There are rumblings in the GOP that, if they get much louder, threaten to split the Republican Party over the war issue and I don’t think anything could be much louder (in a good way) than Victor Gold‘s colorful dissent from the pro-war neocon orthodoxy. As deputy press secretary to Barry Goldwater in the 1964 presidential campaign, Spiro Agnew’s press secretary in the early ’70s, and a senior adviser to Bush père in the ’80s, Gold is a self-described "Goldwater conservative" whose new book, Invasion of the Party Snatchers: How the Holy Rollers and the Neocons Destroyed the GOP, is a shot across the bow at the Coulterized, Kristolized "conservative" movement. As Gold puts it,
"So it is that six years into the country’s first neocon administration, what Americans have learned about Irving Kristol’s ‘new kind of conservative politics’ is that it’s merely a recycled model of the old liberal politics that led to the decline and fall of the Democratic Party in the 1960s: a fiscally irresponsible, ever-expanding federal government presided over by an imperial executive imbued with a messianic view of America’s right to ‘democratize’ the heathen; or, as Irving’s neocon son William, editor of the Weekly Standard, prefers, our moral duty to ‘actively pursue’ policies leading to Woodrow Wilson’s dream of a ‘benevolent global hegemony.’
"Translated from the neocon: Today we own Washington, tomorrow the world."
Gold’s thesis is that the party of George W. Bush has become just as corrupt and delusional as the party of Lyndon Baines Johnson in good part because the Scoop Jackson Democrats who brain-trusted and defended the Vietnam War have long since migrated to the GOP, where they’ve taken over and replicated their old policies of big government at home and big trouble abroad.
Gold’s protest is powerful and delightfully iconoclastic, as he takes on the neocons, punctures the pompous Newt Gingrich, and goes after Dick Cheney hammer-and-tongs. Written in a punchy, polemical style, part memoir and part jeremiad, his book is a great read. What’s significant is that his isn’t a lone voice crying out in the wilderness, but just the latest and most eloquent evidence that there’s a major rebellion against the War Party brewing on the Right.
The realization that the neocons are doing to the Republican Party what they’re doing to the U.S. military driving it into the ground is now widespread in GOP circles. In an appearance on Fox News this past Sunday, House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio stated, “By the time we get to September or October, members are going to want to know how well this is working, and if it isn’t, what’s Plan B.” Trent Lott agrees. Rep. James Walsh, an upstate New York Republican facing pressure from his constituents to disavow the president’s position on the war, issued an open letter in which he stated that, if the "surge" isn’t successful by autumn, "we should be prepared to begin withdrawing our soldiers." Republicans facing problematic reelection prospects, such as Minnesota’s Norm Coleman, are giving the "surge" and the "Petraeus is our savior" strategy a second look: "There is a sense and a reality that there is a lot we have to see by September," says Sen. Coleman, and it doesn’t take special powers to hear the anxious undertone.
Rep. Ron Paul, who has always opposed the Iraq war, stands out in the crowd of Republican aspirants to the Oval Office, a giant among the GOP’s wannabe-presidential pygmies and his campaign has more support than the "mainstream" media seems willing to acknowledge. ABC News had to cave after excluding Paul from their presidential poll, which the libertarian Republican promptly won. John McLaughlin and Pat Buchanan have both practically endorsed him. In spite of an effort to minimize his potential impact by likening the calm and credible Paul to the more animated Mike Gravel, the Texas Republican could become the Eugene McCarthy of the anti-interventionist Right, if the online excitement generated among young, libertarian-oriented voters is any indication of his growing appeal.
And, of course, there is Sen. Chuck Hagel, the Nebraska Republican, playing Hamlet in the wings, threatening not so subtly to launch a third-party run in ’08. Hagel’s dramatic dissent from Republican orthodoxy on the war has enraged the neocons, especially Dick Cheney, their patron and protector. If he decides to make an independent run, it could signal a lasting split in the GOP, uniting the Perot voters and the burgeoning antiwar constituency under a single banner and auguring the breakdown of the two-party system.
The great problem involved in stopping this war has been the unresponsiveness of the political system: in spite of growing popular disenchantment with our disastrous foreign policy of unrelenting aggression, the politicians of both parties have been slow to react. Since Democrats as well as Republicans were (and are) complicit in the launching and waging of this war, their leaders have been reluctant to backtrack. They’ve been forced by circumstances to do so, but not without kicking and resisting every inch of the way. The pressure on them has just been too great to be ignored, and the Democratic turnaround on this issue is now being followed by the most promising development so far: the cracking of the conservative consensus on the war which spells doom for the War Party and their hopes of spreading the conflict beyond its present boundaries.
This anti-interventionist movement has been building on the Right for quite some time, ever since Pat Buchanan bucked his fellow conservatives and came out against the first Gulf War. Buchanan’s book A Republic, Not an Empire and the magazine he co-founded with Taki Theodoracopulos, The American Conservative, have been enormously influential and, I might add, so have various writings posted on this Web site, including in this space. Antiwar.com has always made a conscious effort to present conservative critiques of the Bushian foreign policy precisely because of the strategic importance of splitting the War Party’s Republican base. We have always argued that the ostensibly "conservative" principles of the GOP limited government, fiscal responsibility, and a realistic recognition of the limits of power are ill served by a foreign policy that aims at exporting our system all over the globe at gunpoint.
The Democrats can’t and won’t end this war all on their own, and Republican dissent on this issue couldn’t have come at a more propitious time. The main danger is that the Democrats will insist on framing the war as a partisan issue, making it impossible for any Republican to bloc with them on the question of war funding. The pork-laden supplementary military appropriations bill pushed by the Democratic leadership is a textbook example of how not to end the war. Now that the much-vaunted timelines for "redeployment" have been stripped from the legislation, all that’s left is money for the war and the pork.
The Republican Party faces a choice: it can continue down its present path and follow the Leader and the neocons over a cliff, or it can change course and return to its historic roots as the party of limited government at home and limited ambition on the international front.
To the neocons, the Republican Party was just a means to an end, not a cause unto itself: it was their vehicle to power, and once they had arrived, its fate was irrelevant to their central concerns. A parasite, after all, cares nothing for its host.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
My piece on the AIPAC espionage trial in the May 7 issue of The American Conservative is now online.
Oh, and this is pretty funny. I especially like the linkage between Garet Garrett’s Rise of Empire and George Lucas’ The Empire Strikes Back.