Recently a close friend of mine asked me a question. “Do you think it is fair to say that the biggest antiwar movement is now on the Right?” Without hesitation I responded, “No. There is no antiwar movement.”
In a sense, this was a dodge on my part. The point my friend was trying to make is that antiwar sentiment may be more prominent among self-identified conservatives and libertarians than at any point in recent history. That much of this mood change can be chalked up to anti-Obama hysterics does not change the fact that it is a sea change worth charting.
Still, as a man whose politics are anti-imperialist first and foremost, I learned long ago to expect the worst from any new found allies. Politics makes strange bedfellows, but more often than not these relationships are one night stands that blow over when the anger of being deceived subsides - or whenever the next crisis hits.
During the 2008 Presidential cycle, Ron Paul took a lot flack from much of the Right for his “obsession” with foreign policy. In truth this “obsession” was nothing more than a principled opposition to an expansive military project that was morally and economically bankrupt. These sort of casual - and obvious - observations used to be considered common sense. But in a post-Conservative Movement, “conservative” politics, “America First” morphed into “Blame America First” and realistic appraisals of the cost and consequences of maintaining a warfare state became high treason.
Keith Preston’s excellent review of Donald Critchlow’s book “The Conservative Ascendency” does a nice job getting to the heart of the Buckleyite project and what it really meant for the American Right:
Conservatism has succeeded in achieving only one of its stated goals and that is the permanent escalation of the military budget and the permanent expansion of America’s foreign military presence. On every other issue claimed by this brand of conservatism (a misnomer?), the level of failure is overwhelming. Rolling back the welfare state? “Big government” is now bigger and more expansive than ever. Fiscal restraint? The U.S. public debt is larger than ever to the point where America biggest debtor in world history. Social conservatism and traditional values? America is a more culturally leftist and egalitarian society today than ever before, and leads the world in the advancement of “diversity” and the fight against intolerance.
Indeed, given the phenomenal success of the “conservatives” in expanding military spending and military interventionism, and their phenomenal failure everything else, one might be tempted to argue that the former was the only issue that ever really mattered all along - and that the grassroots economic, fiscal, social, cultural, religious and patriotic conservatives who comprised the activist base and key voting blocks were, to employ an ironic Leninist term, nothing more than “useful idiots.”
This observation may seem unfair to those willing to give the benefit of the doubt to the new found skeptics of intervention, but it hardly seems unfair given the actually history of the American Right as outlined by Critchlow and others.
The liberal-left and the grassroots Right have both de-prioritized foreign policy in light of our economic crisis. That this crisis is directly related to our imperial project in a variety of ways is something that is unmentionable, because “American Greatness” is something that cannot be questioned. The vanity of militarism legitimizes the statist projects of the left and vice versa.
There still exists anti-war warriors in America but they are few and far between. To be antiwar does not mean one must be a pacifist, but it does mean one must be willing to seriously criticize the bedrock institutions of American Power. No one expects that out of the liberal-left. As things stand, why one would expect that of the entrenched American Right remains something of a mystery.
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