John Patrick Diggins: So the Republican Party Is to Be Trusted with National

Roundup: Historians' Take

John Patrick Diggins, writing in the American Prospect (Dec. 2003):

THE AFTERMATH OF THE IRAQ WAR WILL SURELY SEE U.S. foreign policy at the forefront of national debates for years to come. Conservatives will claim -- as they have been claiming for months -- that only they were sufficiently prescient about "the present danger" of Saddam Hussein. And liberals will again find themselves on the defensive.

Sound familiar? Back during the Cold War, neoconservative intellectuals flattered themselves in their conviction that they carried forward the anti-communist cause that liberals had dropped in the late 1970s and 1980s, and they ran with it as though they had recovered a fumble and headed toward the goal line to win the game and enjoy the glory. The monthly magazine Commentary has basked in that glory, enjoying more influence on recent government foreign policy than any other intellectual journal.

In fact, the history of the Republican Party should serve as a cautionary tale of conservatism's limitations for statecraft. With Dwight Eisenhower, communism survived in Korea; with Richard Nixon, it prevailed in Vietnam. Gerald Ford assured the American people that Poland was a "free" country. Ronald Reagan withdrew from Lebanon after terrorists massacred about 400 American and French soldiers. And George Bush Senior had no objections when Chinese officials told him that in crushing the Tiananmen Square movement, they were simply doing what America had done against student demonstrators in the 1960s. The party that Commentary claims won the Cold War was actually the party of pullout and back off. And today The Weekly Standard looks to the party that refused to support democracy in China, and could not even bring it to our neighbor Haiti, as the very party that is ready and willing to establish it in Iraq.

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