For eight long years under George W. Bush, conservatives endorsed a don’t ask, don’t tell foreign policy–they did not really ask why their country was at war and Republican leaders did not tell, or bother, Americans with any of the gory details. Missions were accomplished, we fought them over there so we didn’t have to fight them here and troops were supported by simply supporting the wars they fought, with little to no dissent. But why were we fighting? What was “victory?” How many had to die? What was the cost? Conservatives did not ask-Republican politicians did not tell.
But some Republicans are finally asking. Regarding President Obama’s decision to escalate the war in Afghanistan, columnist Reihan Salam writes: “Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Republican known for his independent streak, has made a conservative case for withdrawal.” Says Chaffetz: “Our military is not a defensive force for rough neighborhoods around the world. They are trained to be an offensive, mission-driven military force to protect the United States of America. They are not trained to be nation builders or policemen… If our mission in Afghanistan is simply to protect the populace and build the nation, then I believe the time has come to bring our troops home.”
Is Chaffetz’s position on Afghanistan a sign of things to come? Salam thinks so, writing: “my guess is that by the 2010 congressional elections, dozens of Republican candidates will be doing the same across the country.”
We can only hope. As a conservative, I have long found it perplexing that to a large extent the American Right has been defined by its enthusiasm for going to war virtually anywhere, for virtually any reason and often for no good reason.
The notion of defending one’s country is something patriots of all political stripes can subscribe to. But that every military action our government commits to should automatically be considered righteous and unassailable is a bizarre position for conservatives, given their natural distrust of government in every other sphere. The Wilsonian idea of “making the world safe for democracy” has never been the language of hard-headed conservative realists, but maniacal ideologues, and yet the liberal dispensation and celebration of such utopian rhetoric by the last Republican president, his party and most self-described conservatives, left the Right a confused mess.
That’s what makes sane conservatives like Congressman John J. Duncan, Jr. of Tennessee so refreshing. Says Duncan: “There is nothing conservative about the war in Afghanistan. The Center for Defense Information said a few months ago that we had spent over $400 billion on the war and war-related costs there. Now, the Pentagon says it will cost about $1 billion for each 1,000 additional troops we send to Afghanistan… Fiscal conservatives should be the ones most horrified by all this spending. Conservatives who oppose big government and huge deficit spending at home should not support it in foreign countries just because it is being done by our biggest bureaucracy, the Defense Department.”
Indeed. Democratic Congressman Barney Frank has said that there would be enough money for national healthcare if we hadn’t spent so much money on the Iraq war. When debating liberals like Frank, it would be nice if conservatives could point out that Americans shouldn’t be spending so much money, period–instead of just arguing in favor of a different government program.
As our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan inch closer toward the decade mark, it seems many Americans are beginning to realize that their own security, both personally and nationally, is more at risk from big government than protected by it. Support for Obama’s outrageously expensive agenda, his performance and his popularity continues to plummet and a recent Pew survey found that 49% of Americans believe the U.S. should start minding its own business globally. Says Duncan: “We have now spent $1.5 trillion that we did not have–that we had to borrow–in Iraq and Afghanistan. Eight years is long enough. In fact, it is too long. Let’s bring our troops home and start putting Americans first once again.”
If current trends are any indication, the basic conservative sentiment that government should mind its own business might be seeing new light, even concerning foreign policy. Writes Antiwar.com’s Justin Raimondo: “it is clear that a great many conservative Republicans are undergoing a transition: faced with the consequences of eight years of dangerous and debilitating militarism, some are beginning to question the basic premises of interventionism.”
It’s about time. And at this particular juncture, conservatives who still cannot muster any skepticism toward big government abroad-while hypocritically railing against it at home–should finally give up any pretense of being for limited government, concede Barney Frank’s argument, and quit calling themselves “conservative” altogether.