The Two Faces ofrnAmerican Isolationismrnby John LukacsrnARepublic, Not an Empire: ReclaimingrnAmerica’s Destiny is a pamphletrnand a history. Some of the greatest compositionsrnof the human mind were castrnin the form of pamphlets, even whenrnthey were thrown at a public for immediaternpolitical purposes. There is nothingrnvery wrong with Buchanan’s pamphlet,rnwhich consists of two of the seven chaptersrnof his book, framing the other five.rnThey clang with the repeated sound ofrnhis hard-hammered points, sometimesrnimaginative but not unrealistic: indeed,rnworth thinking about. He is concernedrnwith the—yes, often thoughtless—practicesrnof international globalism, of excessivernimmigration, of American militaryrnand political commitments all aroundrnthe globe, of insufficient concern withrnwhat the Russians think about their ownrnsecurity. He proposes (among other matters)rnthat the principal task, and duty, ofrnthe army of the Republic is to defend itsrnfrontiers, especially on the Mexican border;rnthat Puerto Rico should be allowedrnto become independent; that in the eventrnof the dissolution of the Canadian staternsome of its provinces should be admittedrnto the United States; that the expansionrnof NATO is senseless, dangerous,rnand wrong, (hi his previous book, hernurged the merits of American industrial,rnthough not agricultural, protectionism.)rnEvery one of these propositions is worthrnconsidering. This book lauds the virtuesrnof American isolationism — which isrnwhere the trouble comes in a volumernthat attempts nothing less than a historyrnof American foreign policy over morernthan 200 years.rnThere is nothing very wrong with isolationism,rnso long as it is attuned to normalrnhuman aspirations to safety, privacy,rnintegrity, and self-confidence. The troublernis with isolationists: a word that, accordingrnto H.L. Mencken and PatrickrnBuchanan, is merely a term of invective.rnBut there is more to the matter than that.rnIsolationists, like pacifists (and Buchananrn]ohn Lukacs is the author of A Thread ofrnYears and of Five Days in London (bothrnfrom Yale University Press).rnis anything but the latter—indeed, he isrnvery much a militarist), exist only in thernabstract. Scratch an isolationist, and yournwill find an internationalist underneath.rn(The opposite is also true.) There are fewrnpacifists, if any, who will not defend anyonernor anything dear to them; there arernfew isolationists who are wholly uninterestedrnin the relationship of their countryrnto the rest of the world. Buchanan is notrnone of those few, being fiercely interestedrnin the record of American foreign policy.rnOf course no one can see the presentrnindependent from his view of the past,rnabout which he may be mistaken. Butrnwhat matters is the quality, even morernthan the quantity, of the mistakes in questionrn—their purpose as well as their number.rnAnd Buchanan’s mistakes are notrnjust the expectable flaws (there are a fewrnof those) of a nonprofessional historian.rnTheir elements lie deeper.rnThe main trouble with almost allrnAmerican isolationists in the 20th centuryrnhas been their inconsistency—or call itrnselective patriotism, or special pleading.rnMany of those who were opposed to a warrnagainst Hitler’s Germany very soon afterrnit concluded became enthusiasts of anrnAmerican crusade against Soviet Russia.rnThis is not the place to compare the evilsrnof Hitler with those of Stalin, or Nazismrnwith communism — though it must bernrecognized that, for a long time, Americanrnideological anticommunism was arnprimary force in both foreign and domesticrnpolitics, the cement that held the Republicanrnparty together for more than 45rnyears, eventually propelling their presidentsrninto power: the nationalist party.rn(But no longer—which is Buchanan’s presentrnpolitical problem.) During WorldrnWar II, there were but two alternatives:rnEither all of Europe would be dominatedrnby Hitler’s Germany, or Western Europernwould be liberated through Britain’srnalliance with America, with the possibilityrnof Eastern Europe falling (partiallyrnand temporarily) into a Russian spherernof interest —and half of Europe wasrnbetter than none. That was WinstonrnGhurchill’s perspective, from the veryrnfirst hours of the war until its end. But inrn1940 and ’41, well even before Hitler’s invasionrnpropelled an unwilling Stalin intornthe conflict, America’s isolationists werernloud and clear against America standingrnby Britain. These isolationists are thernheroes of Patrick J. Buchanan. And hisrnarch-villain is Ghurchill.rnBuchanan hates Churchill even morernthan he hates Wilson and Franklin Rooseveltrn(whom, of course, he does notrnspare). Churchill was a cynic and arnliar—unlike Ronald Reagan, “an almostrnperfect blend of realism and idealism.”rn”By 1945 Germany had been destroyedrnand Churchill could poke about its ruins.”rnBuchanan says that in 1939 thernBritish and the French should not havernstood up for Polish independence. Butrnwhen, in 1945, Churchill “sold outrnPoland to Stalin,” it was worth a ColdrnWar —if not, indeed, more than that.rnBuchanan is convinced that it wasrnwrong, and probably even criminal, forrnthe United States to have fought thernThird Reich. His pages glow with the innerrnfire of his belief: with his contemptrnfor Britain and his allowance for Germany’srnplans for Eastern Europe in 1939.rnHe writes that Hitier should have been allowedrnto invade Russia in 1939 (tramplingrnPoland down on the way?), and thatrnthe Western democracies could afterwardrnhave made peace with him —andrnwe would have been living in a betterrnworld. That is of course questionable —rnto say the least. But this is one ofrnBuchanan’s deepest beliefs.rnIn sum, Buchanan is as much of an internationalistrnas he is an isolationist—dependentrnon his choice of who the enemyrnis. And the same Buchanan who in thisrnbook attacks (not without reason) thernham-handed American intervention inrnBosnia and Kosovo, in 1991 proposedrnthat the Sixth Fleet enter the Adriatic tornassist Croatia (a creation and ally of thernThird Reich 50 years before that).rnThere is something to be said for nationalistsrnand also for isolationists —atrncertain places and in certain times. Butrntheir cause must not be determined byrnone, and only one, element: by the selectionrn—as visceral as it is mental—of theirrnpreferred enemy. There are estimablyrnconservative elements in Buchanan’s advocacyrnregarding the future of the UnitedrnStates, about its situation in the world.rnBut in his vision of his country’s past, hernis neither an isolationist nor a conservativernbut a nationalist radical. crnJANUARY 2000/29rnrnrn