The Magazine


Dec 11, 1995, Vol. 1, No. 13 • By NORMAN PODHORETZ
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It is not exactly that the Democrats have become the interventionist hawks and that the Republicans are replacing them as the isolationist doves. Things are more complicated than that. Thus, the only justification that leading congressional Democrats like Lee Hamilton and David Bonior can offer for backing the president on Bosnia is that (as Adam Clymer puts it in the New York Times) "this would be peacemaking, not warmaking." Conversely, many Republicans oppose the president on exactly the same ground: Influenced by the peacekeeping fiascoes in Lebanon and Somalia, they are convinced that American troops should, precisely, be deployed for warmaking alone.

Such wrinkles cast an interesting light on the current state of our political culture. But they do not alter the fact that it is the Democrats of all parties and Bill Clinton of all presidents who are calling for an American intervention backed by military force, while the Republicans, and especially of all people the Reaganities among them, are sounding less like Reagan than like the young Clinton when he was trying to avoid getting caught by the draft during the Vietnam war.

Nor do the complexities of the situation alter the fact that the Republicans, who have for the past 30 years resisted congressional "micromanagement" of foreign affairs, are suddenly forgetting the passionate arguments they used to make in favor of presidential primacy and prerogatives in this area. Yet if those arguments were right when Ronald Reagan was in the White House, they must still be right now that Bill Clinton is there.

I yield to no one in my lack of confidence in Bill Clinton, but he is the President of the United States, and as such he all but dragged the Serbs, the C roats, and the Muslims to the very heartland of this country and pressured them into a deal entailing the deployment of American troops as part of a larger NAT O force. The presence of those troops on the scene is therefore not only a cruc ial element of the agreement among the warring parties themselves; it is also essential to the maintenance of the NATO alliance and of American leadership within it.

None of this means that the conservative community and the Republican party need remain entirely passive in the face of the president's policy. On the contrary, they have a significant part to play in trying to ensure that our troops are given the right job to do. In the process they can also help repair some of the flaws in the Dayton accords.

Here an important start has been made by Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas J. Feith. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, they insist that the mission of the peace-keepingforce should be to act not as a neutral buffer between the parties but as a shield behind which we can arm and train the Bosnian Muslims to the point where they are finally able to defend themselves. This, say Wolfowitz and Feith, satisfies the demands of justice; it is entirely consistent with a peacemaking role; and it is also the only "exit strategy" that can get us out of Bosnia after a year or so "without triggering a catastrophe."

What Wolfowitz and Feith have accomplished is to reconcile the objectives of the Thatcher position with the methods of the Dayton accords. They have thereby shown how conservative advocates of the Thatcher position can still salvage the principle behind it and simultaneously remain true to the Reaganite legacy that the Republican party is now in grave danger of abandoning to Bill Clinton.

If the Republican party should end up renouncing its Reaganite commitments to presidential prerogatives in foreign affairs, to NATO, and to American leadership in the world, it would be doing doing exactly what the Democrats did in the post-Vietnam period, when they threw their Trumanite banner into the dust. They then had to watch helplessly as Ronald Reagan came along to pick it up and carry it to victory in the political battles ahead.

The lesson for the Republicans is obvious, but for the moment most of them seem as persuaded as the Democrats were in the 1970s that they are both right and (given what the polls are currently saying) on the winning political side of this issue. Right they are not. About the politics, polls or no polls, we shall see soon enough.

Norman Podhoretz, a senior fellow of the Hudson Institute, was, for 35 years, the editor in chief of Commentary. Among his six books/s Why We Were in Vietnam.