Time for an Agonizing Reappraisal of U.S. Foreign Policy?

Pat Buchanan has a provocative essay in his American Conservative magazine arguing that it is “Time for an ‘Agonizing Reappraisal'” of our foreign policy. The piece defies excerpting; it’s a litany of examples of Islamists gaining around the world, partly as a result of “blowback” against American action aimed at promoting human rights and democratization.

Buchanan concludes:

But while the Bush foreign policy appears to be failing at every turn, in neither party can one see another vision. Emerson’s words come to mind: “Things are in the saddle and ride mankind.”

In Dulles’s phrase, it’s time for an “agonizing reappraisal.”

Oddly, however, Buchanan doesn’t even hint at an alternative vision. Presumably, he is calling for isolationism. Yet, as we’ve seen over the past several decades, Islamists have thrived in places we’ve largely ignored, too. While one can’t dismiss the possibility that an unspecified alternative policy might be better than the present one, the mere enumeration of problems is hardly dispositive.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Pug says:

    Somalia now has all the makings of another Afghanistan. It is a failed state with no central government taken over by Islamic militants. It will be a haven for terrorists. It certainly hasn’t received the attention yet that it will one day.

  2. James Joyner says:

    Pug: Quite probably. Then again, that’s the path they were one prior to U.S. involvement in the 1990s. It’s far from clear that, as Buchanan implies, that trend is the fault of aggressive U.S. policy.

  3. John Gillnitz says:

    Maybe we should try not invading sovereign nations that pose no threat to us. Not backing the most ruthless and corrupt leaders would be a good thing to.

  4. ME says:

    All us crazy lefties who have been screaming for years over W’s policies have known this for a long time. we predicted it. Now, not only Pat Buchanan, but 80% of intelligence experts of all stripes believe we are losing the war on terror. The war on terror has been a ruse to distract from the economic interests behind our craven and selfish foreign policy….it’s not a surprise we’re “losing” it. One day the right may actually realize how destructive W has been, but for now they’ll just continue to blame Clinton.

  5. McGehee says:

    Not backing the most ruthless and corrupt leaders would be a good thing to.

    Great idea, let’s stop backing Iran’s mullarchy, and Kim Jong-il, and Fidel Castro.

    What, you didn’t mean them?

  6. Pug says:

    I don’t think US policy is responsible for what is happening in Somalia. The country hasn’t had a government since 1991.

    Unfortunately, though, our guys couldn’t beat their guys again, as distasteful as our guys were. It’s a problem we better figure out a way to deal with.

  7. Bhoe says:

    Yet, as we�ve seen over the past several decades, Islamists have thrived in places we�ve largely ignored, too.

    James, What places did you have in mind?

  8. Dave Johnson says:

    “American action aimed at promoting human rights and democratization”

    Is THAT why we’re in Iraq? I thought Iraq was about an imminent threat from weapons of mass destruction. Or was that last week’s reason?

    Don’t you understand what it means to “bring democracy” to an Iran-aligned Shiite majority?

  9. Steve Verdon says:

    Presumably calling for isolationism? Now that is an understatement when taken in the context of something…anything written by Pat Buchanan.

  10. Biff Toffo says:

    Great idea, let�s stop backing Iran�s mullarchy, and Kim Jong-il, and Fidel Castro.

    You seem to think you are being sarcastic with your comment, but in fact no US government of whatever ideology has “backed” any of these regimes, ever.

    On the other hand, Donald Rumsfeld sold poison gass manufacturing plant, and ingredients to Saddam Hussein, as Reagan’s emissary in 1983.

    I can’t understand why that fellow isn’t on trial in the Hague as a war criminal.

  11. Jeff says:

    You really can’t think of any oppressive regimes we’ve backed? I mean besides places like El Salvador and Honduras…and Chile…and the Shah’s Iran…and arms to pre-taliban afghanis…and Saudi Arabia…and, oh never mind.

  12. dani says:

    Buchanon has been an isolationist for many years, he hasn’t suddenly joined the leftists.

    Personally I think there is a lot of good argument for less meddling. Our various interventions have often done little good or backfired and have cost huge sums while getting us entangled.

    Common sense suggests a mixture of approaches be it on free trade or any other activity.

    I think it difficult to fit the dramatic decine in US stategic position under a simple dualism of intervention/non intervention. The Bush administrationm has brought our decline with a mixture of both.

    In Afghanistan we intervened, but committed little to rebuilding.

    In Iraq we organized our governing body a month before invasion, then took 20 bilion in Iraqi money and gave it to US corporations.

    We ignored N Korea.

    We continued insulting and ignoring Russuia and are now worried about it’s increased miliance, it’s growing alliance with China and SCO. Looks like we set the stage for a new cold war. Trillions we don’t have.

    S America we made some theats then saw the biggest shift leftward since the seventies.

    Have alienated traditonal allies and useful if imperfect institutions like the UN by a combination of bluster and indifference.

    In almost all these situations you can find places where either less or more intervention was useful.

    Howver we have a president who daily listens to the word of God who speaks within, presumably the same Godwho directed him on a life of failure until family friends finally got a city to condemn land at one third value ad build him a baseball park. Same inner voices, same results.

    Along with a following who along with him can’t admit failure because they live in faith based reality.