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Invasions Have Consequences, Too

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 [1]

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 [2].  

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.

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2 Comments To "Invasions Have Consequences, Too"

#1 Comment By Sephiroth On March 5, 2007 @ 2:13 am

There’s some rather dark humor here – Heilbrunn, like the rest of his fellow scriveners at Marty Peretz’s rag, spent the better part of the 1990’s forwarding a claim that the main problem with American foreign policy was that it didn’t [3] He was also almost certainly among the chorus of center-left types who criticized Bush’s “isolationism” and “America Firstism” back in 2000.

The failure of the Republican leadership, including then Governor Bush, as well as much of the rank and file, to come out full stop against Clinton’s adventures in the Balkans was one of the first signs (that I saw) that the GOP had scant real attachment to its claimed conservative principles. I wondered at the time why they never tried to use Kosovo against Clinton despite the fact that they had little to lose by doing so. Now of course, with the benefit of hindsight, the answer is rather clear; they had their own Wilsonian fever dreams.

Which is why I hold little hope that the Anglophone Right will return to some form of reason on issues of foreign affairs in the near/medium term. That they cheerlead for Bush’s exercises in windmill tilting doesn’t bother me; that’s merely the simple partisanship of fools. What frightens me is the extreme distaste the vast majority of conservatives have for criticism of any past American war, e.g. the disgusting treatment Buchanan has received for his (hesitant) questioning of the necessity of WW2. There’s something in the modern rightist mindset that causes them to see perpetual military conflict as an inherently desirable goal, decoupled from the ostensible ends of the conflict itself. I only wish that I knew what that something is.

#2 Comment By Grumpy Old Man On March 5, 2007 @ 6:14 am

Some of this may be originate in a reaction against leftist opposition to wars that seems driven by a naïve pacifism or oikophopic hatred for one’s own country, such as a “peace” movement during the Cold War that was largely pro-communist. When one’s opponents viscerally despise their own country’s armed forces, it’s hard to join them in opposition to anything.

But of course there is a symbiosis between big gummint and war. Many “progressive’ steps toward central control of the economy find their origins in war. To cite just one example, rent control in New York City is now well over half a century old and shows no sign of disappearing; it had its origins in WWII. This is also true of civil liberties; most efforts to curtail them have originated either in war or “national security.”