Dan McCarthy continues the discussion on the Iraq war’s political effects:
The answer, I argue, is that foreign policy is not just about foreign policy, it’s also about religion, sex, fears of radicalism, shame, and any number of other psychological qualities that can be addressed under the rubric of “culture.”
That seems plausible, and it seems particularly true of Bush-era foreign policy and the post-Bush idea of what Noah Millman called “war as culture war.” When Bush was still popular, the movement conservative right identified almost completely with him and his foreign policy agenda, and some supporters went so far as to link support for Bush’s aggressive foreign policy closely with advancing social conservative goals at home. When all of these things can be described in the extremely vague language of “values” (e.g., “values-based foreign policy,” “values voters,” etc.), it becomes a little easier to elide the differences between them. This is how Bottum put it in his case for “new fusionism”:
Those who believe the murderousness of abortion to be the fundamental moral issue of our times and those who see the forceful defeat of global, anti-Western Islamicism as the most pressing political concern we face–pro-life social conservatives and the foreign-policy neoconservatives, in other words—seem to be increasingly voting together, meeting together, and thinking together. If you want to advance the pro-life cause, you will quickly find yourself seated beside those who support an activist, interventionist, and moralist foreign policy for the United States. And, conversely, if you are serious about the war on terror, you will soon discover that you are mingling with those fighting against abortion.
These issues have nothing in common, so even after all this time it’s still strange to see them paired together like this. To the extent that there is a connection between social conservatism and foreign policy debate, pro-life activists should be on the other side of the debate from pro-war advocates, but the reality is that most of them have not been. I happen to think that a political alliance between social conservatives and hawkish interventionists makes no sense, but the point here is that the alliance existed (and still exists) even if there is no coherent intellectual argument to defend it. The key phrase here is “moralist foreign policy”: interventionists think their foreign policy is a moral one, and talk incessantly about “moral clarity,” and this is the sort of language that ends up appealing to many social conservatives and it also gets confused with social conservative arguments on completely different subjects. Interventionists encourage this confusion when they misleadingly frame foreign policy debates in terms of morality vs. moral relativism.
Bottum continued later in his essay:
If the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s regime must be treated as a battle in the culture wars, then it is a battle whose opponents were defined long before.
Of course, it has mostly been advocates for the invasion that wanted to define the Iraq war as a battle in the culture wars, and Bottum’s essay was a later attempt to define the meaning of that battle. As Bottum saw it, the “desire to find intellectual and moral seriousness in one realm can breed the desire to find intellectual and moral seriousness in another.” The idea that support for invading Iraq reflects “intellectual and moral seriousness” was risible then and later, but the conceit that it does helps to explain why so many social conservatives have thrown their support behind an ideologically-driven foreign policy and how that kind of foreign policy undermines otherwise unrelated arguments of its supporters when it fails.