Pat Buchanan: Red lines & lost U.S. credibility

November 8, 2017 GMT

A major goal of this Asia trip, said National Security Adviser H. R. McMaster, is to rally allies to achieve the “complete, verifiable and permanent denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.” Yet Kim Jong Un has said he will never give up his nuclear weapons. He believes his dynastic regime’s survival depends upon them. Either the U.S. or North Korea backs down, as Nikita Khrushchev did in the Cuban missile crisis, or there will be war.

In this new century, U.S. leaders continue to draw red lines that threaten acts of war that the nation is unprepared to back up. Recall President Obama’s “Assad must go!” and warning that any use of chemical weapons would cross his “red line.”

There was a time when U.S. words were taken seriously, and we heeded Theodore Roosevelt’s dictum: “Speak softly, and carry a big stick.” After Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in August 1991, George H.W. Bush said simply: “This will not stand.” But in the post-Cold War era, U.S. rhetoric has grown ever more blustery, even as U.S. relative power has declined.

In Saudi Arabia recently, Rex Tillerson declared, “Iranian militias that are in Iraq, now that the fight against ... ISIS is coming to a close ... need to go home. Any foreign fighters in Iraq need to go home.” The next day, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi responded: “We wonder about the statements attributed to the American secretary of State about the popular mobilization forces. ... No side has the right to intervene in Iraq’s affairs or decide what Iraqis do.”

Earlier that day, Tillerson made a two-hour visit to Afghanistan, meeting Afghan officials in a heavily guarded bunker near Bagram Airfield. Wrote The New York Times’ Gardiner Harris: “That top American officials must use stealth to enter these countries after more than 15 years of wars, thousands of lives lost and trillions of dollars spent was testimony to the stubborn problems still confronting the United States in both places.”

In Geneva, Tillerson asserted, “The United States wants a whole and unified Syria with no role for Bashar al-Assad.” But our “rebels” in Syria were routed and Assad not only survived, but with Russian, Iranian, Shiite militia and Hezbollah allies, he won his six-year civil war and intends to remain and rule.

America needs rhetoric that conforms to new realities. Since Y2K, Putin’s Russia has rebuilt its strategic forces, confronted NATO, annexed Crimea and acted decisively in Syria, re-establishing itself as a Middle East power. China has grown into a rival on a scale that not even the Cold War USSR reached.

North Korea is a nuclear power. Europe is bedeviled by tribalism, secessionism and waves of immigrants. Once-vital NATO ally Turkey is virtually lost to the West. Our major Asian allies are dependent on exports to China. In part because of our interventions, the Middle East is bedeviled by terrorism and breaking down along Sunni-Shiite lines.

The U.S. pre-eminence in the days of Desert Storm is history. Yet the architects of American decline may still be heard denouncing the “isolationists” who opposed their follies and warned what would befall the republic if it listened to them.

Pat Buchanan is the author of “Nixon’s White House Wars: The Battles That Made and Broke a President and Divided America Forever.”