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A Republic, Not an EmpireReclaiming America's Destiny
By Patrick J. Buchanan
Regnery PublishingCopyright © 2002 Patrick J. Buchanan
All right reserved.
How Empires Perish
I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided,
and that is the lamp of experience. I know of no other
way of judging the future but by the past.
--Patrick Henry, 1774
* * *
At the opening of the twentieth century there were five great Western empires--the British, French, Russian, German, and Austro-Hungarian--and two emerging great powers: Japan and the United States. By century's end, all the empires had disappeared. How did they perish? By war--all of them.
The Austro-Hungarian empire was crashed in World War I and torn to pieces at Versailles, where Germany was also dismembered. A vengeful Reich then began a second European war. Ruin was total. Japan, believing its empire was being extorted, its place in the sun denied, attacked America and was smashed like no other nation in history. The British and French empires, already bled in the trenches of the Western Front from August 1914 to November 1918, did not long survive Hitler's war.
Russia's empire, dismantled by the kaiser in 1918, was restored by Lenin's Bolsheviks. Driven by traditional Russian imperialism and a new fighting faith, communism, the Soviet empire expanded until its reach was global. Overextended, bankrupt, exhausted by a fifty-year struggle against a U.S.-led West that far surpassed the communist bloc in economic power and technological prowess, it collapsed after a crisis of faith and a loss of will to maintain its rule over subject peoples who had grown to hate it.
America survives as the sole superpower because it stayed out of the slaughter pens until the other great powers had fought themselves near to death and avoided a cataclysmic clash with a nuclear-armed Soviet Russia. In World War I Americans did not go into combat in great numbers until 1918. In World War II America did not cross the Channel until four years after France had fallen and three years after the USSR had begun fighting for its life. We did not go to war against Japan until the Japanese army had been bogged down for four years fighting a no-win war against the most populous nation on earth. U.S. casualties in the two world wars were thus the smallest of the Great Powers, and America in the twentieth century has never known the vast destruction that was visited on Russia, Germany, and Japan--or even on France and England.
Yet, today, America's leaders are reenacting every folly that brought these great powers to ruin--from arrogance and hubris, to assertions of global hegemony, to imperial overstretch, to trumpeting new "crusades," to handing out war guarantees to regions and countries where Americans have never fought before. We are piling up the kind of commitments that produced the greatest disasters of the twentieth century.
That is why I have written this book. Not for fifty years have Americans had to think deeply about our foreign policy. It was made for us--by Tojo, Hitler, Stalin, Castro, Ho, and Mao. For fifty years America overcame enemies who either attacked us or declared our destruction to be their highest ambition. "We will bury you!" Khrushchev said. We took him at his word--and buried them. But in the last days of the Cold War, something happened. Soviet propagandist Georgi Arbatov said, "We are going to do the worst thing we can do to you. We are going to take your enemy away from you." And so they did, and so we have had to face the question asked in the war movies of our youth, "What are you going to do, Joe, when this is all over?"
Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait briefly gave us a new Hitler and George Bush an opportunity to smash Iraq and to declare the building of a New World Order to be America's next crusade. But the nation did not buy in. After the Gulf War triumph, it turned its back on Bush, giving 37 percent of the vote to a president whose approval, eighteen months earlier, had stood at 91 percent.
As in the 1920s, Americans have tuned out foreign affairs and tuned in the stock market and the scandals. But as the good times of the 1920s ended in the Depression decade and World War II, the twenty-first century will not leave America serene in its preeminence. Already, enemies collude against what they consider an intolerable American hegemony.
There is a fundamental question any foreign policy must answer: What will we fight for? What are the vital interests for which America will sacrifice the blood of its young? With our great enemy gone, the answer is not a simple one. For we Americans disagree on what our vital interests are, what our role in the world should be, and whom we should defend. Without some new foreign peril, America is never going to know again the unity we knew in World War II and the early decades of the Cold War. It may be naive to believe we can ever again have a foreign policy that unites this divided and disputatious people. Nevertheless, we must try, for foreign policy is the shield of the Republic. Blunders here can be as fateful as they were for the other great empires and nations of the twentieth century.
The purpose of this book, then, is to revisit the history of American foreign policy, its successes, triumphs, and failures. From that history, we can expose the myths and identify the true traditions upon which we can build, and the lessons from which we can draw, to offer a foreign policy for the new century that might unite most of us and ensure that America endures as the greatest republic in history. As Patrick Henry said, only the "lamp of experience" can guide our way.
And the need for a course correction is urgent. For, with little discussion or dissent, America has undertaken the most open-ended and extravagant commitments in history. With the expansion of NATO, we have undertaken the defense of Eastern Europe, forever, as well as Central Europe from Norway to Turkey. American troops are, for the first time in history, policing the Balkans. We have undertaken the "dual containment" of Iran and Iraq and the ground and naval defense of the Persian Gulf. These new war guarantees have been added to old Cold War commitments to the security of Israel in a hostile Arab world, to the defense of Korea, Japan, Australia, and the SEATO pact nations of South Asia, not to mention every Latin American member-state of the Rio pact. Voices can even be heard in Washington asserting a "vital U.S. interest" in preventing Russia and Iran from dominating the south Caucasus.
U.S. war guarantees to Poland today, and Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Rumania tomorrow, may seem costless, painless, and popular. But so did England's guarantee of Belgium's neutrality in 1839, which dragged Britain into the Great War, cost it hundreds of thousands of dead, and inflicted on the empire a wound from which it would never recover.
Our country is today traveling the same path that was trod by the British Empire--to the same fate. Do we want America to end that way?
Courting Conflict with Russia
He who wants to defend everything defends
nothing, and he who wants to be everyone's friend
has no friends in the end.
--Frederick the Great
The price of empire is America's soul and
that price is too high.
--J. William Fulbright
* * *
The Cold War was an exceptional time that called forth exceptional commitments. A nation that had wanted to stay out of World War II had declared by 1950 that an attack on Turkey would be treated as an attack on Tennessee, that the 38th parallel of Korea would be defended as though it were the 49th parallel of the United States. But when the Cold War ended, the Cold War coalition collapsed and traditionalists declared the time had come to dissolve the now-unnecessary alliances and bring the boys home.
Shocked at this outbreak of "isolationism," internationalists quickly pressed America to seize the moment to begin an era of "beneficent global hegemony."
THE WOLFOWITZ MEMORANDUM
The Republican establishment was first to advance this vision. Its hand was tipped in early 1992 in a secret Pentagon memorandum leaked to the New York Times. Prepared under the direction of Undersecretary Paul Wolfowitz, the forty-six-page memo was described by the Washington Post as a "classified blueprint intended to help 'set the nation's direction for the next century....'" The document, wrote reporter Barton Gellman, "casts Russia as the gravest potential threat to U.S. vital interests and presumes the United States would spearhead a NATO counterattack if Russia launched an invasion of Lithuania." That Baltic republic had now become a "U.S. vital interest." But how could the United States save Lithuania from Russia? Wrote Gellman:
[The Pentagon] contemplates a major war by land, sea and air in which 24 NATO divisions, 70 fighter squadrons, and six aircraft carrier battle groups would keep the Russian Navy "bottled up in the eastern Baltic," bomb supply lines in Russia, and use armored formations to expel Russian forces from Lithuania. The authors state that Russia is unlikely to respond with nuclear weapons, but they provide no basis for that assessment.
What made this scenario so astonishing was that only a year earlier George Bush barely protested when Mikhail Gorbachev ordered Spesnatz troops into Vilnius. Just three weeks before the leak, Bush and President Boris Yeltsin had issued a joint declaration that "Russia and the United States do not regard each other as potential adversaries."
The Wolfowitz memo also envisioned U.S. war guarantees to Eastern Europe and permanent U.S. involvement on every continent. America's dominance was to remain so great as to deter "potential competitors from even aspiring to a larger regional or global role." Preventing the emergence of rival superpowers was now declared a
dominant consideration underlying the new regional defense strategy and requir[ing] that we endeavor to prevent any hostile power from dominating a region whose resources would, under consolidated control, be sufficient to generate global power. These regions include Western Europe, East Asia, the territory of the former Soviet Union, and Southwest Asia.
The Pentagon had decided the United States would never permit any nation--Russia, Germany, Japan, China--to rise ever again even to the status of regional superpower. To maintain global hegemony, the Pentagon anticipated U.S. military intervention for promoting ends far beyond the protection of vital interests. As the Washington Post noted:
While the U.S. cannot become the world's "policeman," by assuming responsibility for righting every wrong, we will retain the preeminent responsibility for addressing selectively those wrongs which threaten not only our interests, but those of our allies or friends, or which could seriously unsettle international relations.
Containment, a defensive strategy, had given way to a breathtakingly ambitious offensive strategy--to "establish and protect a new order."
Reaction was sharp. Ex-Secretary of Defense Harold Brown warned that extending war guarantees to Eastern Europe would provoke Russian nationalism, risking the "same grave danger of nuclear war" that prevented intervention there for forty-five years. Senator Joseph Biden ridiculed the memo as a formula for "a Pax Americana." Senator Edward Kennedy said the Pentagon plans "appear to be aimed primarily at finding new ways to justify Cold War levels of military spending."
The Wolfowitz plan seemed to have been laughed off the table. But by the end of the 1990s, crucial elements had been adopted by Congress and President Clinton, and passively accepted by the American people. By 1998 the administration--with Biden and Kennedy's support--had indeed extended NATO to Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic and had offered membership to the Baltic states. Thus, NATO expansion is the first site at which to explore the new fault line in American foreign policy.
THE HEGEMONIST VISION
America's hegemonists argue the case for NATO expansion by citing justice, history, and the national interest. This, they say, is America's hour. The Eagle triumphant should spread its protective wings over liberated Eastern Europe to shield it from Russian revanchism and lock it onto a democratic path. To have left Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic outside of NATO, they argue, would have reenacted the betrayal of the Czechs at Munich, of the Poles at Yalta, of the Hungarians in 1956. In the phrase of Vaclav Havel, to deny the nations of Eastern Europe membership in NATO would have invited a return of "the Munich danger." Indeed, we "owe" these people who suffered so under Hitler and Stalin.
The geostrategic argument is that the three new members of NATO are the eastern buffer states of Germany. To leave them outside the West's security zone is to invite the Russian Bear to go prowling again. "A larger NATO will make us safer," says Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, "by expanding the area in Europe where wars simply do not happen." By putting Moscow on notice that Eastern Europe is now part of the West, we strengthen the alliance and ensure that the Bear keeps its claws off.
The argument from history runs thus: Conflicts in Europe often erupt into general wars, and the United States is inevitably dragged in to protect vital interests. Far better for America to put its weight in the balance before these wars begin. "If history teaches us anything," writes Senator Richard Lugar, "it is that the United States is always drawn into such European conflicts because our vital interests are ultimately ... engaged."
REBUTTALS FROM HISTORY
Yet history teaches no such thing. Between 1789 and 1914 there were seven major European wars: the wars of the French republic (1792-1802), Napoleon's wars (1803-1815), the Crimean War (1853-1855), the war of Piedmont and France against Austria (1859-1860), the Austro-Prussian War (1866), the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871), and the Balkan wars (1912-1913). With the exceptions of an undeclared naval war with France under John Adams, and the War of 1812, the United States stayed out of them all. As for World Wars I and II, the United States kept clear of both conflicts for more than two years before going in.
For two consecutive decades between the beheading of Louis XVI and Napoleon's invasion of Russia, Europe fought. Yet America was neutral. Madison took us in in 1812 only because the opportunity to grab Canada, with the Iron Duke preoccupied, proved irresistible.
As for World War I, Wilson could have responded to U-boat attacks on U.S. merchant ships in 1917 with a naval war, without sending a single soldier to France. As late as December 1916 the president professed to see no difference in the war aims of the Allies and the Central Powers and no compelling U.S. interest to justify intervention.
In 1939 the United States anticipated that Britain and France would block any Nazi drive into Western Europe. When France was overrun, the United States rushed aid to Britain. By the fall of 1940 Hitler was contained at the Channel. By December 1941 he had been halted outside Leningrad and Moscow. U.S. policy was succeeding without one American ground soldier in combat. People forget:The United States did not declare war on Germany until after Hitler declared war on the United States on December 11, 1941. FDR's "date-which-will-live-in-infamy" speech did not even mention Germany.
After World War II America sent troops back to Europe to prevent it from being overrun by the Red Army. But Dwight Eisenhower pledged that the troops would remain only ten years. True to his word, in 1961 Ike urged John F. Kennedy to begin bringing the troops home. Writes Kennedy biographer Richard Reeves:
Eisenhower told his successor that it was time to start bringing the troops home from Europe. "America is carrying far more than her share of the free world defense," he said. It was time for the other nations of NATO ... to take on more of the costs of their own defense. Their economies were more productive than ever in their histories and the costs of American deployment were creating a trade imbalance, draining gold from the United States Treasury.
Kennedy nodded, but he ignored Eisenhower's advice. Had Ike's counsel been heeded, America would have removed Europe's crutches and forced the allies to walk on their own feet again. The most successful alliance in history thus failed by the standards of its founders. Half a century later, Europe remains a U.S. military dependency.
Why did U.S. troops have to return to Europe? Because in 1943, at Casablanca, Franklin D. Roosevelt had foolishly declared America's war aim to be the "unconditional surrender" of Germany. That meant the Red Army would be in Berlin at war's end, and Germany could not play its historical role of keeping Russia out of Europe. That role would have to be assumed, as it was, by the United States.
NATO, as a "temporary" alliance against a Soviet empire that had declared the United States to be its main enemy, was consistent with the tradition of George Washington. But expansion of NATO into Eastern Europe, where no president had ever asserted a vital interest and no U.S. army had ever fought, is an absolute break with Washington's "great rule." Our foreign policy elite is making commitments previous generations could not have conceived of, ignoring the warnings of wiser men, including columnist and liberal internationalist Walter Lippmann, who wrote, when America was at the peak of its power:
Our power is on the sea and in the air, not on the land, and our interest in the interior of the European continent is indirect.... To encourage the nations of Central and Eastern Europe to organize themselves as a barrier against Russia would be to make a commitment that the United States could not carry out.
NATO expansionists insist that America must defend Europe in perpetuity because Europe's wars always put the U.S. economy at risk. "History has taught us," writes Anthony Lake, Clinton's former national security adviser, "that when Europe is in turmoil, America suffers, and when Europe is peaceful and prosperous, America can thrive as well." But, again, history teaches no such thing. During the Napoleonic Wars, America, cut off from trade by its own embargoes, became a more self-sufficient nation. World War I pulled us out of the recession of 1913-1914. World War II brought an end to the Depression. In every great European war, a neutral America prospered.
Comes the counterargument: Perhaps that was true yesterday, but, today, we are immersed in a Global Economy. When Russia, the Pacific Rim, or Europe fails, we all fail. No nation is an island; no nation can stand alone. Economic interdependence and military interdependence are one and the same.
The answer to that argument: Rather than squander American wealth propping up failed foreign economies, or spilling the blood of America's young in foreign wars, let us restore the political, economic, and military independence that was the dream and purpose of Washington, Hamilton, Madison, Clay, and the Republican Party from Lincoln to World War II.
THE DEMOCRATIST TEMPTATION
Liberal internationalists contend that NATO's expansion into Eastern Europe will fix these nations forever in the democratic camp. But when did the kind of regime other nations adopt become a vital interest of the United States? NATO's founding fathers had no qualms about negotiating base agreements with Spain's General Franco. They also brought in Portugal, though ruled by a dictator, Dr. Salazar, whose successor would prove more reliable than Europe's democracies during the Yom Kippur War. Inclusion in NATO did not prevent Greece from succumbing to the dictatorship of the colonels from 1967 to 1974, or Turkey from passing repeatedly under military rule.
That democracy is putting down roots in Eastern Europe is welcome news. But democracy was not introduced to Warsaw, Prague, Budapest, or the Baltic republics by NATO; it sprang up before NATO membership was at issue. The nation America most needs to lock onto a democratic path is Russia. Yet, by making allies of countries once part of its empire, we treat Russia as the Allies treated Germany at Versailles, rubbing its nose in its defeat, pushing it outside the Western enclosure, virtually designating Russia a permanent enemy. To capture a pawn we are risking a queen.
The U.S. posture toward other nations should be based not on their internal arrangements but on their stance toward us. After June 22, 1941, Stalin's Soviet Union was no longer Hitler's partner, but our "ally." After victory in 1945, Stalin reverted to his natural hostility to America. China, an ally against Japan, was our enemy in Korea. Just as policies change and regimes pass, so, too, should alliances be temporary and transient.
Whether a nation is democratic should be of less concern to us than how it views America. In the Cold War, autocratic Pakistan was a better friend than democratic India, which sided with Moscow in the Afghan war. Chile's Pinochet was a better friend than the elected demagogue Salvador Allende. The authoritarians in Seoul and Manila supported America in Vietnam, while France and Britain traded with the enemy and Europe's socialists denounced what Reagan called a "noble cause" as a "dirty and immoral war." When we say a nation is democratic we say only that its leaders reflect the will of its people. Would America be better off with regimes in Morocco, Algeria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait that better reflected the will of the Arab street? Is that a cause worth crusading for, fighting for, dying for? Of the Persian Gulf nations, perhaps the most "democratic"--if voter approval and popular support are our yardstick--is Iran.
The form of government nations adopt is their own business, and a foreign policy that declares global democracy as its goal is arrogant and utopian. Governments evolve out of a nation's history, culture, religious heritage, and traditions. Like alcoholics, democracies backslide. But the rise of autocrats does not threaten us if we decline to make the internal affairs of other nations our central concern.
While West Germany underwent years of "de-Nazification" before being brought into NATO, no nation in Eastern Europe has undertaken a purge of communist officials. NATO's newest members are democratic, but "[a]uthoritarian elements from the communist era still control ... the military, the intelligence agencies, and the educational system." War plans shared with these allies are likely to be weekend reading in Moscow.
BREAKING FAITH WITH RUSSIA
By pushing a U.S. alliance up to Russia's borders, we are violating solemn pledges given when Moscow agreed to German reunification. U.S. leaders say we never gave any written reassurances, but Gorbachev could never have brought the Red Army home had Russia's military believed its bases would be occupied by NATO troops. Regarding a high-level meeting in Moscow in which German Foreign Minister Hans Dietrich Genscher and Secretary of State James Baker participated, Susan Eisenhower, a scholar on Russia, writes:
[Genscher] promoted a "no expansion of NATO" concept, an idea that Baker, too, had advanced. It was at the February meeting that the key words were spoken, words that are still a source of debate. If a unified Germany was anchored in NATO, Secretary Baker said to Gorbachev, "NATO's jurisdiction or forces would not move eastward."
Apparently, Gorbachev was receptive to that assurance and emphasized that "any extension of the zone of NATO is unacceptable."
"I agree," Baker said.
Heartened by Baker's comments, several months later, in May, Gorbachev gave up his idea that Germany must remain neutral, or at least, a member of both blocs. He conceded (without consulting his advisers) that the German people should be able to choose the alliance they wished to join.
"Against that background," writes Eisenhower, "it is not surprising that NATO expansion has been viewed with great hostility across the entire Russian political spectrum." Adds scholar Stanley Kober, "Russians are now experiencing ... [a] sense of betrayal because they apparently were promised when Germany was reunited that there would be no further expansion of NATO." In the words of former Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov:
In conversations with Mikhail Gorbachev, Eduard Shevardnadze and Dmitri Yazov, held in 1990-1991, i.e., when the West was vitally interested in the Soviet troop withdrawal from the German Democratic Republic and wanted us to "swallow the bitter pill"--the disintegration of the Warsaw Treaty Organization ...
Francois Mitterrand, John Major, and [James] Baker, all of them said one and the same thing: NATO will not move to the east by a single inch and not a single Warsaw Pact country will be admitted to NATO. This was exactly what they said. These conversations were not codified in the form of official documents at that time.
Former Soviet Ambassador to Britain Anatoli Adamishin contends that when Moscow let the Berlin Wall come down and began to withdraw its troops from Eastern Europe, "we were given repeatedly assurances that NATO would not expand an inch eastwards." Jack Matlock, the U.S. ambassador to Russia in 1990, "confirms that Gorbachev had reason to believe that he had been given a 'blanket promise that NATO would not expand.'"
In the early 1990s the romance of the age was between America and a Russia liberated from Leninism. Reagan was being toasted in Moscow for having been right about the evil empire. Boris Yeltsin was being toasted in America for having stood atop a tank and defied communists attempting to reestablish the ancien regime. How far away that all seems. An agitated Russia--believing America is taking advantage of Russia's present weakness to humiliate the nation--has sacked its pro-U.S. foreign minister, named an ex-KGB chief to be prime minister, refused to ratify the START II arms treaty, moved closer to Beijing, funneled weapons into the Caucasus to destabilize pro-U.S, regimes, sold weapons and nuclear technology to Iran, and sided with Saddam Hussein. "[T]he most fateful error of American policy in the entire post-cold war era," says George F. Kennan of the expansion of NATO.
Russia is today a bankrupt, demoralized nation whose presidency is lusted after by democrats, demagogues, ex-generals, and communists with a single conviction in common: All believe NATO expansion to be a provocation, an example of American bad faith in exploiting Russian weakness. Russian military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer warns that "public opinion is changing. NATO expansion will turn a whole generation of Russians anti-American."
We soothingly reassure Moscow that NATO's expansion is benign. But if the Russians gave war guarantees to Mexico and began arming and training Mexican troops, would any Russian assurance diminish our determination to run them out of our hemisphere? If rising resentment in Russia leads to Yeltsin's replacement with an anti-American nationalist, full blame must rest squarely with a haughty U.S. elite that has done its best to humiliate Russia.
Why are we doing this? This is not 1948. Stalin is dead; the Soviet empire is dead; the Soviet Union is dead. European Russia is smaller than the Russia of Peter the Great. Between the vital interests of our two nations, there is no conflict. But these proud people retain thousands of nuclear weapons. A friendly Russia is far more critical to U.S. security than any alliance with Warsaw or Prague. If the United States has one overriding national security interest in the new century, it is to avoid collisions with great nuclear powers like Russia. By moving NATO onto Russia's front porch, we have scheduled a twenty-first-century confrontation. Europe's sick man of today is going to get well. When Russia does, it will proclaim its own Monroe Doctrine. And when that day comes, America will face a hellish dilemma: risk confrontation with a nuclear-armed Russia determined to recreate its old sphere of influence, or renege on solemn commitments and see NATO collapse.
Are we really willing to use nuclear weapons to defend Eastern Europe--for that is what NATO membership means. And if we make good on the commitment of Clinton and Madeleine Albright to bring in the Baltic republics, it is impossible to see how these tiny nations can be defended, short of an escalation to a nuclear crisis similar to Cuba, 1962.
Excerpted from A Republic, Not an Empire by Patrick J. Buchanan Copyright © 2002 by Patrick J. Buchanan. Excerpted by permission.
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