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The Conservative Curmudgeon
May 2, 2008

Foreign Policy Differences between Neoconservatives and Conservatives
by Allan C. Brownfeld

[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 British cities."

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 early retirement.

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 the Potomac."

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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