McCain v. Buchanan
October 22, 2011, 11:16 PM
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With John McCain issuing a vague death threat against Vladimir Putin following NATO's hit on Gadaffi, it's worth considering that McCain is an elder statesman of mainstream Republicanism, while Patrick J. Buchanan is a terrifying extremist. We similarly saw this back in August 2008, when little Georgia, then proposed for membership in NATO, invaded Russian-held territory. McCain responded with bellicose support for the aggressor, while Buchanan thought it was nuts for the U.S. to get militarily involved 600 miles south of Stalingrad.

As I mentioned in my review in VDARE of Buchanan's Suicide of a Superpower, Buchanan is one of the few people in Washington who took the end of the Cold War as a signal for anything other than self-congratulation. The struggle with the Soviets meant we had had to do many things that were painful, costly, dangerous, or distasteful; therefore, Buchanan reasoned in the early 1990s, let's now stop doing them. 

For example, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization had been an improvisation made necessary by superpower conflict. It had preserved the peace by heightening the stakes to a "balance of terror" via a mutual defense pact. It had done its job, so it was now time to wind it down. 

"As Russia had gone home, some of us urged back then, America should come home, cede NATO and all the U.S. bases in Europe to the Europeans, and become again what UN ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick called 'a normal country in a normal time.' Our foreign policy elites, however, could not accept that the play was closing after a forty-year run ..."

That heresy made Buchanan an outcast among the Serious Thinkers, to whom NATO wasn't an adventure, it was a job. (Brussels is lovely this time of year.) Their slogan became "NATO must go out of area or go out of business."

Hence, globalist leaders have gone looking far afield for wars, such as bombing Serbia and Libya, to keep NATO "relevant." The U.S., Buchanan points out, also repeatedly violated its pledge to Mikhail Gorbachev not to expand NATO "one inch to the East," in return for which the last Soviet leader agreed to West Germany taking over East Germany. Moscow's resentment of NATO backstabbing was then cited as proof that Moscow has a Bad Attitude, which requires NATO to encroach even more upon their natural sphere of influence.  

But, as Buchanan points out in Suicide of a Superpower, this empire-building-on-autopilot has reached economic, political, and geographic limits. The U.S. spends more on its military than the next ten countries combined. And the strategic logic of expanding NATO to unstable and unimportant countries such as Georgia or Ukraine, as once planned, is derisible. 

There's the public history of modern Europe that lauds the expensive international institutions that keep bloodthirsty nations from starting new wars, and then there's the hidden history: Stalin's massive ethnic cleansing in 1945 of nearly all Germans from Eastern Europe left Europeans with relatively little to fight over (other than their domination by the extra-European superpowers, the Soviet Union and the U.S).

Ross Douthat's column in the New York Times last Sunday does a good job of summing up the Buchananite critique of Pinkerian optimism. (Although Douthat doesn't mention Buchanan, he does namecheck the Derb). Buchanan and Douthat both cite Jerry Z. Muller, who wrote in 2008:

"The creation of ethnonational states across Europe, a consequence of two world wars and ethnic cleansing, was a precondition of stability, unity, and peace. With no ethnic rivals inside their national homes, European peoples had what they had fought for, and were now prepared to live in peace with their neighbors."

To say that Buchanan is pessimistic about American foreign policy, however, is to miss the key point: there isn't much reason to fight. Sure, we should continue to promise to defend Taiwan with our Navy, but are the Chinese really going to try to conquer Taiwan? Both sides are making too much money doing business with each other to have time for a war. 

Or, imagine that a majority in Ukraine decide to reunite with Russia, while a minority rebel. Would the American public agree to fight the Russo-Ukrainian army fighting the rebels? Would we be willing to reimpose the draft to liberate West Ukraine?  (Buchanan helped out way back in 1967 with Richard Nixon's hugely popular decision to phase out conscription.) Buchanan thinks the idea of the U.S. going to war in the ex-Soviet Union is politically absurd. 

Thank God lunatics like Buchanan are marginalized while thoughtful statesmen like McCain are accorded the respect their wisdom has earned.