After I posted Ron Paul, Occupiers, and Rasmussen, there was an interesting development which took place. Our friend CL of The Classical Liberal blog offered a riposte in support of Ron Paul’s anti-war sentiment. This led to an interesting offer from CL to me. That was a discussion over the small but growing anti-war Right versus the archetypal conservative hawk mentality. I couldn’t resist CL’s thoughtful offer.
In terms of framing the discussion it is vital to understand the development and components of both sides in a historical context, opinion aside.
It can be argued that the rudimentary basis for the American Right’s national security policies–and contemporary foreign policy–have been greatly influenced by Woodrow Wilson’s concept of “American Fundamentalism.” Simplistically explained, this is the tendency to believe that American truth and order is the universal truth and order, the epoch of civilization and development. Applying this to the foreign policy means that Wilsonian orthodoxy is a “crusading doctrine” whose goals are aimed at the unconditional elimination of rogue and criminal states which break from or threaten this order as it is defined by American politics and culture. Among policy makers and political leaders this was the main frame of thought which governed American foreign policy and affairs for many years.
After the conclusion of World War II the United States population was war weary–rightfully so–and was willingly resigned to a more passive way of life and development. However, as is widely known, with the advent of communist Russia and its intent on spreading Marxist philosophy through out the world invariably changed that. In 1947, then President Harry Truman in a speech delivered to a joint session of Congress argued for financial and economic aid to democratic government of Greece in their fight against communist rebels, giving rise to the Truman Doctrine. With the withdrawal of British military and economic aid to Greeks, the apparent Soviet meddling in Greek and Turkish affairs, and the general deterioration of relations with between the Soviet Union and United States, Truman singlehandedly “reoriented U.S. foreign policy, away from its usual stance of withdrawal from regional conflicts not directly involving the United States, to one of possible intervention in far away conflicts.” The Truman Doctrine became the cornerstone of American foreign policy and engagement throughout much of the Cold War.
Nevertheless, during much of the Cold War, the differences in approach to foreign policy between the Left and the Right were muted. It was widely considered amongst policy makers that not only did the United States have the moral clarity to engage or contain the threat of Soviet expansionism, but possessed the moral obligation to do so. It was not until Vietnam did the homogenous thought between conservatives and liberals start to diverge. Former Nixon Secretary of State, Henry A. Kissinger, formulated an approach which is now known as “realism.” He pursued a middle ground between liberal “peace on whatever terms were available” and the Wilsonian concept of “bringing about a global moral order through the direct application of America’s political values undiluted by compromises.” This was later challenged by the Reaganite vision of foreign policy which opposed Kissingerian détente and containment by directly engaging the Soviet Union; militarily, economically, and ideologically.
After the latter’s success yielded unparalleled results the world once again changed and the rise of asymmetric threats such as Islamic fundamentalism were left to challenge American hegemony. To answer this threat the administration of George W. Bush implemented “Hard Wilsonianism” through a neo-conservative perspective. This relied on the Nation Building philosophy, meaning regime change as a result of military operations and the subsequent political vacuum to be filled with an American styled democratic transition. This final point is still a contentious point of debate between those on and within the Right and the Left.
The anti-war Right has a somewhat brief history rooted in contemporary 20th century thought which is finding some new life and energy in the 21st. For the most part the anti-war aspects of this philosophy are associated with the former Senator Robert A. Taft, Patrick Buchanan, and now Representative Ron Paul. Nevertheless, Taft tends to epitomize the anti-war Right sentiment, so for historical purposes his ideas will be the ones formulized.
Taft served as the Republican Senator for Ohio from 1939-1953 and was the son of President William Taft. While he was educated at Harvard and Yale Taft never loss his Mid-Western sensibilities and was a considered such a staunch fiscal and social conservative he earned the moniker “Mr. Republican.” Up to his death in 1953 Taft remained a vehement enemy of Roosevelt’s New Deal which he considered a vicious attack against the Constitution. While often labeled with the epithets of “isolationist” or “obstructionist” Taft’s foreign policy approach is more associated with the concept of non-interventionalism.
The most important belief to Taft was support of individual liberty in which there were three necessities for its survival: “an economic system based on free enterprise, a political system based on democracy, and national independence and sovereignty.” For Taft war derided these civil liberties of the individual and the economic fuel required for war led to central planning by the State which in turn fostered a “garrison-state.” The only time when war was permissible to Taft was when the liberty of the American people was directly challenged or threatened and was a road that should never be traveled for any other purpose. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Taft did not believe in using war as a means for imposing democracy or for any other “advanced moral crusades.” Although he initially opposed America’s involvement in World War II, viewing it as an internal European matter, after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor Taft supported the war effort.
Ironically, Taft firmly believed in the rule of international law. While he did not support the United Nations–due to the five major members of the Security Council’s ability to preclude themselves from any resolutions through their veto power—he did support the creation of an international organization in which all nations had an equal vote and protection. Taft offered a system to which “all nations would agree on a definite law to govern their relations with each other and also agree that, without any veto power, they will submit their disputes to adjudication and abide by the decision of an impartial tribunal.”
Taft’s beliefs were firmly rooted in non-interventionalism and sharply contrasted the internationalist philosophy which has dominated so much of United States foreign policy. Due to the developments of the last decade, and even reaching further back to Vietnam, his philosophy might just be getting a second look in the 21st century.