The Resurrection of 'America First!'
Two years ago, when the American
Conservative magazine was launched, Franklin Foer of the New Republic
accorded us a gracious welcome. "Buchanan's Surefire Failure," he titled
It began, "Buchanan and his rich friends could not have chosen a worse
time to start a journal of the isolationist right."
Foer went on: "9-11 hasn't boosted the isolationist right, it has
extinguished it ... Sept. 11 has virtually ended conservative qualms
about spending blood and treasure abroad." He explained how trade and
immigration were dead issues and neoconservatives were "no longer a wing
of the conservative movement, they are the conservative movement."
That Foer got it spectacularly wrong – Bush is in trouble on trade and
immigration, and the neocons are headed for Tora Bora – is attested to
by an astonishing piece in the New York Times Book Review, "Once Again
America First." The author writes of a revival of "isolationism" in the
conservative movement and GOP.
Author of the Times piece? You guessed it: Franklin Foer.
Noting that George Will, Tucker Carlson, Henry Hyde, William F. Buckley
and other conservatives are having second thoughts about Iraq, Foer
predicts, "With the war ... hitting a rough patch, this
anti-interventionist tradition is suddenly poised for revival."
How Foer, who knows the history of the Old Right and postwar
conservatism, could have gotten it so wrong, two years ago, seems odd.
For the foreign policy routinely disparaged as "isolationism" is always
on the table. It is the foreign policy most deeply rooted in America's
history, heart and vital interests. It is no more going to be
"extinguished" than is Christianity. It is our oldest tradition.
Though that tradition may be dismissed by our foreign policy elites as
antiquated, selfish and un-idealistic, it is the elites who are out of
touch. They do not know the country they live in. They do not know the
American people. They never have.
No sooner was our Revolutionary War ended at Yorktown, than U.S.
diplomats sent to Paris to negotiate the peace were trying to wangle
their way out of the French alliance. Adams finally ended the alliance
in 1800 and thus kept us out of the Napoleonic wars.
In 1812, Madison took us to war against Britain for national interests.
War hawks coveted Canada. But that unwise war almost cost us our
country, had it not been for Jackson at New Orleans. Not for a hundred
years would we again engage in a war with any great European power.
While the 1898 war on Spain was wildly popular, Americans quickly tired
of the postwar campaign to consolidate U.S. control of the Philippines,
which we had foolishly annexed. As with Iraq, Americans wanted an end to
the wastage of blood and treasure to democratize recalcitrant natives.
Wilson won re-election in 1916 on the slogan "He Kept Us Out of War."
After the U-boat sinking of U.S. merchant ships in early 1917, however,
America went to war, again wildly enthusiastic.
By November 1918, though, reaction had set in. Voters threw Wilson's
party out, and all Henry Cabot Lodge had to do was delay for a few
months before taking up the Versailles Treaty and League of Nations to
For 20 years, Americans felt we had been had by the Brits and had been
suckered into war "only to pull England's chestnuts out of the fire."
This sentiment fueled the greatest of all anti-war movements in U.S.
history, America First.
The achievements of that organization are monumental. By keeping America
out of World War II until Hitler attacked Stalin in June of 1941, Soviet
Russia, not America, bore the brunt of the fighting, bleeding and dying
to defeat Nazi Germany. Thanks to America First, no nation suffered less
in the world's worst war.
Pearl Harbor, which FDR cynically provoked after assuring Americans he
was doing his best to keep us out of war, finished the America First
movement. But, four years later, with victory won, America demanded that
Truman "Bring the Boys Home."
He complied, and Americans did not go back to Europe until the nation
was persuaded – by the Berlin Blockade, the communist coup in Prague,
the fall of China to Mao, the news that Stalin had gotten the atom bomb
through treason and the invasion of South Korea – that our own country
and Western Civilization were imperiled.
With the end of the Cold War, anti-interventionism, as Foer writes, made
a comeback in the GOP, until 9-11. Now, with the mess in Iraq and the
cost of nation-building rising in blood and treasure, America is looking
for a foreign policy that defends the nation, but does not entail
utopian schemes for remaking the world in America's image. Either the
party that wins in November gives us such a policy, or it will be thrown
out of office in 2008.
Rely upon it. America First is back.
© 2004 Creators
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