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The Conservative Curmudgeon
November 11, 2009

U.S. Still Searching for Post-Cold War Role
by Allan C. Brownfeld

ALEXANDRIA, VA — During the Cold War, the U.S. faced an adversary that had the ability — and the intent — to destroy us. In response, we developed the most sophisticated and powerful military on earth. We engaged in proxy wars to thwart the ambitions of our adversary in Korea and Vietnam. We engaged in skirmishes in areas our adversary sought to control — such as Grenada and Nicaragua. We challenged its efforts to establish a nuclear base in Cuba and military bases around the world. We were instrumental in the creation of NATO.

In the end, the Soviet Union collapsed. We won the Cold War without firing a shot against our major adversary. We practiced diplomacy, engaged in summit meetings, and had a U.S. embassy in Moscow and a Soviet embassy in Washington, D.C. We saw the Berlin Wall come down and democratic forces emerge in Poland and elsewhere in Eastern Europe. Our perseverance ended in victory, and many looked forward to a “peace dividend.” With the Soviet Union gone, and no potential enemy on the horizon with the ability to do anything more than harass us, we entered a post-Cold War world with little debate about what our future role should be.

Sadly, there are those who could never give up the Cold War, and who found it difficult to live without a looming enemy. Part of this group was the “military-industrial-complex” about which President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned us. After the terrorist attack on September 11, a combination of neo-conservatives and establishment Republicans and Democrats found a new rationale for an almost Cold War-like U.S. posture. We went to war in Iraq on the false notion that it was responsible in some way for 9/11, had weapons of mass destruction, and had ties to al Qaeda. We went to war in Afghanistan in a legitimate effort to remove al Qaeda, which had attacked us. But, with al Qaeda gone from Afghanistan, we remain — seeking a rationale for our continuing role in that country.

What our role in the world should be at the present time — and in the future — is a subject about which all too little discussion and debate have been evident.

A contribution to such a discussion is the recently published book, The Next Conservatism (St. Augustine's Press) by Paul M. Weyrich, founding president of the Heritage Foundation and founder of the Free Congress Foundation, and his long-time colleague, William S. Lind. Weyrich died on December 18, 2008, and this book serves as his last political testament.

Weyrich and Lind write that, “Just as the next conservatism must confront the threat of ideology, it must also face up to another mortal danger to any republic, a quest for Empire. Driven with equal force by neo-liberals and neo-conservatives, our country has responded to the fall of Communism not as conservatives long expected, by a return to our traditional policy of avoiding foreign entanglements, but by plunging into foreign wars. Worse, we find ourselves caught up in, and losing, wars of a new type: what military theorists call Fourth Generation wars. While America now spends as much on defense as the rest of the world put together, much of what it buys is for yesterday’s wars, wars between formal armies, navies, and air forces of states. Against the non-state forces of the Fourth Generation, most of our high-technology ‘systems’ are proving to be expensive piles of junk.”

Until recently, Weyrich and Lind point out, conservatives routinely warned against the danger from Leviathan, the all-powerful state. In recent years, particularly when Republicans were in power, the concern about government power has diminished. “The next conservatism,” they write, “needs to revive that warning, and make it stronger. Because of the so-called ‘war on terrorism,’ America may be on the verge of becoming a national security state, also known as a ‘garrison state.’ The Constitution and the liberties it protects will go out the window as citizens permit the state to do whatever it wants, so long as it justifies its actions in terms of ‘national security.’”

We have seen our liberties eroded by a series of steps entered into in the name of “national security” — from wiretaps without judicial authorization, to arrests without habeas corpus, to individuals incarcerated for years without being brought to trial. Both Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives — with a few rare exceptions — have largely acquiesced in these dramatic expansions of state power. In addition, we have engaged in torture, something Americans never did even in the depths of World War II against German and Japanese prisoners of war.

In the view of Weyrich and Lind, “Conservatives accept the fact that the state must defend us from terrorism and other acts of war…. But the next conservatism does not want ‘permanent war for permanent peace,’ as George Orwell put it in l984. We are not convinced that the best way to defend America from terrorism is by invading and occupying other countries... The Founding Fathers warned us that we could either preserve our Republic and our domestic liberties or play the game of Great Power, but we could not do both. Playing the Great Power game requires a strong central government that can make decisions with little regard for the thoughts or desires of the average citizen. Such a government will run roughshod over our liberties, because it can. Preserving our liberties requires a weak federal government with limited powers, especially in the Executive and strong internal checks and balances. Such a government by its nature is poorly structured to try to run the whole world.”

In 1951, the Republican leader in the U.S. Senate, Robert A. Taft of Ohio, wrote a book entitled A Foreign Policy For Americans. He declared: “There are a good many Americans who talk about an American century in which America will dominate the world. They rightly point out that the U.S. is so powerful today that we should assume a moral leadership in the world... The trouble with those who advocate this policy is that they really do not want to confine themselves to moral leadership…. I do not think this moral leadership ideal justifies our engaging in any preventive war... I do not believe any policy that has behind it threat of military force is justified as part of the basic foreign policy of the U.S. except to defend the liberties of our people.”

We are now engaged in two wars, in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the very people who enthusiastically took us to Iraq are now urging a pre-emptive strike against Iran. With the Cold War over, we desperately need a serious examination of what America's proper role in the world should be. Paul Weyrich and William Lind have given us much food for thought in their book. One need not agree with all of their analysis to know that our current posture is inconsistent with our long-term best interests.

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The Conservative Curmudgeon is copyright © 2009 by Allan C. Brownfeld and the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation. All rights reserved. Editors may use this column if this copyright information is included.

Allan C. Brownfeld is the author of five books, the latest of which is The Revolution Lobby (Council for Inter-American Security). He has been a staff aide to a U.S. Vice President, Members of Congress, and the U.S. Senate Internal Subcommittee.

He is associate editor of The Lincoln Reveiw and a contributing editor to such publications as Human Events, The St. Croix Review, and The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.

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© 2009 Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation