If the American intervention into Libya’s civil war was puzzling beforehand, the president’s inability to coherently explain it during his address to the nation only made things murkier.
But if there is one thing this entire situation has reinforced, it is that the foreign policy agenda erroneously passed off as conservatism during the Bush years was anything but. After all, the language used by Barack Obama to justify his attack on Libya was unmistakably similar to George Bush’s reasoning for going into Iraq.
Conservatives who dismissed criticism of Republican foreign policy during the mid-2000’s as dissent voiced only by disenchanted left-liberals might now be thinking there was more to these critiques than they were willing to admit. In fact, the foreign policy positions taken by many of the Bush Republicans resulted in the U.S. military’s role being viewed as one of “spreading democracy” around the globe, a notion not rooted in our history and an idea historically associated with the American Left. This idea had nothing to do with conservatism, but amazingly was passed off as such during the post 9/11 years. If more Republicans do not wake up from this mind set, the United States will ensure its bankruptcy and currency collapse sooner rather than later.
In years past, it became conventional wisdom that most liberals were rhetorically opposed to the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, while conservatives were expected to fully support them. This much was apparent.
Anyone questioning the cost or wisdom of two simultaneous Middle East occupations was written off as a “liberal” no matter how impressive their small government credentials. In hindsight, this simply made no sense; true, many on the Left did oppose Bush’s foreign policy, but that was based on the simple fact that it was Bush’s foreign policy. And the conservatives who unflinchingly supported the Iraq occupation and mission creep in Afghanistan largely did so out of a commitment to the administration, not because the installation of democracy in the Middle East was some longstanding goal of American conservatism or something they particularly were dogmatic about.
The degree to which so many otherwise intellectually curious conservatives were willing to dismiss facts and shut down critical thinking skills was truly disappointing. That they were so willing to do so was illustrative of a movement which had lost touch with its intellectual moorings, damaged largely by a blinding hatred of Bill Clinton in the 1990s which led to the embracing of a president ungrounded in his political philosophy in the 2000s.
Equating conservatism with ambitious nation building projects in Iraq and Afghanistan caused confusion over what the ideology even stood for. Attempting to install a democracy overseas and rebuild the fabric of a society from the top down are actions requiring an autocratic, centralized government to have any hope of success. Liberals would be the natural allies of such attempts due to their willingness to embrace Orwellian bureaucratic planning and the lack of aversion they show to using government for drastic societal change. Conservatives have generally understood that civil society must develop organically, naturally recoiling at ambitious projects with hefty price tags.
But the shoe was on the other foot during the Bush years, as both sides selected their positions based primarily on which party was in power. The relative silence of many anti-war groups after the election of Barack Obama showed their agenda had much more to do with electing a Democratic president than with ending any particular war; the only wars the Left seems to oppose are those started by a Republican or not given the U.N.’s stamp of approval.
And each side’s view of the particular war we happen to be involving ourselves in at the moment is a constantly evolving phenomenon. Evidence of this is ample: many of the same conservatives who denounced Bill Clinton’s humanitarian Kosovo operation were either silent on or vocally supportive of intervention done largely on the same grounds in Iraq; before being opposed to such a policy once again when done in Libya.
These contradictions occur because the positions taken on so many foreign policy questions are not done out of any underlying principle, but simply result from partisan cheer-leading.
When Republicans passed the ruinous Medicare Part D expansion, the same ‘conservative’ commentators who would have been howling nonstop had it been a Democratic initiative were comparatively silent. We heard warnings of “socialism” for a solid year during the debate over Obama’s health plan, but George Bush’s own foray into governmental health care involvement was treated with kid gloves.
Scenarios like this one paint a clear picture of how partisanship for sport creates an obvious and self-perpetuating double standard. After all, both sides can always finger point and decry the other side’s hypocrisy to justify their own hypocrisy; this vicious cycle, though financially lucrative for television and radio hosts, has been ruinous to conservatism and deleterious for the country at large.
Any impartial observer should have two eyebrows raised by Obama’s willingness to continue Bush’s foreign policy actions and rhetoric. This should make it clear there was never anything inherently conservative about it to begin with. In fact, liberal internationalism was what was on display during the foreign policy of the Bush years, not the non-interventionism fostered by true, prudent conservatism. Barack Obama genuinely believes the federal government can and should be used to help people in spite of how much debt it rings up or abysmal its track record. So of course he sees nothing odd about intervening in Libya; indeed, his entire philosophy is predicated on government action.
Frankly, Barack Obama’s public policies were more similar to that of his predecessor than those with partisan blinders on would care to admit, and, viewed through this lens, our failures in Iraq and Afghanistan actually repudiated the very centralization of government power conservatives are taught to abhor.
Those in the Tea Party confessing concern about our budget can no longer be intimidated into unquestioning acceptance of the foreign policy status quo. Americans have repeatedly rejected the ideology which demonized anyone who questioned our overseas policies, and the skittishness which greeted the Libyan intervention further underscored this. The same kind of thinking that gives birth to our costly welfare state at home only causes more difficulty for our country overseas when carried to fruition on an international scale.