THE ROBERT W. WHITAKER ARCHIVE

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IN LIKE A LION... | 2001-11-17

National self-interest is the only basis of a moral, non-imperialistic foreign policy. It is also the one approach that foreigners can understand and sympathize with.

A foreign policy based on anything but national self-interest is colonialist because you have no right to decide what is in anybody's best interests but your own. Your only legitimate business is literally your own business.

More important, a foreign policy based on anything but self-interest becomes suicidal. That is the real lesson of Vietnam. No one could understand exactly why we were there. So instead of deciding to either fight a war or get out, we fought half a war in Vietnam.

I think one thing we should agree on here is that you can be pro-war or you can be antiwar, but no rational person can support half a war.

The only reason we should be in Afghanistan is because they helped kill six thousand Americans. On that basis we have to decide whether to hit back with everything we have or to stay out.

In other words, America must either forgive and forget or come out like a raging lion. Anything in between leads straight to a Vietnam.

Right after the September 11 attack, the world realized that the only remaining superpower had the right to be a raging lion. A smaller attack at Pearl Harbor had led to our only atomic war.

So how would President George Bush the Younger react? Would he react like Clinton and say American history shows we are just terrorists ourselves?

Would George Bush Junior be an unapologetic pro-American like Reagan?

Or would George W. Bush try to be like his father and say he was "gentler and kinder" than that awful Reagan had been?

He came out like a lion. On September 11 President George W. Bush told the world that you were either with us or you were on the side of the terrorists.

The lion roared and the world went along unanimously. Everybody wanted to get out of the line of fire. Even Iran and Iraq were chilled to the bone at the idea of an America with whom all bets were off.

Everybody understood it when the United States reacted like a wounded lion. Like it or not, everybody knew where we were coming from. We were coming out like a superpower that had had six thousand of its people murdered. There was no self-hatred here.

Then it became business as usual. Bush began to tell others that they could do as much or as little as they chose. We dithered over supporting our enemy's enemies in Afghanistan because they might not form the sort of government that would be good for Afghanistan.

So our new "allies" began to dither.

Finally we dropped the "what's good for Afghanistan" nonsense and helped the Northern Alliance go ahead and defeat our enemy.

The lesson is that you must never go to war at all unless you are ready to be a lion.