February 3, 2000

The Absence of the War Issue

I wish I could share Justin Raimondoís essential optimism that Pat Buchanan will be able to make war and interventionism a viable issue at some point during the current election season. I have, well, issues with Pat. I disagree with some of the stands and attitudes he has taken in regard to trade, immigration and international relations. I question the political wisdom of devoting a book with the marvelous title A Republic Not An Empire more to intellectually respectable (even if imperfect) revisionism about World War II than to current conflicts; he was sure to be attacked as a "Hitler-lover" by people with no guilty conscience about never having cracked the book. And I wonder whether switching to the Reform Party was such a hot idea. But if Pat really could make foreign policy a live issue during this election campaign I would forgive a great deal. Foreign policy deserves to be one of the paramount issues of this campaign, not only because of Clintonís goofy aggressions but because the United States has still not had the all-options-open national conversation about foreign policy that should have transpired when communism died as an aggressive force that had to be reckoned with. None of the major-party candidates has done more than mouth platitudes about the importance of continuing to lead. If Buchanan could even widen the range of acceptable options he would perform a signal service to the country.


I have little doubt that Buchanan would be an effective and forceful advocate for a foreign policy with which I might not agree in all particulars but which would be less dangerous than our present muddle. Whether he will have the chance to make a case in a way that a significant proportion of the American people will have a chance to hear it and consider it thoughtfully is another question. The presidential debate commission, a creature of the two major parties since it was ripped from the barely-better League of Women Voters some years ago, has already taken steps to keep the debates a cozy two-party affair. The preliminary proposal (letís hope itís not a final decision but it will take pressure to change it) to limit the participants to those who have at least 15 percent support in the polls is nicely calculated to take advantage of the chicken-and-egg-dilemma minor parties always face.

Would Ross Perot have received 19.7 million votes, almost 20 percent of the total, in 1992 if he had not participated in televised presidential debates? I seriously doubt it. Mere participation in the debates is a necessary validation for some voters. A third-party candidate who did participate especially a forceful debater like Buchanan would get a big boost in the polls and probably in the final election results. One who is excluded might never reach the magic 15 percent. The establishment knows this full well.

(I suspect that if Harry Browne, still the likely Libertarian Party candidate, who should be on the ballot in all 50 states (a more rational criterion than poll results) participated, he would get a big voteóthough probably less than a Buchananóif only because he would seem to many to be the only adult on the stage.)


The other problem for Buchanan could be Donald Trump and the Jesse Ventura wing of the party. I still have a hard time taking The Donald seriously as a candidate. His ignorance of political issues is massive and his legendary self-absorption is likely to turn voters off. But he has said that he is prepared to spend a substantial chunk of his own money to stop Buchanan.

It might not take a tremendous amount of money, if it were intelligently deployed, to secure the Reform Party nomination. There are plenty of political operatives with enough savvy to help The Donald spend his money intelligently (although there are probably more who would be more expert at simply spending it and raking off a good portion for themselves and itís unclear whether Trump knows enough about politics to tell one from the other.) Jesse Ventura, for all his clowning, seems to have a certain amount of political savvy, or at least good instincts, and he is said to be opposed to Buchanan getting the Reform nomination.

I donít keep close tabs on internal Reform machinations. It may be that Trump will be no more than a temporary freak show and Buchanan will get the nomination with little trouble. But at this point it seems far from a sure thing that he will be the nominee. If he is, establishment forces, which will control the debate format, will do almost everything in their power to see to it that he doesnít participate in televised debates. The last thing they want is a forceful and intelligent exposition of a non-imperialist foreign policy presented to the American people in prime time in a format in which so many Americans are conditioned to taking the participants with some degree of seriousness.


If Buchanan is denied the Reform nomination, of course, that will leave up for grabs the question of where real conservatives if there are any will go. Besides being all Wilsonian interventionists, none of the apparently viable Republicans is even close to being a Reaganite limited-government conservative. Bush has gone out of his way to criticize those who think the government is too big. If he has any conservative instincts (and itís possible) they are subsumed by the need to appear compassionate and the essential Bush-Rockefeller orientation, combined with a disinclination to take any stand the media might find too upsetting. Even the New Republic recently ran a Jonathan Chait piece on McCain crowing that "This Man is Not a Republican." Weekly Standard neocons seem to love him and his TR attitude, however. Assuming that neither Steve Forbes nor Alan Keyes has a serious chance at the Republican nomination, where do conservatives go if Buchanan doesnít get the Reform nomination? Itís difficult to believe they will simply disappear, although they might well sit this one out.

Text-only printable version of this article

Alan Bock is Senior Essayist at the Orange County Register and a weekly columnist for WorldNetDaily. He is the author of Ambush at Ruby Ridge (Putnam-Berkley, 1995). His exclusive column now appears every Thursday on Antiwar.com.

Archived Columns by
Alan Bock

The Absence of the War Issue

Madeleineís Dubious Endorsement

Costs of Immigration Control

Colombian Drug War Heating Up

Sheperdstown is All About Clinton

Giving Peace a Chance

Fear and Trembling in the Imperial Camp

Worrying About the Russian Army

The Need for Enemies, Once Again

The First Casualty

Dubya's Expansive Vision

The Forbes Disappointment

Honoring Veterans/ Greece/ Timor (11/11/99)

Iraq Military Buildup/ Baltic News (11/4/99)

Sudan Second Thoughts (10/28/99)

Embassy Questions Persist (10/21/99)

Colombian Sting/ Pakistan Peculiarities (10/14/99)

War Drums Over Colombia (10/7/99)

Colombia Still Heating Up/ East Timor: Empty Justifications (9/30/99)

Which Way, Old World? (9/23/99)

Timor Complications (9/16/99)

A Timorous Expedition/ Kosovo/ Colombia (9/9/99)

The Military in the Post-Cold War Era (9/2/99)

The Itch to Choose Sides/ Sudanese Anniversary (8/26/99)

Bosnia Scandal/ Richard Butler/ Iraq/ Kosovo (8/19/99)

Colombia Clarifications/ End Selective Service (8/12/99)

Colombia: The Next War/ Embassies in the Next Century (8/5/99)

The Empire's Casual Casualties/ Bulgarian Repercussions (7/29/99)

Lessons in Failing Interventions (7/22/99)

Kashmir: Will Bill and Maddie Intervene?/ A Republic or an Empire? (7/15/99)

Kosovo: Learning the Wrong Lessons (Mostly) (7/8/99)

George Dubya and American "Leadership" (7/1/99)


The libertarian-tending-toward-anarchist side of me should be delighted at all this, of course. Iíve been saying for years that politics and the political process changing one set of rulers for anotheróis not the way to get to a free society. The less seriously Americans take politicians and their posturing, the less they rely on them to do anything but feather their own nests, the less they waste their time imagining that any of them will do anything for freedom except under pressure and duress, the healthier civil society will be. That doesnít necessarily mean we should ignore politics or not study it. But to invest many of our hopes and dreams in the clowns who dominate politics is foolish. There are other ways to influence them besides supporting them, working for them or pledging our troth to them, and especially in this day of the Internet we might do well to focus on other methods of activism beyond electoral campaigns.


Even given all this, however, it is still a shame that none of the candidates likely to get serious media attention shows any sign of thinking seriously or even a little bit outside-the-box about foreign policy. The Wilsonian policies they all embrace have given us about 80 years of hot and cold war and an apparently permanent Warfare State. There is a constituency, and I think a growing one, for some serious adjustment to the assumptions most foreign policy experts have cherished for the last several decades. Too bad no candidate deemed serious by the media has even a notion of responding to that demand.

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