rethinking a strong national defense
Mark Levin’s response to The Weekly Standard’s Peter Berkowitz is surprisingly good. I find myself truly befuddled by the apparent twin-personalities of the man who is Mark Levin – the thoughtful, reasonable essayist vs. the talk-radio bloviator. Perhaps each medium requires its own panache. Maybe I just don’t get talk-radio. In any case, I found myself warming a great deal to the man when I discovered that in his book he calls Bill Kristol a neo-Statist. And in many ways, Levin’s description of neoconservatism as neo-statism is right on the money. I wonder how he squares his own support for international exuberance in foreign policy – it seems less than “prudent” to me given the inevitable tangles we find ourselves in whenever idealism outdistances pragmatism. Certainly the Iraq debacle bears this out….
I came across Levin’s response via Stacy McCain, who writes about the Iraq War:
My position on the Iraq war was nuanced, as the liberals would say. Unlike Kerry, I was against the war before I was for it. Basically, from 2002 until the war started, I was very skeptical toward arguments for the invasion and conquest of Mesopotamia. However, the time for arguing ended when the first shot was fired. My attititude about war is, “If you’re in it, win it.”
No nation ever benefitted from losing a war. Military defeat tends to demoralize a nation and, if repeated, can result in absolute decadence. (Cf. France.)
I had a similar take, actually, though I was far more than skeptical. I was downright appalled – as much by my fellow countrymen who touted the “love it or leave it” faux patriotism, as by the Bush administration’s nonsensical arguments for invasion (and the Democrats’ cowardly compliance). I was still reeling from the creation of the Department of Homeland Security and the advent of the Patriot Act. The Iraq rhetoric – and the broader “war on terror” language – seemed only to add to the overall Orwellian spookiness of those days.
Like McCain, once the war began my attitude shifted as well – at least toward the Iraq war in particular. (The “war on terror” which might “last decades” still scared the hell out of me. Now that the Obama administration has made the Doublespeak even more glaring by renaming it the Overseas Contingency Operation, I think the chill has in fact deepened.)
The problem with war is that it is much easier to begin than to end. You can’t just “shock and awe,” disrupt government and economic activity, topple a dictator, fire an entire army, stir up sectarian feuds, spark chaos and civil war and then just leave. This was one of my more serious reservations with the Democratic candidates going into this last election – that for political reasons alone they’d rush a preemptive withdrawal from Iraq. I’m less sure now that our sticking around will do much good, but it does strike me as altogether unfair to leave before finishing the job. Whether or not we possess the capacity to really patch things up is another question. ‘You break it, you buy’ it seems to apply nonetheless.
In any case, conservatives should not abandon a strong position on defense, but it is high time to ditch the nation-building, neoconservative stance that has so dominated conservative foreign policy for most of the Bush administration and on into the Obama administration. Leave that to the Democrats – the original international optimists. Conservatives should realize that statism and militarism are the same thing. Nothing – entitlements and bailouts included – will expand the powers of the state more than an intervenstionist foreign policy.
I’m not sure if Levin realizes this or not. Jack Hunter writes:
When the average Levin listener hears the phrases “national defense” or “national security,” he naturally thinks of current U.S. foreign policy, automatically assuming that our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops stationed all over the world are not unnecessary occupations or imperialism as some claim, but very necessary defensive measures of the American homeland. That this might be a bizarre way of looking at the world, and that many conservatives have said so—including giants like Kirk whom Levin cites—is something the reader will never know. One even wonders if Levin knows. And Levin gives the impression that global American empire, not merely a republic in which “each state was free to act on its own,” had been the Founders intention from the beginning.
In his attempt to create a conservative defense for policing the world, Levin promotes neoconservative utopianism and imperialism by denouncing any attempts to pursue utopianism or imperialism.
Maybe this is the real tragedy here – that we have a man like Mark Levin at the forefront of conservative punditry who appears to understand the downside of a Utopian American foreign policy, who hints at it – and goes so far as to call leading neoconservatives statists – but simply can’t take that final step. What American conservatism desperately needs is for Levin or someone like him to come out against this irrational, neo-imperialist foreign policy altogether – to come out against the abuses of executive power by conservatives and liberals alike – and to make painfully clear how our foreign policy excesses lead directly to the same excesses on the domestic front. The Bush administration’s use of unprecedented executive power has inadvertently led to a far more powerful Democratic presidency. This alone should set off alarm bells.
I realize that such a shift will be difficult. The lockstep as it exists now within the conservative movement has become fiercely pro-interventionist. Somehow leaders in the movement must begin reframing what a “strong defense” ought to look like. At some point the movement must disassociate itself from the foibles of the last administration and create a new, more sober vision for American foreign policy. I think that with the war in Afghanistan revving up, and with the Obama administration pondering things like new interrogation units for terror suspects, there is a definite opening for a new realism that embraces an efficient, responsive military but eschews nation-building and limitless executive power. Conservatives should embrace such a policy. My instincts tell me they will, but that it will take a long time to get from here to there.