U.S. Pays the High Price of Empire

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Patrick J. Buchanan is chairman of The American Cause, a conservative educational foundation

As the twin towers of the World Trade Center came down in flames, taking 5,000 Americans with them, an unserious era in U.S. history came to an end. “All is changed, changed utterly,” wrote poet W.B. Yeats. President Bush has now received full authority to wage war against all who abetted the slaughter. It must be done. Our American family cannot permit the mass murder of our brothers and sisters to go unpunished. But as the president directs the moral outrage of his wounded nation, he will need the wisdom of Solomon.

Our enemy, we are told, is Osama bin Laden. But though he may be the instigator and financier of terror, the war crimes of Tuesday last were carried out by men who live among us. The enemy is already inside the gates. How many others among our 11 million “undocumented” immigrants are ready to carry out truck bombings, assassinations, sabotage, skyjackings?

We are told the first target of America’s wrath will be the Taliban. But if we rain fire and death on the Afghan nation, a proud, brave people we helped liberate from Soviet bondage, we too will slaughter hundreds of innocents. And as they count their dead, the Afghans too will unite in moral outrage; and, as they cannot fight cruise missiles or Stealth bombers, they will attack our diplomats, businessmen, tourists.


Apparently, our first ally is Gen. Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan. Let us pray that his decision does not bring him down. A pro-Taliban takeover of his country would give fundamentalists the atom bomb. Commentators are demanding that Bush declare war on all who preach hatred against us or have harbored terrorists: Libya, Sudan, Syria, Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan. William Bennett wants China added to the enemies list. Some are clamoring for an invasion of Iraq. Yet U.S. air, naval and ground forces have been cut in half since Desert Storm. And in any declared war on all the rogue nations of the Islamic world, the first casualties would be our Arab allies: Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. The second would be Western unity as North Atlantic Treaty Organization nations, facing the threat of an crushing oil embargo, begged off joining Bush’s war coalition.

Consider the diplomatic dilemmas our president confronts. Does he, like his father in Desert Storm, enlist Syria in the war coalition, or are the Syrians enemies?

Does he reach out to President Mohammad Khatami, the elected leader of an Iran that is deeply hostile to the Taliban, or are they too on the enemies list?

Does Bush seek Vladimir V. Putin’s help, or does Russia’s war against the Chechens, who have committed acts of terror, disqualify them as allies? Do we press for peace between Yasser Arafat and the Israelis, or is that rewarding terror?

What took place last Tuesday was an atrocity. What is coming may qualify as tragedy. For the mass murder of our citizens has filled this country with a terrible resolve that could lead it to plunge headlong into an all-out war against despised Arab and Islamic regimes that turns into a war of civilizations, with the United States almost alone.

In the presidential campaign of 2000, we failed to make foreign policy the issue. But what I said then retains relevance: “How can all our meddling not fail to spark some horrible retribution .... Have we not suffered enough--from Pan Am 103, to the World Trade Center, to the embassy bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam--not to know that interventionism is the incubator of terrorism. Or will it take some cataclysmic atrocity on U.S. soil to awaken our global gamesmen to the going price of empire?


“America today faces a choice of destinies. We can choose to be a peacemaker of the world, or its policeman who goes about night-sticking troublemakers until we, too, find ourselves in some bloody brawl we cannot handle.”

In his intervention in Lebanon’s civil war, President Reagan made a rare blunder. But when our Marines were massacred, he did not send a mighty army to avenge them. He used U.S. power to exact a price, then extricated us from that war. There is no vital American interest at risk in all these religious, territorial and tribal wars from Algeria to Afghanistan. Let us pay back those who did this, then let us extricate ourselves. Either America finds an exit strategy from empire, or we lose our republic.