Neo-cons short-sighted

The Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol believes in an aggressive pursuit of what he likes to describe as an international freedom agenda and in the proposition that a nation’s greatness is not about how its citizens live, work and play but its role on the world stage. In this capacity and as high priest of “neo” or “National Greatness” conservatism, Bill has supported U.S. military involvement in places that most of his fellow citizens couldn’t find on a map in a brightly lit room.

It comes as no surprise that while he welcomes the Obama administration’s decision to enter the fray in Libya, he is profoundly unimpressed with the president’s ambivalence toward committing the U.S. military to new foreign adventures. “Better late than never,” he says, while urging that the U.S. needs “boots on the ground.” Kristol assumes that where we begin by sending in our planes, our troops must inevitably follow. In fact, he argues, we will ultimately need to dispatch a “peacekeeping and nation-stabilizing force” to Libya to presumably oversee that nation’s emergence as a free and functioning democracy.  

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Kristol, like many of his friends, rarely considers the consequences of these proposals. Some years ago following a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference, columnist George Will was asked his opinion of the “neo-conservatives” by an attendee. Will considered the question and then said, “They tend to be bright, articulate and accomplished writers, and I used to count many of them as friends.” He paused for a second before continuing: “But most of them suffer from what I like to call the Yamamoto syndrome. Adm. Yamamoto attended Harvard, spoke good English and admired this country. When he was called before the warlords back home and asked if he would lead the effort to drive the U.S. out of the Pacific by destroying or crippling the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor, he reportedly responded by saying that he could do that and perhaps keep us out for 18 months, but asked, ‘Then what?’

“Neo-conservatives,” concluded Will, “like the Japanese warlords of an earlier era, rarely ask that question.”

Perhaps that’s why, as former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan observed even before Obama ordered our bombers into the skies over Libya, “we wind up in long, drawn-out struggles when we didn’t mean to, when it wasn’t the plan, or the hope, or the expectation.” 

Kristol and his ideological soul-mates have every right to their beliefs, regardless of whether they work in the real world, but what upsets many is the mean-spirited way in which they try to discredit those who disagree with their nostrums. Kristol acknowledges that not everyone agrees with him, and even suggests that a debate on foreign policy and defense is healthy, but is scathingly hostile to anyone with whom he disagrees.

When the late Bob Novak expressed reservations about the wisdom of our invasion of Iraq, he was attacked by Kristol’s friend David Frumm as a borderline traitor who “hated America.”

A week or so ago, after Kristol and his buddies were celebrating that all sentient Republicans or conservatives who are even thinking about the presidency have essentially joined the neo-conservative camp, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) said in Iowa that given the nation’s fiscal difficulties he couldn’t see any way to spare the Pentagon budget scrutiny and that it is at least possible that some of the billions we spend on defense are being wasted. He added that it might not be in our interest to run around trying to reform every country that doesn’t meet our standards, that we exercise caution and look to our own national security interests before committing American blood and treasure to such projects in the future.

Kristol’s reaction was swift, mean-spirited and illogical. He attacked Barbour as “Hee Haw,” a parochial Southern know-nothing who has no right to even comment on such weighty issues. He dismissed Barbour’s presidential ambitions as laughable.

The fact is, of course, that Barbour has performed admirably in every job he’s ever held. He was political director in the Reagan White House, served as the most highly rated and effective Republican National Committee chairman in recent memory and is regarded as one of the best and brightest governors in the country. He may or may not prove viable as a presidential candidate, and Kristol has every right to disagree with him, but he owes Barbour an apology for dismissing him and a much-needed foreign policy debate simply because he doesn’t like Barbour’s accent or because the governor didn’t go to Harvard and prefers bourbon to Pinot Noir. 

David A. Keene, former chairman of the American Conservative Union, serves as first vice president of the National Rifle Association, and maintains an “of counsel” relationship with The Carmen Group, a Washington-based governmental affairs firm.