Pat Buchanan is a serious subject because he is a serious America Firster who might get a considerable fraction of the vote for president this year. It seems quite possible, at this writing, that though now at only 4 percent in the polls, he will be the Reform Party nominee for president with $12.6 million in federal money to burn. This phenomenon--Perot to Buchanan to Chance--and the oncoming Green Party candidacy of Ralph Nader, who is running at 7 percent in the polls, introduce the passing likelihood that as a result of this election the United States may shift from a two-party to a four-party system in 2004.
It behooves us to understand, as free of animus, unfairness, and alarm as we can manage, what Buchanan brings to the national presidential debate and what partisans of the other three candidates should brace themselves for.
Unfortunately, Buchanan's recent book, A Republic, Not an Empire, has been demonized and brushed aside by politicians and others delighted that our right-winger of the hour advocates that we should have let Hitler take, and keep, Europe. "Hitler lover," said Donald Trump. "Neo-Nazi," said Thomas L. Friedman. "Pat sees an America that should have stayed home while Hitler overran Europe and perpetrated the Holocaust," said George W. Bush. But Buchanan covers so much more in this book than his attitudes toward the world wars, and he is so much smarter than most of his critics, we would do well to take a closer look at what he is saying.
Especially in his memos to his boss Richard Nixon, and in his syndicated columns and earlier books, Buchanan is long on the record against racial integration, abortion, homosexuality, multiculturalism, the welfare state, and the minimum wage. He wants a moratorium on immigration. He wants to increase, not decrease, military spending, to open the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge to exploratory oil drilling, and to consider expanding the use of nuclear power. He disparages the "one man, one vote Earl Warren system" and the "democratist temptation, the worship of democracy as a form of governance," and he has called Franco a "Catholic savior" and Franco and Pinochet "soldier patriots."
Perhaps the realms within which one can understand Buchanan are less those of personal moral and ethnic attitudes than those of religion and nationality. He is a committed and combative Catholic and, therefore, anti-abortion and antihomosexuality. He is fervently Irish, as in Irish American, and, accordingly, anti-British and in that context pro-German.
He is also a master controversialist, and many of his foreign-policy positions can be expected to appeal, in due course, to many voters in this year's presidential race. Most of America's imperial stances abroad were taken in the post-World War II and Cold War contexts and situations. When they are examined in the current international context, they are obviously hubristic and overextended, and when Buchanan assails them with his isolationist common sense, they are vulnerable to ridicule.
Under NATO and the Treaty of Rio, the United States is obligated to respond as though attacked if any of 39 nations is attacked. We have 37,000 troops in South Korea and spend more for the defense of that country than South Korea itself does. "Why," Buchanan asks, "should Americans be first to die in any second Korean war?" While we were spending 6 percent of GNP on military matters, Japan, with its $4 trillion economy, never spent more than 1 percent on its military and "relies on America to deal with any attack from Russia, China, or North Korea." We are obligated to fight for Japan, but Japan is not obligated to fight for us.
Communist China is buying Russian planes and warships "from a $140 billion hoard of hard currency" amassed from its trade surpluses with the United States. "Allowing China to run near $60 billion annual trade surpluses at our expense, while we guarantee low-interest loans to Beijing ... is appeasement. American imports from China and investments there are financing military forces that may one day threaten Asia and the U.S. fleet."
"We have put the world on notice that the Americans are never coming home, that our duty is, henceforth and forever, to defend virtually every border in Europe," Buchanan writes. "We should do well to let the nations of Europe and Asia become our first line of defense again... . " And we should have stayed out of Kosovo, he says, ethnic cleansing and mass killing there notwithstanding. "France and Great Britain, with nuclear weapons, have never been in less danger... . Germany ... is fully capable of resuming its historic role of defending Central Europe... . How long should 260 million Americans have to defend 360 million rich Europeans--from 160 million impoverished Russians?"
For remedies, Buchanan wants "a bottom-up review" of all U.S. commitments abroad, but he has already made up his mind on major questions. We should remove our troops from South Korea and leave that country and Japan to defend themselves with access to our weapons and our strategic support. We should "withdraw all [our] ground troops from Europe and amend the NATO treaty so that involvement in future European wars is an option, not a certainty." We should reject the UN Law of the Sea agreement and kill off the UN International Criminal Court. U.S. trade laws should guarantee American businesses and workers privileged access to U.S. markets. We should warn the United Nations that any attempt to weaken U.S. veto power there "will result in America's withdrawal."
To dramatize his opposition to the United States being hooked into for-eign wars by multiple treaty obliga-tions, Buchanan devotes 10 pages to imagining foreign crises that could mean war for us again: A second Balkan war, a second Korean war, a second Gulf war, a China-Taiwan war. "[I]n none of [these] wars would any vital U.S. interest be at stake to justify sending a large American army," he writes. Conveniently, he leaves Israel out of his imagined crisis in the Middle East and thus does not have to say, in this context, whether the survival of Israel is a vital U.S. national interest. Later, although still avoiding that question, he writes that "the United States should end foreign aid to Israel and Egypt, which runs to $5 billion yearly," and that it should advocate the return of the Golan Heights to Syria "and their demilitarization," Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon (which has since happened), "a flag and a land of their own for the Palestinians, with a Vatican enclave-capital in Arab East Jerusalem," and a permanent commitment to Israel of "access to U.S. weapons to enable it to maintain a security edge, with Israeli guarantees of no further transfers of U.S. weapons technology to China."
These are some of the positions Buchanan laid out fore and aft in A Republic, Not an Empire. In between, in the bulk of the book, he gives his readings of recent history. His hypernationalistic tone is pervasive. It was "the core idea of America first" that made the American Revolution inevitable: This was "our country, our continent, and our hemisphere." Early in the life of the nation, "Britain alone could arm Indians along our frontier to kill Americans." "Indians," of course, were not "Americans." Buchanan dismisses criticism of what he himself describes as "America's tearing away of the Southwest and California from Mexico" as "but another lie in the Blame America First series."
"Whether a nation is democratic should be of less concern to us than how it views America... . Chile's Pinochet was a better friend than ... Allende," he writes. Buchanan rejects colum-nist Charles Krauthammer's advocacy of the integration of America, Europe, and Japan into a "supersovereign" entity as "a betrayal of everything for which the Republic stood." Adapting a stanza from Lord Macaulay, he argues that Americans should fight only for the ashes of our fathers and the temples of our gods. Yet Buchanan wants Americans a hundred years from now to be able to look back and say that the twenty-first century, too, "was an American Century."
Without a trace of embarrassment, Buchanan champions "the great tradition of America First." Woodrow Wilson failed because "he had failed to put America first." Buchanan has even found a passage from Charles Lindbergh condemning Hitler's persecution of the Jews and has located a scholar who argues that the America First Committee tried to exclude Nazis and anti-Semites.
Buchanan blames U.S. entry into World War I on Wilson and U.S. entry into World War II on Roosevelt. In effect, he contends that we should have taken no part in either war because neither entailed a "vital national interest," that is, what Congress, by a declaration of war, should send "America's young to fight and die for." Besides implying that anticommunism was one such legitimate interest by his approval of American involvement in the Vietnam War, Buchanan never specifies what these "vital interests" are, but he tells us what he thinks they are not: They were not the defense of the Allies against Germany in World War I, not the defense of Poland against Hitler, and not the termination of the Holocaust (nowhere does he directly consider retrospective justification of World War II because of this), and they are not served by the stopping of genocide when it occurs in the world we now live in. "Generally, then," he writes on the latter point, "statesmen do not take their countries to war to stop genocide unless their own kinsmen are the victims."
Concerning Jews, in the space of two pages Buchanan writes that "Jewish-Americans clamored to have the United States smash Hitler's regime," quotes Lindbergh charging that "Jewish influence in Hollywood and the press was being used to agitate for war," comments that after World War II "Jewish influence over foreign policy became almost an obsession with American leaders," and quotes, in point, George Kennan that "Jews 'pretty well dominated the formation of American opinion'" on Russia, as well as John Foster Dulles that it was "almost impossible ... to carry out a foreign policy not approved by the Jews" and William Fulbright that "Israel controls the Senate."
Buchanan condemns both British and U.S. participation in World War II with so much what-if thinking that some right-wing university should give him an honorary degree in Ifology. With Hitler "contained" at the English Channel and "halted outside Leningrad and Moscow," U.S. opposition to Nazi Germany was succeeding by December 1941 "without one American ground soldier in combat," Buchanan contends. After Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia, "if Germany intended no attack on France or the Channel ports, and Hitler's imperial ambitions were in the east, why was it Britain's duty to fight him to the death?" Many Britons believe England's guarantee of Polish territory "was the greatest blunder of the century." If Britain had made an alliance with France against Germany while abandoning Poland to the Nazis, "the Allies might have stayed out" of the war between Germany and the Soviet Union, "there might have been no Dunkirk, no blitz, no Vichy, no destruction of the Jewish populations of Norway, Denmark, Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg, France, or even Italy."
Even when dealing obliquely, though, with the Nazi genocide against Jews in the Soviet Union, Buchanan makes quite a different use of the all-purpose "if": "If the revealed horrors of Nazism in the East mandated a war, the Allies could have chosen the time and place to strike."
"America did not want to go to war," he maintains, but "Roosevelt ... began to maneuver" us into it, using a forged map, lending truth to Clare Luce's charge that he "lied us" into it. "The American people [wanted] to isolate America from the war... . They did not believe America was threatened by Japan's occupation of France's colonies in Asia or Germany's occupation of France itself."
Well, there goes the Polish vote. And who cares about France, half of whose people, as Eisenhower is said to have said, are homosexuals, and the other half atheists? But how, to all of us true Americans, does Buchanan explain away Pearl Harbor and Hitler's declaration of war on the United States on December 11, 1941? As for Pearl Harbor, he cites a letter from Herbert Hoover stating that "continuous putting pins in rattlesnakes finally got this country bitten." And as for Germany, well, Buchanan writes, "On December 11, Hitler declared war on the United States, citing, as one American provocation, the forged map FDR used... . " The logic of Buchanan's argument might impel one to conclude that he thinks that after Pearl Harbor Roosevelt should have sent a letter of protest to Premier Tojo Hideki, and after Germany's declaration of war the president should have declined Hitler's unseemly challenge with an apology for having misrepresented the gentleman's plans.
Buchanan obviously is using here every persuasive trick he has been able to devise to prove the case he has chosen to advance. His foreign policy is utterly nationcentric; he so casts his patri-otism as to make himself indifferent to what happens to the human race except for Americans. His guesswork about what would have happened in military history if what did happen hadn't is truly appalling in its presumption, tendentiousness, and arrogance. His significant failure to give the Nazis' deliberate mass murder of 11 million civilians, including, according to Raul Hilberg, five million Jews, any retrospective weight as he belabors his repudiation of U.S. participation in World War II, is ethically hideous. Aware of the labels he has to elude, he persists in his long-standing orientations with a mocking canniness.
The Presidential Debate Commission, by contriving its 15-percentin-the-polls threshold to determine who can participate in the October debates, obviously is trying to keep the country from hearing either Ralph Nader or Buchanan, but the strategy may backfire. Nader is already being heard and is raising money, and evidently Buchanan will soon have the Reform Party's millions for TV time. And there can be little doubt that Buchanan will present his America First message to his wider audience dramatically and harshly. "Let it be said: Loyalty to the New World Order is disloyalty to the Republic," he told the Boston World Affairs Council last January. "In nation after nation, the struggle between patriotism and globalism is under way... . Seattle may just prove to be the Boston Tea Party of that New World Order... . We simply believe in America first, last, and always. And we don't want to be citizens of the world, because we have been granted a higher honor--we are citizens of the United States." You cannot say that this Irish-American Catholic pussyfoots around. ¤