From Last Month`s American Spectator
Jude Wanniski
August 5, 1999


Memo To: R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr. American Spectator
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Your July Issue was Terrific!

I hate to admit it, Bob, but I didn't read your July issue until Monday night of this week and we were already into August. More's the shame, because it was such a package of good stuff that I could have been quoting from it all this time. I was delighted to see you come to your good senses in "Peace Now," your "Public Nuisances" column, in which you decide the cost of dutifully saluting the Commander-in-Chief in Kosovo had become too high for your moral pocketbook. Bill McGurn's contribution on "The Other China" was so good that I had to call him at his regular digs, at the WSJournal, and personally shower compliments on him. The big bellringer, though, was Tom Bethell's "Capitol Ideas" column, "Liberals Go To War." I've known Tom since the late 1960s, practically since he arrived from his native England with an Oxford philosophy degree. He has written plenty of insightful columns, essays and reviews for your monthly, as he did earlier for the National Review. And his books on the American political scene will have lasting value to historians. But this "Liberals Go To War" is priceless. So much so that I am going to run it right here, even though our website followers also could find it and almost the entire July issue at your website. And by the way, I am now going to take the Spectator home with me as soon as it arrives, with high expectations that you will be producing these gems regularly.


We deliver a moral bombing from on high

The quintessential liberal Eleanor Clift complained the other day about "all this whining about civilians being hurt." You thought there was something about this war you didn't like? Think of it this way. The B-2 is in combat at last -- and Eleanor Clift and Hillary Clinton are in the cockpit. Nina Totenberg: "We're going to have to use . . . a lot more violence, and that means B-52s and ground troops." Jack Germond: "This defiance, of nationalism, the only way you can break it down is to be awfully harsh. Shut off the electricity. You've got to wreck Belgrade, basically."

One of the first to defend the U.S. war on Serbia was the television commentator Andy Rooney. "We have the weapons, we have the money, we have the moral authority," he said on "60 Minutes," on March 28. "We even have some help from other countries this time. There's nothing in it for us. No big oil companies going to make money, no bankers. All we'll get out of it is the good feeling of knowing we're helping a lot of poor bastards who don't have the power to help themselves . . . I trust President Clinton in this matter. I trust my country. I'm proud."

That is an almost perfect statement of the liberal rationale for war. There's nothing in it for us -- except that it makes us feel good. We deliver unto those who deserve it a purely disinterested bombing; a moral bombing from on high. Rooney only omitted to add that the groundwork -- the real groundwork, having nothing to do with ground troops -- had already been laid. Milosevic had been demonized by the media worldwide. So we had our Hitler, and now good was bombing evil. Not for America's national interest, mind. Not for oil. But for the pure moral improvement of mankind. Notice that Rooney's cynicism about earlier wars ("warbucks" were their unstated cause) was exceeded only by his self-righteousness about our starting a new one.

By the end of May, our claim to moral superiority remained a key justification for bombing. "It is the alliance that obviously has the high moral values, has the democracy and the open, questioning system," a senior administration official told a Washington Post reporter. Why does this fail to reassure? Madeleine Albright, our deracinated Secretary of State, said NATO will be in the business of imposing "values." Among them she included "democracy, stability and basic human decency." Bombing for democracy? Absurd. And forget about stability. We already had that, and may have now lost it. As for basic human decency, Steven Mosher of the Population Research Institute reported that by May, "morning-after" birth-control pills were being distributed to Kosovar women in Albanian refugee camps as "a routine form of family planning." Not just as an emergency response to allegations of rape.

That was admittedly the U.N. Population Fund's doing, but it wouldn't have happened without our tacit approval. Our basic message to the world seems to have been propounded by the Rockefeller Foundation and now delegated to the U.S. Air Force: "Too many people out there!" What does Western civilization now have to offer the world? Polling booths, condoms, and, oh yes, something else -- diversity. Clinton wrote in his New York Times article that the "‘cleansing' of people from their land" was a threat to diversity. "Had they experienced nothing but that, their nations would be homogeneous today, not endlessly diverse." "Homogeneous" nations are self-evidently wicked, apparently. Have we really come to that?

One "value" that Albright & Co. do take seriously is: "Might makes right." It is disquieting to contemplate the enemies that the United States is making around the world as we bomb for democracy and diversity. We will not be able to sustain our predominant might for long. Sometimes I think that our desperate attempts to confine high-tech information within U.S. borders is not so much a concern about "theft" or "spying" as it is the well founded fear that once we lose our monopoly of might, others might adopt our philosophy of right. Against us. Since, in bombing Belgrade, we ignored the UN Charter provision that requires Security Council approval for attacks on sovereign nations, we may now expect others to follow our example. "The trouble with flying in the face of the Charter," Jonathan Power wrote, "is that when the West bends it out of shape, it does not simply spring back to where it was, ready for use the next time. It is damaged, perhaps unusable. Why should China not use force to win back Taiwan?"

Many said that the bombing was an error, but most agreed that there was no going back. That would undermine our "credibility." War has no reverse gear, apparently. Buy a bad stock, and you must invest your whole portfolio in it. The "prevailing argument," Arianna Huffington said, is that "the best way to get out of a strategic error is to compound it." Of course, nothing undermined NATO's credibility so much as its overnight transformation from a defensive to an aggressive force. We have not begun to see the consequences of this reversal -- the worst foreign policy blunder since I came to the U.S. in 1962.

It is hard to disagree with the former Russian prime minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, who said: "Even the smallest of independent states will seek nuclear weapons and delivery vehicles to defend themselves, after they see NATO's military machine in action." Liberals who had been pushing earnestly for the non-proliferation of weapons might want to consider the consequences of their applied demonization skills. "It will no longer be possible to thwart the proliferation of missiles and nuclear arms." Russia's earlier concern, that NATO might turn from a defensive to an aggressive force, which a few months ago had seemed paranoid, now seems far-sighted. That is a measure of the upheaval that this action has wrought.

The war-hungry Albright had complained bitterly to the Joint Chiefs that military hardware is pointless if we don't use it. But as Owen Harries of The National Interest more sensibly said, "some strategic assets are better possessed than used." By remaining inactive, NATO had succeeded better than any alliance in history, acquiring "an aura of irresistible power without firing a shot." Then the alliance "called its own bluff and insisted on putting itself to the test against a minor state and on a peripheral issue."

There were those of us who argued, after the Cold War, that NATO should be disbanded. Instead it was expanded. Bureaucratic will to survive and domestic politics trumped everything else. Polish, Czech and Hungarian ethnics in this country lobbied Capitol Hill effectively: "Defend us from the Russians," they said (so that we don't have to defend ourselves, as they avoided saying). Countervailing American voices were dismissed as "isolationist." Those who have most sought increases in Western military budgets have done their best to prevent them. Insisting that the Europeans stay on American welfare, NATO supporters have ensured that European budgets remain dedicated to dentures and insurance. If we will pay for hardware, they won't. Like adolescents everywhere, they won't act responsibly until the credit card is removed. In a recent editorial, nonetheless, National Review viewed "European efforts to create new security institutions free of American influence" as a threat rather than a promise.

Our only sensible course, to stay out of the Balkans altogether, had already been disparaged as isolationism long before the war began. When Patrick J. Buchanan was featured as a soundbite on ABC's "This Week," saying "this is not our war, and American troops ought not to be involved in it," Cokie Roberts quickly let us know what we were supposed to think about that. Buchanan's position "is at the extreme," she said, "basically the isolationist position." With an establishment eager to marginalize common sense, we may expect insanity to prevail. One would hardly have known that until the war began, Buchanan's position was also Henry Kissinger's.

Public figures identified as conservative jumped on board once the bombing started. Unlike Andy Rooney, they don't believe "there is nothing in it for us," but they have been hard put to say what is. Mostly, I think, they don't want to be thought beyond the pale of respectability. Perhaps someone will call them isolationist? Some disguised their underlying support for warmaking by stressing tactical differences with the president. George Will paraded his opposition to Clinton-as commander-in-chief; but went along with the liberals on the bombing of Belgrade. When American bombs are falling, who dares to be the naysayer? One's patriotism might be called into question.

John McCain, senator from Arizona, has been by far the most opportunistic member of the war party. He strikes me as being a sly demagogue. He regularly adopts positions that please Democrats in general and the Washington press corps in particular. He led the war on tobacco, and in favor of the campaign finance reform bill that tops the news media agenda. He will impose no abortion "litmus test" on judicial candidates, should he ever be in a position to nominate them. Nothing makes the media happier than a candidate who both adopts their positions and allows them to seem bipartisan. All indications are that McCain has quietly joined the party of David Broder (he of the Washington Post).

McCain was widely saluted for running for president, but not "announcing" his candidacy. He thereby gained the very publicity he pretended to eschew, and his moral colors flew even higher; far above the tawdry pennants of his vote-grubbing rivals. Softball Media followed.

Tim Russert: "You have not announced your candidacy? Are you running?"

Sen. McCain: "I am running. I am a candidate. I just didn't think it was appropriate to have brass bands while American men and women are in harm's way."

"Churchillian," wrote David Broder in the Washington Post. He followed up with a page-one puff piece on McCain. 

Another who has sided with (and egged on) the liberal warmakers is Bill Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard. When I met him at a conservative function recently he said his only regret about the war was that John McCain wasn't running it. He admitted that few of the conservatives present agreed with him. In his speech, he sensibly avoided the whole subject. Kristol seems to see government as a "vast reservoir of power," to use Michael Oakeshott's phrase. Society should be end-governed, not rule-governed. Our lives are presumably so aimless that we should be furnished with some external purpose (which he will help to define). He thinks we should have intervened in Rwanda, and I guess he believes that we can bend the whole world to our will.

My sense is that he lies well outside the conservative mainstream on foreign policy. Despite dozens of editorials and commentaries, mostly written with his sidekick Robert Kagan, he has not been able to explain, at least to my satisfaction, why he thinks America should try to run the world. His role models would seem to be Truman, Dean Acheson, Paul Nitze, Scoop Jackson -- Democrats all. He derides the philosophy of "America First," but doesn't have any other country in mind. Kristol (and David Brooks) have called for "American greatness" conservatism, and one only can only wonder what that might look like. Perhaps all three, Kristol, Kagan and Brooks, could put their heads together and take another stab at explaining what they have in mind for us, for America, and for the world. More than elections, condoms and diversity, I'm sure, but what, exactly? I think we should be told.