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JOHN P. McCARTHY, The Shortcomings of Right-Wing Foreign Policy - Ralph Raico, New Individualist Review 
New Individualist Review, editor-in-chief Ralph Raico, introduction by Milton Friedman (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1981).
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The Shortcomings of Right-Wing Foreign Policy
IN A RECENT article commenting on “American Conservatives,” a perceptive European champion of liberty suggested as a problem for the consideration of American intellectuals the capacity of a democracy to have a sensible foreign policy.1 This is a problem which will have to be answered and analyzed by the American Right before it can assert its claim for power or effectively exercise national office. This is because the Right has not been immune to certain long-standing inadequacies which have characterized American thinking on foreign policy. These shortcomings appeared in the foreign policy of Robert A. Taft, and appear also in the drastically different foreign policy position of Barry Gold-water. But before discussing these two men in particular, let us look at the historical background of these weaknesses in our traditional posture toward the rest of the world.
American foreign policy has long been crippled by two ideas which have persisted throughout our history: moralism and belief in American invincibility. By moralism I mean the tendency to apply ethics and canons of perfection governing individual action to collective action by society or the state. Such naivete, in the name of righteousness, would call for the state to follow the dictates of the beatitudes and the counsels of individual spiritual perfection and would decry the use of power in influencing diplomacy or foreign affairs. This false moralism fails to appreciate that political action should be governed by moral imperatives derived from the nature and purposes of the state, which is to exercise its authority and force, if need be, to promote justice, freedom, security, the general welfare, and civil unity or peace.2 The other attitude, overconfidence in American invincibility, is the paradoxical belief that the “innocent, moral United States” will be strong enough by itself to defeat and punish any potential aggressor. In short, these attitudes unite so as, first, to prevent American involvement in any balance of power politics which would hinder the development of aggressive nations and, second, to cause us to rely exclusively on our own capacity to repel and defeat those aggressors whose development we refused to prevent.
These attitudes probably derive from the twofold uniqueness of the American experience: our isolation behind the Atlantic Ocean and our orthodoxy of constitutional liberalism. Lacking the continental strife between an old and a new order (in our case the old order was the new order; there had been no old order or establishment to be overthrown), and secure in our isolation, we lacked all empathy with the objectives of nineteenth century European statesmen. We refused to understand their attempts to preserve a balanced concert of nations which could meet and absorb the various nationalist and revolutionary movements and thereby insure the organic and peaceful development of political liberty. Our national policy was to keep our hands clean of the “immoral” power-balancing machinations of the European nations.
At the time, isolationism was probably the policy best suited for the national interest. But the unfortunate attitudes engendered by it were to result in disastrous consequences when the force of events and technological progress would involve the United States in world affairs. The American leaders would have to invoke the slogans of a moralistic crusade to gain popular support for our intervention. During the first world war, for example, the popular attitude was rapidly changed from moralistic isolation and detachment from the “corrupt, fratricidal strife” of the European “war lords” only by an appeal to a mixture of anti-German racism and a crusading zeal in behalf of the secular religion of democracy.
The Wilson Administration did not base its case for our entry into the war on the legitimate grounds that the impending German domination of the seas would be incompatible with our national interest. Rather, we remained aloof from these balance of power considerations and stressed American idealism and our determination to fight “to end all wars” by making the world “safe for democracy.”
The duty of the statesman should be to determine the policies required by the national interest, and then to educate and lead the nation in the acceptance and implementation of those policies. He should lead public opinion and not follow it. It is dangerous for statesmen to start to follow public opinion, or to cater to public misunderstanding of foreign policy by justifying measures with crusading slogans. By doing so they run the risk of unleashing the engines of mass enthusiasm on a course of action which will be difficult to control or restrain. These engines may well follow through the logic of the crusade’s slogans to ends quite opposed to the designs of those who issued the call for a crusade.3
This danger was borne out by our post-World War I experiences. A public which had been called upon to fight a war to end all wars could scarcely be expected to bear the burdens of keeping the peace and international order when these tasks required the very same instruments which European statesmen had used for a century and against which America had allegedly fought in the war for “democracy.” The American flight from international responsibility was all the more tragic, since the temporizing influence of American power could perhaps have dampened the nationalistic passion for “final solutions” which developed out of the disillusionment of the democratic masses who had sacrificed so much in the war. These final solutions ranged all the way from “hang the Kaiser,” through demands for security, Bolshevism, to the madness of Nazism.
The debate preceding American entry into the Second World War was based on the same mistaken premises of American invincibility and moralism. Isolationists insisted that America could remain secure behind the Atlantic ocean no matter what happened abroad, and the interventionists called for us to enter the fray, arm in arm with British Toryism, Bolshevism, and the Kuomintang, carrying forth the banners of “anti-fascism,” the United Nations, and a world-wide New Deal.4 Our confusion of purpose in entering the war is easily appreciated by observing the present world situation and recalling some of the objectives for which the West then fought: Polish Independence, the security of the Western position in the Far East, and Chinese National Independence. The former two are probably less near realization today than in 1939, and the latter has been secured, but with rather dire consequences for the West. In view of the debilitating attitudes which have continually marred American foreign policy, let us proceed to examine the role of the American Right-wing spokesmen as critics of our post-war foreign policy.
THE AMERICAN Right, out of office since 1932, was untiring in its criticism of the utopianism which had dictated our wartime collaboration with the Soviet Union, and no doubt much political capital was gained by such. But the Democratic Administration had, to all intents and purposes, admitted these mistakes by changing its attitude towards international Communism and by shaking itself loose from the lingering proponents of the wartime policy, such as Henry Wallace. Hence, the post-World War II Right has to be judged by its criticism of the new policy which had been adopted by the Truman Administration in its attempt to check further Communist expansion: the containment policy.
Under it, aid was furnished to the anti-Communist forces in Greece and Turkey, European economic recovery was sought by such means as the Marshall Plan, an attempt was made to strengthen the economies and societies of the free world by Point Four aid, and NATO was formed. The primary shortcomings of this policy were its purely defensive nature and its tendency to regard the Soviet danger solely as a military threat. It relied primarily on military defenses and economic well-being to meet the expansion of Communism. This was a refusal to wage the Cold War in the ways which the Communists had initiated. No practical proposals were put forth for making inroads on the Communist empire, nor for meeting and countering the multi-faceted Communist challenge, particularly in the realm of political, diplomatic, and psychological warfare.
As a result, by refusing to exploit our atomic and military superiority we permitted the consolidation of the Communist gains of the Second World War, we failed to halt the expansion of Communism in the Far East, and, worst of all, we permitted ourselves to become embroiled in a drawn-out struggle on the enemy’s terms over territory we had originally written off. We had to settle for an unsatisfactory truce as exaggerated fears of provoking a general war inhibited us from utilizing our military and technical advantages in that action.
In Congress and out, the Right-wing opposition successfully exploited the public discontent with the Korean War and the concern over domestic Communism. However, the heritage of isolationism and the strong persistence of the traditional attitudes of moralism and American invincibility kept the Right from advancing any serious alternative proposals to the containment policy. At best, these limitations were overcome by a belated acceptance of some of the containment policies, but a continuing distrust of alliances and a basic lack of feeling for foreign affairs prevented the nationalist and anti-Communist enthusiasm of the American people from being channeled into a serious foreign policy alternative to containment. Thus, should they have assumed office, the actions of the American Right would probably have been just a poor imitation of the old containment thesis pursued with reservations and with less competence than it could be by the original authors of that policy.
This probability is borne out by the record of the Eisenhower Administration. Eisenhower was a conservative who simply expanded his isolationism and pacific moralism so as to include a broader area than the Western Hemisphere. His foreign policy was, to a large extent, an imitation of Truman’s. The major difference was that Eisenhower tended to withdraw himself from considerations of power politics in his apparent belief that the simple expression of his good intentions would be enough to secure international peace.
Naturally, today’s articulate Right-wingers disown Eisenhower, but let us examine the foreign policy ideas of the man who would have been their choice in 1952, Senator Robert A. Taft.
THE TAFT foreign policy, as outlined in his book, A Foreign Policy for Americans, was in general a critical and hesitant acceptance of the goals and measures of the containment policy. His criticism of specific ventures of the containment plan was based on the old Whiggish grounds of their formidable expense, their tendency to undermine American diplomatic independence, and their disregard for the authority of the Congress in declaring war. He feared the possible over-extension of the U. S. in an attempt to defend the whole free world. Furthermore, since he only hesitatingly abandoned his faith in the United Nations as an instrument of international law and peace, he was reluctant to enter defense or military alliances which would arrogate to themselves the functions of the UN and which did not have a foundation in international law.
Taft’s attitude toward the Atlantic Pact revealed his basic premises on international affairs. He approved the policy of notifying Russia that an attack on Western Europe would involve her in a war with the United States, for such was to him simply “the extension of the Monroe Doctrine to Europe.”5 Despite this, he voted against the ratification of the Atlantic Pact, because he considered it to be “contrary to the whole theory of the United Nations Charter, which had not then been shown to be ineffective; . . . because . . ., at least by implication, it committed the United States to the policy of a land war in Europe.”6 He had considered the pact to be a violation of the spirit of the United Nations since N.A.T.O. would not harmonize its actions with, nor seek authorization from, the Security Council.
Taft, however, gradually became convinced of the UN’s inadequacies, as he realized that in practice it was not based on a system of international law nor justice to which all the signatories would be bound. The use of the veto especially prevented this. As a result, deception and expediency became the rule for all sides in the organization. Taft criticized as expediency the Truman Administration’s attempts to cloak its independent anti-Communist activities in Europe and Korea under the mantle of the world organization. The disharmony between these legitimate anti-Communist measures and the United Nations, which was called upon to approve them, would eventually paralyze the implementation of the former.
Taft criticized Truman’s intervention in the Korean War under the UN mandate as an expedient use of the UN, because, in contrast to the organization’s rules, the mandate was not based on the consent of all the permanent members of the Security Council. He insisted that this expediency put us in a trap which would prevent us from getting a mandate to continue the war effectively once Russia returned from her “walkout.”
The Ohio Senator prophetically opposed our attempt to bypass the Security Council and the Russian veto by appealing to the General Assembly on certain issues. He pointed out that no nation had contracted to abide by any decision of the General Assembly. “Furthermore,” he remarked, “we would have only one vote among sixty, which sometime in the future, even in the very near future, may subject us to very arbitrary treatment.”7
Taft’s classic opposition to Truman’s use of American troops in the Korean War without Congressional consent reveals a determining factor in his foreign policy. As a strict constitutionalist he opposed any undermining of the authority of Congress in declaring war. Consequently, he opposed the committing of American troops without Congressional authorization to any spot where they were liable to come under attack or become involved in a war. Under this reasoning, the sending of troops to Europe, where they would serve as part of the N.A.T.O. defenses, was prohibited unless it received previous authorization from Congress. He likewise challenged the validity of committing troops simply under a UN mandate without Congressional approbation, for “on the same theory, he [the President] could send troops to Tibet to resist Communist aggression or to Indo-China or anywhere else in the world without the slightest voice of Congress in the matter.”8
Taft was, no doubt, an excellent theorist of the principles of international organization and law, and a perceptive critic of the expedient disharmony between our independent containment policy and our United Nations policy. Yet he lacked the creative imagination in foreign affairs for constructing serious alternatives to the administration’s containment policy or for appreciating the full nature of the Communist challenge. His tendency to rely almost exclusively on American air power for deterring Soviet expansion demonstrated an inflexibility in molding the necessary means for meeting the various facets of the Communist challenge. Furthermore, he devoted only three paragraphs in his book to a suggestion that we seek to promote anti-Communist movements behind the Iron Curtain, and his suggestions on political warfare are limited to proposals for the creation of a propaganda agency. He expressed no notion of exploiting diplomatically the internal situation of the Communist world, not even as a counter to their various threats and demands. In short, his criticism of the Truman Administration’s foreign policy was an attempt to modify its policy by the application of his strict Whiggish principles, as well as to note the imprudence of certain of its steps, rather than to postulate an alternative. Perhaps such was in accord with his ideas that the duty of the opposition party is to oppose rather than to present alternative policies.
THE AMERICAN Right never felt at home in the Elsenhower Administration, although large segments of the old Taft bloc played significant roles in that administration. Then in the twilight of the failing Eisenhower Administration, a charismatic new leader, Barry Goldwater, arose on the national scene and was assigned the mantle of Taft as the leader of American political conservatism.
In his foreign policy views Goldwater took a position quite unlike that of Taft, whose primary criticism of Truman had been of the arbitrary executive commitment of American forces abroad and who had stressed the defensive task against Communism. Goldwater, however, insisted that the national goal of “peace in which freedom and justice will prevail . . . is a peace in which Soviet power will no longer be in a position to threaten us and the rest of the world. A tolerable peace . . . must follow victory over Communism.”9
Where Taft had worried about over-extending and over-committing ourselves in the Cold War, Goldwater notes that even our “alliance system is not coextensive with the line that must be held if enemy expansion is to be prevented.”10 Sharing with Taft a realization of the inadequacy of American conventional ground forces to meet the Communist challenge in all corners of the globe, Goldwater called for the West to develop a nuclear capacity for limited war and “to learn to meet the enemy on his own grounds” of political warfare. Goldwater’s major criticism of the Western alliance system is of its completely defensive nature and outlook vis-a-vis the area of world Communism.
In subsequent foreign policy statements, Goldwater has insisted that the continuing expansion of Communist domination and political influence has resulted from the Western failure to deal with “the key problem of international relations,” namely, the uses a nation makes of power. He claims that for the policy makers of the United States the “effort to please world opinion . . . has become a matter of grand strategy, . . . the guiding principle of American policy.”11 He urges us to abandon this pre-occupation, and to fully commit ourselves to the Cold War and to the use of Western power to “defeat” international Communism. Specifically he would repudiate disarmament discussions, eliminate Castro, declare Africa a Western protectorate, and encourage, and prepare to assist, uprisings within Eastern Europe.12 More recently he has denounced “coalition governments” as a “tactic of the enemy,” and has asserted that all Communist regimes must be opposed whether in Yugoslavia, Moscow, or North Vietnam.13
The Goldwater foreign policy is immensely different from that of Taft. Goldwater basically advocates what might be called American Imperialism, or the extension of American power to more and more areas of the globe, whereas Taft postulated the traditional Whig principles of limited foreign involvement and legislative control over the commitment of the military power. Taft’s policy was basically defensive with a premium placed on limiting our commitments, our expenses, and the executive power. Few have called attention to this remarkable difference of views, a divergence as vast as the difference between Gladstone and Disraeli.
This disagreement is all the more startling when one considers that the bulk of the Goldwater support comes from the old Taft circles. This fact should evoke some reflection from those who may see Goldwater as a potential answer to their hopes for a policy for the West which would assume the diplomatic initiative against Communism, which would not hesitate to exercise Western power, and which would develop the capacity for meeting the Communists on all levels and indeed carrying the struggle to the other side of the Iron Curtain. Can a man be an effective proponent of such a policy who is, in reality, beholden to or dependent for support on the vast bulk of the old Taft forces? Aside from his own possible inadequacies in the sphere of intellectual power or of leadership skill, would Goldwater really be an effective fighter in the “protracted conflict” with Communism, or would he revert to the older traditions of his party and of the principal part of his supporters: isolationism, withdrawal, and pre-occupation with strict internal constitutionalism?
The hard core of intellectual conservatism in the United States sees Goldwater through the eyes of the National Review. And Goldwater, in his writings for, and communications with, National Review, echoes to a large extent the National Review line on the waging of the Cold War, the use of American power, and the carrying of the battle to the enemy’s territory. But the National Review, after all, despite its pre-eminent position in conservative intellectual circles and its close contact with the greater Western conservative tradition and the hard-line strategists and theoreticians of the world-wide anti-Communist movement, is a relatively minor force in the broader Goldwater movement.
Indeed, Goldwater’s mass appeal does rest partly on the heightening anti-Communist enthusiasm of the electorate and in a revival of basic American nationalist and patriotic sentiments. But these elementary emotions need guidance, and, I fear, a large part of the political leaders of the Goldwater movement who are benefitting from these emotions are pre-occupied with different concerns than those of the cold war strategists of the National Review, or, more emphatically, of the Foreign Policy Research Institute.14 These leaders can deliver much more important votes to Goldwater than can the National Review, with its subscribers occupying their minority positions in the electorate of the Eastern States.
The primary concerns of these local political leaders, who will be contributing so much to the Goldwater movement, are the traditional concerns of mid-western Republicanism: federal fiscal responsibility, states’ rights, and a friendly environment for their business activities. In foreign affairs they have a general determination to resist Communism, but it is doubtful if they have really adapted themselves to the exigencies of modern international relations. Basically, they believe in the traditional notion of American invincibility, and, as a result, pay little heed to the task of strengthening the non-Communist areas of the world, so as to enhance the use of Western power and halt Communism. For example, they have their doubts about our associating with the European Common Market, and enter alliances hesitantly and only after someone else has demonstrated their necessity. They show no inclination to participate in any ventures for strengthening and modernizing the underdeveloped nations both economically and politically. Their response to direct Soviet challenges is always a determined resolve to use force if necessary, and to not give in, but they are slow in developing the means for resisting the various short-of-general-war techniques of Soviet aggrandizement. They profess their sympathies with the captive nations of Eastern Europe, yet limit their suggestions for assuming a diplomatic offensive against the Communist world to a few useless condemnatory resolutions.
The basic failure of these elements of the Republican Party, as with Taft, is their lack of that imaginative understanding of foreign affairs which is essential for securing the free world and waging the intricate and difficult diplomatic maneuvers essential to making inroads on the Communist Empire, so as to make it no longer a threat to peace and freedom. An administration based on such forces might be startlingly like the Eisenhower Administration, which also relied heavily on “heartland” Republican support: an administration that would half-heartedly accept the frustrating containment policy and thereby not even achieve its own primary goals of fiscal responsibility and governmental decentralization.
[* ] John P. McCarthy is an Associate Editor of New Individualist Review.
[1 ] E. v. Kuehnelt-Leddihn, “American Conservatives: An Appraisal.” National Review, (March 13, 1962), p. 167.
[2 ]Vide John Courtney Murray, We Hold These Truths, (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1960), p. 286.
[3 ] Vide Walter Lippman, The Public Philosophy, (New York: Mentor Books, 1955), pp. 15-24.
[4 ] There were spokesmen for both positions who reasoned from practical foreign policy considerations. For instance, Herbert Hoover hesitated about intervening wholeheartedly in a war in which the major outcome would be the strengthening of the position of international Communism.
[5 ]A Foreign Policy for Americans, (Doubleday, 1952), p. 88.
[6 ]Ibid., p. 89.
[7 ]Ibid., p. 43.
[8 ]Ibid., p. 33.
[9 ] Barry Goldwater, The Conscience of a Conservative, (New York: Hillman Books, 1960), p. 92.
[10 ]Ibid., pp. 94-5.
[11 ] Barry Goldwater, “A Foreign Policy for America,” National Review, (March 25, 1961), p. 179.
[12 ]Ibid., pp. 180-81.
[13 ] Barry Goldwater, “To Win the Cold War,” New Guard, (March, 1962), p. 37.
[14 ] The research institute at the University of Pennsylvania which sponsored the studies, Protracted Conflict and A Forward Strategy for America, by Robert Strausz-Hupé, Stefan Possony, et. al.