The Lament of the Establishment

by Patrick J. Buchanan – November 3, 1998

“Sometime this summer, the post-Cold War world ended. It was a brief, giddy age. We were thrust into it headlong barely 10 years ago, when the Berlin wall cracked, Eastern Europe freed itself and the Soviet Union disintegrated. Suddenly, the United States became not just the sole surviving superpower but the repository of the sole surviving ideology. Countries all over the globe fell over themselves to embrace capitalism, democracy and the American way…”

Thus does Fareed Zakaria, managing editor of Foreign Affairs, house organ of the Council on Foreign Relations, begin a lament in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine.

His essay, “Our Hollow Hegemony,” is fairly drenched in pessimism and defeatism, as Zakaria wails that the internationalists appear to have lost the battle for the soul of foreign policy.

“Three times this century, the United States waged and won a world war against an evil empire,” he writes: “Each time — in 1919, 1945 and 1989 — it hoped that … with this evil vanquished, with this empire defeated … the dismal cycle of war and destruction would be replaced by an ever-expanding realm of peace, prosperity and liberty. And for the third time this century, that hope has faded as politics returns to the world of nations.”

The collapse of Russian reform in July heralded the era’s end, he writes: “Asia’s financial crisis … nuclear explosions in South Asia, the emboldening of Saddam Hussein and the return of terrorism all wore at the easy assumptions of peace and prosperity that have characterized the 1990s.”

Zakaria’s assessment of America’s situation is on the mark, and “hollow hegemony” is an apt phrase — as Russia returns to central planning, Japan and China ignore our pleas to open their markets, Arab allies slip away, European allies refuse to aid us in the Gulf, and our embargoes of Cuba, Iran and Iraq are broadly ignored by the nations we defend.

For the lost opportunity, Zakaria spreads the blame: George Bush and Bill Clinton failed to focus their energies on great issues like remaking Russia. They failed to educate America to embrace her true destiny. They failed to ask of the people the sacrifices in blood and treasure needed to harvest the glittering fruits of our victory. “(W)hen finally the entire world seemed to admit that the American dream was their dream, too, we lost interest,” he anguishes.

Conceding that Middle America may not share his dreams, Zakaria does not ask himself whether perhaps his dreams may have been Utopian all along, i.e., unrealizable. If a world order of democracy, free trade and global peace has never been known, if every great crusade to smash evil produces but a brief respite before “politics returns to the world of nations,” perhaps that is the only world we will ever know.

Did not George Washington admonish us, “there can be no greater error than to expect or calculate upon real favors from nations”? As some of us wrote a decade ago, all the hubristic chatter about a New World Order, global crusades for democracy and the U.S. becoming a “benevolent global hegemon” was always globaloney in need of slicing.

This country was just not going to buy it. We Americans are not imperialists or hegemonists; we are not Romans or Britons. Before Americans will send their sons to fight and die, something more vital must be at stake than sugar plums dancing in the heads of foreign policy intellectuals.

When Zakaria says that three times this century America set out to crush “evil empires,” he oversimplifies.

As late as the fall of 1916, America voted for Woodrow Wilson and peace. Only German folly in torpedoing U.S. merchant ships brought us in. And had it not been for Pearl Harbor, America might have stayed out of World War II. As for the Cold War, it was not Harry Truman who convinced us to wage it. It was Josef Stalin.

In 1945 and 1946, Truman could not even slow down the national stampede to “bring the boys home.” It was Stalin who awakened America to the menace of Soviet Communism with his bloody violations of the Yalta accords, his refusal to pull troops out of Iran, his pressure on Greece and Turkey, his Berlin blockade, his Prague coup, his ally Mao’s triumph in China, and North Korea’s invasion of the South.

The real message of Zakaria’s lament is the candid admission that the globalist vision has failed to capture the country and the globalist elite is in danger of losing its control of foreign policy. It may be time for those steeped in an older tradition than Wilson and FDR’s — a tradition of independence, of freedom of action and of putting America first — to enter a rival claim in the probate court.