Paul Weyrich, who died last Thursday, was one of the half dozen leaders who brought forth the conservative victory in Washington. With the Iraq war, as most Republicans were overcome by the siren songs of big government and world empire, Weyrich remained an extraordinary defender of freedom and limited government.
He opposed starting confrontations with Russia, the egregious violations of the Patriot Act and unending wars. An old cold war warrior, he immediately changed when communism fell and went dozens of times to various Russians cities with delegations to teach and train political activists. I went with him on one of the trips. Rare among most conservatives, he learned about how other nations view America and, later, tried to assuage Russian nervousness about the expansion of NATO to its borders by urging that Russia be invited to join NATO too. Last August he warned of the reason for opposition in Washington, “Because cold war warriors, who have made careers of fighting the Russians and justified ever increasing defense budgets accordingly, put an end to it.”
I first met Paul 30 years ago and, since 2002 have regularly attended his famous Wednesday luncheon meetings of conservative organizations in Washington. After 9-11 it was difficult for any Republican to oppose the war on Iraq and post-war occupation policies. All the big conservative media and think tanks wanted war on Iraq. Individuals opposed feared that any open opposition would cut access, careers and funding. Neoconservatives controlled the big money foundations — Bradley, Olin, Smith-Richardson and Scaife which funded many of them. The Washington Times, Heritage Foundation, American Enterprise Institute, National Review, Human Events, FOX News, Rush Limbaugh — all wanted war and precluded any debate or questioning of the Bush Cheney lies and policies. Weyrich let me speak up and distribute anti-war material (much of it from Antiwar.com) at every meeting. After one argument I got a hand written note from him explaining how a dozen of the organizations had petitioned him to disinvite me from the meetings and to please not make it too difficult for him. Over the years I got other notes from Paul encouraging me to go on fighting. I treasure them greatly. In March, ’05, he wrote me, “I know it is tough representing the minority view, but sooner or later our views will look much better as the war drags on and on.”
My nemesis at the meetings was smooth talking Frank Gaffney, consistently terrifying the social conservatives, most of whom knew very little about the outside world, with visions of fanatical foreigners, while urging support for ever more military aggressiveness and for the Likud West Bank settlements in Israel. Gaffney was influential and Weyrich did put him in later years in charge of the Stanton Group, which met monthly on foreign policy and from which I was excluded. I understood the trade offs as Paul could not be too up front in opposing the war when it first started.
The founding of the American Conservative magazine in late 2002 by Scott McConnell, Pat Buchanan and Taki finally gave me “real” ammunition and I began distributing copies of the magazine at every meeting. It was of tremendous importance in finally providing a place to publish for conservatives and libertarians opposed to the war and excluded from traditional conservative media.
Another of Paul’s great activities was to support and house William Lind, one of the most original military thinkers in Washington. Lind is an expert on Fourth Generation Warfare and constantly opposed the Rumsfeld Cheney neocon war measures. Lind never attended the luncheons because his ideas were so alien to the weekly war promotions of White House spokesman. Lind’s essays are published on Antiwar.com. Weyrich also funded for several years an e-mail letter on protecting constitutional freedoms and often invited former Congressman Bob Barr to speak on the Patriot Act and such issues.
Weyrich’s Free Congress Foundation never got the big money from War Party foundations and lobbying interests and funding was always a struggle, although he had been a co-founder of the Heritage Foundation in the 1970’s. Weyrich’s writings on war and freedom remain prophetic as he warned that “empire abroad almost certainly means eventual extinction of liberty here at home.” His essay, “A Conservative Foreign Policy” is a wonderful distillation of arguments for preserving Americans’ freedom and prosperity by limiting military actions abroad. It also takes much from former Senator Robert A. Taft.
Jon Basil Utley is associate publisher of The American Conservative. He was a correspondent for Knight Ridder newspapers in South America during the 1970’s and a commentator for the Voice of America during the Reagan years. Utley was a co-founder in 1990 of the Committee to Avert a Mideast Holocaust against the first Iraq war and an activist against the second one. He is director of Americans Against World Empire and a writer for Antiwar.com.