January 22, 2020
Author: Chilton Williamson

For the past three and a half decades, Pat Buchanan has been right—“right” in the sense of “correct” as well as of “to the right”—on every subject I can think of.  He has been right  about the critical danger illegal immigration poses to the United States, and the need to reduce legal immigration drastically in order to maintain the character of this country. He has been right that “America First” should be the guiding principle in resolving issues pertinent to immigration, trade, foreign policy, and military intervention, and that preserving  the legacy of  four centuries of American civilization, including the Old South’s, is crucial to the future of the nation.  He has been right on the need to cancel Roe. V. Wade and outlaw abortion at every stage of fetal development. Had his presidential campaigns of 1992 and 1996 prevailed, 20 years of economic irresponsibility, military adventurism, cultural collapse, and moral anarchy might have been either prevented or significantly alleviated. Perhaps because Buchanan has been so profoundly right so much of the time, he is not always able to recognize when he is leaning wrong in trusting the instincts that have served him so well in the past. I have in mind two of his syndicated columns written and released over the past four weeks.

In the first of these (“If Baghdad Wants Us Out, Let’s Go!”) Mr. Buchanan sounds uncharacteristically tentative, though doubtless he is also being respectful of Donald Trump’s administration.  “Killing Soleimani was just,” he says. “But what is just is not always wise.” True enough. “Yet,” he concedes, “his killing restores Trump’s credibility as a Jacksonian who avoids wars but who, wounded, will stab the enemy who cut him. Trump has a red line. It is not shooting at American drones but shooting at American soldiers, the drawing of American blood….If [the rulers of Iran] retaliate by killing American soldiers, diplomats or civilians, using either Iranian troops or proxy militias, Trump will retaliate against Iran itself.”

So far, so clear. But in his next and final sentence Buchanan concludes: “Otherwise, [my emphasis], ‘Come Home, America,’ George McGovern’s slogan from the 1972 presidential campaign, has rarely seemed more relevant.” “Otherwise” seems to infer that Buchanan would support a decision by the President  to go to war against Iran if  Iran should retaliate first. Yet he has already suggested, earlier in the column, that because our troops in Iraq cannot remain “safely” in Baghdad and the rest of the country, “Perhaps, rather than sending troops into Iraq and Kuwait to defend U.S. troops already there, we should accede to the local nationalist demands, start bringing our troops home, and let Iranians, Libyans, Syrians, Yemenis and Afghans settle their quarrels.”

That, of course, is what we should have let them do in 1990 and 2003. However, Washington did fight in the Gulf  War, it did launch the Iraq War, it has troops stationed in Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries today, and there they should remain for now to defend themselves, their military honor, and the honor and reputation of their country against the local populations rather than be summarily withdrawn because their situation is “unsafe.” It is, after all, the business of a  soldier to live and operate in unsafe places.  Buchanan observes that Tehran does not want war with the U.S., but  wishes rather “to direct the passions of the moment toward forcing an expulsion of the Americans from the Middle East, beginning with their ouster from Iraq.” As a great power, no matter how far she has overstepped itself, the United States cannot give Iran what she wants—and without delay– and expect to maintain the respect of any country, friendly or hostile, in the world. To do so would be to invite aggression against her interests by her enemies, beginning with China. If Washington has indeed learned its lesson with regard to military adventurism, the time to apply that lesson is after it has successfully concluded the adventure already under way, and before it launches the next one. Since “Washington” means, at least until next January, “Donald Trump,” I think we can rest fairly assured that for the next twelve months that lesson will stay learned.

In “Will War Derail Trump’s Reelection,” Buchanan reviews previous American presidential campaigns in which issues of foreign policy—wars especially—have been decisive: Truman’s in 1952, Johnson’s in 1968, and Carter’s in 1980, when the latter’s “feckless” response to the Iranian hostage crisis contributed to his massive defeat at the polls by Ronald Reagan. Trump, Buchanan is saying, should bear history in mind as a cautionary lesson. Yet no action could be more feckless that Trump’s standing down now in the Middle East by giving the Ayatollah, his mullahs, and his Revolutionary Guard precisely what they want–just when they want it.  “In former times,” Buchanan concludes, “a confrontation or shooting war often benefitted the incumbent, as there was almost always a rallying to the flag. Those days are gone. This generation has had its fill of wars.”

That may be so, or it may not be. Patriotic pride is still present and subject to passionate arousal, especially among the people who voted for Donald Trump and attend his rallies. One way or the other, there is precisely no evidence so far that his recent military action in Iraq has weakened the President’s support in the slightest.  I hope Pat Buchanan’s honorable patriotic opposition to such actions over his long journalistic and political career is not so reflexive that it leads him covertly to wish that it might.