Although very informative most of the time and of course always entertaining, Patrick Buchanan's new book, Where the Right Went Wrong, makes a basic argument that is both disjointed and incomplete. Its contents are well worth perusing but prospective readers should be warned that the book will take them on a carnival ride through topics and histories that often subtract more than add to Buchanan's most important points.
For example, Buchanan rightly criticizes the expansion of America's military bases into Saudi Arabia (under George H. W. Bush) Eastern Europe (by Bill Clinton) and Central Asia as well as Iraq (under George W. Bush). He also correctly notes that these new installations mean that the United States now has troops based in over 100 of the world's 160 countries.
But Buchanan fails to discuss why the vast majority of these bases were established in the first place. Ostensibly, they were built to help fight the Cold War. Yet long after the fall of the Soviet Union, virtually none of the installations have been closed. Why? Buchanan can not bring himself to admit that these bases have always had more to do with projecting an American Empire than just defeating the "Red Menace."
Buchanan's introduction as well as chapters one, two and ten really hammer home the most powerful themes of his book. But sandwiched in between are chapters that deal with everything from the political background of Islam, the history of terrorism, China as an emerging power on the world stage, American economic malaise, Congress' abdication of its Constitutional roles and judicial activism in America.
Most of these chapters are both interesting and informative. But they become distractions as the reader tries to follow the powerful case against our country's misnamed and hopelessly misguided "War on Terrorism" that Buchanan makes in his book.
Before America can defeat the enemy that brought down the World Trade Center, it must be able to correctly identify it. And that enemy cannot be "terrorism" since it is merely a tactic, a technique and a weapon. In this regard, Buchanan notes what Zbigniew Brzezenski said after September 11, 2001: "Declaring a war on terror after 9-11 made about as much sense as it would have for Britain and France, after Hitler's lightening invasion of Poland, to declare war on blitzkrieg."
Nor is the enemy radical Islam, per se. On this point, Buchanan quotes Michael Vlahos: "This terrorist network is a ring of military subcultures that represents a much larger political movement within Islam, one that is nothing less than a civilization-wide insurgency against the established regimes of Sunni Islam." This is a battle within Islamic nations that the United States should avoid involving itself with at any cost.
Yet for decades our country has supported the very autocracies against which this growing political movement within Islam rages. And as far as the insurgents inside this movement are concerned, America really crossed the line when it established military bases in Saudi Arabia and continued to maintain its presence there long after the Persian Gulf War had ended.
Ironically, the United States has recently acceded to the demand that it remove its military bases from Saudi Arabia. Unfortunately, America is replacing these installations with new ones within another country of significant religious importance to Islamic peoples Iraq.
It is exactly at this juncture that Buchanan indicts neoconservatives and "big government Conservatives" along with their lackey, George W. Bush. "Interventionism," Buchanan writes, "is not the solution to America's problems in the Middle East. Interventionism is the problem. America's huge footprint in Saudi Arabia led straight to 9-11. The terrorists were over here because we were over there. Terrorism is the price of empire. If you do not wish to pay the price, you must give up the empire."
This is the proper context within which the "War on Terrorism" must be viewed. And Buchanan tells us that history gives us very little hope that we can win such a war when it is being fought under false assumptions and pretenses, "the one endeavor at which Islamic peoples excel is expelling imperial powers by terror and guerrilla war. They drove the Brits out of Palestine and Arden, the French out of Algeria, the Russians out of Afghanistan, the Americans out of Beirut and Somalia, the Israelis out of Lebanon…We have started up the road to empire and over the next hill we shall meet those who went before. The only lesson we learn from history is that we do not learn from history."
Unfortunately, the United States did not "start up the road to Empire" with its invasion of Iraq. But if this monumental blunder causes America to begin to finally turn off this road, it will truly be a case of "better late than never."
September 3, 2004