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Making Peace: 100 Years of Leftist Failure By: Spencer Warren
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, April 04, 2003


In the merciful termination of the UN Security Council’s pathetic twelve-year charade over Iraq, we may well have witnessed the climax of a one hundred-year utopian effort to substitute reason and international law for national power and brute force as the governing principles of international relations. First, it was international arbitration and the goal of disarmament enshrined in the Hague treaties of 1899 and 1907, then international organization (the League of Nations followed by the UN), then actual disarmament and arms control treaties – each hailed as bold steps in a utopian project to achieve lasting peace. Unfortunately, the century-old record of this exhaustive campaign is largely one of failure.

We must examine the historical record and the philosophic assumptions on which the utopian campaign has always been based, for those assumptions – despite having been proved empirically false – motivate the Left’s opposition to President Bush’s policy today. (Any open-minded reader of the New York Times and the disloyal pronouncements of Senator Tom Daschle will understand that most liberals are now full members in good standing of the Left.) The left’s unceasing campaign to minimize the requirements of national power can be seen as domestic social engineering extended to international affairs. They have no doubt they can ameliorate the military and political competition between states, and reduce the crude demands of brutal power, with rationalistic, legalistic schemes embodied in arms treaties, "peace processes" and UN resolutions and inspectors, much as they have no doubt they can solve domestic social problems through legislation. Underlying their efforts is the age-old dream of a perfect human nature transforming society through the application of reason.

An inspiring hope – which is precisely the problem, because it is at odds with experience. Take the 1991 Gulf War, which made clear that Saddam Hussein was close to developing nuclear weapons. The Left’s arguments against war today are very similar to the ones made then – when House Democrats voted 179 to 86 against war (the final vote was 250-183 for action), and Senate Democrats voted 45 to 10 against war (the final vote was a mere 52-47 for action). How totally wrong they were, as we won the most stunning, lop-sided, easy victory in history. Despite such amazing bad judgment, and despite the knowledge gained after the victory about Saddam’s extensive terror weapons program, liberal House Democrats again voted overwhelmingly against authorizing today’s President Bush to undertake military action. They must be physically sore from their contortions. In 1991 they voted against war even after the UN at that time had voted in favor of U.S. action (a point overlooked by journalists today), yet today they argue with straight faces that they oppose action now unless endorsed by the UN! As with their invocation of "deterrence" to "contain" Saddam, they are using the U.N. position and inspectors merely to obscure their "pacifist" (that is to say anti-American and, in the case of Senator Daschle, viciously partisan) views.

There is much, much more in the historical record to demonstrate the utter irrationality of the Left’s view of foreign affairs:

They fought against every one of President Reagan’s policies that won the Cold War and achieved the only successful arms control treaties – reducing or eliminating entire classes of armaments. Thus, they complained in 1981-82 when he refused to resume strategic arms talks ("START") until his rearmament program got under way. They denounced his late 1981 "zero option" proposal to eliminate all Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces ("INF") as not serious because the Soviet Russians would never accept it. They fought in Congress for the nuclear freeze (one of their two worst ideas – see below for the other), which would have banned the very deployment in Europe of the U.S. INF forces which resulted in the 1987 treaty abolishing both sides’ INF forces. They blamed President Reagan when the Russians, in a typical attempt to stir up domestic protests in NATO countries, walked out of the INF and START talks following our initial INF deployments late in 1983. These deployments, in the face of massive left-wing protests in Europe – sound familiar? – proved to be the climactic confrontation of the Cold War. They derided President Reagan’s strategic defense program as "Star Wars," and dismissed evidence of Soviet cheating on existing arms control agreements (confirmed after the Soviet collapse). Reagan’s muscular challenge against an economically declining Soviet Russia proved decisive in Gorbachev’s move to end the Cold War on our terms – as a U.S. victory. The Left essentially took the Soviet position.

Let us complete the inventory of error. Nothing useful came of the early Hague treaties. Then, at the Versailles Peace Conference in 1919, following the "War to End Wars," the great liberal Woodrow Wilson sought to abolish bad old European "power politics" in favor of the League of Nations. The result left defeated and humiliated Germany still in possession of latent superiority, setting the clock ticking toward an even more cataclysmic world war. (For example, rather than detach the Rhineland, as France desired, it was "demilitarized" under a regime of French [!] inspectors, who failed to detect cheating by Weimar Germany; in 1936 Hitler junked the whole arrangement.) In 1928, Secretary of State Frank Kellogg, a prominent lawyer (suitably enough) negotiated the Kellogg-Briand pact to "outlaw" war. (Appropriately, Kellogg was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize – later bestowed on Le Duc Tho, Yasser Arafat and Jimmy Carter.) In the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922 and the London Naval Treaty of 1930 the British and U.S. Navies, the world’s largest, made big cutbacks while Japan was granted de facto superiority in the Pacific (later augmented by her cheating). These pathbreaking treaties ultimately cost the lives of many young British and American seamen in the early years of World War II. (They were negotiated by conservatives who held the rationalist view of foreign relations.) At the Geneva disarmament conference in the early 1930s, Britain’s first Labour prime minister, J. Ramsay MacDonald (heading a coalition dominated by Kellogg-like conservatives including Neville Chamberlain) proposed – only months before Hitler took power – that France reduce its large army and air force to the much smaller size of Weimar Germany’s, in the view that equality would bring good will and peace. ("The one ray of hope," Albert Einstein – a supreme rationalist -- wrote about the conference in The Nation.) Later in the decade, the opposition Labour party advocated "collective security" through the League as the means to "contain" Hitler, while opposing Winston Churchill’s calls for Britain’s rearmament and superiority. (Sound familiar again?) The appeasement policies of the anti-force conservative Chamberlain then almost cost Britain her very life in World War II. (President Roosevelt combated here the isolationist movement of Charles Lindbergh conservatives - those today idolized and emulated by Pat Buchanan, et. al. - and left-wingers, both of whom he denounced as "fifth columnist appeasers.")

In the momentous months following our atom bombing of Japan that ended World War II, many on the Left (e.g. The New Republic, The Nation, Senator Claude Pepper, former Vice President Henry Wallace) vociferously advocated that we share the atom bomb secret with Stalin in order to avert an arms race and guarantee world peace. (Historians have now demonstrated conclusively that Stalin’s spies had already stolen much of the information, even as the above magazines and scientists like Neils Bohr and Leo Szilard were condemning President Truman’s refusal to share secrets. This was the Left’s number one worst idea.) The liberal and radical Left press of the early postwar period was filled with great hopes that the new United Nations would usher in a new era of world peace, again eliminating the need for "power politics." They wildly denounced Churchill’s "Iron Curtain" speech in March 1946, which called for Anglo-American superiority against the new Soviet threat, in much the same terms as their heirs denounce President Bush today. Yet what held Communism at bay during the Cold War and ultimately ensured our victory? The UN, negotiations and arms treaties, or the superior power – military, economic, technological, moral – of the free United States and our free NATO allies? The answer hardly needs elaboration.

We cannot close our inventory of error without discussing the Vietnam War, that watershed in the Left’s allergy to national power (marking the triumph of the Henry Wallace-George McGovern liberals over the FDR-Truman-JFK liberals). It was the liberal President Johnson who Americanized the war but who then feared to apply the overwhelming power needed for victory. (Had he fully examined the necessary commitment needed for victory before 1965 he may, with reason, have never intervened so directly.) After losing the presidency, liberals then obstructed President Nixon’s uses of power as part of a strategic retreat (e.g. renewed bombing, the 1970 Cambodia incursion). In April 1972, Democratic presidential candidate McGovern and other liberals were aghast when President Nixon bombed Hanoi and Haiphong in response to the Communists’ massive Easter offensive in the south. It would torpedo the upcoming Moscow arms treaty summit and threaten world war, they cried. In the event, the Russians welcomed Nixon with open arms. (Likewise, Senators Ted Kennedy, Tom Daschle et al. were grief-stricken when President Bush announced last year that we were withdrawing from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty signed at that 1972 summit. It would poison relations with Russia, they complained, until President Putin accepted our action.)

Finally, to complete the inventory on Vietnam, following our 1973 withdrawal, liberals cut aid to South Vietnam and Cambodia. And the prominent liberal columnist Anthony Lewis in The New York Times claimed that once we withdrew there would be no blood bath: The millions who then were slaughtered by the Communists, and hundreds of thousands of fleeing "boat people" who drowned, are their moral legacy. Yet today Senator Kennedy presumes to lecture President Bush on the war against terrorism.

. . . Which, to close the circle, brings us to the last two Democratic presidents. Jimmy Carter took office cutting defense and speaking against our "inordinate fear of Communism," only to end his supine term with our diplomats being held hostage in Iran; his SALT II treaty being withdrawn from the Democrat-controlled Senate because it granted virtual Soviet nuclear superiority; the Red Army invading Afghanistan; and defense spending rising sharply. (It is astonishing that such an ostensibly intelligent man learned absolutely nothing from his abject failures.) As to the Clinton legacy: the "Oslo" process to end the Arab-Israeli conflict left it bloodier than in decades; his North Korea agreement led to a newly aggressive nuclear program by the North; and his do-nothing policy toward increasing terrorist attacks allowed them to become stronger and more aggressive, culminating in 9-11 and today’s crisis.

After one hundred years of error after error, and in the face of a radically changed world in which our country faces unprecedented threats of mass death, the left continues to worship at the altar of world utopia. How amazing and ironic that they continue to apply rationalist nostrums to foreign affairs, yet irrationally ignore the overwhelming weight of historical experience. They are rationalists – but not rational.

Back in November 1932, commenting on the utopian proposals at the Geneva Disarmament Conference, Churchill, noted that with the launch of each new proposal, "the poor good people of the League of Nations Union clap their hands with joy, and every time they are disappointed. . . . But their hope is unfailing. The process is apparently endless, and so is the pathetic belief with which it is invariably greeted." The process has failed for a century – then it was disarmament, today it is UN inspections – but the pathetic beliefs of its proponents now threaten our very existence.


Spencer Warren was a Member of the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff in the Reagan administration, and also served on Republican Congressional staff. He is president of the Insider’s Washington Experience, a public policy seminar program.


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