Sunday, July 09, 2006

# Posted 10:46 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  


Today, American conservatives are in headlong flight from their President’s democratic evangelism. It was always the taste of a tiny minority, known as the neoconservatives; it ill-suited the traditionalists’ skepticism about sociopolitical engineering. When Republican senators from Oklahoma and Alabama denounced anyone who doubted the Arab world’s readiness for democracy, it was mere partisan artifice.

The ambitious young right-wing operatives who staffed the Coalition Provisional Authority, in Baghdad, have long since returned to their careers in Washington, many of them disgusted with the Iraqis they had gone to democratize. Conservative thinkers like William F. Buckley, Jr., and George Will have led the way back to their creed’s more cramped vision of human possibility. The President overextended his base as well as his military, and we are all in for a period of reaction.

I disagree, but I understand where George is coming from. In early 2003 I knew, I just knew, that if the going got tough in postwar Iraq, Republicans would trade in their lofty ideals for a cold-hearted realism that left Iraqis to their fate. That was the animating spirit behind an op-ed I co-wrote with Josh Chafetz for WSJ's Opinion Journal.

Whereas most liberal commentators (at leas that I know) still insist that all of Bush's talk about democracy promotion is just cheap rhetoric, George leaves the President off his list of those who have joined the march back to realism. Leaving aside the merits of the case, I think this decision allows us to focus on a much more interesting issue, namely the degree to which a committed president can change his party's basic disposition.

I have a personal interest in this issue because one of the main arguments of my dissertation was that Reagan's unflinching rhetorical commitment to democracy promotion (from mid-1982 onward) brought the Republican party along with him even though the GOP had never embraced democracy promotion before. Reagan's rhetoric and (occasional) follow-through inspired senators like John McCain and Dick Lugar, who are still strong advocates of democracy promotion today.

However, my dissertation leaves off in 1988 and doesn't explore how the GOP embarked on a rapid march back toward realism of just the kind that George says is happening today. It was this march that culminated in Trent Lott's cynical and sublimely ridiculous statement just before the Kosovo war that perhaps America should "give peace a chance".

Lott made that statement less than eight years ago. But where is the GOP now? George (Packer) is right that George Will has never bought into Bush's idealism. Yet do George Will and the increasingly obscure Bill Buckley define the intellectual direction of the party on this issue? Or do Kagan, Kristol, Krauthammer and others still represent the dominant trend?

I don't know any young conservatives who served in Baghdad, so I'll have to grant for the moment that some of them are as cynical as George makes them out to be. As for various Red state senators, I haven't seen much backing away from Bush's rhetoric of the kind that would justify the accusation that an initial fidelity to it was just "partisan artifice".

I have been expecting for a long time now that the GOP senators who represent the party each Sunday morning on ABC, NBC and CBS would begin to start talking about a foreign policy that puts America's interests first, last and always. Instead, they still insist that Iraq is the central front is the war on terror and that we must stand by our Iraqi friends.

Perhaps the real question is what will happen after Bush leaves office. When Bush's father replaced Ronald Reagan, GOP legislators once again had the green light to make the case for realism. Once Bill Clinton became the voice for democratic idealism, it was even easier for Republicans to become avowed realists once again.

For precisely those reasons, my commitment to democracy promotion translates into unflinching support for John McCain's effort to become our next president. His victory could lock in the transformation that began with Reagan and continued after 9/11 with Bush. But his victory may depend on whether this president can wring enough success out of Iraq to prevent an implosion at the polls in 2008.
(13) opinions -- Add your opinion

Good insights. I'm also pretty supportive of a McCain bid. I just see his support for democracy promotion and his continued support for the war on terror as far more important than his stance on, say, campaign finance.

What do you think of Giuliani as well? He's never been soft on the dicators of the Middle East - and particularly had it in for Arafat when he (Rudy) was still mayor. He's been out of the spotlight for a while, and I don't know if he'll run, but he's been alright in my book on the issue. The Republican congressmen and senators (other than McCain) considering a run don't merit much confidence, in my book, given their willingness to slide back and forth from democracy-promoting idealists to realists with such ease (like many of them were willing to do to oppose the war in Kosovo).

The problem I worry about with a McCain and, particularly, a Giuliani bid, is if they go up against the likes of Mark Warner for the Democrats. Pitting a socially liberal Republican against a Southern Democrat (and I mean a real southern Democrat, not another Clinton type) could make for a fight, especially in the south. Of course, that's assuming the Democrats are smart enough to nominate someone like Warner. Given recent events in CT, it will more likely be someone from the Dean/Lamont wing.

I've been in the middle of reading Right Nation, and it makes you think alot about the different parts of the Republican Party - especially on foreign policy, given my interests.

Hmm...nevermind - guess the links too long. Oh well.
I admire your continued support of McCain. I believe McCain is not the idealist you think he is. He will fold like a pack of cards the momemt he feels his political fortunes need a change.
You could also compare the difference between the influence of, say, Sen. Vanderberg (R-MI) and Sen. Taft (R-OH) in immediate post-WWII foreign policy. Vanderberg's effect on the foreign policy stance of the Republican policy was enormous, and lined the party up fairly close to Truman's vision.
Can you recommend a good "whiplash" injury lawyer for me?
Packer follows a great insight, with a totally inaccurate historical fallacy, over and over.
The whole essay reads like Kos/Atrios/Huffington meets NRO/RedState/Powerline.
Yet, after reading the entire essay, I'm really at a loss as to the why you highlighted one paragraph as the lead and reason for your post.
Most of the assumptions he posits in the para are unsupported anywhere in the essay. And, trust me, as a Goldwater/Reagan conservative, I've been voting for 42 years, we are not in headlong flight. George Will is just another Beltway insider these days, kinda like David Broder, neither has had a thought worth printing in over a decade. And, much like Joe Leiberman and the rest of the Democrats, Conservatives can sometimes disagree, but, of course, we'll never take it to the venomous hatred espoused by the Left.
Re: Vandenberg and Taft, I half agree and half disagree. Vandenberg may have helped push the party away from isolationism and toward internationalism, but any measure of idealism among the GOP was limited to funding European reconstruction, which had a compelling strategic rationale.

Confronted by a menace as profound as Stalinist Russia, I don't think it's surprising that nationalists with a penchant for isolationism became nationalists with a penchant for hyper-aggressive Cold War waging.
You have given me another reason not to support McCain -- as if his photo ops with Ted Kennedy on immigration were not enough.
Presumably McCain would be promoting a form of "Democracy" where the public was silenced for the duration of the campaigns?
In early 2003 I knew, I just knew, that if the going got tough in postwar Iraq, Republicans would trade in their lofty ideals for a cold-hearted realism that left Iraqis to their fate.

I thought you were above such petty, unsupportable generalizations. I don't really want to make this a partisan thing (if I wanted to be snide I'd ask whether watching certain Republicans/"Conservatives" abandoning their lofty ideals when the going got tough was more or less disappointing than watching most "Liberals"/Democrats abandon their lofty ideals before the going got tough.)

But, yeah, basically you seem to assume that most Republicans a) supported the war due to those lofty ideals and b) have now turned on the war despite c) no evidence that those ideals have failed. A novel argument if nothing else. Unfortunately I'd say it's much more likely that most "Republicans" who have changed from supporting the war either were supporting it out of national security reasons that have been called into question with all the WMD stuff and the lack of a subsequent 9/11-esque attack and/or have decided that we gave the Iraqis a chance and they chose violence.

I'm not sure personally where I fit in as an unabashed hawk who refuses to call himself a member of the Republican Party because of their domestic policy but still supports the Iraq war but thinks it foolish to try and fight a war when you don't attack the bases of enemy support and thinks we should expand into Iran and Syria - especially the Bekaa Valley (where the ex-Spetsnaz helped move most of the WMDs.) But overall I don't think your agenda will be advanced by denouncing all Republicans when as a party they are still much more supportive of a continued presence in Iraq than Democrats.
Dola, I agree with previous commenters who think your belief in McCain's sincerity might be a little misplaced. From his hypocrisy on campaign finance to more relevantly his reconciliatory stance on Vietnam's communist government I wouldn't trust him any farther than Zinedine Zidane could headbutt him.
Uh, folks, McCain supports campaign finance reform BECAUSE he supports democracy. Now you can disagree whether his solution is effective, or causes more harm than good, but thats what the motivation is, and its a motivation shared by millions of Americans. NOT everyone thinks that money = speech, and that the power of money in American politics is an important support to democracy.

But Dave, I wonder if bring the GOP realists over to democracy promotion is nearly as important as bringing mainstream Dems (IE those who are neither committed to Lieberman-Beinart hawkishness, nor to Kossack dovishness) over to firm support of the WOT more generally. For that reason I think electing Hillary is MORE important than electing McCain.
Do the democracy evangelists never notice that Britain and America had the rule of law, and liberty secured by law, long before we had anything like modern democracy? Sure, given human nature, I'd guess that democracy can potentially be built anywhere - but it's hard, often _very_ very hard.
The British Empire largely failed to leave behind sustainable democracies, despite decades of effort. The Iraq adventure has demonstrated that the USA appears to have absolutely no interest in putting in the amount of effort that would be required to build sustainable democracy in a clan-based society with no rule-of-law tradition, instead creating an Al Qaeda fantasyland.
"thinks it foolish to try and fight a war when you don't attack the bases of enemy support"

Agree 100% with that. Al Qada is the important enemy. Al Qaeda is funded out of Saudi Arabia, its ideology is promoted by Saudi Wahabbism, and it is operating freely in the Pakistani tribal areas. The US government has no interest in doing anything about any of that.
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