December 4, 2002

The root causes of conservative bellicosity

By: Timothy P. Carney

Clearly, the mouthpieces of the conservative movement are the cheerleaders for the imminent war with Iraq. There are reasons for this pervasive bellicosity on the right, but those reasons are not found in the philosophical principles of conservatism.

In my Doublethink article last month and the war debate at last week’s AFF roundtable, I tried to spell out the dangers of war from a conservative perspective. The three strongest conservative arguments against attacking Iraq are based in a respect for human life, and opposition to increased government and the rejection of the liberal hubris of central planning.

But before I can expect any conservative to join me on the side of peace and restraint, I need to address why so many conservatives are behind Paul Wolfowitz’s war.

The justifications and purpose for this war change day-to-day if you listen to pundits and watch Ari Fleischer and President Bush. They include regime change, enforcing UN resolutions and continuing the war on terror, but they certainly do not end there.

Beneath this ever-changing official line, for many conservatives–especially young ones like me–are a few reasons that are more visceral. We often don’t care what the justification is of bombs over Baghdad, because in our heart, we “know” it’s right.

But coming to grips with these instinctive–and ultimately irrational–motivations for supporting war often opens one’s mind to the conservative case for peace. Below are the three emotional reactions I had to wrestle with before confronting rationally the issue of war:

1. Leftist Peaceniks are Morons.

I was ready to enlist in the Army and ask to be sent overseas to go after Saddam Hussein this April when I wandered around the national mall and talked with the vacuous leftist anti-war protestors. Their arguments against the war were faulty at best, treasonous at worst.

They called themselves “anti-globalists” while calling for a greater UN role in world affairs. They defended Castro and Hussein and tyrannical Muslim regimes while accusing the U.S. of human rights violations for not fully funding abortion on demand and mandating equal pay for equal work.

The closest thing to a coherent political principle for many (though not all) of these protestors was a deep-seated hatred of the United States. For some protestors and many leftist politicians, the motivating factor was far less insidious and far more petty: hatred of Republican President George W. Bush.

First, the most vocal protestors are not even the best face of the left’s antiwar crusaders. There are some leftist arguments against war that follow validly from honest political principles (including social justice and deficit reduction), even if we don’t share those principles or priorities.

Second, and far more saliently, the left’s arguments on war should not matter at all to conservatives. A stopped clock, as they say, is right twice a day. Many liberals oppose cloning, the faith-based initiative and corporate welfare, and their opposition makes those things no less dangerous.

2. I Saw Red Dawn. War is cool. Let’s Roll!!!

War, like a linebacker delivering a devastating hit to a poor Dallas Cowboys receiver, gets any red-blooded American juiced up. You can’t help but pump your fists at that part of the movie where the dude pops up from the covered hole in the ground and starts gunning down the commie bastards.

CNN became cool when we got to watch those smart bombs going down air ducts during the Gulf War; remember the Wayne’s World Skit:


“Who’s there?”




So yeah, at first glance it seems that any John Wayne-watching, red-meat-eating, Top Gun-memorizing American guy should be eagerly awaiting Bombs over Baghdad II. But a closer look shows a different picture.

The two most common drives for war with Iraq are concern for U.S. security or a desire to depose a corrupt tyrant and change the face of the Middle East. In other words, the war party is comprised of insecure folk and meddling central planners.

The alternate view of this country was offered by a recent former President: the shining city on the hill. If the city on the hill changes its neighbors, it is by example. The other towns grow envious of the city, which hides no light under a bushel, and desire to emulate it. We still are that city. We do not need to stick our hand into everyone else’s business.

The neo-realists and neocons both want to reshape the Middle East, either for some idealistic crusade of “spreading democracy” or in order to form the world in the way that most secures our national interest.

These missions both bring to mind the Onion. headline, “Self-Helped Woman Refuses to Stop at Self.” The interventionists are your annoying aunt who acts as if she is so certain she has the solution to life problems that she needs to tell everyone how to live. In truth–and this is the underlying humor of the Onion joke–we know the self-helped woman is not really helped at all. It is an insecurity and pusillanimity that drives meddlers to poke their noses into others’ business.

Finally, it is not as if we are devoid of real enemies. North Korea and China are both far advanced of Iraq in developing weapons of mass destruction and neither have pulled their punches in badmouthing the U.S.

3. I Support Bush.

A third inadequate reason to support the war is a love for our Republican–and fairly conservative–President.

As conservatives and libertarians, our job is not to prop up the President, but to push him right. We are on his team. It is people like us whom he’ll listen to. We can question and criticize the war without attacking Bush at all. We should be the Gadfly that prods Bush to a foreign policy that carries Reagan’s city on the hill into the post-Cold War era: a foreign policy based on a respect for all life, supreme confidence in the U.S.’s moral superiority in the world, and allegiance to George Washington’s warnings on entangling alliances–not a foreign policy based on disdain for hippies, thirst for blood and party loyalty.