There is an American Empire, but we should dump it, because we Americans are woefully incompetent when it comes to maintaining empires.
One mistake that seems to be a permanent feature of our foreign policy is mirror-imaging. So many American politicians, most of them poorly educated and ignorant of other people and their cultures, tend to think other people are just like us. A great many are not.
Lyndon Johnson failed in Vietnam because he thought he could treat the Vietnamese the same way he treated members of the U.S. House and Senate. Johnson always used a stick and a carrot. Vote with me, and you'll get pork-barrel rewards; vote against me, and I'll find a way to punish you. That worked with American politicians, most of whom are nothing more than officeholders with "for sale or rent" signs on their foreheads.
Johnson told the North Vietnamese, make peace, and I'll give you billions of dollars in American aid; don't make peace, and I'll bomb you. Unfortunately for Johnson, the North Vietnamese, whatever their other faults, were not for sale, nor were they willing to succumb to threats. They wanted to unify their country, and they were willing to fight as long as necessary to achieve that. As it turned out, we were not willing to fight as long as necessary to prevent it. So, despite billions of dollars, despite 57,000 dead, despite a quarter of a million wounded, Vietnam is today a unified communist country.
President George W. Bush has offered a $25 million reward for Osama bin Laden. He thought, apparently, that like most Americans, the Afghans and Pakistanis were for sale. Despite Afghanistan being one of the poorest countries in the world, the American millions have not produced a single traitor willing to rat out bin Laden.
Let's face it — we have become a secular and materialistic society. The two kinds of people we have real trouble believing actually exist are people of true religious faith and people to whom honor means more than money.
Years ago, an understandably irate chiropractor said of medical doctors, "If they can't drug it or cut it, they don't know what the hell to do." Similarly, if we can't bribe with our dollars or intimidate with our bombs, we don't know what to do. That disqualifies us to run an empire, so we ought to cut our losses and go back to being a republic.
Now, returning to our republican roots doesn't mean we try to live in splendid isolation. Not at all. It just means that we stop trying to run other people's countries and concentrate on running our own. We can have trade relations with the whole world — cultural exchanges, tourism, the whole ball of friendly wax. We just make sure the CIA and the military don't do any dirty work inside other people's countries, such as interfering in their elections or overthrowing their governments. And we don't take sides in other countries' wars and feuds. Armed neutrality should be our position.
That, to me, would be the best of all possible worlds for Americans. This is not pie in the sky. It was once American policy, and the United States was widely loved and respected during that period of time. Now, with our troops in more than 100 foreign countries, we are widely disliked, if not hated and feared.
The cluster blunders in Iraq and Vietnam, not to mention many smaller cluster blunders we have made around the world, should convince any reasonable person that we Americans are simply not competent imperialists. We don't know much about other people; we resist learning other languages; we love our own country so much we are frankly not very interested in the rest of the world. We have all the qualifications to be a mind-our-own-business republic, and none of the qualifications to be a world empire.
We should start bringing our troops home from the far-flung corners of the world, establish a sensible self-defense posture and use the billions of dollars we would save to tackle all the really serious domestic problems we have.
Unfortunately, for that to happen you'd probably have to elect Pat Buchanan or me as president, and neither one of us is running.
July 26, 2004
Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years, reporting on everything from sports to politics. From 1969—71, he worked as a campaign staffer for gubernatorial, senatorial and congressional races in several states. He was an editor, assistant to the publisher, and columnist for the Orlando Sentinel from 1971 to 2001. He now writes a syndicated column which is carried on LewRockwell.com. Reese served two years active duty in the U.S. Army as a tank gunner. Write to Charley Reese at P.O. Box 2446, Orlando, FL 32802.
© 2004 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.