When I first read Pat Buchanan's latest column, I thought he was using sarcasm to make a point. When I read it again, I feared that he was actually being serious. Here are the relevant passages; you decide:
Bonfire of the QuaransCreators SyndicateBy Patrick J. BuchananSept. 10, 2010
Everybody frets and wrings their hands. No one acts.
Yet if, as President Obama and his commanding general both say, the torching of hundreds of Qurans could so enrage the Islamic world as to incite terror-bombings against U.S. troops and imperial our war effort, why does not the commander in chief send U.S. marshals to arrest this provocateur and abort his provocation?
For Jones, who sells t-shirts saying "Islam is of the Devil," may be an Islamophobe, but he is also a serious man, willing to live with the consequences of his deeds, even if he causes U.S. war casualties.
The questions raised by his deliberate provocation are not so much about him, then, as they are about us.
Are we a serious nation? Is Obama up to being a war president?
Constantly, we hear praise of Lincoln, Wilson and FDR as war leaders.
Yet President Lincoln arrested thousands of citizens and locked them up as security risks, while denying them habeas corpus. He shut newspapers and sent troops to block Maryland's elections, fearing Confederate sympathizers would win and take Maryland out of the Union.
President Wilson shut down antiwar newspapers, prosecuted editors, and put Socialist presidential candidate and war opponent Eugene Debs in prison, leaving him to rot until Warren Harding released him and invited the dangerous man over to the White House for dinner.
California Gov. Earl Warren and FDR collaborated to put 110,000 Japanese, 75,000 of them U.S. citizens, into detention camps for the duration of the war and ordered the Department of Justice to prosecute antiwar conservatives.
During Korea, Harry Truman seized the steel mills when a threatened strike potentially imperiled production of war munitions. Richard Nixon went to court to block publication of the Pentagon papers until the Supreme Court decided publication could go forward.
This is not written to defend those war measures or those wars. It is to say that if a president takes a nation to war, and commits men to their deaths, as Obama did in doubling the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, he should be prepared to do what is within his power to protect those troops.
And if Petraeus says letting Jones set this bonfire could imperil U.S. troops, Obama should act to stop it. And if he is so paralyzed by uncertainty as to whether he can do anything -- and, as a result, soldiers die -- what would that tell us about their commander in chief?
Would stopping Jones and confiscating the Qurans violate Jones' First Amendment rights?
Perhaps. And perhaps not. But if Eric Holder cannot find a charge against Davis, or an inherent power of a war president to prevent actions imminently damaging to the war effort, Obama should find some Justice Department attorneys who can.
Let the ACLU make the case that interfering with Davis' bonfire violates his First Amendment rights. Let a U.S. court decide whether Obama has the power to take a decision previous wartime presidents would have taken without hesitation.
And if Obama does not have the power to stop actions like this, imperiling our troops, then we should get out of this war.
This episode reveals the gulf between us and the Islamic world. Despite all our talk of universal values, tens of millions of Muslims, in countries not only hostile but friendly, believe that a sacrilege against their faith, like the burning of the Quran by a single American oddball, justifies the killing of Americans. What kind of compatibility can there be between us?
What do we have in common with people who believe that evangelism by other faiths in their societies merits the death penalty, as do conversions to Christianity, while promiscuity and adultery justify stonings, lashings and beheadings.
And what does it say about our ability to fight and win a "long war" in the Islamic world if our war effort can be crippled by a solitary pastor with 50 families in his church who decides to have a book burning?
Action creates consensus, Mr. President. People follow when a leader leads.
There are a couple of sentences that still make me think that Pat was being sarcastic; these include, "And what does it say about our ability to fight and win a 'long war' in the Islamic world if our war effort can be crippled by a solitary pastor with 50 families in his church who decides to have a book burning?" Pat has been forthright about America's inability to ever win the war for global democracy that Bush, Obama, and the neocons have defined.
Whatever the case, it's not wise to use sarcasm in a nationally syndicated column that gets sent out to local papers in Middle America.
Buchanan does make one unequivocally valid point -- that Obama is simply not willing or able to be as harsh and authoritarian as Lincoln, Wilson, FDR, and Truman were. But one shouldn't forget that Washington is increasingly identifying "right-wing radicals" as "national security threats" and "domestic terrorists." If Janet Napolitano decided to round up David Duke, Jared Taylor, Peter Brimelow, me, and others listed as "dangerous" by the SPLC, would Pat then praise Washington for its "seriousness"?
Via email, a friend wrote me of how Buchanan -- along with others conservatives of his generation -- is caught between two incompatible versions of conservatism:
The column seems like a good example of what happens when one subscribes to two definitions of conservatism that are sometimes in conflict. In the Cold War, the extent to which one was willing to propose virtually totalitarian measures in the fight against Communism was an indication of one's right-wing bona fides. But conservatism in the America First context obviously can't encompass wars for global democratic human rights, or whatever the hell it is Americans are supposed to be dying for in the Islamic world. The competing standards of Cold War and America First conservatism can't be reconciled, but rather than abandon the Cold War criteria and risk seeming like a "liberal" by that standard, PJB affirms both standards and disregards the contradiction. So let's have global democratic wars and New Deal wars and all the rest, as long as the means by which they are prosecuted are sufficiently "conservative" by the standards of, say, National Review circa 1959.