Are Bush and Rumsfeld Closet Populists?

by Patrick J. Buchanan – February 12, 2003

“How many Frenchmen does it take to defend Paris?”

“Nobody knows – because it’s never been done yet.”

That joke was making the rounds at a political conference in Washington this weekend. It is a cruel and unjust jest. As Margaret Macmillan writes, in Paris 1919, 1.3 million Frenchmen – one out of every four between 18 and 30 – died in the Great War (1914-1918), and twice as many were wounded fighting successfully to defend Paris.

But the French are not loved here, and neither are the Germans. And Defense Secretary Rumsfeld is making himself a populist icon with his cracks about “Old Europe” and the only ones opposing a U.S. war on Iraq being the Cubans, the Libyans and the Germans.

“Old Rumsfeld,” Le Monde mocks him, but he and President Bush are also scoring with their scaldings of the United Nations. How can one not laugh on hearing that Libya was just elected, by a 33-to-3 vote, to chair the U.N. Human Rights Commission, and Iraq is in line to head up the U.N. disarmament committee?

Truly, the inmates are running the asylum – and it is imperative that the patriotic and populist Right not associate itself with anti-Americans who would use the U.N. to tie America’s hands.

President Bush may be about to launch the wrong war at the wrong time in the wrong place with the wrong enemy, but he is right that the decision is ours alone to make. No one else decides for us – not the U.N., and not NATO, but the American people through the Congress as the Constitution commands. Yet, ironically, as Bush and Rumsfeld march us into this war for empire, they may just end up advancing the anti-imperialist agenda of the Old Right. Consider:

If France casts a veto in the Security Council to a resolution authorizing war on Iraq, the U.N. will be seen, in the well-chosen word of the president, as “irrelevant.” Bush said it again Saturday: “It’s a moment of truth for the United Nations. The United Nations gets to decide shortly whether or not it is going to be relevant in terms of keeping the peace, whether or not its words mean anything.”

And if the U.N. echoes with condemnations of the United States, as U.S. soldiers are dying in Iraq, that body could suffer the same fate as the League of Nations when it failed to sanction Japan for invading Manchuria and Italy for invading Ethiopia in the 1930s. Indeed, if war comes, the time may be ripe to demand that the United Nations, at long last, remove itself from the United States.

A war on Iraq may also call into question the value of NATO. This “most successful alliance in history” long ago achieved its purpose: to keep the Red Army from seizing Western Europe. With that army gone from Europe and the USSR splintered into 15 nations, the day of the dissolution of NATO may be at hand. And as Berlin and Paris block NATO aid for Turkey’s defense in the coming war, Old Europe may be advancing the day of the final departure of U.S. troops from Europe. Even the Wall Street Journal is coming around to the question of whether NATO now serves U.S. interests.

Neoconservatives see an invasion of Iraq as central to their plans for U.S. hegemony in the Middle East, but the Bush Doctrine could produce the opposite effect. The New York Times quotes Saudi princes as saying Crown Prince Abdullah “will ask President Bush to withdraw all American armed forces from the kingdom as soon as the campaign to disarm Iraq has concluded.”

A violent reaction to war on Iraq across the Arab and Islamic world could lead to the same demands from other regimes.

Saturday in Williamsburg, Va., U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan suggested the United States is on a collision course with the U.N. President Bush may claim a right to launch pre-emptive attacks on rogue nations seeking weapons of mass destruction, says Annan, but this “is not an issue for any one state, but for the international community as a whole.

“[W]hen states decide to use force, not in self-defense but to deal with broader threats to international peace and security, there is no substitute for the unique legitimacy provided by the United Nations Security Council.” Absent our U.N. blessing, Kofi Annan is telling Bush, your doctrine will make America a rogue nation.

With Kim Jong Il’s drive to build atom bombs causing second thoughts about the presence of 37,000 U.S. troops in Korea, 2003 might see not just the apex of American empire but a retrenchment of U.S. power from Asia and the Near East, and castration of the U.N.

The fruits of neo-imperialism may just be neo-isolationism.