foreignMy post (American Imposed Regime Change), and those by John Willson (War for Libyan Oil) and Brad Birzer (The Unconstitutional President) have generated some interesting discussions. In the post below I summarize my criticism of the “War Party” position and expand on my view of a conservative American foreign policy approach. Every conservative concerned about American foreign policy should read Foreign Policy for Conservatives on this site. This brilliant description of a conservative foreign policy is excerpted from Russell Kirk’s book The Political Principles of Robert A. Taft. It deserves to be spread, far and wide, by the Imaginative Conservative community via emails to friends, Facebook, Twitter and all available methods of distribution.

Those who wish to use the American military to effect regime change in foreign lands are sensitive to terms like “war party.” They say this is an exaggeration of their position. Poppycock. Let’s go ahead and add “interventionist” and “lover of foreign adventure” for good measure. They do not like it because it accurately describes their approach to using the military might of the American Republic. They are open to spending American blood and treasure whenever they feel that people in a foreign country are “oppressed” or their leader is a “tyrant” or “dictator.”

They regard the $1,300,000,000,000 spent on Iraq and Afghanistan (spent so far, above and beyond normal military spending) as worth it relative to the amount of money the U.S. government spends annually. And they seem to feel that our dead (over 6,000) and wounded (over 33,000) soldiers from those wars are just an unfortunate price of spreading “democracy” across the globe. Well, I am an American. My primary concern, and responsibility, is for American interests, American soldiers and American citizens. I am not a citizen of the “world.” That term has no meaning in this context of relations between nations and war.

They throw around the term “isolationism.” None of us (Birzer, Willson, Elliott) writing on this topic on The Imaginative Conservative have advocated “isolationist” positions. The “interventionists” advocate using the U.S. war machine to bring about regime change when they deem it necessary to oust foreign leaders/dictators they deem oppressive. I am comfortable calling this a “war party” position. I will also call it what it is, lunacy.

Before they start calling me an “isolationist” again let me state my position clearly (as I have before on this site). I don’t believe in “isolationism.” However, I do believe that prudence demands we count the costs of our actions, especially so that we learn from the past and may make better decisions in the future. Certainly 6,000 U.S. dead, 33,000 wounded, and $1.3 trillion is a very high cost indeed. 
Is it not legitimate to ask was it worth it?

Should we have stayed in Afghanistan for almost 10 years after we destroyed the terrorist training camps we went there for? Are we so much more enamored with the new political structure in Iraq (voting followed by chaos and violence) over the old system (dictatorship followed by repression and violence)? 

Is it truly a conservative position to go beyond punishing the terrorists, and destroying their camps, with a 10 year attempt to remake Afghan political culture in our own image? This has all the signs of going from justified military action to hubris on a grand scale.

Russell Kirk and Robert Nisbet, and other notable conservatives, have expressed great concern that centralization and militarization have been the greatest threats to preservation of the principles of the American Republic. They were not isolationists. They were true patriots who wished to guard against taking actions to destroy the enemy that may simultaneously lead to undermining the ordered liberty we claim to fight to preserve.

I am for taking military action against those that clear evidence indicates threaten the safety of our Republic and its citizens. But, does this necessitate a permanent military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan? How about Germany, South Korea and Japan? Is there no end to this? If not, I fear that we must (as Brad Birzer has suggested on this site) admit that the Republic is lost and that we fight to defend a democratic empire. 

My policy is to act upon American security interests, not a policy that makes us feel good by replacing foreign dictators with a “whatever replaces them will probably be better” policy. And regarding situations where foreign enemies threaten the United States my policy is simple: I say kill the enemy and come home. Don’t move into his house and call it defense.

What about Afghanistan where terrorists were training to attack Americans? It was necessary to go in and take out the terrorists training camps and to make clear to the government of the country we would not tolerate them harboring terrorists. But, did this necessitate moving in for the next 10 years? I say no. Nation building in the Middle East is not a conservative approach. It is radical and expensive. Not to mention deadly.

Will the interventionists admit that the militarization of the Republic is a bad thing and that wars in two foreign nations simultaneously, for a decade, have massively increased the power of the national government? Must we wage war in, and establish permanent military bases in, every nation where dictators oppress their citizens? Is this the work of a republic or an empire? Every empire had humanitarian or security reasons, to go along with economic ones, to justify permanent military occupation.

I will say this again. When the real interests of Americans are threatened then to use military force is permitted. Kill those who plan to kill us. Destroy their bases. When necessary, go back and do it again. That is prudent application of military force against the enemy. It is not pacifism or isolationism. 

Don’t occupy foreign nations for decades, longer than WWI and WWII combined. This is foolishness. And it is not conservative.

Lastly I say this to those who wish to send American soldiers and pilots into battle to implement regime change in foreign nations when the national interests of our nation are not directly threatened: my son is a combat arms officer in the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division. I take the use of military force very seriously and I take it personally. I accept a policy that may end up getting my son wounded or killed (I pray this does not happen) in order to defend our nation. I despise the idea of him paying such a price for a plan for “democracy in the Middle East.” Perhaps if more of the interventionists had a personal stake in these wars, that they often treat like a game of “Let’s Oust the Dictator,” then they would give the costs of war serious attention. Our young warriors, and the future generations of Americans who will be handed the bill for today’s wars, deserve to be given great consideration in this debate.

All I ask for, beg for, is a prudent use of our military. Never one drop of blood for an American empire. Kill our enemies, destroy their bases and bring our boys home. I believe it is conservative to choose protecting American lives over a goal of changing the culture and politics of foreign nations.

Books mentioned in this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.

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