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Apr 19, 2004 2:24 pm

Conservative Crackup

Following up on a fine post by Arthur Silber concerning the crackup in modern-day conservatism over the war in Iraq (and don't forget to check out Silber's post on Jim Pinkerton as well), I'd just like to highlight an article by David D. Kirkpatrick in today's NY Times, entitled"Lack of Resolution in Iraq Finds Conservatives Divided."

Kirkpatrick points out what many of us here at L&P already know:

A growing faction of conservatives is voicing doubts about a prolonged United States military involvement in Iraq, putting hawkish neoconservatives on the defensive and posing questions for President Bush about the degree of support he can expect from his political base. The continuing violence and mounting casualties in Iraq have given new strength to the traditional conservative doubts about using American military power to remake other countries and about the potential for Western-style democracy without a Western cultural foundation.

Yeah, this is the same"traditional conservative doubt" that candidate Bush himself expressed during the 2000 campaign, when he explicitly renounced"nation-building" as a goal of US foreign policy. My, how times have changed.

Back to Kirkpatrick: The neocons" championed the invasion of Iraq as a way to turn that country into a bastion of democracy in the Middle East. ... 'In late May of last year, we neoconservatives were hailed as great visionaries,' said Kenneth R. Weinstein, chief operating officer of the Hudson Institute, a center of neoconservative thinking. 'Now we are embattled, both within the conservative movement and in the battle over postwar planning. Those of us who favored a more muscular approach to American foreign policy and a more Wilsonian view of our efforts in Iraq find ourselves pitted against more traditional conservatives, who have more isolationist instincts to begin with, and they are more willing to say,"Bring the boys home,"' Mr. Weinstein said."

The war has been responsible for"upending some of the familiar dynamics of left and right." Indeed, people like William Kristol of The Weekly Standard have stated explicitly that they'd"take Bush over Kerry, but Kerry over Buchanan or any of the lesser Buchananites on the right." Kristol claims that he is even ready to"make common cause with the more hawkish liberals and fight the conservatives." He might as well, because this administration, with its welfare-warfare nation-building budget-busting deficits, Medicare reform, and constitutional amendment proposals, has spelled the total end of conservatism as it was once known. It is therefore no surprise to see his willingness to support Kerry. Kerry and Bush are almost indistinguishable in their views on the war in Iraq! As David Beito pointed out, Kerry is not an"antiwar" candidate. On his own site, Kerry publishes his recent Washington Post essay, where he writes:"Our country is committed to help the Iraqis build a stable, peaceful and pluralistic society. No matter who is elected president in November, we will persevere in that mission."

This is why I've maintained:"What does it matter who gets elected? What's the sense of it? Sure, you can register your protests by voting defensively, against this or that candidate. But until or unless this system is fundamentally transformed, it's almost immaterial who becomes President." This is why I've maintained that once a war is institutionalized, Presidents of either party almost never reverse course.

Big Deal: National Review reflects on the neocon"Wilsonian" error. Even they are now considering the long-term costs to"limited government and lower taxes" brought on by the prospect of"extended occupation." But their boys got into the White House, and, as Kirkpatrick observes,"President Bush appears to be sticking to [their] Wilsonian goals."

Of course, the problem is precisely as Colin Powell described it. In his 60 minutes interview, Bob Woodward tells us that, upon hearing of the planned Iraq incursion, Powell warned Bush of the unintended consequences (what the CIA likes to call"blowback"):"You are going to be the proud owner of 25 million people. You will own all their hopes, aspirations and problems. You’ll own it all."

More pointedly, he said:"If you break it, you own it." Yeah, Iraq was broken to begin with, under Saddam Hussein's brutal dictatorship. But it wasn't a US welfare state and it wasn't an imminent threat to US interests. As Woodward said, the administration is now faced with the awful reality that they may have achieved"victory without success." How many more Americans will have to die in the name of this"victory"?

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