Paul Greenberg

It happens every between-the-wars period. It happened in the 1920s and '30s, then in the post-war 1940s. ... Now it's happening again in the 2010s. War-weariness sets in. A new chorus of isolationist voices arises. America cuts back on its defenses. Which explains why these are between-the-wars periods. American weakness invites the next war. The way appeasement invites aggression.

We never seem to learn. We just repeat the same dismal pattern: first retreat, then alarm when we're caught by surprise, followed by a massive reaction. George F. Kennan once compared American foreign policy to a prehistoric dinosaur with a huge body and a tiny brain. It takes us the longest time to sense that we're under attack, but when we finally do, we thrash about wildly, destroying everything in sight.

We yearn for an America that never was, one uninvolved with the rest of the world. The dream never dies. It is reborn after every war. Now it's Ron Paul's turn to revive it.

Dr. Paul has a simple prescription to offer: The way to deal with a dangerous world is to retreat from it, and take refuge in Fortress America. His campaign slogan might as well be Detente, not Defense!

If we'll just smile at our enemies, offer an outstretched hand in peace-and-friendship (Mir y Druzhba, as the Soviets and their friends used to say), all will be well. Our enemies will join us in a round of Kumbaya around the campfire, and there'll be no need to maintain this huge defense establishment. Think of the money we'll save!

The end of the dream can come abruptly. As on December 7, 1941. Or on June 25, 1950, when the Korean War was suddenly upon us. Or in our time, September 11, 2001.

For the moment, this administration dreams on. Its secretary of defense, Leon Panetta, has just proposed slashing troop levels, closing bases, concentrating on weapons that can be fired from afar, and retrenchment in general.

Want peace and security? Show our enemies they have nothing to fear from us. Reach out to the forces of tyranny in the world. If that doesn't work, and it hasn't under this administration, why, cutting our defense budget surely will.

The best one-line summary and diagnosis of this "strategy" may be found in an old movie called "The Bridge on the River Kwai" :

"Madness ... madness!"

Unlike isolationists past and now present again, some of our senators have taken note of the risks we're courting by economizing on security. "Taking us back to a pre-9/11 military force structure places our country in grave danger." --John Cornyn, R-Texas.


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.