As of this writing, talk radio giant Rush Limbaugh’s poor use of language toward a young woman — he called her a “slut” and a “prostitute” — continues to cause problems for the host and his advertisers. But there was something Rush said the week before that I found far more interesting. When American soldiers were killed in Afghanistan as retaliation for an accidental Quran burning earlier this month, Limbaugh asked, “It’s gotten to the point: Why are we there? If this is the end result of us being there, let’s get these people out, bring them home and the hell with the place over there.”
Was Limbaugh suggesting that America adopt an “isolationist” foreign policy? Was he saying we should “cut and run” in Afghanistan? No, Rush was reasonably asking why we’re still there. Now compare this to what Limbaugh said two years ago during an interview on Fox News: “The thing that bothers me about this is that we’re there, whether we should have done or what we’ve done here or for is now irrelevant. There’s only one thing to do: win. You know, ‘What about Afghanistan?’ Easy. We win, they lose.”
Today, few Americans, including Limbaugh, believe in an easy victory in Afghanistan. Today, Rush and his fellow Americans don’t think questioning our continued presence there is irrelevant.
I first became a conservative listening to Rush Limbaugh as a teenager. In the two decades since, I’ve come to learn that foreign policy is the one issue where most conservatives tend to be the least conservative. Conservative behavior on foreign policy is similar to liberal behavior on domestic policy. If liberals refuse to admit that welfare spending has made the problem of poverty worse, conservatives will never say that our constant interventions overseas have made the problem of anti-American terrorism even worse. Liberals believe we will finally end poverty if we spend more money. Conservatives believe we will finally end terrorism if we only wage more wars.
Asking questions of one’s government used to be a primary function of conservatives, but on foreign policy, conservatives have more often decided to demonize anyone who dares question our government. Conservatives who now question our reasons for staying in Afghanistan are absolutely correct; the problem is their timing. Many on the Left and Right began questioning our presence in Afghanistan well before the war reached its 10-year anniversary. Many have asked what “victory” America hoped to achieve. Many have long wondered whether there was a real “victory” we ever could achieve.
Conservatives are finally questioning Afghanistan because it has become painfully obvious that we’re stuck in a quagmire. But wasn’t this always the case? If we had entertained more questions about the wisdom of nation-building, the limits of democracy in the Middle East, and the impossible task we were asking of our soldiers, could we have avoided our current dilemma? Cost-benefit analyses are inherently conservative. Spending lives and dollars for no good reason is not.
Rush is right to ask, “Why are we there?” He is absolutely correct to state unequivocally, “If this is the end result of us being there, let’s get these people out, bring them home, and the hell with the place over there.”
Saying “to hell with the place” is not “isolationism.” It’s rational. Saying “bring them home” is not “cutting and running.” It’s salvaging and saving. If Rush and others would have asked these questions sooner, there might not have been a need to ask them now.
If we’re going to put our best and bravest in harm’s way, Americans should always make sure it’s for a damn good reason. There’s nothing patriotic about carelessly sending our troops around the globe for just any old reason — and there’s certainly nothing conservative about it.
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