This year may be long remembered as the year when either the wisdom or the lack of wisdom of our leaders decided the fate of Americans yet unborn. The undeclared war against this country by nations harboring and fostering terrorists sworn to our destruction became undeniable on September 11, 2001.
The nuclear threat implicit in these undeclared wars became explicit last year, when North Korea openly repudiated the treaty by which Bill Clinton had tried to buy them off by essentially paying blackmail to get their nuclear weapons off the headlines.
Sweeping the problem under the rug worked for Clinton, in the only sense that mattered to him, that it solved his immediate political problem and left the dangers to be dealt with by his successors. But now that President Bush has openly recognized the terrorist threat and taken it on, the path of buying off North Korea once again seems no longer open to him, even if he wanted to take it.
Nevertheless, it is not encouraging to hear Secretary of State Colin Powell talking about how we will not "negotiate" with North Korea, but that we will have "conversations" with them. This sounds too much like Bill Clinton's habit of splitting hairs over words, while hiding behind semantics.
Those who discuss death-laden international complexities as if they were discussing abstract issues around a seminar table are asking why we are getting ready to take on Iraq without first taking on North Korea. Iraq does not have a nuclear-armed China backing up Saddam Hussein. That is not a small difference in the real world.
China, incidentally, has nuclear missiles that can reach American cities, thanks to American technology which they obtained when Bill Clinton over-ruled the objections of our military and intelligence officials, and allowed that technology to be exported. China also now controls the canal that Americans built in Panama, which Jimmy Carter gave away when he was president.
Clinton gained campaign contributions and Jimmy Carter gained the kind of international image that eventually led to the Nobel Prize, especially after he later schmoozed with North Korean and Cuban dictators, and publicly trashed the foreign policy of the Bush administration.
Cynics say that every man has his price. But you might at least expect presidents to have higher prices than these.
While the left has done enormous damage to the security of the United States, the political right is not without its problems. Those neoconservatives, especially, who were pushing an activist "national greatness" foreign policy, even before September 11th, have seized upon that event as a reason for the United States to "use American might to promote American ideals" around the world.
That phrase, by Max Boot of the Counsel on Foreign Relations and The Weekly Standard, is breathtaking in its implications. When he places himself and fellow neoconservatives in the tradition of Woodrow Wilson, it is truly chilling.
Many of the countries we are having big trouble with today were created by the Woodrow Wilson policies of nation-building by breaking up empires, under the principle of "self-determination of nations." Such trouble spots as Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon were all parts of the Ottoman Empire that was dismembered after its defeat in the First World War.
The Balkan cauldron of nations was created by dismembering the defeated Austro-Hungarian Empire. That dismemberment also facilitated Adolph Hitler's picking off small nations like Czechoslovakia and Austria in the 1930s, without firing a shot, because they were no longer part of a defensible empire.
The track record of nation-building and Wilsonian grandiosity ought to give anyone pause. The very idea that young Americans are once again to be sent out to be shot at and killed, in order to carry out the bright ideas of editorial office heroes, is sickening.
In a dangerous nuclear world, it is a full-time job for the U.S. government to protect the lives of the American people. That cannot be done by staying home and depending on two oceans to shield us, as the old-line conservatism of Patrick Buchanan seems to suggest. But to destroy regimes that are trying to destroy us is very different from going on nation-building adventures.