October 15, 1999


History repeats itself, said Karl Marx, "the first time as tragedy, the second as farce." I couldn't help but think of old Karl's aphorism as I read news reports quoting our President on the defeat of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT): "Even more troubling (than the vote)," he averred, "are the signs of a new isolationism among some of the opponents of the treaty. You see it in the refusal to pay our UN dues. You see it in the woefully inadequate budget for foreign affairs that includes meeting our obligations in the Middle East peace process and the continuing efforts to destroy and safeguard Russian nuclear materials." The President then exhorted the liberal interventionist faithful to do "battle with the new isolationists and the Republican Party."


"Isolationist? The Senate Republicans? If only it were so! Unfortunately, Jesse Helms, far from being an isolationist, is and always has been in the front ranks of the War Party, whether the enemy is Russia, China, Iraq, or Serbia. The same goes for the vast majority of Senate Republicans, who generally supported Clinton's criminal war on the former Yugoslavia. Even the Republican-controlled House, which voted against the war, also voted to fully fund it – indeed, they voted for far more funding than even Clinton and the Pentagon requested or wanted. Some "isolationists"!


Oh, what I wouldn't give for a real isolationist. How I pine for the good old fashioned variety, such as Senator William C. Borah, Republican of Idaho, the great enemy of Wilsonian internationalism who laid the League of Nations low, led the fight for the Neutrality Acts of the 1930s, and fought FDR's vigorous efforts to drag us into the second great conflagration. Wouldn't it be refreshing to hear his Stentorian voice echo throughout the Senate chambers, as he denounced the "munitions makers" and "special interests that profit from war." The arms race, he declared, was "a crime against humanity." Speaking barely two years after the Armistice that marked the end of World War I, the Lion of Idaho warned that unless the arms buildup was shelved and reversed war with Japan was inevitable within a quarter century. His fellow isolationists, mostly Republicans, such as Hiram Johnson of California, Senator Robert LaFollette, of Minnesota, and Gerald P. Nye, of North Dakota, formed a bloc that stood guard against the inroads of the War Party and ceaselessly agitated for peace. Nye conducted a famous series of hearings on the power and influence of the armaments industry: the financial interests that dragged us into World War I were outraged, but the public loved it. Embittered and made wiser by a war for "to make the world safe for democracy" that had only made it safe for the potentates of Europe and their creditors, the American people cheered as "isolationist" Republicans exposed the symbiotic relationship between Wall Street and the Washington warmongers. The first battle pitting a Democratic President against Republican isolationists ended in tragedy – FDR manipulated us into war and the isolationists were smeared, defeated, and forgotten. Now, that same battle is being reenacted as a farce – with nary a genuine isolationist in sight.


I have news for our President, who is so fond of citing history: A truly "isolationist" Republican Congress in full possession of its senses would have approved the CTBT, and in very short order. In the 1930s,the Republicans, while distrusting international organizations and opposing entangling alliances, supported disarmament measures, opposed conscription, and railed against the morbid idolators of the war god. On the other hand, FDR and the Democrats embraced internationalism, initiated a huge arms buildup, called for peacetime conscription, and berated their isolationist opponents for not supporting "preparedness." This is the real "isolationist" tradition – one the President might have successfully appealed to if he was really the history buff and expert politician he is supposed to be.


The reality is now setting in among supporters of the ban on nuclear testing: Clinton made no real effort to get this treaty past the Senate, as Washington diplomats and even members of his own party are now saying. An Agence France Presse report cited a Senate Democratic aide as saying: "Senate Democrats have been talking about this and made a rather large push since August. Three months work by the White House on this would have been more helpful than two weeks." Clinton blamed the Republicans for scheduling a short debate, but even the Democrats on Capital Hill weren't buying it: "I don't think it's fair for the president to abdicate his responsibility, and say he'll only work on it when the Senate gets ready to work on it," said the Democratic Senate aide "There were some pretty important issues there, they deserved more than lip service."


Lip service of a different kind was on the minds of some Senate Republicans, notably Jesse Helms, who outraged the White House with a speech on the Senate floor in which he impersonated Clinton on the phone with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, asking for a letter of support for the treaty: "Tony, I got a problem over here, a hat-full of worries, how about sending me a li'l ole letter.'' Helms then mimicked Blair's reply in a "British" accent heavily overlaid with his North Carolina drawl: "Oh yes, I'll do that. And give Monica my regards"!


Presidential spokesman Joe Lockhart sputtered "I would certainly hope that any chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee would put our national security interests over any personal view he has," a remark that no doubt caused more than a few titters in our nation's capital. The obvious retort is that all views are "personal," and are furthermore held by human beings, not soulless automatons. Lockhart's protests of "partisanship" miss the point: many of these same Republicans had supported and voted for Ronald Reagan's INF treaty, the first step in a process that was supposed to culminate with the Senate ratification of the test ban. While the Clintonians wailed that the defeat of CTBT was due to "partisan politics of the worst kind", the truth is that, in voting against a treaty supported by the overwhelming majority of Americans, Republicans sacrificed their own partisan interests out of sheer contempt for Bill Clinton – a President, and a man, of the worst kind.


The news report cited above states that world leaders are "appalled that the United States has virtually abdicated its leadership on nonproliferation." Clinton, they complain, did not really make his case. Well, then, what kind of a case might he have made? How could he have appealed to these "isolationist" Republicans, who hate him and everything he stands for, and gotten them to vote for a measure that would help ensure that his legacy would be more than the memory of a bizarre sex scandal? Let me tell you how I would have done it:


Alright, I would have said, in my address to the Senate, if you won't consider the legacy of your beloved Ronald Reagan, who ushered in the era of disarmament that preceded the end of the Cold War, then consider this: think of all the many tripwires we have set down in every corner of the globe. Korea, Taiwan, the Baltic republics, the Balkans, all of which could easily become the arena for a confrontation between the US and a nuclear-armed adversary. Do you really want to get into another arms race, restart the Cold War, and engage in another ruinous and economy-distorting arms buildup at gargantuan cost?


But surely, you think, these Senators, many of them creatures of what Borah called "the special interests," would be immune to such entreaties, being totally without shame. Oh, but I am just getting started! I would have looked them straight in the eye, and bellowed: Do any of you really want to be haunted for the rest of your lives by the anguished question: "Who lost Pakistan?" or "Who lost India?" And I mean "lost" in the most literal sense of the word, i.e. as in vanished from the face of the earth. For that is precisely what is in store for the peoples of the South Asian subcontinent if and when the Indo-Pakistani standoff erupts into all-out war. I would have stood in the well of the Senate and mimicked Jesse Helms talking to his campaign manager:


"Well, now, Herbert, it seems we have a lil' ole problem heah, what with this radioactive cloud a hangin' ovah Charlottesville – do you think you could get me a letter from a certified doctah provin' it ain't a 'tall deleterious to the voters' health?"

"Why, sure-rah enough, Senator, that won't be any problem a 'tall. Don't you worry none, Senator, I'll get right back to you on that. Oh, and by the way, give my regards to Dorothy and the kids – I hope they get over their radiation sickness real soon."


But the real argument, from an authentically isolationist point of view, is that the proliferation of modern weapons can only drag us into endless wars. This was true enough in the era of Senator Borah, and is even truer today. For we are not just confronting the possibility of a nuclear exchange with any one of a number of emerging regional powers, but also the necessity of endless wars of prevention – as in the series of Gulf wars, launched against Iraq, on the grounds that Saddam Hussein just possibly might be interested in acquiring "weapons of mass destruction." But in the face of the aggressive NATO-ization of Europe, and the world, by "humanitarian" interventionists, the only hope small nations have of maintaining their sovereignty is by acquiring a nuclear deterrent. Does anyone doubt that, this winter, the Serbs will wish they had had a nuclear shield to hold up against NATO's cruel bombardment? The Clintonian-Blairite doctrine of warlike internationalism is fundamentally hostile to the concept of disarmament, unless, of course, we are talking about the disarmament of "rogue nations" – and of all non-Western nations – and their complete submission to the diktat of Washington, London, and Berlin.


As we go careening across the globe, rescuing turbulent peoples who don't want to be rescued, and taking sides in civil wars from Bosnia to Kosovo to the Transcaucasian steppes and beyond, how many enemies will wish they could somehow deter the great humanitarians from wreaking any further havoc? The rabid internationalism that currently infects Washington – and has always infected London – is the greatest impetus for nuclear proliferation. If the Serbian people had the means to acquire nuclear weapons, who, at this point, could blame them for doing so?


And so it goes for any of the other designated villains whose countries have been targeted for destruction and dissolution: Iraq, Indonesia, the Sudan – and who knows who else is on the list? In the Third World, China, Pakistan, India, Israel, and South Africa have so far developed a nuclear capability, and thus ensured themselves at least a modicum of independence, and the rest are not far behind. In a world of ethnic warfare, and religious conflict, do we want every tribal feud to go nuclear?


Instead of attacking the Republicans as being too "isolationist," I would conclude my oration by pointing out that they are not isolationist enough. For the failure to ratify the treaty will involve us in more quagmires than anyone now imagines, as the small nations make their final stand against the West.


I would end with a flourish, a quote from Pat Buchanan's new book, A Republic, Not an Empire – now that would throw them off balance, for sure! I would cite a passage in which the author notes the vast gulf that separates the Cold War mindset from the realities of the post-Cold War world: "The difference between crafting foreign policy then and now is the difference between arithmetic and calculus." Yes, indeed it is, in the sense that the stakes are much higher. As Buchanan puts it: "When one considers that today, nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons can be delivered by such conventional means as merchant ships and truck bombs, the case against going abroad in search of monsters to destroy becomes conclusive."


Now, I have not seen anything from the Buchanan campaign on this question, although I can make an educated guess: the impulse of most of Buchanan's supporters, if not their leader, is no doubt very much opposed to the treaty: I got letters from some of them in response to my last column, all complaining that support for the treaty amounts to a surrender of American sovereignty and the ability to act unilaterally, and, besides that, the treaty is unverifiable. To begin with, any agreement can be unilaterally abrogated by any of the parties at any time, as the opponents of this treaty never tired of pointing out: that, they averred, is precisely why it is unverifiable. Given this, the sovereignty argument loses much of its force. As for the verifiability of any such treaty, that objection also loses much if not all of its force given our unquestioned position of military superiority. In this context, a ban on testing and development is in our national interest because it means the freezing of this "unipolar moment" in history. By maintaining the status quo, and preventing the further development of nuclear weapons, US superiority remains unchallenged.


The unspoken implication in the argument against the treaty made by many conservatives is that it represents a liberal utopian impulse that underestimates the cunning of our enemies – and, perhaps, also ignores the consequences of the Fall of Man. I will leave the latter to the theologians, and only take up the former far more widespread misconception. Far from being utopian, the impulse to negotiate is motivated by naked self-interest. For no nation wants to be embroiled in the maelstrom of war, particularly in the age of nuclear weapons, and on this subject I yield the floor once more to Mr. Buchanan, whose eloquence and passion I cannot match:

"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."


This position, consistently applied, means support for all disarmament measures that we can get agreement on. However, it is necessary to put this in its full context: The day we return to the concept of maintaining a continental defense, and leave Europe and Asia to their own devices, will usher in a new era in which the goal of negotiating a comprehensive nuclear arms agreement will be based on hardheaded realism – on the stark realization that, in this day and age, we have no choice.

Check out Justin Raimondo's article, “China and the New Cold War”

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Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of Antiwar.com. He is also the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement (with an Introduction by Patrick J. Buchanan), (1993), and Into the Bosnian Quagmire: The Case Against U.S. Intervention in the Balkans (1996). He is an Adjunct Scholar with the Ludwig von Mises Institute, in Auburn, Alabama, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Libertarian Studies, and writes frequently for Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is the author of An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (forthcoming from Prometheus Books).

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