The Republican presidential primary debate held last week did not really change my mind about who gets my vote (Ron Paul); nonetheless, it did raise for me certain questions about the candidates’ differing assessments of the war in Iraq. For the record, I think Congressman Paul was too peremptory when he stated that the “neonconservatives and not the American people” started the war. If he were president, he went on to explain, he would withdraw our troops immediately from what he considered an “unconstitutional war.” On two points the Congressman is correct. One, the neocons planned this war and then agitated to get us into it. Since the beginning of this war of choice, they have also pulled out their vast media resources to keep it going and to expand it. Two, whether or not one can patch together a constitutional defense of our commitment in Iraq, it was sold to us with erroneous details that might be taken for lies and with the kind of messianic globaloney that might have made even Woodrow Wilson blush. Certainly it is not the sort of adventure that our government should be proud of, whatever the heroism exhibited by the young men and women caught in the middle of it.
Unfortunately the Stupid Party suffers from an insufferable degree of moral arrogance. Since the early twentieth century, and especially since the rise of neoconservatism as the American ideology, Americans, and not simply neoconservative conspirators, have been yap-yapping about our duty to become a universal nation by spreading our “values” everywhere. For decades I was in denial about the prevalence of this lunacy, but anyone who thinks this madness is not widespread, should go to a meeting of Young Republicans or listen to Republican presidential candidates. The same attitudes about America’s mission also not incidentally pervade the memoirs of Madeleine Albright and some of the vision statements of Bill Clinton. Growing up in the Eisenhower-years, I was bothered even as a kid by the loud boasting about “America the exceptional,” particularly among my Republican classmates and teachers. Mind you I am not criticizing good, old-fashioned patriotism, for which there is much to be said. What I am targeting is the sense of righteousness attached to a long embedded American nationalism, a combination that fits perfectly together with a neoconservative propositional identity for “Americans” and the reveling in endless consumption as a religious act. When this is translated into a “moral” foreign policy, the results, as George F. Kennan famously warned, can be catastrophic. Congressman Paul may have been overly kind to his fellow-Americans when he tried to distinguish them from neoconservatives. At the very least he should have brought up the increasingly distasteful Evangelicals, a group of increasingly secularized holy-rollers who seem inseparable from their neocon preachers. The two groups belong together in the same company of megalomaniacal “human rights” imperialists.
Former Governor Huckabee raised a good point when he pointed out that sometimes countries are embroiled in wars that perhaps they should not have stumbled into but from which they will then have to extricate themselves “with honor.” I am reminded here of the extreme example of the father of modern Turkey, Kemal Mustafa, a general who warned his government to stay out of the First World War. When it entered, contrary to his advice, and went down to defeat with Germany and Austria, Kemal Mustafa, who had previously won the Battle of Gallipoli, rallied Turkey’s demoralized armies. In a series of lightning counteroffensives, he kept his country from being dismembered by the Allies and then played off the British and French to obtain a peace treaty maintaining Turkey’s national territories. Kemal Mustafa’s achievement was not to have supported a war that he considered imprudent but to have kept his country from perishing after it had disregarded his counsels. Although relatively less catastrophic, our military commitment in Iraq, however ill advised, is not something we can afford to end overnight. A withdrawal should be done gradually, while leaving the government in Baghdad with a reasonable chance of surviving.
But this is not the position of most of Ron Paul’s opponents—and particularly not of Fred Thompson, who springs to life out of a semi-comatose state every time he talks about getting tough internationally. All of the Republicans, save for Paul, seem hung up on America’s presumed mission to the world and they see no reason to reconsider the foreign policy of the current administration, except possibly to expand the “war against terror.” None of the mainstream Republican candidates, not even Huckabee, had the slightest word of criticism about those who cobbled together Bush’s foreign policy and who feed him his globalist rhetoric. Unless shown otherwise, I’ll have to assume that these Reps will be offering us four more years of the same. If any of them does win, the neocons will likely continue to occupy high places as advocates of “democratic values.”