I wrote this back in the middle of 2007. Due to political cowardice on my part, as well as the upcoming Federal Election, never really released it and only showed it to a few people. Nothing to lose now though 🙂
Conscience of a Conservative
I still remember the moment we declared war on Iraq. Filled with Utopian visions of liberty & democracy spreading through the Middle East, of an evil dictator being deposed, and people freed from tyranny, I stood up and cheered. In the following months and years I wrote articles justifying the ‘liberation’, participated in debates and argued in countless tutorials. Seduced by neo-conservative preachings, I ignored the doomsayers and was full of hope. As the years progressed, I pushed aside my doubts, ignored evidence to the contrary, and continued to staunchly defend the actions of the Coalition of the Willing; I cheered when I saw George W Bush, Freedom Fighter, on TV. Yet, gradually, these doubts began to grow and multiply. My optimistic predictions seemed less and less likely to occur.The more I spoke of freedom, the more hollow my words began to sound, until I was mouthing little more than empty platitudes. I can do so no longer.
First and foremost, I am, and have always been, a conservative. I passionately believe in the principles of liberty, individualism and markets. Yet I have come to finally accept that conservative ideology has been hijacked, its core tenants trampled on, and its adherents betrayed. One of the things I belatedly recognise and regret is how the partisan nature of Australian politics has obscured from the public the intellectual struggles and debates within the US on this matter, where a vibrant anti-war conservative movement (paleo-cons, realists and some libertarians) competes with an active pro-war new-left. Let it be never forgotten that ‘neo-conservitivism’ as it has been dubbed, evolving from a coterie of Trotskyites from New York City College, has been a tradition always associated with the left of politics, and, with their advocacy of the state imposing social virtues, and dislike of Republican policies of détente, were members of either the Socialist or Democratic Party until the late 1970’s. Even throughout the Reagan administration, neo-conservative Republicans continued to hold minor positions, Reagan himself sceptical of their grand designs, and condemning their domestic policies. Despite their rejection of overt Marxism, neo-cons they to this day remain fierce advocates of the use of the authority and power of the state; the very antithesis of conservative values. Indeed throughout the 20th century, it has been the Republican Party that was the party of non-intervention.
In the 2000 Presidential election, President George W. Bush explicitly ran on a platform of a non-interventionist humble foreign policy, opposing nation-building and world policing. Throughout the 1990s, Republicans castigated the Clinton administration for conducting foreign policy like social work: vague, ill-defined missions in remote locales from Haiti to Bosnia to Kosovo. Looking at history, Republicans were elected to end the Korean & Vietnam wars; leading Republican Sen. Taft even opposed joining the NATO alliance. Ronald Reagan himself withdrew US troops from the Middle East, and was a conservative internationalist who constructing his foreign policy around containment and diplomacy, consistently opposed many of the actions argued for by neo-cons at that time. Indeed, since the days of the Founding Fathers, American conservatives have consistently opposed the very actions they are now supporting. It is a bedrock conservative belief that the smaller and closer a government is to the people, the better, less arrogant and less wasteful it becomes, and putting a burden on the US military and taxpayer to enforce humanitarian actions across the globe, turning soldiers into international social workers flies in the face of all things conservative. The Iraq venture is not conservitism, but the latest incarnation of a left-liberal Wilsonian crusading internationalism: with over 3,400 troops dead, $500 billion spent, and no end in sight, was it really worth the cost?
We can not dispute that our policies contribute to those who wish to destroy us; the CIA itself admits the consequences of blowback. Foreign policy never occurs in a vacuum, and 50 years of meddling in the Middle East, deposing elected leaders, occupying the “Holy Land” of Saudi Arabia and bombing Iraq throughout the 1990’s undoubtedly has been important in alienating Arab Muslims. It was the action of the US in 1953 by overthrowing an elected democratic government and installing the Shah that led to the eventual takeover of the US Embassy in Iran, and, whilst we viewed the action as terrorists who dared attack the West, domestically it was seen as ending years of oppression at the hands of a ruthless US backed regime. We still continue to support oppressive tyrannies throughout the Middle East; in many ways Saudi Arabia’s royal kleptocracy is just as totalitarian, if not quite as violent, as that of Saddam’s; it is certainly more sexist and discriminatory. By deposing Saddam, but leaving in place despotic regimes in Egypt, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia amongst others, few can take our rhetoric of democracy seriously. The 9/11 Commission detailed how bin Laden, in 1996, issued his “self styled fatwa calling on Muslims to drive American soldiers out of Saudi Arabia”, and, in the coming years, repeated his anger with the US presence in the Middle East. Can anyone doubt that our current actions in Iraq do little other than entrench the problem, fuelling more discontent around the region, and creating greater and greater number of terrorist sympathisers? Al-Qaeda is undoubtedly delighted by our presence in Iraq, not only for the deaths of Western soldiers, but for the constant propaganda boost.
Indeed, what has been achieved by our intervention in Iraq? By distracting us from the war on Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, resources were diverted away from fighting the real enemies, allowing countless genuine terrorists to evade capture, and to what end? There was never any credible suggestion of a Hussein-Bin Laden connection, indeed the two forces were at odds. No WMD’s were found, and, the argument of liberation of an oppressed people is rather laughable in the face of the conditions seen today. Throughout the Arab Muslim world where elections have been held – Egypt, the Palestinian territories, Bahrain – something close to the worst possible result has emerged, the most anti-Western factions elected. What then have we gained? An evil dictator deposed perhaps, but at the cost of $500 billion dollars, 3,500 American soldiers dead with countless Iraqi civilians killed, an empowering of Iran and the enmity of the entire Arab world can hardly be considered worth it. The naïve assertion peddled by neoconservatives that liberal democratic change imposed from above was a solution to the problems of terrorism can no longer be stated with a straight face. Similarly, it is no longer enough to argue that the concept was right, and simply the execution of the war botched by the inept incompetence of Rumsfield, Bush and Cheney. Whilst the strategic and tactical blunders committed by the US authorities shall take books to catalogue, the past five years have shown that, as with all government initiatives, the end result is always the opposite of what is desired, and that such mistakes are unavoidable and bound to be repeated.
Of course, this mea culpa serves little purpose without a credible strategy for the future, yet this is something I can not provide. Caught between Scylla and Charybdis, there is no easy solution. Whereas on one hand, leaving would undoubtedly lead to an increase in sectarian violence, and the real probability of civil war, it is difficult to assess how ‘staying the course’ would prevent this, yet, to some degree, having ‘broken it’, we retain a moral obligation to ‘fix it’, and the ‘surge’ – after many year of failures in strategic and tactical planning – seems to be finally having some success. Yet there is no clear course of action to take, no easy solution. Ultimately I know not what shall happen, nor what course of action to take. Unlike computer simulations, there is no ‘save game’ to go back, and try again. It is unfortunate that the debate over withdrawal has been hijacked by the loony left, who, by their own admission, call for withdrawal not to help the Iraqi people, but to inflict a defeat on the US as part of the international socialist revolution. Indeed, sober analysis is hard to find, and, as a result, I am unable to genuinely point to a way forward.
What I do now know, however, is that it is impossible to argue that the US or the West as whole is now better off. Although initiated to protect the West from WMDs, the Iraq War has left us more vulnerable to potential Iranian and North Korean attacks, and, by enabling clerical Iran to achieve its historic ambitions in the Shiite Arab world, the war can only be described as a major strategic setback. Not one major US foreign policy objective has been served. We are less safe now than we were. The war on terrorism has been stifled, with terrorists being recruited in greater numbers than ever, and more terrorist attacks are all but guaranteed. Iraq is less stable now, democracy has not spread throughout the middle east, access to oil has been diminished, and all this at a massive cost.
When a second Balkan crisis erupted in Kosovo in the late 1990’s, John Bolton made the comment that the US had become “involved in a conflict where it has no tangible national interest, where it has no clear objectives in mind, and where the ultimate outcome could be very risky for what our real interests are…”.In his second debate against Al Gore, George W. Bush stated “I don’t think our troops ought to be used for what’s called nation building… I’m going to be judicious as to how to use the military. It needs to be in our vital interest. The mission needs to be clear and the exit strategy obvious.” If only these words were remembered just a few years later.