What Kind of a Foreign Policy Should Unite the Right?

by Clifford F. Thies

Bewildered by the 1998 election, a few conservatives are saying we should return to the tried-and-true formula of combining anti-communism and other *wedge issues* with the Republican Party*s commitment to balance the budget and cut taxes by restraining the growth of spending, in order to win the next election. The only problem is: there no longer are any communists hell-bent on world domination. The closest thing we have to such a threat are a few rogue dictators such as the rulers of Iraq and North Korea. Nevertheless, according to these conservatives, there is a chance one of these dictators can get their hands on an intercontinental ballistic missile and a nuclear warhead, and because of this possibility we should commit to develop an anti-ballistic missile (ABM) defense system no matter the cost. These conservatives are wrong both on the ABM and on interpreting the election.

At the most basic level, the issue in national defense should be: what do our alliances and sub-alliance commitments gain for us? Clearly, during the cold war, the argument could be made that communist domination of western Europe and the east Asian rim would threaten us, and therefore we were required to extend our defenses to the other sides of the Atlantic and Pacific. But, now, with the end of the cold war, this argument is problematic at best.

We do have an interest in securing the former vassal nations of eastern Europe for democracy, and keeping Russia and the Ukraine from falling back into imperialistic totalitarianism (although a period of authoritarianism for these countries, a la Franco's Spain, is not, at this point, the worst thing in the world since the opportunity for Czech- or Polish-style transition to a market-based democracy appears to have been lost). But, beyond these goals, we have no national interest in the rest of the world (other than the fact that we would be enriched by all the people of the world being engaged in free trade).

With the end of the cold war, the continued projection of the U.S. defenses over the nations of Europe and the east Asian rim, and the projection of force into the Persian Gulf, serves three unfortunate purposes:

1) It subsidizes other nations which should make at least the same commitment to national defense that we do. This includes both the amount spent (as a percent of GDP) and the moral commitment to use force when that becomes necessary. A key example here is pacified Japan. Another example is our hapless European allies which can not even keep a third-rate dictator like Milosevic at bay without U.S. leadership.

2) It stretches our own forces thin, as today our armed forces, to include our guard and reserve units, are fatigued from extended overseas deployments.

3) It makes us the target of every malcontent in the world, as though we in America are responsible for whatever ill festers out there.

The answer to the possibility of an attack from a rogue dictator or from a terrorist group is not an ABM, but a return to a much more narrow definition of our national interest. It is entirely possible that an ABM would be nothing more than a high-tech Maginot Line. The French considered themselves secure behind the Maginot line. This false sense of security sapped both their military planning and resoluteness. Thus, the Germans were able to defeat them, even though the French had a larger army, when they by-passed the Maginot Line and invaded France through Belgium and the Netherlands during WWII.

Today, rogue nations and terrorists would be able to by-pass an ABM by launching missiles from ships near our shore, or by infiltrating nuclear devices, poison gas or biological agents into our country. The false sense of security obtained with an ABM might embolden our government to continue to get sucked into interminable conflicts around the world, from the Balkans to the Persian Gulf, and from the tribal wars Africa to the narcocracies of South America, and thus motivate their attack on us.

The German military strategist Von Clausewitz once said "man likes to fight from afar." By this, he meant by using artillery. Today, we would say by using smart bombs, stealth bombers, and weapons enjoying "stand-off." But no war, not even the Persian Gulf War, was won without sending in the ground troops. We didn't win the Revolutionary War until the Marquis de Lafayette and Colonel Alexander Hamilton lead a bayonet assault onto Redout Number 2 at Yorktown. And, we didn't win the Civil War (or lose it, depending on your perspective) until Grant bulled his way into Lee's positions. The idea that you can avoid casualties in a future conflict, that you can deal with the threat in a surgical fashion, saps the moral conviction you need to win and, prevents you from being resolute, and thereby avoid the war in the first place.

This is why General Douglas MacArthur said, "Only a soldier knows the horror of war, and only the dead know its end." Our sappy-headed politicians can be counted on to allow tin-horn dictators to grow, like Chamberlain did Adolf Hitler, and like Bush did Saddam Hussein, foolishly thinking we can control them "from afar." But, then, there comes the time we have no choice but to take them on. Then God help the members of our military forces, and God help us all.

Now, as to the election, the conservatives are wrong to infer that we need to resurrect the old coalition of fiscal conservatives, social conservatives and anti-communists. The election clearly demonstrated that that coalition is dead, and the Republicans better start thinking fast about combining fiscal conservatism with a social agenda which preaches individual freedom and self-responsibility and a return to the traditional American foreign policy of peace and free trade. If Republicans want to get back to winning, they had better embrace the ethnic diversity and technological progress which characterizes a free society, and stop worrying so much that somebody, somewhere is having fun.

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CLIFFORD F. THIES is chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus, a nationwide organization for libertarians within the Republican Party. He is also a professor of economics and finance at Shenandoah University, and a resident of Winchester, Virginia.