Interventions without end

by Patrick Buchanan
March 27, 2007

by Patrick J. Buchanan

“Whatever happens in Iraq, retreat from the world is not an option,” wrote Financial Times columnist Philip Stephens last weekend.

Why not? Because a world map highlighting those regions where the West’s vital resources are located would exactly overlap a map highlighting those regions where state power is crumbling, disease and poverty are pandemic and violence rules.

“The implication of this is obvious,” says Stephens.

“We can proudly declare ourselves isolationists, resolve to eschew ‘imperialist adventures,’ decry liberal interventionists such as Britain’s Tony Blair and damn the neoconservatives around U.S. President George W. Bush. But, one way or another, the West cannot avoid getting involved. On this, moral impulse and hard-headed interests are as one.”

“We are fated to intervene forever. The reality of interdependence of a world shrunk by globalization cannot be wished away.”

Put me down as not so sure. For if America is defeated in Iraq, as we were in Southeast Asia, who will ever again intervene in the Middle East?

As Stephens writes, Europe’s “eternal role” seems to be that of the “concerned bystander” to disasters anywhere. And, revisiting the 20th century, the United States did not declare war on the Kaiser’s ally Turkey in 1917, despite the Armenian massacres. Nor did we did confront Stalin over genocide in the Ukraine. FDR recognized Stalin’s regime as it perpetrated that holocaust. Nor did we intervene to halt Mao’s slaughter and starvation of millions of Chinese.

America looked on during Pol Pot’s genocide. Clinton stood aside in Rwanda. No one is calling for the 82nd Airborne to be dropped into Darfur.

No matter, says Stephens, the West cannot abide the emerging new world disorder. But, again, that begs the question: Who is going to intervene?

If Iraq and Afghanistan, despite the U.S. investment in blood and treasure, end in defeats, who does Stephens think is going to send troops to rescue imperiled “liberal democratic values”?

In his second inaugural, President Bush declared that America’s national goal is now to “support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny on earth.”

Are Americans still willing to support that utopian mission with blood and billions of dollars?

In a Gallup poll this year that posed the question, “Should the United States try to change a dictatorship to a democracy when it can, or should the United States stay out of other countries’ affairs?” — by nearly five to one Americans said, “Stay out.” Fifteen percent said “yes” to the Bush commitment. Sixty-nine percent said to stay out of the internal affairs of other countries.

Columnist David Broder cites a Penn, Schoen poll conducted Jan. 30 to Feb. 4. By 58 percent to 36 percent, respondents said, “It is a dangerous illusion to believe America is superior to other nations; we should not be attempting to reshape other nations in light of our values.”

“By an even greater proportion — almost three to one,” adds Broder, “they say the main goal of American foreign policy should be to protect the security of the United States and its allies, rather than the promotion of freedom and democracy.”

By 70 percent to 27 percent, Americans agreed, “Sometimes it’s better to leave a dictator in charge of a hostile country, if he is contained, rather than risk chaos that we can’t control if he is brought down.”

By 58 percent to 38 percent, America agreed with the statement that “if negotiating with countries that support terrorism like Iran and Syria will help protect our security interests, the U.S. should consider negotiating with them.”

“Practicality trumps idealism at every turn,” writes Broder.

“Idealism”? That is true only if one buys the proposition that refusing to talk to enemies and fighting unnecessary wars is idealism rather than folly. FDR and Truman talked to Stalin, Ike invited the Butcher of Budapest to Camp David, Nixon went to Beijing to talk to Mao, Reagan accepted Gorbachev’s invitation to Reykjavik during the Soviet war in Afghanistan. Were all these men devoid of idealism?

Stephens believes the successors to Bush and Blair will find they have no option but to intervene to prevent the new world disorder.

Perhaps. But given the rage and revulsion Americans feel at having been stampeded into Iraq and pinioned in Baghdad, unable to stop the bleeding but unwilling to walk away in defeat, the American appetite for intervention has probably been sated for a long, long time.

U.S. global hegemony is history. Like every nation, America must now choose – between what is vital and worth fighting for, and what may be “idealistic,” but is not worth a war.

Not long ago, America produced 96 percent of all she consumed and was the most self-sufficient republic in history. With statesmanship and sacrifice, we can become so again. With leaders like we once had, we can chuck the empire. For what good has it done us?

If the Senate and House judiciary committees issue subpoenas for Karl Rove and other White House aides to testify to their roles in the firing of the eight U.S. attorneys, President Bush should defy the subpoenas. He should accept the contempt citations and fight it all the way to the Supreme Court.

Indeed, he has a duty to do so. For Bush is today the custodian of an office that is the subject of assault by a partisan and hostile Congress.

This is not about the incompetence of the Justice Department of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales or about any White House role in the firing of the eight -- whom President Bush had every right to fire.

This is about preserving and protecting the integrity of the institution of the presidency. It is about the right of America's head of state and head of government to receive the candid counsel of his most trusted advisers.

If White House assistants as close to a president as Karl Rove is to George W. Bush can be ordered before congressional partisans, to be interrogated by congressional committees on what he may have told the president on controversial matters, the presidency itself will be damaged and weakened.

What is the matter with so many journalists that they cannot see or understand the principle at stake? Is their contempt for Bush so great they cannot see the need for executive privilege? Indeed, the hypocrisy on the part of some in the press is so manifest as to make them look absurdly partisan.

We just passed through a criminal investigation by U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald of the alleged outing of a CIA agent, an investigation the press demanded. Yet journalists were outraged that Judith Miller of The New York Times and Matt Cooper of Time were subpoenaed and forced to testify to a U.S. grand jury in that criminal investigation. To defend reporter's privilege, Miller spent months in jail, rather than testify to what a single White House aide told her.

Can journalists credibly argue for an absolute shield law that protects their right never to have to reveal -- even before a federal grand jury that is investigating potential crimes against national security -- what Karl Rove told them, but President Bush has no right at all to protect what Rove told him from a partisan congressional committee?

Congress, too, is being manifestly hypocritical.

When $90,000 was discovered in the freezer of Rep. William Jefferson, the Justice Department went to a federal judge for a subpoena, so the FBI could enter Jefferson's office, where agents removed files related to a corruption investigation. Yet members of Congress were outraged at this executive intrusion in their sacrosanct domain.

No matter that Jefferson was under criminal investigation, no matter that the subpoena was validly issued by a U.S. judge, Capitol Hill was said to be a sanctuary into which no law enforcement agent of the executive branch had a right to intrude.

Journalists make the point that Nixon aides, among them this writer, testified under oath in televised hearings before the Watergate Committee, that President Nixon was ordered by the Supreme Court to turn over tapes of his most confidential Oval Office conversations.

But those tapes were ordered turned over to an independent special prosecutor, whose office had been set up to investigate the White House and prosecute former White House aides. The executive branch was investigating the executive branch.

As for the Senate Watergate Committee, it was a special committee with which President Nixon, after the White House aides involved in the scandal had been removed, had agreed to cooperate. The same was true of President Reagan in the Iran-Contra affair.

In this matter of the eight U.S. attorneys, what do we know? That they were fired by the president at whose pleasure they served. That there is no hard evidence any was fired to abort a criminal investigation. That some were incompetent. That others, like Carol Lam of San Diego, had their own agenda and were not dealing resolutely, as Justice was demanding, with the illegal immigration scandal.

Congress has many powers, among them the right to command the presence and public testimony of every executive branch officer in the Cabinet departments. But Congress has no right, in its oversight function, to command the testimony of a president's closest aides as to what they told the president in confidence, any more than it has a right to the testimony of Supreme Court clerks as to what they told the chief justice.

If Congress presses ahead with these subpoenas, the president should use every weapon in his arsenal to repel this act of aggression by a rogue Congress against the Office of the President of the United States.

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