Tag Archives: Clinton

Conservatism as Foreign Policy

Last evening President Obama declared an end to combat operations in Iraq. Many commentators noted that this was a pretty dubious statement, but that need not concern us here. Before Obama appeared in the Oval Office, Sarah Palin posted this on her Facebook:

As Americans tune in to watch President Obama, it is important to remember the facts. He opposed the surge. He predicted it would fail. He said it would make things worse even after it dramatically improved the situation.

Of course, Palin is correct in pointing out Obama’s hypocrisy, but this just serves as another sad reminder that conservatives were the only ones that pushed for the surge (not to mention the entire Iraq war back in 2002/2003). As the mid-terms draw closer (as well as the 2012 race beyond that) we will no doubt see conservative candidates attempt to use the success of the Iraq war as a major talking point. Because I find “conservatism” and “war” to be polar opposites, I am reposting an article I wrote back in 2007 that tried to deal with the odd fact that so many conservatives could be such great fans of the warfare state. Enjoy.

Conservatism as Foreign Policy (written 2007)

In the year 2000, George Bush campaigned (at least partially) on “a humble foreign policy”, as well as the promise to stay away from nation building, explaining that countries need to take the responsibility on themselves.

Conservatives cheered.

Of course, lest one be misled to think of George Bush as a noninterventionist, I can say with quite a bit of certainty looking back on Bush’s record the past couple of years that the only reason he uttered those words was because the democrats had been very interventionist under Clinton (Haiti, Somalia, Kosovo, etc). The republicans, for the most part, opposed those wars, and conservative entertainers like Sean Hannity had a field day accusing Clinton of sending off our troops to die needlessly for a foreign country and spending our tax dollars propping up failed states. The sweet irony is diminished only by the sickening thought of how unprincipled some of these conservative entertainers can be.

But today, the conservative’s once good wisdom has largely diminished since Bush took office. Listen or read the headlines of any conservative media outlet, be it magazines, websites, or radio, and one could largely be forgiven for assuming conservatism was defined solely by one’s view of foreign policy. Peruse any of the numerous conservative blogs on popular sites such as myspace.com and the overwhelming criterion for being a conservative appears to be how much somebody supports war.

It seems to be that the majority of conservatives define conservatism by foreign policy almost exclusively. If you support the war(s) you are a conservative. If you oppose the war(s) you are a liberal (or “libtard” as myspace conservatives ingeniously put it these days). This simplistic view of conservatism defames the rich history of conservatism and classical liberalism going back to Edmund Burke.

The genuine students of conservatism and classical liberalism, though, realize that conservatism is so much more than simply one’s view of foreign policy, or any government policy. What happened to the belief in a natural order, as Russell Kirk has elaborated on? What happened to a belief in natural rights, which our founding fathers held so dear? What about limited government, few laws, and a respect for private property? Does conservatism have anything to do with ethics and culture to these so called conservatives today?

Ann Coulter and other “conservative” entertainers, would have us believe that conservatives are republicans, and liberals are democrats. Republicans good, democrats bad. It is as simple as that. I scanned the index of a couple of Ann Coulter’s books and found no reference to any of the great conservative writers. Edmund Burke was nowhere to be seen. Russell Kirk was entirely absent. Both Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh’s books followed the same trend as Ann Coulter’s.

Conservatives have become so enamored on foreign policy that they refuse to see conservatism as anything else. Pat Buchanan is a great example of this. Although largely ignored in the conservative press, one would be hard pressed to find someone more conservative than him. The only issue that really distinguishes him from the rest of the conservatives is that he is not an interventionist, and he doesn’t believe in unconditional support for Israel.

Murray N. Rothbard’s book, “The Betrayal of the American Right“, is a disquisitional examination of what he terms the “two Rights, Old and New.” The Old right, which can loosely be said to exist as the Right wing of American politics from the mid-1930s to the 1950s, was defined purely as an opposition movement. The Old Right was in opposition to everything the New Deal and the war economy of WWI had imposed on American politics and society. Their opposition to big government, and believe it or not, war made them far more principled then conservatives today. Today’s conservatives have becomes yesterday’s progressives.

Fortunately, many conservatives today have admitted as much, even if nobody seems to have noticed. This is why they aptly self-title themselves neoconservatives. From Irving Kristol’s admission that neoconservatives don’t really mind big government to Charles Krauthammer’s unyielding support for American hegemony around the world, conservative intellectuals have no qualms supporting ultimately progressive policies and principles while cloaking them in the duplicitous label of “conservatism.”

Gone are the days when conservatives espoused limited government. In the first six years under a so-called “conservative” president, the Department of Education increased spending on K-12 education by 40% and on higher education by nearly as much. We live under the biggest government the world has ever seen, in all of history. And yet we hear conservatives calling for more government. They call for more spending on defense, more bases around the world, and more trade barriers against China. Forget the old phrase, “defend America first“, now its defend Kuwait first, or defend the Iraqis first. Conservatism has become just another side of the coin of progressivism. Sure, they’re not entirely happy with entitlement programs. But whereas conservatives used to support cutting the welfare state and giving the money back to the people, now they support cutting a little of the welfare state and make the warfare state larger!

As Patrick Buchanan put it, the choice before us is between an empire or a republic. We are bankrupt as it is, and are forced to borrow money from the Chinese to finance are ever growing foreign policy. Russell Kirk once said, “Not by force of arms are civilizations held together, but by subtle threads of moral and intellectual principle.” When will conservatives today realize this?