But the speech was in almost no way that of a conservative. To the contrary. It amounted to a thoroughgoing exaltation of the state.
Bush has just announced that we must remake the entire third world in order to feel safe in our own homes, and he has done so without sounding a single note of reluctance or hesitation. This overturns the nation’s fundamental stance toward foreign policy since its inception. Washington warned of “foreign entanglements.” The second President Adams asserted that “we go not abroad in search of monsters to destroy.” During the Cold War, even Republican presidents made it clear that we played our large role upon the world stage only to defend ourselves and our allies, seeking to changed the world by our example rather than by force. Maybe I’m misreading Bush — I’m writing this based on my notes, and without having had time to study the text — but sheesh. ~Peter Robinson
It’s very good to see that more and more erstwhile, or perhaps simply easily fooled, conservatives have begun to run away from the messianic and revolutionary ideas of the administration, or at least from such unapologetically mindless expressions of such ideas. Nonetheless, where have Mr. Robinson and some of these others, troubled by the extremism or excessiveness of the speech, been for the last three years? As for Messrs. Robinson and Simes, I cannot say for sure (they surely weren’t vocal opponents of Mr. Bush’s radicalism, I know that much), but Buckley and Noonan were perfectly willing to sing ‘hallelujah’ to the river god of democratic revolution (and largely still are willing).
Where were these people when we few happy, real conservatives were declaring Mr. Bush unconservative since his lunatic ‘axis of evil’ speech and even before then? How could it have not been clear what Mr. Bush’s universalist pretensions were in the months after September 11? Mr. Robinson is, of course, absolutely right that Mr. Bush enunciated a total departure from traditional American foreign policy, but then he had done that in 2002 to the cheers of people over at NRO. Why must Mr. Robinson couch his criticisms in such a defensive way, as if the fault might lie with his interpretation? The message of the speech was unmistakable: the same Yankee, freethinking way of life will prevail in every corner of the globe, or else the fate of Iraq awaits those who resist.
Indeed, Buckley and Noonan’s complaints were more about style and language, though Buckley pointed out some of the completely typical sloppy thinking in the speech and Noonan did manage to admit that perfectibility is not possible here below. (In fairness, Mr. Bush made no claims to perfecting the world–he seems keen simply to knock down all the structures that now exist and hope something better emerges in its place.)
Why, then, has Ms. Noonan signed on to a policy program that assumes that there is one general cure-all, progressive means for organising all political and social life in an optimal way? There is not, and a real conservative (something that Ms. Noonan has only ever played at being on occasion) would know this instinctively and not need a zany, radical speech to remind her. The plan for democratising countries that have never possessed such regimes before on the assumption that “democracy means peace” is certainly apocalyptic in its way. It is not quite the promise of perfectibility, but it presupposes the marks of sin are much more like light brushstrokes on the surface that can be easily ameliorated with a healthy dose of voting and consumerism.