After nearly two years of bitter controversy about the role of neo-conservatives
in dragging the country into a useless and apparently endless war in
the Middle East, it has finally begun to dawn on some of the neo-cons'
liberal enemies that their critics on the right have been warning about
them for years. In Sunday's New York Times Book Review, New Republic
editor Franklin Foer at last discovered the "paleo-conservatives."
"Long before French protesters and liberal bloggers had even
heard of the neoconservatives, the paleoconservatives were locked in
mortal combat with them," Mr. Foer writes. As one who carries
wounds from such combats, I can testify that he's right. In recent
years, the role of neo-con policy makers like Paul Wolfowitz, Richard
Perle, Douglas Feith and others in concocting phony reasons to make
war on Iraq has become notorious — mainly because liberals themselves
have talked about it in their own publications. The liberals should
have listened to what we paleos were saying a long time ago.
Mr. Foer notes that the neo-cons' response to paleo-conservative criticism "often
accused the paleocons of anti-Semitism." That's true
too, and today the standard neo-con claim is that the word "neo-con" is
really only a code for "Jew" and the only people who use
it critically are Jew-baiters.
The larger truth is that there has been a paleo-conservative critique
of neo-conservatism for years, developed, as Mr. Foer notes, in such
magazines as Chronicles and in the columns and books of such folks
as Pat Buchanan, historian Paul Gottfried and yours truly.
The Jewish identity of many neo-conservatives probably plays an important
role in what they think and why they think it, but for most paleos
the problem with the neo-cons is not that they're Jewish but that even
today they're liberals. Maybe that's why so many liberals who don't
like the neo-cons won't talk about the paleo-cons at all. If they did,
they'd only call attention to their own flaws as well.
Neo-conservative liberalism is not confined to support for spreading
democracy by force, in the tradition of Woodrow Wilson and Franklin
Roosevelt, but also includes their sympathy for big government and
mass immigration, among other liberal causes. As for the paleos, Mr.
Foer seems to think their skepticism toward the Iraq war is rooted
in opposition to the state. That's partly true, but there are other
reasons as well.
Paleos do not necessarily oppose war (or the state). They just oppose
this war and this state — the war because it's not in the interest
of the nation, is not dictated by our security needs and serves to
deflect and distract us from more dangerous enemies and threats; the
state, because in the hands of liberals and neo-conservatives it has
become an enemy of the real American nation, undermining its people
and civilization and invading its freedoms.
Mr. Foer also keeps calling the paleos "isolationists." That's
true of some but not all. "Isolationism" was mainly a 1930s
slur word for Americans who opposed intervention in World War II. Most
paleos sympathize with that cause, but few back then or today were
or are against all intervention. There are times when intervention
(including war) is necessary and just. The Cold War was one of them.
The war with the Arabic world today isn't.
Does paleo-conservatism have a future? Mr. Foer suggests it might.
He notes that some establishment conservatives have finally come around
to saying the Iraq war was a blunder. None is a paleo, and none will
acknowledge that the paleo critics of the war were right all along.
But if the paleos were right about the war, maybe they're right about
other matters too.
"It's easy to imagine that a Bush loss in November, coupled with
further failures in Iraq, could trigger a large-scale revolt against
neoconservative foreign policy within the Republican Party," Mr.
Foer writes. "A
Bush victory, on the other hand, will be interpreted by many Republicans
as a vindication of the current course, and that could spur a revolt
too. If the party tilts farther toward an activist foreign policy,
antiwar conservatives might begin searching for a new political home."
Actually, quite a few have already started searching, and they're
well advised to do so. A Bush victory would more likely mean their
obliteration, since neo-conservative domination would be locked in.
But even if Mr. Bush loses, it's dubious very many Republicans would
leap on the paleo bandwagon.
The paleocons have suffered from a bad press, some of it of their
own making, but it's likely that more rank and file American conservatives
agree with them than with the neo-cons. If the paleos could learn how
to play a little more effectively, they could still deal themselves
a better hand in the future, even if it's outside the GOP.
[This column was originally published by Creators Syndicate on October
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Political pundit Samuel Francis was an author
and syndicated columnist. A former deputy editorial page editor for
THE WASHINGTON TIMES, he received the Distinguished Writing Award
for Editorial Writing from the American Society of Newspaper Editors
in both 1989 and 1990.
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