In These New Times

A new paradigm for a post-imperial world

The Conservative Awakening

Posted by smeddum on January 16, 2011

They’re finally getting wise to the empire racket

January 14, 2011

One has only to look at today’s headlines at Antiwar.com to see the trend:

Another news story details the results of a survey which shows a dramatic turnabout, on the war:

“Two-thirds of conservatives support a reduction in troop levels in Afghanistan. When given a choice between three options, 66% believe we can either reduce the troop levels in Afghanistan, but continue to fight the war effectively (39%) or think we should leave Afghanistan all together, as soon as possible (27%). Just 24% of conservatives believe we should continue to provide the current level of troops to properly execute the war. 64% of Tea Party supporters think we should either reduce troop levels (37%) or leave Afghanistan (27%) while 28% support maintaining current troop levels. Among conservatives who don’t identify with the Tea Party movement, 70% want a reduction (43%) or elimination (27%) of troops while only 18% favoring continuation of the current level.”

It wasn’t all that long ago that David Frum could credibly excommunicate Bob Novak, Pat Buchanan, and other conservative opponents of the Iraq war in the pages of National Review. Today, however, as the American empire goes into foreclosure, and a decade of constant war has brought us no closer to “victory,” those who want to limit the power and expense of government are finally beginning to wake up to the war racket. The idea that we could be the world’s policeman and still keep the reality as well as the form of a constitutional republic was always an illusion, and the veil is lifted from the eyes of grassroots conservatives at last.

The response to these developments is what’s interesting. On the left, the Huffington Post is, well, a bit huffy about it, with Dan Froomkin reporting Grover Norquist’s contention that  America’s overseas wars are a strategic as well as an economic disaster:

“Being tied up there does not advance American power. If you’ve got a fist in the tar baby Iraq and you’ve got a fist in the tar baby Afghanistan, then who’s afraid of you?”

Is the liberal Huffington Post, whose proprietor spends a lot of time on television criticizing the Obama administration for continuing the war, head over heels because of this crack in the pro-war consensus? Of course not. Indeed, Froomkin utilizes Norquist’s word choice to manufacture a particularly vicious, albeit utterly ridiculous, accusation:

“His word choice was vivid, but problematic. ‘Tar baby’ is often used as shorthand to describe an inextricable problem or situation, but it is also a derogatory term for black people. Such public figures as Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney and former White House press secretary Tony Snow have taken flak for using the term.”

It does little good to point to the context, and note that Norquist’s statement would be reduced to meaningless gibberish if the latter definition is assumed: Froomkin doesn’t want to hear what Norquist is really saying, but only conjuring his readers’ intractable prejudices. Besides which, Froomkin is not actually saying Norquist is a racist, but only letting the innuendo splatter against the noted conservative’s face. And these are the people who want to restore “civility” to the public discourse!

However, this kind of petty viciousness is but a pallid blue flame compared to the white-hot anger of Max Boot, writing on the Commentary blog:

“If you want any further evidence of conservative support for the war effort in Afghanistan, look no further than Grover Norquist’s laughable effort to organize a “center-right” coalition against the war. Apparently, Grover wants to pull out of Afghanistan as a money-saving measure — a line of argument, which if followed to its natural conclusion, should also have led us to pull out of World War II while Hitler or Tojo were still in power or to end the Civil War while Jefferson Davis still ruled the South.”

If you’re a neocon, it’s always 1939 — or 1862. Every struggle is an existential struggle. Hitler, Jefferson Davis, Mullah Omar — it’s all the same Evil, which takes on different forms down through the years, but retains its essential essence. This is what we heard in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq: Saddam was Hitler, and any attempt to avoid war was an act of “appeasement,” another “Munich.” And as for those actively protesting the war once it started, why they were nothing less than “fifth columnists,” as Andrew Sullivan used to put it before he sensed sticking with the neocons was a bad career move.

To say that Boot, who once bemoaned the lack of casualties in the initial stages of the Afghan war, lacks either moral or common sense is to point out the obvious. Yet there is an extra note of hysteria in this latest hyperbolic tantrum, as if the prospect of facing a rebellion within what the neocons regard as their base is driving Boot over the edge of credibility. Because what’s laughable isn’t Norquist’s raising of this issue, but the efforts of Boot and his dwindling band of dead-enders to stamp out the rebellion before it gains enough momentum to have a real effect. The problem for the neocons, however, is that the revolt has already spread far beyond the possibility of suppression.

Bubbling up from the grassroots, this is a revolution on the right, and it portends a struggle that is truly existential as far as the neocons are concerned. Having attached themselves to the conservative movement in the 1980s, this mini-movement which traces its origins back to a schismatic variety of Trotskyism would be content to suck the very life out of its conservative host — but it looks like the host is finally waking up to the danger.

Boot excoriates Norquist for recalling Reagan’s decision to pull out of Lebanon by reminding us that Osama bin Laden used this as an example of why the US is a “weak horse.” What he forgets is that bin Laden, having lured us into Iraq and Afghanistan, also famously predicted the US would go bankrupt pursuing him and his fellows to the ends of the earth.

Economic reality — or, indeed, reality of any sort — has never been the neocons’ forte. You’ll recall that, when they were in power, a top White House aide confided to journalist Ron Suskind what they considered to be their historic mission:

“The aide said that guys like me were ‘in what we call the reality-based community,’ which he defined as people who ‘believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.’ … ‘That’s not the way the world really works anymore,’ he continued. ‘We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.’”

Reality has finally caught up with the conservative movement, however, much to the neocons’ intense annoyance. Let Boot have hysterics:, and let the Huffington Post liberals throw their mudballs. As Chris Middleton, of the Ohio Liberty Council, a leading tea party group, put it the other day: it’s all about the math, and the numbers don’t lie. With military spending accounting for 56 percent of discretionary spending, and the US about to lose its triple-A credit rating, the inexorable logic of the budget-cutters leads to one and only one conclusion: it’s time to rein in the War Party, and abandon our foreign policy of imperialism — because empires are a luxury that no modern nation can afford any longer.

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