I am not a libertarian. Though I am sympathetic to many libertarian views and believe its current popularity is pushing the GOP in a more limited-government direction, I have long considered myself simply a traditional conservative.
Philosopher and author Russell Kirk had a less sympathetic view of libertarians, once describing them as “chirping sectaries” whose philosophy was incompatible with true conservatism. Still, discovering Kirk’s groundbreaking 1953 book The Conservative Mind at an early age was a significant influence on my political identity. The same has been true for generations of conservatives. As William F. Buckley once wrote, “It is inconceivable even to imagine, let alone hope for, a dominant conservative movement in America without [Kirk’s] labor.”
In the edition of the Charleston City Paper that coincided with the 10th anniversary of 9/11, some took issue with my explanation that it was “blowback” — a term invented by the CIA to describe the unforeseen and unintended consequences of foreign intervention — that primarily motivated the attacks. Many of those who took issue were conservatives.
The 9/11 Commission Report lists blowback as a primary cause of the attacks. So did Osama bin Laden, who cited American foreign policy as a primary reason for radical Islamic outrage.
And so did Russell Kirk. In a 1991 speech to the Heritage Foundation, Kirk called President George H.W. Bush’s Operation Desert Storm “a radical course of intervention in the region of the Persian Gulf.” Kirk chastised Bush for “carpet-bombing the Cradle of Civilization as no country ever had been bombed before.”
Kirk also questioned the practical wisdom of such interventions: “Now indubitably Saddam Hussein is unrighteous … Are we to saturation-bomb most of Africa and Asia into righteousness, freedom, and democracy? And, having accomplished that, however would we ensure persons yet more unrighteous might not rise up instead of the ogres we had swept away?”
What Kirk suggests here is an integral part of blowback theory — that America’s allies can quickly become tomorrow’s enemies and vice versa. We saw this most recently with the ousting of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, a fairly recent ally. In fact, just two years ago Republican hawks like Sen. John McCain were trying to funnel American weapons and military aid to Gaddafi. It is now being reported that the victorious Libyan rebels President Barack Obama aided and that McCain praised as “freedom fighters” might be some of the same Islamic terrorists we are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In the 1980s, America’s support for freedom fighters in Afghanistan seemed like a reasonable policy in order to undermine the Soviet Union and their presence in that country. President Ronald Reagan even invited these Afghani fighters to the White House and compared them to our own Founding Fathers. But in the years that followed, the United States would come to know these “freedom fighters” by a different name: the Taliban.
Our wisest military decision after 9/11 was to go after the Taliban in Afghanistan. There was a clear link between those who attacked us and those who harbored them. Why we are in Afghanistan a full decade later is an entirely different question, and many Americans rightly continue to ask it.
But is it wrong to ask questions about the chain of events that brought us into Afghanistan in the first place? Is it unpatriotic to reconsider our foreign policy and examine whether it makes us more safe or less? Was Kirk “blaming America” when he warned the audience at Heritage: “We must expect to suffer during a very long period of widespread hostility toward the United States — even, or perhaps especially, from the people of certain states that America bribed or bullied into combining against Iraq. In Egypt, in Syria, in Pakistan, in Algeria, in Morocco, in all of the world of Islam, the masses now regard the United States as their arrogant adversary.”
Kirk died in 1994. Yet a full decade before it occurred, some might say he predicted 9/11.
Some have tried to marginalize my blowback explanation for 9/11 and my foreign policy views in general as “leftist.” When this hasn’t worked, some have resorted to trying to portray these views as somehow exclusively libertarian.
But no one considers Kirk a leftist or a libertarian. I don’t know anyone who would dispute Kirk’s role as one of the most important figures of the post-war American right. And yet my own foreign policy views differ little from this conservative giant.
Kirk warned, “For now, in every continent, the United States is resented increasingly as the last and most formidable of imperial systems.” This was Russell Kirk’s opinion in 1991. Ten years after 9/11, we do ourselves a disservice when we refuse to consider — and ignore the implications — of how the world views us today.
Jack Hunter is the official campaign blogger for GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul, and he co-wrote Rand Paul’s The Tea Party Goes to Washington. You can hear Southern Avenger commentaries on The Morning Buzz with Richard Todd on 1250 WTMA.