Wednesday, January 23, 2008

What does "conservative" mean?

So, what exactly does the term "conservative" mean? If you think it means increasing entitlements, ignoring the problem of illegal immigration, spending like a drunk Democrat, and waging an endless war, I don't blame you. Republicans over the last 14 years (and especially the last 7) have been an embarassment. Our congressional leaders have indeed repudiated everything they professed to believe in.

Now, while many of those items irk me, it is my criticism of the Bush foreign policy that mostly drives me to write to you this day.

For holding such an opinion, I know there are plenty who will wish to harangue me as a liberal or at the very least a moderate. By definition, this endeavor into Iraq is opposed to all things conservative. "Conservative" implies the act of conserving. Conserving our military does not mean opening war on a country that did not attack us. By definition, that is a liberal war. But our current uses of the terms "liberal" and "conservative" have skewed them to mean different things. "Liberal" now tends to mean soft and altogether opposed to the military. "Conservative" now tends to mean big-spenders who invade countries that did not attack us.

Being conservative does not mean these things. In the Republican debates we have heard candidates (like now-former candidate) Fred Thompson lampoon Ron Paul or Mike Huckabee for suggesting a foreign policy that is less Bush-like. Thompson accused Huckabee in a recent debate of expounding a liberal foreign policy. Disrupting other countries who have done nothing to us is not conservative.

Granted that hindsight is 20/20, it is easy to say that Iraq, now almost 5 years later, was not a threat to us. But, after we invaded the country and dismantled Saddam Hussein's kingdom of lies, we have found no weapons of mass destruction and we have discovered that ethnic and religious differences were at the breaking point who needed a ruthless dictator to hold them in place. The Middle East is not a place naturally inclined toward democracy or classical republicanism. Now, Iran (a democracy) has elected a human-sized rodent in Ahmadinejad to run their country -- only after we invaded two of their neighboring countries! If anything, the venture in Iraq has been counterproductive for American interests. It has raised the attention of Iran, a country for which we have no business. If they really are looking to invest in a nuclear weapon (the National Intelligence Estimate suggests otherwise), why would they not want to do so? They are literally surrounded by Americans or our few remaining allies, namely Turkey. And even if Iran foolishly decided to detonate a nuclear weapon on the United States, the retaliation from us would give Iran a one-way ticket back to the Middle Ages.

We have gotten bogged down in a country we did not have to invade and now the candidates for president are frequently being asked, "What should we do with Iran?" If I were running, my answer would be, "If Iran does nothing to us, we should do nothing to them." Our military is already desperately undermanned. There is no need to sacrifice more troops for this cause. We were supposed to track down Osama bin Laden, but he has literally fallen off the radar screen ever since we went to Iraq.

To finish up for today, I would like to stand up and proclaim that there are legitimately conservative reasons to oppose our engagement in Iraq as well as the saber rattling that is going on for Iran. There are plenty of other conservatives who believe this way and we are increasingly attaching ourselves to the term "paleoconservative" or conservative of an older tradition, one that is not rooted in Bush interventionism. In the words of the inaugural issue of "The American Conservative" in 2002: We will be different. And we are.

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