Friday, March 25, 2011

Conservatives and the Libyan War

One thing I believe in firmly is the universal desire for human freedom. It's an American thing, you could say, univeralistic in the Jeffersonian sense of "We hold these truths to be self-evident..." Believing in universal principles doesn't mean we throw off our more studied inclinations toward realism. And by this I don't mean the perverted realism of Stephen Walt and the neo-isolationist Israel-bashers. No, it's the realism for holding up interests to the light of pragmatism over idealism. With the Egyptian revolution, for example, the hopes for liberation engendered powerful emotions of solidarity with people breaking the chains of their poverty and oppression. The problem, of course, is that the nature of the Mubarak regime was to elevate the most extreme forces in society as the bogeyman to justify authoritarian rule. At the same time the tempering forces of civil society were suppressed to prevent pluralistic impulses that might threaten the regime. And when the spontaneous outpouring of revolt hit the streets the Obama administration's incompetence and indifference worked to let slip the opportunity for shaping a pro-democratic wave that might have limited the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood. Attention has moved away from Cairo as new developments elsewhere have captured the news. But Egypt's election on constitutional reform a few days ago was said to favor Islamist forces in the country. And because those same forces will be less committed to peace with Israel, and perhaps to an extreme fundamentalism domestically, it's clear that democratic change in Egypt hasn't seen the coming of a freedom-producing utopia.

I'm reflecting here in light of David Horowitz's essay, "
Why I Am Not a Neo-Conservative." Folks should read it all. There's little I disagree with, especially on the dangers of democratic elections in totalitarian cultures. It's hard to be bullish on democratic change when the key principles of constitutional order include the extermination of the Jews, as it is with the Hamas Charter. But there's more to neoconservatism than foreign policy and war, which is a point that I keep stressing, since it's getting lost in the fog of Obama's foreign policy. Horowitz even calls for folks to abandon the "neo" and return to being just conservatives. To do that, of course, is to abandon the long tradition of moral-based conservatism that been shaping cultural debates in the U.S. since at least the 1960s. A larger understanding is required. It's appropriate to recall that neoconservatives aren't currently unified on change in the Middle East. Refer to Matt Lewis' recent article as well, "Abusing and Misusing The ‘Neo-Con’ Label," where he notes how the term's been bastardized by critics.

In any case, Victor Davis Hanson ---whose work was extremely influential in the top circles of the Bush administration during the runup to the Iraq war and beyond --- puts things in perspective at National Review, "
Let Us Count the Ways ...":
Why are many conservatives against the Libyan war? Is it, as alleged, political opportunism — given their prior support for the 2001 and 2003 wars in Afghanistan and Iraq?

No. Most of us support wholeheartedly our troops now that we are in, but opposed the intervention for reasons that were clear before we attacked, and are even clearer now. Among them ...
Be sure to read it all.


Old Rebel said...

I took you up on your challenge, stuck a clothespin on my nose, and read Horowitz' "Why I Am Not a Neo-Conservative."

Instead of a point-by-point argument which would only waste time and bandwidth, I do want to know if you, too, have lost your "neo-conservative illusions" as a result of the botched Neocon Wars?