Yesterday I went on a bit of a rant regarding neoconservatism and its divorce from any conception of conservatism. At bottom, I argued, neocons more closely resemble international progressives than anything else with their utopian dreams and lack of skeptical restraint in making policy decisions.
Today’s post should bring this argument full circle as we examine the impact of such preferences on the domestic front.
What should we learn, for instance, from almost certain GOP nominee Mitt Romney? Romney promises to streamline (if not outright eviscerate) nearly every aspect of the federal government. There’s one area, however, where he vows to increase spending. That’s on defense. Romney wants to modernize our military, paying for maintenance and upgrades. Bravo on that front.
It’s just that he also vows to expand our role internationally. Somehow, having hundreds of foreign bases, half the aircraft carriers in the world, the most powerful air force ever known to man, and a defense budget that dwarfs the next ten nations combined isn’t enough for neoconservative hawks. That’s because the neoconservative vision is limitless. It forsees a world held to heel by American power. It advocates not for the judicious use of American might, but rather a blank check to overthrow dictators, fight boogeymen, and wage the wars of the past.
Today that vision comes home to roost. In the most ambitious budgetary reform in years (parts of which, incidentally, I fully endorse), the Paul Ryan plan seeks to dramatically shift the federal government’s balance books away from the unaffordable entitlement plans better suited for the demographics of the baby boom. He wants to allow people to save for retirement on their own and embrace the private market. His budget is one that revisits the federalism so essential to our national project.
It’s just that in one area it’s so baffling that only neoconservatism can explain the dissonance. That’s in “defense” spending. Forgive the italics, but how else can we call something defense when we haven’t been attacked by a foreign military anywhere near home in decades? I’m not alone on this. The American Conservative also expresses concern with what amounts to a blank check for foreign incursions.
Here’s Jordan Bloom’s take:
Ryan’s budget isn’t perfect. Most egregiously, it fails to scrutinize Defense Department spending with nearly the same rigor as he brings to domestic reforms–defense spending goes up, when it’s higher in real terms than during the Reagan years. It’s not fair to say Ryan wants to throw granny off a cliff, but it is fair to say he would throw granny off a cliff before he’d scrap the Joint Strike Fighter.
So while our national infrastructure decays, our commitment to fiscal responsibility is laughed away, and we send more young men and women off to experience the horrors of unnecessary fights, we keep on building more planes and ships to fight the boogeymen of the Cold War.
We frequently hear Ronald Reagan’s name invoked in favor of such action. What these people forget is that it isn’t 1980 anymore. There is no match on Earth for our military might. It’s not even close. Building the means of convention warfare in anticipation of someone catching up in a few decades isn’t cautious or pragmatic. It’s absurd.
Look, I’m far from a principled isolationist or pacifist. There are plenty of times when war is justified and America’s military arsenal should be put to use. Ridding Afghanistan of the Taliban in the early parts of the last decade, for instance, was one of those. So too was the first Desert Storm. But eventually we must realize there are limits to America’s military might. Our founding fathers, who my GOP so gleefully loves to invoke, were extraordinarily cautious about becoming over-involved internationally. They recognized the problems associated with policing the world. Hell, they saw Mother England experiencing just those problems as early as the 18th century.
This isn’t a dichotomous choice. We don’t have to decide between being strong or not. But we should practice caution and skepticism over hubris as this nation’s conservative movement. Call it what you will, but neoconservatism shares nothing but the name with conservatism. I recognize the roots of anti-communism in our party, but there’s one problem. Communism, at least in the sense we think of it today, is gone from the international nation state scene. The last bastion of pseudo-Marxism, North Korea, is more a joke than anything else.
So come home, neocons. This is no longer 1980. It’s also no longer 2003. The longer it takes to embrace caution and skepticism is the closer we’ll teeter toward insolvency and ruin. I agree with Mitt Romney that this is the American Century. But let’s collectively hope it’s for different reasons than unending war and mounting casualty counts.