Con­ser­va­tives on na­tional se­cu­rity: Just right

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary -

Con­ser­va­tive for­eign and na­tional-se­cu­rity poli­cies do not need re­mak­ing, rebranding or remes­sag­ing. They need not be es­corted by pre­fixes or ad­jec­tives, nor do they need “mod­er­at­ing.”

Con­ser­va­tive for­eign pol­icy is un­abashedly pro-Amer­i­can, unashamed of Amer­i­can ex­cep­tion­al­ism, un­will­ing to bend its knee to in­ter­na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tions, and un­apolo­getic about the need for the fullest range of dom­i­nant mil­i­tary ca­pa­bil­i­ties. Its diplo­macy is nei­ther uni­lat­er­al­ist nor mul­ti­lat­er­al­ist, but chooses its strate­gies, tac­tics, means and meth­ods based on a hard-headed as­sess­ment of U.S. na­tional in­ter­ests, not on the­olo­gies about process. Most es­pe­cially, con­ser­va­tives un­der­stand that al­lies are dif­fer­ent from ad­ver­saries, and that each should be treated ac­cord­ingly.

Th­ese sen­ti­ments bear re­peat­ing be­cause the fun­da­men­tal prin­ci­ples un­der­ly­ing con­ser­va­tive for­eign and na­tional-se­cu­rity pol­icy have never been stronger, and the con­se­quences of de­vi­at­ing from them have rarely been so clear. The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s first few months al­ready pro­vide com­pelling ev­i­dence of the enor­mous costs of em­brac­ing the al­ter­na­tive world­view of the Euro­pean and Amer­i­can left. Of course, that was equally true when the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion all-too-fre­quently de­vi­ated from con­ser­va­tive pre­cepts, es­pe­cially in its fail­ure-rid­den sec­ondterm. In many ways, un­for­tu­nately, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion is a con­tin­u­a­tion of the sec­ond Bush term, only worse.

For­mer Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush’s mis­takes re­sulted from sleep-walk­ing away from con­ser­va­tive val­ues, whereas Pres­i­dent Obama openly re­pu­di­ates them, both be­liev­ing in and fully un­der­stand­ing what he is do­ing. Ac­cord­ingly, con­ser­va­tives need en­gage in no “ag­o­niz­ing reap­praisals” of their fun­da­men­tal views. They need to ad­just to be­ing in op­po­si­tion, but that is the purest kind of op­por­tu­nity, not a bur­den. Mr. Obama’s weary­ing and un­pres­i­den­tial re­frain of blam­ing his pre­de­ces­sor is im­plic­itly a trap, an ef­fort to en­tice us to re­flex­ively de­fend the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion. In­stead, we should forthrightly ex­plain where Mr. Bush went wrong, when he did, re­pu­di­at­ing his er­rors as cheer­ily as Mr. Obama does, and then, agree­ably to con­ser­va­tive prin­ci­ples, just as cheer­ily cri­tiquing Mr. Obama’s even more egre­gious mis­takes.

De­fend­ing U.S. in­ter­ests is nei­ther ar­ro­gant nor dis­re­spect­ful of oth­ers, but is in­stead the ba­sic task of our pres­i­dents. De­spite the 2008 elec­tion, nei­ther the pro­lif­er­a­tion of weapons of mass de­struc­tion, nor in­ter­na­tional ter­ror­ism, nor the chal­lenges of geostrate­gic ad­ver­saries have in any way di­min­ished.

Over­seas “apol­ogy tours,” pub­lic dis­plays of em­pa­thy and invit­ing the likes of Iran to Fourth of July re­cep­tions at our em­bassies will not al­ter th­ese un­der­ly­ing re­al­i­ties. Nor will re­duc­ing na­tional-se­cu­rity bud­gets on such key items as mis­sile de­fense and ad­vanced weapons sys­tems (while dra­mat­i­cally in­creas­ing un­nec­es­sary and in­evitably in­fla­tion­ary do­mes­tic spending) make our ad­ver­saries more amenable to sweet rea­son. Sadly, such gra­tu­itous in­di­ca­tions of self-doubt and weak­ness only en­cour­age the very ad­ver­saries whose fa­vor we are cur­ry­ing.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion finds it­self sur­prised al­most daily by, among other things:

The re­cal­ci­trant and un­yield­ing regime in North Korea, test­ing its nu­clear weapons and bal­lis­tic mis­siles.

Iran’s per­sis­tence in pur­su­ing pre­cisely the same weapons pro­grams, as well as con­tin­u­ing its ac­tiv­i­ties as the world’s cen­tral banker for ter­ror­ism.

Ha­mas’ con­tin­ued re­fusal to re­nounce ter­ror­ism, ac­knowl­edge the state of Is­rael’s exis- tence and abide by prior Mid­dle East agree­ments (which is hardly sur­pris­ing, given that do­ing so would re­quire Ha­mas to re­pu­di­ate the fun­da­men­tal prin­ci­ples on which it was founded).

Rus­sia’s con­tin­ued bel­liger­ent at­ti­tude to­ward for­mer ter­ri­to­ries of the Soviet Union and Moscow’s gen­er­ally un­help­ful at­ti­tude in deal­ing with North Korea, Iran, the Mid­dle East and count­less other prob­lems.

Con­ser­va­tives un­der­stand that th­ese and nu­mer­ous other threats are not anom­alies in an oth­er­wise peace­ful and friendly world, but man­i­fes­ta­tions of the in­evitable in­ter­na­tional clash of in­ter­ests and philoso­phies. Con­flict with our in­ter­est and val­ues is not some un­for­tu­nate ex­cep­tion to nor­mal­ity, it is nor­mal­ity. While har­mony is de­sir­able, it is far from in­evitable, and the causes of dishar­mony are just as nat­u­ral and hu­man as their op­po­sites.

Un­der­stand­ing the Hobbe­sian na­ture of in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions fun­da­men­tally grounds con­ser­va­tive for­eign pol­icy in re­al­ity. In par­tic­u­lar, con­ser­va­tives re­ject the idea that Amer­ica’s ac­tions are the foun­da­tion for most in­ter­na­tional dis­cord, and that it is our de­vi­a­tion from in­ter­na­tional “norms” that must be “cor­rected” for the nat­u­ral state of har­mony to re­turn.

To the con­trary, in the last cen­tury, Amer­ica has re­peat­edly sought to solve prob­lems oth­ers have cre­ated, but which risk our own se­cu­rity. Left to our­selves, we would have been more than happy for the oth­ers to solve their own prob­lems. That op­tion, how­ever, has not been open to us for quite some time, nor will it re­turn in the fore­see­able fu­ture, if ever.

The fu­ture of con­ser­va­tive na­tional-se­cu­rity pol­icy thus looks very much like its past, and, as in the past, will in­clude con­sid­er­able healthy de­bate among con­ser­va­tives over con­crete ap­pli­ca­tion of their prin­ci­ples. This is as it should be, both as sound phi­los­o­phy and also be­cause it makes for good do­mes­tic pol­i­tics. The Amer­i­can peo­ple ac­tu­ally ex­pect to be de­fended against in­ter­na­tional threats and ad­ver­saries, and they will un­doubt­edly pun­ish any Amer­i­can pres­i­dent who does not un­der­stand and im­ple­ment their strong and en­tirely jus­ti­fi­able views. That is why we may well see the fu­ture of con­ser­va­tive for­eign pol­icy bloom as early as 2012.

John R. Bolton, a for­mer U.S. am­bas­sador to the United Na­tions, is a se­nior fel­low at the Amer­i­can En­ter­prise In­sti­tute.

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