Triumphant in the first Gulf war, George H.W. Bush, in October 1991, went before the UN to declare that the USâ€™s goal was now to build a â€œNew World Orderâ€.
Rejecting this as Wilsonian utopianism, my 1992 presidential campaign called for an end to US military intervention where no vital interest was imperilled, for federal action to secure our southern border and for a halt to the outsourcing of US manufacturing jobs.
We advocated a Hamiltonian policy to support industry and a Jeffersonian foreign policy of peaceful commerce with all
nations but entangling alliances with none. And we were denounced as isolationists and protectionists.
We lost. But Mr Bush lost too, when Ross Perot, running on the same theme â€“ putting America first â€“ stripped away a third of the coalition Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan put together, leaving Mr Bush with an incumbentâ€™s smallest share of the vote since William Howard Taft.
Mr Bushâ€™s foreign policy record could not save him. The US was looking inward in 1992, as it does today. As Mitt Romney burnishes his foreign policy credentials this week, he should keep this lesson in mind.
Having learnt from his fatherâ€™s defeat, George W. Bush offered a â€œmore humbleâ€ policy. But after September 11, he had a Damascene conversion, went nation-building in Afghanistan and Iraq, and declared the USâ€™s goal was â€œto end tyranny in our worldâ€. Americans responded by relieving the Republican party of both houses of Congress in 2006 and the presidency in 2008.
We cannot afford any more neo-imperial nonsense. With trillion-dollar deficits, a soaringnational debt, and 10,000 baby boomers reaching eligibility for Social Security and Medicare every day, the US is beginning to break under the strain of its commitments.
What doth it profit a man if he gain the whole world but suffer the loss of his soul? A biblical hubris took hold of our republic. By pushing Nato into Russiaâ€™s front yard, planting bases in central Asia, dispatching democracy crusaders to subvert regimes in Ukraine, Belarus and Georgia, we undid the good work of Reagan and drove Moscow back into alliance with Beijing.
US influence in the Middle East is at a nadir. Our alliances with Turkey and Saudi Arabia are frayed. Pakistan bristles. Israel impatiently dismisses our pathetic pleas for it to stop building settlements. And as the Muslim Brotherhood rose when Hosni Mubarak fell in Cairo, so it looks likely to rise again when Bashar al-Assad falls in Damascus.
America needs a new foreign policy rooted in todayâ€™s reality, not in yesterdayâ€™s cold war or in tomorrowâ€™s dream of global democracy. For as Turkeyâ€™s Recep Tayyip Erdogan reminds us, in his region democracy is a bus you get off when it reaches your stop.
We must roll up the empire and put America first again. We should swiftly complete Barack Obamaâ€™s work, end the war in Afghanistan and close US bases in central Asia. We should tell Ukraine and Georgia that Nato membership is closed. No US interest there justifies risking a clash with Russia. Let us tell Vladimir Putin that if he stays out of our yard, we will stay out of his.
Half a century ago, Dwight Eisenhower told John F. Kennedy to start pulling troops out of Europe, or else the continent would end up permanently dependent on the US. Was Ike not right? Europeans should take full responsibility for their own defence. The near debacle in Libya, where Britain and France might have been fought to exhaustion by Muammer Gaddafi had not the US intervened, exposed the atrophied state of Natoâ€™s European members.
South Korea has a population twice that of North Korea and an economy 40 times as large. What are US soldiers still doing in the demilitarised zone? The frontier that will determine the fate of the US is not the 38th parallel, but the 2,000-mile border with Mexico.
Elsewhere in Asia, it is Russiaâ€™s land that China covets but Indiaâ€™s that China holds. Vietnam and the Philippines are defying Beijingâ€™s claims to the Spratly Islands. Japan is showing a resolve to hold the Senkaku Islands. Let the neighbours do the containment.
In the Islamic world, Victor Hugoâ€™s dictum applies: stronger than all the armies of earth is the power of an idea whose time has come. Islamic fundamentalism and ethno-nationalism, the two forces tearing countries apart from central Africa to south Asia, are not problems that can be solved by Seal Team Six.
Let us cease our interventions and call a halt to our endless hectoring. How other nations rule themselves is not really the USâ€™s business. If there is nation-building to be done, let it begin here. The watchword of the Romney campaign and presidency should be enlightened nationalism. Time, again, to put America first.
SOURCE: The Financial Times