Like it or not, conservatives such as Tanner will have to grapple with the political, moral and fiscal consequences of an imperial foreign policy. ~Jacob Heilbrunn
Of course, conservatives such as Tanner presumably also want no part of such a foreign policy, since they suffer from no schizophrenia about the size of government when it comes to Pentagon budget requests. Unfortunately, most conservatives not only do not want to grapple with these consequences, but they even deny the premise of the recommendation. Nonetheless, even most conservatives do not make a priority of the government-shrinking goals of Cato, as Ross would be only too happy to tell us.
Even so, for many conservatives, there isn’t any such “imperial foreign policy” and 700+ military bases around the world (like the invasion of Iraq!) have something to do with “national security.” Huge disbursements for the military and an expansive and activist foreign policy are often considered separately from the question of supporting “small government.” After all, we have to dominate the Near East to make the world safe for vouchers and partially privatised pensions, or something like that. I hasten to add that this separation of domestic and foreign policy questions is not true of people at the Cato Institute, who understand the inevitable connection between the empire and Leviathan at home, but then to say that most conservatives do not share the foreign policy views of Cato is to say something so obvious that it is almost not worth writing.
Sometimes liberals will hit interventionists on the right with what they think is a clever line: “Don’t you realise that the military is part of big government?” They are, of course, arguing against the rhetorical self-presentation of their enemies, since the people who actually oppose big government have next to no influence in the real world (because, as Ross would tell us, there aren’t very many of us and we don’t draw any water in any of the places that matter), or they are arguing against mythical foes from the last generation, since many of them have probably never actually encountered a real government-shrinking conservative in political office in a long time.
In any case, the neocons have long had an annoyingly effective rebuttal to this shot at the supposed ‘contradictions’ between small government in domestic policy and big government abroad: “Yes, we do realise that, and we don’t care. We want to make government even bigger in that respect, and we are quite content with big government everywhere else, too.” Most conservative activists are allergic to the phrase “big government conservatism,” and they are only too happy to mock it when it fails (as fail it inevitably will), but many of the same people put up half-hearted (at best) opposition to the policies of big government conservatives when they were being pushed through.
So Heilbrunn’s critique would be a lot better aimed if Tanner and other small government conservatives were the ones advancing neo-imperialist foreign policy arguments, but the few of us small-government types who remain are among the only ones on the right objecting in principle to interventionism and the continuing pursuit of maintaining an unsustainable–and undesirable–superpower status. We see the dismantling of the empire as essential to rolling back the power of the state here at home, so it is hardly a telling rebuke to us to say that we must count the costs of empire. We have been counting them, and they are too high. Now we just have to somehow pull off the miracle of convincing the other 85% of the right that their foreign policy views are deeply inimical to the best interests of this country.