PAT BUCHANAN has made a career of suggesting in code that he sympathizes with some of the uglier impulses in national politics. When called on it, he feigns indignation, claims to have been misunderstood and says the only reason for the furor is that he provoked the establishment. It's classic demagogic behavior, richly on display again in a book in which Mr. Buchanan defends his view of foreign policy.
He believes the United States is making too many commitments abroad. That is hardly his position alone, and balanced arguments can be made in its behalf. But this is the book of a marginal figure seeking to be taken far more seriously at his chosen vocation of presidential candidate than he deserves, and balance doesn't suit his purposes. His views are rightly described as isolationist. He asserts in a stick-figure history of American foreign policy that they should be regarded as mainstream instead, in that a wariness of foreign entanglement is part of what made America great. He reaches back to World War II as part of his proof that "compulsive interventionism" has led the United States astray.
You may have thought that World War II was a triumph. He enjoys suggesting instead that it was unnecessary in the defense of America's vital interests. "America survives as the sole superpower because it stayed out of the slaughter pens until the other great powers had fought themselves near to death," he writes. "By the fall of 1940, Hitler [had been] contained"; he lacked the means even to cross the English Channel, much less the Atlantic; "U.S. policy was succeeding without one American ground soldier in combat." The slaughter of the Jews and other populations, the subjugation of a continent, have no place in this calculation. "In every great European war, a neutral America prospered," is the teaching of this book.
It probably doesn't matter much that Mr. Buchanan thinks this. What matters is how other people react to it. Sen. John McCain denounced him and said such views have "no place" in the Republican Party. Good for him. George W. Bush claimed likewise to disagree, but said he didn't want Mr. Buchanan to leave the party, perhaps to seek the Reform Party presidential nomination. "It's politics," Mr. Bush explained. Should he become the nominee, "I'm going to need every vote I can get among Republicans to win the election." The front-runner could have done better than that.