on tiny tyrannies like Haiti and Myanamar, while we make no demands of the mighty Middle Kingdom, is cowardly and contemptible. When the elected mayor of our own capital city has to be virtually deposed in the name of good government, we should show more patience with foreign friends who fall short of the exacting standards of Clintonian democracy.

My friends, a presidential election should offer the nation a choice of destinies. But on all the great foreign policy issues—from moving NATO onto Russia’s front porch, to undeclared wars in the Balkans, to shoveling out billions in IMF loans and foreign aid to wastrel regimes—our Republican elite offers only a bellicose echo. Bush, Gore, Bradley, and McCain, they are all on one side of this great debate about America’s destiny; we alone are on the other.

What would a foreign policy rooted in our history, the wisdom of our Fathers, and the national interest look like?

Specifically, while America should restate to the world its iron resolve that never again will a hostile power be allowed to overrun our ancestral home, we will cease to smother Europe. It is time we ended our reflexive opposition to every new idea advanced by the nations of Europe to build their own pillar of Western defense.

It is time to say “yes” to Europe, time to let go, as doting parents whose children have reached maturity, must let go. Indeed, let us accelerate the day of Europe’s reclaiming its full independence, by setting a date certain for the withdrawal of all U.S. troops. In 1961, General Eisenhower urged Mr. Kennedy to withdraw them all then; forty years later,it is time to follow Ike’s advice.

As we look eastward, we see a Russia smaller than she was under Peter the Great. In an eyelash, she lost a world empire, a European empire, an internal empire. Stalin’s USSR is now fifteen nations. The collapse of Bolshevism was of extraordinary benefit to mankind, and we risk the fruits of that victory by treating Russia as a defeated nation to be ignored or taken advantage of.

We should inform Moscow that NATO’s red line will move no further east, that we are bringing home all U.S. forces from Europe, that while American oil companies may cut deals in the Caucasus, the United States has no vital interest there, and no intention of creating any new anti-Russian alliance in her back yard. Instead of expanding military alliances to corral and contain Russia, why have we not insisted that our European allies expand the European Union to include Russia? Let us bring Russia in, rather than drive her out.

As for Chechnya, it is an ugly brutal war, but the Russians are fighting inside their own territory. Americans, whose beloved Mr. Lincoln unleashed General Sherman to deal with his rebellious provinces, can surely understand the horrors of civil wars, even as we rightly deplore them.

But no matter our differences with Russia, we must repair the relationship. None is more crucial. We could make no greater blunder than to cast aside the fruits of our Cold War victory by driving an embittered Russia into the arms of Beijing. But that is exactly what our Beltway elites seem to be doing. But just as we respect the legitimate aspirations of Europe for an equal place in the sun, and Russia’s right not to have NATO squat on its doorstep, Europe and Russia must respect our inherent right to defend ourselves against the ballistic missiles of rogue states.

As for our policy of “dual containment” of Iran and Iraq, it is sterile and unsustainable. Like the British, we are one day going home, and we ought not to be devising schemes to extend our stay. Unlike Beijing and Hanoi, Baghdad and Teheran never killed tens of thousands of American soldiers in war. But if we can engage China and North Vietnam, and even North Korea, why can we not at least talk to Iran and Iraq?

Have we not suffered enough terrorist atrocities—from the massacre of our Marines, to Pan Am 103, to the World Trade Center, to the embassy bombings in Nairobi and Dar—to awaken our elites to the reality that interventionism is the incubator of terrorism? Or will it take some cataclysmic act of violence on U.S. soil to finally awaken our gamesmen to the costs of global hegemony?

As for China, the most peaceful and powerful weapon America had to effect change in its policies is our control of our $8 trillion market. From its sales to us, China earns a trade surplus of over a billion dollars every week. But by bringing China into the WTO, the President threw away our trump card and turned his trade portfolio over to global bureaucrats. The next president must get it back. The China portfolio belongs in the Oval Office, and we need a return to linkage. Specifically, we should tell Beijing: If you wish free access to our 270 million consumers, you must stop harassing Christians, menacing Taiwan, targeting our country, and you must begin giving our exports the same tariff treatment we give yours. We do not want a hot war or a Cold War with China. Nor do we wish to contain China. She is already contained by suspicious neighbors, north, south, east and west. But a China that threatens America’s friends and tramples on American values cannot expect to be treated as any kind of partner.

Friends, America today faces a choice of destinies: Are we to be a republic or an empire? Will we be the peacemaker of the world, or its policeman, who goes about night-sticking the trouble-makers of the world, until we, too, find ourselves in a bloody brawl we cannot handle. Let us use this transient moment of American preeminence to encourage and assist other countries to stand on their own feet and begin to provide for their own defense.

A century ago, a great populist leader begged America not to forego her best traditions and annex the Philippines, an imperial act that would draw America into three Asian wars. We did not heed his advice; let us heed it now: “The fruits of imperialism, be they bitter or sweet,” declared Bryan, “must be left to the subjects of monarchy. This is one tree of which citizens of a republic may not partake. It is the voice of the serpent, not the voice of God, which bids us eat.”