The end of a year, any year, is a good time to give some consideration to the reason we have arrived at a particular state of affairs and whether a new direction is required. This is particularly true at a time when the campaigns to be the party's choice for the presidency are more drenched in debate of religious issues and assertions, than in domestic and foreign policy issues.
The religious views of President George W. Bush may have gotten us to where we are at this point and our national policies could do with far less of it and a far more dispassionate review of our history. Our greatest need is to literally protect and preserve the republic.
I think I first noticed a problem when Bush used the word "crusade" to describe what the U.S. was doing in the Middle East. A born-again Christian, Bush has worn his faith on his sleeve ever since, during the 2000 campaign, he announced that Jesus was his favorite philosopher.
Americans generally are believers. They are predominantly Christian and they have always expected their president to demonstrate some faith in God. We have historically encountered problems when a president believes he was chosen by God for the position and that his actions are sanctioned by God. It's one thing to pray for guidance. It is quite another to believe one's action are divinely authorized and approved.
Woodrow Wilson believed God wanted him to be President and, with considerable irony, was re-elected on the slogan, "He kept us out of the war." When Germany began to attack American ships providing military and other provisions to England, he put American troops into battle in a strictly European war. The result was a disastrous 1919 Treaty of Versailles that became a roadmap to World War II and some present problems.
The U.S. Senate had the good sense to reject membership in Wilson's dream of a League of Nations, but following the end of World War II, Franklin D. Roosevelt's legacy was the United Nations, an international institution that ignores genocides, embraces intolerance, and is seeking to foist a totally bogus "global warming" crisis on the world.
The "entangling alliances" that George Washington warned against are now a vast matrix of treaties that puts America's military power on the line for an atlas of nations around the world.
In his latest book, "Day of Reckoning: How Hubris, Ideology, and Greed Are Tearing America Apart", Patrick J. Buchanan argues that, "If we are to make the twenty-first century the Second American Century, the first imperative is to recognize that not only is the Cold War over, the post-Cold War era is now over. Pax Americana is finished. We must stop trying to conquer or convert the world to our way of thinking or our way of life."
At this point, I have to confess that my initial instincts after 9/11 betrayed my good sense and my knowledge of history. I most certainly favored driving the Taliban out of Afghanistan, but I also favored removing Iraq's Saddam Hussein from power. My reasoning was that Saddam had waged war in the 80s against Iran and against Kuwait in the 90s. Left in power, one had to assume he would set his eyes upon Saudi Arabia at some point. It was this concern that accounted for the presence of U.S. troops on the "sacred sands" of the Kingdom; one of the reasons cited by Osama bin Laden for 9/11.
There was logic to removing Saddam, but there was no precedent. America had never engaged in a preemptive war or any war in which we had not first been attacked. Buchanan says that, from the beginning, Bush saw the removal of Saddam in messianic terms and, though Iraq had never been a democracy, he believed that America could create one in the heart of the Middle East where no democratic nation exists, save tiny Israel.
The war, as President Bush defined it, was one between good and evil. Those are religious, moral judgments, hardly a good yardstick for foreign policy and most certainly not for going to war. A quick glance around the globe reveals there is a lot of evil.
As Buchanan put it, "This is Manichaean. This is messianic. This is utopian." One goes to war to protect national security and national interests. Going to war to bring democracy to oppressed people is a nice slogan once you're engaged, but it is not a good reason if you or an ally is not under attack.
The attack on 9/11 was an act of war, but it was not by a sovereign nation state. It was a terrorist act. The price of empire is to suffer terrorist attacks. They are the weapons the weak use to drive out foreign nations or effect changes in policy.
Buchanan makes a very strong case for an America that needs to review its policy of being the world's policeman in favor of policies that advance our economic power and protect our strategic interests. Democracy is slowly advancing in the world, but doing so at the point of a gun doesn't work.
Given the right to vote, history is filled with evidence that people will frequently choose dictatorship or authoritarian rule. In Venezuela a leftist demagogue has been elected to office. In Palestine, the militant Hamas was elected in a democratic election. Left to their choice, the Muslim Brotherhood would be running Egypt. The fragile democracy that Lebanon has long prized may fall to the Islamists of Hezbollah.
America cannot decide what kind of governance 1.3 billion Muslims want for their nations. To try to do so puts our nation at risk of more 9/11s. We can, however, put our own house in order, reduce our vast debt, strengthen our national defense, rescue our educational and social security systems, invest in our infrastructure, and turn our attention to stopping the invasion across our southern border.
There is work to be done in America to preserve and protect America. We are not electing a high priest. We must elect a man who understands that even a great power has limitations. He should put our economic life in order, not go searching for foreign enemies to vanquish and utopian goals to fulfill.
It is time for America to step back from the precipice that lures us with the siren song of empire. Empires have been known to die.