IN A PERFUNCTORY bid for the Catholic vote, Richard Nixon stopped off at the Vatican on his European tour and edified the Pope with the moralistic bombast appropriate to a man who models himself after Woodrow Wilson. Two days later the Lrish would throw rotten eggs at him. Paul VI, though, simply communicated to the President a brief but vigorous plea for peace. Nixon claimed to share the Pope's concern for peace and then generously requited from his Inaugural Address those hackneyed lines on "the need for strength in an era of negotiation."
Not all the hypocrisy was Nixon's though; the Pope could still purr to Nixon that "the duty to insure peace belongs in a particular way to those who have a greater power in the world."
This remark melted the President's heart. Nixon; who had been saber-rattling a few hours before aboard the Sixth Fleet at sea, suddenly waxed messianic about the new moral uses of American power.
Here in this room we have had the opportunity to hear expressed a different kind of power-the spiritual power which moves nations and moves men. Pragmatists would say what really matters only is power. I know, however, that there is another power in this world, the power that transcends material factors... it is the power of the spirit. The President did not elaborate on this power, and no one pressed him to do so.
What gives meaning to this ludicrous oratory in the Vatican is Richard Nixon's deepening obsession to re-justify the global pastorate of the United States in the wake of Vietnam disengagement. Nixon is a dedicated internationalist trying to accommodate the isolationist impulse spreading in his own country-especially among the young, whose entire political lives have been lived out with Vietnam as the overriding issue. They sense the hollowness of an "internationalist" foreign policy which confuses that word with military intervention in every country of the free world. The new isolation, then, has chiefly a negative content: it simply wishes to stop Asian brush wars. Unlike the isolationists of the thirties, the new isolationists lack positive doctrine or a coherent and alternative foreign policy. Even if war is the essence of international relations, as some theorists contend, the new isolationists still must consider how to shape the imposing economic and diplomatic presence of the U. S. abroad. This has also become the central ambiguity for Nixon in trying to work out a new sense of world mission or patching up the old one.
The Cold War ideology declared a state of permanent emergency in the federal government after World War II. It justified extraordinary expenditures of economic and military aid, united the Congress and the Executive behind a bipartisan foreign policy, and justified an activist posture abroad. To abandon that anti-Communist internationalism now would severely impede the President's freedom of movement in foreign affairs-an obsessive fear with Nixon during debates over the Hatfield-McGovern amendment, for he is a determined activist. Foreign policy, he has said, is almost the sole business of the President. The running of the "free world" has not been left to Henry Kissinger. It would be more accurate to say that the running of the nation has been left to Spiro Agnew. Nixon, one must remember, had few pressing domestic duties as Vice-President and scarcely had any experience in public administration before 1968. He has spent the years since 1953 visiting foreign capitals and talking diplomacy-it is peculiar for an American politician to have made so many visits to Communist countries. His failure to propose or push imaginative domestic programs becomes comprehensible in light of his real objectives in the White House-to become a world statesman and undisputed leader of the "free world."
BUT VIETNAM may have marked the end of America's love affair with the free world and, even more decisively, with the notion of collective defense and mutual security. The current isolationist-internationalist debate threatens to undercut Presidential activism. Vietnam has shaken the tenacity of even Nixon's anti-Communist ideology. He is somewhere between believing in the essential rightness of the war and recognizing that American interest requires its liquidation. His effort to scale down the war may seem imperceptible-indeed he still clings to the rhetoric of intervention and to the paranoid concern for national prestige-but that only makes his ambivalence about the war more interesting. The rhetoric of intervention makes for bad diplomacy because it sacrifices national interest for national prestige. The President must be made to see the difference.
The debate over Vietnam at home long ago became a debate over the morality and uses of power. Interventionists claimed the issue of Communism and Indochina was the decisive one. Opponents of intervention stressed the right of the Vietnamese to nationhood or to some kind of self determined political settlement. Very few tried to argue from strictly diplomatic criteria-to discover not what was in the interest of the free world or the Vietnamese people but what was in the interest of the United States.
It has somehow proved impossible for Americans to divorce themselves from fantasies about world mission and the spiritual transformation of the universe. Even when they at last find America decadent too, they continue to use the same moral categorizing. New Left radicals who push for a revolutionary alliance among students, minorities and Third World nations also consider the internal affairs of various sovereign nations the legitimate concern of their sweeping ideologies. Some of the academics who staff the CFIA and the students who assault it have in common this disregard for the sovereignty of national boundaries, with continents no different from campuses. Ideology, free-world ideology or revolutionary, sweeps away the restraints of diplomacy. The delineation of the world into good guys and bad guys was lethal in the Vietnam episode to those diplomats trying to assert themselves over military bureaucrats and national security analysts.
THE ISOLATIONIST challenge to the internationalist mentality (both Cold War and radical) has been disappointing so far. Isolationist liberals reject ideology but lack the courage of their convictions, shirking the point-blank predicaments of modern statecraft. They must first specify the genuine obligation, if any, of the U. S. to Europe, Japan and the Middle East. They must also confront in some co-herent way the problem of imperialism, Communist or anti-Communist. Anti-imperialist convictions might endanger the Soviet-American detente-a detente which most liberals now exploit as a primary tactic against excessive military spending. The new isolationists ignored the invasion of Czechoslovakia or simply begged the issue by saying American imperialism in Vietnam justified Soviet imperialism in Czechoslovakia. Isolationists assume without question that the U. S. will never be attacked. They must now ask how much disarmament is compatible with national obligations to defend Western Europe and Japan. Instead, they affirm vaguely whatever it is that is going on in the, SALT talks, without troubling to find out if anything is going on. The final and ultimate objective of the twentieth century, the establishment of world law, also involves the willingness of isolationist liberals to use force to achieve that end-but how much and what kind of force?
It seems too much to worry about. Few liberals have thought out the difficulties of dismantling the Cold War bureaucracy, and no one has proposed the goals which a post-Vietnam foreign policy should pursue. Another East-West confrontation like the 1962 missile crisis-this time perhaps in Israel-might totally disorient the liberal isolationist impulse. The problem of aggression is the sleeper in the isolationist critique, a critique which does nothing more than ask America to be nice.
Perhaps the desultory isolationist-internationalist debate illustrates the poverty of democratic politics for making foreign policy. It leaves an activist President to do much as he wishes in Asia and Europe. The electorate has resigned itself on Vietnam, refusing even to make it an issue. Public tolerance has its limits, but so long as Nixon seems inclined to reduce the level of fighting, he may proceed as slowly as he wishes. He retains his free hand to steady the dangers in the Middle East with a rather showy brand of gunboat diplomacy. As the Administration's Vietnam strategy has provided the President's only duty is to avoid a national nervous breakdown at home. Democracies will approve half-measures when all the real alternatives are distasteful. But having survived the sixties, America has lost its taste for internationalist oratory, multi-security pacts, and world law. It barely listens even when the President, on a pilgrimage to the Vatican, pauses to applaud the morality of power.