CPAC 2013: The War Party
National Harbor–For dissident conservatives hoping for any sign the GOP’s interventionist fever might be breaking sometime soon, the presence of a panel entitled “Too Many American Wars? Should We Fight Anywhere and Can We Afford It?” on the main stage at CPAC might have given them some hope.
Alas, those hopes would be badly misplaced (and perhaps obviously so, given the names and pedigrees of most of the panelists). Quotations presented mostly without comment, hoping they don’t give Daniel Larison a heart attack.
Moderator, Rep. Steve King set the tone, unintentionally confirming the isolationist account that the Spanish-American War kicked off the age of American Empire: “People will invariably say, from the other side of the aisle usually, that nothing good ever comes from war. Just think about that a split second, I go back to the Revolutionary War, what came from that that was good, well, the United States of America. A pretty good result of that Revolutionary War. … We were a nation that was forming itself on this North American continent, we didn’t have much for a look overseas, we didn’t think of ourselves as an international force, and we were not, at the conclusion of the Civil War. But in 1898 the USS Maine was sunk in Havana Harbor and we found ourselves in the Spanish-American War.” And then quoted the former president of the Philippines Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo thanking the U.S. for sending troops, Christianity, and teachers more than a hundred years later. No mention was made of America’s brutal occupation after the war.
Angelo Codevilla brought the (pseudo-)intellectual heft: “The title of the panel is ‘are we fighting too many wars.’ That’s not a very good title. All human action, wars included, is to be judged by what it achieves, not by what goes into it. Suppose you were looking at a bunch of plumbers working on a house. We wouldn’t ask how often do they show up, or how much work are they putting in. You’d be asking, when and whether you can flush the toilets. … What is the purpose of those that deal with war and peace? What is the product that they’re supposed to turn out? I would suggest to you that that product is peace. That product is often achieved by fighting wars.” War is peace. Freedom is slavery.
Rep. Tom Cotton, next up, instantly made it clear why he’s a neoconservative darling. He blamed the nation’s war-weariness on President Obama’s alleged war-weariness and worried that he prosecuted the War on Terror as a law enforcement action. “Should we fight anywhere? I think the answer based on my remarks is obviously yes, we should fight anywhere, but we should not fight everywhere. John Quincy Adams famously said ‘we are friends of liberty everywhere, but guardians only of our own.’ Now, he also authored the Monroe Doctrine which committed us to the defense of an entire hemisphere, but in today’s world, we have to recognize that we fight where our national interests were clearly at stake.”
“The president, I worry, is returning us to a law-enforcement construct, the kind that prevailed in the 1990s before the 9/11 attacks. Speaking of the 1990s, the final question is, can we afford this war? The answer is yes, we can afford it, and the answer is yes, we must afford it.”
Making a valiant stand for noninterventionism was Ivan Eland, who implored conservatives to listen to Coolidge rather than Reagan and employed many of the same arguments he made in his recent piece for this magazine.
Then Rep. Louie Gohmert proposed an interesting counterfactual: “I’m not going to debate the merits of whether we should or should not have gone to Vietnam, but what I will tell you is; Vietnam was winnable, but people in Washington decided we would not win it.” He endorsed the bomb-our-way-out solution instead, suggesting the real lesson of Vietnam was “You don’t send American men and women into harm’s way unless you’re going to give them the authority and what they need to win and then bring them home.”
Gohmert’s foreign policy: “Benefit your friends, make sure your enemies suffer from being your enemies”
— Betsy Woodruff (@woodruffbets) March 14, 2013
Codevilla made an interesting comment during the rebuttal that I can’t quite make sense of in the context of his other views, that by our promiscuous interventions: “we started on a path which is taking us to the point where our establishment, right and left, generally agrees with the notion that the president ought to be able to kill American citizens on his own recognizance. That is the kind of inward-turning that generally characterizes a defeated people.”
Gohmert added, “I think it’s time to have a national dialogue–I’m not big on taking out Americans, and especially if they’re on Capitol Hill reading prayers like Al-Awlaki was previously [is this even true? — JB]. But think about it. I think maybe the way to go is when you have a person, a leader, or a government that declares war on us, take ’em out, and say ‘look, you’re into self-determination, you decide what government you want in this country. We’re not going to get in your way, we’re not going to dictate to you, but understand this: You pick another government like this that will declare war on the United States, we’ll take them out too.”
At the end, Rep. King suggested that Eland had given him pause to reconsider the justice of American involvement in World War I. Baby steps.
Check back in this space for further updates throughout the weekend. Rand Paul’s speech begins at 1:30, adjusted for delays on the main stage.
[Update: Larison comments.]