One of the primary reasons so many conservatives were willing to suspend disbelief during the Bush years and support our overseas wars was as a reaction against the rhetoric on the Left. Overseas occupations are things conservatives would traditionally oppose due to the exorbitant government spending and strong-armed central government planning required to carry them out. Conservative support seems to make even less sense when one considers that America has attempted to simultaneously carry out two large-scale occupations in a part of the world without a history of democracy. A traditional conservative foreign policy was demonstrated by men like former Ohio senator and “Mr. Republican” Robert Taft, who only favored intervening overseas when a direct threat to America was present. Sadly, many conservative stalwarts of the past would be erroneously labeled by today’s Republican Party as “liberals” for insufficiently militant rhetoric.
Of a matter of fact, liberals, who have a soft spot for utopian schemes, humanitarian nation building, and the notion that governments can force massive social change, would actually have been the natural backers of our projects in Iraq and Afghanistan. That the modern day Left has no real aversion to meddling in other country’s affairs is clearly demonstrated by Barack Obama’s willingness to intervene in Libya. The modern day, mainstream “anti-war Left” has little philosophical objection to overseas operations: just ones undertaken by a Republican or those not approved by the United Nations.
But for a decade both sides have switched roles, and this has everything to do with our country’s increasingly senseless partisanship. Upon sober self-reflection, many Republicans showed themselves willing to abandon their small government principles out of a need to cheer on the “R” team regarding the manner in which the War on Terror was carried out. Traditional conservatives should have been disgusted by our efforts at societal transformation in Afghanistan and Iraq, but instead they were its biggest fans. Meanwhile, groups like Code Pink felt required to oppose our wars out of a feeling of loyalty to the “D” team. Partisanship when done out of principle is part of the American tradition, but supporting or opposing policy based simply on the political party pushing it is bound to destroy any nation.
The relative silence of so-called “anti-war groups”, aside from a few genuine liberals such as Ralph Nader and Dennis Kucinich, upon Obama’s taking the oath of office revealed their agenda had little to do with opposing war. Sure, they hated it when it was Bush’s war, but were willing to acquiesce if not outright support it once their true objective, electing a Democratic president, was accomplished. The same sort of hypocrisy is found on the Republican side of the aisle where, for example, Republicans did everything they could to pass the costly Medicare Part D expansion when they were in power, only to yell about “socialism” when the other side attempted to impose their even more costly government health care scheme.
Contemporary conservatives and liberals largely support the positions they do much like a fan of Auburn would feel compelled to root against LSU. They are willing to overlook massive infractions on their side while calling out every mistake on the other; this is great in football, but leads to a nation-destroying cycle when done in politics. Most of the political positions both sides of the aisle take are not guided by any underlying principle, but instead by some sense of party loyalty and opportunism.
The same Republicans who opposed Bill Clinton’s intervention in the Kosovo conflict on humanitarian grounds were more than willing to support an invasion of Iraq a few short years later on, you guessed it, humanitarian grounds. As hard as it is for some to admit, had the Obama administration started the nation building efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, Republicans would have been the biggest opponents of the war and Democrats the biggest backers.
Republicans have a chance to break this cycle with the incoming Tea Party freshman. Anyone with actual intentions about cutting government cannot back the excursion into Libya, nor can they no longer be silent on the increasingly bleak Afghanistan situation. With a national debt approaching 15 trillion dollars and the lessons learned from two Middle East nation building operations, it would be the ultimate height of hypocrisy to speak of limited, constitutional government while having no qualms about sticking our noses into another Middle Eastern war.