Staying Out of Other People's Wars

February 7, 2014 - 5:21 AM
"If these negotiations [with Iran] fail, there are two grim alternatives," said Sen. Richard Durbin, "a nuclear Iran, or war, or perhaps both."

Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham returned from the Munich security conference saying that even John Kerry agrees that President Obama's Syrian policy has failed. They are urging another look at air strikes.

North Korea is warning that should the annual U.S.-South Korean military exercises go forward in March, it could mean war, possibly nuclear war.

Philippines President Benigno Aquino III this week compared his country's situation to Czechoslovakia in 1938, and the disputed islets off his coast in the South China Sea to the Sudetenland. Like Hitler in Europe, Aquino is saying, China is on the march in Asia.

Aquino wants the world, i.e., us, to stand up to China.

At Davos, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe compared Japan's clash with China over the Senkaku islands in the East China Sea to German-British tensions on the eve of World War I. Though they were major trading partners, like China and Japan, said Abe, Germany and Britain went to war.

China's foreign ministry charged Abe with "saying these things for the purpose of escaping Japan's history of aggression."

China was enraged by Abe's visit to the Yasukuni Shrine where Japanese war dead are commemorated, including Hideki Tojo and 13 other Class A war criminals.

Asia today is like "19th-century Europe, where military conflict is not ruled out," said Henry Kissinger at Munich.

Cal Coolidge's admonition not to panic — "If you see ten troubles coming down the road, you can be sure that nine will run into the ditch before they reach you" — is often wise counsel. Yet, any of these five situations could bring about a war, a war involving us.

For we are obligated by treaty to defend South Korea, Japan and the Philippines. And the Obama "pivot" to Asia is seen by Beijing as a U.S. strategic move to contain China's rise to superpower status.

The possibility of America being dragged into a new war is growing. For not only is Beijing bullying its coastal neighbors, the Middle East is descending into a maelstrom.

Libya is disintegrating. Egypt is moving toward a new military dictatorship. Sinai is a no man's land. Syria is three years deep in a civil-sectarian war with 130,000 dead. Sunni and Hezbollah groups car-bomb one another in Lebanon. Iraq is being torn asunder by Sunni Islamists in Anbar, newly battling the Shia regime in Baghdad. Tribalism tears at Yemen. Afghanistan may see a return of the Taliban when we go.

Nuclear-armed Pakistan is trying to reconcile with its own Taliban. Al-Qaida has denounced the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria for atrocities and dividing the rebel cause in Syria.

Even the jihadi terrorists are fighting one another.

Behind these conflicts is a Moslem awakening, a Sunni-Shia struggle for supremacy, the rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia for primacy in the Gulf, and the ethnonational dreams of Pashtun, Baluch, Kurds and other tribes.

Still, it is hard to see any U.S. vital interest so imperiled in these conflicts to justify plunging into another war in that hate-filled and blood-soaked region. Sarah Palin's suggestion, "Let Allah sort it out," begins to sound like the sage counsel of George Kennan.

Twice since last summer, anti-interventionists have routed the War Party. First, with the popular uprising that swamped calls for strikes on Syria. Second, with this winter's blockage of new sanctions on Iran that could have torpedoed negotiations.

Yet in both cases the anti-interventionists succeeded because Obama has never at heart been a war president. And because the country does not want any more wars.

A sign of the times was ex-Reagan speech writer and veteran Congressman Dana Rohrabacher telling C-SPAN the U.S. media give too much time to McCain and Graham, who do not speak for the Republican Party when they call for military action. They speak only for themselves.

Yet, despite the victories of the anti-interventionists, the United States remains a hostage to war. Dating back to the early years of the Cold War, in the 1950s, we signed treaties obligating us to fight for scores of nations on five continents. NATO alone now requires us to defend 25 European countries, from Iceland to Estonia.

How many of these war guarantees are vital to U.S. security?

How many of these treaties, which could require us to go to war with nuclear-armed powers like Russia and China over tiny islets and minuscule nations half a world away, are truly in America's national interest?

The 2016 primaries are the setting for the Republican Party to debate and to adopt a new foreign policy for the 21st century, a policy that rejects the mindless interventionism of the McCains and steers us around, not into, the wars of the future that are surely coming.

It's time for antiwar conservatism — staying out of other people's quarrels and other nations' wars — one of the oldest and proudest traditions of the republic, to regain its rightful place in the Grand Old Party.