For eight long years under George W. Bush, conservatives endorsed a don’t ask, don’t tell foreign policy—they did not really ask why their country was at war and Republican leaders did not tell, or bother, Americans with any of the gory details. Missions were accomplished, we fought them over there so we didn’t have to fight them here and troops were supported by simply supporting the wars they fought, with little to no dissent. But why were we fighting? What was “victory?” How many had to die? What was the cost? Conservatives did not ask-Republican politicians did not tell.
But some Republicans are finally asking. Regarding President Obama’s decision to escalate the war in Afghanistan, columnist Reihan Salam writes: “Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Republican known for his independent streak, has made a conservative case for withdrawal.”
“Our military is not a defensive force for rough neighborhoods around the world. They are trained to be an offensive, mission-driven military force to protect the United States of America. They are not trained to be nation builders or policemen… If our mission in Afghanistan is simply to protect the populace and build the nation, then I believe the time has come to bring our troops home.”
Is Chaffetz’s position on Afghanistan a sign of things to come? Salam thinks so, writing: “my guess is that by the 2010 congressional elections, dozens of Republican candidates will be doing the same across the country.”
We can only hope. As a conservative, I have long found it perplexing that to a large extent the American Right has been defined by its enthusiasm for going to war virtually anywhere, for virtually any reason and often for no good reason.
The notion of defending one’s country is something patriots of all political stripes can subscribe to. But that every military action our government commits to should automatically be considered righteous and unassailable is a bizarre position for conservatives, given their natural distrust of government in every other sphere. The Wilsonian idea of “making the world safe for democracy” has never been the language of hard-headed conservative realists, but maniacal ideologues, and yet the liberal dispensation and celebration of such utopian rhetoric by the last Republican president, his party and most self-described conservatives, left the Right a confused mess.