[breaker - Serious and Substantive Debate Long Overdue]
As the presidential campaign of 2008 gets under way and America's role
in the world undergoes increasing scrutiny at home and abroad, it is
past time for a serious exploration of what that role should be in
the post-Cold War world.
The "democratic globalism" promoted by neoconservatives is
quite different from the traditional conservative approach to foreign
policy. Political commentator George Will notes that, "On foreign
policy, conservatism begins, and very nearly ends, by eschewing abroad
the fatal conceit that has been liberalism's undoing domestically --
hubris about controlling what cannot and should not, be controlled. Conservatism
is realism about human nature and government's competence..."
Those who base U.S. foreign policy on the internal governmental organization
of a particular country rather than its international actions may misunderstand
the very purpose of what U.S. policy is meant to achieve. Pat Buchanan
notes that, "The point here is quite simple: Because a nation has
a free press, free elections, and a bicameral legislature does not alone
make it a valued ally of the United States; and because a nation is ruled
by an autocrat, a king, or a general does not make it an enemy. When
Americans were dying in Vietnam, one recalls, NATO merchant ships were
hauling goods to Hanoi, and Swedish diplomats were harassing us at the
U.N. Meanwhile, South Korean soldiers were fighting alongside ours. Not
all our friends are democratic, and not all democrats are our friends."
The Carter Interventions
Traditional conservatives point to the manner in which the U.S. policy
of "democratization" brought the Sandinistas to power in Nicaragua.
Almost from the beginning of his presidency, Jimmy Carter tightened the
screws on Nicaragua. He prohibited the sale of military equipment by
executive decree. His representative at the International Monetary Fund
twice blocked badly needed standby credits for Nicaragua. When other
nations made available the financing for Nicaragua's hydroelectric dam,
President Carter pressured those nations to cancel the arrangements.
In the end, the Sandinistas came to power in Nicaragua, imposing a ruthless
Marxist-Leninist regime upon that country. In exile, Nicaragua's former
President Somoza declared: "When Carter says the U.S. played no
role in the death of my government... he is lying.... At the time of
my departure, we must have had close to 20,000 men who wanted to fight
the enemy. These men were never defeated by international invaders; they
simply did not have the means with which to fight."
It was U.S. policy that put the Sandinistas in power -- just as it was
U.S. policy that facilitated the coming to power of the Ayatollah Khomeini
in Iran and Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe.
The Bush Worldview
More recently, of course, particularly under the influence of neoconservatives,
the Bush administration has embarked on an ideological crusade of "democratizing" the
Middle East, most prominently, Iraq. Not only have the reasons for going
to war in Iraq proven to be less than persuasive, but the Bush administration's
assessment of what was necessary for success appears to have been misleading
and, at best, unrealistic.
On May l, 2003, President Bush gave a speech aboard the aircraft carrier
U.S.S. Lincoln beneath a large "Mission Accomplished" banner.
Kenneth Adelman, head of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency during
the Reagan administration, predicted the mission would be a "cakewalk." Other
advocates of the war were equally optimistic. It would be like Paris
in l944, with the Iraqis greeting American troops as liberators rather
than occupiers. That same year, columnist Mark Steyn predicted, "In
a year's time, Baghdad and Basra will have a lower crime rate than most
Those who worried about the deep ethno-religious divisions in Iraq were
dismissed summarily. On April l, 2003, William Kristol, editor of THE
WEEKLY STANDARD, wrote that: "...There's been a certain amount of
pop sociology in America... that the Shi'a can't get along with the Sunni,
and the Shi'a in Iraq just want to establish some kind of Islamic fundamentalist
regime. There's almost no evidence of that at all."
Department of Defense planners assumed the U.S. troop levels would be
down to 50,000, or even lower, by the end of 2003. Some military experts,
however, warned that such optimism was unwarranted. Gen. Eric Shinseki,
the Army chief of staff, predicted that the occupation would require "several
hundred thousand troops" for a period of "many years." Deputy
Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz flatly rejected Shinseki's assessment
in congressional testimony; for his candor, Shinseki was pressured into
Wolfowitz also rejected the idea that the occupation would be a financial
drain. He predicted that Iraq's oil revenues would pay for the entire
cost of reconstruction. Those officials who did not share such an optimistic
view were removed from office. Larry Lindsay, chairman of the President's
Council of Economic Advisers, warned that the cost of the Iraq occupation
would exceed $200 billion. He was quickly pressured out of his post.
Former Rep. Lee Hamilton, cochairman of the Iraq Study Group, has stated
that the costs could exceed $1 trillion dollars in the near term.
Professor Andrew J. Bacevich of Boston University writes in THE AMERICAN
CONSERVATIVE: "Neoconservatives... believe that the U.S. is called
upon to remake the Middle East, bringing the light of freedom to a dark
quarter of the world... The way forward requires abandoning that conviction
in favor of a fundamentally different course. A sound Middle East strategy
will restore American freedom of action by ending our dependence on Persian
Gulf oil. It will husband our power by using American soldiers to defend
America rather than searching abroad for dragons to destroy. A sound
strategy will tend first to the cultivation of our own garden. A real
course change will require a different compass, different navigational
charts, and perhaps above all different helmsmen, admitting into the
debate those who earn their livelihoods far from the imperial city on
All Americans should hope for as successful an outcome in Iraq as possible.
However mistaken the arguments presented in behalf of the war may be,
it is in the interest of our country and our friends in the region that
Iraq is left better than we found it. Beyond the events of the moment,
however, what is required is a careful revisiting of the different foreign
policy perspectives of traditional conservatives and the neoconservatives
who have been so influential in the current administration. That debate
has been postponed for too long.
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The Conservative Curmudgeon is copyright © 2008
by the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation, www.fgfBooks.com. All rights reserved.
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 REVIEW 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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