A year ago this week, I wrote the following concerning liberal Democrat Joe Lieberman being invited to speak at the 2008 Republican National Convention and conservative Republican Ron Paul being shut out: "If you are pro-gun control, pro-socialized healthcare, pro-choice, pro-amnesty, all of these liberal positions can be tolerated so long as you are pro-war. If you are a staunch conservative on virtually every issue, if you're not pro-war, you're no longer welcome in the Republican Party." The name of my piece was "The War Party" and that's exactly what the GOP was in September 2008.
What a difference a year makes. Lieberman has gone back to being the loyal Democrat for the most part, and the only war the Right seems excited about is their own against President Obama and his agenda. Well, at least most of it.
When columnist George Will called for the removal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan last week, he made his case using the type of hard-headed realism that used to define conservatism. "[N]ation-building would be impossible even if we knew how," Will writes. "If U.S. forces are there to prevent reestablishment of Al Qaeda bases — evidently there are none now — must there be nation-building invasions of Somalia, Yemen, and other sovereignty vacuums?
"U.S. forces are being increased by 21,000, to 68,000, bringing the coalition total to 110,000," he adds. "Counterinsurgency theory concerning the time and the ratio of forces required to protect the population indicates that, nationwide, Afghanistan would need hundreds of thousands of coalition troops, perhaps for a decade or more. That is inconceivable."
But what is inconceivable to Will is instead a moral imperative to many other right-wingers. Talk radio host Mark Levin blasted Will, stating his explicit support for nation-building in Afghanistan. Columnist Bill Kristol wrote, "Will is urging retreat, and accepting defeat." Also joining the anti-Will chorus were Rich Lowry, Fred Kagan, Peter Wehner, and other neoconservatives.
Somewhat perplexed by the backlash to Will's column, Denver Post columnist David Harsanyi noted, "Judging from their harsh reaction to Will, it's not clear when, if ever, some conservatives believe the U.S. should withdraw from Afghanistan." Harsanyi makes a good point. But an even better point might be this: what exactly makes the neoconservatives, conservative?
I'm often asked to define the term "neoconservative." While there are many definitions, neoconservatives are probably best described as single-issue voters whose single issue is war. No matter how much it costs, how little sense it makes, or which party wages it, neoconservatives will find any justification and invent any reason for maintaining or increasing American foreign intervention. That a neoconservative would ever suggest we should shrink our foreign commitments and bring our troops home is about as likely as Obama suggesting we should shrink government. And damn heretics like George Will, who point out the insurmountable obstacles that prevent us from winning the war in Afghanistan.
If a liberal can be defined as someone who refuses to reconcile his utopian vision with reality, then there has never been anything particularly conservative about the neoconservatives. The idea that the U.S. could somehow transform the Middle East if only we invested enough dollars and effort is a fairy tale the neoconservative Bush administration not only sold the American people, but Republican unity and identity depended on the willingness of conservatives to believe this fantasy. Writes Cato Institute Vice President Gene Healy, "The Right's embrace of nation-building during the Bush years was perplexing. When the government announces a massive effort at social transformation, you expect conservatives to be the leading skeptics." But far from skeptical, those screaming the loudest for their president to use government to provide "hope" and bring "change" were not Democrats. And during those years, the GOP fully became the War Party, due entirely to the dominance and influence of the neoconservatives.
Will ends his column with the following: "Genius, said de Gaulle, recalling Bismarck's decision to halt German forces short of Paris in 1870, sometimes consists of knowing when to stop. Genius is not required to recognize that in Afghanistan, 'when' means 'now.'" For the neoconservatives, "when" is never.
As Obama's popularity wanes and support for his war plummets, now is the time to make the case that American soldiers shouldn't be the world's policeman, liberal utopianism is not sound foreign policy, and nation-building is not conservative. George Will has and serious conservatives should follow suit.