BY ERNEST F. HOLLINGS

John Kerry, the Secretary of State, contends that the Ukrainian showdown is a confrontation between a 19th century world view and a 21st century approach. My problem is that the United States is the one with the 18th century world view.

We went into Vietnam because South Vietnam asked for help and we wanted to stop the spread of communism. Ho Chi Minh said no - you can't come into our country. After 10 years of bombing, flame-throwing, and Agent Orange by the United States, Ho won. We went into Iraq for various reasons. President George W. Bush wanted to prove Papa Bush wrong when he wrote in "A World Transformed," "We should not march into Baghdad ... turning the whole Arab world against us ... assigning young soldiers ... to fight in what would be an unwinnable urban guerrilla war."

Dick Cheney wanted the oil, and I felt it was in pursuance of Clean Break, an Israeli study that suggested Saddam be replaced with a Hashemite ruler favorable to Israel. President George H.W. Bush was right. Iraq was "an unwinnable urban guerilla war."

After we chased Osama bin Laden into Pakistan, we made war on Afghanistan for no reason. Afghanistan didn't have an Army, was no threat to our security and was grateful to the United States.

Congressman Charlie Wilson told me that we beat the Russians because the Afghans don't like foreigners and Russians were foreigners. Today, we are the foreigners, and the Afghans are having a hard time getting rid of us. In George Crile's book, "Charlie Wilson's War," the words al-Qaida and Taliban never appear. The warlords will still be in control.

After losing three wars, we have learned 1) that the military can't change the culture of a country, 2) we can't go in to help a country unless we find somebody to lead it who can be democratically elected. That's why we stay out of Syria.

Some senators are finding President Obama "weak" and say "nobody believes in America's strength anymore." As Gideon Rachman writes in the March 11 Financial Times, "The fact that Mr. Obama seems to have ruled out a military response is proof, not that he is weak, but that he is sane."

If nobody believes in America's strength anymore it's because the "nobody" is mistakenly thinking of military power. With nuclear weaponry limited to defense of the homeland and globalization having Corporate America downfield, blocking to spread democracy, entities like the National Endowment for Democracy can get you into trouble. Google NED and you will find 66 entities have been working in Ukraine for years. In the contest of Russia versus the European Union to have Ukraine join the Russian Eurasian Union or the European Union, both sides were backing "ne'er do well" leaders and both sides were financing the demonstrators and upheaval. When the democratically elected government opted for Russia, our crowd couldn't wait for the next democratic election so they overthrew the democratically elected president of Ukraine. This forced Putin to protect Russian interests in Ukraine.

For over 200 years, Ukraine has been a part of Russia. In 1954, Khrushchev gave Crimea to Ukraine but Crimea has the important port of Sevastopol for the Russian Navy. In winter, Russia's northern ports are frozen over and Sevastopol is the only outlet for Russia's Navy to the Mediterranean and Atlantic. Now, the March 13 Wall Street Journal headlines: "Obama, Kerry Warn of Consequences as Crimea Vote Nears." We shouldn't be warning anybody. We are the troublemakers. Thousands of miles from our security, we're the ones with the "18th century view." We should have realized that after retreating to the 38th parallel in Korea, the United States was sensitive to casualties. We should realize that we could have taken Vietnam in two weeks instead of losing it in 10 years because we didn't go above Hanoi for fear that China would come in.

Ukraine is a good lesson for us. It reminds us that the strength of the United States is in its democracy and economy. The lead for our foreign policy and "spreading democracy" is not the military but our Good Neighbor Policy. Apparently China has already learned this lesson. In 1989, after Tiananmen Square, the U.S. obtained a resolution at the U.N. to investigate human rights in China. China went to its economic friends in Africa and the Pacific, and there's never been a hearing on the resolution. By this time next year, China will have the largest economy in the world and within five years, China will have as strong a military as the U.S. China's controlled capitalism is working. Its large army not only protects China but protects the Central Committee, which is determined to keep China together as a nation. To practice our democracy, China would come apart. Rather than using our defense budget in diplomacy, we need to use a copy of Dale Carnegie's "How to Win Friends and Influence People."

The Good Neighbor Policy depends on our economy, which is being neglected. The U.S. is not competing in globalization - it's draining its economy. Corporate America continues to offshore its research, technology, production and jobs, and the president and Congress fail to make it attractive for Corporate America to invest in America.

We've got to get rid of the corporate tax that's not rebated on exports and adopt a VAT that is rebated. Replacing the 35 percent corporate tax with a 7 percent VAT produces billions to pay down the debt, helps fund Social Security and releases $2 trillion in offshore profits for Corporate America to repatriate tax-free and create millions of jobs.

We ought to be enforcing laws against China and Japan's closed markets and predatory practices. But the president and Congress get the contributions from Wall Street, the big banks and Corporate America to do nothing - so the president and Congress do nothing.

Ernest F. "Fritz" Hollings, a Democrat, served as governor of South Carolina from 1959-63 and in the U.S. Senate from 1966-2005.