In the years since I abandoned my status as a typical neoconservative chicken hawk and adopted Old Right non-interventionism, I’ve been somewhat uneasy with much of the movement’s rhetoric. Specifically, I often find much of the anti-war Right a little too reminiscent of the anti-war Left. That is, many anti-war conservatives and libertarians expend a great number of keystrokes lamenting the American war machine’s innocent foreign victims (see Chronicles or LewRockwell.com just about any day of the week for examples). This is often my own preferred argument. My concern is that this kind of rhetoric does little to grow the non-interventionist movement’s ranks.
The neocons spent the last decade smearing their opponents to the Right as delusional or cowardly “liberals” – when they aren’t calling them anti-Semites, that is. They respond to non-interventionist arguments with inanities like, “freedom isn’t free,” and then tell some heartwarming story about a soldier who lost his leg but still supports the war and hopes the American people are “tough enough to see it through.” It is utterly disingenuous for the epicene dweebs who lead the neoconservative movement to sell themselves as authorities on old-fashioned American manliness. They get away with it because, when it comes to speaking Middle America’s language, the neocons are pretty much the only game in town. Although their message is utterly vacuous, the Limbaughs, Hannitys, and Levins know exactly how to frame their arguments in a way that appeals to the GOP base. It’s time for more doves on the Right to learn to do the same.
The tendency to categorize everything into dichotomous categories is a major problem with contemporary American political thought. One idea that unfortunately survived the 60s is that only limp-wristed hippies care about peace, and if you don’t want to be lumped with those indolent, unshaven wusses, you should make it a point to support whatever you think they hate. My suspicion is that a great percentage of the GOP’s voters think very little about American foreign policy, but instinctively believe that only America-hating wimps are against America’s wars, whereas Real Men “support our troops.” These people don’t really care about Iraqi or Afghani civilians, and consider stoically accepting American casualties a sign of “American Grit.” This does not mean they cannot be persuaded by non-interventionist arguments, but doing so will require a message stripped of all traces of humanitarian, we-are-the-world gobbledygook.
Americans have not always associated peace with poltroonery. As far as I know, few people argued that the America First Committee was primarily motivated by spinelessness. Still, since the 60s, the anti-war movement has unfortunately been associated with “Flower Power” and other sissy slogans. Anyone serious about reviving an older, pre-hippy anti-war tradition and making it a major political force would be wise to eschew all rhetoric that conforms to this unfortunate stereotype.
Lamenting the suffering created by harsh economic sanctions and bombing campaigns is a good way for non-interventionist right-wingers to suck up to their leftist friends and colleagues, but so what? The people moved by such arguments are already anti-war. Building a powerful anti-war coalition on the Right will require an entirely different rhetoric. At all costs it must avoid sounding like Code Pink.
Luckily, we already have a pretty good format that has worked pretty well in America’s Red regions, and can be applied to the cause of peace. There is a certain ethos that characterizes a great number of ordinary Republicans – or at least the ordinary Republicans with whom I prefer to spend my time. For the lack of a better term, I will call this frame of mind, “Who-Gives-a-Damn? Conservatism.” This is the type of thinking that leads to support for standard GOP policies, but not for particularly-sophisticated reasons. I have no doubt that a great number of grassroots Republicans oppose ideas like universal health care and more federal spending on public schools because they understand, and find compelling, conservative and libertarian arguments about the utility of such policies. I suspect much of the opposition to these schemes, however, is based on a more primal emotion. That is, a lot of people don’t like Big Government because they don’t want to pay for it and don’t really care about the people it is supposed to help. They don’t care about inner-city standardized test scores or the indigent without health insurance, and wouldn’t want their taxes raised to deal with those issues even if every government program worked exactly as well as it was supposed to work. This line of conservative thinking runs as follows: “Why the f*** should I care? I have my own problems, and don’t want to give a penny to those bums. Screw them.” Though it is at odds with much of the peace movement’s sensibilities, this is the attitude right-wing non-interventionists should display if they seriously want to grow the movement.
When arguing for America’s speedy withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan, I don’t think it does much good to talk about horrific examples of collateral damage. I think more converts can be won with the following argument: “Who the hell cares about Iraq or Afghanistan? If they want to spend the next fifty years blowing themselves to bits, let them have at it.” The same logic should be used to argue for our withdrawal from our bases in Korea and the Middle East, leaving Russia alone, getting out of NATO, and for finally abandoning the fantasy that we will somehow insure Taiwan’s independence.
The neocons will inevitably counter that this is exactly the kind of thinking that gave us 9-11. I think this argument is losing its power. I suspect few people still believe that our national security is actually tied to women’s suffrage in south-central Asia, or any of the the other ludicrous neoconservative claims. As 9-11 recedes in memory, there are fewer and fewer imbeciles who believe America will be absorbed by the Caliphate if we fail to convince Pashtuns to beat their Kalashnikovs into ballot boxes.
The neocons’ democratist ideology should be treated as just another example of fuzzy-headed utopianism. Bringing “liberal democracy” and “democratic capitalism” to the entire world should be added to the category of ridiculous, never-going-to-happen ideas. The best argument against the neocons is that they are delusional. They are the eggheads dreaming up sentimental, utopian schemes, not us. The non-interventionists should start selling themselves as hard-headed realists who know better than to get mixed up with every damned-fool conflict in the Third World. If countries or ethnic groups on the other side of the globe want to duke it out, well, so much the worse for them, but it’s not our problem. It’s the neocons who think otherwise who are the pie-in-the-sky hippies.
Conservative TV and talk-radio show hosts have a sickening tendency to portray their views as those of practical, hard-nosed tough guys. Perhaps the pro-war types of other eras could realistically make such a claim about themselves, but they certainly cannot do so today. I do not think accusing the pro-war propagandists of being moral monsters has done much good; instead, going forward, I think it will be more effective to call America’s war mongers a bunch of puerile, harebrained fantasists with no inkling of how the real world works.
This kind of rhetoric will not win any accolades from the Left, but it just might win a few more converts on the Right. A movement built on this line of thinking will probably not lead to a Kauffmanesque foreign policy of peace, love, and freedom, but it may at least lead to policies more in line with Andrew Bacevich’s views, which would certainly be a great improvement over what we have now.