In a post lamenting a dearth of ideas at CPAC, John Tabin noted that there was a foreign policy panel Friday evening, and for all of my criticism of the conference I have to say that the panel’s line-up appears unusually promising and refreshing: Doug Bandow and former Rep. Hostettler of Indiana (one of the six antiwar Republican members, who lost in the ’06 blowout) were speaking alongside Frank Gaffney, and the panel is moderated by Suhail Khan (!). If I were a pro-war conservative or interventionist, I would be very annoyed by this line-up, since it pits two very credible antiwar figures against someone who trafficks in genuinely looney, Keyes-esque conspiracy theories about Obama’s citizenship, and the moderator has been a target of Gaffney’s in the past. Technically, it’s true, the zany conspiracy theorizing doesn’t necessarily reflect on Gaffney’s foreign policy views, which are more or less garden-variety jingoistic foolishness, but he is hardly the spokesman that interventionists should want to have making their case.
Update: Mark Krikorian remarks on the panel and asks at the end:
But how can a three-day conference on conservativism [sic] have only one session devoted to the entirety of foreign affairs?
Mr. Krikorian is asking this question seriously, so I will try to give an appropriate answer. I cannot know the minds of the organizers, but my guess is that the conference organizers were more concerned with the state of conservatism and reacting to the administration’s domestic agenda, both real and imagined, and that the limited attention given to foreign policy may be a function of fatigue after constant Bush Era warnings about the “existential threat” of “Islamofascism.” That kind of hysteria can be exhausting, and now that administration policies no longer need to be defended there is more time to talk about other topics. As we have seen, individual speakers have been more than willing to make up for the shortage of formal foreign policy sessions. However, I also think that the lack of intra-conservative discussions of foreign policy at the conference is partly the result of conflicting impulses. On one side, I think there is probably broad acceptance of the Republican election-year critique of Obama as insufficiently hawkish, prone to cut the military’s budget, etc., and on the other there is a growing recognition that Obama’s policies are not going to diverge that wildly from the policies of the last administration and that this is undesirable. To the extent that CPAC this year has been an exercise in anti-Obama speech-making, there is no widely-shared line of attack against administration policies, and so there are not many sessions dedicated to the subject.
If one acknowledges continuity with the past administration, most pro-war attendees will find little to criticize and will actually believe that Obama has vindicated their own positions as the “realistic” ones, and non-interventionists and antiwar realists will continue to see the same flaws with Obama’s policies that they saw in Bush’s, which makes it harder to identify those policies as solely the product of a liberal Democratic administration. As Bolton showed, that won’t stop some from criticizing the administration in conventional “weakness invites aggression” terms, so these matters are being discussed here and there. There is also the small problem that mainstream conservatives embraced an administration that was, with a couple of notable exceptions, a remarkable failure in foreign policy, so it may not be a subject that many want to revisit just now. It also may be that the organizers understand that during a global recession there is not much reason to obsess about the “threat” from Venezuela or wherever.
Of course, if CPAC were a gathering mainly dedicated to formulating and debating policy ideas, that wouldn’t matter and we would see discussions of a number of issues pertaining to foreign affairs, but I think we know that this is mostly not what CPAC is most years and definitely not this year. This year, perhaps more than most, it seems to me that it is an occasion to rally activists and affirm a shared identity rather than hash out policy arguments.