Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Containment Conservatives

We are seeing a small number of well known conservatives promoting a limited involvement, containment approach to national defense.

George Will's recent hand wringing in his national column and on ABC's This Week has focused on the disastrous effect of the US proactive stance in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Still, it is not perverse to wonder whether the spectacle of America, currently learning a lesson -- one that conservatives should not have to learn on the job -- about the limits of power to subdue an unruly world, has emboldened many enemies.
[emphasis mine]

Hmm. Use of power, if it is not followed by immediate success, emboldens enemies. Possibly. But, as Neville Chamberlain and the rest of the world sadly learned in WWII, not using power emboldens them even more.

What's really strange is Will's prescription for better success: containment.

"Why wait?" Perhaps because the U.S. military has enough on its plate in the deteriorating wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, which both border Iran. And perhaps because containment, although of uncertain success, did work against Stalin and his successors, and might be preferable to a war against a nation much larger and more formidable than Iraq.
[emphasis mine]

Did "containment" rather than warring work with the Soviet Union and its allies?

Not for poor Poland, Hungary, Romania, Czechoslovakia, and Bulgaria.

Not for Viet Nam.

Not even for Korea--as the families of 54,000 American casualties can attest.

Actually containment only works if you are willing to go to war and sustain lots of casualties. Even though the US lost in Viet Nam, due to a containment and limited response strategy that conservatives used to excoriate, its willingness to lose almost 150,000 American lives in the Korean and Viet Nam conflicts showed that there was some real backbone in the "paper tiger". Without the will behind those losses "containment" would have been a dead letter.

George at Alamo Nation takes Will on and point by point shows the flaws in Will's analysis. It's a must read.

The question remains: Why are a few high profile conservatives taking stances (like Will's counsel to use "containment") they used to fight against tooth and nail?

Hugh Hewitt's answer is that they have had their egos bruised because the White House has not asked their opinion recently.

So what occasioned the turning from advocates of force to proponents of appeasement?

Quite simply their hatred of Bush overwhelmed their understanding of the world. What is the source of that hatred?


In attempting to tell us what drives Bush, Chait is in fact revealing what it is that drives the former supporters of the war turned defeatists and the increasingly frenzied denouncers from respectable perches like the big papers, the Council, and the weeklies: They feel disdained.


Part of the Bush hatred is simply resentment at the exclusion from the councils of war.

If this is true, it's a sad commentary that supposedly responsible commentators would put their own egos above the national interest.

My own view is that George Will, Pat Buchanan and others are exhausted in spirit and intellectually. They fought a long, bitter fight against containment and appeasement policies being applied to the Communist bloc. They were despised as unrealistic and promoters of a nuclear holocaust.

Then, President Reagan followed their advice and kept upping the ante in the Cold War instead of following an equal force strategy. And, the Soviet Union collapsed--without a war--without more casualties. They thought their work was done. They could be good guys now and not have to promote tough policies, hard decisions, and the sacrifices and casualties that usually come when there is a serious threat.

Added to that is a new dimension in political strategy--the power of small states and even small groups to threaten the world via weapons of mass destruction. This is not a threat to take over and dominate the world as with the Nazis or the Soviet Empire. Not a threat that having the biggest and best armies can solve.

These conservatives have had trouble dealing with the new realities. That's why I think they are joining with the Left. The Left had trouble dealing with the old realities and had come up with appeasement/containment as the safest way to deal with the Communist bloc with the fewest upfront risks.

If your goal is to take the fewest risks possible, containment is a good plan. But, if your goal is to defend your life and liberty and the lives and liberty of those you love, risks are unavoidable. It's a bitter pill for the Containment Conservatives to swallow.


Dan said...

Agreed Terrence. Will, and his ilk, have forgotten the "strength" part of "peace through strength." While the old guard may hold us in contempt, it will be the "neocons" that preserve peace and other conservative values in the future.

terrance said...


Looks like you're right. I don't care if people are called neocons or what. If they are strong on defense, they are my kind of conservative.

I think it was Bill Kristol on Hugh Hewitt's Friday show who pointed out how ludicrous that some of these conservative commentators seem to think they can pick and choose the issues and places where they will be involved. Unfortunately, real life doesn't work that way. Especially the war on terror.

Thanks for the comment.