Matt Lewis

Another autopsy: Conservatives discover war is hell

Ten years ago today (according to the time stamp, at least), David Frum penned his “Unpatriotic Conservatives” column at National Review.

In that infamous piece, Frum alleged that antiwar conservatives (among the most notable, Pat Buchanan and Bob Novak),

“…made common cause with the left-wing and Islamist antiwar movements in this country and in Europe. They deny and excuse terror. They espouse a potentially self-fulfilling defeatism. They publicize wild conspiracy theories. And some of them explicitly yearn for the victory of their nation’s enemies.”

A decade later, the views of antiwar conservatives are much more in vogue. ┬áBut though anti-interventionist conservatives are more respected today (thanks, in large part, to the rise of Sen. Rand Paul), they still constitute a decided minority — at least, within the corridors of conservative power.

Today, media elites are performing a sort of autopsy on the Iraq war — and their coverage of it. Coincidentally, yesterday, the RNC performed a similar internal autopsy. But their recommendations for fixing the party (better outreach, better technology, etc.) didn’t address a primary reason George W. Bush’s presidency collapsed (paving the way for Barack Obama to defeat Hillary Clinton, and then win the presidency): The War.

This is not to say the decision to invade Iraq was right or wrong (Republicans and Democrats agreed about WMDs), but it is to say that there is little doubt it set in motion the collapse of Bush’s presidency, and the GOP’s image of competence, along with it.

Electoral consequences aside — and whether the Party cares, or not — conservatives today increasingly realize that while it is vital for America to have a strong national defense capable of protecting our way of life, the nature of war, itself, is decidedly un-conservative.

Yesterday, I wrote about the theory that more people equals more ideas and more prosperity. If you believe that population is destiny, then it stands to reason that wars are a problem. Would France and England be stronger nations today had they not been ravaged by two World Wars in the 20th century?

Of course, you might argue that today’s wars don’t require as many boots on the ground. Fair enough. This brings me to another problem with war — highlighted during the recent drone debate: War always gives big government more and more power to usurp liberty under the guise of security.

This is especially true of perpetual war. Orwell knew this, so should we.

Lastly, cultural conservatives today are more conscious of the negative impacts of war. Even back home, way from the bullets and rockets, war destroys lives, families, and communities. Look at the divorce rates and suicide rates. It takes an almost incalculable toll on children.

This backlash can go too far, of course. America must not become isolationist. We must not bury our heads in the sand and turn inward. America must remain a beacon of hope. There are times to take up arms. But I take it as a good sign that conservatives are increasingly skeptical of war.