The Problem Is, Bush Did Lie

David French, writing at National Review, (There’s a shocker!) accuses Donald Trump of being a Democrat because he challenges the “conservative” narrative on the Iraq War. This is a common theme that has filled social media and the conservative webosphere since last Saturday’s Republican debate. The problem for French and the rest of the interventionist bitter-enders, however, is that Trump is correct. Bush did lie.

The claim that Iraq had a significant supply of WMD became the chief justification for the invasion, but despite the foot-stomping otherwise of the invade the world crowd, the intelligence at the time did not back this claim up. If it did, then why was it necessary to create the Pentagon Office of Special Plans (Can you get any more Orwellian?) to put a pro-war spin on intelligence because the CIA, the folks actually charged with intel, weren’t giving the pro-war brain trusts what they wanted? The neocons wanted a war with Iraq for ideological reasons, and they were desperately seeking a justification that the masses would buy. When Iraq couldn’t credibly be directly linked to 9/11, WMDs became the fallback justification.

The “conservative” interventionist die-hards still insist that “everyone” believed that Iraq had WMDs at the time, so they should be given a pass. Once again, the problem is that this isn’t true. There was a very vocal group of paleoconservatives, libertarians and foreign policy realists, not to mention liberals, who saw through this blatant charade from the start. Now somewhat reformed neocon hardliner, David Frum, identified prominent members of this group in his now infamous hatchet job, “Unpatriotic Conservatives,” also from National Review. (Anyone noticing a trend here?) So no, everyone did not believe the WMD lie. What Frum intended as a smear, time and circumstances have proven to be a badge of honor.

Perhaps the wise Republican candidate who is seeking votes in South Carolina wouldn’t put it quite as starkly as Trump did, because you don’t want segments of your potential audience to just tune you out and not listen to the rest of the argument. Also, I do not believe that Bush’s major fault here was lying. His major fault was allowing himself to be manipulated by ideologically driven neocons after promising a humble foreign policy on the campaign trail. The deception regarding WMDs was a consequence of the former. Trump, however, is not known for nuance, and he might ultimately be doing us all a favor by forcing conservative interventionists to reevaluate their past choices and reconsider their future ones.

But the problem does not stop with whether or not Iraq had WMDs. Even if we knew with utmost certainty that Iraq had WMDs, that still would not have constituted a sufficient justification to invade them. A lot of countries have WMDs and we don’t invade them. In fact, we are allies with most of them. Invading a country because they have weapons that they might use is clearly a case of preventative war, which is unambiguously condemned by Christian Just War Doctrine. Invading a country because they might have weapons that they might use is even worse. It’s preventative war once removed.

The primordial problem that conservative interventionism has is that its approach to foreign policy is profoundly unconservative. Its operating premise is that America is disproportionally (even solely) responsible for the safety and stability of the world. You hear this type of language in the debates. The world is a less safe place when America is “weak” and withdraws we are told by Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio, which is the alleged flaw of Obama’s foreign policy.

In some cases this rhetoric rises to a level that borders on messianic. America, so it goes, has some God ordained responsibility to make the world safe for American “principles” and “values.” The President, you see, is the Leader of the Free World. (No he isn’t. Where is that in the Constitution?) The Navy advertises itself as a “Global force for good.” (Again, where is that in the Constitution?)

This premise, however, is obviously inherently globalistic, and it has always baffled me why so many people who consider themselves red-blooded patriotic Americans don’t see this. It is a demonstration of the power of media and groupthink, I suppose. Globalism and babble about universal principles have always been the purview of liberals who have a system that they believe is right and they are going to force it on the unregenerate masses whether they like it or not. Conservatives recognize this dynamic in the cultural sphere, for example, and there resist it, but on foreign policy, too many have internalized it. They want the U.S. to be the schoolmarm of the world, but conservatism, properly understood, is not globalist and universal. It’s local and parochial. The proper conservative response to the question of whether some dictator half-way around the world has WMDs (with no delivery system to get them here I might add) is not to declare the need to bomb him. It is to acknowledge that it is not our concern and outside our locus of responsibility anyway.

Trump has turned this election into a contest between globalism both left and right (a la National Review) vs. nationalism. This nationalism has so far manifested itself primarily with the issues of immigration and globalist trade deals, but an America First noninterventionist foreign policy should also be an inherent part of the nationalistic impulse. Nationalism on immigration and trade but globalism on foreign policy makes no sense and the latter works against the former two. So far noninterventionism hasn’t fully made it into this Trump inspired nationalism because Trump himself is not a doctrinaire noninterventionist, although he is not a neocon hawk either. Hopefully this latest hubbub over W and the Iraq War will start moving the conversation in that direction.

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