Tuesday, December 06, 2005

A Conservative Critique of the War in Iraq

I have been thinking about the War in Iraq again. This has been a divisive war. No war has 100% support (not even WW2). But this war has been a three way tie between those for, those against and those in the middle. Enough political support to get the war waged, but not enough support to let it drag on forever.

From the beginning I have found the position of the anti-war left curious. I have always found myself scratching my head at the way that President Bush and his administration are portrayed as imperialists, hegemons – even Hitlers! The standard line is that they lied their way into this war to increase the size of the U.S. Empire and probably to line the pockets of Dick Cheney and other Halliburton stock holders.

I think this completely misconstrues Bush and those who led the U. S. into war. I believe the exact opposite of what the anti-war left (e.g., Michael Moore and MoveOn.org) believe. The Bush administration and the Neo-Cons in the Defense Department are not imperialist, Hitlerite, hegemons – they are high-minded idealists. Yep, I am totally serious – high minded idealists. They believe every human has a heart that beats for freedom and democracy. They believe the United States not only should stand for democracy but should actively promote and secure democracy. In their worldview, once the world becomes democratic the possibility of freedom, peace and widespread wealth will rise dramatically. In short, they are neo-conservatives.

What are neo-conservatives? Neo-conservatives are pre-McGovern liberals. You will recall that during the 20th century it has primarily been liberal democrats who have embraced the use of military as an interventionist means to spread democracy. Think of Wilson, Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy, and Johnson. (John F. Kennedy ran against V.P. Richard M. Nixon in 1960 arguing that the Eisenhower administration had let the U.S. get weak and argued for much higher defense spending than had happened during the Eisenhower years.) The candidacy of Sen. George McGovern marked a turning point in democratic politics. Many of the young thinkers who worked for democratic officials jumped ship and sided with republicans because they repudiated the predominantly dovish posture of the post-Vietnam Democratic Party.

The modern liberal worldview has been defined by a crusading spirit that seeks to use government power – whether in the form of weapons, laws or taxes – to make the world a better place. The interventionist impulse is simply part of this greater reality. The Bush doctrine is another stage in the unfolding worldview of idealists who see constitutional democracy as an ideology to be spread through the world for the greater good of humanity. As a conservative (not a neo-conservative) I think this is a dangerous idea. What makes it dangerous is that it is a half truth. Who would not want all nations to have a constitutional democracy? That form of government is not heaven on earth, but it has achieved much good for men and women. The danger comes in turning an arrangement of competing interests (i.e., a constitutional democracy) into a totalistic vision for the good of humanity. Once it becomes that, the logic of the missionary kicks into place. If democracy is the hope of humanity, and if every human heart beats for democracy, and if the U.S. has the greatest military power in the history of humanity – then, that power ought to be used to spread democracy. It only makes good prudent sense! The problem is in the first assumption. Democracy is not the hope of humanity. Or, to put it better, democracy is not an ideology that purports to be the hope of humanity.

The constitutional arrangement that exists in the U.S. is the fruit of millennia of cultural formation. A line of progress that begins with ancient Hebrews, reaches through the ancient Greeks and Romans and winds through the unique experience of Anglo-Saxon England is the root system of the American order. It is an organic arrangement that emerged in a specific cultural context over much time. It is not an abstract theory about human nature or behavior in the same way Communism or Nazism is. It is, in a word, conservative. Conservative not in the sense that it is Reaganite, but conservative in the Burkean sense of it being a reality that emerged rather than was imposed. (Read Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France to have this spelled out.) The Bush Administration has spoken much of nation building. As columnist George Will puts it, to a conservative nation building is analogous to orchid building. It simply can’t be done. Nations are mysterious realities that emerge over time much to the chagrin of our abilities as humans to fully understand how it actually takes place.

I find myself deeply concerned about the notion that the U.S. should be on a mission to spread democracy throughout the world. I will not dispute that this is a noble and high-minded goal. But a little bit of history teaches one that many foolish and destructive things have been done in the name of high-minded ideals (ever heard of the French or Russian Revolutions?).

Many of the mistakes that have occurred in the carrying out of this war have been rooted in the mistakes idealists make. It was assumed that U.S. troops would be welcomed in as heroes – they weren’t. Why that assumption? Because of the view that every human heart beats with the longing for freedom and democracy. A classical conservative would argue differently. He or she would argue that love for home, hearth, family and the known trump political arrangements.

But the neo-cons are liberals. And contemporary North American liberals have an idealistically ideological bent to their collective soul. They are not imperialistic hegemons. They are lovers of humanity. But idealism often keeps people from facing hard realities. One of the hard realities not faced by the planners of this war was what it would take to secure peace once the initial conflict was completed. No doubt the initial attack on Iraq was an act of military genius. But how much thought was put into the possibility of an insurgency? I would argue that idealism softened the collective outlook of the war planners and caused them to overlook these sorts of possibilities.

So, whether or not the Hussein regime should have been removed as a prudent act of national interest will have to wait for another day. That is an important question and very worth discussing. In this post I am simply arguing that the objective of proliferating democracy is a mistaken approach to the war in Iraq based on what I see as misplaced ideals rooted in a faulty worldview.

No comments: