George Weigel attacks an America First foreign policy

George Weigel, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and regular contributor to First Things, uses a column claiming that there is no distinction between "wars of choice" and "wars of necessity" to bash those who promote an America First foreign policy based on restraint and realism.  He attacks those he calls "soi-disant 'national conservatives'" — naming Chicago University professor John Mearsheimer — for being "unrealistic foreign policy 'realists[.]'"  And he invokes World War II and Edmund Burke to support a policy of providing material aid and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine.  "To deny either of these," he writes, "is to play the coward."

Weigel, like many supporters of a greater U.S. role in the Russia-Ukraine war, uses the Putin-as-Hitler analogy to accuse today's America First foreign policy advocates of cowardly isolationism.  Those who advocate U.S. restraint in the Russia-Ukraine war, according to Weigel, are no better than those, like 1930s America Firster Charles Lindbergh, who urged America to avoid getting entangled in another European war, or those in Great Britain who wanted to negotiate a deal with Hitler.  Had the America First movement of the 1930s succeeded, he writes, America's freedom would have been extinguished in the face of a "Nazi-dominated Europe and a Japanese-dominated Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere."

So, according to Weigel, Putin today poses the same threat to America's freedom as Nazi Germany and Japan did in the 1940s.  Weigel writes:

History strongly suggests, however, that dictators like Putin regard such pauses [negotiations or ceasefires] as merely a strategic breather before resuming their aggression and perhaps extending it[.]

Those — like Mearsheimer and others including the late Angelo Codevilla — who argue that Ukraine's independence is not a vital national security interest of the United States, Weigel writes, are engaging in "strategic foolishness" and "moral cravenness."  Perhaps Weigel forgets that even Winston Churchill said that it is usually better to "Jaw-Jaw" than to "War-War."

Nowhere in Weigel's article does he make the case that Ukrainian independence is in America's national security interest.  There is no geopolitical analysis in Weigel's piece other than reliance on the lessons of Munich — the same "lessons," mind you, that got us bogged down in the morass of Vietnam.  Nor is there any sense of the roots of the Russia-Ukraine war, like Russian history, Russia's perception of geopolitics, or the mindless expansion of NATO that took place after the end of the Cold War.  The late Russia expert George Kennan — whom Weigel would probably also call an "unrealistic realist" — tried to warn America's leaders about the consequences of NATO expansion after Russia's defeat in the Cold War, but no one listened.

Weigel tries to play the "moral" trump card by accusing opponents of greater U.S. involvement in the war of acquiescing to evil.  There is a whole lot of evil all over the world — always has been and always will be.  It is not in America's national security interest to try to stamp out evil in the world.  America, the great John Quincy Adams said, goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy.  She is the well-wisher of freedom to all, but the champion only of her own.

Vladimir Putin is not Hitler.  Russia in 2022 does not threaten Europe and the balance of power the way that Germany and Japan did in 1940.  Weigel's "soi-disant national conservatives" are right.  The last thing America needs is to get further drawn into a regional war that, without a negotiated solution or ceasefire, could escalate into a wider European war and the crossing of the nuclear threshold. 

"History strongly suggests," to use Weigel's phrase, that wars have a tendency to take on a life of their own and expand in ways not envisioned by the participants.  It happened in America's Civil War and in the First World War and, yes, even in the Second World War.  Weigel is right that all wars are wars of choice, but this is a war in which America should not participate.

Image: kalhh from Pixabay, Pixabay License, free for commercial use, no attribution required

If you experience technical problems, please write to