June 16, 2008

Must Conservatives Be Pacifists?

One of the worst things about Bush’s idealist war for democracy is that it has confused his critics into thinking he’s an arch-conservative, and it’s confused conservatives into thinking that we must do the opposite of Bush and treat our foreign enemies the way we treat our countrymen.  Law-based criticisms of the president’s actions are weak; the law of war has long countenanced different and rougher treatment for terrorists, pirates, and other irregular combatants.  In light of this, critics resort to crude moralisms and appeals to the zeitgeist of the Geneva Conventions.  This is a pose, whether coming from the left or the right.  The real engine behind this criticism is a liberal ideal of equality that ultimately says we must treat our enemies in war the same way we treat civilized Americans in peacetime law enforcement.

Real conservatives such as Kirk and Weaver and Kuehnelt-Leddihn and Solzhenitsyn spent much of the last half-century showing how rationalist ideologies are all related in their concern for consistency and equal treatment of human beings not as members of groups but as atomized individuals.  Rationalist philosophies also share in common a disdainful view of traditional distinctions as having no moral authority.  The thread that unites conservative critics of rationalism—an idiom that first finds its voice in Edmund Burke against the French Revolutionary proponents of “liberte”—is that the rationalist-traditionalist distinction is more meaningful and more important than disagreements on the axis of liberty and order. Twentieth Century conservatives, after all, defended Pinochet, Franco, the Catholic Church, the Polish Home Army, and other authoritarian defenders of civilization that had little use for liberalism, nor much in common with Anglo-American notions of our liberty.

Bush and his critics are all operating from liberal premises:  both make no distinction of “us and them,” and both express a punctilious concern for human rights and equality.  These commitments are worn proudly as proof of integrity and consistency, even when our way of life is threatened by the combination of militant Islam, mass immigration, and foreign policy weakness in the face of threats. 

I support a punitive war on our enemies.  And our enemy is al Qaeda, itself a branch of militant Islam, including those in the Arab world who provide this expression of Islam passive and economic support.  I do not want to bring these people democracy and do not think they are fit for it. The Arab and Muslim world is primitive, bellicose, and uncivilized.  Bush wants to help them.  He can’t imagine it any other way.  I want to scare them and, when necessary, kill them. I also want to leave them to stew in their juices because the watchword of my policy (including any detention policy) is always our national interest, not the long-term flourishing of the Arabs as a people.  I believe this because I love my people and our inherited way of life, and I love these things more than I do abstract international treaties.  Thus, I have little concern for the rights of suspected foreign combatants and their cousins. I am willing to sacrifice them, including any innocents caught in the trap, because I weigh the American interest many times more heavily in the scales.  I am prejudiced.  I am prejudiced in favor of Americans, and I am prejudiced in favor of their safety in preference to the safety of foreigners.  This is how war is different.  This is why the Constitution does not apply to foreigners in war.  This is why the law of war has always given nations the right to treat enemies differently when they act like a gang of thieves rather than a uniformed army.  And this is why self-help in the form of reprisals has always been allowed in the law of war.  Look it up.

I want to wage a non-liberal war using non-liberal means.  Bush has not done so.  Consider GITMO.  Why are these trials and appeals so drawn out?  It’s a national scandal.  We should figure out if we’re reasonably sure they’re enemies, exhaust their intelligence value, and then hang the bastards.  Less democracy and more punitive actions.  I want salt in their fields and that sort of thing. Finally, when we’re finished, we should leave them to stew in their pathetically backward society’s juices,  a land devoid of literature and culture replete with honor killings and mindless cruelties.  US forces should not hang around the Middle East unnecessarily, nor get in bed with the enemies of Arabs and Muslims in the region, i.e., Israel.  But for now, it’s time for revenge.  Let’s leave with a bang, and then let’s not look back:  a strategic retreat with charity towards none, if you will.

The false freedom of international treaties and open borders mean that our real freedom to live our inherited way of life is undermined.  We are searched at airports, and our monuments are surrounded with unsightly barriers to deal with suicide bombers, all in the name of “freedom” that supposedly would not exist if we expelled foreigners originating ni the Middle East.  I am not a neoconservative, nor is everyone who wants our enemies smashed.  By contrast, neoconservatives want it all:  democracy for Arabs, open borders, and the like.  They value power not for defensive reasons, but because they see America merely as a tool to make the whole world conform to liberal beliefs.  This is why they love FDR and Lincoln so much:  both put their concern for strangers and liberal high principles above the objective national interest in tranquility and peace. 

Too much is made of Bush’s rough treatment of al Qaeda.  It’s really pretty mild by any historical standard, as has been his aggregation of power.  Bush is simply defending presidential prerogatives, because that’s what presidents do.  It has almost nothing to do with any conservative commitment to constitutional separation of powers or the language of treaties.  Bush is not conservative, but neither are most of his pacifist critics.  It is not the least bit conservative to spout the kind of moral relativist nonsense we saw in the comments to another thread.  These are views that, until recently, we only heard from the anti-war left.  They have a tone of Abbie Hoffman, Jane Fonda, and other alienated American liberals.

Those who would criticize US tactics against al Qaeda as being too harsh and identical to the enemy’s are morally demented.  They are akin to the liberals who worried so much about South Africa and Chile 20 years ago and nary said a word of criticism about the Soviet Union and its followers.  These kind of double-standards come not from a genuine concern for the problem of justice in foreign affairs, but from an adolescent rebellion against authority and a similarly adolescent alienation from one’s civilization, which the pacifist right takes little pride in. 

As I’ve written elsewhere, the conservative movement has attracted all kinds of strange pacifist fellow travelers of late, who believe in equal rights for Americans and foreigners and do not even support retaliation for 9/11.  I don’t share these views, and no conservative impulse says that I should.  If I worry about the growth of the state and the scale of our foreign adventures—which I do—it is because I am concerned with how it affects Americans.  I do not do it for love of strange foreigners.

I believe our interests trump those of foreigners, and while I don’t think we should go looking for dragons to slay, we shouldn’t pretend that our enemy’s backyard in Kandahar is the same as Des Moines.  Treat them harshly, let the memory of that harsh treatment be known far and wide.  Conservatives should fight ultimately to abandon the liberalism that makes Bush and the neoconservatives want to democratize these people, just as we abandon the liberalism of critics that would have us treat this uncouth enemy as if we’re dealing with civilized European soldiers captured at Ypres.

Subscribe to Taki’s Magazine for an ad-free experience and help us stand against political correctness.


Sign Up to Receive Our Latest Updates!


Daily updates with TM’s latest