Monday, July 30, 2007

Seven things I still believe

Several websites (several of which are conservative) have printed lists of beliefs they had before the Iraq War that had to be abandoned because of it. A number of blogs, including Eunomia (Daniel Larison's blog), The Daily Dish (Andrew Sullivan), Crunchy Cons (Ron Dreher), and In the Agora, have all spoken on what they no longer believe. Being a paleo-conservative skeptical from the outset, here is my list of beliefs that have been confirmed over the course of the War:
  1. Western democracy cannot simply be imposed on an eastern culture that has no democratic traditions and no institutions to support it. The idea that we could impose representative democracy on a country with an authoritarian history and a diverse religious population is simply misguided. Iraq was held together by a strongman with dictatorial powers: that is its history, and its future (if it has one) as a single nation. In order to bring about order in Iraq with the Sunni and Shiite factions at each other's throats would require a degree of cruelty that we are unprepared and unwilling to exercise--and rightly so. But we should have known this is what it would require, and, being unwilling to engage in it, we should not have acted as if we were.
  2. Democracy should be seen as one of many legitimate forms of government, and should not be viewed as a religion. Just because we are a democratic republic does not mean that everyone else has to be. We should acknowledge Winston Churchill's assertion that democracy is the worst form of government ever devised by man--except for all the others that have been attempted throughout human history. Even if we believe that republican democracy was the best form of government, we are not therefore obliged to demand that every other country practice it. There are other forms of government that we ought to see as acceptable and legitimate, and to think anything else is utopianism. The messianic political rhetoric of the Bush administration in this regard is a recipe for foreign policy disaster.
  3. America should strive to be a republic and should avoid thinking and acting like an empire. We are not the world's police force, and we need to get over it. American political leaders should have one objective and one objective only: the interest of the United States. Imposing democracy on the world doesn't accomplish this end and only detracts from it. We should help our friends and penalize our enemies, and when we do the latter, it should take some other form than invading them--unless they are on the verge of invading us. The only way Iraq could have done that to us was with weapons of mass destruction, which they didn't have.
  4. Military action should be swift, severe, and short-lived. If there was evidence that someone in Iraq was involved in 9/11, then we should have taken them out and gone home. As it stands, there is little hope of stabilizing Iraq in any short period of time, and we are in the dilemma of either making a long term commitment that is politically unfeasible or leaving the country in chaos and the middle east in instability. When you try to own a country that isn't yours, it ends up owning you.
  5. The United States should never try to run another country. We have our hands full trying to run our own. The war has sapped our resources and left us less capable of dealing with problems in our own country--and less able to be flexible in dealing with other foreign policy crises that could easily and quickly arise. North Korea, which is far more of a threat than Iraq could ever have been, might need our attention, and there still exists the possibility that mainland China could attack Taiwan. Our military presence in Iraq renders us incapable of dealing with either of these problems.
  6. The American military should be seen as a military, not a political tool. Although some people blame the military for Iraq, they need to remember that it was politicians, not the military, that made the decision to invade Iraq. When you ask a military force to perform a police function, you shouldn't be surprised when it doesn't turn out well, and when it doesn't, you should blame the people who made the decision to use them--not the ones who are being used--in this way.
  7. Misguided foreign and domestic policy leadership by the head of a political party can haunt that political party for a whole generation. The previous generation of Americans judged the political parties by two leaders: Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter. The identity of Republicans and Democrats was based on the American public's opinion of these two presidents--to the benefit of Republicans and the detriment of Democrats. Whoever is identified with the Democrats (possibly Clinton), this generation will see the Republicans in light of the Bush administration. His hubristic foreign policy, his lack of fiscal restraint, and his abandonment of small government conservatism has squandered the Reagan legacy, and the result could be many years in the wilderness for the Republican Party. Republicans will spend many years trying to reclaim what they have lost. They may be given plenty of time to work on it.
These are all views I had before the Iraq War, and events since 2000 have only confirmed them.


SPorcupine said...

"We should help are friends."

Does that include reminding that standard spelling is one of the important features of good writing!


Martin Cothran said...

What our you trying to say? That I can't spel or sumthing?

Okay, you got me.

David Charlton said...

I can't believe someone can be so picky as to point out a spelling mistake - by the way, you missed this one - "democracy is the worst form of government every devised by man." Not that I'm being picky or anything.

An interesting post. I agree the Republicans could be in for a long time of wandering in the political wilderness, and the blame rests squarely on the shoulders of George W. Bush. The determination to go to war with Iraq was a monumental blunder from the start and the fact that the administration so grossly underestimated the resistance is but one example of how their arrogance has blinded them. We are left with nothing but bad choices, and the continued tragedy of more lives lost.

Dave Charlton

solarity said...

Should the public generally conclude that going to war in Iraq was a mistake, it is unlikely to be a major factor in the Repubs wandering in the wilderness for years. Most of the public recognizes that, at some level, they were complicit in the decision. There really isn't much historical precedent for a party being punished for a failed but bold and, arguably, noble, effort to bring security to the homeland and democracy to a dictatorship.

A Democrat victory in 2008 is much more likely to result from the bitter disappointment that infects the hearts of so many conservatives over this Administration's innumerable failures to push a conservative domestic agenda. Combine that with the unprincipled behavior of so many Republican legislators and you have a potent recipe for . . . . staying home on election day.

Not to worry, though. A leadership team composed of the likes of Clinton/Reid/Pelosi will quickly remind everyone why, shortly after 911, numerous commentators were telling us how fortuitous it was that the attack occurred while "grownups" were in power.

SPorcupine said...


I appreciate the substance of your post.


I rag Martin about his spelling because he has a special concern about whether spelling is valued in Kentucky public education. I wouldn't rag anyone else--plus I know I deserve my own round of grief for errors within my own comment.

David Charlton said...


I'm happy to give Martin a hard time when the opportunity arises - which is actually quite rare. And I hope he doesn't check my spelling too closely, which he has taught my children to do all too well. They are constantly pointing out errors in my spelling and grammar, and I'll be happy to blame Martin since they have both been in his class.

Martin Cothran said...

Sheez. I didn't know there were all these people out there checking my spelling. This is scary.

solarity said...

Your spelling mistakes are, of course, the most significant aspect of your commentary, given that you write in the Era of Superficiality under the Reign of Trivialus.

Anonymous said...

My God! I actually agree with much of what Martin said for a change. If only he would show such insight on domestic controversies.

Anonymous said...

Yeah I have a response: Uh, What?!

Mr. Cothran,
I think your reasoning here was just as troubled as your spelling.

You say that the American military should be used as a military, not as a political tool. I take this to mean that the military should be used to do what they are trained to do, and otherwise kept out of the political picture. Sounds good. So what is our military trained to do? Fight wars. And what are they doing right now? Fighting a war.

It is easy to diclame Bush's use of our military to fight a war as political if you do not especially care for his political views. But what about when we look at the way one of your personal political heroes used the military. Ronald Reagan built up the American military to a level it had not reached since WWII and has not attained since. Allow me to illustrate. At the height of the Reagan administration, our Navy was eight-hundred ships strong; today we have a two-hundred ship Navy. With all this military build up, one might ask, "Where was the war?" But except for a few minor operations, there wasn't any fighting. So if it wasn't being used as a military, that is, to fight a war, what was this huge force being used for? You guessed it, a political tool. Reagan used this build up to win an
arms race with the Soviet Union, a race we now call the Cold War.

The bottom line is this: our military is an extension of our political power abroad. Bush cannot reason with terrorists - or dictators who support terrorism - any more than Reagan could reason with Communism. Actually, far less. Sometimes a show of force is all that will work. If you don't believe me, ask the United Nations.

I think it is silly to criticize Bush for using the military as a political tool and then praise the legacy of a man who went to great lengths to build a much larger military only to put political pressure on another nation.

By the way, don't you find it odd that those who seldom agree with you loved this post, while others who usually agree found it difficult to swallow?