The Conservatives of Today are not the Conservatives of Fifteen Years Ago

On The Pirate’s Cove, a commenter styling himself Elwood P Dowd wrote:

I’d love to hear the names of conservatives who wanted war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some Republicans, many, many Democommies but no conservatives.

The invasion of Iraq was a Republican project. If Republicans wish to argue that there are no conservatives extant, I have no opinion. Have at it. But it sounds like a “No True Scotsman” argument.

The two wars are not alike. Afghanistan was precipitated by an attack on American soil, led by a group hiding in Afghanistan. Going after and destroying al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden was a war of necessity.

Iraq, on the other hand, was a war of choice. As I have said previously, it would have been completely avoided had the elder George Bush not ended the first Iraq war too soon. The younger George Bush wanted to finish that job, and poor intelligence gave him a reason.

But both wars had the same problem: what do you do with a country after you have defeated it in war? Americans of all political stripes learned the wrong lesson from World War II, that a Western-style democracy could be imposed on a defeated foe. Germany and Japan were so thoroughly destroyed, the fighting aged men killed or injured, and the boys soon to reach fighting age so shell shocked, that there was no resistance left, and despite neither nation having any significant democratic experience, the imposition of democracy was successful. In Germany, it was aided by democratic tradition in its neighbors, while in Japan, the orders to the people by the Emperor Hirohito, helped General Douglas MacArthur’s imposed democratic government.

In Iraq, our overwhelming force quickly defeated Saddam Hussein, but really killed relatively few of his soldiers. The fighting aged men, and the boys growing into fighting age over the sixteen years of our presence, were able to think they could resist Westernization successfully. In Afghanistan, we kicked the Taliban out of power, but that place is simply ungovernable by any outsiders, as first the British and then the Soviets learned, and really, by Afghanis themselves; it is not really a nation, but a region of tribes. Westerners deceive themselves into thinking that every ‘nation’ must actually be a nation.

The younger President Bush was, if not a neo-conservative himself, greatly influenced by the neo-cons, and by Natan Sharansky, who wrote in The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror, that once people experience democracy, they will continue to want it for themselves. The argument sounds persuasive, but experience has taught us the bitter lesson; some cultures are not so ready for democracy that they will not willingly surrender to a strongman. The various Iraqi factions, all militarily defeated several times, kept coming back to life as new leaders sprung up and more boys grew into men. Then, when Da’ish arose, hundreds of thousands of Syrians and Iraqis simply fell into line, just as so many Iranians willingly turned themselves over to the terror of the mullahs.

This was a hard lessons, but conservatives have (mostly) learned it: one nation cannot simply impose its values on another, at least not as long as there are any tough men left alive. The neoconservatives, who were really only ‘conservative’ when it came to a strong military and the willingness to use military power, are almost gone now, just part of the ‘never Trumper’ movement.¹

Today’s conservatives are not the conservatives of fifteen years ago. Not only have conservatives learned some lessons, but many older conservatives have moved into retirement, or gone to their eternal rewards, while newer ones became adults. Domestically, they still believe in the same things: a nation subject only to God, a social order founded on Judeo-Christian values and morality, and that the rights of the individual cannot be subjugated by the state. The libertarian outlook, which has always been part of conservatism, is becoming more pronounced. This is why I have said that, like the TEA Party, the future for libertarians, and the Libertarian Party, is to fold itself into the Republican Party.

One of the things that Libertarians, and note that I use upper-case Libertarian to refer to Libertarian Party members, and lower-case libertarian to refer to those with a basic libertarian philosophy but who don’t belong to the official, hapless, Libertarian Party, have long favored is a withdrawal of American forces and power to our own shores, something totally anathema to the neo-conservatives. While such is not generally part of the Republican Party, President Trump’s America First ideas have pushed that notion into more widespread acceptance among the Republican voters outside of Washington DC. The concept of defending our national interests abroad rather than at our own borders makes a lot of sense; what American wouldn’t rather see the destruction of war in some other land rather than our own?

But that forward defense has led us into wars less of defense than of protecting our sphere of influence, to invading Iraq to prevent Iraq from obtaining nuclear weapons. Israel used the same notion when it attacked the Iraqi nuclear facilities at Osirak in 1981, and somebody sponsored the surprise assault which killed Iran’s nuclear program’s top scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh. I do not in any way disapprove of the killing of Dr Fakhrizadeh, not if it sets back Iran’s attempts to build nuclear weapons. That’s a lot smarter ‘forward defense’ than sending thousands upon thousands of soldiers into Iran to beat down the Iranian army. I suppose that statement would definitely put me at odds with the Libertarian Party.

The conservatives of 2004 would simply not win much support in the Republican Party of today, as former Governor Jeb Bush (R-FL) found out in the 2016 Republican primaries. Hillary Clinton’s campaign simply assumed that Mr Bush would win the nomination, and actively wanted, and helped, Donald Trump to win the Republican nomination. Mr Trump won because, among other things, he wanted to lead the GOP exactly where Republican voters wanted it to go. The Republican elite, and the Democrats, simply did not understand that then, and I’m not sure that they understand it now.

Is there anything more telling that the elder President Bush voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, while the younger President Bush voted for “none of the above” in 2016, and would not disclose his vote this year? Conservatives of 200 and 2004, who pushed the younger Mr Bush’s candidacy strongly enough to defeat Senator John McCain (R-AZ) for the nomination in 2000 are simply not the conservative mainstream of today. Given the tremendous support for President Trump within the GOP, 95% prior to the election and still 90% now, indicate how strongly conservatives of today have moved away from those twenty and sixteen years ago.

The soft heart of conservatism has been burned away; what remains is the cold logic, the logic which says that conservatives must stay the course, for the good of our country, and not wimp out because some people won’t like it or some people will get hurt. It is the logic of the free market and capitalism, which provides an opportunity for people to succeed greatly, but also allows people to fail, and fall, into the depth of despair, knowing that such is the best and most prosperous system for the vast majority of Americans.
¹ – Via Wikipedia: “In an opinion piece for Foreign Policy in September 2017, Max Boot outlines his political views as follows: “I am socially liberal: I am pro-LGBTQ rights, pro-abortion rights, pro-immigration. I am fiscally conservative: I think we need to reduce the deficit and get entitlement spending under control. I am pro-environment: I think that climate change is a major threat that we need to address. I am pro-free trade: I think we should be concluding new trade treaties rather than pulling out of old ones. I am strong on defense: I think we need to beef up our military to cope with multiple enemies. And I am very much in favor of America acting as a world leader: I believe it is in our own self-interest to promote and defend freedom and free markets as we have been doing in one form or another since at least 1898.

In December 2017, also in Foreign Policy, Boot wrote that recent events—particularly since the 2016 election of Donald Trump as president—had caused him to rethink some of his previous views concerning the existence of white privilege and male privilege. “In the last few years, in particular, it has become impossible for me to deny the reality of discrimination, harassment, even violence that people of color and women continue to experience in modern-day America from a power structure that remains for the most part in the hands of straight, white males. People like me, in other words. Whether I realize it or not, I have benefited from my skin color and my gender — and those of a different gender or sexuality or skin color have suffered because of it.”

Does that sound like a conservative to you?
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