During the Bush presidency, William Kristol’s Weekly Standard closely mirrored the administration’s agenda, not only in the magazine’s unwavering enthusiasm for war with Iraq, but in trying to make connections between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, assertions that should now be considered at least as wild as those who believe 9-11 was an “inside job” carried out by the United States government. Kristol, whose magazine once ran a cover story on the supposed “connection” between Saddam and Osama, likely considers the so-called “9-11 Truth” movement a collection of conspiracy-minded kooks, but in the mid-2000s the same could be said of the Weekly Standard, which perpetuated its own conspiracy myth to promote a war that Americans likely would not have supported otherwise.
But support it Americans did, particularly on the Right where everyone from the president and vice president down to talk radio either explicitly said or heavily implied that there was a connection between 9-11 and Iraq. Working in talk radio, I still receive the occasional phone call from listeners who believe this nonsense.
And I still get plenty of phone calls from conservatives who honestly believe we must stay in Afghanistan at all costs. When Kristol called for Michael Steele’s resignation after the Republican National Committee Chairman dared to raise questions about the wisdom of our war in Afghanistan, it reminded me of just how much influence—and damage—neoconservatives have exerted on the larger conservative movement. During the Bush years, if Steele had voiced such criticism, he likely wouldn’t have survived, as there was no room for debate on foreign policy—or the size of government, the national debt, increased executive power—the very things the Tea Party raises hell about today. As an illustration of the significant difference between traditional and neo-conservatives, during the 2004 election, the New York Times‘ David Kirkpatrick reported that Kristol said he’d take “(John) Kerry over (Pat) Buchanan or any of the lesser Buchananites on the right. If you read the last few issues of The Weekly Standard, it has as much or more in common with the liberal hawks than with traditional conservatives.”
Curiously, at the same time Kristol was calling for Steele’s head—and high profile conservatives like Ron Paul and columnist Ann Coulter were defending him—Sarah Palin sided with Kristol. Writes the Huffington Post’s Thomas Z. Dengotita, “Tea Party darling Sarah Palin has issued a major foreign policy statement on her Facebook page taking a generally hawkish neocon line. She wants, for example, to eliminate the withdrawal timetable for US troops in Afghanistan and presses for support of that war, along with other aggressive measures. This puts her with Liz Cheney and Bill Kristol and other conservatives who are demanding Michael Steele’s resignation for knocking the war.”
Palin’s stance poses a challenge to the Tea Partiers and the larger conservative movement. Is the Right finally serious about limiting government and reducing spending, which must include at least addressing the fact that our now bankrupt country has a larger military budget than every other nation combined, or will conservatives simply revert to the same old, Bush-style, Kristol-approved and Palin-suggested, neocon statism? Kristol freely admits that he would prefer a pro-war president John Kerry, or Obama, than a figure like Buchanan, Paul or any traditional conservative who might question American foreign policy. Ann Coulter asks, rightly, “Bill Kristol and Liz Cheney have demanded that Steele resign as head of the RNC for saying Afghanistan is now Obama’s war — and a badly thought-out one at that. (Didn’t liberals warn us that neoconservatives want permanent war?)… I thought the irreducible requirements of Republicanism were being for life, small government and a strong national defense, but I guess permanent war is on the platter now, too.”
Coulter makes the distinction that Palin and her adviser, Kristol, ignore—that there is a difference between support for a strong national defense and support for nonsensical permanent war. Neocons have successfully equated the two in the minds of many conservatives, and that right-wingers like Coulter, Buchanan, Paul, columnist George Will, MSNBC host Joe Scarborough, and of course Steele, would dare question the Bush/Obama foreign policy consensus, is completely unacceptable to Kristol’s camp.
The neocons’ reasons for staying in Afghanistan are about as legitimate as their reasons for invading Iraq, and they will undoubtedly continue to tell any lie necessary to protect the notion that perpetual war somehow equals a “strong national defense.” Conservative talk radio has been predictably silent about the Steele controversy and the reaction to it, mostly because hosts like Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and their mimickers have been in the neocon camp for so long they likely don’t know how to address such foreign policy questions being raised on the Right. Kristol, no doubt, hopes Palin can put a stop them being raised. And while everyone continues to wonder whether Sarah Palin will run for president—neoconservatives are happy just to have her run interference.