VITAL SIGNSrnFOREIGN AFFAIRSrnWhat Robert TaftrnCould Teach UsrnTodayrnby Jeffrey Thomas KuhnerrnSince the end of the Cold War Americanrnforeign pohcy has been incoherent.rnThe CHnton administration hasrnsent U.S. troops under U.N. authority tornSomaHa, Bosnia, and Haiti; tried to brokerrnpeace talks in Northern Ireland andrnthe Middle East; bombed Iraq; orderedrnAmerican warships to the Taiwan Straits;rnand antagonized China and Russia —rnwhile simultaneously feminizing thernmilitary. Most disturbing of all is Clinton’srntrivialization of foreign policy: therninability to identify primary strategic interests.rnBut a model for post-Cold WarrnAmerican foreign policy does exist, and itrnwas formulated by Ohio Senator RobertrnA. Taft.rnThe Cincinnati native, son of formerrnPresident and Supreme Court JusticernWilliam Howard Taft, had a prestigiousrncareer in the Senate from 1939 until hisrndeath in 1953. Taft was “Mr. Republican,”rnnot only because of his leadershiprnof the GOP during its long years out ofrnpower but because of his principled oppositionrnto FDR’s New Deal and Harr)’rnTruman’s Fair Deal. A three-time presidentialrncontender, he came close to defeatingrnEisenhower for the Republicanrnnomination —and he almost certainlyrnTaft on Crusades for Democracy:rn”We cannot undertake a crusade tornspread the ideals which we approvernwithout admitting the right of othersrnto crusade for their ideals. A worldrnof crusades would be a worldrnperpetually at war.”rnwould have won the presidency. Taftrnwas more than just the leader of thernCOP forces in the Senate: he was alsornthe political leader of the conservativernOld Right. Although ideologically diverse.rnOld Right conservatives shared arncommon antipathy to statism at homernand interventionism abroad.rnUnlike most post-World War II Americanrnconservatives who have come to acceptrnthe New Deal and who strongly supportedrnthe policy of containment andrnglobal anticommunism throughout thernCold War, Taft saw a direct link betweenrninternationalism in foreign affairs andrnthe growth of big government in domesticrnaffairs (what he referred to as “creepingrnsocialism”). Opposed to Americanrnentr)’ into World War II and critical ofrnthe Cold War liberalism which championedrnthe Truman Doctrine, the MarshallrnPlan, and the creation of NATO,rnTaft argued that interventionism abroadrnwould only lead to bloated militar)’ budgetsrnand “crushing taxation” at home.rnThe Ohio Senator stressed that it was notrnthe dut)’ of the United States to exportrnand protect democracy and humanrnrights around the world. Such a Wilsonianrnpolicy would involve America inrncountless conflicts around the worldrnwasting vast amounts of blood and treasurernin the service of vacuous humanitarianrngoals which did not serve the nationalrninterest. Moreover, Taft understoodrnthat “a democratic form of governmentrncannot be conferred on the rest of thernworld by force, by war, or by our dominationrnof the world.” He maintainedrnthat “democracy must rest on local selfgovernmentrnarising from within eachrnpeople itself” By embracing an imperialrnrole based on democratic universalism,rnthe United States threatened torntransform itself “into a militaristic and totalitarianrnnation as Rome turned from arnrepublic to an empire.”rnFor Taft, the primary objective ofrnAmerican foreign policy lay in preservingrnand protecting “the freedoms andrnliberty” of the American people and notrnthose of other countries and peoples. Yetrnthis did not mean that Taft was or consideredrnhimself to be an “isolationist”—arnterm of derision invented and used byrnsupporters of Roosevelt’s internationalistrnforeign policy to slander administrationrncritics who sought to keep the UnitedrnStates from entering World War II. Taftrnnever desired that the United States remainrn”isolated” from world affairs;rnrather, he understood that foreign policyrnwas about making difficult choices onrnwhat to do in the world—and what not torndo. American diplomacy, he believed,rnshould be based on a prudent regard forrnthe national interest.rnThis meant that the United Statesrnshould follow a policy of unilateralismrn(or what he called a “free hand”), preservingrnits national sovereignty and independencernin international affairs; thatrnthe United States should avoid involvementrnin military conflicts as much asrnpossible; that the decision to go to warrnshould be a last resort and only if the nation’srnvital security interests were at stake.rnTaft championed a continental realism,rnarguing that America could preserve itsrnsecurity and avoid involvement in foreignrnwars by erecting an impregnablernWestern Hemispheric defense perimeterrnencompassing North America, the Caribbean,rnand the northern tier of SouthrnAmerica.rnHowever, Taft did not believe that thernUnited States should not concern itselfrnwith events beyond the Western Hemisphere.rnOn the contrary, Taft consistentlyrndemonstrated a shrewd understandingrnof geopolitics: he supported economicrnaid to Britain in its fight against NazirnCermany; he sought financial assistancernfor Finland in its defense against Sovietrnaggression in 1940; he was a principledrncritic of FDR’s war-time alliance withrnStalin; he denounced the postwar Sovietrndomination of Eastern Europe; he votedrnin favor of the creation of the state of Israelrnin 1948; and finally, he expressedrnsympathy for small Asian nations such asrnJapan, Taiwan, and South Korea againstrnthe threat posed by Red China. Yet thisrndid not mean the United States shouldrninvolve itself in a shooting war either onrnmainland Asia or on the European continent.rnTaft warned that “nothing is so destructivernof forms of government, particularlyrnforms of democratic government,rnas war.” The United States as the world’srngreatest democracy “must avoid war likernpoison, except when it is absolutely essentialrnto protect our liberty.” At hisrncore, Taft was a geopolitical realist whorn46/CHRONICLESrnrnrn