CPAC and the Wars

Antiwar sentiment was a major issue for the first time at this year’s giant CPAC meeting in Washington. Thousands of young conservatives attended, some 5,000, and for the first time, Ron Paul was voted the favorite presidential candidate with 31% of the vote. His speech about how governments use wars to take over dictatorial power was constantly interrupted with roaring applause. Top leaders of the conservative movement spoke, but it was Glenn Beck who carried the last day with mad applause, denouncing Republicans nearly as much as Democrats and saying, “It’s still morning in America, it just happens to be kind of a head-pounding, hung-over, vomiting for four hours morning." Beck is not a war promoter and I’ve heard him on FOX TV saying he had pretty much come around to agreeing with libertarians on the wars.

Republican congressional leader John Boehner had spoken earlier promising that next time Republicans would be different and not cave in to big government.

Speakers covered the gamut of the conservative movement including old timers and new comers. Speaking has been almost obligatory for hopeful presidential candidates. Sarah Palin was not there. Romney spoke including praise for Bush and Cheney and came in 2nd in the straw poll with 22%. He was followed by Sarah Palin with 7% and Tim Pawlenty with 6%. Gingrich and Huckabee both came in with 4%.

Most different this time was the strong antiwar contingent of mainly Ron Paul supporters. Even many YAFers (Young Americans for Freedom) seem to have turned to antiwar sentiment, judging from the voting. There were still several pro-war panels including one arguing how Americans needed to limit our freedoms in order to save ourselves from Islamic fanatics and fascism. Another argued for war with Iran. However, there were also important speakers arguing for constitutional limits on the executive, such as Dimitri Simes of the Nixon Center, Pat Nolan of Justice Fellowship, Bruce Fein and others, certainly much more than in Bush times.

As one who has attended these meetings all during the war years the difference was palpable. During Bush times, co-sponsor YAF, the Young Americans for Freedom Foundation brought in thousands of war wanters screaming support for Bush and Cheney. The YAF Foundation which funds many of the students expenses, has been solidly neocon, wanting wars and empire. At the meeting Neocon stalwarts were still speakers, e.g. John Bolton and Herb London of the Hudson Institute.

In the vast exhibit hall, instead of fighter plane manufacturers, as in the past, there was a big display from the American Petroleum Institute, urging off shore drilling and independence from oil imports by using America’s own abundant energy.

Speakers are organized and chosen by a committee of founders and principle co-sponsors who contribute to the costs. David Keene, President of the American Conservative Union which controls the event, has always expressed concern for preserving constitutional freedoms (see below) and had speakers such as Bob Barr and Judge Napolitano, even at the height of the war fever, who consistently argued for limits on executive power. Even I was allowed to speak in 2005, albeit for only 3 minutes, and was described by Marcus Epstein as the only anti war voice that year. However, this time there was solid antiwar participation.

Most notable was a panel, "Why Real Conservatives Are Against the War on Terror." The panel was composed of Bruce Fein, former Reagan Justice Department Deputy Secretary, Phil Giraldi, a former CIA station chief in Turkey and a columnist at, Jacob Hornberger, President of the Future of Freedom Foundation and Karen Kwiatkowski, retired Colonel and noted antiwar writer. It was chaired by the American Conservative literary Editor Kelly Jane Torrance. Over 300 people attended and the speakers were constantly interrupted with applause.

Hornberger described the war on terror as "the greatest terrorist producing engine in history" and argued that "dismantling the welfare state meant also dismantling the warfare state." Bruce Fein detailed the illegalities of our losses of liberty because of the war on Iraq and urged "millions for defense, not a cent for empire and preemptive wars." He said that the thrill of empire has made America less safe and less rich and argued that "due process" is vital for keeping our liberties. Karen Kwiatkowski decried the waste in the military budget and detailed how Washington violates Sun Tzu and von Clausewitz theories of warfare. Giraldi described how the war has made America "hated, feared and less safe" in the world.

Another significant panel with top conservative leaders was about the expanding police-prison state in America. Titled How Many Crimes Have You Committed Today, it included Grover Norquist and David Keene, two of the biggest names in conservative leadership as well at attorney Paul Rosenzweig. It was chaired by Pat Nolan of Justice Fellowship , a part of Chuck Colson’s Prison Fellowship organization. The speakers decried how many American were in prison with long sentences, the largest number of any nation in the world.

They explained how the civil code was being interlaced with new criminal penalties, how long sentences allowed prosecutors to intimidate innocent suspects into pleading guilty to crimes they did not commit, the unnecessary use of SWAT teams to attack homes even of those growing orchids who had fallen afoul of some new regulation. They urged a major reform of criminal law. The title of the panel referred to the constant moving of the goal posts as government makes more and more civil crimes into criminal ones. Then in California prison guard unions raise donations for politicians who urge longer and more prison sentences. The speakers urged major reforms of criminal law because prisons are filled with persons who are not a threat to society.

All in all much of the meeting was a welcome reaffirmation of much traditional conservative thought on values, American traditions and the rule of law.

Author: Jon Basil Utley

Jon Basil Utley is associate publisher of The American Conservative. He was a foreign correspondent in South America for the Journal of Commerce and Knight Ridder newspapers and former associate editor of The Times of the Americas. He is a writer and adviser for and edits a blog, The Military Industrial Congressional Complex.