A year ago this week, I wrote the following concerning liberal Democrat Joe Lieberman being invited to speak at the 2008 Republican National Convention and conservative Republican Ron Paul being shut out: “If you are pro-gun control, pro-socialized health care, pro-choice, pro-amnesty, all of these liberal positions can be tolerated so long as you are pro-war. If you are a staunch conservative on virtually every issue, if you’re not pro-war, you’re no longer welcome in the Republican Party.” The name of my piece was “The War Party” and that’s exactly what the GOP was in September of 2008.
What a difference a year makes. Lieberman has gone back to being the loyal Democrat for the most part, and the only war the Right seems excited about is their own against President Obama and his agenda. Well, at least most of it.
When columnist George Will called for the removal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan last week, he made his case using the type of hard-headed realism that used to define conservatism. Writes Will:
Nation-building would be impossible even if we knew how… If U.S. forces are there to prevent reestablishment of al-Qaeda bases—evidently there are none now—must there be nation-building invasions of Somalia, Yemen and other sovereignty vacuums? U.S. forces are being increased by 21,000, to 68,000, bringing the coalition total to 110,000 … Counterinsurgency theory concerning the time and the ratio of forces required to protect the population indicates that, nationwide, Afghanistan would need hundreds of thousands of coalition troops, perhaps for a decade or more. That is inconceivable.
But what is inconceivable to Will is a moral imperative to other right-wingers whose reaction was stern and swift. Talk radio host Mark Levin blasted Will, stating his explicit support for nation-building in Afghanistan. Columnist William Kristol wrote, “Will is urging retreat, and accepting defeat.” Also joining the anti-Will chorus were Rich Lowry, Fred Kagan, Peter Wehner and other pundits, who along with Levin and Kristol, are best described as “neoconservatives.” Somewhat perplexed, Denver Post columnist David Harsanyi noted: “Judging from their harsh reaction to Will, it’s not clear when, if ever, some conservatives believe the U.S. should withdraw from Afghanistan.”
Harsanyi makes a good point. But an even better point might be this – what exactly makes the neoconservatives, “conservative?”
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I’m often asked to define the term “neoconservative.” While there are many different, more precise definitions, neoconservatives are probably best described as single issue voters whose single issue is war. No matter how much it costs, how much sense it makes or which party wages it, neoconservatives will find any justification and invent any reason for maintaining or increasing American foreign intervention. That a neoconservative would ever suggest we should shrink our foreign commitments and bring our troops home is about as likely as Obama suggesting we should shrink government and allow Americans to bring more money home. And damn any heretic like George Will who would point out certain insurmountable obstacles or any other pesky logistics to prevent continuing our war in Afghanistan or anywhere else.
If a liberal can be defined as someone who refuses to reconcile his utopian vision with reality, then there has never been anything particularly conservative about the neoconservatives. That the U.S. could somehow transform the Middle East if only we invested enough dollars and effort was a fairy tale the neoconservative Bush administration not only sold the American people, but Republican unity and identity depended on conservatives’ willingness to believe this fantasy. Writes Cato Institute Vice President Gene Healy “The Right’s embrace of nation-building during the Bush years was perplexing. When the government announces a massive effort at social transformation, you expect conservatives to be the leading skeptics.” But far from skeptical, those screaming the loudest for their president to use government to provide “hope” and bring “change” were not Democrats. And during those years, the GOP fully became the War Party, due entirely to the dominance and influence of the neoconservatives.
In his call to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, Will ends his column with the following: “Genius, said de Gaulle, recalling Bismarck’s decision to halt German forces short of Paris in 1870, sometimes consists of knowing when to stop. Genius is not required to recognize that in Afghanistan, when means now.” For the neoconservatives, “when” is never, and John McCain’s remark during the election that the U.S. might have to stay in Iraq for 100 years was music to their ears. Afghanistan is no different.
But conservatives must realize it is indeed time to stop. Not only in Afghanistan, but in ever listening again to any neoconservative politicians or pundits who would gladly goad us into war with Iran, Pakistan, Georgia and anywhere else they could manage. As Obama’s popularity wanes and support for his war plummets, now is the time to make the case that American soldiers shouldn’t be the world’s policeman, liberal utopianism is not sound foreign policy and nation-building is not conservative. George Will has and serious conservatives should follow suit.