America, Come Home

This morning’s [March 27] New York Times has yet another story about the developing split within the Bush administration over foreign policy, with the partisans of Donald Rumsfeld, unreconstructed cold warrior, versus Colin Powell’s (relatively) noninterventionist State Department. As is usual with the arbiter of the conventional wisdom, the Times defined the two camps in terms of “ideological conservatives” versus “moderates,” with the former allied with Rumsfeld and the latter partial to Powell. But in the post-cold war world, these categories make no sense at all: with the Soviet Union a fading nightmare, and America’s status as the last superpower left standing, the cold war paradigm simply does not apply. There is nothing inherently “conservative” in a policy of perpetual war for perpetual peace: indeed, it seems like the sort of wild-eyed radicalism that energized the Napoleonic foreign policy of the French Revolution – the very antithesis of conservatism – and hardly a force for stability and the preservation of traditional values. But the Times has a natural predilection for mischaracterizing conservatives, for reasons too obvious to state, and, in any case, the right is very divided on foreign policy. Some, like Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz, his neoconservative Svengali, seek to impose an American hegemony on the world, or most of it, and take great pride in a stubborn unilaterialism – even if it means a probable failure to reach their ostensible objectives (containing Saddam Hussein, avoiding all-out war in the Balkans, reducing the threat of a nuclear war, etc.). These ideologues are usually tagged with the term “neoconservative” as if to acknowledge, at least on some level, that this dogma of radical interventionism represents a revision – I would contend a complete reversal – of the original. But, as much as they would like to believe it, the neocons are not the whole show. A DISSENTING MAJORITY

Others on the right have dissented from this would-be orthodoxy. The collapse of communism, the end of the cold war, and the troubling rise of threatening trends on the home front have all soured grassroots conservatives on the alleged necessity for the US to intervene on a global scale. Pat Buchanan’s critique of Western hubris has garnered considerable support on the right, even if his recent race for the White House did not, as conservatives wake up to the startling and darkly disturbing insight that the enemy is not in any foreign capital, but right here at home. These rightists, faced with the choice of bombing either Baghdad or Washington D.C., would more than likely choose the latter. Llewellyn H. Rockwell, the president of the Mises Institute; Donald J. Devine and David Keene, of the American Conservative Union; and of course the indefatiguable scholars over at the Cato Institute, that bastion of libertarianism in the Beltway – all have proffered important critiques of the cold warrior-neoconservative stance, and their views more faithfully reflect the opinions of grassroots activists than the Beltway conservative ‘generals’ intent on re-fighting the cold war.


The Kosovo war was a watershed for many grassroots conservatives: for the first time they began to see the actions of their government as not merely mistaken, but evil. They also began to see, with a new clarity, the domestic uses of our interventionist foreign policy, as Clinton bombed an aspirin factory in the Sudan to get Monica off the front pages. This revulsion at the policies of the most interventionist President since Teddy Roosevelt began to translate, after a while, into a broad criticism of interventionism in general. As Devine and Keene put it in their trenchant critique of Robert Kagan, a top neoconservative foreign policy theorist::

“It is significant, however, that the Kagan areas of concern are mostly the same ones identified by Bill Clinton as important. For, although he disagrees with the President’s handling of foreign policy, Mr. Kagan tends to accept Clinton’s priorities rather than those of the GOP’s presidential nominee and the majority of Republicans in Congress. In fact, Kagan and Clinton both call them ‘isolationists.’ His advice to Bush was to separate himself from his fellow Republicans by adopting an even more interventionist and internationalist stance than Clinton or Gore. What Kagan seeks is a Republican president who would be even more willing than Clinton or Gore to use U.S. power to enforce a de facto American hegemony and a set of internationalist or universal values. Mr. Kagan and his associate Bill Kristol, in fact, specifically endorse what they call a ‘benevolent American hegemony‘ to police the world. Apparently, they have not found their man with George Bush.”


But this vigorous dissent is, naturally enough, ignored by the Times, which is not attuned to the subtleties of conservative thought. In any case, we are informed that the interventionist conservatives are gearing up for a battle royale with the Powelllians:

“Although the administration is still in its relatively early days, there is evidence that the disputes are unlikely to be kept quiet, in part because of the strong ideological undercurrents. Word has gone out to conservative writers and think tanks from administration hard-liners to ‘keep up the pressure,’ a think tank policy analyst said.”


As the Neocon High Command over at the War Party revs up the motors of its propaganda machine, painting Russia, China, Serbia, and the Arab world – indeed, much of the rest of the entire world – as our implacable enemies, allow me to rev up my own motors on behalf of the conservative silent majority, which is more concerned with the evil emanating out of Hollywood than with any baleful influences flowing in from abroad. If the warmongers, and various shills for the armaments industry, are going to ratchet up the pressure on this yet-unformed administration, then grassroots conservatives (most of whom supported George W. Bush), need to do some lobbying too. As the neocons build their grandiose architectures of global entanglement, and redraw the map of the world to implement their idea of “benevolence” – a conceit that seems utterly sinister – it is time for us “isolationists” (i.e. proponents of the traditional American foreign policy of trade with all, entanglements with none) to proffer our own platform, and to “keep up the pressure” on the Bush administration, which, after all, promised us a foreign policy based on “humility.” Of course, in the case of traditionalist conservatives, there are no grand architectures to construct, no overarching theories to rationalize the perpetual expenditure of troops and treasure: only a blueprint for undoing all the harm that has been done by the reckless misuse of American power, and returning to the real source of our problems: the political and cultural morass that threatens to defeat us on the home front. Herewith, a platform for conservative noninterventionists who hope to influence the direction of a seemingly directionless administration, broken down by region:


NATO Expansion as the Expression of American Hubris