U.S. Stretched to the Limit

by Patrick J. Buchanan – February 16, 1999

In “Great Contemporaries,” Winston Churchill wrote that when Britain abandoned “splendid isolation” to create the Anglo-French alliance in 1904, “only one voice was raised in discord” — the earl of Rosebury. In public, Lord Rosebury said the pact was far more likely to lead to war than peace. In private, he muttered, “Straight to war.”

Rosebury was a prophet. Britain’s plunge into World War I to honor that French alliance would bring her empire to ruin.

Imperial over-stretch, the issuance of war guarantees they could not fulfill, has brought down every great empire of this century — the British, French, Russian, German, Austro-Hungarian. And in the aftermath of her Cold War victory and emergence as the world’s last superpower, the United States walks in the same arrogant way.

President Clinton has now committed this nation, without debate or the assent of Congress, to put 4,000 troops into Kosovo. Some 6,000 are in Bosnia, hundreds more in Macedonia. Clinton’s heart is in the right place in desiring an end to the carnage, but there is no vital interest in Kosovo to justify a permanent U.S. presence. This is Europe’s problem. Let Europe deal with it or live with it.

For 50 years, we defended Europe against the Soviet Empire. That empire is now dead; the European Union is as populous and rich as we, and emerging as a global rival. America’s job is done. Yet instead of using our Cold War triumph as an occasion to discard Cold War commitments, we are adding to them, as we hack away at the power Ronald Reagan built up to sustain them.

Since Reagan went home to California, the Navy has been cut from 565 ships to 346, the active-duty Army from 18 divisions to 10, the Air Force from 36 fighter wings to 20. The services now fail to meet enlistment targets.

Yet, as our power contracts, our commitments grow. Since the Gulf War, we have taken on the permanent defense of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait and the dual containment of Iraq and Iran. We have given war guarantees to Warsaw, Budapest and Prague, pledged to defend virtually every border in Europe and the Baltic, confronted China, and become the chief guarantor of peace in the Balkans.

These new commitments are being piled on top of old ones to NATO, to all the nations of the Western Hemisphere in the Rio Pact and to Korea, Japan, Thailand, the Philippines, Australia and Israel.

In the arc of crisis from South Asia to North Africa, we have imposed sanctions on Myanmar for human-rights violations, and on India and Pakistan for going nuclear. We have embargoed Iran and fired cruise missiles at the camp of Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan. We daily bomb Iraq, have intervened in Somalia, have bombed Sudan and embargo Libya.

With all the other empires of the 20th century collapsed, the United States has decided to assume all their historic burdens. We have taken on the role of the German empire in keeping Russia out of Europe, of the Austrian empire in policing the Balkans, of the Ottoman empire in keeping peace in the Middle East, of the British empire in securing the oceans and the Gulf, and of the Japanese in containing China.

Only hubris of a high order explains how we believe we can sustain such commitments on a defense budget that is down to 3 percent of gross domestic product, roughly the level before Pearl Harbor. Meanwhile, we have been antagonizing old enemies and creating new ones to the point that America is more widely resented than any nation on Earth.

Europe bristles at U.S. hegemony and ignores our sanctions. Russians resent our rubbing their noses in their Cold War defeat by moving NATO onto their doorstep. Forced to back down in 1996, China is deploying hundreds of missiles opposite Taiwan and test- firing rockets at U.S. bases in Korea and Japan.

The “Arab street” believes America will always back Israel, no matter the merits of an issue, that we are brutally punishing Iraq’s people, and that we sustain Arab regimes that are undemocratic. Devout Muslims detest our vast presence in their region and despise our culture.

An alliance of anti-American movements and regimes has now begun to coalesce around Russia, China, Iraq and Iran. Should they collude with North Korea and Serbia to challenge U.S. hegemony in many regions at once, America will discover what it means to be a bankrupt empire without the forces to sustain its commitments.

Now that impeachment is ended, let America focus on the crucial choice: between intervention in every conflict on Earth and a policy of independence where America recaptures full freedom of action to decide when, where and whether to intervene at all.