Defection is not Convergence

Buchanan dislikes the neocons, blaming them for maintaining an assertive foreign policy after the Cold War ended in victory. Apparently, the U.S should have folded its tent and retreated into isolationism, as it did after winning the other two world wars of the 20th century. Those strategic decisions left the country unprepared for the next round of conflict. History shows that all “post-war” periods become “interwar” periods.

By William R. Hawkins l June 3, 2014

Recently, my old comrade Pat Buchanan wrote a column asking whether there was “a left-right convergence” in the making? The focus was on foreign policy as it remains clear that the gridlock on social and fiscal policy between right and left remains solid. But can there be movement in one contested area while the gap on other issues widens? Not if conservatives and liberals differ at their core on how the world works and what kind of future they envision. It is from incompatible assumptions about human affairs that policy differences flow. So the answer to Buchanan’s question is “no”, there is no convergence.

There is, however, a defection of some people from the Right to the Left on foreign and national security policy. Some conservatives are being converted to the liberal cause, while the liberals remain true to their ideology. This is a tragic reversal of the last great movement across the spectrum; the shift of intellectuals from liberalism to neo-conservatism in the wake of the rise of the New Left during the Vietnam War. The anti-war movement of the 1960’s with its open embrace of the enemy, the flying of Viet Cong banners and the hero-worship of Lenin, Fidel, Che, Ho and Mao, alienated many patriotic liberals who saw democracy in conflict with communism on a global scale. The neocons were reinforcements to traditional conservatives, helping to move the center of American politics to the right. Ronald Reagan could not have won the presidency and the Cold War without this broadening of the movement.

The left’s new counter-culture spread to undermine traditional social values concerning drugs, abortion, and homosexuality while adding new energy to the welfare state as an engine of radical “transformation.” The New Left still dominates mainstream liberalism, so there is nothing “new” about it anymore. What could possibly attract anyone who was Right from the start to move into coalition with the Left is beyond me.

Buchanan dislikes the neocons, blaming them for maintaining an assertive foreign policy after the Cold War ended in victory. Apparently, the U.S should have folded its tent and retreated into isolationism, as it did after winning the other two world wars of the 20th century. Those strategic decisions left the country unprepared for the next round of conflict. History shows that all “post-war” periods become “interwar” periods.

Buchanan opens his anti-neocon book Where the Right Went Wrong by lamenting the rise of the “American Empire.”

Not even the British Empire at its zenith dominated the world in the way the United States does today. U.S. forces are deployed in lands the soldiers of Victoria never saw. Our warships make port calls on all continents. Our military technology is generations ahead of other nations. Our GDP is 30 percent of the global economy.

The Left thinks American success is a crime, but Buchanan’s indictment can only bring cheers from patriots. Oddly, he goes on to warn that “all republics, all empires, all civilizations pass away.” So the danger is that Washington will lose its preeminent position by “over stretch.” This is the counter-intuitive claim that it is the use of power that brings on a decline and fall.

Buchanan claims “the Roman republic began to die the day Caesar’s legions crossed the Rubicon to make him dictator of Rome.” That happened in 49 BC. The Roman Empire in the West lasted until 455 AD when the Vandals sacked Rome. The Roman Empire in the East, known as Byzantium, lasted another thousand years; until Constantinople was captured by the Ottoman Turks in 1453 AD. If only we could envision the American Empire lasting so long!

It won’t if we act as if we are in decline already. We cannot allow decadence to subvert the spirit that carried Americans across the continent, built the “arsenal of democracy,” landed astronauts on the Moon and made the 20th century its own. To stay on top we must use our power to defend our interests.

In his West Point commencement address May 28, President Obama was at pains to respond to conservative critics who have charged that America has lost global influence during the last five years. “America must always lead on the world stage,” Obama said, and the military “always will be the backbone of that leadership,” He also proclaimed “I believe in American exceptionalism with every fiber of my being,” Buchanan’s desire to move to Obama’s left and join with those who think the U.S. should stand down because it is an evil “imperialist” menace to the world will move him away from where the majority of citizens reside. Obama knows American patriotism is to his right and feels the need to play to it even if his sincerity can be questioned.

In his “convergence” column, Buchanan cites with approval the “right-left” America First movement that supported the appeasement of the Axis Powers in the years before Pearl Harbor was attacked. He has made this argument before, even writing a book blaming Winston Churchill for provoking Hitler (and FDR for provoking Japan). This is the old appeasement logic: wars are not caused by aggression but by standing up to aggression. If he thinks this is a winning line, we can understand why he also heralded the “right-left” congressional opposition to President Obama’s threat to attack Syria over its use of chemical weapons in its ongoing civil war.

The appeasers in the 1930’s were overwhelmed by events which rendered them as fools. The same is likely to happen to those who have let the opportunity to hit Iran hard through Syria slip away. Obama’s threat to act without Congress was credible enough to persuade the Assad regime to give up is chemical weapons. However, the real need for strikes was to reverse the shift in the balance of power towards Damascus which had taken place last summer as Tehran intervened with Hezbollah militia and its own special forces to push the Sunni insurgents out of one stronghold after another.

Strikes against Assad’s air force and armor could have given the rebels the edge. It would also have sent a strong message to Iran about the consequences of not halting its nuclear weapons program. Instead, a “war weary” Congress has given Obama a weak hand in negotiations with Iran. The interim nuclear deal allows Tehran to continue uranium enrichment and keep certain nuclear sites free of inspections. Meanwhile, sanctions relief has buoyed Iran’s economy just as it needed breathing space from foreign pressure as it took action in Syria. In response to a new UN report on Iran’s ballistic missile program, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei described as “stupid and idiotic” Western expectations that his country would curb its missile development. Instead, he ordered mass production of ballistic weapons, many of which are designed to carry nuclear warheads.

Republican members of Congress had two options when the President called on them for support against the Syria-Iran axis. They could have welcomed his move to the right and expressed hope he would take a stronger line on other national security issues. Or they could do as they did, run to Obama’s left to “converge” with the usual gang of “anti-imperialists” urging appeasement. It was a disgraceful display clearly exposing the lack of leadership in the GOP, which bodes ill for the party and the country in 2016.

Buchanan is on stronger grounds when he talks about America’s failed trade strategy. Our industrial strength has been weakened while that of rivals (most dangerously China) has been strengthened by the most massive transfer of wealth and technology in history. Yet, even here, there are problems with a “right-left” convergence. Democrats have provided the main opposition to continued free trade agreements and have blocked the granting of “fast track” trade negotiating authority to a president of their own party. Yet, many of the left’s objections to new trade agreements are aimed at measures that would help the U.S. such as better protection for intellectual property (especially in medicine and biotechnology) and international support for fracking and other energy development efforts.

The irony is that the real drivers behind “free trade” and the “out sourcing” of jobs and manufacturing to foreign lands are the big transnational corporations who are also opposed to military intervention and geopolitical confrontations. They adhere to the hope of 19th Century radical Richard Cobden that commerce will make the need for “mighty empires, for gigantic armies and great fleets” to go away. Groups like the National Foreign Trade Council have opposed confronting Russia over its aggression against Ukraine as loudly as Buchanan has. An isolationist America would not place restraints on “trading with the enemy” as it would not declare it had any enemies. This is the libertarian position, showing its common roots with the left.

Buchanan should note that the largest gains for the free trade sophistry came immediately after the Berlin Wall fell; when it was thought peace was at hand and history had come to an end.

Protecting domestic production from destruction by foreign competition was supported by “imperialists” like Teddy Roosevelt and Joseph Chamberlain. They understood that economic strength is the central pillar of Great Power status. It was Chamberlain who tried to turn the Conservative Party away from free trade in order to better integrate and expand the British Empire. He was unsuccessful and the empire paid a high price for not being better prepared economically for the demands of the war-torn 20th century. This is the lesson Buchanan should be preaching from history, not a flight to the Left which can only end in national and social suicide.

William R. Hawkins, a former economics professor and Congressional staffer, is a consultant specializing in international economics and national security issues. He is a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.