how the method works: Every time Podhoretz says the word "isolationist"
he immediately links it to words with negative connotations.
For instance, he at one point declares "Isolationism had always
been a close cousin to pacifism." Really? Who is a pacifist?
Pat Buchanan? Obviously not. Who then? Podhoretz mentions
George McGovern—the 1972 Democratic Party Presidential nominee.
But McGovern was a decorated US Air Force pilot in the Second
World War. Moreover, he even supported the 1964 Tonkin Gulf
resolution. The word "pacifism" is being used to insult.
never lets facts get in the way of a good yarn. Since nothing
short of embarking on a crusade to "make the world safe for
democracy" will satisfy him, just about everyone turns out
to be an "isolationist." He starts off with the most popular
culprits of all: the Republicans who rejected the Versailles
Treaty and the League of Nations Podhoretz is hardly the first
to trot out this tired cliché. A. J. P Taylor dismissed
it to rest years ago in The Origins of the Second World War.
"American membership in the League," he wrote, "would have
been far from an asset to the Allied side. Nor did the action
of the Senate imply a retreat into isolation. American policy
was never more active and never more effective in regard to
Europe than in the nineteen-twenties. Reparations were settled;
stable finances were restored; Europe was pacified: all mainly
due to the United States." But, of course, the United States
had not sought to overthrow the Bolsheviks in Russia or the
Junkers in Germany. Therefore, its foreign policy was "isolationist."
Eisenhower Administration comes in for the Podhoretz treatment
as well. Though it created anti-Soviet military alliances
all over the world and intervened in innumerable countries
to overthrow allegedly "anti-American" leaders, it too was
essentially "isolationist." "All the brave rhetoric about
a bolder and more heroic ‘rollback’ of Communism and the ‘liberation’
of Eastern Europe was exposed as mere bravado," writes Podhoretz,
"when the administration of Dwight D. Eisenhower stood idly
by in 1956 while the Hungarian revolution was being brutally
suppressed by Soviet troops." What was Eisenhower supposed
to do? Start a nuclear war? Nixon and Kissinger were no good
either. They came up with the pusillanimous Nixon Doctrine
according to which the United States would help countries
defend themselves but not do their fighting for them. To Podhoretz
this "represented a reluctant and heavy-hearted bow to what
they saw as a new political reality: the determination of
the American people never to fight again in distant wars that
did not self-evidently have something to do with them." Imagine—not
wanting to fight in "distant wars" that do not "self-evidently
have something to do with them"! The American people are a
truly despicable lot.
story wends along on its familiar way. "The spirit of isolationism
and pacifism…hovered over the face of American political culture
from the late 1960’s and up until the election of Reagan in
1980." As with all good melodrama, the arrival of the hero
in the nick of time saves the heroine from a fate worse than
death. Ronald Reagan proposes SDI and almost immediately the
Soviet Union crumbles. "American liberals…ridiculed the very
idea of SDI so effectively that to this day no defense against
missiles has been fully developed. But the Soviets, far from
dismissing the feasibility of such a defense, were terrified
of it. They had no doubt that it could be successfully deployed
by the United States, and that it would render their entire
nuclear arsenal obsolete. Recognizing as well that they had
neither the resources nor the technological ability to match
us, they embarked under Mikhail Gorbachev on a series of reforms…These
reforms blew their whole system apart."
story has been told and retold often enough. It did not make
much sense the first time and makes even less sense today.
Podhoretz admits that "to this day no defense against missiles
has been fully developed." So why were the Soviets so worried
about a plan barely at the draft stage? "They had no doubt
that it could be successfully deployed." Since just about
everyone in the world entertained doubts on this core, how
come the Soviets were so omniscient? Besides, why could the
Russians not catch up? They never had problems in the past.
Besides, why believe what self-serving former Soviet officials
junketing in the US say to their grant-proffering hosts?
the end of the Cold War, "isolationism and "pacifism" made
a comeback—not on the Left, but on the Right. Podhoretz professes
himself to be pleasantly surprised by Clinton: He "turned
out to be less averse to military power than his past attitudes
would have suggested. He authorized continued enforcement
by American warplanes of the no-fly zone that was one of the
few prices Saddam Hussein had had to pay for his defeat in
the Gulf war; he intervened in Somalia; he sent American troops
into Bosnia and bombers to Kosovo." Wonderful! But why would
anyone be surprised? Liberals have always been the most warlike
of creatures. They are determined to reorder the world whether
it wants it or not. Attitudes like that tend to get you into
Podhoretz a new enemy appeared on the scene—Pat Buchanan.
He contrasts him unfavorably with Joe McCarthy. "A good deal
of the support attracted by Senator Joseph McCarthy," he writes,
"was based on the lingering and resentful conviction that,
in allying ourselves with Stalin against Hitler in World War
II, we had chosen the wrong enemy. In the 50's, after the
Holocaust had made the open expression of anti-Semitism taboo
in America, McCarthy went out of his way to avoid blaming
the Jews along with the Wasps as many right-wing isolationists
of the 30's had done. But in the run-up to the Gulf war, some
40 years later, the taboo having by then been weakened, Patrick
J. Buchanan suffered from no such inhibition. He all but explicitly
accused American Jews of acting on the orders of Israel in
trying to drag us into a war against our own interests." This
is a typical piece of Podhoretzian dishonesty. Who believed
that "we had chosen the wrong enemy"? Lindbergh? He fought
against Hitler. As for the preoccupation with the Holocaust,
this is a relatively recent phenomenon. It was not an issue
in the 1950s. No one in his right mind—certainly not Pat Buchanan—has
ever argued that the United States went to war against Hitler
on behalf of the Jews! And Buchanan has, of course, never
said that "American Jews are acting on the orders of Israel."
Podhoretz is very tiresome on this issue. Let us repeat it
one more time: Buchanan did not oppose the use of force against
Saddam Hussein in 1990. He favored sanctions and the deployment
of troops to protect Saudi Arabia.
boasts, that "such magazines as Commentary, the Weekly
Standard, and National Review—with daily booster
shots from the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal
and the New York Post" have pressed the case for a
"neo-Reaganite" foreign policy. Super! But what is this foreign
policy? Podhoretz quotes approvingly an editorial in the New
York Post (doubtless written by his son John) which explained
"that when a petty thug like Milosevic is told by the United
States to ‘cut that out’ and then refuses, the maintenance
of our power depends on forcing him to change his mind. This
is one of the things we mean when we assert that the proper
strategic objective of the United States is ‘to make the world
safe for democracy’." So humorless is Podhoretz that
he does not even see the absurdity of what he is saying here.
A "world safe for democracy," according to him, is one in
which the United States tells the elected leader of a country
what to do. And if he refuses to follow orders he gets bombed.
the publication of Podhoretz’s essay, Commentary solicited
a number of responses. They appeared in the magazine the following
month. Entitled "American Power—For What?" the symposium was
the usual round of "neo-conservative" self-congratulation.
Pat Buchanan was, of course, not asked to respond. Critics
like Samuel Huntington were noticeably absent. The views expressed
were standard fare. To Elliott Abrams, the big problem is
China: The "rule by a Communist elite whose interests contradict
those of its own people—and ours… items at issue in the ‘possible
collision course’ between Washington and Beijing include the
survival of Taiwan, the fate of North Korea, the U.S. alliance
with Japan, the American naval and troop presence in East
Asia, the prospect of a missile-defense umbrella over Japan
and Taiwan, and PRC human-rights violations, not least in
Tibet." That is a pretty tall order. Interestingly enough,
in typically neo-conservative myopic fashion Abrams does not
see that on almost all of these issues it is the United States
that is forcing the "collision."
Jeane Kirkpatrick, the big problem is that America is not
assertive enough: "Because the United States is the strongest
country in the world, more than a few foreign governments
and their leaders, and more than a few activists here at home,
seek to constrain and control American power by means of elaborate
multilateral processes, global arrangements, and UN treaties
that limit our capacity both to govern ourselves and to act
abroad." Really? Does Rwanda tell the United States what to
Krauthammer makes a great show of disagreement by declaring
that he has no interest in piddly little interventions: "In
an era of relative quiet, you do not run around putting out
small fires just because they are the only ones burning. You
save your resources for the real strategic threats." And what
are these threats? It turns out that they are the old standbys.
"First, containing, deterring, and, if necessary, disarming
rogue states that are acquiring weapons of mass destruction…Second,
containing a rising China…Third, maintaining vigilance against
the possibility of a resurgent, revanchist Russia. Fourth,
maintaining order as the ultimate guarantor of international
peace and stability." In other words, the usual American hegemony.
is a bigger problem here. The "neo-conservative" dominance
is so strong that it really makes no difference who wins the
election in November. Bush, McCain, Bradley, Gore—they all
see the world merely as a backdrop for American power.