Pat Buchanan

3 minute read
Adam Cohen

In his new book Pat Buchanan tells us what he would have done if he’d been President when Nazi Germany was waging war on England and France: Nothing. Adolf Hitler, he insists, was somewhat misunderstood. The Nazis only wanted to move east into Russia and Eastern Europe–which posed no threat to U.S. interests–until we got them all riled up. The Holocaust? A bad thing, certainly, but not the kind of problem that should drag a nation into war.

The campaign book is a saccharine literary form–think of Jimmy Carter’s Why Not the Best?–but Buchanan’s new foreign policy monograph is every bit as vinegary as its author. It’s also a stark reminder of just how far on the fringe of the American political spectrum he is. In A Republic, Not an Empire, Buchanan argues for an extreme isolationism that puts him at odds with everyone from Ronald Reagan conservatives to Edward Kennedy liberals. And along the way, he manages to deliver a flurry of jabs and body blows to his favorite punching bags: Jews, Hispanics, blacks, the media and large corporations.

In this post-Vietnam age, most Americans are wary of sending troops overseas. But Buchanan’s opposition is sweeping. He is, of course, outraged by Clinton’s Kosovo policies (“We have no vital interest in that blood-soaked peninsula…”). But he also attacks the Persian Gulf War, waged by Republican President Bush and backed by 80% of Americans. And the moral quandary of whether, as the world’s only superpower, the U.S. has a duty to stop genocide is for Buchanan a no-brainer: unless vital interests like oil are involved, we should mind our own business and let those marked for death fend for themselves.

Along with isolationism, Buchanan dredges up another dark American political tradition: old-fashioned, immigrant-bashing nativism. While George W. Bush and other Republicans are courting the Hispanic vote, Buchanan warns that too many black- and brown-skinned people are entering the U.S. (“No nation has ever undergone so radical a demographic alteration and survived”). He lashes out at Jews as too influential (using the kind of rhetoric that led fellow Catholic conservative William Buckley to conclude, in a 1991 National Review article, that Buchanan was an anti-Semite). But he also argues that Greek-Americans, African-Americans and other “hyphenates” are too outspoken on foreign policy–drowning out the white Anglo-Christian voices he sees as truly representative of his America. And who says there are no new ideas in presidential politics? Buchanan lambastes Armenian-Americans for securing too much U.S. aid for the tiny Republic of Armenia.

–By Adam Cohen

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at