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Paul Weyrich’s Thoughts on War

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 [1]. 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 [2] 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 [3] 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 [4]) 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 [5] 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 [4]. 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 [6] 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 [7]” 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 [5]. 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 [8] and a writer for Antiwar.com [4].


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#1 Comment By Joe Strummer On December 23, 2008 @ 1:38 pm

So basically Paul Weyrich was a man of enormous influence, who on the central question of the day was a coward. That’s kind of a sad tribute.

#2 Comment By Red Phillips On December 23, 2008 @ 2:04 pm

Why didn’t he endorse Ron Paul? An endorsement from Weyrich early on would have been very helpful for Ron Paul. Instead he endorsed Romney, in anybody but Rudy fear mode, and latter said he should have endorsed Huckabee. Neither Huckabee nor Romney agreed with him on the War.

I don’t believe it was cowardice. If he was a coward he would have never spoken up in the first place. It was bad strategy. It was placing political pragmatism over principle. This has been a problem for the official conservative movement since the beginning.

#3 Comment By WRW On December 24, 2008 @ 10:58 am

Why would Weyrich’s endorsement of Paul have made a difference? Paul’s movement sprung up from below, so to speak. His campaign didn’t even organize the “money bombs.” I don’t think any of his supporters were responding to DC politicos. (BTW, did Weyrick support Buchanan?)

#4 Comment By Christopher Manion On December 24, 2008 @ 2:24 pm

Paul Weyrich was no coward.

Thirty years ago, when my father died, I called Paul to ask his advice on how we might continue dad’s work with the Manion Forum. Paul was comforting, attentive, and encouraging. Only later did I find out that he had been flat on his back in pain that night. And that pain endured for the rest of his life.

In recent years, the pain intensified. Yesterday his pastor told us that he had recently asked, how bad is it? Paul said, “On a scale of one to ten, it’s ten, 24-7.”

In spite of that pain, Paul worked harder than any ten men (and any hundred inside the beltway). The group Jon Utley describes is called “Coalitions for America.” It comprises domestic groups and works on Weyrich’s principle of coalitions: keep your eye on the ball — the “action item.”

Beyond that, you may educate about your issues if you like, but don’t let them get in the way of our coalition goals. And that coalition was devoted to domestic policy. (By the way, a few malcontents didn’t want me around either, but I’d been going since the 1970s, so they couldn’t very well ban me. And Wetrich encouraged me not only to keep coming, but to sound the alarm about the War To Make The World Democratic and Friendly To U.S. Domination.

As a regular at those meetings, I can attest to and applaud Jon’s calm and patient explanation of the basics of foreign policy. Having worked in that area for many years under Senator Jesse Helms, I can assure you that many on the “Christian Right” have little grasp of those basics.

Regarding Frank Gaffney, he was always welcome, and usually spoke. In all those occurrences, he never mentioned the millions he has received from defense contractors. Of course, that does not require that he be silent, only honest. I wrote him once, asking why he never discussed his ample funding from Boeing when he was advocating the notorious tanker deal. he never responded.

Weyrich once listened to Gaffney’s pro-war peroration, which in this particular episode included a paean of praise to the Patriot Act. Weyrich merely leveled his gaze and said, “Never give to your friend power that your enemy might one day inherit.”

Jon Utley was right. Now Obama has inherited the power that Gaffney applauded when accrued to Bush and the War Party. Cui bono?

On our last meeting before Christmas 2002, I briefly addressed the Weyrich group. Taking note of the increasingly bitter divide between the pro- and anti-war factions (we were being called anti-Semites, traitors, and left-wingers by the usual suspects), I said that all of us should at least join together in prayers for peace.

Sure enough, Gaffney jumped up and said, “Chris, we all want peace.”

Sure. We need an endless war lasting through the lives of our grandchildren, with billions more to Boeing and co., to bring peace.

My favorite theologian says otherwise: “These princes will never save us. Stay in the state of grace.”

Merry Christmas and let us all welcome the Prince of Peace with open arms in a free Bethlehem.

#5 Comment By W George Krasnow On December 24, 2008 @ 8:47 pm

Jon Utley is right on the money when he praises Paul Weyerich’s principled approach to politics. Genuine Republicans, as well as genuine conservatives, do not have to be pro-war or against domestic liberties. It’s just too bad that the neocons have subverted the conservative movement in the United States. Although less visible now, they are still entrenched, alas, among both the Republican and Democrat partocracy. The legacy of Ronald Reagan who wanted a nuclear-free world, peace, and friendship with Russia is being squandered in favor of neo-jingoism.

#6 Comment By Enver Masud On December 25, 2008 @ 8:43 am

I tend to agree with quite a bit of conservative thinking , but as you say the neocons seem to have taken over, and there seems to be no end to their ambitions. Even in the midst of the financial meltdown that is destroying the US, the neocons want to expand the war in Afghanistan — itself an unjustified war .

#7 Comment By Red Phillips On December 25, 2008 @ 2:04 pm

WRW, it would have helped legitimize Paul among the conservative base had Weyrich, Viguerie, etc. come out early and said he was the choice.

#8 Comment By John Lofton, Recovering Republican On December 26, 2008 @ 5:20 pm

Forget “conservatism,” please. It has been Godless and therefore irrelevant. Secular conservatism will not defeat secular liberalism because to God both are two atheistic peas-in-a-pod and thus predestined to failure. As Stonewall Jackson’s Chief of Staff R.L. Dabney said of such a humanistic belief more than 100 years ago:

“[Secular conservatism] is a party which never conserves anything. Its history has been that it demurs to each aggression of the progressive party, and aims to save its credit by a respectable amount of growling, but always acquiesces at last in the innovation. What was the resisted novelty of yesterday is today .one of the accepted principles of conservatism; it is now conservative only in affecting to resist the next innovation, which will tomorrow be forced upon its timidity and will be succeeded by some third revolution; to be denounced and then adopted in its turn. American conservatism is merely the shadow that follows Radicalism as it moves forward towards perdition. It remains behind it, but never retards it, and always advances near its leader. This pretended salt bath utterly lost its savor: wherewith shall it be salted? Its impotency is not hard, indeed, to explain. It .is worthless because it is the conservatism of expediency only, and not of sturdy principle. It intends to risk nothing serious for the sake of the truth.”

Our country is collapsing because we have turned our back on God (Psalm 9:17) and refused to kiss His Son (Psalm 2).

John Lofton, Editor, TheAmericanView.com
Recovering Republican

#9 Comment By Joe Strummer On December 28, 2008 @ 2:33 pm

So basically, Paul Weyrich (and people like him) basically set the stage for 8 years of torture, war, runaway deficits, a looming entitements catastrophe and financial collapse. Maybe he was this awesome guy who was very nice to people. But if what he wanted to do was make the country better off, well it looks like he was a complete failure.

#10 Pingback By Marcus Epstein / Weyrich och Huntington: Etablissemangsrebeller « Anarko On January 20, 2009 @ 3:15 pm

[…] och vissa av de andra organisationerna som han grundade. På American Conservative-bloggen mindes Jon Utley med värme hur Weyrich tillät honom att lufta sina antikrigsåsikter vid onsdagarnas luncher. Dock noterar […]

#11 Pingback By Left and Right Against the Military-Industrial Complex by Jon Basil Utley — Antiwar.com On March 31, 2009 @ 9:38 pm

[…] Murray Rothbard, Arnaud de Borchgrave, Lew Rockwell, Paul Craig Roberts, and the Cato Institute. Paul Weyrich expressed opposition to the war. Lew Rockwell once even made a list of those opposed to starting […]

#12 Pingback By Left and Right Against the Military Industrial Complex. By Jon Basil Utley « Kanan48 On March 31, 2009 @ 11:29 pm

[…] Murray Rothbard, Arnaud de Borchgrave, Lew Rockwell, Paul Craig Roberts, and the Cato Institute. Paul Weyrich expressed opposition to the war. Lew Rockwell once even made a list of those opposed to starting […]