Solid as Iraq

“When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.”
– Proverbs 11:2

In politics, disgrace does not follow pride and there are no such things as humility or wisdom. Partly this is because politics attracts the type of people who “think that it is not the system which we need fear, but the danger that it might be run by bad men,” as Friedrich Hayek wrote in The Road to Serfdom. The belief that there is nothing wrong with a bloated, oppressive, administrative bureaucracy actively engaged in managing the economy should be woefully outdated and subject to mockery. Alas, this idea retains decent heft in America and the broader West. Worse is the belief among federal bureaucrats that they are called to do important work on behalf of “society.” Worse still is they believe they are “public servants” arbitrating what’s fair and proper in civic life. But the absolute worst aspect of it all is how proud they are to play petty authoritarian. Whether it’s an IRS middle manager, an EPA busybody or an EEOC scold, American life is now regulated to the point of oppression by a class of elite social justice warriors who are all too happy for the opportunity. This is the subject of Charles Murray’s new bookBy the People, which calls for a form of conservative civil disobedience by way of noncompliance with the regulatory state. But the left is exceedingly proud of their regulatory state – they did build that, and over a long period and a “long march.” They are never going to part with it willingly or lightly; their identity depends on its preservation.

If only this was confined to the left. The reality though is that the faction of conservatives who base their identity more or less on American global power are similarly in thrall to pride. The spectacle that was Jeb Bush fumbling soft ball questions on the Iraq War last week was both instructive and foreboding. We got crystal clear confirmation that Jeb is surrounded by the same elite cadre of foreign policy hawks as was his brother George. We got warning that proponents of the war had undergone a level of soul-searching akin to that of Sauron after his first defeat. I would bet everything I own that without the advice of his team, Jeb would have answered Megyn Kelly’s “knowing what we know now” Iraq hypothetical with an unequivocal “no.” But Jeb is not without that advice, because that advice comes from a donor class and an establishment GOP mostly wedded to the idea that the Iraq War was basically the right call.

Hovering in the ether ever since the Democrats’ 2006 midterm romp is an obvious political truth, one which precious few on the right want to accept. The truth is this: the war in Iraq was devastating to conservatism and the Republican party. This devastation had layers. The first layer was the practical impact on the party, which suffered from both honest and dishonest partisan attacks by the Democrats and therefore limped into the post-Bush era discredited and with all the confidence and swagger of a beaten dog. The second layer has to do with how principled conservatism itself was discarded by the Bush administration. Despite pursuing a brave and fortuitous tax cut agenda, George W. Bush governed as a progressive Republican, aka a “compassionate conservative.” Federal spending skyrocketed, add-ons to entitlements were enthusiastically adopted and that once proud disciple of the Reagan-Laffer school of fiscal conservatism, Dick Cheney, opined that “deficits don’t matter.” That champions of the Bush legacy and adherents to the neoconservative worldview are one and the same today is not surprising. What is surprising is they lack any self-awareness or humility and instead prefer to look at their foreign policy record and bask in pride.

There was very little reason for conservatives to rally around Bush in 2004 beyond pride in the tribe. Compassionate conservatism was a disaster that ushered in Medicare D and No Child Left Behind. The “ownership society” Bush wished to cultivate was corrupted by the Fed and congressional loan edicts to mortgage lenders, setting the scene for the 2008 crash. The only reason Bush won in 2004 was because the war led Republican voters to dutifully vote to keep their tribe in power for fear of what the other would do. Now eleven years on, the other tribe is gearing up to rally around someone they don’t particularly like but to whom they owe loyalty and deference because again, pride and tribe, and again, those other bastards would be worse.

Because ultimately, depressingly, inevitably…. we’re all tribal animals and it will always be so, to a degree. What is the point though of living in a tribal democracy, where the mob reigns? Despite the fact that it is the natural condition of democracies to have competing tribes looking to get to 51% so that they may force their preferences and mandates on the other 49%, the American model is supposed to be something quite different. We are a republic because the founding generation looked askance at democracy. Pure, majoritarian democracy is indistinguishable from mob rule, whereas a republic would be healthier than a democracy because a combination of representative democracy with an ingrained respect for natural rights and common law would cement the centuries long social transition from “status to contract,” meaning a society where prospects and opportunities are contingent on an individual’s freedom to enter into contract instead of on social status or class. Democracy only works if certain first principles and inalienable rights are enshrined forever into the nation’s DNA so that no transient majority can ever deny those natural rights which inform the Declaration of Independence.

The parallel rise of the Tea Party along with a rowdy libertarian-minded youth are about far more than tribalism. They are about first principles and the attempt to revive them in the public conscience. The movements are essentially inchoate, schizophrenic attempts by frustrated conservatives and libertarians to reclaim the agenda from the big spending, saber-rattling, deep pocketed GOP elites who not only wish to see their influence preserved, but who insist in all their pride that their righteous motives yielded righteous gains, and anyway, who are you to suggest otherwise, some kind of isolationist?  This is the takeaway from l’affaire Jeb Bush: the GOP foreign policy establishment is simply too proud to admit they committed a fatal error, politically, strategically, morally. “Most of the Republican presidential candidates would have invaded Iraq. Despite protestations to the contrary, few of them have truly learned the lessons of the war,” says James Antle at The Week. There is nothing in the founding and nothing in conservatism that says nation building abroad  or preemptive war is desirable, and yet “even today, the true conventional wisdom in the GOP seems to be that the only mistakes that were made in Iraq were invading with too few troops and withdrawing too soon.”

When the party which is supposed to stand for limited constitutional government that maximizes individual freedom eventually abandons its fixation with mimicking the domestic progressive project on the global stage and returns to its notional commitment to free markets and federalism, then that will be party worthy of my pride. Until then, all the elites in both parties should take a moment to consider why exactly growing government and expanding arbitrary power (whether with OSHA or the DHS) at the expense of ordinary taxpayers is anything to be proud of.

Or maybe the GOP is actually G.O.B.?

Iraq? Solid as a rock!

solid as a rock

 

Like Clockwork

Rand Paul penned an op-ed in The Daily Beast on Monday that lays out his overarching critique of expansive government. For Paul, the most egregious sins of the past two administrations involve the reckless expansion of executive power. For the founders, the separation of powers and the checks and balances that maintain them were arguably the most important paradigm for representative government. They were surely the most sacred. Though a man of sweeping intellect and depth, James Madison left a singular legacy in his dogged advocacy for diffuse, separate and opposed factions across government; federal, state and local.

That legacy served conservatives (Jeffersonian Democrats, Whigs, Republicans) well until the end of World War II, when a new internationalism emerged with Dwight Eisenhower’s triumph over Senator Robert Taft in the race to define the future of the Republican Party. Since then, it has been a festival of bipartisan abuses of executive power and expansion, as Taft’s defeat meant the end of any meaningful right wing foreign policy based on realism and restraint. It is not wholly outrageous that the spectre of the menacing USSR caused Americans of all stripes to adopt a utilitarian approach to the Cold War, ditching principle and tradition in the name of security from existential annihilation. After 70 years of this approach, is it not sensible to reflect and consider an alternative strategy?

Every time Rand Paul attempts to enunciate his foreign policy, one or two neoconservatives affiliated or aligned with the last Bush administration lashes out with a vicious, often unhinged diatribe against the Senator and his supposed “isolationism.” That Jennifer Rubin is Queen of The Demagogues, let there be no doubt. But Michael Gerson, Pete Wehner, Bill Kristol, Bret Stephens, David Frum, Stephen Hayes, Jonathan Tobin, David Adesnik and Elliott Abrams (and more!) also love to fling “isolationism” around with the same justification that progressives have when shouting “science!” No Valerie Jarrett style enemies’ lists here, just an objective identification of the culprits behind what is an orchestrated, dishonest smear campaign against someone with whom they disagree. That kind of behavior deserves to be called out and evidence is easy to find because, like clockwork, a new hit piece is guaranteed almost every day.

Today’s entry comes from John Yoo, the lead legal apologist for every last ounce of executive abuse and expansion undertaken by President Bush, where he says “Congress enacted in 2001 an authorization to use force against any group connected to those who carried out the 9/11 attacks. If the Islamic State is linked to the al-Qaeda terrorist network, as it appears to be (though this depends on the facts), they fall within the AUMF.” He goes on to belittle Paul and suggest he should remain in the Senate and should never be President. The tone of the piece is desperate and angry. The substance is even worse. Is anyone else flabbergasted that we have an impenetrable elite bipartisan consensus in Washington surrounding the AUMF’s authorization of force? The document from thirteen years ago which had nothing to do with third-generation offshoots of Al Qaeda but actually and explicitly only pertained to… Al Qaeda?  I really shake my head when I read the WSJ or some other reputable conservative outlet make this case; that the resolution we passed in the wake of 9/11 somehow relates to today. I understand their argument about asymmetric warfare and how “we don’t get to decide” when the war is over and all that. Yes, yes. But it is categorically not too much to ask that we fight this interminably long war by adhering to our standards and our rules. And I don’t care how Orwellian the foreign policy fetishists on the right go in their zeal to convince me that 2+2 = 5, I can never be convinced that Article II of the Constitution is more important than Article I.

The looming big debate over foreign policy will be a lot more productive and enlightening if it is conducted with civility and forthrightness. Unfortunately, the opponents of any reevaluation of the status quo have signaled that they have zero intention to play nice with Rand Paul. They genuinely hate his father, and are projecting their worst fever dream scenarios onto Rand and insisting all will be lost and the locusts shall plague us should the man who believes in the Constitution and separation of powers come to be Commander-in-Chief.

Below is my response to John Yoo and his fellow travelers in the conservative movement, based on an advanced reading of George Will’s column tomorrow, which I posted in the comments of his piece at National Review Online.


George Will has a column tomorrow (available online now) headlined “Rethinking US Foreign Policy” in which he tiptoes close to endorsing Rand Paul’s position without actually doing so. But he does offer this for Mr. Yoo to consider:

“The 2003 invasion of Iraq, the worst foreign policy decision in U.S. history, coincided with mission creep (“nation building”) in Afghanistan. Both strengthened what can be called the Republicans’ John Quincy Adams faction: “[America] goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.”

The Wilsonian-Bush approach to foreign policy is past its sell-by date, and the level of unhinged vitriol spewing from establishment (mostly from the Bush cabinet) organs towards Rand Paul is evidence of this. Any wonder why the factions currently losing the argument screech and squeal the loudest? Just look at the progressive left right now. But the fervor with which the Bush people have tried to knock down Rand Paul (and have so far failed at every turn) speaks to how cornered they feel. They wish that everyone would shut up and be scared of Islamists to the point that we forget the follies of their agenda and just blame Obama enough that the Bush Boys over at Commentary get to waltz back into power like nothing’s changed.

There wasn’t supposed to be an articulate voice against the uber-interventionists while Obama was in office. To their eternal chagrin, Rand shows up and starts moving people and changing the debate. No doubt George Will gets some stern emails for having the gall to give Rand a hearing before writing him off based on lame, hysterical arguments such as Yoo’s.