The Spectacle Blog

Antiwar Conservatives and Rumors of Antiwar Conservatives

By on 7.27.10 | 8:20AM

Recently, I wrote a cover story for the American Conservative making two arguments:

1.) Rand Paul's victory shows that, in the current political environment, a principled economic and social conservative who runs a good campaign can win mainstream Republican support despite deviations from the party line on foreign policy and 2.) There are tendencies within the mainstream right -- ranging from fiscal conservatism to Jacksonian skepticism of nation-building -- that lend themselves to certain arguments for a less interventionist foreign policy, though not necessarily the kind of arguments that non-interventionist conservatives tend to make.

Daniel Larison is skeptical, pointing to the inconsistencies of various Republicans who have criticized war-making under the Obama administration. All valid concerns, especially since Afghanistan seems to be the war that is least popular among Republicans right now despite being the least objectionable war from a paleoconservative perspective (at least initially).

I'd only offer two rejoinders. The first is that any successful political movement is going to include its share of opportunists. In the 1990s, the last time conservative Republicans opposed wars and nation-building exercises in large numbers, you saw a mix of people who were genuinely trying to move the right's foreign policy in a less interventionist direction (Pat Buchanan, Ron Paul, John Hostettler), partisan Republicans who simply disliked "Democrat wars," GOP members of Congress trying to preserve their legislative power agaisnt a Democratic executive, and hawks who didn't think Haiti and Kosovo were the best use of our military in light of other threats. That kind of coalition-building is necessary in practical politics.

Second, full-throated non-interventionism is not going to be the majority position among conservative Republicans in the foreseeable future. Reintroducing ideas like costs, unintended consequences, the intractability of various foreign conflicts, and even the level of restraint anticipated by the Powell-Weinberger Doctrine would all be steps in the right direction for conservatives who reject the idea of benevolent global hegemony.

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