Just as Patrick J. Buchanan threatened to rise from the Republican scrapheap as the Reform Party's candidate for president, he handed his enemies a blunt instrument to turn against him: his book, "A Republic, Not an Empire." They have deployed the instrument brutally.

Sen. John McCain days earlier had deemed it important to keep Buchanan and his followers in the GOP, but on Wednesday proclaimed that because of the book, there is no place for Buchanan in the party. Republican operatives, baffled by Reform procedures as they plotted to keep Buchanan from the third-party nomination, now figured that his own writing would sink him. Columnists and even reporters leaped in to libel him as a Nazi-loving bigot.

What the Buchanan book really does is warn of dangers inherent in proliferating international commitments that cannot be fulfilled. But it opened the way for misrepresenting him as stomping on the graves of our World War II heroes by denigrating their crusade against the dictators.

The hope in the Republican establishment is that Reform Party founder Ross Perot, always a patriot, will now reject Buchanan. Perot has never helped Republican hierarchs before, and he seems unlikely to oblige them by ditching Buchanan. Even so, the two-week firestorm against Buchanan reflects the GOP establishment's hostility and his own indiscipline as a candidate.

I am a friend and colleague of Buchanan and have defended him over the years against outrageously unwarranted charges of antisemitism, while rejecting in full his dogmatic closed-borders policies against trade and immigration. I believe that Buchanan has been a courageous and eloquent post-Cold War voice in opposing American military adventures in the Persian Gulf and the Balkans.

The 436-page Buchanan thesis depicts American foreign policy over more than two centuries that, far from being isolationist, has been deeply engaged in the world, but -- at least until 1917 -- almost always for the national interest. He argues the country went wrong in a brief imperialistic fling a century ago and currently in a quest to shape foreign regimes, by force, if needed, in the image of America.

Buchanan poses nightmare scenarios in which today's depleted U.S. military must fulfill commitments by fighting new wars in the Balkans, Korea, the Persian Gulf, Taiwan and the Baltic. He asks: "Will we be forever ensnared in entangling alliances that will involve us and bleed us in every great new war on the Eurasian land mass until we are as diminished as the other powers of the 20th century?"

Britain's fateful guarantee to Poland on March 31, 1939, is described by Buchanan as a classic case of irresponsible commitment. With the Allies unable to save or even help them, the Poles underwent a half-century of cruel oppression. Their fate could not have been worse.

Buchanan's vision is worth contemplating: The equally loathsome Soviet and Nazi tyrannies locked in a death struggle. While the West belatedly built its strength and avoided casualties, the armies of these dictators would be bleeding.

The usual claims of antisemitism have been cited by the usual Buchanan-bashers. In reality, the Buchanan book's single paragraph asserting Jewish influence (among other ethnic groups) on U.S. foreign policy has been affirmed by me and by my partner Rowland Evans in this column for more than 30 years and is nothing less than the truth. No real antisemite could propose, as Buchanan does in this book, "a permanent commitment to Israel of access to U.S. weapons to enable it to maintain a security edge."

Clearly, a prudent presidential candidate would never have written "A Republic, Not an Empire." But contrary to insinuations of his critics, there is not one word of praise for the Nazis or Japanese militarists.

Republicans last week sighed in relief that the Buchanan threat was just about gone, the victim of self-immolation. That may turn out to be correct. But whatever the impact on the 2000 election, his message has been so distorted that the citizens of the sole surviving superpower may fail to recognize the amber warning signal flashed by Pat Buchanan.

(C)1999, Creators Syndicate Inc.